Jeffrey Skinner

A Brief Portfolio
February 25, 2024 Skinner Jeffrey

On Dreamboat: Two Questions, and the Ground Between



“What is truth?” Pilate asked.  Before Jesus could answer Pilate was on his way out the door.  It was a rhetorical question.  He was eager to speak again to the people outside who kept complaining about this weirdo, this rabblerouser, and get them to solve the problem in their own damn courts.  Or, just go away.  He didn’t care which.  Pilate was a busy man, with no time for metaphysical disputes, which in any case seemed to him trivial and beside the point.  The point was power, and his place within the power hierarchy.  Neither the complainers nor their opposition (if indeed there was any) could advance Pilate’s position in that hierarchy.  So, they were useless, as well as annoying.  And certainly Jesus, the accused man, who had answered Pilate’s perfectly reasonable questions with nonsensical riddles, could do nothing for him either.  Ahead of his time, Pilate was a proto-bureaucrat, a postmodernist, of very early vintage.


“What is writing but conscious dreaming?” said Borges.  It’s obvious in these pieces how much I owe, like so many, to Borges.  Like Pilate, Borges was also a postmodernist, though of a very different type.   Pilate’s form of postmodernism was entirely materialistic.  But Borges was a believer in the power of metaphor, and saw the forms and genres of literature as an opportunity to refract and reify his system of metaphysics.  His characters are more often shocked by echoes of their own presence in the world than they “grow,” or “learn,” as a result of events, tragic or otherwise, that happen to them.


We live in a prosaic age, when the majority of people need the descriptive, “based on a true story,” in order to suspend their disbelief.  Either that or they clamor for stories that are unabashedly fantastic, and have nothing but the most casual relationship with “reality.”   For entertainment and edification, we find ourselves having to choose between “fictionalized” documentaries, or Marvel comics.  Or, we stick entirely to non-fiction.  There’s not much room on this crowded stage for poetry, excepting that small sliver over there, in the far corner—poets, reading other poets.


 The Polish poet and essayist Adam Zagajewski spoke about the affinity some people have for the philosophical in poetry—metaphysical feeling, he called it.  In our era of cynicism and sadness I think we have for the most part lost this affinity.  But it has been my natural mode of contact with the world for as long as I can remember, and the model on which I build my poetry.


Dreamboat is a work in progress, a short book organized around the idea of a couple’s journey up the Rhine.  In this work the boundary between past and present, waking and dream, physics and metaphysics, is porous, hardly there at all.  I see these pieces, and the book as a whole, as occupying ground between the two questions, What is truth? and, What is writing but conscious dreaming?   After years of trying to make lines and sentences using the whole self, I think there is such a thing as truth, pace Pilate.  And it is richer, more capacious, more surprising, and more evasive, than we ever suspected.   All I do is keep an eye out.  Writing is seeing.

—Jeffrey Skinner




We Were All So Young


We showed up at Sarah’s sister Kim’s hotel room, which was near the Zurich airport.  Usually, airport hotels are basic, standard issue, but when we walked into her suite I was amazed: room after room filled with plush, modernist furniture, walls a subtle eggshell white and hung with real art, done by a discernably human hand.  There was a large living room, its track-lighting trained on what looked like a bronze gingko tree and was actually a fountain — when you looked closely you could see water issue from somewhere at the top of the tree and work its way down, leaf to leaf, in every direction.  A gas-powered fireplace was also on, its thin rectangle of flames cut into the lower third of the white marble mantel.  In addition to the three bedrooms there was also a kitchen, and two well-appointed baths.  It was really a very nice house, inside a hotel.


Then Kim led us through sliding doors opening onto a concrete patio with inset slate stone, around a good-sized pool.  “I thought we’d eat out here,” she said.  I was confused — hadn’t we taken the hotel elevator to the fifth floor?  How was this pool supported, what was beneath it?  And, how can the hotel afford to maintain a hundred suspended swimming pools?  Or, was this the bridal suite, the only one of its kind, and Kim had splurged because . . . why?  To impress us?  To treat herself, and her kids?  She’d won the lottery?  I had nothing against any of these possibilities, but remained puzzled.  Money was a forbidden topic in my wife’s family.  You couldn’t ask, you couldn’t even bring it up.


