While Destry Lewis was sitting in the administrative office hallway of Robert Bellarmine High School, he stumbled upon his reflection in the door window of the counselor's office at the end of the hall. He looked small and lonely, even a bit broken which for him was highly unusual. Normally, he was generally known for his confident manner and defiant attitude. Most of the kids who knew him would probably say that he was overly confident and too defiant. He looked at the reflection and at once knew that it perfectly captured the small, old man who lived inside his head, the one he was always at pain to hide from everybody else.
He was also thinking about the imminent discussion with this father that would most likely occur about five minutes after his expulsion from the school, his third in two years.
He didn't have long to contemplate on the subtleties of the reflection as he heard the sound of footsteps approaching and turned to see their source. As he feared, it was Vice Principal Lorinda Stephens, a large formidable looking African-American lady who possessed all the stature and the gravitas of one of those old large majestic ocean-liners of the past. For a second, Destry looked beaten. Ms. Stephens rarely smiled in public, and it was perfectly plain that this was not going to be on the rare moments when she did. He looked back down the hall and saw his defeated reflection and quickly straightened his back and arched his shoulders, and when he did, some of the fiery personality that he was known for returned.
She didn't say anything as she walked past him, just extracted her keys from her coat pocket, unlocked her door, opened it, and gestured for him to enter. He didn't exactly sneer as he walked past her, but it was close enough. She beckoned him to take the seat in from the large dark oak desk sitting in the rear of the office.
He walked slowly toward the chair, back and shoulders straight, and sat down and crossed his legs. He admitted to himself watching her walk to the throne-like chair behind the desk that the lady radiated sobriety and rectitude. It was a rare thing for him to acknowledge, as, in all his other experiences with administrators, he was much more accustomed to sensing the unctuous quality of people only pretending to actually possess any real solemnity of manner. He dialed his defiance back a notch accordingly. It was the very first time.
He watched apprehensively as she picked up his file, placed her glasses on the end of her nose, and looked over its contents.
"Mr. Lewis, it says here that you stood up in class and loudly announced your desire to "shag a movie star"? Is that the case?
"To be honest, Ms. Stephens, I didn't use the word 'shag'. Mr. Peoples probably put that it that way in the interest of being slightly more decorous than I was. But, yeah, basically it was what I said."
She sat back into the chair, "So, you admit to the intent?" He nodded, and she continued, "Why on earth would you do something like that?"
Destry took a deep breath and fought off the the involuntary inclination of shrugging before speaking, "Well, it was part of the assignment."
"Mr. Lewis, I'm fairly certain that Mr. Peoples, who I have known for over fifteen years, did not have an assignment which instructed his students to openly share their hidden sexual desires."
"I didn't say he intentionally intended it be so, but he did ask us to relate, to stand up and relate that is, something that we really wanted to do but that most people didn't know about."
"And you thought it was appropriate to say what you said?"
"Like I said, maybe by his standards it wasn't appropriate, but then he shouldn't have ask such an open question. If he didn't want complete honesty on my part, he should have said so at the start."
"So, you were just being honest?"
"Absolutely. You see we are studying Cyrano de Bergerac in class. And I like that dude a lot, Cyrano, not Mr. Peoples, he sucks as teacher. Cyrano, on the other hand, values personal honesty and courage more than anything else."
"Yet, he lies to Roxanne."
"Yeah, but that's what the play is about; that's where the dramatic tension comes from. Here he is the bravest of the brave, yet he can't master the self doubt he has because of his appearance and because of love."
"And Mr. Peoples was what, asking the class about hidden desires?"
"In a very clumsy, offhanded way he was trying to get us to think about how our inner self is different from the image we present to the public."
"What compelled you to say what you said?"
"I think he signaled me out because of this reputation I have of being brash and self-confident. He was trying to say I was a phony. So, I decided to answer him honestly using the first thing I popped into my head."
"Do you honestly mean to tell me that you think that your answer was appropriate for a high school literature class?"
"That's a different question. I answered the question he asked me, and I answered it honestly. It's not my fault that Mr. People's is a hypocrite."
"So, your deepest desire is to sleep with a Hollywood movie star?"
