You just turned 52 and your belly fat is pressed against the side of an open casket. You delicately arrange the coffin's quilted taffeta around the deceased just like you've done every day for the last 27 years of your awful life. You waited for the last of the family to exit the chapel and pull the door shut before you started the delicate work of closing the lid on their loved one for the last time. And by delicate, you mean get that lid shut and locked as quickly and quietly as possible so you can get the hell out of here and go to lunch. There's another funeral at 12:30 across town and the funeral director over there is a huge asshole when you're late.
You're good at your job, though. You almost never leave anything hanging out of the casket lid like those ladies who slam their gowns in car doors. You take pride in that, except for when you don't, and today you're a little distracted. The service you just sat through got you thinking about your craptastic life, the first set of kids you haven't seen in years, and your second set of kids who hate you.
This particular dead guy you're buttoning up died in his sleep. You can tell how most of them have died from the leftover expressions that sit faintly under the mortician's makeup. Car accidents have their own look (fear.) Suicides, too (relief.)
You like your job. Your mug has been the last thing a thousand or so people have seen before final darkness falls upon them for eternity or until they get exhumed or something. You know they can't see you but it is fun to pretend. You also don't know if you believe in their version of heaven or whatever they believed or whatever the guy giving the service wants you to believe.
Seriously. Your chubby ass has sat through baptist, roman catholic, jewish, mormon, church of christ, southern baptist, humanist, etc. services. You've had plenty of time to decide which version of an after life to believe. To you, they're all a load of crap. You have your own theory.
The way you see it, life throws you buckets of shit. So, there you are. You're standing there and you're covered in shit and you just have to take it. There isn't a damn thing you can do*. Life! If death is nothing more than a black void where you fall asleep and don't dream, then that sounds like a pretty good deal since you just spent 60 odd years covered in shit. And, hey, if there's some concept of heaven, then bonus, right?
Here you are. You're standing over this man who might be in heaven or he might just be dead. Either way this guy and the thousand or so people you dropped lids on before are finally free of all this nonsense. Sure, you're a little envious but at the same time you are happy for them, these strangers. You can't help it. A wave of emotion comes over you like a soft pink blanket and you lean in close and "BOOP!" them right on the nose.
A friendly little "BOOP!" with a smile and like a machine you drop the lid and lock it tight in one fluid motion.
You swing around and there she is. The niece is standing 10 paces away, wet eyes, big calves, red nose, tissue in one hand and something in her other hand she probably forgot to leave inside the casket.
Time slows to a crawl.
She's frozen. Blood rushes to your fingers. Your head feels light, your hands fall like stones.
There's this look on her face that you can't quite place. You're paralyzed and busted but she isn't paralyzed and you realize the look on her face is a distorted combination of two emotions. As the sadness fades, relief (see suicide) rushes over her and she doubles over in a fit of post sobbing laughter that you haven't heard since that day your ex realized she didn't have to stay.
I remember reading a short story in hight school english. For some reason i'm thinking it was in either andy rooney's book or a chapter in one of the chicken soup for the soul books... If it sounds familiar, please let me know so I can update this.
The story sort of went like this. A middle aged guy who was thought it would be really cool if our culture had a right of passage tradition. Something Similar to the Aboriginies' walkabout or some type of tribal scarification that may or may not take place in some jungle where the participants may or may not have bones sticking through their lip.
Anyway, his point was he wished he had to go through a right of passage. He had it all planned out. The elders would send him into the woods alone. He would not be allowed to return until he completed one very important task. A task that was completed by his father, his father's father, even his creepy uncle Tony. The ritual was old and revered by all.
It was simple. He would be sent into the woods on a nice weekend with plenty of food, water, supplies, and a stick. His task? Sit in the woods and polish the stick. That's it. He'd shine the stick. And, after a night or two, when he emerged from the woods everyone would celebrate the polished stick. Old women would admire it. Young women would swoon and the young men of the area would hoist him in the air and carry him around like he just scored the winning goal at the world cup.
Now, I'm sure there is more to the story and it has some greater meaning... I was in high school and was forced to read the story probably because we had a substitute teacher and there wasn't anything good to do.. Who knows. I do remember thinking the story was pointless and trivial... and lame. I mean, who would _want_ a right of passage ritual to be so weak. If you're going to do something that is meaningful, why not put yourself out there a bit. Do something useful, or cool, or dangerous... What a pussy.
Today I spent the day mowing, trimming, weeding, picking up dog poop. In fact, I've spent the better part of the last two years working on my homes. They started out in pretty good shape. The roofs didn't leak, heating and ac were fine, I could sleep, eat, poop with no problems. But, for some reason there was always something to do. Let's landscape the front yard. Let's make the back yard look like the san diego zoo. Let's paint the living room. There's a bare spot in the grass. ooh, i don't like that color in the living room any more, let's change it.
I haven't just been working on the house. Nope, we've been buying furniture, too. Decorating, watching shows about decorating, installing bamboo, tastefully appointing every room with the trendiest of items. It's been fun. It's been expensive. I work very hard during the day and the occasional late night in a Business Casual cubicle. I mean, we have to have extra money for the little things. The house is beautiful.
Today, as I'm picking up the poop of our two uber stylish dachunds I think to myself, Why does it have to be so beautiful? I mean, i like to go to the art museum as much as the next guy, but why must we spend so much time making our domain so perfect? It's a lot of work. So much I've noticed I don't have friends anymore. It doesn't matter, I wouldn't have time for them if I did.
I didn't have much time to ponder. There was lots to do. Cleaning, mopping, dusting, and I _have_ to finish sealing the italian tile. After all, We have house guests this weekend.
After four days of frantic preparation, they walk in the door. Ooooh, ahhh, I love what you've done here, and that marble is beautiful, where did you get that painting?
Behold! My shiny stick.
You are perfect; Too cute to look at and too fierce to ignore.
You're a quiet, fuzzy little monster with big eyes, a cute nose, and fun clothes.
I want to come with you. I want to... to dress you in ridiculous outfits and take pictures. [I want] to snap photos of you standing akimbo and staring directly into me through my camera's plastic lens. I want to capture [you] on my expired film and develop it and paste you into second-hand photo albums.
