Duran Duran Poster Goes Here

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Part 1

 

The soapy smell of clean filled the air as she sat down. Her hair, a grown out pixie, was chestnut.  I buried my half-finished poem with my pen.  Under its ink-scorched funeral I wrote the word Luxurious.  It was the day, Freshman year, and insecurity followed me like parenthetical notation.  The tardy bell slept for two more minutes when she turned suddenly.

“Did she hand out a syllabus?”

“What?”

“It’s a list of assignments for the year and.”

“I know what it is.  No.”

“I’m Allie.  We just moved from Ohio.”

“I’m Lance.”

“Are you Lance, alot or just on weekends?”

I’d written the same joke in a journal when I was ten-years-old.  This is not real.  She can’t be real.  She turned.  Another soap envelope. Luxurious.

 

A mask of freckles covered her face ending abruptly at an equine jawline.  She flicked her hair. A constellation of faint pimples peeked from beneath shimmering chestnut.  She was not real.  She walked deliberately.  As if too much speed would cause her to fall, too little, the same.  Pale yet radiant flesh wrapped her small frame.  Allie had me from day one.

 

An incisor rested too high on one side of her smile as she said,

“You like to read?”

I sat in the library, driving away talk with absence.  No one bothered you in a library.  Great for napping or catching a National Geographic induced dream when no one noticed.  She was standing above me as I sat indian-style.  Her wrists covered with bracelets I’d never noticed.

“Nice bracelets.”

She looked away. “My Dad bought them.”

“You guys moved into the house over by the old Stadium, yeah?”

“How did you know that?”  Supernumerary smile that drove me wild.

“I walked by and saw your Dad’s car.  Figured that’s where you lived or something.”

“Yeah, he bought it at an auction.”

“My grandfather built that house.”

“Really?  That’s cool.”

“Yep.  We used to break-in.”

“When?”

“Middle School.  We didn’t do much.  Just sort of walked around.  Found some old bottles in the basement.”

“Who is we?”

“Dave and me.  He was my best friend.  Moved away at the end of last year.”

“Sorry to hear that.  We move so much I don’t really have a best friend.”

“You got one if you want one.”  (Where did that come from?  She doesn’t like you. Loser. Been here you’re whole life and not one…)

“Sounds great.  We’re not in the book.  Here’s my number.”

She pulled a paper from her book.

“What chu readin?” I said.

“Stranger in a Strange Land.  You like sci-fi?”

“Asimov.  Never read anything by that guy.”

“I’ll loan you this when I’m done. Call me.  It’s an awesome book.”

She drifted away delicately.  Her flat behind trying to twitch, her legs suddenly skinnier than I thought earlier.  Was that the same sweater she wore Monday?  I had a girl’s number. I liked metal but could tell by the pins on her jacket, she didn’t.  Certainly she had no interest in the bread bag-wrapped Playboys stealthed away in the woods.  That left books and how from the moment I smelled her she was all that mattered; how that second day when she asked me again for a syllabus with that quirky forgetfulness I instantly treasured; how I loved her that day at lunch when she sat silent then began to cry and ask for forgiveness; how my every waking thought resembles the softness of her voice.  From those moments until now as she walked away, I loved her.  I could tell her I loved her every day from now til death and never say it enough or right or in a way that makes her see it.  How do you say “Listening to you breathe is better than breathing alone.”?    

 

Deep in our basement was a box labeled Scouts.  I hated Boy Scouts but Dad had loved it so I was there, back in the day. He bailed and all that Be Prepared Scout Law loyalty got boxed and hidden.  I found the binoculars.

 

She would never want me.  My crooked mug was jeweled with black, badger eyes, perpetual acne.  A sheen of stupid reflected off my face as I looked in the mirror.  

“She said call her.  She gave you the number for a reason dumbass.  Call her. And say what?  Talk about books.  Asimov. She likes sci-fi, probably reads alot.  She cried at lunch.  What was that? She’s bonkers dude.  Bonkers.  Freakin’ gorgeous and never talks to anyone. Except you.  You.  She talks to you.”

I wiped the mirror as the steam from the shower kicked in.

“Call her after your shower.  Promise.  Promise?  Promise.  Okay, I promise.”

I took another shower.  It seemed wrong to call a girl without a shower.

She didn’t answer.

 

Her house sat on a corner in the southern part of town.  I walked through the woods behind the stadium.  The wall was nine feet all around but there was a part where the trees allowed a parkour ascent.  I topped the wall.  The moon was low on the horizon causing the wall to blend with swaying shadows. I balanced around the wall careful to stop whenever headlights commanded.  No way, I thought, anyone can see me from this distance at night without looking for me.  Hey Gladys, let’s go see if some kid is walking the stadium wall at night!  Such things didn’t happen.  I reached a point near the locker rooms where I could see her house.  Without the binoculars I could make out the downstairs lights.  Through the louvres of a half-opened venetian I could see her Dad.  He had a sawhorse in the living room.  Plywood stacked in the corner.

 

What the hell are you doing? I whispered.  Why use a manual saw?

 

I lifted the binoculars and began looking around the house for glimpses of Allie.  Her Dad looked up and I could tell by his veins and gaping mouth he shouted something.  He smiled and picked up the plywood.

 

“I called you last night.”  (So?)

“Really? Sorry.  I wasn’t home, able to answer. Home.  I wasn’t home.” Super numerated and sad. (You’re just seeing things.  Douche)  

“That’s cool.  I found this at the dime store up town.  Heinlein wrote short stories too.  It’s six of them in one book. Thought you’d dig it.”

“Dig it?  Hippy. Hell yeah, thank you.”  She skipped and kissed my cheek.  “Thank you.”

I’d never kissed a girl and she never said whether I did it right.  But we kissed for what seemed an hour.  I heard people laughing in the hallway.  Her mouth was small, wet and slow moving.  I hardened against her then pulled back.

“Sorry about that.”

She smiled, then suddenly looked sad. The same sadness she showed just before crying.

“Call me later.  I might be home tonight.  I don’t really know.”

“Okay.”  She walked away.  

“And thank you.” I said.  (Such an idiot)

She twisted quickly into the girl’s bathroom.

 

I wanted to invite her over.  Play Robin Williams records just to listen to the echo of her laugh.  Shake up the kerosene stinking walls a bit and see what dust falls.  I loved Iron Maiden but somehow came across this Tom Waits album that made me think romantic sad thoughts.  I wanted to play it for her.  Would she cry when he wailed his love?  Would she figure out I meant her and me and one day when we were old and drank coffee? Even if she were gone daddy gone I wanted to be there for her.  Pain, in her name, was pain rewarded.  But I sat there by myself listening to Martha knowing none of this would work out.

 

I called.  Her Dad picked up.

What?

Is Allie there?

A silence of unsettling length.

Naw.  Not really.  She’s over ’ter mom’s house.

Thank you sir.

He hung up before I said sir.

 

The path cut through the heart of the woods.  It led back to the low wall which rose like a dirty, discarded fingernail from the dark skin of earth.  I pulled the binoculars up while leaning on the locker room roof.  He was downstairs moving around in panicked motion.  He’d touch the railing at the bottom of the stairs, then bolted back to the living room. Stand in the kitchen for a few minutes his lips moving like an auctioneer.  Boxes sat near the door.  His veins bulged in volume.  On the night air I barely made out the reverb.  His yell blended with air and distance, coming off as remnant of a song or radio program from the day.  My heart thumped like a flat tire slapping a hundred miles an hour.   I watched him go upstairs.  No lights came on. I looked at the windows tighter.  The plywood.  It was covering every upstairs window.  A sudden flash came from the lower right corner of a window.  A quick flash with jerky shadows, then bright light.  Another shadow.  No light.  Echoes of a radio program yelling come across the field.  I pull the binoculars down as if I can see better.  The house sits quiet from this distance.  An empty lot separating it from the nearest neighbor.  Lights on at every house around.  Must-see TV splintering open screen windows.  My god.  What?

 

He comes down alone.  I whisper to myself with a dry mouth.

She’s not home fucker.  Why are you going upstairs?

 

He picks up the phone, speaks briefly and then hangs up.

 

I sat in third period the next morning looking at her empty chair.  The teacher glanced that way when saying her name but moved on after. She wasn’t here.  No one noticed.  It was Okay.  Surely.  The classes came and went.  Back on the wall staring at the house.  He was downstairs smoking.  No lights upstairs.

 

The third day the teacher seemed irritated.

 

Any know what’s going on with Allie Watson?

 

She looked at me.  I shrugged silently.  Heart sinking down a pit of black.  I need to go by during the day.  Take a route that put me close to the house without being obvious.  Her Dad knew me and deep down I knew I had to avoid her Dad like you avoid unknown, barking dogs.

 

The next morning I woke up knowing she wouldn’t be at school.  I showered and left for the bus stop.  From my house at the time it was a two block walk, hop the creek and up a slight rise to the bus stop.  If you took a left at the creek, you’d end up down by my Grandparents’ house and the woods where we’d play War as kids.  If you took a right at the creek, you’d end up headed uptown near the police station, arcade and old lady beauty shops.  I moved slow, pacing myself so as to avoid the other kids.  They’d long stop talking to me.  It was winter and my entire fall had been Allie Watson and reading.  I stooped at the creek as if the bus driver would care.  I waited and waited.  It was cold.  I heard the kids talking at the top of the hill.  The distant laughter or sudden burst included in many stories.  I waited until the diesel engine revved up and moved away.