"There you go to changing the question again. I didn't say it was my deepest desire. My deepest desire would be to be able to function in a society where I didn't have to lie or modify my truth in order deal with the inability of others to accept it as such. In response to your question, I would just say, how could it be otherwise? That's why those stars exist, to create desires where none existed before. They use our desires against us, to sell us stuff, including false realities and untruth."
Ms. Stephens started coughing at that point, and Destry got up and darted to the water dispenser and brought her back a paper cup of water. She drank and nodded her head in thanks. When she recovered from the coughing spell she asked one final question, "I'm going to give you one last chance to convince me not to expel you. I'm looking at your record here, and I have to say, it is troubling. Why should I trust you to not be continually causing these kinds of disruptions in the future?"
"I've been expelled from two other schools. But no one has ever taken the time to really examine my so-called crimes. In one school, my history teacher asked my opinion about the Cold War, and I gave it to him, but it wasn't the 'my opinion' he wanted, so he picked a fight with me. I don't back down in such situations. It would probably save me a ton of grief if I did, but I can't. There is this father issue I have. You'll meet my father, and you'll see what I'm talking about. He's a politician in every sense of the word. I don't think he's never said a honest word in his entire life. If he told me the sky was blue, I'd have reason to doubt it. At the last school, I was reprimanded several times for giving honest answers to dishonest questions. Let me ask you, what would you do if someone asked a question and you knew that they wanted the answer that they always get and not the answer that you want to give? It happens everyday in my world. We sit there like prisoners all day and listen to them blather. Then they ask us questions that have no meaning and expect us to spit out only the words they want to hear, but not the words we want to say. Then they get mad. Frankly, I'm sick of all the lies and pretense. I couldn't care less if I'm expelled. At least, I won't have to listen to Peoples butcher Cyrano."
She leaned forward and started to answer but stopped and sat back in her chair. She thought about what he had said for a long while. She then thought about all of the polite answers she had given in order to get where she was, and she also thought of all the people with the big fake smiles who had asked them. Destry stared at his hands while he waited. After a long while, she picked up a pen from its stand and wrote him a pass back to class.
"Here, take this pass and get back to class. Tell Mr. Peoples I'll talk to him later."
He stood up and took the pass from her hand, "He's going to have a sh.., I mean, he's going to be very angry, Ms. Stephens."
"You let me worry about him. You need to worry about how you are going to start answering people honestly without making them angry. It's a little thing called tact. I suggest you learn how to use it. Now, you can get out of my office, Mr. Lewis."
He started to leave, but turned back at the door, "Thank you, Ms. Stephens. That the first time I ever had the chance said those words to anyone in a school setting. Usually, it's just 'So long'."
When the door closed behind him, she allowed herself a small smile and wondered what it would've been like to tell one of her teachers what she really desired. She reflected on what it meant that none of them had ever asked. Then she wondered what it would have been like to have told her father the same.
"You know what, Dad? I don't want to talk about that shit. So, either you don't talk about it, or I'm leaving!"
The people all around us in the Mexican restaurant where we were dining turned to see what the fuss was all about. I stared back angrily at each intruding pair of eyes until they turned back and pretended to fiddle with the rice and beans on their plates. They were still listening though, their ears on the side of their head that faced us were clearly sending out little radar signals as their spouses nudged at their feet beneath the tables.
We had been having good time reminiscing about things. Then Deja told me about a conversation that her sister Casey had had with their mother before her mother passed away. Deja told me that as her mother lay dying she had made Casey a promise to contact her somewhere from the great beyond. Casey had her doubts of course and expressed them to her mother. Jennie was very close to the end, but had managed to squeeze her hand and hoarsely whisper, "I love you and your sister so much, I know that I can do it."
Casey was weeping when she told Deja about the incident, "I asked her, 'How, Mom? How you gonna do it? What if you can't write or phone me; what if they don't have phones there, or paper?"
She then said that Jenny had thought about it a while before she answered in another hoarse whisper, "The lights, honey, I'll do something with the lights."
I was thinking about the possibility of communicating across the great divide when a well-known political figure appeared on the television on the wall behind Deja's head. I absentmindedly said something derogatory about the politician. I had forgotten the one rule we had about conversing which was never talk about politics. We were both tired after coming from the hospital and visiting my mom who had fallen and broken her hip. In a matter of seconds, we went from talking and laughing amicably into a full scale political argument.
