This is about a guy named Lenny. Lenny Kravitz. But not the famous one born in 1964. (No relation, actually. That name has been a burden.)

This Lenny was in a British rock band in the late 70’s. The drummer. The band had one monster hit and then sank without  trace. The hit was played occasionally on oldies stations after a decade, then less and less. While the craziest part of fame lasted (from the spring of 1973 through the next summer) they lived the rock-star life on the road, tearing up hotels left and right.

It was the 70s, when the national nervous breakdown began in earnest. Lenny was known for dressing up in a giant pink cloth penis outfit and dancing around the stage, the uncircumcised head flopping back and forth, the girls screaming in the audience, Continue reading “Lenny”

The Best of Us

water drop in water


Sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to come out of that old man’s mouth…In a hospital room he probably wasn’t walking out of…late on a February Sunday afternoon. We waited, though. And then he just started, with no preamble.

“I just like them. I just like women. Well, some. I have preferences. Who doesn’t?

“And I just let them see the admiration and respect. And some, a few of them, like me back, like they’re surprised, you know. Grateful in a way… for the honesty, I guess, although that’s not in my mind, like a tactic. It wouldn’t be honest that way, would it? So, no games. They’re tired of the games and bullshit, too. I had to practice that, though.

But, if there’s not that mutual ‘liking’, no spontaneous shudder, you just back up a step, be polite and move on. Have a little dignity.

“And sometimes they show me some appreciation in tangible ways, too. They look after me for a while, making sure I’m appreciated, and that doesn’t mean sex at all. Just liking and wanting to do for. Boys, there’s no one who can take care of you like a grateful, honest woman. And it’s nice to be treated well.

“There’s some of the other kind of appreciation, of course, and if it happens it happens.

“It’s my favorite thing, but you have to let nature take its course or it’s not as good. That’s what you young guys don’t understand. Too big a hurry so that you miss the main show.

“The best thing is when you have the sudden shudders but also respect. And that means nobody’s a superior person, like a boss to the other. When you are equal in some ways and content to let the other’s talents shine when they need to. No false pride.

“That doesn’t mean everything’s smooth, either. You can be terribly lonely or angry sometimes, when things aren’t working and you know it. That’s when someone else can look good. But with luck, you don’t break the bond between you two who click.It’s so easy to.

“But two people like that? That’s sweet.”

He laughed and coughed a little.

“And however you express that between you–and even if it doesn’t go on forever–nobody gets hurt. Not at all. Just the opposite. It’s a permanent special thing. And some people only have the memory of it to live on, but at least they have that.”

Our father had a coughing fit and lay back in the hospital bed exhausted, but with a slight smile and a distant look at the hazy hill a couple of miles away. We looked at each other.

An electronic chime sounded in the hall. A recorded voice announced the end of visiting hours. We hated to leave, as tomorrow wasn’t a guarantee.

“You know what, though?” he said, turning back to us. “I just realized something. About that second kind of appreciation…

Here it came. We caught each other’s eyes. Raised an eyebrow like Spock.

“It just dawned on me that despite a number of opportunities, I only really found that exact thing with one person. I’m pretty sure I could have found more, but I didn’t see the point. I’m a lazy man, and that sounded like too much work. But in any case… I stopped at the first one. The one that clicked like that…

He suddenly realized the night was closing in. He wanted to see one more dawn with Mom. It showed.

“She’ll be back in a minute. No need to tell your mother what I said about her. OK? She’s stressed enough. And if I say something too nice now, the shock might kill her.

“We like to watch sunrises together.”

There was that thin smile again. A little sad around the corners. Tired from the chemo and the pain. He looked at us, waiting.

We nodded our old conspirator smiles.

We’d heard this routine before, making us promise not to tell mom something.

We would ignore this one, too.

He knows we will.

He’s counting on it.






I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.

Continue reading “Deadline”

A Small Death in the Afternoon


From memory triggered back to life by this poem by Jim Harrison.

The newsroom’s police scanner squawked around 3:30 one afternoon and my editor sent me out with camera and notebook.

It was a cloudy day in early Spring, the roadside grass was fresh and green, the
baby wheat plants covered the fields on either side in a fuzzy carpet.

The scene was very ordinary-looking at first, and it confused me. This was my first fatal accident as a reporter and I didn’t know what to expect.

A sheriff’s department cruiser was off the road with lights flashing behind a family wagon, Continue reading “A Small Death in the Afternoon”

A Ghostling, in Training

Republished for Halloween. 


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….

I didn’t think it would be like this.
I could have been convinced, mind you,
But I was skeptical, in a benign way.
Unmoved except by facts, I said.
“Show me a ghost; I can’t take your word for it.
Continue reading “A Ghostling, in Training”

Borrowed Time


“Why do we still do it?”

The two men had been talking for a few minutes already. It was the same every time. They’d covered what was in the paper, who’d died, and who would do everyone a favor if they did. And they always each nominated the other in the latter category, as men who are old friends will do.