Our daughters Laura and Bonnie already had their bathing suits on under their shorts and t-shirts, and within minutes were doing cannonballs off the diving board and splashing around with their cousins.  We had to tell them, many times, not to run on the concrete and rock surrounding the water.  I took a seat at a wrought iron table with a large sailcloth umbrella skewered through its center, and watched the kids at play.  Every two minutes or so a low flying jet would rumble over us on its way to or from the airport, but it was no more disruptive than the children’s joyous shrieks.  I sat watching them, sipping my Banana Daquiri (I was still drinking).


What was the occasion?  Our families were so spread out we rarely got together, unless for a wedding or funeral.  It could have been either, though in early years weddings were more common than funerals.  From the hotel accommodations and the general mood, this seemed a very festive, special event.  But my memory comes in blank envelopes stuffed with disjointed images, like pieces from many different jigsaw puzzles, and it’s up to wakeful me to pour the pieces out and put them back together as best I can.  The pieces are mismatched, and I cannot, no matter how hard I try, discern the whole.  Just these isolate, jagged vignettes.


In this case I remember that, as the children played in the splashy sun and planes plowed a field of clouds overhead and I drank through another endless alcoholic day, a thousand rays of light attempted to penetrate the shuttered aperture of my soul.  Those pinpricks were coming dangerously close to illuminating the figure crouching within.  I knew then that I would switch to whiskey neat, or on the rocks, and make that my armor against the daily catastrophe.  By which I mean: the breathing, the striving, the forgetting.



Treat Williams


I was traveling through Europe with Treat Williams.  It was fun, except that Treat was constantly on the phone with his agent and other show biz types.  But, when we were quietly together, he would offer me grooming tips.  For example, one time he said, You trim your eyebrows and nose hair, don’t you?  I answered Yeah, sure. Why?  And he said, You really shouldn’t — it’s much more masculine if you just let them grow.


During the two summers I spent home from college I acted in musical plays for Stage Door for Youth.  Treat was also in both plays: West Side Story, and Carousel.  He was kind, talented, and extremely likeable.  He’d been a football player in high school, and I’d been on the varsity swim team, so the unusual combination of jock and an interest in the arts was something that drew us together.  And yet, in another way we were opposites: he seemed a light, carefree soul, while my soul was a thicket of shadows.  Maybe at that moment of our lives we needed each other.  In any case, we became friends.


When Carousel ended its run, at the cast party Treat told me he was going to drive his van cross country to L.A., and asked if I wanted to go with him.  At that point I did not have the slightest idea where I was headed.  But, the West Coast did not seem to be the right direction, so I said no.


Later, we were in Brussels in a pub watching the news in French, when a report came on that included a picture of Treat.  I don’t speak French, but it was obvious even to me that it was a report of his death.  Astonished, I turned to ask Treat if he’d just seen what I’d seen.  But he wasn’t there.  I looked all over the pub but couldn’t find him, and when I asked the bartender if he’d seen the guy next to me, whose picture had just been on the news, he sadly shook his head No.


I hurried back to our hotel room, where I found Treat packing his suitcase.  Where are you going? I asked.  My series has decided to begin filming early, he said.  Sorry.  Yeah, I said, that’s too bad.  We still had Spain ahead of us . . .  He said, I know, and I’ll miss those senoritas!  But you should go on without me.


When he’d finished packing and was about to leave for the airport he stopped at the door and said Listen, I know it’s been tough for you, but the invitation to go to L.A. still stands.  Also, I think instead of parting your hair on the side you should comb it all straight back.  Then he put his suitcase down and opened his arms for a big hug.  I hugged him, then stood leaning over the rail and watching as he walked down the long spiral staircase from our room to the lobby.  Halfway down he looked up and said, in a loud voice, Oh, by the way, if you do decide to come out west, I won’t be able to see you.  Sorry—that’s just how it is. 