Few men are lucky enough to notice. Even fewer bother to pause. Non of these men take time to imagine what goes on inside your head. It doesn't matter. They'd be wrong. No one would imagine the dirty things you do. Even after all these years I can't imagine the dirty things you want to do.
And what of the dirty things while, more importantly, there are haunting thoughts that race through your mind. The rotted corpse you see hanging from trees. Shadows that slip beneath doors and crawl up your legs. Packs of wild dogs snarling behind unlocked gates.
What is going on?
Now that I'm older and have willfully given up, I can take myself outside of myself and pretend to understand a bit more than I did.
You're a quiet, little girl with monsters inside.
We were roaming the streets on the first warm night of Spring in our t-shirts and jeans and the first skirts of the year. We were drunk and smoking and loving it.
"Look! Look!" Jen said. She was bent over picking up something in a shadow just off the sidewalk. "Look at this!"
She held it up, cradling it with both hands. It was dark and I was drunk and I couldn't see. I think I was still walking.
Someone said, "Oh my god. You just found that?"
"Yeah, it was sitting right there. What should we do?"
"Ask it a question," Sam said.
She ran under a street light and shook it, the Magic 8-ball that she found hiding in the shadow. Everyone huddled around her, taking turns.
"That's not how you play. Yes or no questions, only," Jen said.
"Here." She handed me the Magic 8-ball but all I could do is watch her lips form the word, 'here.' The way they kind of puckered while smiling, the corners turned upwards, her bright eyes, the matter-of-fact nod. "It's your turn!"
I took the toy and put it close to my ear as I shook. It sloshed and I shushed everyone and I made a big production out of it. I'm sure it was more annoying than anything. I whispered something to the Magic 8-ball.
"That's not how it works! You have to ask out loud." She said.
"This is important, Jen." I said, "I need a real answer."
This was true, I did need real answers. We all did and I thought for a second how this magic found us - Five desperate twenty somethings who needed an answer. A real answer to anything - We would have taken it.
I cheated, though. I didn't ask anything. I turned the 8-ball window side up, closed my eyes, looked toward the sky and waited.
"What's it say?" I asked.
Sam said, "Uhh… it says, Without a Doubt."
I handed him the 8-ball and pulled Jen in and kissed her hard under that orange street light. We had only just met an hour ago.
“This is utter bullshit," she said.
“You mean cow udders, or, maybe figuratively?" I said.
“Fuck you. That doesn't even make sense."
“Right," I said, “sorry."
She looked me up and down and smiled. It was always like this - wound tight and a little drunk. a cloudy forecast that never comes to fruition hiding in the prediction of thunder and lightning with some [unreadable] of high winds to clear the air or blow everything to bits. This idea of going on w/o a plan or [illegible] a glimmer of an idea puts us on edge. That, and the mochas. We'll always [turn page] have the mochas. Hot. Frozen. 140° low-fat, no whip. All fat, extra whip. whatever Low Cal. Wilford Brimley's night terror. We had them all and wanted more. Always hiding in our poor grammar, oversized headphones & loud devices with nothing to say, of significance, of course, back pedaling through our days, doing well by not really doing, but Hiding. Hiding was something we were good at. We loved that feeling of nearly getting caught but not being seen. The idea that you can be there. Be Right There for all the world to see but still be invisible. We were nothing special. Tall but not pretty. Thin but not toned, not strangely beautiful, but we were there, Always. Taking it in with little comment except within ourselves. Long-winded commentaries on the world's actors and bullshit around us. I latched onto her phrase, Udder Bullshit. What does that really mean? Bulls don't have udders. I've never seen a bull Hell, how would I even know? I cursive I have never seen a bull up close, let alone inspected its underside. For all I know, they do have udders, and Hell this shat bay maybe they shit out of them, maybe that's where we get our mocha. It's not cocoa in espresso. It doesn't come from a chocolate cow. It is just udder bullshit. You know what? I'll take it… That extra shot of expresso, please. Yes, I said expresso. One of the many things I get wrong just to annoy her. Ranking Neat Things That I Like is not up top of my list of Neat Things That I Like, but annoying her is right there near the top. Her pursed lips. The upskir wrinkle between her brow. The way she pulls and twists her hair. It is precious and beautiful, but not anything like her crying. God, I love that. Especially when it is my fault. (#1)
I was thinking today - I have a fancy phone, internet, messaging, all that. I [illegible] feel lost without it; cut-off from everything I deem important like knowing the time. Which is interesting and trite because there are, at this very moment (both as i write and years down the later as you read) there are a good # of people who have problems. Real problems & who are, not, or maybe by choice, so cut-off that they don't know what day it is, let alone time. Right now there is a baby being born to a mother who has a hell of a lot more to worry about than the date. That baby will never [turn page] have a birthday. And, will likely have enough Real problems that the lack of a birthday will not be much of a concern. And, here I am, worried if my phone has enough juice to last until I get home.
It did, even though I was later than usual. After plugging it in, I looked through the sliding glass door to the backyard. She was sitting, head thrown back, facing west[photo]. Her long hair up and messy. I waved. She shrugged and squinted. Barefoot with legs crossed at the calf. Her toes tapping to whatever was playing. Faded black sharpie on the bottom of her dirty left foot -
I am the boy
who can enjoy
The pool hadn't been touched since the day they found her mother at the bottom of it. The water was low with three years of tannic leaves at the bottom, strains of algae growing up the side and streaks of rust running off the ladder. The grass was dead or dying and choked with weeds and gumballs dropped by the American Sweetgum trees (liquidambar styraciflua) that dominated the subdivision.
“What's going on with you?" She asked as I stepped outside.
“I don't know what we accomplished, but I laughed so hard I fell down." I said, “So, there's that, I guess."
we are: tall thin not beautiful we are introverted we consume we think we produce nothing we are invisible
Evlyn (eavie) Rhehn
pretty, young women who go against the system in their own way. but what would matt's girlfriend, jen, say?
Jackson (Jack) “pants" McLox doesn't so much show up but more like Arrives - forever not knocking. This time he walked through the door in a generic white polo, some sort of jeans cuffed high on his calf, and deck shoes. He was covered in blood that was somehow oozing from a head wound that wasn't there. After greeting everyone with overly enthusiastic (in his mind, ironic) high-fives, he disappeared down the hall and slammed the door to my bedroom.
