The Therapist or the Dictator? (The Sage and the Scarecrow)

Project Summary: The following is a short passage from  Chapter 2 from my 2004 novel The Sage and the Scarecrow.

At the moment, I am revising the chapters from this book into 3-4 page short stories for posting on my blogs and in literary magazines.

The Novel in Short: Six months after his father has died from cancer, Pierce finds himself in a state of anxiety and crisis. The book follows Pierce through a journey to find his best friend and the only person he thinks can “cure” him.


Excerpt from Chapter 2 “The Therapist or the Dictator?”

Eventually, the subject of my dad’s funeral came up.

“I didn’t go. I’ve never liked funerals. Besides, he wouldn’t have cared. All the important things I needed to say to him, I said at home. He would’ve thought it was a load of nonsense.”

“Did you cry after he passed?”

“I did enough crying while he was sick.”

He asked me a few more questions, but I wasn’t listening.

I asked him, “Do you ever tell any of your patients, ‘Yes, all your fears and paranoias are completely justified and it’s the world that should change, not you’?”

He thought about it for a moment. “Sometimes I’d like to,” he said. “But the truth is it’s easier to change yourself than to change the world. There are things I’d like to change. I guess maybe I’d like someone to tell me that I could change it all. Then again, that person would be a different kind of monster. Someone with a youth mob and guns, instead of advice and medication like me.”

That made me really think. “It’s either the therapist or the dictator then?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

I looked up at Jamie in his nice suit. I suddenly admired this guy. He was listening to me. He knew I was on some wavy ocean steering between the Scylla of apathy, amorality, and neglect and the Charybdis of fascism and totalitarianism.  

And that was the crux of it. With his suit and tie, he made me think that perhaps this — my quest — wasn’t a complete waste of time.

You can read the entire chapter here:


Sally’s husband had been having trouble with his ears of late. Sally had the sneaking feeling he had allowed the wax in his ears to build up on purpose.


“You see…”




“The earwax is a metaphor for our relationship.”




“A metaphor.”




“For our inability…our unwillingness to facilitate…”








“Our unwillingness to listen to each other.”


“What? I can’t hear you. My ears are clogged.”


He seemed committed to this charade, so Sally tested her husband.


“You know I’ve been sleeping with another man.”


Her husband just squinted as if he hadn’t heard anything.


“Three men, in fact. At the same time. One of them a dwarf.”




“I guess, I was just getting tired of your small dick.”


“Did you say something about my brother Nick?”


“Yeah, he was there, too. He was holding the camcorder.”


Her husband raised an eyebrow.


She thought about handing him a q-tip and some alcohol like she had the last time. She thought about sending him to a doctor to finally get his ears checked out. She thought about these things, but then she thought better of it.


“You know after I toss the dwarf down the well and murder your brother Nick, I think I’ll sell the sex tape to some off-brand porn production company. Then, when it’s available commercially, I think I’ll invite your mother to watch. Then, I think I’ll throw her down the well, too. She should survive for about a week eating the fleshy remains of the dwarf and your brother. It seems like we haven’t really been making use of the well in the backyard as much as we could. There are so many of your relatives I would like to throw down that well and watch starve to death.”


Her husband smiled as if he had understood her. But she knew he hadn’t. It was that blessed earwax. That glorious, blessed earwax.


“You know darling, after twenty years together, I think this is finally the start of a beautiful marriage.”


He smiled at her, then squinted slightly. “What?”


Drinking Water (A Short Story)

The follow story comes from the book “Reejecttion”. The book is absolutely free. You can download it free:


On Goodreads:


Or on Smashwords:


The only thing he really liked about the man was his name—Lake Finnegan. For some reason, James associated the name with something out of a classic novel or a movie or something. The first time he heard the name mentioned by one of the baggers at the Stop n’ Shop he thought the person was talking about someone else. One of the other baggers had said to him, “Hey, don’t let guys like Lake Finnegan get to you.” James’s first thought was that Lake was one of the mean war vets he was constantly meeting. Then one day another of his fellow baggers, Sampson, said to him as he was wiping down the cash registers, “Man that wrinkled racist motherfucker told me to go get him some dog food. He was yelling at me from his beat up old car like it was last century. Fuck that Finnegan dude.”


