I saw a dead black cat lying in the middle of the road on my way to Visalia to a book sale at the Sequoia Mall. It must have fallen off a witch's broom and landed smack dab on the yellow lines that divided the traffic into one lane going that way and the other coming this way.
I always pay attention to the things that I see along this journey which I take pretty often. I saw two dead dogs just this week, one a beautiful looking German Shepard, the other a mangled up mess of blood, guts, and golden fur.
I once wrote an essay about the trip which I named Roadkill Lines the Road to Heaven. The essay was ostensibly about all the dead animals I saw along the road, but was really about a lot of other things including the importance of living life with a sense of purpose. The essay started like this:
"Road 36 that leads east and then north out of Corcoran is dangerous for dogs. I know this because of the two dead canines I've seen lying moldering on the side of the road within a few hundred yards of each other, forgotten pets whose only value now is to remind those who pass by of both the transitory nature of existence and the lethal character of four wheeled vehicles moving at high speeds."
I was in a hurry to get to Visalia today. The book sale was a good one. Just the day before I had purchased Christopher Hitchen's Arguably for a dollar, a book that I had almost bought at a Barnes and Noble for $22.50 just two days before.
Christopher Hitchens is as dead as the cat. He died of cancer and remained a steadfast atheist till his dying breath. He might not be technically as dead as the cat in that his collected writings are in print and should go a long ways in making him somewhat semi-immortal, at least. Whereas, the cat fell off the back of a witch's broom. Who knows what that little fucker was up to?
I've always been saddened by the fact that Hitchens was such a steadfast non-believer. It bothers me a lot because he was such a great debater and argued better than any ten other people I could name, but he
never could argue himself into believing that our lives have divine purpose which I, on the other hand, believe is a starting point.
I find purpose even a dead cat lying in the middle of a cracked and potholed filled country road. I think if you could stop, open your door and close your eyes and listen long enough, the dead cat could tell you a thing or two about the meaning of life.
I know that people will say that this statement is patently untrue, but I believe that God's senses are more refined than our own. He can hear a dead cat singing and the sounds that a Vermeer masterpiece makes. He can see the odor of the dairies between Corcoran and Tulare, and smell the pastel shades of pink and blue in an August sunset when a red sun, as big as a hubcap, sets straight down at the end of Whitley Avenue where it runs into 10th. His senses are one big all-purpose sense.
I had to drown to figure this out. My wife left me in the lurch and had the nerve to die before I fell out of love with her. I went down so deep into my subconscious that I couldn't see the sun dappling on the surface. I bumped into things down there in the darkness too, like the floating bodies of the people who had drowned a lot more thoroughly than I, slime covered rocks, and old pirate chests both empty and full. I cut my hands and feet on the fish picked bones of non-believers.
I was a snorkeler who only wanted to see the day-glo colors of the schools of tropical fish and ended up staying down there for days and nights on end. I eventually returned to the surface but only to the point where the goggles I was wearing were half above the surface and half below, allowing me to look at things below the surface as well as what was floating by and to merge the two perspectives into a hybrid form of reality.
The words I write are waterlogged. This condition helps me to hear the words of dead cats lying in the middle of country roads but makes me somewhat tone deaf and oblivious to the every day things.
Someone told me recently, "I wish I could write like you."
"Be careful what you ask for, " I answered, "It is not as pleasant as you might think." To try to write from the heart nowadays takes a meeting with Jack the Ripper or an Aztec High Priest.
It makes you see things like the mangled corpses of dogs along the roads and know that there is a story in how a dog came to meet its fate that stretches back to the beginning of time, and also a story in what will happen to all molecules and atoms that composed its hair, bones and flesh that will stretch forward till the universe collapses, and the story begins anew.
I don't know why Hitchens did not believe in God. There's a awful lot of shit in this universe, and it had to be created by something. There's just too much to be said about the wonder of a night sky, too much to think about while measuring the universe using terms like infinite or unending, and way too much to explain when talking about the amazing human body where human life is created.
Mankind, in comparison, has barely scratched the surface of things; we have yet to put much of a dent in the surface of things. So, if our greatest geniuses like Beethoven, Picasso, and Shakespeare have made such valiant efforts to return us all to the Garden where perfection rules, yet failed, wouldn't the force behind the creation of all perfection deserve some kind of respect, a tip of the hat maybe?
