jd hager

My Muse

There is a crazy lady sitting across the little cafe patio from me. She is laughing and talking to herself, sipping something out of a paper cup that may or may not be coffee. She has headphones on but they are not plugged into anything. She seems to be singing along to her own soundtrack.
Naturally I take my journal out and start to write, her antics having stirred my creative juices into motion. She begins eyeing me suspiciously. She stands up and begins to rearrange all the empty chairs near her. She takes something out of her pocket that looks like a wet t-shirt and begins slapping it on the tables. She is kicking chairs out of the way and slapping the tables as she approaches me, SLAP, SLAP, SLAP. She is still speaking to somebody, perhaps even herself.

What am I writing? she asks, more accusation than question.  I better not be writing about her, she screams.

Of course I write this all down in my notebook, and tell her I am writing a poem about the woman I love.

This seems to satisfy her and she gets a dreamy look in her eyes, like I have just reminded her about something long forgotten. She nods her head and walks away, throwing her paper cup and wet t-shirt in the trash, her untethered earphone cord swinging behind her.

I put my pen down finally, my inspiration gone. The muse has left me behind again.

A Pirate in Disguise

Depending on which direction you’re traveling, our street is one block past Sunshine St. But the direction of approach is important. One block past Sunshine from the wrong direction and you end up in front of a long line of apartment complexes, the check cashing place, the laundromat Señor Burbujas, and the shady liquor store my wife is scared to go into. There is also a dive bar called Catfish Charlie’s.

I thought it might be a fish market or a sporting goods store at first, but when I finally got the courage to enter and explore all I found was a dingy hole in the wall that smelled like a recycled ashtray. The two guys sitting at the bar each had an eyepatch. What was the chance of that? I wondered briefly if Catfish Charlie’s was actually a pirate bar, which would explain a lot.

The inside of the place was greasy, smokey, sticky. It felt if someone actually lit a cigarette the entire place might ignite, including the two dirty pirates bellied up to the bar. At least the bartender had two eyes. But upon closer inspection one was a glass eye that seemed to be pointed in the wrong direction, like a pirate in disguise.

Help Wanted

An excerpt from A Pizza Heaven, from Mister Mustache and Other Stories

Nate couldn’t believe how quickly his luck had turned.

Less than an hour ago he’d been unemployed and homeless. Unemployed, if playing a guitar for change on Pacific Avenue wasn’t a job. Homeless, if an ‘85 Honda Civic couldn’t be considered a home. The collection of coins that constituted his entire fortune had shrunk into a sorry stack of pennies. He needed new strings for his guitar, and the Honda was running on fumes. He had seen the Help Wanted sign in the window, his stomach rumbling as he watched a burly man in a tomato-stained shirt spin a saucer of dough above his head, juggling it from hand to hand like some sort of overweight Cirque du Soleil acrobat.

Nate had inquired within, and the owner had been so impressed by his pizza delivery experience for Domino’s in D.C. that he wanted him to start right away. What Nate neglected to tell him was he didn’t even make it through his first night working for Domino’s in D.C. One second he was knocking on the door of a house with pizza in hand, and the next he was waking up in the bushes with all his most valuable possessions stolen and his head a splitting, painful throb. His shoes were gone, and his pants. The pizzas and his wallet and all the money that had been in his pockets. Even his car was gone. He had tried to flag down any passing motorist, but instead of slowing down, most people accelerated when they saw him frantically waving his arms in the street, just another crazy guy in socks and boxers.

Finally a passing police officer had picked Nate up and driven him back to Domino’s, where he had promptly quit his job. Wearing an emergency space blanket around his waist like a dress, he told his manager Tim that it just wasn’t worth it. Tim was a slow moving skeleton of man in his forties, with a huge scar across his forehead, and dark circles sunken into the skin around his eyes. Nate didn’t want to end up looking like Tim.

