Tuesday, August 25, 2009


(A story for Jessica who reminds me that not all stories have to be about death or insanity; inspired by a true story)
Shae Sveniker, August 2009

"The dust got in your bearings, kid, you might as well just get new ones..." The Punk behind the counter leaned over and gave the board back to the kid. "I've got a repair kit here, forty-five bones."

Boo-Boo looked through the glass to the arrangement. "Man, is that the cheapest? What the hell?"

The Punk pinched his septum ring and wiggled it around with his brown, greasy fingers. Boo-Boo was noticing this tic. "Yeah that's the cheapest, you little turd, where else are you going to get 'em?"

The Punk had a point, out here there was nothing but trailer homes, liquor stores, 'Indian trading posts,' and Navaho Taco stands. This was probably the closest skate shop in two-hundred miles.

Boo-Boo counted his bills, a few weeks working at his mom's taco shack and taking the beer cans and whiskey bottles to get recycled. Fifty dollars, and it seemed like most of that came from the recycling plant though.

"Alright, I'll take it," Boo-Boo put his money on the counter.

"I see you've got all ones there little buddy, how you come across this money?"

"Ha Ha, very funny..." Boo-Boo was fourteen, but life on the res is tough. He knew what a pocket-full of ones could mean. His sister would come home late in the morning from the truck stop on I-40 with her cut-off shorts full of dollar bills, reeking of cigarettes and cheap booze. Sometimes, when she came home and Boo-Boo's dad was around, they would get into arguments and more than once she left home with a shiner swearing never to come back.

The Punk started working on the board then. "Hey show me how to do that!" Boo-Boo said.

By the time Boo-Boo left the shop, he knew how to replace the bearings, wheels, how to adjust the trucks, and what tools did what. "Hey gimme a job!"

The Punk laughed, "Yeah right kid, I ain't hiring no snot-nosed Indian brat!"

"Screw you, Navaho!" Boo-Boo said.

"Hey, don't call me that!" The Punk said. "You come back when you know something, maybe we'll work something out."

Boo-Boo hit the desert concrete and started pushing his way down the cracked sidewalk in the afternoon sun. He spotted some kids he knew hanging out behind the Dollar General, so he rolled up to 'em. It was Tommy Anaba, Jennifer Kai, and Christopher Mojni.

"Hey look, Boo-Boo's fixed his girlfriend!" Tommy said. Cue cat-calls.

"Hey, what are you losers doing out here? Aren't you hooligans s'posed to be in school?" Boo-Boo said.

"Naw, man," Christopher said, "Indians don't have to go to school, 'cus there ain't none around here to go to!"

"Let me ride your skate, Boo-Boo!" Jennifer said.

"Like hell I will!"

"Yeah, Christopher's mom got drunk and kicked us out of the house, but it's all good," Tommy said, "We were looking for the beers my brother stashed back here." Tommy snooped around the dumpsters until he found what he was looking for; a twelve-pack of PBR's in a greasy cardboard box.

"Sweet!" Christopher caught a beer as Tommy threw another one to Boo-Boo.

"Can I have one?" Jenny asked.

"I'm not sure, I mean, what can you give me?" Tommy asked.

It was about four in the afternoon and they all had a good buzz going, Jenny and Tommy were entangled with each other against the rear brick wall of the Dollar General and Christopher was watching Boo-Boo skate around clumsily in the parking lot.

"What the hell?!" The sound was sudden, no one noticed when Tommy's big brother, Jason Anaba, came around the corner in his '64 Chevy El Camino.

"Oh no!" Jennifer slurred. "My brother!" Robert Kai got out of the passenger side of the little truck and ran towards the two love-birds. Tommy tried to get up and run but he was too drunk and fell over.

"You little dumb-ass! Don't you dare you touch my sister!" Robert said, as he kicked Tommy while he was on the ground. Jennifer thought she was going to scream, but instead just kind of moaned.

"Get in the car, Jenny!" Robert said.

"Hey--" Boo-Boo uttered, as he started toward the high-school kid kicking the shit out of his friend, but that was all that came out of his mouth before a big fist smashed into his face. "Ow!"