Today, I heard that dead cat whimpering as I passed it by. It was whispering, "I mean something; I mean something," over and over to the cars as they rushed by.
Yes, even dead cats decaying on country roads have meaning. On the other hand, the blindness and deafness of men is legendary.
Once, when I was still married, my wife and I went out to eat dinner in Glendale. After eating, we strolled down a busy city street and listened to a trio of musicians performing in the street.
We liked them a lot and spent $10 for their CD. After returning home, we used to play the CD a lot because the lyrics were really good and the musicianship was as well. There was one particular song we both liked about a lover's breakup that mentioned how going into the bathroom and seeing a lonely toothbrush sitting on the counter kept reminding a sad young man of what he had lost in the break-up.
Well, one day my wife left me too. Then every time I entered the bathroom, I would see my toothbrush sitting there by its lonesome self reminding me of what I had lost.
So, feeling rather cheeky, I went out and bought another toothbrush.
But in my haste to fix things, I failed to recognize the fact that the newly purchased toothbrush was a male toothbrush. So, instead of reminding me about my loss, the two toothbrushes reminded me daily that you can't go out and purchase happiness, that money cannot heal a broken heart, and that life's most powerful lessons come in small packages.
One day, I tossed away the old toothbrush and started using the new one. Right away I felt better. I looked in the mirror and saw that I was brushing my teeth with a great big smile on my face. My eyes lit up as I shaved and life was suddenly beautiful again.
Then I walked jauntily into my bedroom whistling and noticed the second pillow on my queen bed.
I mumbled the word, "Fuck," to no one in particular as I was realizing that there would be nothing short of blinding myself like Oedipus to keep from bumping into the broken pieces of my past, and that life is a lot like that weird friend who tells you jokes no one else thinks are funny.
Today I spoke at Cooper Baker's funeral ceremony. I didn't really want to as I am shy and do not like speaking in public, but I felt compelled to do so. I hardly never speak without preparation, and I was not prepared at all.
I mentioned how I wrote Cooper a condolence card after I found out his wife died. I didn't send it, and one day he came over, and I gave it to him, and he opened it, and it said "F*** You, Cooper!" He laughed like I knew he would, and answered me back, ""F*** you, Dougie."
I've since explained how that phrase, or something similar, was how we greeted each other for most of the years we knew each other and didn't really mean nothing bad, in fact, as we got older, that simple, profane greeting was the simple way we told each other, "I remember."
I've been thinking a lot about things and now I realize that there was lot more to it than just that. I didn't send that card for the same reason that I don't like to talk to the grieving family at funerals, I don't know what to say and know there ain't really nothing to say. I don't want to say that thing's are going to be okay; that it just takes some getting used to it because they ain't and it don't. The death of a loved one hurts you till the day you die.
I've messed around with words, both written and spoken, pretty much my whole life, and as I have become more and more aware of my own mortality and the fact that I'm in the twilight part of my existence, I have become somewhat obsessed with writing things down so that I might leave something behind that acknowledges the fact that I was once alive at this particular time and place on a planet zooming through the fucking universe like a Clayton Kershaw fastball, and that I once mattered somewhat and saw things good and bad, and knew people good and bad, laughed and cried, and fell over and got back up.
I have come to know the weight of words by the way they taste in my mouth and can detect bad usage by the way a single letter sticks on my tongue when I am trying to make things smooth.
Words at funerals lodge in my throat though and are hard for me to say because they don't do the things I want them do. I explained this to Cooper that day he visited, and he said he agreed. He told me that he had quickly gotten real tired of people telling him how sorry they were for the loss of his beloved wife. He was grieving and the words piled up and just kept reenforcing the grief.
He meant no disrespect by saying this, he was tired, and he recognized that the people who spoke them loved him and were just searching for ways to tell him how much pain that they were feeling. It's just that words at funerals are, well, words at funerals. We so much want them to say a lot more than they do.
Before I went to that podium today, I was trying to think of line from a John Prine song I always loved that lamented the fact that, "a person can't tell his best friend he loves him, till time has stopped breathing." That line has always stuck with me because of how it fit how things were back on the south side of town when I was learning how to be.