Jenn said, “Whaaaah?"
“Yep." I looked at my phone. “He walked through the door at 6pm +/- 10 seconds, like a fucking clock. OCD as they get.”
“Uhhh, Didn't you see him?" She asked, “Is he hurt?”
“He can't be late. He'll do anything." I said, “He drives a shit box K-Car convertible and keeps a bottle of fake blood under the seat. I think he stole it from his ex or whatever. Something about a vampire fetish. Anyway, when traffic gets bad he'll get this compulsive need to pass everyone on the shoulder. Problem is he can't stand being That Dick who drives on the shoulder and cuts everyone off. Plus, everyone will block That Dick from getting back into traffic like its their fucking job. So, he covers himself in fake blood and goes. Who's not going to let a guy covered in blood get in front of them?"
“Works wonders in long-bathroom-line type situations."
Jack pushed through automatic doors:
My birthday means breakfast with grandma. She used to come to our house for my birthday breakfasts because it landed school days most years. Birthdays that weren't on school days meant a Moons Over My Hammy. The tradition had some hiccups while I was away at school but it got right on track after I quit. Recently it has been us, alone, with toast and jelly at her place.
“Woah grandma, you're gonna bust a nut trying to get that jar open." I offered some assistance. "Hand it here."
“Thanks Jack." She passed the jar. “So, honey, how are things?"
“Work is good, nothing to write home about. Friends are fine, a little crazy, but fine. XXXX is good, we might find a place together in May."
“You know how I feel about that."
“Grandma, you sound like a rusty trombone again."
“I know, but dammit you're so young. I want to see you get out there and spread that seed."
“Nice grandma. Real nice."
I slapped strawberry jelly on dark toast and said, “There is this girl at school."
“What's her name, Sweetie?"
“I'm not sure. I see her around a couple times a month."
“Is she pretty?"
“Pretty? Yes. Not gorgeous. I don't know if its the glasses or the shoes, but there's something about her that really gets me. Every time I see her, I Feel It."
“Have you talked to her?"
“Not really. Last week I pushed through some automatic doors and there she was but I didn't say anything. I froze, really. First, because I almost hit her with the door. Second, I'm sure the look on my face creeped her out because that's when I noticed it."
“When I first started back at school I was walking across campus and this girl on a moped thing rode slowly past. I didn't see her face, but I guess it didn't matter because I still somehow got this ridiculous crush. I loved what she was wearing and the way she carried herself, on the dorky moped, no less." I took a bite. “I know, dumb. Right? She had this tattoo and I thought, ‘Wow, I hate bikes and tattoos, but I wish i could know her name.' but its not like I could just call out and say, ‘Hey, I don't know you but I suddenly have this wicked crush on you and I live with my girlfriend and can we be friends?'"
Grandma talked with a mouth full of toast, “I knew you two were living together." She waved the butter knife. “What did you notice about the other girl behind the door?"
“The tattoo. It was her. I opened the door, saw the tattoo and almost shat. The girl I always see with the glasses was the girl on the moped. So, I said hi and she said hi and I held the door and she walked out."
“Oh Jack. You have to stop falling in love with strangers. Do you think about this girl all the time?"
“Aaaaannndd she's perfect."
“I can tell you right now, she's not. She's probably fast, or a moron. I know sometimes I sound like a rusty trombone and I don't mean to bust your nut (I choked a little) but I've seen it too many times with your uncle to sit back and watch you do a Little Mermaid."
“Yes. Just like the cartoon. You see some random stranger and think they're the bees knees. So, you do everything you can to be with them. You change your clothes. You change the way you talk. Once you meet them you see they're not as perfect as you imagined, but how could they not be perfect because that's why you're in love with them. You throw away your friends and everything to change yourself to fit. But, that's the problem, you'll never fit. She won't change. You'll make excuses. You'll feel like shit because you gave up everything you had that made you special - your mermaid tail - and the next thing you know you have three kids and you have to drink yourself silly just so you can stand to be in the same room with her."
“Are you on the internet?"
Summer, 1983. In bare feet on wet grass we're jumping past puddles to the trampoline she got for her 10th birthday.
I grab her hand to help her onto the tramp. She's more worried about holding her skirt than falling over so I give a swift tug. She flops over the edge and lets out a cute yelp. Laughing, we crawl to the middle of the mat. It is still damp from last night's storm, but we don't care.
We lie on our backs and scoot to each other's side. There isn't a star in the sky tonight. Only street lights shining with orange halos through thick air. The trees look tired. Their twisted branches and torn leaves are heavy with humidity and wet.
She stretches her hands toward the sky, twists her wrists and sighs... "Do you think you'll have trouble remembering me someday?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. It's just..." Her hands drop to her side. "We've been friends forever."
"Yeah?" A wet sprig of leaves tickles the back of my hand. I pick it up, have a look, and toss it in the grass.
"Next year we'll be so far apart. I'll be sad when you forget about me." She turns over and bounces lightly to her feet. "I almost don't want to go."
I see something new or, rather, different. I feel it in my stomach. There is beauty there. She's almost floating, gently twirling. She is made of meat.
She smiles, springs up and comes down hard. With that, the trampoline bounces me directly in her path. Coming down on me in a flailing mess of arms and legs, she yells, "JACK!" and grabs onto me hard to stop the bounce.
With her arms wound tightly around my waist and face buried in my side she says, "Oh my god, I need you."
"Whaaaahh?" I tense up. The springs in the tramp squeak and creak.
Laughing, she looks up at me, "I need you!"
"You need me?" I'm shaking my head. "But, we've been friends since Kindergar..."
Still laughing she cuts me off, "No! I need you."
Automatically my hands slide under the back of her shirt. I pull her close. Our lips touch.
"OH GOD!!!!" she thrusts away from me. "What are you doing??!?!"
"But... You said you need me."
She's backing further away. "I did! But why the hell did you kiss me?"
"You grabbed onto me and said you needed me." With my hands out -palms up- I shrug. "What was I supposed to do?"
"No! No! No!" Shaking her head, "I neeeeeeed you."
"I heard you!"
"No, dammit!" She points to her knee. "I kneed you. I kneed you in the balls. Are you ok?"
"Oh... Knees… Balls… You missed… I'm fine… Are you?"