"That's for drinking my beers!" The fist that smashed into Boo-Boo's face apparently belonged to Jason, and was now wrapped around Boo-Boo's ear in a merciless grip, pulling him towards the El Camino. In Jason's other hand was Jenny, by the fore-arm, stumbling on her skinny little legs. KBZU, the rock station from Albuquerque was playing on the radio. It was no wonder the El Camino could pick up the signal with it's great big antennae sticking up from the roof. Jason threw Jenny into the car and she sat there, tears streaming down her face.

"Let me go!" Boo-Boo yelled.

By Boo-Boo's ear, Jason held him against the speaker in the El Camino's door. "I love this song!" He said "I'll let you go when you sing it!"

"Piss off! OUCH!"

Jason turned up the radio, "Sing it, bitch!"

The noise was excruciating, out of the corner of his eye, Boo-Boo noticed that at the other door, a bloodied Tommy Anaba had his head held to the other door speaker. Boo-Boo cringed, but those two boys sang along until the song was over, and the entire block was filled with the sounds of KBZU and two off-key, miserable accompaniments to the chart-topping rock piece.

"Breakdown.... go ahead and give it to me.... breakdoooown, honey take me through the night, breakdoooooowwwwn, I'm standin here, can't you see, Breakdown it's all right, all right, all right..."

After the older boys left, they lay on the asphalt in the shadow of the store. After a minute Tommy said "ha ha..."

"What's your problem, dickhead?" Boo-Boo said.

"Jenny," Tommy said. "She totally had her hand down my pants when those guys pulled up."

Boo-Boo thought about this for a minute. "I oughtta kick your ass."

"Get in line, buddy." Tommy said.

Boo-Boo was quite for a minute more. "Was it worth it?" He asked.

Tommy answered immediately. "Hell yes," he said.

It was The Punk, walking home from the skate shop, who saw the kids in the back of the Dollar General, beat up and layin on the asphault with shards of Boo-Boo's broken skateboard all over, both kids with bloodied faces and hellish tinitus.


Boo-Boo's friends all started calling him Yogi Bear after high school because he'd turned into a big, barrel chested Dineh with a leather jacket, motorcycle, classic chucks, slicked back hair; a sight to behold, six-foot-five, two-sixty, and mean as a bear. Since that afternoon, he'd always been hard-of-hearing in his right ear, just as Tommy was in his left. Jason Anaba and Robert Kai had left that afternoon to seek their fortunes in the great big city, and had never returned.

Yogi Bear's job at the skateshop came to a close when the shop went out of business. Why skateboard for real when you can play Tony Hawk on the playstation and never suffer the indignity of a skinned knee? So Yogi said his goodbyes, stopped at Tommy and Jenny's place and let them know he was leaving. They really weren't paying attention, so focused on the whiskey and the current argument they were having.

So Yogi-Bear hit the road untill he ran out of gas just south of San Fransisco.

The years rolled by. He grew and sold some weed, distributed underground pharmesuticals, worked odd-jobs at biker bars, until eventually he had some jail-time under his belt and some skills with a switch-blade. It was only a matter of time, so eventually he began trafficking with some of the gangsters in Los Angeles, throughout the rest of the state.

Thusly, runnin the streets in the Bay Area, he made his living on street corners and in dive bars. After Tommy and Jenny got divorced, Jenny took custody of the kids, and Tommy left New Mexico to help run things with Yogi-Bear. It quickly turned into a charmed life. Tommy saved up and bought a black '66 El Camino with a bumpin sound system. This sort of lifestyle was not uncommon for the other urban native americans Tommy and Yogi-Bear met, but sooner or later, everyone gets caught, which is what happened to Yogi-Bear. He was lucky though, and the DA couldn't pin him with distributing, so he got out with a hefty fine and a slap on the wrist.

Tommy picked him up from the San Fransisco jail #8 and they started driving through San Fransisco, south, the the tracks in Brisbane, for another deal. A rival organization was taking street from them and this deal was, well, it was more like a robbery. Yogi-Bear and Tommy had it all worked out. The rival dealers would get their shipment, and there was a time period of about twenty minutes thereafter where the transporter would be vulnerable and unprotected.
Yogi-bear and Tommy parked across the street from the drop and sat in the El Camino and ate burgers from Inn 'n Out. The drop was made and two native men held the stash.

They began to walk, with the shit in one backpack.

"No way," Tommy said, mouth agape.

"Is that... no it can't be..." Yogi-Bear said "It is!"

