Chapter Four - A Wild and Wooly One-eyed Sense of Wonder
"Damn, did you see that?" A basketball sized shooting star had just blazed across the summer sky traveling from north to south. I've seen lots of shooting stars but never one that large. You could make out its circular outline and flames coming off of it. The flaming tail was spectacular.
We were sleeping outside at Riley Morello's house. There were five young kids there, Riley, Jerry Bones, his brother Dickie, me, and my little brother Scott. We were just talking about shit, when of a sudden this flaming spectacle lit up the whole sky. I've never seen anything quite like it since.
After a while, our enthusiasm for discussing the matter waned ,and we began to wander off to sleep. Riley and Jerry were the first to go under. Then suddenly we began to hear strange moaning sounds coming from south of where we were.
Severino, Riley's dad, owned a block long property with a couple of fields for running a few cows. His land stretched all the way from Orion Avenue in the north to Owens Avenue in the south. The moans we heard were coming from far beyond the border of his fence line, from somewhere in the direction that the flaming visitor that flown.
"What the hell is that?"Scott breathlessly whispered.
"What?" Dickie asked all the while knowing the answer.
"That damned moaning sound. Don't you hear it."
I joined in, "I don't know what it is, but it sounds spookier than hell."
"It's coming from the direction that thing went," Dickie added. "You think it's got something to do with that?" His fear spread across the space between us like a virus.
"I don't know, but I ain't going to stick around and find out. I'm outta here," my little brother said.
Scot stood and gathered up his sleeping bag and started walking across the field that separated where we were from our back door. My dad always left the door opened just in case."
"Are you freaking crazy? What if it's out there. "I pointed to the darkness.
Scot just looked at me and then said defiantly, "I can see our back door from here and besides there's the hole in the fence. Nothing's going to catch me. You coming?"
I looked over at Dickie and then toward where the others were sleeping. I finally looked back at Scott, "Naw. Imma gonna stick it out here."
"Well don't blame me when that sumbitch eats your ass." Then Scott took off running for our house."
I looked back into the frightened eyes of Dickie when he asked, "When what eats us?"
"Don't mind his ass. He's just scared. He thinks that was a spaceship or something and that something's over there at Miller's barn eating them cows or something like that."
"What do you think, Danny? We oughta go?"
I hesitated for a moment. I realized later that my decision to stay where I was was predicated largely on the fact that I was afraid of venturing into the darkness alone as much as anything else. "Do what you want, dude. Imma stay here. How would we feel in the morning if we left these two sleeping here and they got ate or something?"
He took the information in and processed it, "We could wake 'em."
"Naw, they wouldn't believe us."
"They would if they heard those noises."
"Like I said, do what you want. Your house is further than mine."
Earlier that year, in fact, just a few months before I had had an experience with a ghost, my grandma's. The incident had set me on edge and opened my mind up to the darkened attics of our consciousness, those rooms that scientists tell us don't exist.
My parents used to play dominos with another couple. They were playing on our kitchen table that night. A swinging door separated my brother Glen's and my room from the kitchen. One of my parent's friends was a lady named Millie Ford. Millie had medical condition that her skin look gray and ashen. I liked her a lot because she had a biting wit and a great sense of humor, and she liked to joke with me.
Millie said something to the others. I couldn't hear what, but I could feel the tone of her voice in the next room. Whatever she said caused my mom to laugh loudly and that caused me to look up toward the door. I could see the light outlining the door. I could also see an almost shapeless form of a woman looking down at me, and that scared the holy crap out of me.
At first, I tried to sharpen my focus in order to make out what was causing the apparition, thinking it was only a trick brought about by the fact that I was half asleep. The more I focused though, the more the image became sharper. It appeared to be the form of my grandmother in a high waisted dress and apron that she always wore in pictures. She looked concerned and worried, she didn't appear to be menacing in any way.
Nevertheless, I pulled by bedspread over my head, shut my eyes tightly, plugged my ears with my fingers, and prayed for deliverance. I slept like that for over a year afterwards.
I also often since wondered what would have happened if I had just smiled and said something like, "Sup, Grannie? Good to see you."
I've read a lot about Carl Jung's thoughts on synchronicity where he said that there are things and moments that definitely lie outside the links of causal connections to nature. Science acknowledges that there are such things that go against the narrative but would rather not explain them; the lab coated priests of empiricism prefer to hide such things under their beds and pretend that the miraculous doesn't exist merely on the evidence that they cannot explain it.
There was lot time on this planet when our views of the miraculous and reality were part and parcel of the same line of thinking. It was only after the Church became the shills of the Roman Empire that this way of thinking changed, and then it was the results of the Galileo case that provided the shovels and tools that dug out the channels that forced the two types of consciousness into separate streams.
Cardinal Bellarmine, the man who spoke for God at the inquest was later made into Saint, meaning his words actions could never called into question. Galileo tried his best to explain the truth of Copernican theory but apparently fooled himself into thinking that the good Cardinal was there to listen. He wasn't; he merely attended the inquest to put an exclamation mark on the "NO!"
The Cardinal didn't have to be so rude and inconsiderate. The fact that he was indicates that he was blatherer who did not understand what should have been the Church's real position. What he should have told Galileo was, "But you are not taking infinity into consideration."
We are all, in fact, every last one of us, situated squarely in the middle of an infinite universe, so, the universe kind of actually does surround us. This would have exposed those methodical revolutionaries for what they were, the people who labeled the world in front of us by pretending the world inside of our heads, outside of their purview, doesn't exist.
The separate channels of consciousness only exist in the material world. In reality, and in the light of an infinite universe, they are still united and their blended waters pour into the Caribbean Sea at New Orleans, into the Mediterranean at the Nile Delta, into the Atlantic ocean in Brazil and into the Indian Ocean near the Sagar Island. There is a bigger ocean inside of us all, the biggest ocean ever, and it feeds and irrigates the soil of our material worlds where each of us live and toil.
It took me years to get over the fact that my own spiritual advisors threatened to burn me in eternal lake of fire, and years to understand that maybe it was just possible for my Granny to be concerned enough about me to rise up from the soil of Oklahoma and plan a visit to my bedroom in California.
That night though when that fireball flamed across the summer sky, I only knew how glad I was that Dickie stayed with me that night, that my brother Scot made it unmolested to the safety of my dad's backdoor, and that I trusted enough in my abilities to squeeze my eyes tightly and my fingers to plug my ears to guarantee that I would make it safely till the morning light.
Chapter 3 - The Muddy River
There was a dove on a wire giving me the side-eye.
There was a river of mud outside my front door.
I first noticed the bird while I was swimming in my backyard pool. I try to get 15-20 minutes worth of sunlight everyday. I saw the bird hop away from a small pile of leaves when I first walked out of the door. I felt that it was trying to distract me from a nest or something.
I knew right away that it was a female bird. I mean it didn't have breasts or nothing, but there was something about it that said it was female. She flew up to a telephone wire and perched there with her back toward me. Every now and then it would turn and look at me like she was checking me out. It was novel at first, but I quickly grew annoyed at her suspicious nature.
"Fuck you, lady bird. I don't care if you got a nest over there. Go on and do your thing."
The mud river was from my past. We lived on a dirt road when I was growing up, and in the winter when it rained the road turned into a quagmire worthy of Siberia. Sometimes, us kids, would have to help push cars out of the mudholes, and once my dad had to hook a chain to pull a car out up of the mess.
We lived one house in on Eustace Street, one house or about sixty feet from the paved road that ran by the school. The neighborhood kids would all have to cling tightly to our next door neighbor's wooden fence in order to navigate a tiny ledge of solid ground so as not to get our shoes and pants muddy.
While we attended Samuel Clemens Elementary School on the southside of Concord, it wasn't that bad if you came to class a little muddied. All the kids there were the same, and we had issues with clothes for the most part. However, when we had to cross over Branson Avenue to attend Theodore Roosevelt Jr. High on the northside of town it became a bit more problematic. Clothing seem to matter a whole lot more when you had to compare yours to kids whose families had more money.
While I was swimming, I saw two male birds suddenly land about thirty feet away from the ladybird on the same wire. It was weird like they were checking me out and checking her out like we had something going on. I admit I got a little protective; I didn't like how those two sumbitches flew in out of nowhere like two dumbass hillbillies wearing mullets in a disco bar. They outnumbered her, and I didn't like the implications of that. Then one of the male birds starting scratching his nuts. I don't know if birds have actually have testicles, but it sure looked like that's what he was doing.