She nods, "Yeah, I'm ok."
I hesitate... "Isn't it funny how the highway always sounds further away on nights like this?"
Meeting her parents for the first time went about as I expected. Her dad answered the door. He stared at me for a second and yelled into the house. “Leslie? You might want to get out here. There's another flaming bag of shit on the porch." He spit to the side but still I felt it on my face.
I smiled. “Hey there. Are you Mr. xxxx?"
“The guys at school are going to be real jealous."
“I got to meet the man who made the most realistic sex toy of all time. Is your wife around? I'd like to congratulate her."
Leslie bounced through the door, squeezing her dad on the way out, “Love you, daddy. I'll be home early." She grabbed my hand and quickly led me across the lawn to the car. Her dad was a statue.
“I think I broke your dad."
“What do you mean?" she asked.
“Nevermind." I pulled the car away from the curb and said, "Where we going?"
We turned a corner and she pointed toward an apartment complex. "That's where Stacy lives. She's gross. I'm like oh my god would it kill you to empty your bathroom trash can once in a while? I mean, really, I love sifting through layers of girl gunk looking for that ring I just knocked off the vanity."
It wasn't pleasant, but at least I knew The Bag of Shit at the Door dad was all talk. I had to wait a few years for a truly crazy dad to take me for a ride:
She was kind of beautiful with big teeth and her dad owned all the private parking lots downtown. His name was Bob and he looked completely normal. He had whitish hair, he was thin, he dressed well, and he talked to me with respect. I couldn't help but look up to him. He was a self-made man who treated me in a way that made me feel I could learn a thing or two.
Is it weird that my dad wants to hang out with you? She asked.
Maybe a little, but I'll do it.
Really? Great! He's going to call you.
He did call, the next morning. We made plans for dinner.
He picked me up in his brand new Cadillac CTS and we took a ride downtown. I didn't ask where we were going and I got a little worried when we headed North on hwy. 55 and exited just after downtown. It was a scary part of the city and we were tooling around in a brand new Cadillac.
What's the name of the restaurant, I asked.
It's called The Haves. Ever hear about it?
Nope, I said. I hope it is good, I said. Don't worry, it is good, he said and we drove East toward the river. The only thing I knew about the area is it was full of tore up warehouses and home to some sort of helicopter refueling pad. No one would ever go here for dinner.
We slowed down on an arbitrary block and the gate of a chain-link fenced parking lot slid open. The building looked like a real piece of shit, but the cars in the lot were nice like Bob's CTS. There was a single light over the solid double doors. The door on the left was dark and heavy like oiled teak with polished silver hardware and there was a sign above, "The Haves." The door on the right was shitty and weathered with several coats of paint peeling, almost falling apart with a crooked sign above - "The Have-Nots." The windows that had been there at one time were boarded up with graying and splintered plywood.
Bob opened the door and ushered me inside. The hostess (gorgeous) greeted me, gave Bob a smile and led us to an open table.
For the most part, it was simply another uber-trendy restaurant. Good lighting, modern design, extremely comfortable chairs. Except the back corner was set up as a trashy liquor/corner store. Dirty shelves filled with generic chips and junk food, bright fluorescent lights, a cash register at the counter in front of a wall of cigarettes and cheap booze. It even had a roped off porn section and a creepy looking guy was sitting behind the counter like he was working.
The food was my first experience with molecular gastronomy (oddly delicious) and the first time I was truly freaked out about every single person in the room.
The restaurant was set up near "Hopeville" - a tent city of homeless people camped out at the Mississippi River floodwall near the Riverfront Trail. There weren't any stores or facilities near the camp so this place was basically set up in a prime location to attract homeless people.
The "Have-Nots" had to walk through the restaurant to the back corner where they would buy generic cigarettes and horrible cheap vodka that, I guess, due to the liquor laws had to be poured into styrofoam cups with lids and straws before they could leave with it.
Five men and one woman walked through the restaurant while we were there eating our $473.92 meal. Bob would stop mid-sentence to comment - "Look at that real bag of shit." It was loud and I laughed, but at his choice of words, not the man. Other tables had things to say, too. Occasionally, and I'm still not sure why, everyone would tap on their water glasses and people would laugh wildly.
He dropped me off at home and I called her.
How was it? Tell me everything. Where did you guys go?
The Haves, I said.
Oh my God, he took you to The Haves?
Yeah, it was pretty unbelievable, I said.
I know, she said, I LOVE that place!
As we ducked out of the rain I exhaled and she rolled her eyes. The neighborhood was always quiet at night but tonight it was full of thunder and rain. My neck was on fire and I was standing and she was Standing. She seemed to be made of stars. Or, at least, more stars than most. Certainly more than me.
We shouted and ran to the next porch, singing and splashing with courage(? I'm not sure.) and contrived rage. That porch light was off and we held hands. We didn't know how much had changed and we couldn't have cared less because right then, right there, we were closer than we had ever been.
I pulled a plastic cup out of the trash and toasted, “Here's to you, darling" and tossed it over my right shoulder. I felt like this was meant to be. I was ready to waste away and to let the rain take us dOwN and ON & ON.
We ran into the street and I fell flat. She kneeled - her eyebrows were doing their job as the rain poured down her face. My knees were scraped and my arm was getting blue and yellow but my bones were good. She brought me up and made me forget.
I thought (right then and right there) she would ask if I came back for her, but instead -
“Let's go to the cemetery!"
And we ran. And then we were there.
The rain was gone and we laughed at the one star that shone between clouds not knowing if it was a star at all. My shoes squished. Hers were gone. We were close to her old house, now. She was thinking of her old pink bedroom while standing on a wet monument in bare feet under a black sky, coming clean.
“I didn't love you," she said.
“I've got a wondering soul," she said, “I've got nothing to give."
“COME ON!" She hopped down and we were running.
“I've got something to say." Her breath was short. “When I die I want 10 seconds to look back and know I've lived it right." We were running together and we hurdled a stone. “I know the mistakes I've made and how they each mark up my soul. Lord knows the mistakes I'll make. (We jumped another stone.) What will become of me? My soul?" We stopped and I bent over to catch my breath. She said, "God, I don't know."
And she flopped in the mud and she said, “I want you to be one of my mistakes. Right now." She pulled me to her. “If you feel it… What I'm feeling… Then come on!"