 

I came up near Allie’s.  I didn’t top the wall.  I just walked as casual as possible down the alley behind her house.  I took a left at an abandoned house three doors up.  It was a two-story with a brick face and peeling-paint siding.  I knelt by the oil tank in the back and watched her house across the backyards.  Nothing.  His car was gone.  

 

I missed Dave just then.   Months back he would’ve been there.  Saying?  Well, one of two scenarios.

Why are you talking to that crazy-ass girl with the weird bracelets and pop princess pins and the crying at lunch?

Or.

When are we breaking-in that house and uncover whatever Stephen King shit is happening?

The butterflies in my stomach lamented Dave’s absence because of the former.

I smiled at the latter and restarted my casual descent down the alley.

The sounds of our town were music to those aware of such a melody. Trains connecting.  Cars rushing through on the highway.  Crickets and cicadas battling at night for silent applause.  The cackle of laugh tracks through screen windows as a curtain of humidity dropped at summer’s dusk.  These sounds taught me, even then, the value of hearing a heartbeat when all else seems dead. I listened for cars around the corner.  Cars up on the main road two blocks up.  The sound of AC units indicating at home Moms or retirees.  Allie’s neighborhood was quiet except for the quarter notes of my scuffling feet.  Their house stood basking in the early morning light.

Dave would’ve been proud of the quick work I made of the basement screen window.  It was as I remembered.  A dark, cool place with the aroma of moldy dirt and rotting wood floating invisible to the eye, disturbing to the nose.  Light dropped in from what were now high windows, here and there covered with grey wood.  Fragments of water pipe insulation cowered a corner.   The low ceiling kissed my spiked hair as I climbed the narrow steps.  They led into the kitchen. The door was locked from the other side with a wooden block dropped into a homemade catch.  I looked around as my eyes adjusted.  A cardboard nail box sat dusty on a framing timber.  I twisted off a piece and slide it into the sliver of light between door and jamb.  I clicked the wooden block up and felt the door’s tension soften. I didn’t move. I tried to hear any creak or turn or opening or closing of any door or closet that might indicate I needed to run like my ass was on fire.  I held my breath for one minute. Slowly I exhaled, hearing no sound for the full sixty.  I entered the kitchen.

The kitchen was empty except for a few scraps of paper on the kitchen counter.  I flipped through the cabinets like a Price Is Right girl and found nothing.  There was no table, no pots and no utensils in any drawer.  The living room, empty.  What the old folks called the sitting room, vacant.  There were still curtains on the windows and from the outside I knew there was still plywood blocking an outside in view upstairs.  Nothing was left.  I walked upstairs, moving faster and with more confidence as it settled that I was actually alone.

A bathroom was across the hall from me. Door ajar.  From this angle I could tell it was empty.  There were four bedrooms upstairs.  To my immediate left was the first one.  It’s floor was flavored with sawdust and crushed beer cans. I looked at it from the hall.  I remembered the night when a light came and went in the corner of a plywood covered window.  It was the next room.  Second on the left.  I walked towards the room.  The door was brown.  One foot above the factory-issued knob was a padlock.  I pushed the door open.

The plywood was doubled against the window.  I walked into the room slowly.  It was hot and dark.  Wires from a ceiling light hung down, taped off.  Electrical outlets were covered with wood screwed pieces of cut plywood.  The floor, hardwood and dusty, showed no sign of a bed or a dresser.   There was no indication anywhere that this room had been used for anything more than storage.  A refuge for unneeded items.  I turned to walk away when a flash of language caught my eye.  I looked carefully at one of the plywood curtains.  I found the language again.  It was scratched into the corner.  The letters were jerky.  More scraped with narrow metal than carved.  After a moment I deciphered them:

Duran Duran poster goes here.

I turned to the right and saw the closet.  It was a double-door closet left partially open.  It was the only sign of life left in the house.  Something shiny was peeking out at me through the louvres.  I walked over and opened the doors wide.

There, attached to the wall with four bolts, were two chains.  They hung down about two feet and the paint behind them showed signs of the chains moving back and forth repeatedly.  My stomach turned, my mouth dried.  I shivered as my eyes moved down the chains to the shackles at the end of each.  They were the perfect size for a fifteen year old girl.   I saw her bracelets and face as she turned and told me her Dad bought them for her.  

Son of a bitch. I said.

I wanted to touch them.  Check to see if they were real but felt that, somehow, I would be as guilty as he if I dared.  As if this was about what I believed or didn’t. What I knew and what I didn’t.

Useless piece of shit bastard.  I said.

The closet smelled of urine and iron and in that moment I began to feel nauseous.   I stormed to the bathroom and threw up.  I came out moments later.  In the room across from Allie’s were hooks hanging on the wall.  As if he had things hanging up on the wall.  I looked around the room and on the floor saw the imprint of four feet.  Like a sawhorse but wider.  I walked around this room confused, wondering what was sitting there in the middle of the room. The walls (except where the hooks were) and plywood were covered with a foamy material I would learn later was soundproofing.  In the corner I found a small black piece of material.  I looked at it in my fingers.  It was an inch long, less than an inch thick.  It was familiar but not at the same time.  I smelled it for reasons unclear.  It was leather.  A strip of black leather like the ones used in whips.  

I yelled her name as the lump in my throat gave out

Allie! Allie!

I began to ran down the steps.  

You fuckin’ son of a bitch.  Useless piece of shit. I need to tell the cops.  Find somebody.

Where are you!? I screamed.  You fucking shitbag!

I’ve got to find the police.  I ran to the front door.  It was locked.  I pulled and pulled, forgetting I’d broken in.  As if I’d stop by for lunch and realized that Allie Watson had been her Dad’s…and how he… I couldn’t stop pulling on the door.  

Let me out you fucker!  Let me out!

 

Part 2

I was two blocks away when I stopped running.  The police station was near the three-blocks of abandoned stores we called downtown.  I paced myself, building the story.

I thought I saw something weird so I broke in. (but the house is empty, son)

I heard a voice call out. (but the house is empty, son)

I think something’s happened to Allie Watson. (didn’t you and that Myers boy break into some houses a few months back, son?)

An older kid, with a supped up Fairlane, pulled up next to me.

Hey kid, you need a ride, it’s about to rain.

I turned and it all came out quick and ugly.  How I loved her and the smell of her shampoo and the walls and the binoculars and how I broke in and how I really think she’s in trouble but no one will listen because I broke the law finding out and how man I just don’t know.

 

The older kid, his name was Mike Richardson but everyone called him Mighty Mouse, listened from his idling Fairlane.

Get in kid.  We need to go to the police.  

They won’t believe me.

You can’t help your friend being a little bitch.  Quit being a little bitch and come on.

 

He was right.  I got in the car.  It smelled of Marlboros and too much cologne.  Freebird was on the radio. Later he went to UVA and then dropped out.  He joined the Army and got a medal for performing CPR on another soldier.  After the initial fame of such an act, he disappeared from my view.  I think of Mighty Mouse whenever I hear Freebird or someone references Skynyrd.  

The dispatcher called the on-duty officer to come back.

There’s a kid name of Lance with Mighty Mouse.  Kid says there’s something going on at the house by the Stadium.

Henry Turner’s house?

I think so.  The big yellow one.  Some new folks moved in a few months ago.  This kid says they’re gone now and (dispatcher looks over at me)  you should come back and hear what’s what for yerself. We were sitting in the officer’s office when I retold the story slower this time with Mighty Mouse adding his two-cents whenever he felt my credibility was going south.

 

I know it sounds messed up, Might Mouse said, but you should’ve seen this kid when I picked him up.  Just a wreck, falling apart, crying, screaming at me.  That can’t be an act sir.  It just can’t be.

I didn’t remember crying or screaming at him at all.

We’ll look into it.  I went by on the way in.  The plywood is damn odd, I’ll give you that.  You say he was doing renovations.

Yes sir.  But the renovations were just plywood over the windows so nobody could see what he was doing.  I said. The words sounded foreign now. As if I were reading a section of a play out loud in school.  No emotion.  No passion.  Just words.

We’ll look into it.

Mighty Mouse dropped me off at my house.  He put the car in park and said, Ya’ know I got an Uncle my Dad says is always running up bills and disappearing.  Say nobody can ever find him but the Post Office.  Somehow the post office finds everybody, eventually.  Maybe you should write your friend a letter.  

She doesn’t live there anymore.  I don’t have her address.

That’s the deal-eeoh kid.  The post office will find them for you.  They forward letters to the address the Dad left behind.  He’s got to get mail, right?  Bills and letters and stuff.  Try it.

The next day the teacher called Allie Watson’s name. I looked straight ahead hoping no one would notice me at all.  

I knew what happened to her.  I knew what had been happening to her.  The police knew (or believed me, I hoped).  And Mighty Mouse believed me.  But I couldn’t tell the kids around me.  This wasn’t locker room gossip and Man-Did-We-Get-Wasted conversation.  The gravity of her pain followed me like a crippled but loyal dog.  I started a letter to her every day for a week.  I didn’t know what to say or how to say anything to her.  If it ever got to her, that is.  If her Dad didn’t open it first.