The Heartbreakers came on the radio just as Yogi-Bear and Tommy pulled up in front of the two older men. Within a minute, the beatdown was lain, and Yogi-Bear held Jason Anaba's ear to the passenger-side speaker, Tommy held Robert Kai's ear in place as well, while Tom Petty's vocals filled the block from the maxed-out radio speakers.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Kiril Takes a Dip

Shae Sveniker, August 2009

"It's another gangster movie," Kiril said to his wife. "I've always loved that about the Americans, the outlaw saint."

"Everytime, you say this, everytime," Anastasia said, "I really didn't like that movie."

"You never like the things that I like! Time's like these I wonder why we got married!" Kiril laughed, so as to make a joke of it. He was always laughing, and truthfully, that's why Anastasia agreed to marry him. Kiril and Anastasia walked down the street slowly. They were not too old, maybe fifty, though they acted like they were much older. Life had been rough in Russia. Kiril leaned heavily on his cane with one hand and held Anastasia's hand in the other.

"You'll never know how close I was to living that life my dear," Kiril said, "But I'm glad I didn't, you know." Kiril kissed her small hand.

"You're insufferable," Anasatasia said, "I won't forgive you!" She smiled when Kiril acted taken aback. "You're always making jokes of things that are really important, you know, someday I might leave you!"

Kiril laughed at that too. They continued walking down the street towards their old home in Pasedena. It was warm, in the high nineties. That was compounded by the smog and dust and concrete in the city. It felt much hotter.

"It's very hot here, why did we move to California?" Anastasia asked.

Kiril thought to himself a moment and said, "Well it might be because it was very cold in Moscow," Kiril laughed again.

"Do you remember in '87?" Anastasia said, "When we jumped in the Epiphany?"

"Yes," Kiril said. "That's when I proposed to you, in the freezing water, I told everyone I wasn't cold, but I almost died!" Kiril laughed loud enough for both of them.

"It's days like this I miss Russia," Anastasia said.

"Don't say such crazy things!" Kiril said.

That night, there were power-outages all over the city. The temperature rose with the panic the next day. Anastasia had a heat-stroke at three-thirty in the afternoon. She was dead by six.
Kiri sat in the funeral home and stared at the urn. Aquaintences came by and offered their condolences. Kiril waited for what seemed like forever until an old friend sat beside him.

"Kiril, come with me, don't go back to that empty house, you know you have family in Moscow."

"Alexander, I was just thinking about you," Kiril said, "I can't go back with you. I'm too old for that life."

"So you say! You're fit as a fiddle, Kiril, don't say no!" Alexander took out a cigarette. "You ought to come back, everyone could use your advice. You know Dimitri couldn't come because he has that heart condition, but he told me to give his regards and to pay his respects."

"Oh really," Kiril said.

"Yes, really, they all respect you still my friend, despite your decision to leave. You come back anytime you feel, OK?"

"OK," Kiril said.

Alexander patted him on the shoulder as he left. "You have my number."

Kiril limped home from the funeral parlor with part of Anastasia's ashes in the small, porceline urn, and the rest of them in a paper bag. He emptied her ashes in her garden, mixed the dirt with his hands, and went inside to drink vodka in the parlor. The next morning, hung-over, alone, and bored, he checked his mail. In it was a ticket to Moscow, one-way, first class. Several weeks later, Kiril was on a plane to Moscow.

Alexander met him at the airport and they went straight to Dimitri's place, a small pirouski shop just outside Istra. When he got there, it was dark. Alexander carried Kiril's single bag. Two tall Russians in dark grey suits stood just inside the door, it was not much brighter inside the place. There were no customers and the only light came from a room in the back, behind the bakery's ovens.

"Is that Kiril I hear coming this way?" Dimitri's voice was loud and deep, he spoke in Russian with a rural accent.

"Yes, it's me," Kiril replied in the same rustic Russian as he enter the back room. There was Dimitri counting money on the table and putting it in a safe-bag. He hid the bag under the table and got up heavily. "Ha Ha it's been too long my friend! Come over here and we'll play some cards and drink some vodka! Do you still smoke cigars?"

"No, I gave that up recently," Kiril limped into the room and sat down at the small table. Alexander was in the front of the store, talking with the tall guys standing in the dark. "You know I never thought I'd come back here."