Her arms and legs were around me and a breeze blew and the trees rained down and we were salty and out of breath and then I was wearing her lipstick and her wet hair seemed longer and every movement sank us in the mud. Her neck smelled like candy & my favorite shirt was somehow gone & we were moving and sinking deeper.
The wind blew again and the trees filled my eyebrows with salty rain and she killed me with kisses and then It all somehow washed away and she ran. Fast.
I didn't get up for a long time. Maybe she said wandering soul.
Morning traffic, August 8th. The heat and light steal the contrast so everything looks static and bleached like some old photograph. Steady goes the flow at 35 mph with cars stacked five across to the horizon fore-and-aft. You're in the middle with your windows down, A/C blasting in your hungover face, and some sad singer songwriter on the radio. Everything is uniform and forgettable.
A car in the right lane comes alive. It is some sort of 70's or 80's big Detroit iron with fat tires and 7.2 liters of go fuck yourself under the hood. Its not perfect but it is clean. It erupts with clattering engine valves as cast pistons push 500 horses through a cloud of hydrocarbons. The rear wheels slip. They don't squeal, but rather churn against soft asphalt until they chatter and hop. Cold forged steel and microcrystalline structures strain as the chassis twists and axles deform. The driveline is forced elastic as the engine stomps power strokes every 90 degrees. Sparks dance across compressed clouds of atomized fuel exploding and thundering past exhaust valves into this sun drenched morning traffic.
Accelerator lift. Hard on the brakes. Front end dives. Back to 35. The next song is a little more upbeat but there's static now. Is it Jimmy Eat World? Maybe off their Uniformity Prevails album? It is hot and dry and you close the sunroof to block the sun.
Daisy (the weenur dog) and I were watching the History Channel and having some breakfast this morning. Some show about fighter jets and famous dog fights was on. I love that shit. At one point, the narrator said, "Modern weapon systems can move from missiles to guns with a flip of a switch."
Daisy looks at me and says, "Yeah, I've been in a lot of dog fights. Check this out."
She jumps off the couch, trots to the middle of the room and clears her throat.
"GOOSE! I'm switching to my GUNS!"
She flexes her tiny little biceps and starts bobbing and weaving around the living room like a cracked out Mike Tyson.
"What's that sound? You hear it? It's a funny squeaky sound."
- Aunt Bethany Griswold 1908-1998
Seriously, what is that squeeky sound on some versions of "Guilty" by Gravity Kills?
Spring, 1995. I'm driving down the road in my second 924 (see Porsches ) when "Guilty" comes on the radio. It was brand new then (only released on Point Essential Vol. 1) so I turn it up and commence rocking.
That's when I hear it... The squeak. I start beating on the dashboard because it sounded just like my car's squeaky blower motor. Trick is, that was in my old car (again, see Porsches ) The new car didn't have any problems.
I'm like, "wtf? is this blower screwed up, too?" I turn the radio down. No squeak. Turn radio up, "squeak... squeak. squeak squeak... squeak."
HA! It's on the song. Those clever guys put a random squeak in to be cool.
Every time I heard the song from there on out I was completely distracted by the squeak. I was really glad to hear they left it out of the album version...
I get in my car and "Guilty" was on the radio. I turn it up to see which version they're playing.
Sure 'nuff. The squeak is there. It's the Point Essential Vol. 1 version. Good times.
Here's my question. What the fuck is that squeak? It's so bad and so random it has to be a mistake. Yet, it is so clear and out there it had to come from a good mic... Kind of like the singer was sitting on a squeaky chair while recording his tracks. But, it can't be that. The sound is distinct, panned right down the center, and doesn't appear to have any effects. So, maybe it was something picked up by the drum overheads? I might be imagining it, but the sound seems to go away when the real drums drop out. Squeaky drum throne that disappears when the gates close?
If you happen to be in Gravity Kills or were around during the first recording, please let me know via the contact page. thanks.
Turns out I'm good friends with someone who works with one of the Gravity Kills guys. He said:
"I talked to XXXXX about the squeak. It was a kick pedal. They didn't notice it until after the whole thing was mastered so there wasn't much they could do. The re-recorded it minus the squeak for their album.
We were sitting on a platform surrounded by water with no land in sight. The air was crisp and still and it was good. My dangling foot was the only thing moving for miles and the starlit sky reflected perfectly in the shiny black water. It seemed like the stars were all around us. We were somehow holding hands and after a short burst of shooting stars the earth melted away at our sides and it was as if we were floating in space.
In a way, we all are.
It started out as the kind of trip that needed real flashlights instead of apps. Almost none of us knew where we were going and there was no moon. There was only the fog of our breath, bare trees, and old roads. Nick called out from up ahead, "Hol-lee shite. We finally made it! The barn is just down this gravel path." I heard rocks slip behind me. Sam cried out, "OZARK!" and everyone laughed. Ozark was the perfect expletive for anyone who had just spent four hours lost on the back roads of Missouri looking for a party.
The barn was down that path and the party was just beyond in a 10 acre clearing that was already packed with people. Headlights and bonfires lit the field and girls danced in truck beds and guys watched and literally hollered. Everyone was young and dumb and by time we arrived I was stupid drunk. I smiled, threw my arms up and broke away from my friends. I was meeting people. I think I met everyone but most importantly, I met her. I never did ask her name.
She was pretty and all I know for sure is she asked why I had a box of wine. I pulled the silver bag out of the box and yelled, "Because it is SPACE WINE!" She asked if I had ever been to space and I said no and she asked if I'd like to and I said yeah. She paused to really look at me. Her bottom lip caught on her left lateral incisor and her eyes were green and she said, "Come with me?" She paused to touch my antecubital fossa, "I have something for you."
Then we were in her shitty car and listening to bands I didn't know. I kept stopping myself from asking where we were going or why her left arm was in a cast. She threw trash out her window and drove quickly. Soon we were off main roads and driving past "no trespassing" signs. She stopped at a gate and got out to open it. I thought maybe I should run but I didn't. We drove up what seemed like old coal mining roads. Up and up and then she stopped and turned off the car.
"Can you swim?" she asked.
"Good. Get out."