Later he would see Lake drive up in his old rusted Cadillac and know exactly who Sampson was talking about. The old man, his many wrinkles, wearing oversized clothes, and sunglasses, looked like hate incarnate. He found Lake one day just lounging around near the front of the store openly gawking at one of the female customers. If it had been any other store, Lake would have been banned. But good ol’ Stop n’ Shop needed Lake and his smoking habit.


Since James started at the Stop n’ Shop as a bagger, as far as he could count, two female clerks and a female bagger had quit. It was hard to know exactly why someone quit, but James thought that Lake’s creepiness must have figured into their decisions somehow. With his leathery skin and slouching gate, he would hang out in front of the supermarket and chain smoke Marlboros. Sampson claimed that Lake knew exactly when the female employees went out on their breaks, knew exactly where they would likely smoke their cigarettes, and then used his eyes to harass them.


The one he really cared about was Kelly Marcus. James, in his twenty-year-old been to college looking to save up to go back to college funk, thought of Kelly as his oasis. She was seventeen when she started working at the cigarette and lottery counter. What was she even doing there in the first place? He remembered the first time he had seen her at his high school—he was a senior, she was a freshman. She was sweet, bubbly, an honors student. What could she possibly get from working the counter at the Stop n’ Shop?


For the most part, James’s approximate year at the Stop n’ Shop had been shit. He worked forty hours a week cleaning up spills, bagging groceries, taking orders. At night, with all of his friends already gone to other places, he would go out to the movies by himself. He would watch film after film. Often he would buy one ticket and sneak into two or three movies. When he had done this with his friends in high school the experience had been exciting. But now, by himself, there was something pathetic about it. James was aware enough to know that this was a manner of escape.


When he saw Kelly working the cigarette and lottery counter, his first thought was that she wouldn’t last a day. She came in her first day wearing the same white-collared polo shirt and dark slacks as the rest of the employees. And she seemed to have done nothing at all with her dirty blond hair except put it into a ponytail with a few bangs hanging off the side. And yet, she was striking. She also seemed impossibly young and optimistic, almost like she was still a freshman in high school. In James’ mind it seemed as if the violence of the real world was all but imminent. It would come upon her all at once. It would happen to her the same way it had happened to him in college. They—whoever they were—would find the cracks, squeeze through them, and turn that same look into something miserable and forlorn.


She might have been safe. That is, if she hadn’t been working at the lotto and cigarette stand. As his manager often said, there would be no store without the lotto and cigarette stand. And it was no accident that a pretty blond girl had been chosen to man the station.

Her first day, though, she was bubbly and cheerful as ever. What shocked James was that Kelly knew his name. Her first day she called to him, “James, remember me? We went to Casselberry High together.”


It didn’t occur to James until afterwards that he had been a little bit well known in high school in his own way. Though implausible at the time, he realized afterwards that Kelly could, in the strange universe of high school, have even had a crush on him. When he was around Kelly, the awfulness of the last year and some odd months of his life seemed to fall away. In the minutes he had between his various tasks he would chat with her about how things were going in high school.


The more he talked, the more he wondered what she was doing there. She never complained about her job. She never followed the other girls outside to smoke. She just stood behind her counter—cute as hell—with quiet dignity and did her job. Little things drove him crazy. The few times he got close enough to smell her, he thought he smelled the scent of oak trees. Not perfume, but oak trees. She smelled like she spent all her time outside in fresh air.


He couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow everything was off. James was sure he was supposed to be there because he was a fuck up. But she should’ve been off at cheerleading or something.


And for a while things continued like this. Kelly showed up to work three days out of the week, sometimes four. And she stood there with her quiet dignity and did her work, and he did his. They occasionally talked. And it seemed perfectly reasonable to think nothing would change.


Then one day Lake showed up in his car, screeched to a halt right in front of James as he was bringing in shopping carts and yelled, “I need some drinking water, boy!”


Though Lake was white and James was white, Lake sounded like a bigot as he said it.


At first James didn’t know what to do. Had he heard the old man correctly? Lake sat in his Cadillac with the engine on. It seemed as if he wanted it hand delivered.


“Are you deaf? I want some drinking water.”                                       


James stood there for a full twenty seconds just looking at Lake, not quite sure how to respond.