A month later it was bitter cold.  Snow fell and fell.  I was watching it fall, looking at a Polaroid of Allie walking down the hall in school.  She wore the bracelets I now hated and acid wash jeans.  Her smile was beautiful but knowledge changes our eyes.  When I saw this picture months ago I saw my future wife.  I saw the girl who would become the woman I would die for in any romantic way possible.  I would live for her, then die for her.  As is right.  But now I saw the sadness in her eyes.  I understood what it means when the smile never reaches the eyes.  She was sad in this picture.  Alone but brave enough to hide it.  Strong enough, maybe, is what I mean. I didn’t see it then.  I saw what I wanted, not what she needed.

We were out of school due to snow for two days when the police officer showed up at the house.  I heard Mom talking with him briefly then she called me out of my room.

Hello Lance.  He said.  I’m Officer Merton, remember me from a few weeks ago?

Yes sir.

I need you to come with me to the station.

What did he do?  For God’s sake Lance!  Mom yelled.

No ma’am.  Because of the cold, the pipes burst at Henry Turner’s old house.  Water was pouring out so a neighbor called the utility company.  Utility man called us when he got in the house.  Your son is a witness.

 

Witness?  Lance what the hell?  Mom said.

Officer Merton said,  I need you to come to the station and tell the investigators from Richmond what you told me son.  Can you do that?

Yes sir.

When we arrived I saw Mighty Mouse’s Fairlane outside.  He was talking with two men in suits when we walked in.  I told them the story that by now you’ve known for too long.

When I got back home I started a letter and finished it.  It was simple.

Dear Allie,

 

I miss you.  Please reply to this letter.  I hope you’re Okay.  Reading any good books lately?  I bought you a Duran Duran poster. I just need to know where to mail it.

 

Your friend always,

Lance-alot.

 

I never received a reply.  It was months before Officer Merton said there was even a lead.  It fizzled out. Eventually I saw contractors in Henry Turner’s house making renovations. I watched from the wall.  I spent lots of time on the wall after she left.  As if I could change things by watching it. The chains were probably thrown away along with sheet rock and old toilets.  The teacher stopped calling her name.  I framed the Duran Duran poster I bought Allie Watson.  I read everything Heinlein ever wrote before I graduated high school.  By then, my depression had won completely.  I skipped the stage walking..  

Part 3

I live in the projects now.  Well, what Richmond calls the projects.  Mostly poor black people, single moms, and old bastards like me who just never lived righteous.  I get a small disability check and when Mom passed there was a little life insurance.  If you don’t mind Deviled Ham sandwiches and water for most of your meals, it’s not a bad life.  The Stoics would be proud of my spartan existence even if it’s not of a philosophical bend.  Lately, I’ve been working under the table for a Man who tears down houses.  It’s fun some days.  Swinging a sledgehammer, ripping things apart for pay.  He gives me 60 dollars a day.  This morning it was raining so I called out (texted, technically) of work.  I just wanted a decent cup of coffee.

If America is a melting pot, convenience stores are the ladles with which we are scooped and then poured into the streets.  Homelessness stands silent as khaki wearing managers, pant sagging teens, and soccer moms jockey for the pricey speed of modernity’s promise. There is no black, white or indifference here.  Gimme what I want-NOW! Or I’m calling the 1-800 number.  IMPATIENCE UNITES! should be printed on money as the trustworthy deity loses to the crushing need for instant gratification.  This is not a rant chastising my countrymen.  Just an acknowledgement of my frailty as I walked in the pouring rain to avoid the trouble of brewing my own coffee.

The store was busy.  A nice smelling woman held the door for me as my arm played umbrella.  I poured my black gold into its paper cup and took extra napkins for the bathroom.  The clerk knows me.  When my change was lacking he just nodded his head towards the door and I, in acknowledgement of his kindness, walked out without looking at him again.  I stood under the awning a while watching the rain for signs of weakness.  The ice cooler to my left stuck out just far enough to have rain tapping its forehead in syncopation with the swish-whoosh-swish of passing cars of Broadrock Boulevard.  At the intersection of cooler and store sat a woman who, at first glance, seemed a pile of forgotten dirty clothes. .

I watched her long enough for me to jump a bit when she moved.  A yawn with intermittent teeth opened from underneath the stocking cap.  She moved side to side then began to stand like an elephant finding its feet.  Finger-less gloves pushed the grungy stocking cap up. There I saw a mask of freckles buried beneath years of sun and sorrow.  Her double chin, skin, not fat, rounded her face, hiding her equine jawline.  My mind danced more than my heart as I tried to tell if it was really Allie Watson, all grown up and defeated, or my Fifty-year-old mind trying to find meaning.  I looked away.

Hey, she said.

I looked further in the opposite direction.

Hey.  You hear me sir?  You have some change to spare?

I looked at her hoping she’d recognize me. (Like she’d remember you?)  I stared for just a second, confirming my belief that Allie was there. (You didn’t do shit, remember?  You forgot all about me!)

I could barely swing this coffee.  Guy in there might give you a cup.  Seems a decent sort compared to the rest of these…Black Hats.

She grunted and surveyed the parking lot.  

Shitty day, she said.

Yep.  Looks like it might clear up though.  Things change with time, ya’ know.

Another grunt.

You married? She said.

What?  I said.

Are you married?

I laughed.  No.  Not at all.  I don’t even have a pet.

Another grunt.

I don’t like the married ones. She said.  Feels dirtier.  You want some comp’nee for ‘bout half an hour?

My stomach did somersaults.  If this was Allie Watson, and the more I glanced at her the more convinced I became, if this was her, what do I do about this?   Here’s a chance to save her.  Or use her.  Or just ignore her.  Am I making amends in my head or hoping to rekindle a love? I knew the answer.  The love.  I had missed her over the years.  When I still had the lust of a younger man, it was her I dreamed of.  Her I imagined in my bed.  Only her.  My mind had tried to age her appropriately but it was often useless.  This, blended with a strain of morality left from a forced baptism led to my ending even my imagined exploits with Allie.  But now.  Here she is.  Grown and willing!  Ragged, dirty and chubby as well.  I began to imagine taking her home and letting her realize who I am and who she is, again, and then we begin our life.  I blurted out,

Sure.  I’ve got some money tucked away at the house.  I save it up for when the McRib comes back out. (What.The.Hell?)

She grunted.  How far away?  How much?

I live over in the apartments across from that other store, near the carwash.  I’ve got about twenty.  But really.  I know it’s not much.  But really all I want you to do is look at something.

I’ve done stuff like that.

No.  I mean look at something at my house.  Look at if for a few minutes and leave.  

My plan was unfolding as I spoke.

Over by the wash?

Yes.

Twenty bucks?

Yes.

And all I have to do is look at your thing you want me to see?

Yes.

Let the rain clear some.  

The years treated neither of us generously.  I glanced at her as we watched for the weakening rain.  Her lips were parched, despite the weather.  Rutted crow’s feet around her eyes seemed more tire tracks in the brown mud of her face.  But here she was.  Allie Watson.  As the time passed after school she became part of my youth’s mythology.  Stories we tell ourselves about ourselves that never seem real to ourselves.  On occasion I’d see a classmate years after graduation and ponder, Who Is This Person?  The image of them I carried like a faded hieroglyph conflicts with the Mom or Dad before me.  They were shadows of their youth.  And if they were, what was I to them but a cracked picture.  A worn Polaroid they spotted on the sidewalk outside a gas station.  

Hey buddy, you got some change?  My hands shaking from not enough booze.

Lance?  Is that you?

Perhaps they shared stories about seeing me out there with a cardboard sign.  Shaking their middle-brow heads at my fate.  These people I once saw as friends, as the homecoming court as the popular or ignored, these people were ghosts from my youth. Dancing here and there in my head still hoping for the new pair of shoes Daddy promised them for a straight A report card.

But we know, don’t we, how ghosts can jump.  We can see in our lives how the hieroglyph gets worn down until it just wants to be remembered even if misunderstood.  All who wake up dreaming fall asleep with disappointment.  Me.  Allie. The hieroglyphic ghosts I escaped from years before.  This is not self-pity anymore than it is sorrowful to realize we only have two legs.  It is universal and thereby more factual observation than emotional outburst.  But we also see, can we not, how the ghosts can jump?  How they can pop up with their edges worn complete revealing only their current, true state for all to see.  As I stood there, and the rain slackened, and Allie turned her burnished face to mine, I saw a jumping ghost and laughed.

What’s so funny?  She said.

Nothing.  I was thinking of an old joke.

I like jokes.

Well, the joke is like this:  A boy introduces himself to a girl one day in class.  They were school kids then, see?  And he says his name is Lance.  And then she asks…

I looked at her hoping time would stop long enough for her to remember.

She asks what?  She said.

Are you lance-alot or just on weekends?

The wind carried the words away just before they hit the sidewalk.

I don’t get it.  Twenty bucks you said?  Rain’s stopped.

Yep.  Rain’s stopped.

 

We walked in silence to my apartment.  I tried to engage her in small talk but realized the futility immediately.  What small talk is there to engage in?  She lives on the street, I assume, or perhaps some dingy pay-by-the-week motel.  I pictured garbage bags of her belongings sitting on a stained, brown carpet.  A bathroom where the faucet gurgles randomly as she tries to sleep.  

