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Count Dumb Time



Copyright 2018

ISBN: 9781370358274

Ace Publishing



For Stevie

You made me happy. Your memory makes me happy.

It is not difficult to imagine the death of my friend. One has only to imagine a shimmering tarmac in an equatorial country, a sun like a barbeque reflecting a gold embossing on his copy of the bible, a J.C. Penney’s suit with a clothespin clipped to the left leg, a ten-speed balanced at the handlebars in the non-biblical hand and a confident grin on a face the hue of homogenized milk. Some unseen communist fires a round at a bored corporal who ties his shoe at an opportune moment and the chemistry of children with grenade launchers, a shoe tied with a decidedly reactionary knot and a missionary East Jesus, my friend, is dead as the fishes.

Of course, this image is not content to play once in the theater of my head, which never tires calling “Encore!” and awaits patiently and expects the call of “author” to summon forth some suitably attired and normally retiring Master of the Universe. That it happened some seventeen years ago alters nothing. Everything remains updated; the lapels of the dead kid’s suit are widened or narrowed with the styles, the freedom fighter’s face changes with photographs which country this transpired any longer. The sun surely looked like a barbeque and heat waves issued from the pavement like the credit in an R.K.O. movie. I think, in the last seventeen years, I have not gone two days without thinking of my friend martyred without converting anyone, well, anyone of consequence. He did convert me, though it took sixteen years.

I am a reluctant Christian.

What started me thinking this thing was a small mushroom cloud rising from the heel of a child’s tennis shoe as the shoe scraped the concavity of dirt beneath the belt swing on this playground. There are many occasions while working at a preschool to call to mind the dread misfortunes of the world while watching children play. I suppose being on the playground is like perusing the first line of an actuary tale. Here are the untainted, undead survivors of the birth canal, vaccinated, pampered, diapered: nurtured, bonded or imprinted (depending on which scam you accept) and physically ripe for destruction.

I wonder who one of these tots will be drowned in a boating accident, who’ll be decapitated in aged car following the senior prom, who will slip into a carbon monoxide sleep following a financial reversal, and which child shall be known by the suburb in which he will live: “INGLEWOOD MAN KILLS WIFE, SELF.”

When I quit drinking last year, I knew I would have to face these thoughts which had haunted my drunken mink like countenances moving in steam.

Lisa is sitting next to me, her shoulders stooped and the sun dancing like barbeque 1ight in her blond hair. She years older than my memory (the missionary's death) and nearly a woman with breasts which I have difficulty in not staring towards and a sadness to her face, which is poetic as it speaks of some dreaded disease in her forties, perhaps dengue fever or farmer’s lung. But for now, it is a summer's day and light plays in her hair and on her lips, which are the color of Silly Putty.

She looks at me and I smile my wan, pre-wrinkling thirty-five-year-old smile, which I know brings water into my blue eyes. I confuse her. I seem to perpetually confuse her.

“Should we take them in?” she asks.

“Nah,” I say, “it'll be hotter than hell inside.”

Lisa looks at her gold wristwatch. I smile again at her. She stoops her shoulders. I hope no one murders her.

The hour twixt five and six is spent in a narrow room made from thin partitions installed for a tuition credit for a long-gone carpenter's son. The room is high and the few voices of the remaining students are thin and treble filled as they crayon while Lisa and I sit opposite each other in what was a once sky blue, twelve-inch-high chair, now rendered gummy just like the evening sun burst though cobalt air and cast trapezoids on the walls, the children and us. I suppose in this quiet and weird light with the strange syringe of quiet injected into the normally noisy carcass of the school, one would welcome the elaborate shadowing on Lisa’s face. But instead, I purchase a moment of self, one in which to construct a prayer which explains myself not so much to the Lord as to myself as if by asking, He will disinterest himself from my concern so that I might right my intention as I see myself in three dimensions instead of flattened like a reflection in two dreadful directions.

Firstly, why am I thirty-five years old and working in a preschool, a job normally held by teenagers? You know, Lord, but I tire of your ways. I suppose the stinky chemistry of neurosis explains much about me, but why am I here? Not just the here of " is" but the here of this place? And as always, back to my friend exploding on foreign soil (asphalt anyhow), why? And what of Lisa sitting across from me who is nineteen, almost twenty? Why did you make her frame the way you did, the flesh arrayed on such a lengthy suspension that her walk is a miracle?