The Forest of Pseudo-Science


I’m at an international conference where I’m going to impersonate a psychic.  I’m one of a four-person team — a woman and a man, myself, and another woman who came with me, a cross between my wife Sarah, and Nancy, a college girlfriend.  She seems mostly Sarah, though her looks are slightly more Nancy.


We’ve already gotten together, the four of us, back at school, and decided that because Sarah-Nancy is uncomfortable with the idea of impersonating a psychic, she will be the welcomer and administrator, and the remaining three of us will be the “psychics.”  I use quotes because all four of us are students, and this whole conference, or whatever it’s called, is a front for a psychological experiment.  But the parameters of the experiment have not been explained to us.  And we suspect our ignorance is in fact a variable, a planned part of the experiment.


At our meeting we also talked about how we would impersonate “psychics,” and decided that in addition to using standard tropes, like “I’m getting the feeling of a young girl, with a blue ribbon in her hair — does that mean anything to you?” we would leave open the possibility that there may be something real to the whole business, and that we may, amid the bullshit and flowers, actually say something to the clients that issued from an invisible realm.  At the same time, we promised each other to also be mindful of the fact that psychology had for a hundred years to fight against the notion that it is a pseudo-science and that we, in contrast, were doing actual, bona fide science.


Five minutes before the appointed start time our front office is already filled with clients.  Apparently, there is no shortage of people who have some kind of belief in the power of ESP, or mediumship.  I go out to meet my first client, a woman named Bessie Halbluie.  She is a pleasant looking bleached blonde woman in a blue dress covered with sewn-on white flowers.  The flowers are enormous, they nearly obscure the woman beneath.  I part the petals to greet her warmly, and tell her I’ll see her in a few moments, but I have one thing to take care of first.


Then I leave the waiting room and begin to search for the restroom.  I can’t find it anywhere in our team’s little bungalow (each team has their own), so I go outside and walk toward the next closest one.  There’s no restroom in it either, and I think probably all bungalows are the same and it would be fruitless to check out the others scattered throughout the forest.  I should look for a larger, more official looking building, one that would surely have a men’s room.  Finally, I come to such a building.  It even has a parking lot, which I find hopeful.


When I step inside, I find not offices but a three-story open space filled with free weights and tracks and all kinds of exercise machines and men (mostly) using the equipment: a gym.  I stroll the inside perimeter looking for a men’s room and find only more weights, etc. The only remaining possibility is a tall slide leading up to an enclosed space suspended near the ceiling, a space that may house a john.  I begin to climb up the wrong side of the slide, the way certain annoying boys always did on the playground during recess.  A line of men and women forms at the top, all wanting to descend.  I am halfway up, and the need to urinate is now imperative, so I call to those waiting, “Go on, just slide through my legs!”  And they do, shooting down in the laid-back, arms-crossed-over-chest death position, me standing on and holding to the steel sides of the slide as bodies zip by beneath.  When I reach the top I find an unmarked bathroom, filthy but functioning.


Back on the ground outside I immediately get lost in the forest.  I’m worried about getting back to my client, Mrs. Halbluie.  But I’m also strangely content.  I feel much as I did when younger, walking alone through the forests of upstate New York.  It was not a feeling of being “One with the forest.”  It was that I became “Part of the forest,” even, in some sense, “The forest’s completion.”  I could’ve gone on walking, maybe even built a hut, put down roots, raised a family . . .  But the executive portion of my brain soon returned me to task and I began to scan the horizon for a bungalow, even one far away.  I spotted one that looked familiar, in the distance, and began walking toward it.


Back in the bungalow my team was packing up, readying to go home.  Mrs. Halbluie was long gone, as were all the clients.  I apologized profusely to the team members, citing the lack of bathroom facilities.  The other man and woman part of the team accepted my apology and told me it was all right, they had covered for me, and no one was the wiser.  But the extent of my wanderings is . . . unforgivable, I said.  I am chagrined, ashamed . . .  The man and woman laughed off my objections, and each hugged me with conviction.  Then, they left.


