Words of Wisdom by Billy Pilgrim

It’s painful.

But not the physical kind where you sweat through your grey sweatpants at the gym.

No.

The mental kind, like when you have poison ivy and you think about anything fucking else but the sweet orgasmic relief of slowly ripping the top layer of skin with your nails.

That kind.

I haven’t written a story in over a month. That’s like fucking forever.

This time last year I was pumping out stories like Octomom.

Lately it’s been feeling

hurting

constricting

……Fuck it. You get the idea.

The thoughts come in and I want to “one up” every single one of them like that annoying kid from third grade who always had a cousin that did everything you just said, but better.

Fuck that kid.

And fuck this post.

It sucks.

The next 20 are going to suck too.

Then the next 12.

And finally there will be one good post like this one, which I’ll love but no body will read.

Then 20 more shitty ones.

Oh well.

It’s like my man Vonnegut says:

“…And so it goes”

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: The Church Steps

architecture-3087278_640

When I first moved to Fort Worth, I found a penny on the downtown church. It was the summertime and I was looking for somewhere to eat when the Church’s red door caught my eye. The building was an old Gothic style, where the walls were gray stone. I walked up the first step and there sat the bronze coin by my left Sketcher. My father always told me finding a penny was good luck, especially if it was face up. I figured moving here after college by myself, I could use as much as luck as I could get. I picked it up and continued walking downtown.

Not much time later, I found a job working in Real Estate. It seemed like a long shot since I had no experience, but I applied anyway. The interview went well and they wanted to take me under their wing. That night I walked by the church and saw the leaves of a near by oak collecting on the cement stairs. I cleared them off with my shoe and continued on my way home. It was the least I could do.

I met Sarah at a Coffee Shop on around the block from my work one evening. My boss wanted me to take the reigns on my first investment and I needed a place to think. It was Christmas time and fate had her sitting at an oversized leather chair by the door. She was reading Cormac McCarthy and kept spinning her black hair in her fingers. I asked about the book and things shot off from there. We lost track of time and the staff kicked us out. She parked down the street and I walked with her, passing the church. The red door had a giant green wreath on it and to the right was a manger surrounded by plastic animals. We walked up the stairs to get a better look. I didn’t know it then, but a few years later we’d say “I do” in the same place.

When my daughter was born we decided to have her baptized at the church. It was a beautiful spring Sunday and the oak began to bloom. We took advantage of the situation and snapped a picture on the steps with the stained class behind us. My daughter cried before the flash and everyone looked in different directions. Sarah was mad about how the picture turned out and didn’t want to hang it up at home. At the time, work had been getting tougher and tougher, so I brought it to my office for some hope during my long nights.

A few months back, I tried to walk into the church late one Tuesday. My breath reeked of Christian Brothers and my tie was barely hanging to my shirt. The investment I made tanked and I needed to speak with the big guy upstairs. The red door was locked but I kept jiggling the handle anyways. I tried to look through the stain glass window, but it was too dark to see anything. The best I could do was plead on the stairs, one sip of cheap brandy at a time.

Sarah left after I got fired and took our daughter to her mother’s. With everything that happened, I decided to move to back home to Phoenix. A fresh start sounded good. I was boxing up the dishes in the dinning room when the packing tape ran out. CVS was only a few blocks away from downtown. On my way back, I took the long way by the Church. I can’t describe it, but I felt like I needed see it one last time. I stopped at the last step and looked at the red door and the stained glass windows. As I turned to head back, I saw a nickle face up on the middle step. I almost picked it up, but something told me to leave it. I stuck my hands in my pocket and walked back to finish packing.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Long Live The King

jazz-1658886_640

I was stretching my hands to hit a C chord in the G position in the CAGED system. Something I’d seen a million times but never really knew what it was until then. My guitar teacher passionately waited for me to strum what would sound like failing out in guitar hero. I wanted to riff like Pat Martino in Sonny but I was a while away. He saw a red truck pull in the drive way behind me and dropped the hint for me to pack it up.

“I really think your not too far away from getting to were you want to be” He said.

I gave him look like he just shit his pants.

“I’m serious. Practice this week and we’re probably going to get into some blues next week. So it wouldn’t hurt to listen to some B.B. King either.”

I was still skeptical, but despite the sandals and socks, the man could play.

“I don’t think I’ve ever listened to B.B.King before, well at least a other than a song here or there. Got any good suggestions?”

He smiled and opened the door of his studio, signaling me to get the fuck out.

“Oh you’ll be in for a treat then. Live in Cook County Jail.”

I thanked him and walked out with my guitar case in hand.