Read any good books lately?

She grunted then replied.  Don’t read much.  Never got the hang of it.

Perhaps I was her knight, finally.  I thought of my own ghostly youth and remember feeling regret at not doing more.  As if, maybe, somehow, I could’ve saved her. I should’ve taken the humorous hint and wrestled the honor of my molested Dulcinea from the Devil’s grip. But I wrote a dead letter that landed in a postal trash pile.  I tried to figure out where she was by watching her old house with binoculars and ignoring everything else.  Self-pity was my heroism.  Ignorance my shield.  But now I pictured myself as savior.  Pulling her, at last, from the clutches of sorrow and pain.  Turning the ghost into a flower again through pure love, unadulterated servitude and the repentance that comes from fulfilling destiny.

It did cross my mind, either during the walk or years prior, that my love for Allie was a small ‘L’ type of love and not a capital L type.  It was love for its own name, not hers.   A fleeting love designed to bolster my life not save hers.  My ghost was jumping inside me.  I dismissed this idea feeling as I did that it was a capital letter Love for one reason.  I had only felt it twice in my life.  When I met Allie Watson.  And when I met her again.

This is me. I said.  Third floor.

It’s gonna be Thirty bucks now.

Okay. I said.  Why?

Too far to walk.  Lot further than you said.  Car Wash is two blocks back.  You said right next to, not two blocks from.  Ten more or I don’t go up these damn steps.

Forty.

Forty?  Ain’t gonna say no and ain’t gonna say sorry.

We walked up the steps.  She grunted here and there.  It was hard to tell her body size and shape under her clothes.  They were a big woman’s clothes hanging from a small woman’s shoulders.  I briefly wondered if she got them too large or shrunk accordingly over time.  As if the burden of size was too much to bear.

I opened the door.  My apartment is smaller than advertised, I’ll admit.   The complex people tell me it’s 900 square feet but with the book chimneys in every corner, the bags of recycled cans (I need to turn those in, I know) and other debris, it hardly seems the size of a patio.

I moved an overgrown plant from the wall and turned to look at Allie.

Here.  I said as I pointed to the sun-faded but still framed Duran Duran poster.

What?

It’s a Duran Duran poster.  Just like I said.

She looked at the poster then back at me. A smile came to her face. It reached her eyes slowly.

Duran  Duran.  You mean the music group?

Yes.  I bought you a  Duran Duran poster.

Me?  She looked confused.  I don’t know about you buddy.  Where’s my forty bucks.  You promised me forty bucks!  Her voice was loud but muffled by all my junk.

I went to a wooden box in my bedroom and retrieved the money.  When I returned she was standing near the poster as if studying it.

This is just a picture in a frame, ain’t it?  I handed her the money.   Thanks.  Why would you want me to look at this?

Because you’re Allie Watson.  I bought it for you when we were kids.  I broke into your house after y’all left.  I found your carving in the plywood and bought you this poster.  It all sounds so silly now, I know.  But I kept it ever since.  So I wouldn’t forget you.  And how you made me feel.  And how I let you down.

I was overwhelmed with the desire to cry. I felt the lump in my throat and that nose tickle that precedes sorrow.  The moisture filled my eyes.

 

She watched me as I wept.  She didn’t move.  I didn’t move.  I just stood there sobbing.

Okay.  She said.

Please don’t leave!  I called as she opened the door.

I got my forty bucks.  I looked at your picture.  We’re square.

The door closed.  I ran to it like child and leaned against it.  Her stench lingered around the door.

 

Through the door I heard her speak.  Her voice was soft but clear like a gently touched piano key.

 

Lancealot.  She said.

I pressed my ear harder to the door.

Lancealot.  She said.

I pulled the door open.

She wasn’t there.  I looked up and down the hall.  Nothing.  Even the stench of her faded in the hall.

I could make out the faint echo of what sounded like a woman crying on the second floor landing.  Maybe it was the first floor.  Convinced that it was merely a desire for a long gone ghost, I closed the door.  

 

 

Ouroboros

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“I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.”  Franz Kafka

 

 

th-1

Yes, the darkness into which all things proceed.  We have lights on everything else.  Let’s spend some time on darkness.

For me the shadows started with an inner monologue between Me and my philosophical side years ago.  A paraphrased example:

Are you Human or Animal?

Human.

Then why do you compare yourselves as Animals and not Humans?

I don’t do this.

Prove it.  Describe yourself.

I’m a white male from  Virginia.  I am tall, broad in the shoulders and broader in the waist.

An Animal?

No, I’m a Human.

Describe a Human then, not an Animal.  

I did.

No.  You described a physical being.  You described pigment and hormones and genitalia.  

Can I not use these to describe an Animal of which you claim you are not?

Yes.  You can describe an Animal using those words.

Then describe the Human.

Darkness…

This led to all manner of philosophical and religious journeys in my Life. Everywhere I looked I saw Animals comparing themselves to Animals.

I’m a Black man.

I’m a white woman.

I’m Chinese.

I’m Gay.

I’m Republican.

Animal descriptions one and all.

I believe being offended is a choice because offended means displeasure, anger, frustration.  All of these things are a choice the Human Mind makes.

But what if you see yourself as an Animal only?

What if you are nothing more than your physical characteristics?

If I view myself as a physical stereotype (Animal) there are two logical outcomes:

1.) I see other people as Animals (physical stereotypes)

2.) I am separating my Animal from my Human side.

 

In overreaching terms, the goal of Philosophy is to isolate the Animal, focusing only on the Human.

You are not a physical being only.  You have a Mind.  Your thoughts can not be touched, held or seen by others.  Yet they exist.  Language, also, can not be touched, held or seen by others.  You are seeing pixels on a screen or ink on paper.  Letters exist only as recognized symbols representing certain meanings to your Mind.

But I know I have thoughts!

Yes, but others do not know you have them.  They are 100% yours to control, reveal and change.

But I can read!  Language exists!

Pick up a word and hold it in your hand.  What does the letter A taste like?  What is its smell?  What color is the letter A in its original form?  Show me the Physical proof of language?

I can hear someone speak.

Sounds interpreted by the Mind based on definitions provided through the sense. Hold the Sound and tell me its weight.

There are no more Human ideas than Mind and Language.  For me, this means how we use our Mind, how we use our Language, reflects our understanding of what it is to be a Human not Animal.

Those who see this tend to respond differently to life.

This is who I want my Human side to be.  I want to dissolve my connection to the Animal, as much as possible, so as to develop the Human understanding I find lacking not only in myself, but others.

Stoics, Victor Frankl and more recently Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have all postulated the following.

Between Action and Reaction, there is the Human Mind’s ability to choose a response.

What is it then if one doesn’t know or refuses to use this ability to respond?

What if there is an Action and then an unconscious, spontaneous response?

Would we say that person is behaving like an Animal or a Human?

When I seek physical pleasure, what am I?  Animal or Human?

When I avoid pain, what am I? Animal or Human?

When I become angry at external things, Animal or Human?

Is the future not external to me?  Is the past not external to me?

Why then do I Hope towards the future or fear towards the future?

Why am I trying to positively control (Hope) towards the future?

Why am I trying to negatively control (Fear) towards the future?

 

I look around and see Animals everywhere.  The TV News tells me to offended, afraid, hopeful, concerned or happy based on my Animal presence.  You are an angry white male.  You are a Southerner.  You are married.  You are a Conservative.  You are a Father.  You are Tall.  You are Fat.  You are Heterosexual.  You are a Drinker.  You are Funny.

Animal. Animal. Animal. Animal.  Animal.  All descriptions of either physical state of my body, physical geography of my body or a social state in which my body is currently found.

School and books reinforce this notion.  Political parties thrive on our Animal divisions and their supporters are emotionally invested in maintaining the lie of categorizing people into Animal traits.

I have what is called White flesh but is a Human nothing but pigment?

Is a Human Mind controlled by the genitalia?

You will die.  Your skin will rot and fall away like leaves on a dying tree.  Worms and vermin will consume your genitals. The chemicals and hormones with which you categorize yourself will dry up or dissolve into the dirt.

So be it.  This will happen to you as it has happened to millions before you and an infinite number after you.

If this is the destiny of all Flesh, of all Skin, or all Gender–why are you viewing yourself in only these terms?

Some believe the Mind can live without the body.  It only needs Oxygen delivered by some means or another.  But can the body function without the Mind?  Would your heart pump without an autonomic system directed by the Mind?  No.  Your body would die without your Mind but your Mind may outlive the body!

So why describe yourself as an Animal describes itself?

Society enforces, reinforces, doubles-down, reminds, cajoles, tricks, uses guilt and ‘educates’ us into believing our Animal descriptions are the REALITY of all Life.

This division becomes similar to an 0uroboros, one decision feeding on another until a cyclical process is developed with no end in sight.

Am I Animal or Human?

Once I can describe the Human only, leaving the Animal to its temporary world, maybe the ouroboros will die for lack of food.

Luke the Drifter, a comeuppance and Tom Robbins calls it quits…

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Art is subjective and the first subject is the soul of the artist.

I recently watched I Saw The Light, a Hank Williams biopic starring Loki and the Red Witch.  Old Hank was a lyrical genius with more than his share of inspiration and damnation.  He put it out there and out there and still it wasn’t enough to allow him the thing all artists crave.