I started looking around for something to throw but didn't see anything but a tattered copy of Tropic of Capricorn that I had taken out to read under the umbrella once I got out of the pool. I decided to wait, and if them birds got too damned rude, to go and fetch my pellet gun out of my closet and plant a pellet in their asses.
Crossing Branson Avenue to go to junior high was one of the major moments in my life. On the other side of the street, you entered into Concord proper. The streets were paved, lined, cleaned and curbed and all of the lawns looked manicured.
Seventh grade was a trip too. There were a lot more cute girls and guys with impeccable clothing and gleaming white smiles. Them dudes thought they were the shit too. It took me years and years to understand that they were really no different from me, but at the time, I looked at them like they were a different species.
The day after sixth grade had ended my best friend Billy drown while swimming in an irrigation ditch. He had asked the day before if I wanted to go with him. I told him my mom wouldn't allow it.
He dove into the ditch and struck his head on a rock and panic. He nearly drowned another kid by trying to grab onto the kid and pulling him down too.
I was hiding under a pickup truck when I heard the news. We were playing hide and seek when a kid rode up on his bike and told my friends to tell me the news. That night, I dreamed Billy was still there and woke up in the morning and cried.
I felt even then, that it had something to do with something bigger. The transition to junior high was a major event for the kids from my side of town. I couldn't help feeling that Billy's death and the transition were related, kind of like a price that had to be paid. The Southside was a warm security blanket, a womb, and the time had come for us to leave and find out who we really were.
The female bird finally flew off giving me one long last glance before she did. You could it made the two male birds upset; they anxiously chattered amongst themselves for a bit, and then started preening.
I wanted to yell at them, "Maybe if you two had combed your head before you got here, she might have stayed dumbasses. What kind of idiots fixes their part after they pull up on a chick?"
Six grade was when I cheated for the first time too. The state of California decided that some of us needed to learn algebra that year. There were two of us, the girl who lived next door and me who our teacher deemed ready. The girl happened to be Mr. Molinari's pet, and he always brought her up front to the chalkboard and helped her telling me to correct my own papers. One day, I cheated to keep up. I remember standing there and thinking about what I'd done and knowing that I made a big mistake.
I read somewhere that Madame Blavatsky, the theosophist, had told someone that the only way to detach yourself from God was via a criminal act. For a few days, I felt that it was the one crime that I had committed at the that age. Later, I remembered all the other mean spirited things I had done, like sneaking out the bathroom window at church and stealing penny candy at the store next door, sneaking back into church, and eating it during Sunday school class.
There were all kinds of little deeds like that, each small minded act causing me to drift a little further from God. By the time I graduated from high school, I was pretty much a heathen by all objective standards and even by my own subjective metrics, I knew that my soul was fairly crawling with lice.
You know that you ain't connected to God when looking in the mirrors causes you to blush. I kept looking over my shoulder all the while, and it would be years before I admitted to myself that becoming a total fuckhead was a far too heavy price to pay for cheating on a sixth grade math problem.
Come to think about it, a life of a close friend is also a pretty heavy sacrifice to pay for entrance into the world of adults.
I have learned an awful lot since those sixth grade years. But apparently not enough to keep from screaming at and flipping off a couple preening gigolos with shabby feathers.
Chapter Two - Purloined Nickels and Stolen Dreams
(Disclaimer: Be aware that the following memories have wafted virtually unnoticed through sixty-five years of time. They have therefore lost a some of their luster, but, strangely enough, very little of their power owing to the particular skill that memory and time possess to trim, elaborate, change and glorify the objects within their purview.)
"You know what your problem is, Tony? You always look on the bad side. Life has just as many good things as bad things. They balance out you know." I was talking to my little moon-faced, Mexican buddy Tony Coronado. I am pretty sure the words were a little less mature than this, but the idea I was trying to convey was the same. I had to wait several years for my language skills to develop before I could put it into the way it is written above.
"My dad is gonna get me." I could see in his eyes that was truly worried.
"There's a time to worry, Tony and a time to drink cold soda and eat candy." And with that, I held the door open for him to enter into Pop's Candy Store. I dropped the handle of the red wagon I was pulling and followed him in. Once inside, I reached into my jean's pocket and pulled out a small brown bag of nickels and shook it in his face.
His eyes lit up when he saw all the candy. Tony was bussed into our school from the west side of Concord. They didn't have a candy store in their neighborhood.
"It's wrong though, Danny. My mom said it's sinful."
I frowned, "What's so wrong about it? We are doing a good thing here. First, we'll drink us one them ice-cold Coca-Colas Pop has in that case over there. Then we'll load that wagon up with penny candy and take it back to school. We'll be heroes, man."
"It's wrong though."
I got kind of mad. Instead of arguing though, I walked over the red Coca-Cola cooler and fished about in the cold water and pulled out sixteen ounce glass bottle, wiped it off with the towel hanging from the side, and opened it on the side of the box. I went into the bag and gave Pops three nickels. He gave me back three cents in change.
I took a long swig and passed bottle to Tony. "So good."
Tony took a small drink at first, then a larger one. When he was done, he handed me back a bottle that was less than half full. His eyes lit up. "You're right. That's good stuff."
We were sorting through the penny candy when the people from the school finally found us. Five minutes later Tony and I were two scared little boys sitting in the office waiting for the principal. We listened in as the secretary called my mom.
"Yes, Mrs. Wilson, that is what I'm saying. Danny and a friend took the milk money from their kindergarten class and went to the candy store down the street to buy candy. We saw the red milk wagon parked out in front of the store. No, they are perfectly fine. Danny is sitting right here."
Our teacher Miss Jones selected two kids every week to take money to the cafeteria and return with the milk. Tony and I were selected rather late in the year. I had already done it once with a girl named Shirley. Shirley liked milk and wouldn't have absconded with me, at least back then, later on while in high school, she would have probably robbed a bank with me had I been so inclined. Tony, on the other hand, was my buddy. He was always down for a bit craziness even though his dad was a strict disciplinarian and would spank him with a belt.
I had noticed the weakness in their method of milk delivery almost right away once I saw Miss Jones hand Peter Ybarra that small brown bag of nickels. The gate on the southside of the cafeteria was always open and there was nothing to prevent someone, who was willing, from taking the nickels and the milk wagon and rolling down to Pops.
It wasn't that I was naturally larcenous, my motivation were usually somewhat pure. I hated milk, yet every day I had to sit at the table by myself while the others kids got out all of their colorful towels and lay down and took a nap.
Miss Jones would look down at me over the catwoman glasses she perched on the end of her nose. "Please drink your milk, Danny."
"I hate milk." I hadn't heard the word fuck used in a sentence yet, and I wouldn't until I was in sixth grade, but it was the word I was searching for when I had to answer her admonitions for the third or fourth time. One day, at junior high school, I washing my hands in the restroom and the words, "BUT I HATE FUCKING MILK!" came bursting out of my mouth for no apparent reason. I looked in the mirror shocked but slowly the realization creeped into my consciousness, and I knew that that primal scream had been lost inside of my head for years and had finally managed to find its way out.
Everyday, I would sit there by myself plotting. All the other kids were asleep and dreaming about popsicles, kites, talking rabbits, mudholes, and unicorns, but not me, I was always planning my revenge.
The final straw came one day when I was commanded to go with Shirley Moore to go get the milk. I was coloring with Tony and didn't want to go.
Miss Jones bent over and snatched the coloring book off of the table. "You will go, Danny. It is your turn."
I wasn't being defiant. I was just expressing simple facts. "I'm coloring and I don't drink milk."
"Danny, we do things in this class for a reason. Now come along. She took me by the hand.
"I'll go with Tony."
"It's not Tony's turn to go. Shirley's waiting."
I looked up and Shirley was standing by the door rolling her eyes at me. Miss Jones gave her the nickels and told me that it was my job to pull the wagon. I went along cased out the operation.