I looked at the fire burning in Deja's eyes and instinctively tried to calm her down. I got six words in, really just two, 'calm down' repeated three times, before my own fire roared to life. I stood up, pulled a hundred dollar bill out of my wallet, and slammed it down on the table.
"I'm your father. I brought your ass into this world, and it wasn't so that you can tell me in a crowded restaurant at the top of your damn voice, what I can and I cannot say. . . . Be safe going home." And just like that I was out of there but not before unleashing my ire on the fat, bald headed man staring through the colorful flowers and the green ferns that sat upon the divider wall, "Eat your Goddamn beans, asshole."
I slowed down while walking toward my car on the other side the dark parking lot hoping that she would hurry out and stop me. She didn't, so I unlocked the door and threw myself into the driver's seat. I sat there in stunned silence for a second, leaned backwards into the seat, relaxed my shoulders, and took two long centering breaths, exhaling each slowly. I started the car and looked into the mirror, still hoping to catch the image of her running toward me, or at least coming around the corner looking somewhat sad and remorseful.
I heard the tires crunching on the pebbles mixed with dirt when I put the car into drive and pulled out onto the road heading for home, a house once so full of life, but now that Jennie had left and the kids moved off often seemed as dark and forbidding as a dimly lit parking garage. I turned the stereo on; I had been listening to Boz Scaggs Loan Me Dime when I had parked a little over an hour ago; I turned the volume up to fifty and drove away, staring at the white lines in the road and at the inroads that my headlights made into the darkness while trying hard not to think about anything.
There was the part of the long guitar solo in the song where Duane Allman pleads with the all-mighty Deity to take notice of his plight down here on earth. Every time I hear that guitar plead it causes me to shudder. I knew it was coming up soon, and it would be the perfect soundtrack for where my head was at, a muddled state where I was begging for God or anybody else to loan me a fucking dime if the dime was a metaphor for some simple peace of mind. Lord knows I ain't had much of that since Jennie had left. Then one night she up and died on me, and well before I had had time to adjust to living without her. Maybe that dime that Boz Skaggs was crying about represented some kind of personal salvation, and I could use some of that shit too.
The shudder happened while I was passing under the overpass on 10th Street, and emerged on the other side with the contents of single fucking tear collecting in the corner of my right eye. I caught it just in time and pushed it gently back into place just below the rim. I don't know why I always prided myself on such stupid shit, but keeping my facial features free from moisture while the storms raging inside my head were erasing coastlines and threatening all my structures and sanctuaries, is a trait that I've always held as a high, if somewhat meaningless, priority.
Driving, I began to realize that I didn't really know when or where the cultural divide between my daughters and I began. I guessed it was probably when they were born. It seemed to me that each successive generation felt that it was their responsibility to point out the flaws in its predecessor's actions and point of view. I remember several loud arguments at my parent's kitchen table when I believed that I was right about the Vietnam conflict and was equally as certain that my father was wrong. I still don't think that we got it right. we just tired of the argument. I also remember just how wrong I was about a lot of things that I thought were true at the time. I listened to a lot of people who felt no shame about telling me lies rather than to listen to my parent's who I knew, rightly or wrongly, always had my best interests at heart.
I remember read a quote somewhere that basically said that what we lose as we age is not so much our physical strength and dexterity as it is our illusions. I witnessed this as my own parents aged. They took to going to McDonald's everyday where they sat and laughed and conversed with people from every different persuasion, people they never socialized with before. They all had differences too, mainly about religion and politics, but they had also decided to put aside the things that made them different and concentrated on the things that made them similar, and came to value each other's presence more than anything else.
I admit that I worry a lot about my daughters and their generation. On the whole, they seem to be a lot less forgiving than we were. All people are flawed, it is the nature of our being, but we also overcome our flaws as we age. This seems to be the purpose of human life. I know that there are just as many good people in every generation, and that things will most likely all work out in the end. Yet, I also think that are a damn sight more snakes crawling around in the the Garden of this modern age than there were in the days of Adam and Eve and look how that turned out.