She is undoubtedly capable of catching some rising star, say a medical student on his way to Kiwanis Club greatness. Why am I here across from her?

“What are you thinking about?” she asks.

“I was praying.”

“You were what?”


“What? You were going to get down on your knees?”

“First, I was going to construct an altar out of Lego Blocks.”

“You don't seem like the kind of guy who'd pray.”

I shrug.

“I'm sorry,” she says, “I pray sometimes, too.”

“I'm studying to be a deacon,” I say.

“Is that like a janitor or something?” she asks.

“No, I'm not a sextant. A deacon's the lowest order of cleric in the Church.”

“What church?”

“The Catholic Church.”

“They have priests.”

“They have deacons, too.”

“What do deacons do?”

“Some of the sacraments, preach an occasional homily and a lot of counseling.”

“What are you going to counsel people on, how to make $3.50 an hour when you’re forty?”

“Put that down!” she screams at a four-year-old who freezes, his right hand above his head, clinching a Lincoln Log. I jump. The boy retires to a small orange chair. This is getting troublesome. I try to reframe my prayer so that I might see myself, but my eyes fall on Lisa.

“You’re beautiful,” I say.

She looks in either direction and I look also, then she draws her face close to mine.

“You know what?” she whispers, “You're old.”


As I turned the brass tumbler in the orange school door, I heard a low rumbling exhaust and turned. Now I see Lisa embraced in the muscular chest of Tony, her fiancé, so she had said a month ago when I was hired and I first saw him outside the school in his white tee shirt. I have little option but to walk past the two of them. I clamber into my twelve-year-old car. I am reminded of my father, who always drove old cars but kept them spotless. He had a compass floating in a ball of fluid, the viscosity of tears, on the dashboard and a whisk broom hanging beneath the radio. The thought of my dead father and Lisa comingle and adrenaline courses through me.

As I ready to back out, feeling my car clunk into reverse, the van passes my car. With my head twisted, Lisa’s image grows larger, then smaller, framed by the van’s side window.

By the time my car reaches the intersection, I have caught up to them as they wait at a red light. In the passenger's mirror of the van, I see Lisa’s face small and briefly staring at me. The light changes and the van bounces merrily across the gutter and towards the other side of the intersection as I slowly turn left onto the cigar smoke blue pavement of the four-lane avenue whose stripes are the color of old jockey shorts. As I pass a nursery, I see a man carrying a potted tree. When I am abstracted in sadness this way, everyone else’s form seems so shaped as to merge with the geometry of the earth in perfect harmony. The man places the tree on the gate of a station wagon, and the small business transaction including the man, the station wagon and women seems so real that the cryptic ought to be constructed in cement.

The four-lane avenue bends having passed the nursery and I cross railroad tracks which sever the tenuous connection between the road and my tires, which are as smooth as a hammer handle. The peculiar light of late day imposes a calmness to the valley and makes it greener than it really is.

I think, as I pull into the library parking lot, that I might be able to explain my condition to Lisa which involves the queer fears which started when I was about her age. I might have been twenty. They started while the blood vessel on my right forehead began to tick with my heartbeat. She, like most people, probably believes that for every human act, there is a human cause.

There are not three people in this suburb of eighty thousand who check out books from the theology section. I am one of the three and I know the other two by sight, though we have never spoken. We smile at each other when we meet on an odd Saturday afternoon exchanging great godly grins then looking intensely at the carpet. I like to see which books are missing from the small selection in order that I may guess which book is with which person. Is the Anchor bible “Psalms” with the bald, thin man or the stout hairy one? I always think when seeing five hundred pages written about twenty that perhaps there is a need for illusion transpiring. At any rate, I have never been enraptured by scripture. But I leave the library carrying a biography of Saint John of the Cross and contemplate eating at Taco Bell, but nearing the small building, I feel my stomach swell as if I already had eaten three burritos. And instead of stopping, I motor towards Safeway in my archaic car. The cashier in a pink smock with a happy face button looks sadly at my paycheck and then at my macaroni and cheese dinner. Perhaps she will think my check representing one week’s wages instead of the two it does, but I can tell from her grin that she knows I am paid bi-monthly. As I walk from her, I can picture the ill cut of my pants and the bagginess of my ancient shirt. I drop my shoulders and stare at the rubber gray mat in front of the automatic door. A yellow jolt of pain is generated as I walk headlong into the door which has refused to open for me. I was bleeding at an excellent rate by the time I reached my car, so I reversed my way to buy some Band-Aids. As I am paying for the tin of Band-Aids, I see a drop of blood fall to my shirt and expand into a macula of pink.