Tony was a sweet kid. He had somewhat of a tough life. His mom had already had six kids, and his dad had made it clear he wasn't done yet. They lived in a tiny house on the west side side of town out by the Projects. He had to stay home a lot and help his mom with the younger kids, so we didn't see each other much after school. Plus, like I said, he had to ride Bus #3 to get to school everyday. I lived around the corner about a half a block away from Samuel Clemens Elementary School. The Candy Store was the same distance distance from my house in the opposite direction.
When we got into fifth grade, Tony struggled with reading. He was always good with numbers but not so much with the written word. Hell, he never had no books in his house. One day we had to recite a poem, and it came to Tony's turn and Mrs. Gates told him to rise. He stood and delivered a little six line poem flawlessly. The whole class was happy for him, but Mrs. Gates was ecstatic. She got up from her desk and went over to where he was standing, grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him on the forehead. Afterwards, he stood there beaming like hundred watt bulb.
He looked pretty down though sitting in the office. I heard the secretary call his mom and speak to her in Spanish. Tony was almost crying, his head and shoulders slumped, "My dad's gonna to hit me. My mom just tole her, my dad will hit me."
I was pretty calm considering my mom just lived a half a block away. I was already planning to use the injustice of having to sit there everyday at the table while the others were napping away. I just come up with a "stolen dreams" option when I looked at him a single tear leaked out of the eye closest to me.
"Tony, you know what." He looked up at me curious but not talking. "You a good buddy. You the best friend a boy could have."
His mom got there first, walking in the office with one kid in a stroller and three kids trailing close behind her. I smiled at her, "Buenos Dias, Mrs. Coronado." She recognized me and smiled back. She even patted me on the top of my head.
When they emerged she had a slightly more solemn expression. I knew she had lot to deal with and felt bad for giving more problems. Tony trailed behind her holding his sister Sylvia's hand. He didn't look at me till he was standing right next to me while his mother negotiated the crib out the door.
I looked up at him and winked at me, then he leaned over and whispered, "I tole him it was your idea." Then he grinned again.
It made me laugh too. It was his way of saying it was okay if I played the same card.
My mom was mad when she got there. It turns out she was out having her hair done. Later, I thought that it was the best thing that could have happened. It divided her anger. She couldn't be 100% angry with me for the milk money if she was already angry about the hair appointment.
When the principal got done with his lecturing about right and wrong, I looked over at my mom and could tell that she was offended. He made out like me and Tony would wind up dead in a Police morgue with tags on our toes and crowds on curiosity seekers trying to dip their hankies in our blood.
She waited patiently until he had finished and then spoke cooly, "They're five years old, Mr. Grimsley. This is not the crime of the century."
When we walked outside, my mom gave me a quick chingaso upside my head, but not too hard. I started to well up, but she dropped down quickly to my level and placed her hands on my shoulders, "Danny, quit crying. You deserved that much and it wasn't hard besides. What am I going to do with you, Daniel Laws Wilson. You need to quit doing stuff like this. Look at the trouble you got Tony into if nothing else."
"She made me drink milk, mom." I said sullenly.
"That won't happen again. You should have told me a long time ago. That's no reason to take the milk money. It wasn't yours to take."
"I was going to buy candy for the kids. I wasn't going to eat it all myself." She didn't reply right away, so I went on, " Them kids don't want to eat stale graham crackers every day either."
I could tell she was trying to stay angry, but the curls at the corner of her lips betrayed her efforts. "Danny, I love you son. We are not going to tell your daddy about this, but you have to promise me to behave yourself in school."
I began to sniffle, "I'll try, Mom. I really will, but I got a big imagination."
She began to laugh in earnest.
When Tony and I went back to class the next day, all of our classmates looked at us like we were tropical flowers. We had failed in our plans to liberate our snack time, but our efforts had not gone unnoticed. We had instead gained our selves some street cred.
And those dreams I had during my naps were often wonderful.
Chapter 1- Leaving Eden
My mom tells the story of the time that my older brother Glenn, jealous of my mother's attention, tried to push my crib off of our front porch. I was asleep at the time. Luckily, she was aware of his evil intentions and prevented the lesson that I would undoubtedly have learned from being briefly suspended in the air and then crashing into the ground. I use the term briefly because the porch was only about two feet high. Nevertheless, I was very small at the time and could have suffered major trauma related to my size at the time, the velocity of the fall, and the density of ground.
I don't fully understand what Mom wanted me to get from the story unless it was her way of telling me never to fully trust my brother. I had to share a bedroom with him later, but for the first couple of years I slept with one eye open and kept a large butcher knife hidden under my pillow, just in case. I told him secrets too. I guess that in doing so it illustrates that, for the most part, I had a kind of naive and trusting character. Boy, I tell you, it didn't me too take long to lose that shit.
Two years after I was born, we shared a baby brother named Scot. For a brief while, Scot supplanted the both of us in my mother's attention. Glenn must have mellowed by then because he made no attempts on Scot's young life. I don't know if Glenn had learned a lesson from his failed attempt to do me in, or if he was just tired of jumping through the hoops of trying to please my mom. I guess it was probably six of one and a half dozen of the other like some people say.
Me, I didn't care, or, at least, I didn't care enough to sit around a table with Glenn to plan Scot's demise. I figured it would all work itself out in time. In my estimation, I had a plethora of certain advantages, my head was bigger, my arms were longer, and I had pretty blue eyes, etc.
I was also a lot more devious than both my siblings put together. I guess this means admitting that my brothers are somewhat better human beings than I, but when all my devious behavior only amounted to tricks to get more cookies, stay up later, or procuring the top bunk bed, it wasn't really that I was all that bad. Nevertheless, if one member of my family had to get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, I would have to admit that I would have been the one who had to leave, Glen's failed attempt on my life notwithstanding.
I had watched an episode of Laurel and Hardy once where Stan broke apart a candybar to share with Oliver. One piece ended up being about an inch longer than the other, so Stan took a bite of it to even things out. I used that trick a hell of lot longer than was morally acceptable, right on up into adulthood. I don't know what amazed me more, my willingness to keep trying to achieve an advantage, or my brothers willingness to fall for the joke time and time again.
All in all, it was a pretty good life in my younger years. It would be years later when I discovered the truth about life and that, sooner or later, you were going be pulling that Stan Laurel joke trying to get a little bit more and then look up, only to discover, it wasn't your brothers sitting opposite of you and giving you dirty looks, somehow a some Whitey Bulger wannabe was sitting there grinning and picking his rotten teeth with an ice pick. Your asshole puckers up and you're sitting there sweating like a sinner in an Inquisition dungeon holding up two uneven pieces of a candybar and calculating the odds of pulling it off.
I heard long ago that life is a river of truth. I know some cartoon character said something similar recently in a movie, but trust me there were river of truthers around when humans were first learning to blather about shit. I knew this old dude named Henry who always wore an eyepatch with a happy face on it; he looked into my eyes with his one good eye with a monocle on it, and said, "Believe me, Daniel, life is a river of truth. All you need to do is trust in yourself and everything else will work out right."
He was boosting me into a window at a downtown flophouse at the time. He said that one of this buddies had gotten locked up that morning, and this buddy had told him that there was some first class weed hidden under his mattress in his room at the flophouse; all we had to do was figure out a way to get into the room unnoticed.
I got into the room alright but instead of finding any weed under his mattress, I found a large pitbull with an attitude problem worsened by having his sleep interrupted by my tennis shoe stepping on his head. As I was fending off the dog, Henry kept screaming, "But I know him, he would never violate the no pet policy of the establishment!"
I remember thinking that maybe it wasn't the friend's dog after all. Maybe it was the landlady's dog. The thought had barely scratched my thinking before the ghostly image of my great-grandfather Job appeared in a thought bubble over my head saying, "It don't matter whose fucking dog it is, Danny. Get the hell out of there!"
I didn't want hurt the dog or nothing but the sumbitch was chewing on my foot pretty good. So, I yanked my leg away and my shoe came off, so I picked the shoe up and said, "Fetch!" and threw it out the window. Damned if that damned dog didn't jump out the window chasing the shoe.
Everything should have been fine then, and I should have been able to resume the search for the weed unmolested, except for the fact that dumbass Henry, not being on the receiving end of my thinking, caught the damned shoe as it came flying out the window.
In less than an instant, that dog was indiscriminately chewing on the shoe and parts of Henry's withered right forearm very close to the area where he had the tattoo of his mother. Now, I had never much liked that tattoo; it was hideous looking; his mother had to be related to Medusa, and the picture tattooed on Henry's arm indicated that it had to be a very close relationship like a first cousin or something. It never actually turned me into stone of nothing, but there were several times that finding it in my line of focus brought me to a complete standstill.