Most people like to talk and a great many of them like to lie as much as they talk. There are those who have been tainted by the actions of their fore bearers, and and somehow that stain got written into their code. A lot of us have spent lifetimes working to erase and rewrite the code, but others, could care less, and just go with what had been written. These are also those whose ability to empathize has been broken by the time, setting, relationships, and obstacles which prevent them from achieving the desired wholeness that can only be accessed by gaining true knowledge of the self, people without hope, driven to hurt others by a pain inside that they can never seem to soothe.
I was sitting at the intersection of Arboles and Laguna waiting for the light to change, six blocks from home when I thought that all I really wanted is for everyone I know, to beware of those who will only use their goodness for their own evil ends. The snakes are out in force; they are multitudes, starting from those who thirst for political power down to neighbors or friends who are slightly jealous of the fact that you might have a better lawn than theirs.
I remembered the Sixties when we were always told not to trust anyone over thirty. It was one of the more ignorant commands ever uttered. Yet, the media trumpeted it until it echoed in the furthest corners of the world. Any causal survey of the people and the voices who repeated this phrase ad nauseam should have been more than enough to make us aware of our foolishness, but it didn't. We never even considered then that the people behind the fraud, the ones whispering the phrase into the hungry ears of the impressionable young were probably evil, mad with power and considerably over the age of thirty. I guess in a way it's only Karma that the young don't want to listen to us now. It is also sad because many people my age paid high price to overcome our gullibility, as we learned to place more trust in the words of a scarred and filthy homeless person than a shiny new penny, freshly educated, looking for a place to bellow. The main flaw of life is that it often takes so long to for us to see if new ideas truly function any better then those that came before.
I have this little mantra that I repeat over and over in troubled times. I start with the beginning of the Lord's prayer up till the part where it says that God's will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Then I add my own part where I ask for forgiveness of all the sins clogging up my heart and brain and then ending it with, "Lord, please grant peace, love happiness, and freedom from pain and suffering to all who I have sinned against." It's mandatory that I say it three times perfectly to evoke its power and then as many times as needed until most of the violent winds of the raging storm are spent. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't. This night, I had repeated the mantra some fifty-two times before I got home and walked into my front door.
Walking straight into the kitchen, I fixed myself a Scotch and water, took it into the den, sat down in my leather recliner, kicked off my shoes, and turned on the TV. I didn't want to focus my thoughts on anything particular, and TV is the perfect tool to achieve that state. An old Pentecostal neighbor I had as a kid once told me that TV antennas were the sign of the devil, 'The Devil's Cross' he used to say. I used to laugh at the notion a lot. Nowadays, though, I'm not so sure. In these days of sorrowful thinking and searching for meaning, I sometimes worry that the process of me gaining entrance into Heaven wherever that might be, could involve taking the amount of time I've spent in front of a TV screen watching pure stupidity unfold and dividing it by the times I actually did something good. I was five minutes into watching a repeat of an episode of Two and Half Men when my mind grew hazy and stumbled upon a memory of a dog, the only animal I had ever loved, a poodle my aunt had gave us that she had named Peter after an old flame.
Me and my brothers quickly renamed him Petey; he was a small black, shaggy little thing, but a purebred poodle, a type of dog that was about as out of place in the shabby little neighborhood we lived in on the south side of Concord as I would be standing on the Champ de Elysees picking my nose.
My aunt had to move from one apartment to another where pets were not a part of the plan. When she dropped him off, he looked like a little sissy ass poodle with his sides all perfectly trimmed and little puffs of hair on his hips and shoulders, the top of his head, and even on his tail. My dad, a dust bowl Okie, wasn't much on spending money on what he considered unnecessary things, such as hair styling for pets. My brothers and I eyed the dog anxiously and thought to ourselves, "Damn, Petey, you going to have to get used to another style."
He did though. It was like that damn dog had read himself some Darwin. It was kind of like he knew that if he waltzed around the Southside of Concord like he did at my Aunt's fancy apartment in Bakersfield, he was going to get his ass chewed cleared off and made some required adjustments. Hell, none of them other dogs out there even knew what a poodle was, or anything about hair styling for dogs for that matter. Our previous dog for example, only had one good eye, the other had been damaged in a fight and looked like a big slimy purple marble. Other kids, while walking home from school, would often pull up to our fence and stare at Mikey the Bulldog like he was a circus freak.