“But, where is she?”  I said out loud.  There was a slight echo to my words.  Where is Sarah-Nancy?  I whispered, to the empty room.



The Physicist


I’m going to be honored at a diner in Connecticut for my work on quantum gravity.  I’ve done fairly well in the field, better than some, not so well as others, adding perhaps an inch of knowledge in comparison to Einstein’s thousands of miles.  I understand this, so I’m at peace with the fact that my celebration is being held in a Connecticut diner, and not the Town Hall in Stockholm.  Besides, I love diners.


My whole family is with me, and we sit in a crowded waiting area for a very long time.  I don’t have a great store of patience.  Finally I get up and ask the cashier what the wait is about.  I testily explain that a special area of the diner has long since been reserved for our event, and it’s now past the time we were scheduled to begin.  She apologizes, and says this is also the last night before their beloved chef retires, the same chef they’ve had for fifty years, and everyone in the county and beyond wants to share in this last meal.  I go back to the waiting area, muttering to myself.  Why would the diner accept our reservation in the first place, if they knew this was also the night of their stupid chef’s retirement?  And why, if this was a celebration in the chef’s honor, given on his last night before retirement, were they forcing him to cook?  Then I looked around and realized, with a jolt, that everyone who had come to celebrate with me—my friends, wife, daughters, grandchildren — was gone, vanished.  In fact, the entire waiting area was now empty, except for me.


After polishing off an excellent dinner of steak and eggs in a booth by myself, I pay and leave the diner on foot.  My family has taken the car I came in, and this is the time before cell phones.  I wander a narrow road bordered by forest on both sides, being careful to climb the shoulder when lights approach from either direction.  Every so often, I have to step around a deer, dying by the roadside.


After a long hike I come to the edge of the Atlantic, and in spite of the fact that it’s past twilight and I’m cold and clammy and have no idea where I am, I’m struck again by the beauty of the Connecticut shore, especially now, at twilight — these marshy inlets alternating with rocky stretches, the occasional edging of sand.  And cypress trees, my favorite, growing near the water, their smooth, beige, light green and silvery mottled skin.


I come to a large colonial house, with traditional white clapboard siding and black shutters.  The roof is steeply canted to shunt the heavy New England snows.  There are even a few wavy glass panels in the ground floor windows, which announce the house’s dignified age.  But by now I am less nostalgic and more urgently in need of warmth, and I knock on the front door.  No answer.  I try the door handle and it turns easily.  I enter.  There are no lights on and the house is lit only by a bright moon falling through the double hung windows.  The interior of the house is a thicket of gray-blue shadows, the shadows moonlight makes of everything it touches.  I walk quietly through the living room, kitchen, den, etc., and though there are signs of life — slippers left by chairs, dishes in the sink — I find no one, awake or asleep.


Having circled the ground floor, I’m back where I started.  I pad up the staircase in the front foyer to explore the second floor.  Here there are many bedrooms, more in fact than would seem possible from the first-floor plan, and each one has an unmade bed and even, here and there, a naked mattress marooned on the floor.  Clothes are strewn over chairs, bureaus, and floors.  I enter one room with a queen-sized bed, which I assume is unoccupied, and lie down, drawing the sheet and blanket up around me.  For a blissful moment I am warm and content.  I close my eyes.


When I shift slightly, my foot touches something like flesh, and a teenage girl pops up to the sitting position next to me.

“Who are you?” she says.

“I’m a physicist.”

“And that’s supposed to explain . . .?”

“I’m lost, and if you would let me use the phone, I could call my family to come pick me up.”

“There’s no phone here.”

“No landline?”

“What’s a landline?  And, who are you again?”

“A physicist.”

“Ha!  You’re pretty thick for a physicist!”

“I’m Doctor Fielding.”

“Sure, sure you are.  So, what are you working on, Doc?

“Quantum gravity.”

“And that is . . .?”