There were wires and concrete buildings. We were at some sort of electric plant at the top of an Ozark mountain in the middle of nowhere. It was dark. The only sound was gravel crushing under our shoes.
"What is this place?" I asked.
"It is kind of a gigantic battery." She said. "The electric company pumps water into the upper reservoir at night and then uses it to push turbines during the day. It is offline right now." She pointed to a ladder that led up the side of the reservoir. "We are going up there."
At the top was a thin section of concrete that jutted into the water like a pier. We walked to the very end and sat next to each other. The reservoir was full almost to the top and we must have been on the tallest mountain in the area. There was nothing to see but sky and what seemed like the biggest infinity pool ever built.
I started to say something. She raised her index finger to pouted lips and said, "shhhhhhhhhh, just watch."
That was my second trip to outer space.
I thought about that night while I was sitting on a rooftop, waiting for the sun to rise. I always loved being in the sky. I guess that's why I spent those lost days on roofs instead of somewhere else. The sun was rising and a ladder popped up from below. Solid boots clanged up ladder rungs.
"How long have you been up here?" my boss asked.
"A while." I replied, "Is it time to begin?"
He threw me a scraper and with one fluid motion I grabbed it out of the air and started tearing off shingles. There was a rhythm to it - scrape-lift-pull-throw, scrape-lift-pull-throw, scrape-lift-pull-throw, scrape-lift-pull-throw. A good roofer could annihilate one square every three minutes. I was faster back then. The second pass was to pull fragments and nails. The sun had come back to us and painted the air over our heads in a washed out blue gradient. Streaks of light shot out though low clouds like searchlights looking for (what?) in this suburban town. The third pass drove leftover nails flat into the plywood. Clean slate, good foundation. The sun was higher now and turned dew to steam and made my boots stick, like walking on some sort of rancid taffy. Tar paper rolled across the roof and we got to work.
Set-square-roll-tack, set-square-roll-tack, set-square-roll-tack, set-square-roll-tack. Cut. Done.
A break for water. Warm water that tasted like the inside of an old, plastic cooler. The sun was baking and we were back on the roof, kneepads and boots, setting shingles. More noise, more rhythm, this time a symphony of tack-tack-tack drop, tack-tack-tack drop, tack-tack-tack drop. Three hits per shingle. 50 shingles in a square and we were on a 45 square roof. I listened and counted. 6,750 tacks with an average of 12 nail gun misfires per square. 500 nails per clip gave pause to reload before another set of tack-tack-tack until the edge. Edges meant cut shingles and typically 2 nails but edges slowed the rhythm and any trash was pushed over the edge. The process continued and my mind went blank. I had already quit counting as we broke for a quick lunch of cool coffee, funyuns and pork rinds and right back up on the roof with more tack-tack-tack. Thinking stopped.
When I came to, I noticed a truck idling in the driveway. My cheap Casio watch said 1:09 PM and we only had 9 Squares to go. TACK-TACK-TACK drop. The driver was in his air-conditioned cab and talked on speaker phone. We called him boss even if he wasn't. Formalities don't matter much in this business. Roofers. We started early to avoid the heat. We drank from hoses and generally did our best to lay low. Stats on this crew: 67% were less than 8 months out of prison. Median age - 24.5 years. 93% drink. 23% were illegal. One was an animal. Meth-amphetamines? weed? heroin? cocaine? Yes. I stood on the roof’s edge and watched ‘boss’ mouth words into his phone. I was dizzy with heat and shaking for something to drink and I waved and swayed. The first breeze of the day evaporated the sweat on my neck and my soaked shirt pulled away from my skin.
He rolled his window down and yelled, "Ese. Come down here, por favor."
So, I did. 14 rungs down the ladder and I walked in the shade and stood on his passenger side where there was more shade. His window came down slowly and cool air (smelled of tobacco and Cool Water or maybe Drakkar Noir or maybe Polo. I'm not sure.) rushed from the cab and twisted into the heat which further twisted into the sun's heat. Cycle, repeat.
"How's it going up there, Chief?" he asked.
"Are you going to finish today?"
"Yes, sir. The underlayment was in good shape and we didn't find any leaks. We will be done by three or four at the latest." I said.
He tilted his head, just a bit, “Well then, ok. How is the crew today?"
"We're doing very well, thank you. Pablo's back is healing nicely. I think he'll be 100% in a week or two."
"That was a nasty fall, wasn't it?" he said.
"Yes." I said.
He paused, just for a bit and then said, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"I don't know how to ask this, but you don't talk like you look. How is your accent so good?"
"I'm from Madison.” I said. “Adopted when I was a baby. My parents are white as can be."
"That explains a lot. What are you doing out here working on roofs, then?" he asked.
"I found my biological parents a few years ago in Mexico and I have a brother. He needs money to go to school, so I'm out here working and sending the money home to him. A couple of the guys on this crew know my real family."
—-- this is not yet written: The man, who confesses to being adopted, also, says he never met his biological parents and asks how this kid found his. —--
He handed me an envelope. "Here's tomorrow's job. Take care."
The man put his truck in reverse and backed down the driveway. 14 rungs and I was on the roof. 1:19pm. 9 squares to go. TACK-TACK-TACK. drop. TACK-TACK-TACK-SNAP. I shouldn't have said Madison. TACK-SNAP-SNAP. A cloud broke the sun. SNAP-SNAP-SNAP. My hangover was finally going away. SNAP-SNAP-SNAP. water. scrape. place. tack tack tack. scrape. place. tack tack, etc.
Thinking didn’t stop.
I promised not to tell.
Why did I say Madison?
I should have changed the names.
Why can't I tell?
She was gone.
and, she was gone.
I felt like something inside was snapping.
Why the hell not.
8 more squares to go...
(note, this part has not been edited at all, it is even in the wrong tense)
He left and I worked the rest of the day. Now I'm here on a futon mattress spread on the floor, trying to sleep. My hands hurt. I hurt. I'm no where near sleep. I think:
I shouldn't have said Madison.
So, I get up. Our room is dark but the moon is out so I can see just well enough to pull on my jeans, find my glasses and hat, and get to the door without crashing into anything or stepping on anyone. Five of us share this room. It isn't a big deal if i wake anyone up but I don't want to hassle anyone and it'll be better when they realize I'm gone. They'll wonder when I left and I like that for some reason. It strikes me. Some sort of mystery. I guess. It is silly, i know, but I try. Always try. Pocket check: Wallet. Keys. Phone. Ear plugs. Rock.