Mikey didn't want to do nothing but play catch, and once you threw him that saliva covered, chewed-up, green tennis ball, you were going to have to keep throwing it until you went back in the house. He would go fetch it and drop it at your feet and wait, staring at you with that big ugly eye until you picked it up and threw it again. I used to look out from the picture window when he got back from chasing the long throw I used to buy time to scamper into the house and see him sitting in front of the door with the ball at his feet waiting for me to throw it again.
It was the first lesson that I learned in life about the importance of misplaced trust. Well, maybe not the first. We had a green and yellow parakeet once also given to us by the same aunt who had given us the poodle. We had sure had a lot of fun with that parakeet and thought that he loved being with us enough so that we could trust him to fly about the living room while we cleaned his cage and not fly out the door the first time it was opened. I've often wondered about what happened to the parakeet, but in the back of my mind, I've always realized that a brightly colored parakeet of independent thinking had about as much a chance of finding true happiness on the south side of Concord as a fancy poodle with his hair all did.
It wasn't real long though before Petey the Poodle took over the neighborhood. He was kind of like that dog Tramp in the Disney movie. Or, maybe even more like Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Elvis or somebody in one of those teen movies where they would put the main character in the middle of a place where the all the other boys didn't like him at first and the girls were all curious about where he got his fancy moves and hair done. Then before long all the girls were clamoring for his body and he did something like won a game of chicken or something that wins all the boys over. Before a month was out, Petey came home with some dog buddies and the all of the girl dogs on the block started sashaying by our yard swishing their tails like they were chasing flies.
I'll tell you straight up and up front that Petey the Poodle was the only pet I've ever loved. I know this says a lot about me too. A lot of people go through many dogs in a lifetime. Not me. It was way too much of an emotional investment. It was like the idea of me remarrying. I don't think I could ever love like that again.
Petey wasn't just any dog though; he was my confidant and someone who never criticized me even once, and he was always there when I needed him. All the other people living on the block liked him too. I would come out of the door and look down the block and see him sitting outside with Mrs. Sears as she shelled peas and talked his ear off, or hear old Pancho Rios chasing him off while yelling "Pinche pendejo, Petey!" whenever he caught Petey flirting with his beloved chihuahua Rosie.
At the rear of our house there was a single step leading out of the back door unto a large six by eight foot plain concrete slab. Petey and I used to sit there on Saturday mornings and watch the sun rise over the line of tall ash trees that dominated our neighbor's large lot. The sunrises of my youth were glorious mixtures of pinks, oranges, blues, and yellow that reminded me a lot of the vibrant colors used in cinematography of The Wizard of Oz movie with Judy Garland. We would just sit out there, just the two of us, basking in the warmth of the morning sun as contented as we could be.
On some mornings, we would flip the script and sit in the shade in the front of the house. I would put my shoes on and start to plan my day. Petey's buddies would start coming and try to get him to go do some dog things, but as long as I was there, he was cool and would just nod at them as if to tell them, "I'll catch you later. I'm hanging with Danny right now."
And when I left, he would go about his business and not wait outside like Mikey did when he would sit and wonder who was going to throw his tennis ball. That always impressed me about Peter, I mean the way that he always had his own shit to do and didn't have to depend on anybody else. He would come rolling back home about the same time that I did every evening when I returned from the playing fields of the nearby elementary school. Then we would eat and watch TV. Petey usually sat on the couch next to my mom, and sometimes between her and dad.
My parents were never very demonstrative when it came to showing their affections. At least, that's the way it seemed to me at the time when I started noticing such things. It never occurred to me that there was any history involved in the matter. I never once thought about all the roots of all things, of the painful lessons or the joys, or the wounds and the scars, or the shattered bone or the even the delights of holding someone in the dark and knowing that you were not alone in the world. It seemed to me that life was always being shaped mainly by the exigencies of the here and now and the demands that the future placed upon it. I never did learn how to be demonstrative in love.
My mom ran over Petey one night, killing him instantly while he was sleeping in a rut behind the left rear tire of the family car. My brother Cody and I got the news when we walked in the front door of the house and found my dad sitting on the sofa crying. My dad never cried. I will never hear the phrase, "There was great weeping and a gnashing of teeth," without thinking about that horrible night. Dad buried Petey in the northeast corner of our yard and placed a small concrete slab over his grave to mark the spot. The slab is still there. It has aged badly.