On the Southside growing up, everything had a bit of grit in it. The air we breathed had grit, there was grit in the food, there was grit in the advice our parents gave us, and grit in pretty much everything we did and especially in the everyday language that we used. It didn't come from our own upbringing but mainly from that of our parent's raising.
But if you glue some of that grit on a thick sheet of paper you can strip a heavily painted board down to it's bare self, its real self. Sure, we embellished shit a lot when we talked, but we didn't really lie to each other. I've always felt that I could trust the people I grew up with more than most people that I knew.
Looking back though, I wish sometimes that we could have told each other how we felt without the expletives, the sarcasm, and the code words, without having to show that we were the sons of men, and that sons of men don't use sissy words like love when they talk to their friends.
The closest that Coop and I ever got to that was on that day, one of the last days that we saw each other. He got half way out the door and leaned back in and said, "Take care of yourself, Dougie."
I looked at him and smiled, "You too, Coop."
If ever I had a chance to see Zombies mating, it would probably look a lot like the young people I saw dancing in a bar a while back in LA. There was no real passion in their eyes, no heat radiating from their loins, or even fire in their bellies. They all appeared to be fronting, their faces as immobile as Kabuki dancers wearing painted masks.
The bar, loud enough to attract God's attention, was crammed full of attractive young urbanites, handsome young men pretending to be both knowledgable and relevant, and young women beautiful yet doubtful enough about their own self-worth to don revealing and often nonexistent clothing and shake their asses at a meat market while trying to be as appealing as a fifty dollar steak.
One young lady wore a dress so short it revealed her panties as she stood at the bar. In so doing, she looked like one of those heavily spiced cuts of meat getting desperate because of the impending expiration date. I felt bad for her. She wasn't that unattractive but the deep shadows behind her eyes revealed self doubt even as she jumped up and down with her hand raised high.
The place, regarded as one of the hip, happening places for young professionals and college students to hang, reminded me of a freezer during the siege of Stalingrad when starving people actually shopped for human flesh.
On the surface, the place was jumping and the people appeared to be enjoying themselves. But to a jaded soul like myself, there are questions raised every time that excessive alcohol consumption is mixed into a recipe of self doubt, no doubt, anxiety and the need to let loose.
To those eyes, it was more like a morgue where rock and hip hop was played loudly in case the cadavers in training still had enough energy and will to toss down a couple of martinis and mimic dancing like Uma Thurman and John Travota in Pulp Fiction.
I know I'm being unnecessarily harsh in my appraisal of the place. I was more than twenty years older than the second oldest person in the room, who I happened to be drinking with that night. And I know that these words can and will be construed as grapes so sour they smell like vinegar gone bad, and there's probably a great deal truth to that, after all I was in the bar too.
I also understand that I would most likely be singing a much different tune while checking out the cuts of meat myself if I was a lot younger, better looking, hipper and if I still possessed the same biological urges as say I possessed thirty-five, forty years ago.
I'll cut the people slack because we all look at life with our own eyes and see things and respond to what we see differently, but the situation that brought us together, called into placed by our collective, often untethered, yearnings deserves no such respect. There is always right way and a wrong way of doing things. And just because there is other smiling people in the room, don't make it right. Heaven help all of us who travel in the shadows.
From the moment I entered the dark hallway that led into the bar, I knew it would be a test of sorts, mythological in nature, a Jules Verne story of subterranean journey back into world I had left long, long ago.
The people I passed stared openly at me, their eyes silently mumbled, "What the fuck is this old geezer trying to prove?" Except it wasn't a question, it was all that silent, and it was punctuated with an exclamation mark.
The eyes of the older guys on the far edges of thirty, still trying to pass themselves off as being young, said angrier things, fearful I was blowing their cover as they hovered like predatory birds trying to pick off a straggler or two, and hoping that it happened before it got too late and they would have to settle for the desperate girl with the spice covered underwear and her partner.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I am not going to explain how we ended up there because it is a long story. It was a fun trip, but once inside the bar, I felt a bit like Scrooge being led around my Ghost of Christmas Past, forced to look at suppressed memories, and getting my nose rubbed in dog shit, all to learn a lesson about life.