Jacket on. Door open. I slip outside and slowly pull the door closed. I keep the door handle turned and release it slowly so the catch doesn't click. Slight squeak, but definitely nothing loud enough for anyone to care.
Porch to steps to driveway to sidewalk to the corner. The crew shares a small apartment in a large complex. So many dumpsters. They don't even try to hide them. Cars are parked everywhere. Orderly, in spaces, but again, like the dumpsters. So many cars. Walking around this place alone at night makes my stomach sick and my balls tingle. I stop, turn around, and walk.
Corner to sidewalk to driveway to steps to porch. I'm back at the apartment where I open the door slowly, silently. I'm nervous, I guess. There isn't really a good way to say this, but I have to poop. So, I do. I brush my teeth slowly, shake the water off the toothbrush and put it in my pocket. Silently down the hall to the kitchen. I grab my phone charger and stuff it in my pocket. I climb on the counter to reach far behind the refrigerator and up in the crack between the cabinet and wall. My envelope. My savings. All the cash I have. Now I'm at the front door. I silence my phone and put it in airplane mode.
Again, door to porch to steps to driveway to sidewalk to the corner. The moon is higher in the sky. Fucking moon. Hanging there, looking over us with its fat, white, judging face. Coming as going as it pleases, cowering behind clouds in storms. It doesn't even make its own light. It just reflects. Whatever, fucking moon.
I guess I have a plan.
I'm not very good at sleeping which is why I take walks on so many nights. The subdivision next to the apartments is a big one whose houses were built in the sixties or seventies. They all have three bedrooms and a garage and are either a ranch or a 2 story. Some houses are set on the lot at 90 degrees which makes it almost seem like there are four different floor plans. There aren't. There are 172 ranch homes and 97 two-story. 212 are 100% siding. One is stucco. The rest have some brick but are mostly siding. 57 homes are on larger lots that allow for either a two car garage or 1 car garage plus a dining room. While walking around you can get a pretty good idea the builder wasn't up for giving the buyers too many options.
Over the years, people have added on porches, window treatments, landscaping, and decks but it's hard to get any sense of individuality in this _neighborhood. The cynic in me says everyone inside these houses are exactly the same, but I know better.
The area around here is completely flat. There are no walk-out basements. However, some people put a basement door in their house by digging a hole, forming concrete stairs and adding a small drain. I like how flat it is because some nights I run. Runners seem to be less suspicious and I like that.
Tonight I'm headed to 5678 Pine Street whose porch light burned out late last month. I arrive and do a quick 360 to see if anyone is watching. No one. I sprint up to the side of the house next to the garage and sit up against the house.
Here, I wait. The woman who lives here tends to get home late and she's more into cats than dogs. It's just after midnight and she isn't home. So, I sit cross legged, or Indian style as they said in elementary school which gives me some fantods so I lie supine and then semi-supine parallel to the house; against the house.
A mosquito buzzes in my ear and my balls are tingling and my heart rate is up and i hear a truck and the garage door opens. Headlights flash on the neighbors house and disappear as her blue Ford Explorer rumbles and squeaks its way into the garage. I roll to my hands and knees and crawl quickly to the corner of her house. I peek around the corner and catch the taillight as her truck finishes going in. I follow it in on the passenger side staying low and moving quickly with my head up to watch the mirror making sure I'm not in it. She keeps hers pointed high so I'm in the clear. The truck stops and she clicks it into park and I roll underneath. The exhaust is 2" from my face and the heat from the catalytic converter is almost burning my left leg. The truck turns off and I hear her shuffling for her purse or bags or whatever. I don't care. I don't move.
The exhaust snaps and pops in my ear as it cools.
She steps out of her truck and slams the door. Not a very dainty girl, this one. She drags her left foot a bit. Her shoes clip, clop and slide 12 steps where she stops. She pulls open the door to her house, hits the garage door opener, shuts off the light and slams the door. She is gone but I can't tell 100% if she locked it behind her.
I slip from under the truck. I'm sweaty and my back is dusty and it is completely dark. I can't see anything and I have to be extremely careful not to make any noise. After all these years, I'm pretty good at it. I sit up and take off my t-shirt and pull out my phone. I use it as a flashlight as brush the dust off my shirt. There is no grease and that makes me happy. I double check my phone. It is still in airplane mode. I find a bare spot on the wall where I can lean and sit quietly and in the dark and sit and breathe.
And sit for an hour.
And sit for another hour.
I feel good. It is time so I get up and put on my shirt. This garage and the house is completely quiet. I am quiet, relaxed, clean and dry. I walk around the truck 16 steps to the door using my phone for a flashlight. With my hand around the knob I pause. I don't know if you've noticed, but pretty much every door knob has some play in it. A light click as the mechanism engages. So, I twist slowly and just a bit until it catches. I still haven't made a sound. This is good.
She didn't lock the door. That makes me happy. I twist the knob just enough to get the door to open and push slowly. It doesn't squeak. That makes me happy. I'm in her kitchen. The light is on over the sink. It looks dim like a single 40 watt light bulb covered in a dusty fixture that has been hanging in a kitchen for 25 years. The glass seems slightly browned, maybe. I imagine taking the damp dishrag that is hanging off the faucet, running some warm, soapy water in the sink while carefully dismantling this light fixture. I take it off the ceiling. Soak its parts for a while. I imagine myself and some soapy water scrubbing years of sticky off that light so it can glow a clean, white light again.
I look to the left. There's her purse. They always throw them down right by the door. In the purse: wallet, girl shit, and keys. That makes me happy. The litter box is next to the door. Fuck that. I slip her keys out of this ridiculously large, fake brown leather bag. Her key ring is equally ridiculous. So many keys and fucking picture frames and souvenirs and crap carabiners that couldn't support Kate Moss. It is hard to keep the mess quiet, but my hands are big. There is a course listing for some nights school sitting here. bent backward at the spine with blue ink pen circling the words, "Pre-Nursing Workshop," over and over again to where the paper was almost worn through.