The next day it poured outside and I was held up in the apartment. I played until I got hungry and threw on some B.B. while I prepped. The convicts boo’ed the jail staff for a few minutes and B.B. got into. The man came out swinging, literally. It was jumpy, so much so, my shoulders got into it during my carrot cutting. Almost as instantly as it began he slowed it down and whaled on one of the best, yet simplest solos I’ve ever heard.

The man screamed out every word, like a hot air balloon with a leak. It just poured out of him. I got goosebumps on “How blue can you get?”. The band stops and the man commands the room with

“I GAVE YOU SEVEN CHILDREN. AND NOW YOU WANNA GIVE THEM BACK!?!”

The crowed roared. I roared, knocking pieces of celery for my soup to the floor.

The more I listened the more I realized these weren’t just songs for B.B. I was hearing a man journey. I was hearing the pain of what it means to be alive sometimes. It wasn’t just the words or Lucille doing her thing. It was a summation of every thing. The rises, the falls, the screams, the whispers, even the pauses. He didn’t play with his head. It was all heart baby. And to this day,

I love every minute of it.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Eliot Smith (Self-Titled)

man-871960_640

Elliot Smith

Elliot Smith

1995 Kill Rock Stars

37:57

You wore a suit. At the time, I didn’t know you owned a suit, yet wasn’t surprised to see the jacket hang over your shoulders like it was stolen out of your dad’s closet.

Even when we moved in, I didn’t see a suit. We moved boxes and listened to Elliott Smith. His self-titled was your favorite, but Roman Candle was the only one not hidden in box. I had just gotten back from following Phish around the mid-west, and hated anything I couldn’t get stoned too. It took me several listens before I came around to liking his music.

The night you wore the suit, you stormed in the house with your work polo on, and played Christian Brothers off Elliott’s self-titled. The irony wasn’t lost on me as we tossed the brown bottle back. I tried to cheer you up about all the loss you suffered that week. We took shots and you spilled half the bottle of whiskey all over your grease stained denim. Looking back on it, I should’ve put it together when you uncharacteristically through a fit to your room.

I didn’t see you for a while and got worried. My shoulder forced your locked door open to the sound of Alphabet town. It was dark, but the orange pill bottles stuck out like a stop sign on your desk. You shivered as you tossed on the bed, forcing my gray windsor knot to unravel. I heard you mutter, “I’m sorry,” over Elliott’s harmonica. I ran over and called an ambulance.

I was relieved when you survived, but I knew I couldn’t live in that house anymore. I went back to college and we eventually lost touch. A few years back, I got a deal on Elliott Smith’s self-titled at the record store. Although it was one of the first records I ever bought, I have never listened to it once. It just sits in my closet, wrapped in plastic with my gray tie over it, and haunts me.

Drink: Christian Brothers straight from the bottle

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: On Call

 

We met in English class. Micah was a proper gal, that knew her way around a Neiman Marcus. It was light years away from my trailer park background but we shared a love of books. I fancied more Cormac McCarthy stuff, while she thought Faulkner was god. I gave her my number and told her to call me if she wanted to study. I never thought a girl like that would, but she did.

After that, everything happened so fast. We started on your typical college dates to the library to study. But it wasn’t long before we were that Facebook official couple on the couch at house parties. It was all going so well, until she showed me that double line on the First Responder Pregnancy Test.

Micah was only in her third semester of college, but it’s not like it mattered with the amount she went to class. This all happened so fast, I don’t even think she received a syllabus. I was in my junior year, and in an instant graduation seemed further away. She looked at me to say something. So I grabbed her hand and said the first thing I could think of.

“Let’s get out of here.”

She remained on the couch, so I grabbed the arm of her oversized gray sweatshirt and started walked. The keys clanked when I picked them up.

I chose a direction and drove it as far as the road would let me. Micah was silent. Only sound was the heater and the occasional wiper blades. It drove me nuts, so I put in a Kings of Leon CD.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.

Her eyes stared ahead at the passenger airbag sign.

“Yea” she whispered.

Sonic was close so I pulled in. She ordered a cheeseburger with a blue raspberry slushy and I pushed the limit with my Citi Card. The Grand Am was low on fumes, so I turned the car off. Micah rolled her eyes. I clicked the ignition to keep the heat going and she smirked. It was the first time her worried expression changed. We talked about our food until the courage came for the heavy stuff.

“Look I know we’re young, but I think we should keep it.” I said. “We could move to Phoenix. My parents have a place there, I’m sure they’d be willing to help us.”

The windows were fogged up, yet Micah still look out them.

“Yeah?” She said.

“Yeah, I could get a job working construction with my uncle. It wouldn’t be glamorous but it could work for now.”

She let out some air.