I learned in one swift, violent, stroke, that the things you love the most always pass away. It was such a brutal knowledge to thrust upon the shoulders of a skinny, twelve year old just beginning to come into his own. My life began in earnest that day. All the Saturday sunrise mornings disappeared, or maybe I just simply started to feel had I didn't have any time to waste on such things; I can't remember which. I do know that it's really a pretty fucking sad thing to realize that you haven't silently sat and watched the sun come up since you were twelve years old. It's kind of like not having a memory of playing catch with your dad, or having developed a fear of deep water because your best friend drowned the summer before you crossed town to attend middle school with a bunch of kids you didn't even know at the same time that you were also learning what a jockstrap was and how unruly facial blemishes behaved. Life dropped a whole shitload of stink bombs on me when I was young. Surviving adolescence was a hard and often mythic experience, a hero quest where the hero wore a mask of painted cardboard, wielded an imaginary sword, carried a dented shield made of youthful sarcasm and was driven only by a steadfast determination to get the hell out of that forest before the wolves ate him down to the bone. I had a lot friends who never stumbled out of the forest, eaten by wolves I can only assume.
I have since come to believe that that period of my life explains a lot about all of my relationships afterwards. I always held the people I loved the most at a short distance afraid that life would catch them sleeping in a rut behind the left rear tire. When Deja and her sister Casey were changing from toddlers into awkward young girls, I was inwardly confused and conflicted because even though I knew it was only a natural transition, there were such sweet parts of them being left behind in the process. They were such beautiful babies and are still very much the same beautiful people that they have always been, but life moves on much in the way of how rosebuds turn to bloom. I have to squint my eyes at times and dig down deep into the shadows of the past in order to remember for only the briefest of moments that perfect innocent beauty of the bud before it bloom. I say briefly because it hurts way too much to linger.
Things always get left behind as rivers flow to the sea, and it gets to a point where we fail to even notice what has been jettisoned upon our journey. Then later, we are told by people, the spiritual ones, the ones who act like they are above the fray, and who pretend to know that it's all just an illusion anyway and the only thing that really matters is that final commingling of waters at the end.
Though we have this tendency to forget, there is always the history of the roots, the knowing of the sweetness, and the memories of the suffering where great lessons are once explained, painfully learned, and then locked away into darkened places only to be summoned forth in times of our utmost despair. There are always going to be those litanies of scars and shattered bone, and prayers broken by the distractions of daily living that usually emerge in our garbled grumblings, "Our Father who art in Heaven. . . . Damn it! Use your fucking blinkers, Dumbass. ..... Lord, grant peace, love, happiness, and freedom from pain and suffering to all who I have sinned against...Get the hell out of the way motherfucker; you ain't supposed to be sightseeing on a highway."
The memory of Petey's death strangely made me think of the image of my dad kneeling down and scratching the words, "Petey Our Beloved Puppy," into the wet cement slab he had placed on the dog's grave and then just as quickly, that old memory morphed in the newer memory of my brothers and I standing at the side of my father's grave. I had thought of Petey's funeral on that day too, wondering who had etched the words into my father's headstone. It was a cold, breezy day the middle of an unusually warm Autumn. My brother Cody had selected Elvis's Peace in the Valley as the music marking the end of the ceremony.
My childhood friend Hobo, real name Larry, came up afterwards and hugged me tightly. He whispered, "Did you pick out that damn music?"
"Naw. That was Cody's idea. He loves Elvis, man. He'd sang it hisself if we'd let em."
Hobo pulled back and said earnestly, "Good fucking choice though. I always said that if'n the King can't break you down, you can't be fucking broken down."
I laughed, "Shit, fool. Don't be making me laugh. It's my dad's funeral for Christ's sake." I then thought about it a minute then said, "Hell, the song was a lot better than that damn preacher though."
"Ain't that the damn truth! Where did you guys get that mealy mouth motherfucker, out the Yellow Pages? Sound like he was trying to sell us a car."
I laughed again, "Knock it off, I said. Damn, dude. Jennie said that if we used Old Penrose she wouldn't even come. Glen came up with this dude."