“Hard to explain.  But, simply put: we know from general relativity about the behavior of large objects — stars and planets, and the effect of gravity on those bodies in space.  And we also know about small objects like atoms, and sub-atomic particles, quarks, gluons, etc. — quantum mechanics.  The established rules work perfectly within both systems.  But when we try to put them together the equations are contradictory.  They don’t work.  And they should since, in the end, even stars and planets, and human beings, are composed of particles.  We’re missing something, something crucial.  That’s what I’ve been working on, for the past thirty years.”

“The problem has been around for thirty years?”

“More like seventy.

“And, other people have been working on it?”

“Thousands . . .”

“And still no one’s solved it?”

“Well, no.  But progress has been made”

“I see.”

“It’s a tough problem.”

“I guess so.  Could you get out of my bed now?”

“Yes, of course, sorry.”  I leap up.  “Is your mother or father home?”

“Down the hall, to the right.”



Each bedroom I pass, which I can see and hear into faintly—is filled with girls of varied ages, giggling and pointing at me.  There are stacks and stacks of bunkbeds, filled with girls.  What is this, I wonder, a dormitory for some girl’s school?  An Amazonian hatchery?


At the end of the hall I hear snoring coming from behind the door of the last bedroom, and quietly turn the knob and open.  Inside, a woman sits in a rocking chair, reading a magazine and pretending, every so often, to snore.

“Excuse me,” I say, “Sorry to disturb you.  I know I shouldn’t be here, but I’m . . .”

“Yes yes,” she interrupts, “I’ve been expecting you.”

“You have?  How is that?”

“Come here,” she says, and I do.

“Sit by me.”  I do.

“Now,” she says, “put your head on my lap.”  I do.  She begins gently stroking my hair.

“I’ve come from the diner,” I say, “I’m just trying to get home,”

“Shush,” she says, “I know.”

“There was to be a dinner, at the diner, in my honor.”

“Nice rhymes.”

“But it didn’t happen.”

“I know that, too.”

“Do you have a phone?”

“You won’t need a phone.”


“No, not here.  But we have everything else.  And we’ll be happy to arrange a big, fancy state dinner to honor your work.  If you like.  Really, though, none of that matters.  Solved or not, the problem of quantum gravity explains nothing.  It’s about as important as the daily news, the price of hog futures, bellybutton fluff.  Billions have lived and died without knowing what a quantum is, let alone quantum gravity.  And many of those people died after a full life, without even knowing how much they didn’t know.  So.  The important thing is: you’re here.  You’re home.”  She was still stroking my hair.  “There there,” she crooned, as if it were a lullaby,Sleep, little physicist, sleep.”



The Velocity of Money


On the train from Zurich to Lisbon I fall in with a trio of grifters. Their names are Pico, Avenir, and Calibri.  Pico is a dark eyed young woman, sleek as a mink.  She and Avenir are Portuguese.  Everything about Avenir is laconic, including his close-cut mustache.  But when he does speak the other two listen.  Calibri, an Italian from Naples, wears a white sport coat with a white carnation in the lapel.  I get the feeling this is what he always wears.


After talking and joking around with them for an hour in the bar car it turns out they think I’d make a good front man — the guy who talks, the one who distracts the mark with some kind of frammis while the others are actually doing the stealing.  Frammis (they explain to me) is the patter, the pitch.  It is also, I say to myself, a cool word.  But, I speak only a little German, I object, and it must be hard to invent convincing patter in a language you are not fluent in.  Avenir says no, that’s perfect — at some point in the pitch I can pretend frustration and switch to English.  That will enhance the mark’s notion of my sincerity, and that, combined with greed, is at the heart of a good con.  Also, people at the level we’re after will speak English.

After a pause to let it all sink in, Avenir asks, “What do you say?”

“Are you serious?”