The way James remembers it, a voice came from right behind him. It wasn’t necessarily Sampson’s voice, just a voice. He didn’t hear exactly what the voice said, but it must have been something like, “Leave that man alone.”


James just stood there until Sampson came into view. Before he knew it, Lake was out of his car, standing toe to toe with Sampson. The car was left in the middle of the parking lot and Lake was yelling obscenities and racial slurs at the top of his voice even as Sampson towered almost a full foot taller than him.


Sampson stood there for a good five minutes taking each slur in stride, saying “It’s time for you to leave, old man” in intervals.


James, once he had finally come to his senses, tried to get Lake back into his car.


“Bitter old man is what you are,” said Sampson. “Go home, bitter old man.”

Lake got as far as the driver’s side seat. James thought he was going to get into his car and leave. Sampson must have had the same idea because both of their backs were turned. But just as Sampson had turned around a wrench flew in his direction. The wrench probably missed by a few yards. The old man must have had it just lying around in his car. What happened next was what almost everyone else knows. Sampson approached Lake so fast the man didn’t even have a chance to run. As Sampson approached, James remembered the look of fear in Lake’s eyes. And then Sampson slapped Lake so hard that he fell to the ground.


Kelly listened in astonishment. James asked her if she had ever met Lake.


“I think I know him. Horny old man. Always pervs on the female staff. We’ve been acquainted.”


James still couldn’t get the image of Sampson slapping Lake across the face out of his head. Afterwards the police had shown up. Someone in the Stop n’ Shop had called the police. The police took everyone’s statement. Lake sat on the sidewalk, mumbling, crying a little bit, and then occasionally yelling something in Sampson’s direction. He held his mouth and mumbled things about a tooth that had gone loose. James mentioned the wrench about three times. Sampson wouldn’t be arrested, but he was fired later that week. After that James hadn’t heard much. Things went back to normal. He stopped seeing Lake. He assumed that Lake had been banned from the store and that the old man was too embarrassed to show his face.


Soon it would be summer. Kelly worked a lot more during the summer. And they found themselves talking more and more. James began to catch up with some of his friends who were back in town from college. After work he would sometimes go out with his friends to drink or smoke weed. Somewhere down the line, it must have been close to the end of the summer when she was about to start her senior year, Kelly broke down in tears at work. When James asked her what was the matter, she told him: her mother and father had gotten a divorce not too long ago. Now her father was remarrying.


James put his arm around her. His year and several odd months of working at the Stop n’ Shop had brought him closer to Kelly. Somehow, they seemed more alike now. He remembered things about himself that he had forgotten his first year of college. It almost seemed possible that he could ask her out. He would find a group of friends to hang out with. Things would be, well, normal again.


Not long after that, Kelly quit her job. It happened suddenly one day right around the time Lake started coming around again. He asked Todd, one of the managers, why Lake had been allowed back in the store. Todd lamely replied that he wasn’t even aware of a ban on Lake, and that if they banned one lousy bigot from the store they would have to ban them all. James had the feeling that the store was on its way downhill anyway. They started cutting back on hours, the clientele was getting shadier, and girls like Kelly, no matter how bad their situation, would eventually stop working there.

A week after Kelly had left, he found himself hanging around the store, hoping she would show up to collect her last check. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was Lake that had forced her out. On one of the days not too long before she quit, he had seen him hanging around the lotto and cigarette stand, gawking at her.


James felt like he had to leave anyway. He didn’t know exactly how he would do it, but he would find his way back to where he was supposed to be. He would find his way back to the time when he wasn’t such a loser—if that time still existed.


A month after Kelly had quit, James was pushing carts in when he noticed Lake just sitting there in his car. This time, Lake whistled in James’s general direction. “Hey, boy. Boy. Over here. I remember you. If I give you some money, you go get me some cigarettes?”


James ignored him and went into the store to continue his work.


The day passed by sluggishly as it usually did. How many years could James go on like this? How many months? Eventually, Lake would stop coming or he would pass away. The Stop n’ Shop would probably go out of business at some point in the next few months. The future was hard to see. He had a feeling deep in his stomach that there wouldn’t be any more girls like Kelly in his future, but that it was entirely possible that his next job would be at another dump like the Stop n’ Shop.