When I managed to extricate myself back out through the opened window, Henry was still in the ground wrestling with pitbull and trying to save his mother's tattooed image in the process. He was talking in frantic spurts, and it was hard to understand what he was saying, but I finally managed to make out, "Did ya get the weed?"
I patted the right front pocket of my blue and white Pendleton jacket and smiled at him. I don't why, but I gave him a big thumbs up too.
He managed to get a thumb behind the dog's studded collar which helped him to get the dog at arm's length and far enough away from his face that he could talk more clearly, "Well, divide that shit before this mutt eats me!"
I pulled the large plastic baggie out of my pocket and showed it to him. I then divided it more or less evenly and showed him the two separate pieces of the bag.
"Are you kidding me? That one on the right is more than the other one? What kind of shit are you trying to pull on me?"
I opened up the one on the right and took out a small handful and placed it in my right front pocket (which I knew to be lined with plastic). I then held up the two baggies again.
Henry was still struggling mightily with the dog but finally managed to spit out, "You worthless mother fucker, it serves me right to trust a dumbass kid."
I acted like his words wounded me placing my right hand over my heart and making a sad face. Really, I didn't much care what he said. I was thinking that I should never had placed my trust in a alcoholic, homeless drug abuser with a messianic complex. Besides, he had lied to me. That River of Truth speech had helped calm my nerves enough to get me into the room, but once there, I had discovered there were plenty of lies floating around in the water too, a fact that I decided to bring it to his attention.
"Henry, did you know that there were lies in the River of Truth?"
He was still holding off the dog, but I could see that a bond was starting to form between them. Once, the dog even stopped snarling long enough to lick Henry's tattoo. "Goddamnit, Danny! I'm lying here wrestling with disaster and you standing there talking nonsense."
"How you know the dog's name is Disaster?" I eyed him suspiciously.
This made him angry, or angrier, I should say. "It was a fucking figure of speech, dumbass!"
"Then why is it written on his collar."
He couldn't answer because he couldn't maneuver the dog into position to look what was on it's collar.
"Tell you what, Henry, I am going to set this baggie down on that trash can over yonder. Good luck with the dog." I walked to the end of the alley and then stopped and turned back, "Henry, ask your friend when he gets out if that was his dog or the landlady's. I'm curious to know."
I took a few of steps around the corner and decided to turn back again. I just stuck my head around the corner of the building, "Henry, that river has more than its share of lies too. Just so you know."
The wrestling match with the pitbull was over by then. The dog lay panting heavily on Henry's chest and occasionally licking his face. Henry was tired too, and his voice was subdued enough that I had to strain to hear it. "What? What the fuck are you talking about?"
I was going to explain things, but just then Glen farted in the bed below me and I woke up from the strange dream. For a moment, I lay there undecided, trying to make up my mind to go back to sleep in order to educate Henry, or to grab something and bounce it off of Glenn's head for waking me up and fouling the air.
I decided that a dream was more for my edification than for the mythical character of Henry. I mean after all, whoever heard of someone interrupting the telling of Hercules's adventure in order to tell him what his deeds meant? It was counterintuitive if you asked me, went against the grain so to speak. So, I opted to find one of my tennis shoes and throw it at the sleeping Glenn.
I know that you're probably thinking why I just didn't chill out and let things go. I was willing to do it in the dream after all. And the answer is that you just can't let challenges to your normalcy slide; that's how shit starts to fall apart. If I let Glenn get away with farting and interrupting my sleep, it would soon become the new normal. I know this dream wasn't all that great, but what if in the next dream I was planting hickies on Maria De Fantis's beautiful neck or even better, gripping her wonderful bottom? I'm sure you can see the problem.
It was hard finding a shoe in the dark, but I finally managed to spot one sitting on Glenn's desk where it was holding the remains of half eaten burrito. I grabbed it up, tossed the burrito in the trash after smelling it, and then, after checking the right front pocket of my Pendleton jacket for weed, tossed the shoe at Glenn's sleeping head.
I won't bore you with the details of what happened next. It's sufficient to say that sufficient pain was meted out on both sides. It's strange to realize in the middle of the night that pain is, more often than not, the true sidekick of learning.
I know that the first chapters of most fictional narratives have to satisfy certain criteria. The reader has to know the time and place of the story for instance. The Greeks had a word Chthonic which actually referred to all the things below the surface. It was connected to the concept of roots of plant life too, implying that the great mystery of life on the material plane is rooted to a specific time and place, and that the problems that need to be solved are specific to that certain time and place.
Setting actually exists more for the benefit of the reader, to provide context. It is actually a bullshit idea to say that all our problems are specifically related to where and when we live. Humans exist in the middle of infinite time and space. Our real problems deal with us not knowing how to wrap our minds around that thought. Great writers often have to deal with the problem that they want to explain these large ideas that underlie existence but have to take it for granite that they are dealing with a great deal of ignorance amongst the reading public, so they have to provide signs that enable the reader to place things into a format that is easier to understand.
Ignorance, by the way, is not nearly as derogatory a term as saying stupid. It just means "unknowing" or not understanding. It is really not so much of a hurtful description as it is a fact that underlies much of human existence. All men are ignorant to a large degree. It's not really, really bad, unless it is willful, and then it becomes stupidity.
The author also needs to provide the conflict of the story early on which is actually tantamount to explaining why the main character is dissatisfied. We all are pretty much, so it is an outright nod to the human condition. Conflict is also said to provide the the story with enough tension needed to pique and keep the reader's attention throughout the entire telling of the story.
Nosey little fuckers, ain't we.
"Dani, honey, are you home?"
There was no answer. I had worked late trying to complete a project that was due the next day. When I pulled into the driveway at home, Dani's car was parked there, but when I went inside the house she was nowhere to be found.
Her purse and briefcase were sitting on the dining room table, and when I went upstairs in was plain to see that she had changed out of her work clothes because they lay in pile in front of her closet. I went back down stairs and looked into the kitchen where I saw a partially opened cabinet door and wine bottle opener lying on the white tiled counter. Dani must have a hard day I thought to myself while walking toward the backdoor to see if she was outside.
I opened the door and stepped out into the darkness. It was a moonless night and I couldn't see anything. After my eyes adjusted, I could make out the fact that she was sitting at the patio table to the right of the door.
Before I could step toward her, her voice came out of the darkness in a hiss, "I don't love you anymore, Cyrus, and I never will again."
The words were like a shotgun blast to my chest. My whole world suddenly stopped spinning, and she used the time to stand up while lifting a dark obsidian blade of an Aztec high priest from the table which she used to remove my heart from my chest, hissing as she sliced through the muscle. I couldn't make out what she was saying because I had lost the ability to translate her words into meaning. I knew it was bad because the hissing noise, and the fact that she was soon standing there before me with an evil look and holding my still beating heart up for my inspection.
In the darkness, she then raised it up toward the sky and then lowered it and took a huge bite out of it before tossing it down on the pool deck.
I began to pick out a word or two from her strange soliloquy and recognized that she was expressing a litany of her grievances against me; the total adding up to the theme of the evening which was that I wasn't much of man, and mentioning that she had stopped loving me a long time before she decided to kill our marriage off with a blood sacrifice.
Her complaints were all news to me. I'll admit for the sake of honesty that there were some indications of ill winds blowing, but nothing adding up to the need for a ritual murder. At first, I was taken by surprise. I had had no idea that Jack the Ripper was waiting outside in the dark. I wanted to see her and rushed out outside with the naivety of a child. I always wanted to see her. Whenever she came home in those days, I would always rush down the stairs and outside to meet before she got out of the car.
Later, there were times that that I was convinced that I was an innocent victim of the murder. At other times, I couldn't shake the notion that it was well deserved retribution for my failures both as a husband and a man.
I admit that I wasn't anywhere near a model husband. I had my flaws. I've always had flaws. Most humans fall way short of perfection in some regard. And with knowledge of our shortcomings, comes a deeply entrenched sense of guilt that aligns very neatly with the concept of original sin. It makes it hard to argue forcefully when the person you love tells you that you aren't good enough. You need to have the audacity of a used car salesmen to plead that case.