The train ride will be a long one, and I have been feeling bored with my years of good behavior.   And, I realize with a delayed, sad shock, I’ve already been drinking—I’ll have to change my sobriety date in any case.  So, fuck it.  After a few more drinks I agree to join Grifters, Inc.  There are good humored congratulations all around, and we carry on drinking until Avenir, who seems to be the unofficial leader, says we should all get some sleep.  We need to be at our sharpest tomorrow, and besides, as the “roper” he’d like to do some late-night research on several passengers he’s picked out as potential marks.  So, Boa noite, he says, and leaves the bar car.  Calibri soon also stands, gives Pico’s arm a light squeeze, and simultaneously slips something into her hand.  Then he toasts me again, empties his glass, and exits.


Pico looks at me conspiratorially — on her face a seductive look, and extends her left hand, fingers out. “What do you think?” she says.  She’s obviously talking about the engagement ring weighing down one finger, a honking diamond surrounded by emeralds. To me, it’s kind of ostentatious.  But, to each her own.

“It’s beautiful,” I say.  “Congratulations.  Who’s the lucky guy?   Let me guess—Calibri?”

Her face instantly darkens and she withdraws her hand.  “No!” she says, “Don’t ever say that!  Don’t ever say anything like that!”

“Okay, okay.  Sorry . . .”

“It’s Avenir.  Avenir gave it me.  Just last week.”

“Again, congratulations.”

“Thank you,” she smiles.  “It is a forty-thousand-dollars.”

“What?!  Wow, just . . . wow!”

I take her hand and hold it in my palm, turning it this way and that, searching inside the diamond for its forty-thousand-dollar secret.  But I don’t know a thing about gems.  To me it looks just like every other diamond I’ve seen, only bigger.

“The man I love is very generous.”

“You can say that again.”

“He’s treat me so nice — all the time, nice.”

“Well, I wish you both all the luck.”

“Thank you,” she says.

“But, if you don’t mind — what’s up with you . . . and Calibri?”

“No, listen,” she hastens to reply, “it’s not — it’s nothing.  I should have said no thing about him!   About Calibri.  It’s just that.  Really, the thing is . . .  Avenir.  He is so jealous.  Very sweet, but jealous.   When some man looks at me, whew, look out!  Once, Avenir stabbed a guy in the arm, because he light my cigarette.”

This takes me by surprise, and I let out a long breath as I take a moment to respond.

“Whoa!  Hmmmm . . .  So, yeah . . .” I say.  “I get it, I guess”

“But I don’t want to end the evening on so sad note,” she says.  “Welcome to the family!”

Then smiles, hugs me, and kisses me on the mouth.  I watch as she walks out of the bar car.


I’m flying under my own power over a desert.  Below me I see the framework of several pyramids, or, they may be swing sets for the children of giants.  It’s difficult to tell.  Flying itself feels more like swimming underwater than moving through air, there is the same blur and thickness.  I could use some goggles or safety glasses.  But, otherwise, it’s all pleasure.  The surrounding air gently coats and buffets me.  All I have to do to pilot is a series of small, instinctive movements of my arms and legs.  Easy peasy.  There are no sirens, no car horns—no sounds at all but the whoosh of wind swirling past my ears.


On my right I see a Pterodactyl flying at eye-level, and on the sand beneath it a fleet of horse-sized ants being ridden by Bedouins.  I can tell it must be extremely hot down there, but the air around me is pleasant, it seems to have no temperature at all.  Up ahead, a skyscraper-sized chess-piece, a Queen, rises up from the sand at an angle, and I must adjust my flight in order to delicately thread the spikes of her crown.


Then, something goes wrong.  I can’t tell why, but I begin losing altitude. I try flapping harder but that doesn’t help.  And so I careen downward with increasing speed and crash into one of the swing sets, and the crash sets the swings in motion and they go clanging into each other and the swing set’s sides, steel chain on steel pipe.  When I lift my head to access the damage, I see from the brightening stateroom window that dawn is coming on.  I understand, finally, that someone is knocking at my door.  I stagger up from bed.


It’s Colibri.  Without saying a word, he hustles past me, then turns and says in a loud whisper, “Shut the door!”  Very agitated, he sits down on the stateroom sofa and places something on the coffee table, then gestures me to join him, and I do.  The object Colibri has placed on the table is Pico’s engagement ring.

“Where did you get that?” I say.