I was feeling very self-conscious and didn't much want to be in this bar, yet there I was, Looking like a somewhat younger version of Methuselah and feeling kind of like a ghost. I decided to drink my beer, try not to be too conspicuous, and take down mental notes from the experience like an anthropologist studying the natives. So, I did what I often do in such situations, wrapped myself in a bubble and retreated into my head.
I have been obsessing a lot lately about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I have become convinced that it explains the basic idea of life of earth. Most people don't notice the similarity of the story to the Second Law of Thermodynamics where order erodes and chaos descends after the primary source of the energy maintaining the structure expires. Another source of outside energy must be found to maintain order and promote growth.
I believe that this is the esoteric meaning of Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden. The Prodigal going forth and then returning is that other source of energy that enables creation to keep on creating and which allows the material world to keep growing and expanding.
Way I figure, all us sinners have been sent forth into scabrous, weary yet constantly renewing world to gather up the sensory information of the endless permutations of life and store them into our memory banks, and that God feeds upon the novelty of it all. We are, in short, harvesting the brain food of the universe.
The brother who stayed in the parable behind keeps sending God the same boring ass pictures of his family dressed in hideous Christmas sweaters with the same unchanging greeting, "We love you. God!" signed FRED, EUNICE, and THE KIDS! Sometimes, I think that he'd rather get a picture of me sleeping on a barroom floor in Pixley using a carefully wrapped Christmas present as a pillow. Maybe, its the friction generated from trying to figuring out the audacity that provides the heat that keeps it all on track.
I was content to drink my beer and wait for my companions, and I was trying to think about the lesson that I was supposed to be learning when I glanced up at the TV on the wall and saw an ad for the new show Prodigal Son on the bottom of the screen. It was a message from the Universe, telling me that I needed to take careful notes because there was something real and universal happening, and I was appointed as official historian responsible for documenting it all.
I got out my mental pencil and sharpened it and wet the point on my tongue (not exactly sure why, must have got it from a movie), and then opened my notebook, flipped a few pages over, found a empty page, and told the universe, " All right, let it rip." This is all happening inside my head so one else can see it; it's hard enough to stay focused long enough to do it, but it's even harder when the celebrity news show on the screen is talking about a Heather Locklear nipple slip. Granted she is probably in her late fifties by now, which in TV years puts her up there with Aunt Bea and the Golden Girls, but still, it's Heather Locklear.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I was about three, four beers into my note-taking when an older man with a young woman in tow came in and joined another group by the table where we were standing. The young lady had to be a model; she was gorgeous, as fair as a Medieval princess and wasted like a crack whore. The man, on the other hand, was bald, bespectacled, and looked a lot like the dude in Despicable Me.
They danced right in front of us. I could see their shadows grinding behind them on the red wall mimicking their every move. At one point, he pinned her up against the wall, and they started grinding for all the honest world to see. I dropped my mental pencil and notepad and stood there with mouth agape wondering if I should be asking them for a comment or two to include in my report.
The TV screen above their head was on the TMZ Show with Harvey Levin, who I personally consider to be the spawn of Satan. I mentally juggled the timeframe for the release of Rosemary's Baby to see if that connection might lead anywhere, but it didn't.
When the show cut to commercial, the music stopped, and the low rent Nosferatu let the girl off of the wall, took her by her left hand, and slowly walked away down the long hallway and out of the back of the building. I knew without following that Marty Feldman, or at least his stunt double, was out there behind the wheel of a ghostly looking 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.
I rummaged around in my pocket for a sharpened stake, didn't find one and just shrugged my shoulders and let it go. It was just me against the zombies, and I didn't much like my chances with those odds. "He that fights and runs away lives to fight another day," and that shit.
I've watched enough episodes of The Walking Dead, to know that there's a day coming when I won't be able to run anymore, and that I need to get my ass over to Home Depot to buy myself some lathes and a sharp axe.
I keep putting it off thinking somehow that Jesus is going to come back someday and handle all the people who do nothing but eat, waste their life, and defecate. We think that they are all out living dirty on the street but they'll be plenty of bon-bon eaters bursting into flames up in Beverly Hills too.