"No one expected you too, I guess I was just worried about you my friend, all alone in that horrible country."

"I wasn't alone," Kiril lied, "There are plenty of people in Los Angeles."

"Sure, sure, well what should it be my American friend, poker?"

"How about Durak?"

"Well it's comforting to know you haven't forgotten where you come from, I'll deal, first we drink, then we can talk business."


Dimitri poured two small glasses and pushed one over to Kiril. "Here's to old friends and new beginnings huh?"

"Na Zdarovye."

"The truth is, Dimitri, I could not come back to work with you," Kiril said. "The money is fine, better than fine, but i have a clean conscience now and it took so many years of scrubbing to get there..."

Dimitri scowled dealt the cards. "You're full of shit Kiril, you got shot and then you got scared and you ran away with your tails between your legs. you were scared for your little Anastasi and you ran away." Dimitri lit his cigar. It was Cuban. Kiril felt his mouth water. "You took the plane ticket, you must have other reasons for coming back."

Kiril thought for a moment. "You know, I can't work for you, but I missed our old times I guess... do you remember that trip to Cuba in '89?"

Dimitri laughed heartily "I can't believe that we didn't get caught!" In those days of economic upheaval, the only way they could get out of the country was to stowaway in traincars that crossed the southern border, eventually they were able to get to Cuba by stowing away on a cargo ship. They came back in with a few kilos of cocaine as their new start.

They retold old stories and laughed until the dawn. Kiril left to stay in a hotel as the shop opened for the morning business.

Kiril had said he wouldn't work for Dimitri, but they both knew there was no other way he could live. Kiril was experienced in accounting and began to take over a couple of Dimitri's front-shops. His creative work earned him much more than the salary one would expect of a deli manager and laudomat operator.

He stayed at the hotel and lived hand-to-mouth, and as the days got shorter, he felt Anastasia's presence begin to sour in his soul. They had been together since the early eighties, had immigrated together, lived together, more than twenty years. He knew she wouldn't approve of his lifestyle, but there was nothing but that empty house to come back home to in Pasedena, and besides, Dimitri was a good friend to have for a drinking partner, or which he was doing more and more of. Still as the weather turned colder, Kiril seemed to grow warmer.

In December he was often seen walking around in the snow without an overcoat. The other patrons at the hotel would stare in wonderment as he walked by. The very air arround him began to feel warm to strangers. Then again, he was drinking pretty heavily, and the MaĆ®tre d’ suspected he had more alcohol than blood.

At night, Anastasia would come to him in dreams. She would say "it's so hot here, why did we move here again?"

and he would reply

"because it's so cold in Moscow..."

One day in January, Kiril left the hotel dressed in bermuda shorts and a t-shirt. The doormen tried to stop him, because it was negative thirty-five outside, an extreme cold even for this part of Russia. When they tried to hold him back however, his body heat penetrated their snow-gloves, and so they let him go.

"He's crazy, he must be ill," one of the doormen said.

"Good riddence," the other doorman said, "Every night he keeps up the other guests, drinking all by himself and laughin all night long. I'll be glad to see him go!"

He walked passed the Pirouski shop were Dimitri and Alexander saw him. They tried to get him to come inside but he kept walking. They followed him, yelled at him, tried to get him to come inside, still nothing worked. As he got closer to the river, he seemed to grow hotter and hotter. Steam from the ice in the air arround him began to evaporate in big grey clouds. His skin was bright red by this point, he looked like a walking fire-brand. Kiril began laughing, a hot, gutteral laugh. A laugh like only Russians can laugh, from the bottom of his belly, like someone had just told the best joke in the world.

"It smells like his flesh is burning, Dimitri, what's going on here?" Alexander tried to grab onto Kiril but to no avail, his body heat burned through Alexander's mittens. "Ouch! He's on fire I tell you!"

"Kiril what are you doing? I will have to call the police if you don't come back to the shop with us! You must be ill with fever! we'll take you to the hosital!" Dimitri struggled to catch up with him. "Where's your cane, Kiril? How can you move so fast?"

"It's so cold in Moscow! HAHAHA!" was the only thing Kiril said as he kept walking. He said it over and over as he laughed and laughed. At the bank of the river, Dimitri and Alexander watched as he took off his clothing and lept into the water and his body dissapeared as the river exploded in a cloud of steam.