“Thank you,” I say, “thank you again.”

I can stop the bleeding by plastering three Band-Aids across the wound, and now there is a fat square of pimple pond on my forehead as I pull my car into Al Bibber’s Furniture Emporium. I live above Al’s on the old boulevard in the small downtown section of this suburb which is hardly used due to the twenty shopping centers.

I look around in the dark hallway for my copy of the newspaper. The boy refuses to climb the long narrow stairway completely to walk in the dark hallway with faded yellow flowers not rustling in a purple sky. Instead, he throws the paper down the hall as soon as his head is at floor level. I am likely to find it in the corner abutting the barred door of the long dead elevator. I must mail his payment to him.

I set my macaroni and cheese on the table next to the Pullman kitchen. I take three jars from the cupboard and place ninety dollars in the jar with “rent” scrawled on tape affixed to the side of the jar. Thirty goes to the gasoline jar, a twenty to the food jar. I tuck the remaining money into the pocket of my pants.

As I place the macaroni and cheese dinner on the middle rack of the oven, I hear a phone ringing in the hallway. I have never seen a neighbor. They must have their own phones. I walk through my front door to the black instrument, check the coin drop for forgotten money, and then put the receiver to my ear.

“Gilmore?” a child’s voice asks.


“Gilmore Funnel?”


“I’m sorry, okay?”

There is a click, and three seconds later, a dial tone.


I awoke with a dreariness, not having remembered falling to sleep and needing several seconds to recall having come to bed. There is an incredible sameness to my apartment, my world, but then I remember the thin voice of Lisa zinging through the telephone lines and apologizing. I rub my face and my hands encounter the square of Band-Aids on my forehead. I stumble to the bathroom and stare into the mirror, which has rust on its frame and a spider web superimposed on my near haunting features by the loss of reflective paint. I see the three Band-Aids with their tiny ventilated pads raised above the tape the color of artificial limbs. My hair sticks from my head in three shocks, right and left and up. I yawn and look back through the hall at my clock on my cardboard dresser I bought at Walgreens for seven dollars. Seven forty-five glows through the dim and smell of my sleep as I clamber into the shower.


The sun on the city in the morning makes the sky an ominous and opaque blue like a stage sky. A miasma of carbons churns in the air causing a magnification of the Burger King which sits on property formerly owned by the seminary and which was sold to finance a new chair in hermeneutics. The seminary, which is eighteen miles from where I live, always has an alien look to it. It is not only instant from my home but removed from the tedium of my day. People know my name. It (the part not precluded by the Burger King) looked like the brass castle my father wore on his National Guard uniform.

Entering the double doors formed in an arch, I smell church and school at once, the dryness of chalk and empty corridors and the sweet smell of flowers, wax and incense imbedded in seventy-five years of brick.

By my second class, I wish that I had eaten something. I was hungry but sometimes I forget that I am hungry. We are studying the Roman soldier who asks Christ to send his word and did not ask for a visit.

“Does that mean ‘don’t expect to see the Pope in your lifetime?’” Tom asks. Tom is entering his diaconate, only he is on his way to becoming a priest. I linger on the periphery between the soon-to-be priests who are for the most part younger than I and the mostly married soon-to-be deacons of the program in which I am enrolled and of whom youth is not only gone but forgotten.

After classes, Monseigneur Freeman invites me to his rooms. I follow his closely cropped hair, which is the color of a backyard tennis ball, down the long hallway which reflects sounds. We climbed the stained elm stairway to his quarters where his heavy door is shut quickly and the sounds of the world cease and can hear the rustling of his cassock. He offers me a cup of coffee as my pants and his leather chair conspire to form an obscene sound. I move for several seconds trying to recreate the ersatz gastro release but fail. He wants to know of my plans as I near my practicum. I have had this conversation with him several times over the past two and one quarter years, but the conversations are growing more frequent and intense. The rest of the men in my program are aged and married. I have always sensed an uneasiness from him to me. I am intensely aware of it now.