It was by way of evacuation and recovery that Nate had driven off in his Honda and landed in sunny, laid-back California, where the frenzied pace of life had been given a sedative. Everything around him screamed at Nate to slow down, relax and take a deep breath, to meditate toward that elusive goal of living perfectly in the moment, or as Nate liked to think of it, coming as close to doing nothing as was humanly possible. He had learned to play guitar and grown dreadlocks. He had lived for nearly two months with no job or residential address. He had explored the inner most reaches of his soul through the depths of his own impoverished dawdling. And, even though the ever-illusive goal of doing nothing had proved the most tedious, lonely and empty endeavor of his life, it suddenly felt to Nate like the good old days.

Nate couldn’t believe how quickly his luck had turned.

photo via


“I’ve had it up to here,” said Fitch, holding a hand up to the top of his enormous forehead. “It’s a managerial style that doesn’t account for the intelligence of the managed.”

The reflection of the fluorescent lights between the strands of his comb over made me doubt his intelligence myself.

image VIA

America’s Greatest Invention

After Jasper flipped out and threw that tray of milkshakes into the back seat of that Camaro, Mr. Bowdon took him off drive thru for good. That’s the last straw, Bowdon screamed, taking a straw and crumpling it between his sweaty fingers in an attempt to look menacing. I noticed a smear of ketchup on his crooked tie, and even though Mr. Bowdon was my boss, I felt sorry for him.

Bowdon marched Jasper into the back office and closed the door, and when they came out it looked like Jasper was about to explode and break the shake machine again. He got placed on fry station probation, and wasn’t allowed under any circumstance to speak to customers. Jasper was never exactly a ray of sunshine even on a good day due to the PTS he suffered in Desert Storm. If he wasn’t a veteran I’m sure he would have been fired a long time ago.

After the Camaro incident Jasper’s complaints became more insistent. His every moment was filled with laments about how much he hated J.J.’s, how much he hated Mr. Bowdon, and above all, how much he hated French fries. If I never see another French fry it will be too soon, he always said. Jasper had a habit of telling drive thru customers that we were out of French fries, simply because he loathed all contact with the offensive spudlets. I always wondered why Jasper didn’t just quit if he hated J.J.’s and French fries so much. As far as I could tell, I was the only person who actually liked working at J.J.’s Burger Den, mainly because I loved French fries, and it was pretty much all you could eat in the French fry department.

For all intents and purposes, I lived off French fries for nearly a year.

Donut Hut

Only one bad thing about traveling; the return to home, like a crash landing. Broke, burnt-out, mosquito-bitten, bad breathed, and culture shocked. All things of consequence mortgaged to finance six months of vagrant bliss, which suddenly and inevitably spirals back to this. Home.

Car sold, apartment relinquished, girlfriend gone, savings account on a horrible downward trajectory. Couch surf and search for employment. Scour the wants everyday and circle promising ads. Administrative Assistant. Busboy. Delivery. Sales Associate.

Fifty applicants per ad. Forced by desperation to accept something temporary perhaps. Like the graveyard shift at the Donut Hut. Just until something better comes along.

In the middle of the night, at Donut Hut, there are a few quiet moments. Eyes closed, the sounds of the video games take over, shooting, pinging and dinging. Step right up and witness the GREATEST SHOW on EARTH!! The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey’s Circus pinball machines announces over and over when nobody is playing it. The only way to stop it is to tape an out of order sign on the front and unplug it. Enjoy these quiet moments, channeling past adventures and planning future ones. Live the moment has been mantra, but living the moment in Donut Hut is difficult. Relegate the moment to a later time. Relive past moments. Just until something better comes along.

Mister Mustache

mister m

A humorous, touching, and unusual collection of short stories and flash fiction. Written by a former surf bum, biologist, and professional athlete turned middle school teacher, this collection documents both the ridiculous and sublime, and everything in between.

Read the the Short Story Mister Mustache at East of the Web

Read the the Short Story Droning at Bartleby Snopes

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