Hobo pulled a package of Marlboros out of his shirt pocket, lit a one, and exhaled slowly, "Well you know what they always say. Same shit, different suit."
Hobo invited me over to his house to burn a doobie. I remembered looking over my shoulder toward where Jennie and kids were talking with her mother and sister and weighing the consequences awhile before answering, "Hell, if a man can't get a bit twisted the day he buries his dad, what the hell he good for?" To this day, I don't know if it was a valid response. And I mean that in terms of the overall moral value of the decision. All I know was that I didn't want to face a whole bunch of sad looking well-wishers telling me the same damned thing over and over.
I remember the day mainly though, not because we buried my dad, but because when I pulled up in front of my mom's house about an hour later, twelve-year-old Deja flew out of the front door followed by a tiny Casey and came running down the sidewalk yelling, "Daddy, come quick! Uncle Cody's out back fighting with the preacher!"
Sitting there watching television, a lot crazy shit ran through my mind, and in a moment of clarity, I came to an understanding that all I really wanted from life was to be living on the same side of the river as all my dearest people before I left this earthly plane and for those I love, who, still fishing in the hurried waters trying to find some deeper meaning in the gifted bread to understand that that little distance I always kept between us was more out of concern for their own safety than my own.
I finally fell asleep after midnight and went somewhere altogether different in my head. It was a strange, colorful, enchanted place full of mystery and weird people. I never knew where I was at any time. It looked a lot like the south side of Concord, but had rows of city trees and skyscrapers and the damned Thames River flowing right through the middle of it all. I remember stopping to get my bearings and to purchase an expresso at a small sidewalk cafe in front of the Eiffel Tower. Robert Mitchum was with me for some reason but not saying a whole bunch of anything when suddenly Pee Wee Herman came up on us and started acting a fool and jabbering at us in French. I was urgently looking around for something and didn't have the faintest clue as to what it might be. Then the phone rang.
"Hi, Dad. It's me Deja. I was worried about you and wanted to check on you to see if you made it home okay."
"I'm fine, Kiddo. How about you?"
"I'm good, Dad. It's funny though, ever since I've been home, my dang ceiling light's been acting up."
Joseph Campbell warned us older humans that, "We have the comparatively complex problem in educating our young in training them not to simply assume uncritically the patterns of the past, but to recognize and cultivate their own creative possibilities, not to remain on some proven level. . . . . .but to represent a movement of the species forward."
I have also read somewhere that we have an obligation of determining the best records of what we've done and the best voices and ideas to pass forward, not only to guarantee that the mistakes of the past are not repeated but also to provide the groundwork where the seeds of the future will be cultivated. There's is absolutely no use in learning from scratch every time, especially when so many of the lessons we have learned have been purchased with a tremendous outlay of blood, bone, loneliness, death and suffering.
John Lewis Gaddis once asked a group of incoming freshmen at Yale what connection that the main characters in War and Peace could possibly have with their very different lives. He was taken by the the answer that some of them shared, "They make us feel less lonely." How truthful is that statement, the knowledge that we are not the first or the last to face the future alone, uninformed, and untested?
Gaddis also noted that Thucydides echoed much the same sentiment when the historian encouraged his readers to, "Seek knowledge of the past as an aid to understanding of the future, which in the course of human beings it must resemble if it does not reflect it." Gaddis then offered up the idea that future would only become a bad case of collective amnesia and of loneliness amplified to an insufferable degree if Thucydides's words were not heeded.
Our current problem is not that our hopeful young reject some of our past, or that they offer up exciting new ways of looking at things which in turn engender new possibilities. Our problem is when some of their leaders, usually the least intelligent among them, become addicted to the murmuring noise of the crowd and try to lead us forward into realms they know nothing about, then have to maintain their position with oppression and force.
They never care to acknowledge that crowds rarely read and usually get their knowledge from those who wish to use them only to maintain some sense of status quo, nor do they understand, that those behind the scenes of their so-called revolution are usually the relatives and offspring of the same people who pulled the strings in the past that they reject.
This is how a Hitler becomes a Hitler, and a Stalin becomes a Stalin, and a Pied Piper becomes a Pied Piper. The universe has a proven record of putting forward the right people at the right time, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr, or a Gandhi. And even at times, when the whole world needs changing, it offers up someone like Jesus, someone who sacrifices greatly to pay the price for our tremendous stupidity.