“You know, you are our only unmarried student in the diaconate program.” I nod, sipping a draught of scalding coffee, which burns till it hits my stomach and leaves my mouth feeling as if there were a spoon in it. I see myself the way Monseigneur Freeman must see me, a square of dirtying pink Band-Aids on a face which resembles a tough more than a student trying to camouflage a wince and who thinks nothing of farting in the presence of the Dean of Religion.

“Gilmore, if you take your vows without marrying, you may never marry?”

“I know,” I say, tasting the nonexistent spoon and realizing that it, along with my forehead’s wound, will be playing a small tennis match for my attention over the next week.

“You don’t have to take your vows this fall. Want this made perfectly clear for a while.”

“I know,” I say.

“I was against this from the start, but the bishop insisted.”

“I know,” I say.”

I reach inside my jean jacket and retrieve a packet of Camels, strike my Bic lighter, and inhale the asphalt colored smoke.

“Being a Priest at times reaches some of the qualities of hell.”

“And most of that must do with deacons?” I ask.

“I’m sure there are, but they’re not thirty-five.”

The program is for mature men. It specifically states, “mature men.”

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but it also names the age of maturity at thirty-five.”

“I know. The church also considers adulthood as thirteen. Most of our deacons have wives. In fact, all of them do or did.

I suppose the silver tray next to me to be an ashtray and drop a cork textured cylinder of tobacco ash into it.

“Oh, dear God!” Monseigneur Freeman gasps before freezing. When he does move again, he removes the tray containing the ash as if it were a tissue sample and disappears through the door to his kitchen. I smoke the rest of my cigarette, disposing of the ashes into my now removed loafer. An ache arcs across my forehead from my door wound. With my burnt mouth, cut forehead and cough I have had since working at the preschool, I make a mental note to stop at the feed store on the way home and buy some antibiotics. I slip my loafer on and tip-toe to the door and out into the hall. I close the door gently and hear the worn brass mechanism inside the latch clicks.


I jump as I raise. It is Tom. He is a real seminary student, studying for the priesthood, in his early twenties with a facial tone which reminds me of my long dead missionary friend who explodes in my memory. Tom’s cleric collar gives an angelic glow to his freshly washed and clean features. I notice the even length of the short hair above his ears.

“Say, Tom, have you ever seen this small silver tray in Monseigneur Freeman’s apartment?”

“His offering plates?”

“His what?”

“Cardinal Cook gave it to him.”

“Oh, God,” I mumble.

“I’m sorry, Gilmore, what did you say?”

“I used it as an ashtray,” I say. I find myself looking dumbly at the floor and the planks of oak beneath a thick atmosphere of wax.

Tom giggles a girlish giggle, grabbing himself at his waist as his thin torso rotates about his lower lumbar and his suit coat twists about his hips.

“You used his altar plate for an ashtray,” Tom bursts into laughter.

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

We go to the Burger King for coffee, foregoing the salad bar and sitting behind little Formica topped tables with our elbows on them.

“So, Freeman’s still worried about you being an unmarried deacon.”

I try tasting my coffee, which has no taste since I had scalded my mouth. Not even the dry taste of Styrofoam is noticeable. I feel myself starting to sweat though it is not hot. Sometimes I break into sweats for no known reason. I can feel the heat rising from my throat into my head and it makes the wound on my forehead throb. Again, I remind myself to stop on the way home at the feed store and buy antibiotics.

“Maybe you could get married in the next six weeks before your practicum starts. Where are they sending you anyway?”

“To my local parish. I’m going to do R.E.”

Tom nods and quietly intones:

“The magisterium.”

The vapidity of the conversation strikes me and this morning’s conversation. Cigarette ash, Eucharistic plate and Tom suddenly become an amalgam like polished brass in front of which the image of Lisa is dancing.

She has her shoulders stooped and her lips are pouting as her eyes stare at a point in front of me.

Tom gabs on about commitment and how it starts in the heart but lands in the head and must be made to stay there.

“Adulthood,” he says, “is making a commitment to something when you’re not sure of the outcome.”

I nod vigorously.

Strange, I feel like bursting into tears. I look at Tom in his cleric collar and two other students behind him and see the Burger King as a hamburger cathedral. Tom eats an onion ring and I feel myself staring into space the way a moment ago I imagined Lisa to be staring.

“It’s the same for the priests of the Marion Order,” Tom says.

“What?” I mumble as the image of Lisa ruptures.

“They must marry their last year of seminary or never marry. I imagine the pressure gets to be pretty good.”