I left the kitchen door open, I always do. I go through the doorway and I'm in the garage, again. Now that there's a little light, I notice a bike leaning against the wall. I need that. I close the door silently behind me. And use my phone as a flashlight, again. As quietly as I can, I put the bike in the truck. I slip the truck key off the ring and carefully set the mess of keys and rings et al. on the ground for her. No need to hassle her any more than I already have. I walk around and open the driver's door, quickly shutting off the dome light.
I'm standing on the door sill, now. I can reach the garage door opener's manual release from here so I pull it slowly and it pops a little louder than they usually do. I'm out of the truck now and at the garage door.
There's no question about it. Garage doors are fucking loud. There's pretty much no way to open one without making noise. The trick here is to go slow. Think you're going slow? Go slower. However, we're facing the street so we should be moving as fast as possible. I don't want to be hanging out where any car driving by can see me so I'm hoping no one drives by.
No one does.
I'm back in the truck.
Key off... Well, no. Duh. you can't turn the key off in an automatic unless it is in park. I can't open the door with they key in the ignition without the warning chime banging to let everyone know I'm there.
Window down. Truck in park. Key off.
I get out. I reach in the window to turn the key on. Now, a big stretch to get it in neutral. Son of a bitch. You can't put a car in neutral without a foot on the brake.
I'm out of practice.
The garage door is hanging open, I'm futzing around like an idiot. I'm stealing a truck. Every time I put it in park or neutral I hit the brakes. That means the brake lights are flashing through the open garage door like beacons. Nice. I look around. There's a piece of 2x4 that's about 4' long. I lift the front bumper (and the truck) as much as I can and wedge the wood underneath. I grab a lawn furniture cushion and put it underneath.
I'm back in the truck. Key on. Foot on brake. Neutral. Foot off the brake. I bounce backward against the seat like a little kid trying to get the shopping cart to roll and it goes. The truck is moving. Fuck this flat-assed subdivision. The 2x4 hit squarely on the cushion. Not a sound.
Half way down the driveway I open the door. The chime is going nuts, but I should be good now. I hop out and start pushing. Down the driveway, on to the street, a left turn and I'm in front of the neighbor's house. I start the truck, throw it in drive and go. I'm confident she didn't wake up. No one usually notices until the morning, anyway, and no one saw me. Poor girl.
I'm driving 2 mph above the speed limit. Stopping at stop signs, but not lagging. Right on red? Why not, but only after coming to a complete stop. I worry about traffic cameras and anything else that may catch my face. Cameras are everywhere and I know there are three for every one I notice. Stores, businesses, Department of Transportation… Whatever. I stop to tell myself that this is a stolen car, not a murder but I am still very careful.
What's the next thing on the agenda? Find another Ford Explorer with the same body style as this one.
I drive through neighborhoods. I choose subdivisions that are dense with cars and have small houses that are close together and maybe a little ratty. You always try to steal a common car so you can do this:
I spot a red Ford Explorer that looks a lot like the one I'm in. I park one street over where there are no lights. I slip out, unscrew the license plates from my truck and hop fences and run until i'm underneath the red truck. I lie underneath because no one driving by notices someone under a car. They do, however, notice some Mexican guy hunched over behind a car stealing its plates. No one drives by, tonight. I have the red truck's plates in my hand. My trucks are in their place. I roll from under the truck, run, and hop more fences until I'm at my truck. I put the plates on and drive off.
Now I'm on the highway. 62 mph in a 60. I don't know of one person who has noticed their license plates got swapped until they get pulled over and are on the ground getting cuffed for driving a stolen car. That means I'm driving a truck with plates that are completely legit and probably will be for at least a few days. My odds are better, now. I'm finally relaxed and I'm guessing this thing holds about 20 gallons of gas. The gauge reads 3/4 of a tank. These things probably get about 16 mpg. That's 240 miles. The black sky is lightening up a bit. 240 miles is plenty.
I'll make it.
And suddenly, I am here.
I drive up a long gravel driveway, slowly. The day has broken but the fog is still here and the gravel pops and snaps and pings against the bottom of this girl's truck. The driveway is flanked by scrawny woods filled with invasive species that are choking out the cedars and elms. I get to the patch of Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) and now I'm back being a kid coming up here for the week and using the birch as a landmark. The birches meant we were here after that brutal, eleven hour drive. The woods quickly end and now I'm driving up to the white wood siding house that sits alone in an open field. The house is in good repair, but it could use some paint, a little landscaping, and new shingles. It is a two story farmhouse that looks as if it was missing its wood shutters and a porch, even thought it never had either. I always thought a wrap-around porch with a screened-in area out back would suit the house perfectly. Instead, there is a simple, blue door at ground-level and six plain white windows with a worn out grey roof and mildew and a wasps nest under the single bulb light that hung over the door.
I keep driving.
A sharp right turn through a grown-in entrance to the woods. Downhill. Switching left and right until I'm at the gigantic pole barn that sits low and flat nuzzled in these trees like it grew along with them. Or, maybe like it pushed its way here, invading the trees' space like kudzu and honeysuckle. I put the truck in park, turn it off, and get out. The air is thick and cool, sun is heating tree tops and the barn's dark, moldy roof. I stretch and realize I'm hungry, now. Just like that, you get in a place and can suddenly feel again. I start remembering, too:
I've played a little game since I was a kid. I like to look at people. People on the street. People sitting in the subway. Saleswomen pushing cheap furniture. Tired men cleaning toilets. I like to look at them and try to understand what they see when they close their eyes. I imagine all the places they go. I pretend to know all the things in their head they see when they're all alone.
I have a plan. I will go up to that farm house, open some sort of canned food, sit at that old computer and show you exactly what happens when I close my eyes.
This is what I see.
This is to a girl.
And we'd walk, sometimes for hours. And they were like music, her footsteps, with a sweet, subtle swing in their rhythm. Her left foot hitting a little earlier than it should. Her right hitting a little harder, like a long eighth note followed by an accented short. I never mentioned it and I'm not even sure she ever noticed, but I felt it. I could see it in the way her hips sat when she stood straight. She was always tall. Her legs long, thin, maybe a little knock-kneed. It was right there - Her left leg was shorter than her right. I noticed it when we were kids, swimming. Standing there in her bathing suit. I could see it when she wore low cut jeans and short tops. And later, when she was standing there naked in my living room.