They paused to let the waitress put their cups and a pot of coffee down. She somehow produced a small stainless cream pitcher and put it down without spilling anything. A basket of biscotti was already waiting for them. She left, knowing better than to interrupt.

They were at a table by the big window that wobbled if you shifted your weight wrong. They came on Mondays at 7:30 in the morning, rain or shine.

The man who had spoken about their days as starving writers poured another splash of cream into his coffee until the color was the way God intended. He picked up a spoon — made the same decade as the pitcher — and stirred the required three circles. The table, which had probably been in many  dives—and as many auctions—had been new — and in its first auction — in 1929. The years left their mark, but the table still stood where people gathered. Even if it had developed a slight wobble, just like the men.

The other man lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, as if to hurt himself, then pushed the smoke up toward the ceiling. It rolled over itself up there and hid in the dimness like old, sad memories. Another long draw and exhale, more memories. He finally looked down into his coffee, watched the steam, felt mildly curious about when the waitress had poured it. He took a quick sip, blew a little to cool it, then took a longer drink. He looked through the dust of the window and watched the sun try to warm the old brick building across the street.

Carved in a limestone block at the top of the building were the block letters “W. C. T. U” for Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an anti-alcohol organization from the late 1890’s and early parts of the 1900s. The size of the building indicated how important that group had been. The dilapidated face of the building told a story of changing times.

“I wish I knew.” One side of his mouth twitched in what once had once been an easy smile. He raised his eyes, caught those of his friend for a moment and looked back out the window. A gust kicked up and blew something past. A white paper sandwich bag.

“Maybe… I don’t know….He stopped.

“Maybe its because the world is so fucked up.”

“Maybe I’m the one who’s fucked, and I never got the memo. Maybe…. .”

He trailed off and took another sip.

“Maybe what?”

“I have this nagging fear that we are living on borrowed time. It never leaves me. All of us. Everything. I just have this feeling that if I get it right—some day, even just once, I write the perfect thing, something of absolute and final clarity that is a plea for forgiveness—then maybe God will give us one more chance. The hell of it is, I’m getting old. I just don’t know how much time I have, or what it will take.”

Neither spoke again. There really was nothing more to say. They looked through the hazy glass as the coffees grew cold.


I’ll Buy You A Beer

Hello sweet Miss,
That empty chair there…
Mind if I join you?
Maybe buy you a beer?

Now, before you say no…
I’ve haven’t a plan,
Besides soaking my troubles
‘Til they don’t seem so bad,
But it’s sadder just drinking
Without company.
Let’s hoist a few pints,
Get stupid and free.

Oh, I see…
You’re not talking,
You’re here to forget?
A man’s in the picture,
I’d be willing to bet.

I sure know the feeling,
The guts turned to goo,
So if it’s silence you need,
Well, I need that, too.

But your sad, sad beauty
It touches my soul.
There’s a smile to be found there,
Let’s make that our goal

Seems both of us crave
Something stronger than beer.
Maybe vodka? Or whiskey?
“Hey Barkeep! Two drinks over here.”

But look into my eyes–
It burns in your’s, too–
That we’re here in the City
And it hasn’t been kind.
We’ve come up against it,
Bruised in body and mind.

So only if you agree,
I’ve got no big plan–
Not looking for love,
Or to stand in for your man.
We’ll just share a drink–
In silence; we must.

Let’s keep out the cold,
And let the pain pass,
Good company, simple,
Just a lad and a lass.

©Hemmingplay 2014, revised 3/21/14

The Short, Happy Life of Your’s Truly

“We can rebuild him. We have the technology.”

“I don’t know. He’s really fucked himself up this time. No hands left. Face ripped half off. Third-degree burns everywhere. Pretty clumsy for someone in his line of work.  The Feds should be pleased, though. Looks like he caught himself.”

“Very funny. Look. We don’t have time to argue. Get prepped or get out. I have a four o’clock tee time.”

“Alright. Have it your own way. I’m in. But for the record, I think this is a bad idea. Let it go. ”

“Noted, you sanctimonious prick. I’m reserving the OR and getting the surgical team here. Call Bradley’s service and get her in here to handle anethesia. Oh, and you’d better notify the hospital’s lawyer. Tell her we’re going to patch this guy up again, have her call the ATF and FBI and let them know their bomber is back. Most of him, anyway.”

“Wait a second… what’s THAT?”

“What’s what?”

“THAT. Is it…. ?”

“Jesus Christ. The sonofabitch… Get OUT!”

I would have smiled, if I still had a functional face. I knew what it was, all right. And it was too late. A sheet of flame from the blast ended all three of us, but didn’t go beyond the exam room. All in all, I thought in a split second, a very professional job.

As the last of my consciousness winked out — funny how time slows down at times like this — I chuckled. How stupid of these doctors to think they could sleep with my wife and think I wouldn’t know. Both of them. MY wife!


©Hemmingplay 2014