Later, he saw Lake leaning on the wall outside the Stop n’ Shop. James was out back collecting carts when he saw him there. He hadn’t bothered going inside. He was just hanging outside the store. “Hey, you got my cigarettes. Boy, I’m talking to you.”


It’s hard to believe that Sampson had been shitcanned for smacking this sack of shit. They should have given him an award, James thought.  

James didn’t know exactly how he decided to do it. But he found himself walking into the Stop n’ Shop. He picked up some drinking water from one of the shelves and brought it outside.


Lake looked at him bewildered. “Boy, I didn’t ask for no goddamn drinking water. I asked for some cigarettes.”


James opened the water and began tossing it in the direction of the old man’s crotch. Soon, with the crotch area of his pants soaked with water, Lake was hopping up and down, yelling obscenity. His face turned red as he shouted. He looked like he might go back to his car and find something to throw at him or something to try to beat him with.


James looked the old man in the eyes. “You try anything, and I will smack the shit out of you.”


Something about the way he said it made Lake pause. With his trousers doused in water, James felt just the slightest bit of pity for the old man. Could he really blame Lake for wanting to see the girls for just a little bit everyday? Could he blame him for wanting to remember a time when he was young and women found him attractive?


Today James would quit his job and go see a movie. Things would sort themselves out later or they wouldn’t. He had a strange feeling in his stomach, something that most people would not have described as good, but for James there was no word for that feeling, and instead of stopping to find a name for it he felt it better to hurry before he missed the seven o’ clock showing. After that, he would just have to figure out what came next.


What is Magical Realism?

In the midst of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s wonderful novel, “The General and his Labyrinth,” we get this wonderful passage about one of General Simon Bolivar’s greatest lovers:

“…she traveled in a caravan worthy of Gypsies, with her trunks on the backs of a dozen mules, her immortal slave women, and eleven cats, six dogs, three monkeys educated in the art of palace obscenities, a bear trained to thread needles, and nine cages of parrots and macaws that railed against Santander in three languages.”

Is it real? Is it magic? Surely, slave women cannot be immortal. Unless they are. Surely, monkeys cannot be trained in obscenities. That should come naturally to them, and surely in a monkey’s mind there is no different between palace obscenities and just plain obscenities. A bear trained to thread needles? Parrots and macaws that rail against political opponents in three languages?

What are the numbers? 12, 11, 6, 3, 1, 9, 3. Such specific accounting! If the bookkeeping is in such great order, then how can it not be true? (Trust me, I speak as a social scientist when I say most statistics are just magical fiction!)

Companies pay taxes, and they are nothing but useful fictions. They pay taxes to the state — which is also a kind of fiction. They pay with currencies, which have value because of collective fantasies. So, if ghosts were real wouldn’t they pay taxes? Or, would they convince their counterparts that things like “states,” “taxes,” and “state currencies” are just fairy tales told by power-hungry storytellers?

When you think about it very carefully, our lives are both wonderfully magic and undeniably real (or is that the other way around?).

Hollowing Out in the Apocalypse (Sage and the Scarecrow – Chapter 1)

Project Summary: The following is Chapter 1 from my 2004 novel The Sage and the Scarecrow.

At the moment, I am revising the chapters from this book into 3-4 page short stories for posting on my blogs and in literary magazines.

The Sage and the Scarecrow by Daniel Clausen

The Novel in Short: Six months after his father has died from cancer, Pierce finds himself in a state of anxiety and crisis. The book follows Pierce through a journey to find his best friend and the only person he thinks can “cure” him.


Chapter 1 – Parables of Straw and Bamboo or Hollowing Out in the Apocalypse


People often ask me about my beliefs: whether I believe in God, whether I’ve read the good book, and the like. I tell them I’m an English major and that I have a horrible propensity for reading too many books and having too much free time on my hands. And, although I haven’t read the Bible, I have read Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ, and numerous amounts of Greek and Roman literature involving divine intervention. Religious fanatics always give me a strange look when I jokingly tell them that I’m currently forming a religion based on the revival of polytheism, the idea being that quantity over quality is the new direction in popular religion in this modern day of capitalist production.


This was the line of questioning Angie brought to me the Friday afternoon before I left school. It started innocently enough. She had called me an hour before to ask me if she could study with me at my dorm for our psychology test. I told her yes, hoping that helping her could somehow relieve some of the tension I’d been feeling over my upcoming exams. Lighten the mood, so to speak. I should have known, though. Angie never came over to study. She did what she always did — she came over to talk about her abusive boyfriend and chastise me for not being a Christian.