I knew that there was something that I was supposed to do, something I was supposed to say, or something I was supposed to learn. Hell, there were was enough damn symbolism and allegories in that room to have kept Sigmund Freud busy for years, but damned if I could make hide nor hair out of any of it.
Way I figure, I was told to take notes and submit a report, so that's exactly what I did. Interpreting shit like this was way above my pay grade. Besides, I was thinking at the time that it wouldn't hurt God to write a little more like Lucy Maude Montgomery and little less like Stephen King from time to time.
Wouldn't you think?
People say What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. I'm not so sure I fucking believe it, people like to brag about their shenanigans far too much for it to be true. I'm pretty sure the saying is just a clever piece of advertising designed more to promote reckless behavior like spending money that you don't have, than to push the idea of sharing secrets with close friends.
Now if I said, What happened at the Brodie Pits, stayed at the Brodie Pits, it would be a bit more sincere, but not because those of us who partied there in the 70s and 80s were more prone to secrecy than Vegas goers, but more because we seem to be dropping like flies.
There's only a few of us left and in a decade or two all the stories and memories of those wild times will pass noiselessly into the darkness of the past. Someone will plant an orchard there, or even worse build a housing development complete with stop signs, trash pick-up, and cookie cutter tan stucco houses. Kids will ride their bikes down paved streets where the stragglers used to kneel in the dirt and vomit or stand straddled legged to empty their kidneys after drinking a gallon or two of cold beer.
The Pits, or more correctly the Brodie Pits, were the Vegas of Corcoran kids not quite old or affluent enough to avail themselves of the real pleasures of Sin City. It was, as the name suggests, also a place to spin brodies, or make tight circles with cars where the driver has turned the steering wheel sharply to one side while pushing the throttle to the floor and pulling the parking brake so that the car's ass end spun around and around. I would certainly hazard to guess that during the time period in question that more brodies were probably spun out at the Pits than anywhere else in the free world.
I remember a time when I arrived late one evening and discovered a friend of mine named Tommy had tied his steering wheel down and fixed the gas pedal so that his car kept driving in a great big loop while he and another friend sat on the hood, smoked weed, and discussed the workings of the universe.
I have often written about how the modern world was created on the day that Galileo was humiliated by the Pope for arguing that the earth circled the sun and the sun circled some distant star. The Pope, on the other hand, wanted it known that Universe surrounded the earth and the earth stood smack dab at its dead center because he felt that it elevated the importance of man. Remember, in his way of thinking, man was made in God's own image
We could have settled the argument for them without all the unnecessary bullshit it caused because us Corcoran kids were born with a great deal of humility and knew that people's expectation for us weren't all that great to begin with, so we didn't have to believe that we were at the center of shit.
Nobody who partied with us then would have much liked the idea of a God who thought his shit didn't stink, and we still don't. If God created us in his own image, he's had some serious shortcomings of his own to deal with, but, unlike our lab coated counterparts, we try not to point them out so as not to embarrass him. We had God's back.
We understood that spinning around things is just what we earthlings do, and it didn't matter a whole damn mouse fart where the axis of the circle was; it's the ass end of things going around it that makes life tolerable.
When I saw Tommy and his friend smoking a joint and chatting on the hood while making that big loop, I didn't need to be in the middle of that circle to enjoy the spectacle. I was fine with watching it from the side.
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The main feature of The Pits was, in fact, a big f**king pit, a hole in the ground that wasn't much wider than two, three car lengths at the most, although memory has made it wider and deeper. There was always a fire burning down in that hole and cars parked all around it. We sat on our tailgates or on the rear of the car and drank, shot the shit, screamed at the moon and the stars for a while, smoked a joint or two, and then drank some more.
Sometimes, feeling a little more amorous, we would park a little farther away from the fire, and whisper the lines of a Shakespeare Sonnet or two into the ears of some young filly who didn't know the difference between Shakespeare and a grocery list. The words didn't seem to matter all that much. Ain't like we were writing a book or nuthin.
I know it doesn't sound like much when you describe it this way, but, as they always say, the sum is a whole lot more than its parts. It was always more about a time in our life than what we actually did. It was probably the one time in our life when we knew that life was just a moment and knew instinctively how to act upon that knowledge.