“I couldn’t sleep, so I headed back to the bar.  You guys were gone, but when stopped at the restroom on the way to the bar I found this, on the floor near the bidet.”

“That’s Pico’s ring.”


“Why don’t you just give it to her?”

“Because, if Avenir is with her — and he almost always is — he’ll suspect I stole it from her, or she and I were cooking up some elaborate blackmail plan, or . . . something.  Avenir is the most suspicious man I know, and he has a nasty temper.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Please call her.”


“If you give it to her, even if Avenir finds out he won’t think badly of you.  I just need to stay out of it.”

“Ok . . . I guess.  But, what do I tell her?  She was wearing the ring when we said goodnight.”

“Tell her a porter found it after she left, and because he saw you with the three of us, he gave it to you, to give to her.”

“Ok,” I said.  “What’s her number?”


Colibri gives me the number and I call and when she answers Pico is frantic.  She blurts out what I already know, and how she’s been looking everywhere for the ring.  When I tell her I have it, and that a porter found it in the restroom near the bar after she left, and gave it to me, she gushes with relief and gratitude.  Then she asks if I knew the porter’s name, because she wanted to give him a big reward for finding the ring—five thousand Euros! she said.  When I protested she didn’t have to give him nearly that much she insisted — the man had saved her life, it was worth it, every Euro.  But she must keep this from Avenir, at all costs.  God knows what he would do, she says.


I put a hand over the receiver and tell all this to Colibri, who tells me to tell Pico I know the porter, and could give him the reward.  If she wants, she can give me the money and I’ll just pass it on.  I take my hand from the receiver and tell Pico.  “Perfect!” she says, “I’ll be out of the picture all the way, and no one will know!  Thank you, soooo much!”  She’ll knock on my door with the five grand, she adds (along with a big kiss), in ten minutes.


I tell Colibri and he hands me the ring.  There is no porter, as you know, he says.  So if you will give me three thousand Euros now, you can just hand Pico the ring when she comes, and you keep the whole five thousand.  That’s an extra two thousand Euros for yourself.  But, I said, isn’t that unfair?  To Pico?  Look, Colibri said, you’re part of our group now — you’re a grifter, like me, like Avenir, like Pico.  In this life you’ve got to take what comes to you, especially if it comes easy, as long as your partners don’t get hurt.  Avenir is a rich guy, he’s very good at what he does.  And he’s the source of Pico’s money.  Neither one of them will miss a measly five thousand, I can tell you.  I don’t know about you, but I can think of a few interesting things I can do with three thousand.  Look, he said again, it’s one of the few rules of the grifting life — you never turn down easy money.


I started thinking about the exciting life I was about to enter, a life of great risk and great reward, so unlike the safety of the tenured, academic gig I’d had for so long life, which had come to seem stale and unimportant.  I thought of the endless, bleak, repetitive department meetings, the students who came to me having read fewer books each year, but nevertheless wanted to write books.  The yearly budget crisis, which always somehow resolved in the administration’s favor, with more work and less money for the faculty.  The frustrating ethos of my colleagues –- cutthroat with each other, cowards when dealing with anyone else, and, oh, more . . .

“Ok,” I said to Colibri, “I’ll do it.”


I went to the safe provided to each stateroom in a bureau drawer, opened it, counted out three thousand Euros, and gave it Colibri, who left hurriedly because, he said, he didn’t want to run into Pico.  It was money earmarked for our travel and lodging for the rest of the voyage.   But I knew how pleased Sarah would be when she heard I had added two thousand Euros to our fund.  Or, maybe I would tell her it was an extra one thousand instead of two.  I’d been eyeing a portable electric bike recently, and a thousand would just about cover it.  Or I could give $500 to each of our kids, for the hell of it, to see the look on their faces when I put it in their hands.  Or, I could buy a new phone, or . . .  It was fun to think about, that extra thousand.

Jeffrey Skinner‘s new book of poems, Sober Ghost, will be out in May of 2024.   Other of his work appears most recently in Volt and Action, Spectacle.