There is a place far from the reality you know. This place is a place like many in the world you know: people are hungry, people are sad, people spend more time in fear than in love. In this place, I sit alone on the beach and watch them. They look like giant mushrooms. I didn’t know they would actually look like that, but they do. Little mushrooms start to sprout everywhere in the distance.  




We were alone together in my dorm.


“Are you listening to me?” Angie asked.




“Are you listening to me?”


“Yeah, I’m listening. You were going to tell me about your boyfriend. You were reading him scripture and he said something like, ‘Don’t you have something better to do than read me scripture?’”


“No. What?”


“Sorry, perhaps you’d better explain it again.”


And on she explained, about whatever his name was and his abuses to her faith or her.


While she was talking I began having this conversation with myself. I found myself in some strange apocalyptic landscape. It was South Beach, but I was alone on the beach by myself and I felt myself slowly hollowing out. I found this voice in the wind whispering to me. I didn’t know what or who it was, but I began thinking about the new order and how we would build it on a world of readers, worldly philosophers who were ideologically opposed to a single book, but rather, embraced a manifold of books.


Books upon books.


Would such a religion hollow me out and make me into a straw man so light a strong winter wind would blow me away?


“Are you even listening to me?” she asked.


“To be listened to is to be loved,” I said to her. “Isn’t it?”


She smiled at me as if I had found the answer to every question known to the universe. If to listen is to be loved, then to whisper in the dark by yourself is to be the most wretched creature in the universe.


“I try Angie. I really do.”  




Moments before she had arrived, I had been reading Philip K. Dick’s VALIS in my dorm avoiding any work that would have taken me to a productive finale to the end of my semester. Why was I studying English? Where was my life headed? How would I eat once I graduated? You’d think these were the questions preoccupying me as I sat with my book.


My maturity at the moment prior to Angie’s arrival, unfortunately, didn’t reach to these questions. Intuitively, I understood that I would need to read books for more basic reasons — just to be able to go on. And then in the back of my mind came a sense of dread. A dread that Angie would arrive and I wouldn’t be able to go on in any spiritually significant way.




To see her for just a brief moment, you’d think she was sunshine. In five minute stretches she was the kind of tall athletic brunette you’d fantasize running off to Greece with. And in the first moment, when she stepped in and smiled, hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, it seemed fairly obvious that we would do just that: Abscond from finals to some romantic destination in Europe to make passionate love.


The problem was, she didn’t have her psychology book. And she never had any intention of studying psychology with me.


She asked me how I’d been, and then, without further prologue, asked me straight away whether I was a spiritual being or not, whether I believed in God, if I thought that there was such a thing as an afterlife. Then she asked me whether I was mad at her.


I told her that I wasn’t mad at her, and that I could have no good reason since I hadn’t seen her in almost a week. She didn’t seem satisfied by this, but dropped the subject and returned to her earlier line of questioning.


“God. I feel like I need Him more than ever. I need His love. Do you ever feel sometimes that you need to be loved so much that it hurts deep inside of you?”




It was sometime later. How long? I’m not sure. I had abandoned my books, and I found myself lying on the floor staring up at the ceiling.


“What do you believe in?” she asked me.  


“I don’t know how to put my beliefs in words. I guess it would involve explaining to you the ideas of a long list of people with German names. Don’t worry, none were involved with the Third Reich.”


Her eyes were irritated from crying now. When had she been crying? After a moment she let out a small laugh. I didn’t know where the laugh came from or what it meant. Perhaps she’d done it out of politeness.


She then went on to tell me all about her boyfriend, and how he didn’t believe in God and how he never listened to her. The subject matter wasn’t new. Every conversation I had with Angie usually cast a man as the object of some morality tale: whether it be her father, her brother, her old boyfriend, her new boyfriend, or another guy.


Eventually, the man became the villain. Such was the fate of all men in Angie’s world.




The Way and its Virtue has no advice that I can discern for how to deal with Angie. I whisper in Lao Tzu’s ear: “Sometimes people come to you not as people but as forces of nature that must endured. When these people enter your life, make yourself into deep-rooted bamboo and endure what must be endured.”