Connection.

Connection with others.  Connection with the world at large.  Connection with an understanding of their own psyche.  When filled with the emptiness of lonesome, any connection will do; alcohol, drugs, sex, food, money, power, fame, failure.  Connection.

I spent time in Alabama this week.  Hank’s home state.  I had connection on the brain when I pulled in Sunday night and kept it there all week.

He wrote from the heart.  Quickly, without much editing and without much regret.  His alter ego, Luke The Drifter, carried the weight of his more soul-searching work, but Hank was the canvas of Luke’s art.  He was a tormented soul yearning to break out and be free.

Let’s regroup….

I pulled into Alabama thinking of Hank and my writing and the unspoken reality that connecting with others has never been easy for me.  Does it look easy?  Sure.  I learned to use humor years ago to impress, deflect, entertain, flirt and distract as I saw fit.  A manipulative skill but one that leaves them laughing and wanting more…

My own art is suffering from a plague of mediocrity that only I will openly admit.  Others won’t for fear of hurting my feelings or disrupting a friendship etc.  Craig S. stands out on this topic for his brutal honesty.  But, as a Man dealing in reality, he is as honest with Me about Me as he is about Himself.  This makes his criticisms constructive, reasonable and easy to swallow.

I started this years ago because I had this Tom Robbins inspired notion of writing 500 words per day, no matter what.  Broadcasting to the world seemed to satisfy two criteria:  Engage an audience, receive feedback.

Both failed.

So now is the time to rethink this entire pile and focus on turning mediocrity into something that is not mediocrity.

I hit Alabama by reaching out to writer friends about editors/publishers and the writing community at large.  I never really considered myself a writing group type of guy.  I don’t even know what genre is fitting for my writing.  I just write the words in my head and let them go.  Full disclosure:  I’ve never edited any story on this page.  100% of what is presented was written directly into the blog and only after the fact was it saved.  Including the Romeos stories.

You deserve better.

I deserve better.

My characters deserve better.

My soul deserves better.

To that end, no more stories will appear here.  I’m engaging an editor and moving in the direction of publication and becoming a serious, if underrated, underpaid and unknown, writer.

My last story, Purpose, was written in the San Antonio airport after reading three pages of Notes from the Underground.  What if the people we think of as having Special Needs were able to think clearly, perhaps more clearly than us, and were using our ignorance and compassion to fulfill their goals.  Be they good, evil or indifferent.

++++++++++++++++++++

Back to ranting then.

I could rant for hours about a limitless number of topics.  The desire to express one’s self, so necessary for artist, makes me a boorish snob at dinner parties, a know-it-all ass successful in self-aggrandizement others can only envy.  I’m fun to drink with, tough to get close to and unforgettable for reasons I forget.  I admire Bukowski because he shuns admiration and love Kerouac because he needs it.  Palaniuk is my favorite modern writer.  His writing, satire, wit and intelligence is unrivaled in this Stephanie Myers world.

I often think I should disappear to a remote island.  Indulge in my alcoholic dreams, consume Rum and write a memoir no one will read.  But the truth is I would end up sunburned, arrested and my memoir would consist of two paragraphs about railroads, midgets and the smell of Schlitz.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Trump and Hillary are symptoms of the same disease.  We’ve spent decades accepting the lesser of two evils.  Now we have nothing but evil to choose from and, ye gods, we double-down on this fact.

We have to take sides.  If you’re Liberal, you’re a Libtard.  If you’re Conservative, you’re a KKKonservative.  If you’re pro-Black, you’re anti-White.  If you’re pro-Cop, you’re anti-Black.  If you’re pro-White, you’re the KKK.  The Hispanics show up in here somewhere but seem to have the sense to recuse themselves for the most part.  You’re either pro-Gun or a Socialist.  You’re either a Socialist or bible thumping gay-hater stuck in an all-White past.  If you disagree with Me, you’re a Communist.  If I disagree with you, I’m a Fox News watching Zombie who should be mocked.  You’re either forever Rich or forever Poor.  Pick a side God-Damn you!  If you don’t repost that video about a Black kid getting killed, you’re a bigot and part of the problem.  If you don’t repost that video about a Cop being killed by a Black kid, then you’re not American.  You must fly Old Glory just above your Don’t Tread On Me Banner or you’re some sort of commie-fucker and probably love Obama.

We…that means YOU and I…encourage, support, promote, reblog, repost, share, LIKE, Retweet, Comment and otherwise ENDORSE the very DIVISION we lament…

We the people, have created a less perfect Union which divides us along superficial, political borders…

We ask our kids to pick sides and then wonder why our country is divided.  Being Conservative doesn’t make you anti-Gay anymore than being Liberal makes you anti-White.  Plug in any names/agendas/topics  you wish in that sentence and it makes just as little as sense as the original.

We’ve let our Politics decide our Principles instead of our Principles deciding our Politics.

I think most people view their own lives as a Conservative and the lives of their neighbors as a Liberal.  I know I do.  I don’t care what you do, at all.  Just don’t ask me to pay for it.  I’ll stay out of your bedroom and take my wallet when I leave.   The Ten Commandments at a courthouse don’t bother me because I don’t feel as if my government is forcing me into Christianity anymore than their Speed Limit sign tricks me into going 55…

I believe that most people are Libertarians.  They just don’t understand Libertarians-so they naturally are apprehensive-and the media/education system has convinced them it is some sort of no holds barred Anarchy.  The Sheep count themselves to sleep…

Think of it this way.  Fiscally conservative, socially liberal.  That sounds like most everyone I know…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I’ve been reading Seneca, Letters from a Stoic.

Try it.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As always,

John.

 

 

Purpose

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The teachers were the easiest.  It is possible it was more their chronological order in my life, rather than some instinctive stupidity on their behalf, that leads me to this statement. One must leave the options open.  If inclined I would change the opening but no. Only the stupid correct their course for a wise man would surely know the path and the practicality of its completion.  Half-done is undone.

School was a home for simpletons and followers.  The institution itself preys on ignorance to fulfill purpose like distillers preying on sobriety.  I walked down the hall holding the hand of my porcine keeper.  She was a vile creature with a stinging perfume habit and misshapen eyebrows.  I waddled next to her with saliva collecting in the wrinkles of my pained smiles.  I was fortunate to be born with clamminess as a characteristic which made touching me uncomfortable.  I twisted my head to smile at her and plainly saw her embarrassment.

“I’m scared mama beans, can you stay until tomorrow with me? I’m scared. Where’s the bathroom?”

I soiled myself as we rounded the corner.

“Oh baby, no.  I wisht I could but I can’t.  The teacher gone be up here just, right here.  Child did you mess yourself?”

“I’m scared mama beans, can you stay tomorrow to?  Where’s the bathroom?”

The teacher was by the door.  She was short and smelled of iron.  Her fat shiny face gave me the pity/love smile.  The pity/love smile was a sign of stupidity.

“Well who is this handsome fellow?” She exclaimed in false joy

Mama Beans told her my name.

“I’m scared mama beans, where’s the bathroom? Can I say until tomorrow with mama beans, I’m scared Mama Beans.  Where’s the bathroom tomorrow?”

They talked briefly and I was ushered into the classroom. There I found the ones called M.R.s.  Mental Retards.  It was beautiful to see these innocents drooling, gazing out of windows or jerking their necks about as chickens.  If their god cared such would not be the case.  But it doesn’t care, this god.  It provides nature and the by-products of that nature are victims of all creation.  Well, to the stupid at least.  I know there is no god or nature or purpose outside that which a wise man chooses.  The wise man must hide from this god, this nature and this purpose created by the stupidity of genetic near-misses and pity/love smiles.

Two years before I was eight years old and on the path to righteous ignorance so appealing to stupid people. My academic scores were higher than normal, my parents were proud (Such selfishness! Proud of something to which you added nothing but genetic code!) No one liked me and I liked no one.  I heard the teacher say I played ‘at’ other children but not with them.  She said this with a pity/love smile.  Mother offered an embarrassed pity/love smile.  My Father was absent but never missed.  I have no interest in games or boy activities as such.  A stupid society is one in which individualism is heralded but social sports and teamwork are rewarded. Inconsistency is the hobgoblin of stupid people.  Half done is undone.

It was the first day of school last year when I was pushed.  I was then nine years old if the math is too difficult.  I have done my best to construct this missive so that anyone may comprehend and keep up.  I have no more belief in you than I do the god you believe made you.  People are monsters created in a black and white lab of late night scientists.  This brain moved into that skull with no separation or independence.  A sheep’s brain, a cockroach’s soul, a stolen body. Tortured worker ants following an unseen path towards a purpose they hope to see only after death.  Stupid.

I was coming off the school bus that day when the kid pushed me.  He was a chubby kid with developing acne and halitosis so bad his Mother only kissed him on the cheek.  I was bending down to tie my shoe while standing the bus exit steps when he pushed me.  As I fell, the plan was hatched.  The mind works faster than physics.

When the teacher arrived my speech was slurred.  Kids were laughing.  To be honest-the only worthy goal of a wise man-I did see one child who seemed concerned for me.  Her smile was not a pity/love smile and she was not laughing at all.  As I recall that moment I find only one word fitting to describe her smile.  Kind.