I mean if Corcoran had possessed a world class university, art museum, library, or a smarter than normal preacher or two, things might have been different. But most of us were full aware of the shortcomings of our surroundings, and it seemed to be a place near the end of of the universe where our lunacy would go unnoticed
I remember my parents and a few other people giving me the side-eye and a few mothers warning their sons not to be seen in public with me, but I felt that most of the grown-ups I knew understood that kids standing on the threshold of growing up gotta blow off steam, and were generally willing to chuckle at our antics after we left the room, warn us about running with scissors or waiting an hour after eating to swim, or just cross their fingers and pray that we didn't get killed or permanently damage someone in the process of shedding our heathen skin.
In our view, riding a motorcycle naked down the high school's hallway was pretty near the same as fighting in the Trojan War and deserved the same respect and countless retellings that that deed had inspired. Speeding along the canal bank and crossing that little concrete bridge without sliding off into the canal was also a deed worthy of great respect and wonder.
Subjecting our automobiles, prized above all else, to the rigors of that uneven, broken ground, jagged edges, and the random undulations of terrain was one of the ways that you proved your character.
"I love this car like my own son, yet I will jump that ridge over there so hard and fast that my muffler will drag and shoot off sparks all the way down Whitley Avenue to the parking lot across from the Jolly Cone where I will continue to show my complete and utter disdain for all material things by slamming the driver's side door so hard that the servers across the street will swear they heard a gun shot, or two."
Our nights at the Pits were the stuff of great art. We made the connection between heaven and earth in a most peculiar way. To relieve ourselves, we always stepped out of the circle of light and into the darkness and stood beneath the giant sky like our uncivilized ancestors.
No porcelain bowls, no walls, and no rules. We did it like cowboys on the open range, straddling the ground with our feet wide so that we didn't tumble over in our drunkenness. There was always that first involuntary sigh of relief as our overfull bladders offered up their gratitude, then the unavoidable looking up at the stars in the night sky which would fill us with such wonder and amazement, and in our awe, would invariably cause us to mumble some of the stupidest shit that has ever been spoken upon this planet.
"Look at those f**kin stars, Man. They jus like little lectric butterflies smilin down on us all. . . . . . .. . . .Muthaf***n stars. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .F**kin Electricity!" Then as we wobbled and buttoned up our pants back up, "F**kin butterflies!"
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The Pits were a place where both alcohol and primal juices were spilled, where food and ideas were gnawed to the bone and later vomited onto the ground, where gossip was both created and spread, where tender hearts were filled with drunken joy only to be broken moments later and then put back together with a special glue made out of spilt beer, unsolicited advice, and wet sand, and where way too many I don't a give a flying f**ks were just pulled out of thin air.
Back then, our hearts burned way hotter than our heads, and the guttural sounds that bubbled up out of our chests usually emerged in roars of rage, self-doubt, and laughter caused by the joy of shedding the heavy chains of our Baptist/Pentecostal/Catholic upbringings.
The only time I remember the law came out to see what was going on, we were sitting there commiserating our lack of beer and weed. They looked under some bushes, opened our trunks, flash-lighted the back seat area of our cars and in the end just looked pretty silly as they walked back to their flashing red lights mumbling over their shoulders something about putting the fire out. We waited a while after they left then went and got some beer.
I knew things were coming to an end when I arrived one night and saw a car sitting half in and half out of the canal just past the little concrete bridge. We had always been protected before by the magic of youth and our mother's prayers and that kept us from dying or being injured by our follies and excesses. Our innocence and our vulnerabilities caused God to wink at our stupidity.
But there always comes a time in life, when innocence is finally lost, stupidity can no longer be ignored, and that the ugly face of consequences peers out of a closet door that we accidentally left open.
One of my last nights out at the Pits, a group of people, strangers mostly, were burning the back seat of car that someone had parked there. One of them was standing in the shadows brandishing a gun and threatening the moon with certain death. He stole a box of eight track tapes out of my car while another one kept me busy talking about a bunch of mean spirited bullshit. His silver front tooth gleamed when he flashed his evil smile.
The person who had parked the car there to begin with returned to discover the back seat being burned, and he lost it. Turns out, it wasn't his car, he had borrowed it from another guy, one much crazier and prone to violence than he was.