“You just got it all figured out. What about my parents? What do I tell them? They’ve never even met you!”

“I know. I know. It’s not an ideal way to meet. But I want this and I know it’s a lot to process right now, but think of baby. Our baby.

He moved the extra large cup from her grip and placed it in the cup holder. Then he grabbed both of her hands.

“I don’t care what she says. I love you. We can do this.” I said.

She looked in his eyes and took a deep breath. She looked scared, like she wanted to say a few more “what if”s but decided against it.

“Okay.” She said.

He kissed her on the cheek before turning the ignition. The wiper blades unlocked from the middle position and water flew in both directions.

#

Days went by, and I made the arrangement to move to my parents place. I told them everything and they were angry but understood. Micah was taking it hard so I’d show up with a gift at her place every time I came over. I’d bring boxes over too and we’d get to packing up her dorm room. She was quiet most of the time, still taking in the situation. The day before the move she said she was going to hang out with her girlfriends one last time. I let her go, as I had to pack my own things.

On the moving day, I swang by Starbucks to get her favorite, a double mocha with just a splash of almond milk. It was rainy and I almost dropped my coffee trying to open the glass door against the rain. I took the elevator up four flight to find a sticky note left on the door.

Tom,

I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you this in person, but I just couldn’t. I can’t do this with you. I moved home to figure this out.

Please don’t hate me.

-Micah

I pounded on the door out of reaction. I threw the coffee at the wall and started pounding louder, even yelling her name. Her neighbors started staring at me. Then I just ran. I didn’t know what else to do. I guess, I felt like if I got far away from the note, it didn’t exist. I sprinted all the way home. Once I caught my breath I called Micah’s like I was a telemarketer. Every voicemail I cursed, apologized, and pleaded until I wore myself to sleep.

Years have passed, and I’ve barely spoken to Micah. After a month of calls and letters, the restraining order came in the mail. I got the hint then. I eventually graduated I moved back to Phoenix.

The math tells me my boy should be around six but I don’t know for sure. I’ve never seen a picture of him. I just know he exists on paper because the child support keeps coming out of my check. I don’t even think he knows that I exist. That’s sad. He doesn’t even know where half of his features come from. My lawyer is still working on getting me some sort of custody. But it hasn’t been going well.

I’ve kept my phone number the same all these years, hoping he’ll call one day. It’s one of the things that keeps me going. Everyone I know hates unknown numbers. Not me. I get exited. I’ll even answer them at four in the morning. I can’t tell you how much it hurts when Comcast asks me to rank my internet service. My friends think I should give it a rest and I’m starting to think they’re right.

I’m always on call,

and it’s fucking killing me.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Why I Write

(For the record this isn’t a story and it was accepted. However after numerous failed attempts to upload and several emails to the editor, I ended up saying fuck it.)

writing-1149962_640

I suck at writing. I cheated on my spelling testing in the second grade. My reading comprehension is garbage. When I read fast, “wrods look lkie thsi”. In high school, I worked on a paper for two weeks straight only to get a note from my teacher telling me I didn’t even try. I scored a 2 out of 12 on the writing portion of the ACT. I got beat out for a non paid editors position for a small College newspaper by someone who’s first language isn’t English. All this begs the question, why am I writing this essay? Because I have to.

No, nobody is forcing me to do this. I like to write, so that’s what I do. But this doesn’t make me a “writer”. That’s a word my Aunt uses at Thanksgiving to talk about the novel she’s worked on for ten years. To me those are just six, ego boosting letters, that give other people permission to be a dick at a workshop. I don’t need anyone’s permission. Honestly, I don’t give a fuck if you read this or not. To me, the act of writing is it’s own reward.

So what am I trying to accomplish? Wow, talk about a tough question. I feel like most people would say something along the lines of “I want my voice to be heard.” That’s a solid reason. Everyone wants to leave their mark on the little planet. And now with all these technological avenues it’s easier than ever. But that’s not me.

See, you have to understand this wasn’t ever the plan. I was a failed musician who bitched in notebooks and found relief. I’m an avid online dater who uses imaginative language to set himself apart. I’m an Engineer who sends daily project updates with a story arch. So what am I trying to accomplish? Shit, I don’t know. Writing chose me, not the other way around. I’m just playing the hand I was dealt.

I submit my work because it keeps me honest. The longer that something stays in the drawer, the more my mind will play with it’s value. Idea’s aren’t stocks. They’re for everyone. Why not submit? There’s nothing to lose. Getting a gently worded letter by an overworked, underpaid editor doesn’t mean that was a bad idea. It just means I believe in it. That’s all.