I needed such audacity at that moment. Standing in the darkness bleeding from a chest wound and a fifty caliber blow to the head, I needed the comfort of knowing that I deserved a better fate than to be murdered on a pool deck in the shadows of the night.
I understand now, sixteen years later, why Dani had to do it that way. You can't just leave a half dead marriage lying in the road to suffer and die on its on. If you must kill it, you kill it deader than hell so that it don't come back later to haunt you like that crazy fucker in I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Our twenty-one-year-old marriage died immediately, and so did any chance of a reconciliation. You just can't trust someone who is capable of ripping your heart out of your body and eating a chunk out of it.
The big problem was that we were both still very much alive and living in close proximity of each other and we had a family.
It took me a few hours of blindly stumbling around in the darkness before I snapped back into reality. I couldn't just stand there forever gaping like a fish out of water. I had to become like Osiris or Frankenstein and put my shit back together. I had to pick up my heart, of course, and tear my t-shirt into pieces to cover up my wounds.
Long afterwards, there were stitches on my forehead, stitches in my chest, and stitches in my heart which always murmurs a bit because of the missing chunk, and I still have a tendency to lean to the side while I shuffling down the hallways of existence like a lost zombie with my arms outstretched and the muffled words, "What the fuck, Dani," stuck in my throat.
One of these days though, when the time is exactly right, I am going to go outside in the dark and lie down on that patio table and open up my mouth up wide to catch the light from a passing star. I'll close my eyes tightly while fingering the raised stitches on my chest and fall asleep, and I'll awake in the morning and rise up all shiny and new.
And the first words from my new formed mouth will be barely louder than a whisper, barely louder than the morning breeze, "I love you, Dani. I always will."
"Eh!" It was something Billy did all of the time. He would throw his right hand up in a dismissive gesture and say "Eh!" at the same time. It was the last thing I ever saw him do and the last word I ever heard him utter.
He was walking east on Oregon Avenue toward a trail that would allow to take a shortcut home cutting off half of the block that he would otherwise have to travel. Both of his arms hung from his side like he Popeye walking along looking to beat the shit out of Pluto. At the last second, he threw the right arm up showing me the back of his hand and saying the word loudly, not screaming exactly, but enough for me to hear.
He didn't do it out of meanness or anything, or to show a disdain for me. He was just telling me, once again, to take things easy, to be disdainful of rules that made no sense or people who blathered with beads of sweat on their foreheads and authoritative gesticulations. It was Billy who taught me that such people were clueless and talked and acted like they knew stuff that they didn't know.
Billy drowned the next day while swimming in a ditch in front of dairy that now belongs to the prison. He hit his head on a rock and panicked almost dragging a friend down with him. The incident caused me a lot problems, most significantly, making fearful of water and delaying my ability to swim by several years.
I have written it about several times, each time from a different perspective but always showing a great deal of respect for the missing specter of Death. Sometimes I end the narrative by telling about the dream I had the night after I had heard the news, but at other times ending it with that last image I had of him walking away with his hand upraised right before I turned my gaze in the direction of my home which was just around the corner.
As I have grown older, my belief in the power of ghostly visitors from the past has grown by leaps and bounds. I have often ruminated on the importance of the incident and especially on how I instinctively knew to turn and get that last glimpse of Billy defiantly walking into the great unknown.
I realize now that it was Billy who first taught me the value of defiance. Before he came to our school, I always walked the straight and narrow blindly oblivious to the idea that there was any other way. Once, we were talking to two girls after school by the cafeteria at Mark Twain Elementary, and he used the word fuck in a sentence.
It was the first time I had ever heard the word used in polite conversation, and I anxiously awaited the girls' response. When they, in turn, used the word, I mentally told myself, "Fuck, they aint a got problem with it, I guess I shouldn't fucking either." I marvel at the fact that I could reason that out while still understanding that it would probably be best that I didn't use the word in Sunday School class or in conversations with my mom.
One time the students from Fremont School from across town came to Mark Twain to watch a basketball game. Billy had attended Fremont prior to moving to our side of town, and I could tell from the way he talked about some of the kids that it wasn't a very pleasant experience for him, and intuitively I recognized that a lot of his disdainful outlook was probably in response to the fact that some of those kids with their bright white smiles and expensive shoes had looked down upon him and his comedic antics.
What being around Billy taught me was that life wasn't always going to be nice, and that it would often bring me into contact to unpleasant people and painful situations and that the worse thing that you could do was submit to it. Billy's dismissive hand gesture was a way of telling the world with all the evil stepmothers, damn bullies, and billy goat gruffs in it to go fuck themself.
It was a way of effortlessly swimming through the vast flood waters of the unconscious that life unleashes upon us all. And it was lesson well worth learning, but one that has taken me years to internalize because of the fear of drowning that his premature death engendered.
The next year the kids from my class all traveled north across the city to attend junior high, and I learned first hand about the pain that a deeply felt sense of inferiority can cause a human being. I really needed Billy there to teach me how to properly execute that hand gesture and how to utter a simple two letter expression in such a way that it banished self doubt. Instead, I was left with a childish mantra, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me, " knowing full well that it was a lie because they do, they surely fucking do.
“Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.” — Heraclitus
We live in a very crazy world, something that recent events have fully exposed. I hope that my fellow travelers can see for themselves just how insane things have gotten. It's actually been this way for awhile, but we have been too blinded by the needs of living to fully appreciate it.
I lot of people nowadays, mainly young, but also the highly paid, are running around pretending that they have just woken up to reality, and not just any reality, the reality. They see themselves opposed to their elders who they feel are mainly asleep, and so they shout and scream and sometimes actually slobber, proclaiming that the rest of us need to wake up too.
I sleep when I am tired and not a moment before. I often have problems sleeping and need assistance to fall asleep. I also have problems being awake most of the time, as does most of humanity, and these problems have been exacerbated by the fact that there is a lot of loud, unintelligent screaming and explosions going on all of the time
The problem is that most people aren't really asleep at all. (I'll give you a clue, if their eyes are open, they are probably awake.) This falling back into our self is a natural defense mechanism to keep from burning our eyeballs out from staring too long at the sun. And now along comes all these young whippersnappers in full force telling me, no, ordering me to take my sunglasses off and resume staring at the sun.
By the time that we humans reach middle age and have raised our children, we have been made fully aware of our shortcomings, we have lost many close friends and loved ones, our souls have been thoroughly scourged by the cat-of-nine-tails of existence, we bear a near infinity of scars of different sizes, an entire lifetime's worth, that we have become very adept at hiding from view.
We enter into the processing stage of life. We mainly desire salve and salvation, unguents applied to our still bleeding wounds. Some people see an old man enjoying a football game, a convivial bar patron telling jokes to his mates, or women gossiping over tea. In reality, it is all a search for meaning.
We never truly escape from the knowledge of our own mortality, or the mortality of all that we hold dear. The mouth foaming screamers cry crocodile tears for the homeless, the criminals, and the drug addled, faux pity for those who have surrendered, but show little mercy for those who battled furiously against the merciless onslaught of time for the right to stand upright in their estimation of themselves.
To pretend that we are without values is manifested ignorance. To pretend we have no convictions because we don't scream and draw attention to ourselves is the same. Our convictions have been tested by death knowledge and tempered in a Sun dance that will continue till we are lying in the shade of our own graves.
It is a knowledge that tells us that it is just as important to stop our own wounds from bleeding out as it is to point out all the flaws of human existence. It is a knowledge that allows to see the goodness in all our gossiping and conniving friends and neighbors and that allows us to love others warts and all. The desire to judge others slowly vanishes the closer we get to the drain.
I see a great crisis of faith coming. We have foolishly allowed those who don't believe in the mysteriousness of life to brainwash our young into thinking it is all a political manifestation. We have allowed these con artists to use the sham of a politically based religion as evidence to suppress the spiritual needs of the human race. We have had politics for thousands upon thousands of years, and the politicians ain't solved shit yet. And no, pretending that you are the salvation of the world, is the not the same as being a savior, especially when you, cluck like rabid chickens, point scolding fingers, and threaten everybody but yourself.
One thing I can't stand is when a music critic tries too hard, especially ones who push past the material being reviewed in such a way as to make it perfectly plain that what they are really offering is a chance for the rest of us to bask in the glorious sunlight of their own genius.