I cried out with a garbled scream in imitation of John Merrick.  Kids laughed louder and the teacher pulled me to her bosom.  She moved me to the nurse’s office.

“Mama Beans” I said. “Mama Beans. I need to use the bathroom.”  Her face was twisted and confused and pity/love smile died as I soiled myself.

“Call his parents.” The nurse said.

“His Father isn’t answering. Wait.  Hello, yes sir. I’m calling from…wrong number? I’m sorry.”  The secretary hung up.

Mother never arrived.  I sat and sat in the office waiting but she never arrived.  A police officer came by to talk to the principal.  Everyone began to cry or say, oh my god, no.  How can that happen?

I fell asleep.  The nurse woke me up.

“You can’t fall asleep.  You’ll fall into a coma.”  This isn’t how head injuries work in most case but being an educated woman I felt obliged to forgive her ignorance.  My patience didn’t last long.

“Mama Beans, I need to use the bathroom.”

I remember sitting in the Principal’s office when a black woman showed up.  I had never seen her. She spoke quietly with the principal about “the poor child’s situation” and the Principal nodded.

“It’s God will for that poor woman to die in that accident, like it’s his will this boy is…special.”

“Where is Mama Beans?” I asked.

“I’m here baby child, Mama Beans is here.” She reached over. She wasn’t a teacher. She wasn’t Mother. Her hand felt good on mine.

“Mama Beans, I’m hungry.”

A wise man is born with purpose and the reasoning to understand purpose.  Not the frail purpose of stupid people around society, money, power, fame, justice or any religious fulfillment. Purpose is for the wise. All else is stupid.

There was a kid in my new class.  (Within the story we are now back at the beginning in time and space.) His name was Marvin.  Marvin looked out the window most days while teacher tried to keep his attention with tricks and pity/love smiles.  Marvin kept looking out the window.  He was cross-eyed and chair bound with this habit of belching whenever spoken to.  I never spoke to Marvin.

Each day mama beans dropped me off and teacher offered the pity/love smile. We sat in our room coloring and learning how to tie our shoes.  Age didn’t matter in our room much; MRs are all the same age.   Marvin stared out the window.  This one kid, I didn’t care his name, would piss himself every day.  Teacher said he was pushed off a bus once and hit his head. Stupid kid can’t stand up.

The wise man knows his purpose and so the day came for me to see mine.  When you see your purpose it is up close and honest.  The most honest thing is purpose.  Marvin was looking out the window.  Teacher left the room.  We had another teacher there but she was young and didn’t seem to notice much what we did.  Her pity/love smiles were the worst.  Her façade as wet tissue in a wind, she would look at a black toy in her hand.  Teacher was gone.  I tell you this so purpose is easier to see.

I stood up slowly and waddled over to Marvin and hit him in the face.  I twisted to see black toy teacher look up.  Marvin made no sound.  He looked out the window.  Black toy teacher screamed my name and came toward me when somehow she fell.  I think the piss himself kid tripped her with a rope.  How did he know what path she would take?  He was a wise man, I think now.  A wise man knows his path.  She screamed about her knee as kids moaned or laughed or sat in their seat coloring.

I slapped Marvin three more times before he made a sound.  He squealed like a hurt cat.  I spit at him but nothing came out so I hit him again. Black toy teacher was up now.  She came towards me fast and I saw images of car crashes in her teeth.  Mother screaming under metal as someone sent of for the Principal and wanted to know why that dumb kid didn’t tie his shoe later. Her mouth morphed into fangs of fiery steel, her hair twisting into electric wires.  Some kid moved Marvin away. I wondered where this Monster came from when I screamed,

“A WISE MAN SEES PURPOSE!”

“You little shit, what the hell?” Black toy teacher said.

She was within range so I waddled forward quickly and picked her up.  I turned us towards the window and lunged forward.  I heard her scream as the glass gave way and we began to fall.  I could see the playground in the distance.  It was fun to see the world like birds see it.

I sit by a window now.  My legs no longer work.  Mama Beans comes by sometimes but not as often as she did years ago.  Black toy teacher, I’m told by the stupid people around me, slept for about three months before she gave up. I smiled when they told me.

A wise man rejoices in a purpose complete.

Odessa Rising (Romeos)

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By Labor Day weekend my move from 326 to 309 was locked-in.  We were told that breaking us up, moving me out of the room, would be best given our tendency to stupidity.  I knew my new roommates but introductions will wait.  When Labor Day weekend hit our restriction was over, Connor was back to working on promotion, Flip was gone and Reston believe again in the sanctity of service.  The kid, Reston, bored me often with his ain’t it great way of seeing the world; his way of seeing the positive.  He bounced into the latrine as I dried off.

“Burke, you ready man?  This is awesome.  They back off our asses just as Labor Day starts! Fuck-n-A-Awesome!” His eyes dancing again.

“Where’s Connor?”

“Back at home.  I mean our room.  I guess it’s not home for you now eh?”

“Could be worse.  At least I don’t have to hear about the gaiety of PT.”

“That’s funny.  I don’t get it.  But man this is great.  Long weekend.  We were talking about hitting the pool party first then maybe the club.  They got a Mexican buffet set up over there.  Well, I guess it’s Mexican.  Might be Panamanian.”

“Might be.”  I walked toward my new room.  He followed.

“You don’t think we’ll get in trouble again do you?  I mean just having fun like July fourth without the coke…”

“And whores and beer and the spirited feeling that precedes such nefarious activities?” I interrupted.

“I ain’t got 5 dollars so you gotta speak English today.”

I laughed.

Connor bellowed from the hallway around the corner.

“Romeos Out!”

Two months had passed since I heard Connor’s battle cry.  Truth is, it made me smile inside and out.

“Romeos Out!”  We called back.  Reston continued with whatever his thought was…

“…so I told Tanner that no way I was doing it again and that I couldn’t afford an Article 15.”

“Wait, what are you saying?  What did you do?”

“I put half a quart of oil in Bravo 17 instead of an entire quart.  All I could find was half a quart and the tool guy said I’d have to pump more if I needed more and I don’t know how to use the pump so I told Tanner I didn’t do it but that I couldn’t get in trouble anymore on account of the Article 15 from July and all and that really.”

“Ok, ok, fuck. Stop talking.  Jeez.  What did he do?  Nothing.”

“That’s exactly what he did!  I’m telling you, he’s a good Man Sargent Tanner I mean.”

“Or Bravo 17 hasn’t moved in three weeks and won’t move for another three and you’re the first person to actually check the oil and give a damn.  Or, he might just like the way your lips move.”

“He’s a good man.  And you’re an asshole.”

“Agreed.”

Connor took the corner.

“Let’s go, let’s go, and let’s go!  We’re burning daylight and somebody, somewhere is drinking up all the beer.”  His crooked grin beamed.

“I’ve got beer in the fridge.” I said.  “We’ll grab them, I’ll get dressed and voila!”

“Colsen going out?  How about Warren?”

“Colsen is otre lada seeing some girl.  Warren doesn’t go out much.  I don’t think he drinks all that much.  I saw him once at Wegotcha drinking up a storm to Prince songs but other than that, not much.  Did you know he draws?  I mean like superheroes and stuff.”

“He traces Batman comics?”  Reston said.

“Not really.  He creates Superheroes, then draws them.  Helluva a drawer or artist or whatever they’re called.” I said. “Dude’s got talent.”

“We’ll hit the pool party first, see what’s up, then go to the club.  It’s a beautiful day Man.  Just beautiful. Not too hot, not too much humidity.  Perfect.”

“It’s Panama.”  Reston said.  “To me it’s always perfect.”

“How do you manage to kiss up to an entire country?” I asked.

“Talent, I guess.”  He said.  Kid made me laugh again.

+++

 

Funeral tents led up to and surrounded the Davis pool.  Families in lawn chairs huddled together as their children ran and played or waited for balloon animals.  It looked like a state fair from any state back home complete with hay bales of unknown origin.  Blue trashcans filled with melting ice held beer and soda.  We grabbed our pieces of eight from the beer barrels and headed toward the smoky, food tents. Someone was grilling hot dogs, burgers and underneath those scents floated a hint of barbecue.  The US and Panamanian flags flitted in the breeze while a DJ Van blasted AFR’s Labor Day special.  Songs about the working man from Johnny Cash to the Boss.

“We’re gonna hear ‘She’s works hard for the money’ about a thousand times today.” I said.

“Donna Summer is some kinda’ hot.” Connor said.  “She could work hard on my money any day.”

“And we’re all going to hell.” Reston said finishing his first beer.

I saw Alma talking with the other linguists.  I rode over from Clayton with her but with the drug bust and all I hadn’t seen her much in social settings since.  Someone told me under the Bohio that she had been sent otre lada right after getting here.

Maybe she didn’t know?  Maybe I won’t tell her?

Maybe I’ll have another beer and work on the romance later.

“Stick with what you know.  And right now, you don’t know much” I heard my Grandfather say.

Roseman was walking around in gym shorts, tube socks and bulky white shoes.  His tank top was an image of a bald eagle with the words “Vote Weird” written in magic marker across it.  He approached us.

“Do you know where I can find a good cabinet maker?” He said.

“What?” Connor replied.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Sign, Countersign.  You people know nothing of the gospel.”