Plus, my goal isn’t to write one great piece, it’s to get better at the craft. So when I get a rejection I know it’s time to turn up the heat. I’ll sit down and ask the tough questions. How bad do I believe in this? How many red-eyed nights have you stayed up pushing that pen around? How many early mornings have I gotten up to edit? How many rejections have I received this month? This week? I already know the answer to all of these questions, and it’s not enough.

It’s funny but when I think about it, everything has been right there in front of me the whole time. It always has bee. The feeling of accomplishment when I finish a piece. The smile I get after writing a great sentence. The focus I get after a rejection. All of it is right there and no one can stop me to go after it. So I ask myself again, how bad do I want it? Bad enough to take a break from my fiction writing to type of this essay? Bad enough to get goosebumps on the first draft? Bad enough to red line two drafts this morning? Well, I don’t know about anyone else but I want it bad.

…And that’s why I write.

30 or so Stories I’ve written in 2018 that have been rejected: Sweet Sixteen

table-tennis-1432176_1280

They met hours earlier, at a bar. Vince was in L.A. for work and heard about a Ping Pong tournament from his concierge. He never could stomach the hard stuff and drank Smirnoff ice. Sarah was a mid-western girl who moved with big dreams. She was celebrating getting her first role, a commercial for Beats by Dre and couldn’t stop staring his way. They officially met after Vince lost the championship game. She bought him a cold one and they hit it off, when he joked about going home and listing to the Smiths.

“I have a better idea” Sarah said. “Follow me”

They jumped in a cab and a few more drinks later, Vince was slipping his shorts off in someones make shift grotto. It was some house in the hills that Sarah seemed to know, yet they still jumped over the fence to get in.

“Just jump in,” she said as she held her head above water. Although the lights we’re dim, it was easy to see the water in the cave was deep. Vince slid his underwear off near the pile of clothes and the ping pong paddle he stole from the tournament– his consolation price– then barreled his way in. Water blossomed everywhere.

Sarah laughed. “See, doesn’t the water feel great?”

“Fuck no, it’s cold!” He said, shivering on his way up to the surface.

“Don’t be such a wuss!”

“Ah hello, I play ping pong and drink Smirnoff, remember?”

Sarah swam closer to him. She rubbed his arms underwater to warm him up.

“Is that better you poor baby?”

“A little bit.”

“How about this?” Sarah moved in and pecked Vince on the lips.

He pulled back and looked in her eyes.

“That’s a step in the right direction.”

“Glad to be of service here.” she said.

Vince looked around taking in all the ambiance. He had never been in a real grotto before, but was getting the feeling like this was as close as he might ever get. The rocks felt real, the water glowed off the moon light. The lights were the only thing that felt out of place.

“Who’s place is this again?” Vince asked.

“It’s a friend of my uncle’s. He’s in the music business. Apparently he got banned from the Playboy Mansion, and decided to make his own grotto.”

“Oh wow.” Vince said, “So he just lets you come in here whenever you want?”

Sarah tilted her head. “Ah look at you, you’re scared.”

He glanced down at the bottom.

“Little Vinny is scared.” She continued.

“Vinny?”

“Vinny. King of the ping pong nerds, and lover of all Smirnoff Ice.”

“Well I caught you’re attention.”

Sarah smiled.

“What can I say, I go wild for a man who air guitar with a ping pong paddle.”

“Lucky for you I still kept Lucille.”
“Lucille? You named the paddle Lucille?”

“Oh yes. Want to know why?” Vince said. He floated away from her and swam towards the pile of clothes. Droplets of water fell all over the rocks beneath him as he pulled himself over the rocks. He picked up the paddle and held it towards the waist of his naked body.

“Cause when I first Met you Girl,” Vince sang out. He inserted guitar noises at the appropriate times with his mouth.

“Baby you were just, Sweet sixteen.”

“Oh my god, I love B.B. King,” Sarah added as he continued to play the ping pong paddle.

“You just left home woman, the sweetest thing I’d ever seen!” Vince sang. Something about that moment made Vince want to yell it all out, like the King of the Blues himself. Just then a light shined on in the distance. Vince and Sarah froze.

“Who’s out there?” a deep voice followed.

Vince looked at Sarah. “Who is that?”

Sarah dove in the water towards the clothes. She pulled herself up.

“Fuck, I thought they were gone.”

“Who is that?”

“I told you my uncle’s friend. Come on, We got to go!”

The voice yelled again as they both grabbed their clothes and ran for the same piece of fence they climbed over previously to sneak in.

“I thought you said he was cool?” Vince said.

“He is. …But not to strangers sneaking in his yard.”

They both laughed and rushed over the chain link. They sprinted towards the road looking for somewhere they could put their clothes on. It would be a night neither of them would forget.