“….deep-rooted bamboo.”


“What did you say?” she asked.


I hadn’t realized I’d been talking aloud.


I couldn’t think of anything to say that would make sense to her, so I just stared at the ceiling in silence.


She leaned over me the way an intimate friend or girlfriend would do. Her eyes were still red from crying, but in this intimate position, I almost felt like I could fall in love. It made me feel horrible and sick and completely inadequate for the quest ahead of me.


What was the quest ahead of me? I can’t tell you, reader. Not yet.


Was it in this world or another?




On the beach, I’m alone but comfortable. Instinctively, I reach my hand out to grab something. Another hand? A bottle in the ocean with a message?


Things had changed, but I still don’t know where this other me is.


I don’t know if I am straw or bamboo yet.




“You’re so great, Pierce. Do you know that? You’re so smart, too. I wish my boyfriend would listen to me the way you do.”


She began to stroke my hair as she said this. She did this for awhile. And I tried to suppress the discomfort I was feeling. We just sat in silence and she kept stroking my hair. Somewhere along the line, while she was doing this, I sort of shuddered.


“What’s wrong?” she asked.


“Nothing,” I said. I hesitated for an instant, thinking about how long I could stay in this awkward position.


I felt if I listened anymore, I might cease to exist. I would blow away and scatter.


“He called me stupid and said that if I mentioned it one more time he would leave me. You should have seen his eyes. They practically screamed disgust and contempt. I thought I was done with that…”


Her head was on my chest now, and I couldn’t move. Something felt so good and right about this. I felt like a could nurture someone again. Suddenly, I wanted to listen. To make her exist in a way I never could. And she would exist and exist and exist until there was nothing left but mushrooms in a background.


“You’re strange, Pierce. You’re strange and wonderful, and sometimes I wish Scott would be just like you.”


She hugged me tightly with her head on my chest. I looked up at my ceiling and thought back to my bedroom in high school. I thought back to a short girl with blonde hair who had spent an afternoon putting glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling.


“Hug me, Pierce,” she said. Who had said that? Where was I?  




Her name is Jennifer.


In the moment, right before the apocalypse, I’m sitting with her. She holds my hand as I see these explosive clouds in the distance. She leans in to whisper something, but I don’t know what it is.


It could be a perfect sentence that will make everything okay. Or it could be an imperfect sentence spoken perfectly that will make everything okay. It could turn me into bamboo or my strawman-self could persist somewhere safe.


I don’t know because I can’t hear her. I don’t know how to listen to her yet.




I had managed to get myself into a sitting position. I think I’d been gentle. I think I’d moved her head off me in the most gentle way possible. Is it possible to be gentle and cruel?


She looked like she was ready to hit me, and then rage turned to tears.


“I’m sorry, I can’t hug you right now,” I said in something that must have sounded like an apology.


I felt things I couldn’t explain: Shame? A diminishing sense of being? A scattering of the soul?


She just looked at me with her eyes swollen red. I just stared at her like a dumb mute. I felt like I was staring into an abyss. Everything ended here and everything began.


“Say something,” Angie said. “Anything. I just need you to say something right now.”


She looked at me and her face seemed impossibly convex. It was almost as if there were two or three Angies struggling to gain control. Her eyes darted in various directions before finally settling on my face. Now she was smiling.


It would have been easy to give in.


“I can’t hug you,” I said again. I was surprised at how angry my words sounded. The tone of my words was so surprising that I gave out a small, crazy laugh, something that the other me who existed far away might think of as normal.


Perhaps in her mind, all she could see was another man demeaning her. Her eyes turned deep as if she were staring at something horrible in the distance. Not me, but something beyond me. I wanted to see it too. For a moment, I wanted to listen, not to her but the shadow voices that existed in her mind.


She reached out to touch me one last time, and before her hand even reached me, I was walking out the door with a room key, my wallet, and my backpack.




In this other place, I lose the hand and the words attached to them. I am alone again watching mushrooms blossom in the distance. My memory of her touch gives me hope, but little else.


I am alone with no way to love her.  




In the world you know as your own, Angie was behind me, in all likelihood still crying in my dorm. I was walking away to be someplace else to find quiet and comfort. She was still crying, but I couldn’t be sure she or I existed at all.