I recently read an article for an e-magazine where a young lady stated that one could better appreciate Bob Dylan's music if he wasn't always singing the songs himself. She went so far as to imply that it is always best to listen to his music when it was being covered by other artists because his singing so terrible. She was actually writing in defense of his selection as a Nobel laureate by saying we should just appreciate his lyrics but not his versions of the songs. She finished the article with this cringeworthy statement, "Bob Dylan is one of the greatest writers of our time — and you don't have to listen to one of his records to agree."
If the lady had stripped down naked and dipped her entire body in yellow tinted pig shit while farting and belching in unison with a calliope and carrying a sign that said she wanted to have a baby by Spongebob Squarepants, she couldn't have come off looking any sillier. She made it worse though, however, by adopting both a diffident tone and the snarky attitude of a spoiled child. I feel she must have written the piece looking in mirror and telling herself how great it was. But, actually it wasn't.
I had just recently used my blog to blast another writer who had slapped together a list of John Prine's most influential songs within nanoseconds of the music legend's death. My youngest daughter took me to task and informed me that I maybe I should go easier because some people are just trying to make living and must write what they are told. I changed the tone of what I had written. This time it's different because the lady in question was being so unbelievably ignorant and mean spirited.
Admittedly, Dylan might not be for everyone. There are people who actually hate Jesus for telling us to love our neighbors. The ability to appreciate transcendent genius is not a gift; it is something that people achieve after expending energy, and usually after experiencing no small amount of suffering. It is almost never given to childish, the dull, or the unappreciative.
The writer's quote that you can appreciate Dylan's genius without listening to him sing is like saying you can appreciate a great restaurant by reading its Yelp reviews.
I did run across another article that got it right exactly. The author paraphrased Elvis Costello when he said, “You don’t listen to Dylan to hear a sweet voice singing, you listen to experience the feeling he is singing about.”
The author also quoted Christopher Ricks to point out, “Song is a triple art, a true compound. And it doesn’t make sense to ask which element of a compound is more “important”: the voice, or the music, or the words.” The article's author goes on to firmly nail the truth down by stating that, "With Dylan, the compound becomes more than the sum of the parts, and we experience something that combines emotions and intellect and spirit; something that transmutes, and transcends."
The article also asked the reader to compare a Dylan cover to the real version. The author compared Elvis Presley's version of Tomorrow Is a Long Time to Dylan's own version. It came off a bit like comparing The Mamas and the Papa's performance at the Monterey Pop Festival to Janis Joplin's.
I have taken the liberty of following those directions by comparing a few other covers to the real thing.
Just Like a Woman
Just Like a Woman - Bill Medley
I don't think that anybody would argue that Bill Medley can't sing. His is a very polished version. It is a great listen. But that is all it is. Dylan's on the other hand, is the lived-in version. It is scruffed at the elbows and the knees. He is singing to and about someone he knows. It has roughness about it because life has a roughness about it. In Medley's version, he is singing to the audience, and the piano is way too smooth and polished to lend much support to the lyrics. In Dylan's, the dry, cracked, sandpaper voice is the essence of the lyrics.
To Ramona - The Flying Burrito Brothers
Once again, the smoother, polished version comes off as a bit detached. The Flying Burrito Brothers were known for their vocal harmonies, and once again the treatment fails to get to the heart of the song. In fact, it works against the lyrics and becomes a part of the scheme that Dylan writes about.
"Your cracked country lips
I still wish to kiss
As to be by the strength of your skin
Your magnetic movements
Still capture the minutes I'm in
But it grieves my heart, love
To see you tryin' to be a part of
A world that just don't exist. It's all just a dream, babe
A vacuum, a scheme, babe
That sucks you into feelin' like this."
I Threw It All Away
I Threw It All Away - Cher
I'm not even going to say anything about this one other than some people transcend and others pretend. There is a nice version of Chris Cornell singing the song that serves to support my argument though. Cornell's version sadly expresses the truth because Dylan's lyrics about losing his wife and marriage are universal in meaning. You step inside of them; you eat them, you let them enter into your bloodstream, you don't just sing them.
I'm not trying to knock other artists either. There are many great versions of Dylan covers, Joe Cocker's Just Like a Woman comes to mind and Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower. I'm just irritated at how many people try to look better than they are by trashing his voice.
The ancient Greeks knew that true beauty always contains a flaw. It is the trademark of our species. We ain't perfect. Neither is Bob Dylan. Some people foolishly like to seek perfection out in everything. As for me, I am beyond ecstatic that Bob Dylan wasn't born with the voice of a Pavarotti, or even Elvis Presley for that matter.
And it makes me very sad that we still have to explain why this is true.
I have decided to enter some old stories and essays into a few writing competitions and to send off others. In an effort to get things sorted out, I ran across the following passages.
From On The Road (with Mom) - non-fiction
And when I was young right up until the time I married, their journey was my own. My friends and I relived it a thousand times speeding up and down the highways, searching through the back streets, slowly driving down the country roads of Central California, and incessantly cruising up and down the main street of Corcoran. It was always a spiritual journey even though we didn't know it at the time as we were always searching for our own metaphorical hill in San Francisco and seeking our own tiny taste of ecstasy.
The sad thing is that the effort we expended was always doomed to failure. No one ever found satori on the back roads of Corcoran, or on Whitley Avenue for that matter. All the minute mouthfuls of sweet juice that we tasted were chemically enhanced and vanished the moment the drugs wore off leaving us to spit out the lifeless liquid in the dirt on the side of the road.
From The City That Lied - short story
The next day, however, something happened that blew the top off of the whole affair. A dairy farmer who lived on the edge of town, cleaned out a tool shed, spread new straw across the floor, pulled out his wife's colorful nativity set, and wiped the dust from all of the characters. He went so far as to tie a baby goat and a calf outside the garage style opened door. Then he painted a huge sign on his barn that said that the holy baby Jesus had been born in his stable and not the one in Bethlehem. And just like that, Corcoran was suddenly the holiest city in the whole world.
This was when the cracks started to appear. People were having trouble buying into this fraud. The dairy owner produced a birth certificate attesting that someone name Jesus had been born there. The certificate had been doctored. For example, the last name had been altered to spell Son of God, and the birthdate once marked Feb. had been changed to look like Dec. The facts later showed that a Mexican dairy worker named Jesus Manuel (pronounced Hay-Sus) Martinez had been born there in 1936.
The thing that really destroyed the farmer's story happened after the local denominations started trying to horn in on the act and began arguing over the facts related to Christ's birth. A member of the local clergy, Reverend P. N. Ochio, an Episcopalian, got so angry he shouted at the Freewill Baptist preacher, "Everyone fucking knows he was born in Bethlehem, Asshole!"
The crowd was shocked into silence. The Freewill Baptist preacher accidentally tripped over the rope holding the Star in place, and it fell to the ground and broke. Five year old, Tessie McGee pointed to it and exclaimed, "Wookie, Daddy, the Stah is bwoke. The Stah is bwoke."
The little girl's words punctured the bubble of stupidity that had enveloped the whole town quicker than an old man's fart could clear a small room. Corcoran's only surviving prostitute put the fork in it when she gave out a heartfelt, "We ought to all be ashamed of ourselves."
Danny, however, took umbrage at her words while thinking to himself, "Dang girlfriend, I only said the F word a couple of times, you gave half the bar patrons in town syphilis, let's not be so quick to judge here." He let it go though and went to sleep that night somewhat relieved.
From Things Worth Fighting For - non-fiction
I was so naive back then that I read an article about hippies, and it mentioned that they smoked banana peels to get high, and I actually got some bananas, peeled them, and was baking them in the oven right in front of my mom. When she asked me what I was going to do with the baked peels, I told her, "I'm going to smoke them banana peels and get high."
She hit me upside the head with a wooden stirring spoon. That was when I first realized that there was a difference between the way my parents looked at life and the way that some others looked at life. I thought smoking banana peels could be a good thing, my mom knew better. Yet, I persisted in holding out against the wisdom of experience and going with the novelty of stupidity.
I don't care about what your thoughts are on the morality of the Vietnam War; those young soldiers who fought and died there deserved better. There is still an ongoing silliness wherein many people believe that all wars are unjust and that America should never participate in another. It's a belief whose nobility is canceled out by its naive ignorance.