He kept shouting about what he was going to do to the people who had done that to the carseat not knowing that he was sharing a joint and drinking with them. The crazy dude with the gun just smiled hideously.
My friend and I told him another guy had burned the seat trying to keep him and us from getting shot. It worked after a while, and he finally calmed down. We gave him a ride back to town. The first person we see as we pull up to a convenience store to get more beer, was the guy we told him who had burned the seat. He was out of the car in a blur and choking on the guy before I could even put the car into park.
We tried to explain the scenario to him later as we took him home, but he was way too worked up to listen. He died not many years after that night, and I always felt that he never completely understood what had really happened that night.
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I never knew the last time I left Brodie Pits that I wouldn't be coming back. I did the same thing with the Candy Store too, the party house on Van Dorsten, my marriage, and the Freewill Baptist Church. I never knew the last time when my ex-wife kissed me on the lips.
I don't think it would have changed a f**king thing. But it would have been nice, I think, to have lingered just a bit and took things in before the fire finally burnt out.
People say that order always descends into chaos once the primary energy source has been exhausted. I think it works the other way too. Once there was a time and place when I was young where I could let go and live without restraint for few hours at a time, howling at the moon if I so wanted or even pissing on a flat rock while howling at the moon. It was wild and chaotic; it was liberating, it was unscripted and totally ignorant, and it was a lot more fun than anything I've ever done since.
Then the fire ran out of wood, cardboard and car seats, and life quickly descended into order as most life eventually does.
When I was kid, I once thought I saw the ghost of my grandma at the foot of my bed. The apparition was so real, and it frightened me so bad, that for the next two years I slept with my fingers in my ears and the blankets pulled over my head.
It was the only way I could fall asleep. It was a ritual I performed every night along with the prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep..." I saw it as a way to protect myself from the dangers of the unknown things that came out of the darkness at night.
I have been reading Martin Amis's collection of essays The Rub of Time and was especially taken by his essay on his good friend Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, a writer and critic, has been called a great many things including professional crank and contrarian.
The truth is that he was a very remarkable man and equally astute social critic who could argue a point like nobody's business. He is the person who I most liked listening to when it came to debate. He was very learned, witty as hell, and, while using impeccable manners, would completely eviscerate the person carrying the water for the opposite point of view.
The problem I've always had with Hitchens was his unapologetic atheism. He died of cancer at age sixty-two in 2011 and to the bitter end denied man's need for religion.
Amis, who is an agnostic, wrote about his efforts to move his friend over to his line of thinking quoting Vladimir Nabokov, "What divides you and me is a rut that any frog could straddle," and explaining that agnosticism is really just an acceptance of man's ignorance of the vast unknowable features of all creation, state of ignorance that should prevent a man from holding to the definite belief that there is no God.
I find it interesting that most avowed atheists attack the idea that mankind created God out of fear of death and the unknown. I find no shame in that position. Instead, it speaks powerfully about mankind's needs. I have no problem with the idea that God came out of the void in response to our desire to believe that life has a greater purpose than becoming a transcendent form of high end fertilizer.
If I needed a toothpick and whittled down a twig to use, no one would have a problem with it. Yet creating a means to deal with existential fear and anxiety by whittling down a bit on the immensity of creation to create something to clutch on in a hour of despair hardly seems that crazy to me.
Atheists would then declaim that God causes men to kill other men in his name. When has man ever needed God's permission to kill? Mankind might use this idea to justify its actions in a court of law, or in the halls of power to justify murder for power, money, land, and just plain blood lust. But the same people who deny God's existence wouldn't accept the defense that it was okay to kill in the name of General Electric or Walmart, so why do they flip-flop when God's name is brought up?
Also atheists seem to have trouble with the idea that God has never knocked on their door and personally introduced himself to them, the spouse and the family. Yet, if you have convinced yourself that you have no great need for comfort and belief and have never allowed yourself to turn to the immensity of creation seeking comfort, why would you ever expect it to appear?
I don't know why Hitchens was so adamant about his denial of God. I think it might have something to do with some deep, unanswered need, an answer that he couldn't pull out of that immense noggin. I don't think God would hold it against him. Hitchens wasn't always right about things. He was the great individualist who loved taking on prevailing opinion, but considered himself a democratic socialist.