He walked away.  Rumors were rampant that he hit too much acid one night downtown and since then conspiracies abound.  He once took a cab to Coco Solo and asked the ER doctor about his mother’s hernia operation.  He told us, “They might know something the American docs don’t about such surgeries.  American doctors are junior college dropouts with heads for greed and golf.  We send the best people overseas to keep the CIA healthy. Panama has more CIA agents per capita than any other country in Central America. It’s all too cozy, you know.  Too fucking cozy.”

The Davis Pool was the center of many activities on base.  In a country where swimming is available year round it’s easy to understand why people from the land of 4 Seasons would find it appealing.  It was a standard joint with concrete, latticed fencing around it, showers, lockers and limited lifeguard hours.  Unlike most days, today they allowed beer inside the pool fence.  We walked in to see some Romeos we knew.  A guy from Wisconsin I went to Basic with was there.  We parted ways at Dix and ran into one another later in Panama.  He was a dental assistant and an asshole.  All he talked about was hockey, Brewer’s baseball and how the blacks and Mexicans were taking over the jobs from decent people.  I never asked what he meant by ‘decent’ but figured none of them would’ve hung around him long.

“Hey Burke, what’s up Brother?” He called out from the pool. “Happy Labor Day!”  He was drunk and obviously alone.

“Hey man.” Reston said.

“Hey Bensky.  How’s it going?”  I didn’t listen to his answer.  We kept walking until the distance was enough to make conversing weird.  Connor introduced me to a friend.

“Burke, this is Shane Wilson.  This is the guy who hooked us up back in July.”  I shook his hand.   This is the guy who sold Connor the coke that we are just now escaping and Connor seeks him out?  I finished my beer.  Reston looked nervous.  I’m sure I did as well.

“Just wanted to apologize for getting you boys in trouble.”  He said.  He was older than us, probably in his mid-20s.  A navy guy now in his final two weeks in country.  “Don’t let this place get to you.  I did.  I’ve been here five years and fuck-n-A I’m gonna miss it.”  Someone called his name from the other side of the fence.

“I gotta go.  Again, sorry about all that.  Better luck next time.”

I didn’t know what to say or think about Shane Wilson.  I never asked Connor where he got it from or how.  He just had it.  We just did it.  And we got caught.  The details didn’t interest me until just then.  What did he mean, it got to him?  How?  Why would he apologize so casually for something that could’ve been so bad?  Was so bad.

Connor spoke up.

“I didn’t know he was going to say that, you know.  I think we need to just put that behind us.  We’ve talked about it.  I mean.  It’s bad enough that’s everyone else thinks of us.  But what we think of us…that’s what should matter, right?”

“Right.” I said.

“Right.” Reston said.

“And I think we need another beer.”  I said.  I turned and for the first time in my life saw the tanned face, the gentle, equine features, the tussled, highlighted hair and the perfect teeth surrounded by the thin irresistible lips of Patricia Elizabeth Barnes.

“Wait.” I said as Reston and Connor kept walking.  Connor looked at me and then in the direction to which I stared.

“Oh, Barnes.  Yeah, she’s hot.”

“Dude.  The sun is hot.  A desert is hot.  That girl is not hot.” I said.

“What is she then?” Reston said.

“She is damn, damn, damn. With a good long wow at the end.”

She was wearing cut off shorts and a black Cure tee shirt.  She was wiping her hair and talking to some guys in the pool when suddenly she dove in the water.  They laughed.  Connor told me it we needed to move.  I walked slowly keeping my eye towards her.  She came up out of the water and then dove back down to swim more.  Reston was behind me.  He pushed me in the water.  I heard people laugh when I came back up.  Five feet in front of me, Barnes smiled.

“Hey.  I’m Burke.  What unit are you in?”  I felt like a dumbass instantly.

She smiled.

“My unit?  Wow so GI Joe.  I’m Barnes.”

“Nice to meet you Barnes.  Sorry about the unit thing.  Just you know.”

“My friends back home call me Odessa.”

“What does that mean?”

“That means maybe we can be friends?”  Her eyes were green and reflected the light from pool’s surface.  They were reddened by the chlorine but still struck me as beautiful.

“I like The Cure” I said.

She laughed and dove underwater.  I could tell by her fractured image underwater she was swimming away.  I swam towards the edge.  Connor pulled me up laughing and talking about we aren’t going back home to change.

I turned around and saw her talking with the other soldiers again.

“Talk to you later” I yelled.

She ignored me.

 

There is surrealism to listening to American pop music while marinating in government sponsored alcohol.  It makes patriotism of drunkenness.  To properly represent the country of Reagan, one must sway to plastic British bands, suck down warmed Buds and gawk from behind mirrored sunglasses at Panamanian thighs and the occasional hometown hotness gone soldier.  It was a gentle mood that came across me along with the sweat and squinting and ungentle realization that I, and Reston and Connor, would never this way come again.  A brief moment in the sun when, if I could just find the word or song or painting or sculpture apropos, it would be the first Art I’ve touched.  The most beautiful girl known, the best Men known, the best scenery and unlimited chemical inducements to accept it all as a birthright of volunteerism. I picture myself bent over a blank page with a giant pencil like I used in Kindergarten, trying to write it all down.  Maybe sipping bourbon, smoking cigars as a palm frond fan turns slow in the air.  I laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Connor said

“Just one of those thoughts, ya know.  Nothing I guess.”

“You thinking about Barnes?”  Connor took a long drag of his cigarette as we topped the hill towards the barracks.

“How can you not be thinking about Barnes?  I mean Jesus H. dude how can you not be thinking about fucking Barnes.  And I mean it both ways it sounds.”

Connor laughed with that easy Carolina laugh.

“Man, she’s hot, I give you that.  But I think she’s married or engaged or something.  Bad story there brother.  Ugly ending, crazy birds, some guy with a chainsaw.  Just a bad ending. Ya’ know/”

“Well aren’t we poetic today.  How much have you been drinking?”  We entered the barracks and began to take the steps two at a pop.

Connor stopped.

“Too much to take the steps.  Go change, I’m gonna smoke.  Might go back and find Reston.  Either way.  We’ll be at the club in an hour.  Meet us there.”

I showered again, hit the cologne bottle and went back out thirty minutes later.

+++

Coming out of the building I looked across the scene down by the pool.  A tsunami of people rolled in, wave upon wave of brown, black and white flesh moving about like ants.  Music bumping from three locations.  The club entrance swallowed and spit out people in short order as the parking lot seemed a disco.  I saw a beer truck and a big rig with “Class Six” written across it.  Somewhere in that gyrating mass of sweat, alcohol and optimism moved Odessa Barnes.  Her vision rising as both dream and nightmare.  Her green eyes shot through my closed eyes begging me to indulge the fantasy of complete honesty, unabashed weakness and the iron-clad dreamscape of optimism.  Her beauty, strength and intelligence deserved the most and least a Man can offer. Himself.  Not the Me or I everyone sees, but what the mirror shows.  What the nightmares mock.  The Man who cries in confession, crawls to the altar call and begs mercy in  barroom brawls. I knew she was the one.  The one for what, didn’t matter. Her pleasure would be worth all pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle Royal, Bring out your Tonto and thank them for Keats being on your side…

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2016 is a Nineties sort of year already.  Words come like porn stars as the music of Depeche Mode, The Cure and the ever-present They Might Be Giants dance in my head.  I picked up a Grateful Dead CD (Compact-Disc) to quell the pain of stylistic sorrow losing its posh status.  But no.  The friend of the devil still thinks I should play Depeche Mode when I write now.

Write? I thought he quit.  I thought all that was some shit he did back in Virginia and now his life was one ridiculous Facebook post after another and odd photos he quickly deletes lest the censors pick up on his rather Un-American tendency to change his mind? He’ll never be famous but fuck he’s kinda’ funny and back in the day we had a blast…

The battle now is over first person v third person and how to find a technical/developmental editor in South Louisiana who doesn’t want another story about chasing chickens, Gators and the beauty of a swampy sunrise.

-Here I admit that sunrise over Henderson Swamp is probably the cause of several Basin Bridge deaths per year but goes unreported because the cops can’t really blame someone for wanting to die with that view-

First person is so easy but gives one a pass.  I can’t know what everyone is thinking and feeling and it provides a plot-driven aspect, yes?  Third person is dangerous, for me.  If I know what everyone is thinking, feeling, fearing, wondering, hoping and dreaming then the reader sees me in every thought, feeling, wonder, hope and dream.  Third person reveals more than First.  It shows the writer.  I think most people avoid art because it exposes them to the world.  Makes them feel weak, vulnerable and frail.

I get tired of strong, sarcastic and tough.  You can only be leaned upon so much  before you long for the cracking.

+++++++++++++++

Much has transpired since I last entertained myself with hearing my voice tell my hands what to say knowing others would have their mind tell their ears the same words.  Writing is the only magic worth the price of admission.

=====================

The Smiths blare…

So I broke into the Palace
With a sponge and a rusty spanner
She said: “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing”
I said: “that’s nothing – you should hear me play piano”

…in my ear and yes, I know they’re more an 80s band but Jiminy Christmas I listened to them in the 90s!

===================

Donald Trump:  What the hell?