It would be nice if the world were composed of only reasonable people. It would also be a fantasy. It is usually the countries that are not aggressive that have wars thrust upon them, and it is often those who most desire peace who weaken their resolve to defend themselves from evil. A belief in world peace is a truly noble desire, but it is also a lot like smoking banana peels. And it's even worse if your mama ain't around to jar you back to reality.
From Notes: On Testing the Waters - non-fiction
So, I've always known that you don't find truth in the words of a Sunday school teacher who only mimics the party line. Truth only comes as the result of suffering and with keeping one eye open even as you sleep lest it sneaks up on you.
I'm come to one hard and fast rule of life, and it is that you learn some from other men, great books, and the observance of nature, but depending on the outer world to provide your life with meaning, is futile. The truth that most of us, not all, desire can only come from the deep wells located in our inner selves. What we must do to obtain it is to open up and let some sunlight into those areas that the raisin counters tell us to ignore.
Back in Sunday school, Tolstoy raises his hand and the Sunday school teacher acknowledges him. The children listen because his haunted eyes, slow movements, and deeply creased face commands them to, "Once we admit that human life can be guided by reason, all possibility of life is annihilated."
The teacher's mouth drops open as he ponders the meaning of the word annihilated, and a twelve-year-old boy sitting in the corner raises his finger to his chin.
From Swimming in Ditches - non-fiction
I didn't sleep well the night after I heard the news. I spent the entire night dreaming it was all an illusion, that I'd wake up and Billy would come strolling down the piece of dirt road that was the southern end of Estes Avenue where it ran past my house, knock on my door and ask me if I wanted to go shoot some pool down at Pop's while sipping on a Coca Cola bottle full of peanuts.
But alas, that dream was a lie, the first of many, an urgent, heartfelt, yet ephemeral wish written on a piece of tissue, and I was forever stuck instead with the wistful memory of Billy flipping himself over the school yard fence at the corner of Letts and Oregon, and walking out of my life forever and waving goodbye with an upraised hand while never looking back.
From The Tears of Oak Trees - non-fiction (response to mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill)
I reject those voices that claim that mankind is not worthy of mercy. You have to overlook massive mountains of human achievement to utter such nonsense. Humans have died by the hundreds of thousands to halt the spread of tyranny. We feed, and we heal. We stand erect and move forward despite the ignorance of our self-serving politicians and having to overcome the fact that we carry an ever-increasing mass of humanity on our backs because they have already chosen to give up the fight. On top of it all, we now have to work all day and then guard the night from those who can't stand the fact that we are still standing, or, at least, care enough to make the effort.
From Our Own Dead Eyes - non-fiction
I caught myself looking at my reflection the first thing this morning while I relieved myself. (That's kind of sad in itself, the Lord graced me with a brand new day, and the first thing I can think of doing is pee.)
I was drawn toward the eyes. I saw there for a moment the eyes of my father, not the laughing eyes of Grandpa Bill, but that other guy, the old one who went to the grave carrying all of the anxiety of a maze stuck mouse with eyes that will haunt me as long as I live and hopefully no further.
I know that I'm still grounded with both my feet firmly rooted in what now passes for reality. I still have enough of the required respect for angles, lines, and borders for me to think I'm going crazy. Still, I'd be lying if I denied that there is more than just a little hint of fear and anxiety hidden behind the eyes in my reflection.
Hell, I'm too old for it to be otherwise.
From The Dimensions of Loneliness - excerpt from The Lazarus Letters
I can’t wrap my mind around why any sane person would identify with atheism. It is one thing to purse your lips and imitate a prudish, middle-aged, spinster schoolteacher and point out all the misery poured out on the human race in the name of the religion. Any sanctimonious jackass with a halfway decent grasp of history could do that to their heart’s content.
History is a virtual smorgasbord of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man; not just any smorgasbord either but the one at Caesar’s in Vegas. There is something very perverse in taking such great pride in the ability to point just how more perverse and venal everybody else is.
I can not imagine anything more horrible than the idea that the universe has no purpose, or in the belief that I brought my two beautiful daughters into existence in such a universe where the sole point of their being was to create a few isolated moments of happiness sandwiched into the pages of a larger book documenting their slow and painful march to the grave.
From Love in the Time of Zombies - non-fiction
The young don't seem to have it much better in today's world. They've been told that hooking-up is the way to go, and that marriage is not only outdated, it is oppressive. My God, what kind of a world are we creating. Everything has to be easy, even when it is not.
There is something truly magical that goes into the creation of baby. It just might be the most magical thing in the entire world, yet, we treat the process like it's something that even the stupidest people on earth can do, which is actually true, but then again, they can't write shit like,
"I'd go hungry; I'd go black and blue
And I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love"
There is a difference in babies created only by lust and those created in an act of love. And there is a difference in those who appreciate the magic of love that went into the sexual act and those who only think of it as scratching an itch. The former bring light into a dark world, the latter rain clouds that block out the sun.
All babies are little seeds of light, but those who create them with a mindset that they are disposable and tiny nuisances without a soul, are the truly lost because they can no longer see the magic of life and can only view a world of ash colored skies
From Saints of the Southside Proper - non-fiction
Pop's candy store was a little like the Agora of Athens. I said "a little like" so don't go getting all freakin crazy on me. It was where we all met up and discussed philosophy, analyzed events, and fed all the bits into the gaping yawl of a giant queen mother who popped it back out in a gel having the same consistency of toothpaste that we all chewed for sustenance.
It was not the sustenance we got at home at the breakfast table, but the sustenance that fed our souls and rendered us impervious to the many social diseases that ran amok in those days. The paste temporarily blinded us to the poverty of our existence and helped us to envision old run down shacks and packed dirt alleyways as being places of great mystery.
The philosophical discussions we had weren't very elevated I'll admit.
It was always more like, " Do ya think those are her real titties?"
"Hell no! She and her sista bofofem flatter than sheet rock."
"Well, what's she doing then?'
"Why ask me? Iffn I hadda guess, I'd say socks."
"You a idiot."
"Why ya say that?"
"Girls don't wear socks the way we do."
"Well fucken toilet papuh then! Hell's I know!"
It wasn't much, but just enough for the time. It was the way we reached conclusions and established consensus. It joined us all at the hip. To this day, I can tell you pretty much what the others would think about most subjects even though I'm lucky if I see them once a year.
From Notes On Writing the Short Story 'Lines' - non-fiction
The bottom line is that a whole hell of a lot more things gets said than get heard.
"Are my dad and mom ever going to get back together?"
I looked at the young boy and noticed the small tears forming in his eyes. He was working overtime on controlling his breath but wasn't succeeding. His hands gripped and ungripped the claws on the ends of the arms of the dark oak chair, and he trembled, not a lot, but kind of like a leaf in a light breeze, just enough to notice.
At first I didn't know what to tell him. I always thought that these questions were above my pay grade. I had started this whole advice business as a kind of a joke. I never expected that people would actually seek me out for real advice.
"I don't know, Joey. I'm not a fortune teller. The sign on the door says that I give advice; I don't predict the future. Now, if you had asked me what you could do to help your parents get back together. I would answer probably nothing. I would advise you above all other things to just be yourself and work on being as understanding as you possibly can. Life is hard for parents too, especially for parents. You kids have youth on your side. If you had asked me what you should do if your parents don't get back together; I would advise you to adapt to the new situation with as much positive energy as you can muster. Treat it as an opportunity to grow, to learn how to overcome frustration and anger. There's a very good chance that you can help make things better for your parents and your sister. Remember though, that sometimes, things happen for a reason that will only be revealed at a later date and being as positive as you can be might determine if its a good reason or a bad reason. You get what I'm saying?"
The tears were still there, but he nodded. "Max, is it okay if I cry about it tonight and start working on all that positive stuff tomorrow?"
I smiled broadly, "Joey, that's actually the best advice I could have given you. You'll be okay. It'll be hard, especially at the beginning, but you'll be okay."
Joey slowly stood up and reached in his pockets and pulled out four crumpled dollar bills and laid them on the table. I picked them up, smoothed them out, and handed them back to him. "This one's on me. Use your imagination and tell yourself that those are four magical dollar bills. Do something nice for yourself like buy an ice cream or something, or better yet do something nice for your sister."