I quit plugging my ears and pulling the blanket over my head when it dawned on me that my Grandma's ghost probably never meant me any harm.
I was eating at a Popeye's Louisiana Chicken establishment when I determined that a plastic spork is about the most worthless thing that has ever been created by mankind, unless you are eating mashed potatoes, in which case, they work just fine.
I came to this conclusion while trying to use a spork to peel off a piece of breast meat. The damn thing broke. I was better off using the broken stem than the product as originally designed. The thing that pushed me to the tipping point was that I suddenly took notice of how many times I said "God damned, piece of shit, motherfucker!" in a sixty second span. It was like a record or something, and all in response to the failure of a cheaply made, relatively innocuous piece of plastic.
I stopped cussing for a while to ponder, and I started thinking about who came up with the idea for the spork. I determined that it could not have been one of the great Eureka moments of history. I would be willing to bet it was more like a couple of backwoods dudes sitting around talking and one of them had a plastic spoon and a pair of wire cutters.
"Lookie here, Jed. Look what I done did."
"Bet you can't do it again."
"Sure as shit can. Throw me that there spoon."
"I ain't done with my gravy yet."
And I would also be more than willing to bet that the first hundred or so sporks ever produced involved an investment in another pair of wire cutters and plastic bag containing a hundred plastic spoons.
But what was really bothering me was that I was trying not get grease on the book that I was reading. People who know me, understand that I can't sit still and eat. My mind is usually more voracious than my belly, and I can put some grub away. When I was a kid, I didn't just read the back of the cereal box at breakfast. I'd read the milk carton, the funnies, the butter wrapper, and my mom's apron.
I was already having serious second thoughts though about the wisdom of bringing the book I was reading into a fried chicken place. It was Martin Amis's collection of essays entitled The Rub of Time. Amis is a well known English author, the son of Kingsley Amis another well known English author. It wouldn't reflect well on me to cover his book in chicken grease.
I have developed a love of studying the style of great essayists like Joan Didion, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. Martin Amis is a great essayist, one smooth writing, incisive, funny sumofmabitch. I don't agree with a lot of what he writes, but it's not because he doesn't present it well.
He included three essays about the Republican Party of 2011, 2012, and 2016 in this collection. After over a decade of defending conservative values, my guard was ready up to detect the typical liberal assumptions when it comes to writing about conservatives, like pretending that the subject's entire life can be summarized by a single belief, usually one that goes against the author's belief, or acting like an incident that happened over twenty-five years ago cannot be forgiven or forgotten and will forever define a man. It's a good thing that God forgives sin because liberals never do, that is, unless you are another liberal.
Amis has a bad habit of describing human beings as caricatures, making them look one dimensional, but he does a really remarkable job of capturing their worse personal traits while turning them into cartoon images. His writing is tight, witty, acerbic, somewhat elegant and superbly stylistic and even when he is eviscerating someone you somewhat admire, he cuts sharply with a surgeon's precision and causes you to wince.
I felt bad because I loved his style but didn't care much for his politics. Something felt off, I thought that surely a man who writes this well, can not be ignorant of the sins of the current, ill-liberal, liberalism.
I Googled him first thing this morning, and was surprised to find that after a brief period of living in Uruguay, Amis returned to Britain and wrote, "I didn't feel like I was getting more rightwing when I was in Uruguay, but when I got back I felt that I had moved quite a distance to the right while staying in the same place." Which, in my opinion, is the correct way to describe the current state of modern politics.
Amis was also good friends with the noted atheist Christopher Hitchens. So, I felt even better when he described his own agnosticism by saying that the Universe is so large, complex and unknown that there is no way it can be completely understood and that that lack of understanding is far too immense and formidable for it to be definitively argued as not having an intelligent origin. I don't especially like atheists. I know that the universe can seem remarkably cold and heartless, but life gives it meaning not the other way around.
So, I am sitting there in Popeye's Louisiana Chicken, trying my damned well best not to get this book greasy, cursing my decision to eat chicken while I'm reading it, and the damn spork breaks in the middle of the chicken breast, so I start cussing a blue streak.
And it dawns on me that sporks are a lot like atheistic thinking and the lunatic politics of the extreme left. They handle mashed potatoes pretty well, but suck when you really need them.