++++++++++++++++++

I love the posts about Native Americans, Illegal Immigration and White fuckers.  BTW, Columbus never landed in North America so quit blaming his non-navigating ass for stuff people did 100 years after he went buh-buh.

But back to Tonto.  If you’re against illegal immigration some one is going to bring up the Native Americans. Which makes no sense.

If Europeans were “Illegal Immigrants” (I view them as invaders, different, yes?) and the Native Americans suffered at the hands of Illegal Immigration then you must either be A.) In favor of cutting out Illegal Immigration or B.) In favor of wiping out people based on race, ethnicity, culture etc.  If the Europeans screwed the Native American by immigrating illegally to the “New World” then Illegal Immigration is a bad thing and can’t be justified by saying, “Well, you did it.”

1.) I didn’t do it.  Neither did you.

2.) If it was wrong to show up uninvited 400 years ago and fuck things up, how is it Okay now?

3.) I’m rambling and the wine shames me and shines me.

========================================

One more.

Universal this and that requires something most people in favor of universal this and that never think on…limitations.

If you provide an universal service (unlimited supply) then you have to qualify people (limited demand).  If you don’t provide universal service (limited supply) then you have unsatisfied people (unlimited demand)

The market does this through price mechanisms, natural resources and the tendency for old fucks like me to be judgmental and more than a bit vain.  Socialism, as practiced in Europe, does this via limited Demand.  Immigration.  Observe the immigration policies of the “First World Nations” of socialist-leaning Europe.  Then observe ours.  Now look at theirs again. Now look at ours.  How long do you think the Swedes would put up with demonstrations by Illegal Immigrants about their Rights?

I ain’t arguing the instability of the system you propose, rather, I’m making sure you understand the thing your Right hand is protesting against is required to satisfy what your Left hand is begging for….

We all have small minds but still they must be made up of decisions in order to work correctly.

{First World/Third World is bullshit political-class speak for “We’re better than you or you need us or tsk-tsk-tsk, thing aren’t going your way are they.”  I hate those phrases in general.  Racism and sexism are subsets of elitism with physicality as qualifiers.}

===========================

Ah, the Cemetery Gates pull me back in…

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I started a blog once about personal finance.  In keeping with the fine tradition of telling others how to live, I was broke at the time.  The blog did well.  Except for “Boardwalk Furries” (26,354 unique readers to date), the finance blog was doing better than this blasphemy ever attempted.  Then I noticed all the readers were from Venezuela, Brazil and some small dot of camel spit in the Middle East.  I checked out the “View your page” section only to find it covered with ads, spam and nefarious pornography the likes of which caused me to lose interest in eating carrots for a month…. I deleted the blog and returned to confines of this rambling for the foreseeable future.

===================================

I used to wonder how people picked a favorite team for this n that.  I go for the Bears because my old man did and a good portion of my family still lives in the Chicago area.  But that is a product of someone else’s life, yes?  Someone else decided for me.  I think this happens to a bunch of fans of this n that.  Dad rooted for them, I’m from here, etc, .  I realized recently I’m becoming a bit of a Saints fan.  I think rooting for them during the second of two losing seasons builds a little street cred.  My son, Alex, will only watch football if the LSU Tigers are playing and he’s wearing his purple n’gold hat.  He’s from here.  I can’t stop that and a part of me doesn’t want to.  I like the idea of my Son being from someplace different than his Father.  Seems a family tradition…

====================================

Getting to see Buddy Guy again with some good friends. That’s a story in itself.

====================================

Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you think…you have a story.

Go write it in words or painting or music or work or the family you create or the words you speak tomorrow to a random stranger who needs to hear it.  Tell your story.  It is a good story.

=======================================

Strangers are the most trustworthy people.  They never bring drama, never gossip about you and will never tell your Mother how much you cuss.

=======================================

All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known
For we have been through hell and high tide
I can surely rely on you …
And yet you start to recoil
Heavy words are so lightly thrown
But still I’d leap in front of a flying bullet for you

Not only cool writing but one of the best guitar intros out there.

What difference does it make?  The Smiths.

========================================

Indeed, what difference at all?

========================================

Read Jose Saramago….

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

-John.

Hitting the Gate. From ROMEOS

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We returned to Davis the next morning.  The biggest part of me still believed it was a tormented nightmare brought on my too much brown liquor or not enough Vitamin  C.  I would shower the grease paint and sweat down a drain and as I fell into the bed I would keep falling down the abyss of that falling dream only to wake up before I hit rock bottom.  The sun was breaking through the mist and somewhere people were talking about checking our weapons at the armory.  The invasion was off post.  Once you hit the gate, you’re good.  Man has the need to break up pain, leaving some behind while seeing to the next.   Leave behind the screams.  Leave behind the smell of vomit, the sound of helicopter blades beating the black sky.  Leave the look look in his eye before he went dark and silent.  Here is the next thing, Man.  Move to this.  See to that.  Experience the new and ignore the stench of the old you leave behind though it burns your nose, coarsens your voice.  Once you hit the gate, it’s America.

We stood in line silently.  Neither of us knew what to say at that point.  We just existed.  Radios were talking to one another and soldiers were asking what happened to Reston?  I heard Conner say,

He didn’t make it.  Yeah, I’m serious.

I looked at the pale blue wall thinking of a porch I painted years before and wondering if the paint in Virginia had peeled the way the paint here did. Did everything disintegrate the same?

Connor tapped my shoulder forward.  I walked up to the Armory window.

How many rounds you got?

I didn’t answer quick enough.

Never mind, let’s count them.  You soldiers need some sleep.

We’re suppose to go out in a few more days, I said.  Up North.  Not sure why.  Sargent Jacks was talking about it.

Well, the CO says everyone turns in their rounds before hitting the barracks.

Oh, no problem.  I was just saying.

He counted my rounds.  One mag plus 11 were missing.  Forty-one.

I heard you boys had some trouble.  I’m sorry to hear about Reston.  Did you get some of them?

I stood there trying to form the answer and could barely grasp the question.  Get them? I thought.  You mean kill them?  Did I kill any of the motherfuckers while they were trying to kill me and Connor?  Did I kill any of them as they gunned Reston down like a fucking animal? Did I get them?  Was I supposed to bring them back and put them on your fucking desk so we could stuff them and sit around smoking pipes and drinking brandy talking about the fucking glorious time we had getting them?  Mount their heads like bulls?

Connor touched my shoulder.

We’re not sure.  It was dark.  We aimed at the tracer rounds.  He said.

They’re probably going to want a report since live ammo is missing.

See to this, get to that.  I thought.

El-Tee knows all about it.  We debriefed him at Mar-For.  Can we just turn in what we got left and sign what we got to sign?  I asked.

Sure.

We walked out weaponless for the first time in a month.  We looked toward the Canal but knew no ships were coming through now.  I saw the pool down the hill, the pool where just a month ago we joked about Christmas in paradise.  Reston doing a triple flip off the high-dive.  Connor hitting on that lifeguard who needed a Brazilian wax or a larger bikini bottom. I tried to smile.  For now, I left that behind as well.

Connor threw off his Kevlar and TA-50 and made a sudden dash down the hill.  It was a full-on sprint in a matter of seconds and though I didn’t know why he was running my instinct was to join him.  I threw down my gear and took off behind him.

We ran across the drill field, ignoring the puddles of water.  I slipped once and landed on my face.  Back up and running, I felt refreshed by the water. Connor was headed towards the latticed wall around the pool.

He scaled the fence in what appeared to be one bound.  I climbed over as he stripped down to his underwear by the poolside.  His pale skin seemed so young compared to the grease painted dirty face and hands I’d seen for weeks.  He dove into the water and began to swim.

I yelled, What the fuck are you doing?

And then collapsed onto the vinyl recliner.

Connor swam to the deep end and back to the shallow.  I watched him as the sun rose higher.  I waited for signs his strokes were getting weaker, signs he was tiring.

He kept swimming.

I was tempted to join him but found myself weeping uncontrollably as the sounds of his splashing hit me all at once.

Months before, when Connor and I were at the pool talking about whatever randomness passed for importance that day, he said something that came back to me now.

You know Man, I figured it up.  You know I’m from Florida.  I could probably swim home from here.

That dark and silent look on his face, see.  He went cold and gone all of a sudden and there was nothing more to him then.  Reston was gone.  Done. We were left here.  Left to explain to everyone the what and when and how and did you get them and Connor kept swimming and swimming. I felt suffocated by my uniform but so cold I couldn’t move.  I screamed but don’t know what I said, if anything at all.  Connor kept swimming and swimming.  I picked up a vinyl recliner and threw it over the fence and kicked the concrete wall and screamed more when his splashing became weaker and then stopped.  He was on the other side of the pool, lying face down on the concrete.  He was panting and whimpering.  I walked over and knelt beside him.

Man, I can’t.  He said.  I can’t.

We have to.  You know that.

But he was better than me.  Why not…?  Fuck.

I know.

Then.  Man.  I can’t. This ain’t the way, right way.

Connor stayed on the concrete a long time, crying and whimpering.  I found some of the rent-a-towels in the locker room and brought one out.

He was sitting then with his knees to his chin staring out over the water.  I wrapped the towel around him.

We walked back to the Barracks.  I shaved the grease paint off my face and took a hot shower.  I kept falling in my dreams but never reached bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

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