Sully Finally Buys a Drink

Jimmy wasn’t thirsty. He wanted a drink for other reasons. A beer would get him out of the cage Sully and his lot had been putting him in all night — that cage of being a lesser veteran.


“Come on, Jimmy. Where are your stories tonight?”


Still not thirsty, all Jimmy could think to say was, “Memory can play tricks on you that only alcohol can solve. Buy me one for a story?”


Sully knew tricks. He knew that memory wasn’t something that could be fixed with alcohol like a screwdriver to a loose electrical socket.  


“Actually, Jimmy, I think you owe me this one.”


Jimmy didn’t answer, only reached over the counter and grabbed some matches. He had kept matches from his time abroad, souvenirs for uneventful but patriotic times. He struck a match and thought of the one Sully had told of the crow eating the carcass of a dead soldier, so morbid and moving he’d gotten free drinks for hours.


His time in the service had been quieter. But so what. He couldn’t pretend he was in Sully’s league. But just for the night, he wanted to be the one to get the rounds.


“You know I don’t have any stories about fighting tigers to wow the crowd, Sully. But, I was a veteran too.”


The way Jimmy rubbed the pack of matches between his thumb and forefinger was making them both filthy with desire and longing.


Sully bought two bears.


“It doesn’t always have to be a competition, you know. I’ve known some vets who could talk rings around me. Too many good stories, real stories, and they build up in you like time bombs. A match like the one you’re playing with and they could explode. Sometimes, I don’t want to even compare stories. Might as well be two adolescents comparing dicks after school! No, tonight we just drink.”


Lao Tzu’s Soul in a Bottle – A Prelude (The Sage and the Scarecrow)

Project Summary: The following is the prelude from my 2004 novel “The Sage and the Scarecrow”. At the moment, I am revising the chapters from this book into 3-4 page short stories for posting on my blogs and in literary magazines.

The Sage and the Scarecrow by Daniel Clausen

The Novel in Short: Six months after his father has died from cancer, Pierce finds himself in a state of anxiety and crisis. The book follows Pierce through a journey to find his best friend and the only person he thinks can “cure” him.

Thinking about Lao Tzu helps me understand my own situation: why I’m writing these words to you, why I feel the need to connect to someone else.

The introduction of the Tao Teh Ching says that Lao Tzu was a librarian during the Warring States period at a library in the Chou capital, and that the book was his way of expressing the accumulated lessons he’d learned throughout his lifetime, regarding such subjects as how a state should be run, human psychology, metaphysics, creation, and so forth. The book roughly translated means The Way and its Virtue. I suppose it’s a story about a general way and a general virtue. But I can’t help thinking about the book as something lonely and personal.

When I think about Lao Tzu writing these words carefully on ancient scrolls or pieces of silk paper, or whatever was the way of writing back then, it helps me understand why I’m writing these words to you. The lonely spaces and places of our existence compel us to search out others, whether it be by words or some other means.

Sometimes I think of Lao Tzu alone in a library working on this scroll, as if he could put his soul in a bottle and cast it out to sea. The bottle would drift and drift, and then finally the right person would find it years later. Magical properties of the bottle would draw it to the right person at the right time in a way that would heal and redeem that person.

Philosophy and wish fulfillment are sometimes so close that I think any philosophy is really nothing more than the expression of a desire.

Nothing is really solved, but the longing for solutions and the creative energies that produce them fabricate things called solutions that just create more longing. They fill bottles upon bottles of human existence that float in a sea. We hope that a magical property exists that will attract the right person…

The accumulation of these bottles creates something not quite wisdom. But somehow in the dark ocean of our existence they light a kind way. Who can say if this way is virtuous or not in the end?
A girl named Jennifer gave me the Tao Teh Ching. Once upon a time, she was my best friend. But what she didn’t know was that she was the best of us, of everyone.

How can I be sure? I follow the bottles of human existence.

This story is about her and me, and for this reason the book has special importance; although this story is also about other things: human psychology, how a state should be run, the impossibility of love, (no metaphysics), the problem of existence, but mostly it’s about her and me, and my love for her.

On page ninety-one the Tao Teh Ching says: “Thus, an excessive love for anything will cost you dear in the end.” A homeless man who claimed to have a doctorate in philosophy once told me something very similar.