“Uh, uh,” I nod and stare at the concentric rings in my coffee, seeing my face full of silver waves. I want to cry but I will not let myself and I imagine a tear falling from my eye to the coffee where it would contact then sprinkle tears and Floggers about the Styrofoam.

My car overheats before I get to the feed store. I walk a block to a gas station, leaving my crucifix as security in return for borrowing their galvanized yet rusting water bucket with its anteater snout speckled with shit-like brown. The bucket dribbles archaic water onto my pant leg as I walk to my car. I open the hood, bang on the thermostat with my fist and promptly burn my small finger and the inward edge of my hand. I add water to the car then drive to the garage and give them back their water bucket.

“Just put it there,” the mechanic says without looking at me as he speaks to a neatly trimmed fat man in a grey suit. I quietly oblige and am almost to the feed store when I realize that I forgot to collect my crucifix.

“Oh, Christ,” I mumble.


I lick my hand where I burned it banging on the thermostat as I open the door to the feed store and approach a round man who is smoking a cigar. There is a star on his bald head from the florescent light hanging from a flat chain above us. I have been in here twice before.

“You don’t look like any agricultural man?” He says.

I smile and nod vigorously.

“You know,” he says, “back when hippies were about, they used to come in here and try an’ buy antibiotics for their social diseases. You got a social disease?”

“Well, there is my mental state,” I think, but simply move my head from side to side. The first time I had been in here, in this smelly shade, he gave me a straw hat which had " Gooches” painted on the front. He bags the box of horse drugs and shoves them towards me. I find that if you keep your mouth shut and pay cash, you can almost get everything you need. I suppose it would have been better to explain my inflamed forehead, hand and mouth and the hacking cough which I have had since starting at the preschool. I could have told him that I was a divinity student, which is technically true, and that I could not afford a physician, which also is true.

“Yaw, know, it’s against the law to practice medicine without a license?”

I nod.

“May the peace of the Lord be with you,” I intone in my lowest Motown voice. His eyes widen and the cigar droops, which causes an ash to tumble to his shirts and spill to the linoleum counter.

When I see Lisa’s car, a pale green Ford, I remove the Band-Aid from my forehead, which entails pulling my skin an inch from my face. I gaze into the rear-view mirror to see a bright pink square with a small seam the color of raisins running an inch across my forehead. After entering the school, I kneel at the sink in the boys’ bathroom, scrub my face with a liquid soap which looks like semen, then grind my heel onto one of the tablets from the feed store, which breaks into three pieces. I swallow one piece with warm water and pocket the other two, which feel like teeth when I put my hands into my pocket.

I tiptoe to the nap room where I spend two hours each day with Lisa as we listen to little children breath shallow breaths as they sleep. I read theology or philosophy. Lisa is slumped upon a small plastic chair. Her eyes are bright above her knit blouse, which expands quickly then recedes as she sighs. The sigh echoes about the photographs of pandas, monkeys and lions which are plastered into a photo mosaic of some two-dimensional jungle on the walls of the nap room.

“Thank you for apologizing,” I quietly whisper to Lisa, who glances from her book then back to the page. She nods and yawns, and when her eyes open, they are wet and pointed at me. Spokes of grey pinwheel in the blue iris.

“Dr. Ballmania wants to talk to you.”

I nod and head from the nap room. Once again, stop in the blue boy's bathroom and scour my wound. Waldo Ballmania is on the phone as I enter his office, which was once the sauna room in this building which before becoming a preschool was a clubhouse for the large apartment complex which surrounds it. Waldo is wearing his sandals. They reveal the largest toes I have ever seen. The great toe is at least four inches long, and though Waldo is six four and composed of Baby Huey tissue, his toe is still grossly out of proportion. It seems to be a separate living entity like some squat worm with hair. The thought of his huge toes and a sauna room in which hip people gave each other blow jobs depresses me and my eyes narrow as I watch Waldo screaming to the phone, scratching dandruff and rolling his small irises about in the egg white of his face.

“Tell them Ballmania called,” he says, and the phone is abruptly returned to the desk with a quick click.

“Damned if I can remember what I wanted to talk to you about. This was always happening in the Navy. I’d call for someone and forget what I wanted them for.”

“Thought it was an unconscious reaction to the Vietnam War. Forgetting, I mean. Sometimes, think I am becoming prematurely senile but then I forget about it.”

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