He bent over and retrieved his backpack from behind his chair and left. Sandra, my beautiful, athletic, brunette girlfriend entered the darkened room. She was wearing a black skirt and white blouse. Her long brownish blonde hair was in a ponytail, her professional look. "Man, I was almost bawling when he came in, Max. He looked so sad and lost. I don't know how you deal with stuff like that."
I stood up and kissed her before I answered, "Poor Joey, he's going to be alright though. I can see it in his eyes. Then there's the fact that he came in at all. It shows that he knows that he needs help."
"Yeah, but what do you tell him when he's looking at you with those sad eyes?"
"Usually, the best advice is the simple truth."
She smiled and looked at me with her beautiful brown eyes laughing, "And people pay you for the truth?"
"Four dollars! It's a bargain. Besides I gave it back anyway. It ain't like I'm asking for a fortune. And for your information I give the best four dollar advice around."
"Well, you still owe me one remember."
I held her at arm's link and looked her over closely. I liked the professional look and how the tight black skirt and heels displayed her fabulous legs, "Nope, don't get the boob job."
She looked me puzzled, "Who said anything about a damn boob job?" She looked down at her chest and her confusion turned to faux rage. "You are a no good son of a bitch." She started pummeling me before I could pinion her arms and begin kissing her anew.
I had always been a know-it-all from the beginning of time. When I was a kid, all my friends would always tease me about it, but when they needed advice, it was me they came to. I read a lot more than a normal kid but there was also something very instinctive about how I knew things. I would be watching movies with my mom and when the hero would get himself into a jam, I would turn to her and tell her what I would do, or how I would have avoided the situation in the first place. She would look at me for moment and grin before telling me to be quiet and watch the movie.
Thinking backwards, there was this one moment in time where I knew it all began, where I first knew that I was different. I was about seven years old and had come home from the elementary school around the corner from our house and found Mom sitting in her reading chair. She was dressed in a long white gown, and she wasn't moving. She didn't even know that I had entered the room, and she looked like a statue sitting there. She was reading a letter, two sheets of paper sat next to each other in her lap, and she had another sheet in her hand draped over the soft blue fabric of the arm of the chair. That page hung in the air slightly trembling. I didn't know where her head was; her eyes, covered with clouds, were staring out the windows behind me.
After watching her like that for over a minute, I walked over to the dining table and put my books and lunch pail down. When I turned around she was back.
"Hi, Max. I didn't hear you come in. Come over here and give me a big kiss." I willingly obeyed and jumped into her open arms. "I have been sitting here reading a letter from your father. It's a rather long one, three pages front and back, and I've been having trouble keeping all the pages in order."
"Did Dad mention me and Athena?"
"Of course he did, Honey. He said to tell you guys how he misses you and is always thinking about you. He asked if you had been flying your kite. He also told me this funny story about how he and a friend had entered a village and saw two dogs, each biting the other's tail, chasing each other in a circle. Isn't that a funny thing?"
She cleared her lap and gestured for me to sit upon it. She held the three pages of the letter in her left hand, and tousled my hair with her right. I noticed the writing on the page; it wasn't my dad's, and I intuitively knew that there was something she wasn't telling me.
"How's Dad doing?"
"He's fine." She lied, and I knew instantly that she had lied. It was the first time that either her or my dad had ever lied to me. My dad had always been starkly honest even on the day when he pulled me aside and told me that he was going to war in Korea and had even said that there was a good chance that he might not come back.
I was stunned to the point of tears, and asked him if he stilled liked us, and he hugged me tightly and said, "I love you and your Mom and your sister more than life itself. It's why I can go and do this thing, Buddy. I need you to be strong for your mom and to look after your sister."
Mom quickly moved away from the lie, "Papa wrote about this beautiful experience he had where he was crossing an ancient bridge over a small mountain stream in a strange looking forest and looked up and saw the moon and the sun in the sky together. He said that something about it reminded him of me, and he cried because he misses me so much."
"Do you miss him, Mom?"
She looked down softly and tousled my hair again, "More than you'll ever know, Max. At least, I hope you'll never know what it's like to miss someone you love this much."
There was something about that experience that made me into who I am today. I thought about it often and came to the conclusion that it was the two anomalies, Mom sitting trancelike when I entered the room, and the different writing on the page that triggered the understanding that things weren't right with my father. When in doubt, I always say, look for the anomalies.
It was a week later when we got the news.
Cheap Advice, my business had started out as a big joke. My friends were always asking me for advice, and yet would always tease me when I gave it unsolicited. One day, as a lark, I put a sign on the front porch of the spacious Victorian that I was renting in artsy- fartsy section of the city. The sign had a picture of two mysterious looking eyes and below them were the words written in big red letters:
Cheap Advice- $2
Better Advice- $3
Good Advice - $4 or two for $6
I had intended to make a joke, but life had other plans for me. After two weeks, I had to get a business license. I was inundated with people seeking advice. Many of my long haired, dope smoking buddies came by seeking answers to dumb questions as a part of the joke, but then a lot of others started dropping by who weren't a part of the joke; then they came in droves seeking real answers to real questions. In the beginning, I tried to explain that I wasn't being serious about the advice giving, but there was always a silent plea in each of their eyes that wore me down. Besides, I finally admitted to myself, I had always liked giving advice.
Yet, I've always had a feeling of inadequacy when I gave these people advice, but I soon discovered that I was surprisingly good at it. They all kept coming back. I had taken a few psychology classes in college, but other than that, I did what I did that day when my mom read the letter from Korea; I looked for the anomalies in their stories.
Giving advice at a few bucks a pop does not put food on the table or pay the light bills for that matter. Early on, I figured that was probably how it should be. I didn't want to make money for giving advice, at least not that way. I do write a column that runs in a couple of papers. They give some advice too, but are also mixed in with a lot of other things. For example, I talk about life, romance, movies, and sports, but never about politics. The columns along with some other writing that I do pays the bills. I also went back to school and became a licensed therapist, so I wouldn't feel as guilty as I always do when I dish out a dose of bitter water.
Joey came back a couple of weeks later. He told me that his mom and dad had filed the papers, and that his mom had cried the whole night afterwards.
"Joey, that's to be expected, but it's not the important thing."
He looked at me puzzled, "That's not important?"
"I didn't say it wasn't important. I said it wasn't the important thing. What you did because your mom was crying is what's important. Tell me what you did?"
He thought it over for a moment before answering, "I guess, I just let her cry." The answer clearly troubled him.
"You need to know that there was nothing else you could have done. What did you do after that?"
"I got up real early and me and my sister made her breakfast and served it to her in bed. We even did all of the dishes."
"I bet she liked that?"
For the first time in the months that I had known him, Joey mustered up a smile. "She sure did. Mom loves bacon and eggs and strawberry jam on her toast. Athena's coffee was so bad, but Mama pretended that she loved it anyway."
"She wasn't pretending, Joey. My guess is the coffee could of tasted like burnt motor oil and she would have loved it. For the record though, it wasn't the bacon and the eggs or the jam she loved. It was your reaction, the fact that you didn't spend the morning moping around or crying yourself. You did something nice to show her that you and your sister were going to tackle the problem head on."
I watched with wonder as those words fanned his smile into a flame. "Now you gotta ask me a question, Buddy, something about advice, that's how it works here."
"But you already.."
The look in my eyes cut him off. "Question?"
He finally blurted, "What do I need to do to become as wise as you, Max?"
That one got me. I could feel the tears welling up behind my eyes as I wrestled with the decision of whether or not Joey needed, at that particular moment, a heavy dose of my father's stark truth telling, to tell him about how suffering often engenders wisdom, or whether I should just let him bask in the glow of his own smile for the time being.
The smile won out. I knew there would be a lot of time in the future for the rest. The biggest lesson I had ever learned was that it was man's need for immediate answers to things that causes most of problems in the world. The need for answers is a part of life. The time we have ain't much, but it is, at least, enough to let us know that there's always the future for the unveiling of truth.
"I'll tell you what, Joey. Go home and tell your sister what a damn fine thing you guys have done, and someday in the near future, I'm going to tell you about my dad."
As he was leaving, I saw Sandra hand him a purple lollipop from the bowl on her desk. She also escorted him to the front door and opened it. For a brief moment, I saw Joey standing there outlined by the morning sun.