Left to our own devices though, we will continue to select the truly stupid, the gloriously self serving, or the proven evil in order to maintain conformity.
Henry Miller wrote, "Man's greatest dread is the expansion of consciousness. All of the fearsome, gruesome parts of Mythology stem from this fear. . . . . The law of the universe dictates that peace and harmony can only be won by inner struggle. The little man does not want to pay the price for that kind of peace and harmony. He wants it ready-made, like a suit of manufactured clothes." How much evil has humankind endured from those who try to buy a plastic wrapped, store-bought sense of meaning?
History states that Xerxes the Persian god-king once punished the sea for its failings, and that the Roman Emperor Caligula once waged war with an ocean. Desecrating statues and canceling culture will not bring us down. But the sentiment behind placing sheep into our classrooms in the guise of teachers, of decrying there is no need for history, or even a need to read literature because it's not actual data and can't be used in an algorithm, surely will.
There was a joke I read in Reader's Digest back when I was growing up. It was about Abraham Lincoln and involved a man lecturing his son.
Father: When Abe Lincoln was your age he was working his way
toward becoming a lawyer.
Son: Well, when he was your age, he was President.
I waited years for my father to say something remotely related to Abraham Lincoln so I could tell him the punchline. A few years later he did, and I muffed it by saying, "Yeah, but so what? He walked barefoot in the snow to get to school. Big deal. I walk to school everyday myself. Maybe I don't have a cold biscuit in my pocket, but the lunches there are pretty damn yucky, if you ask me."
It's bothered me for years that the universe conspired to get me the opportunity to look very witty, and instead, I looked both stupid and petty. Looking back on those years I've noticed that around that same time there was a decided shift in how people, no not people in general, in how the fools who were busy brainwashing us at the time, regarded the institution of fatherhood.
Fathers like Ward Cleaver, Jim Anderson, and Andy Griffith who once populated our culture disappeared and were replaced with the likes of Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Hal Wilkerson and Peter Griffith. And it was also noticeable, that the positive image of men in general had suffered with the growing cries of "Death to the Patriarchy!" It's very plain to see now, and actually has been for years, that the people who run this world are trying to pass the blame for every injustice and every wrong turn we've made as a species unto the shoulders of the male members. They strenuously object to painting whole peoples with the same brush, except when it comes to men, then they expose their agenda by putting forth the idea that men like Charles Manson, Hitler, and Harvey Weinstein are representative of our entire sex.
I've written a lot about how me and my buddies hung out at Pop's Candy Store during our formative years. It was where we tested out new ideas and theories and came to a lot of our conclusions about what life really means. There were no pictures of our fathers hanging on the bare unpainted walls, but if you knew where and how to look, you could see the always present ghostly images of our dad's hovering in thought bubbles above our heads. Our fathers were our first take on how the Old Testament Jehovah played out on a material level, men who told us which wires not to touch, which lies to never utter, and which things to never do. Hardened men of experience who defined the parameters of our existence.
And far be it from me to say that they were perfect people. They never were. They had their flaws, sometimes a whole shitload of them. But it was always more than a little instructive to see how they took on the traumas of their past and juggled them with the obstructions of the present and tried to guide both forces into a better future for their families.
Sometimes they were absent too, and we were supposed to learn lessons about how to function on our own while making crossroad decisions using only the lessons they taught us and the often monosyllabic instructions they left behind.
My friends and I have our own flaws too, some of them caused, no doubt, by our unwillingness to ask our fathers the questions we really needed answers for. But all of our efforts to repair the damages that life inflicts upon adolescent boys were usually based mainly on the knowledge that we could trust our dads, not only to give us straight answers when we needed them, but also to never to turn their back on us when we really fucked shit up.
In literature the absent father motif is often used as a symbol for the absence of God. It was used mainly as a thematic question asking how mankind is supposed to act when God is not around. The modern media though uses it instead to push the belief that there is no God and therefore humanity must learn to rely on the blathering nonsense spewed out the mouths of morons, self-serving narcissistic politicians, and the beneficence of the people who call the shots.
And none of them are the least bit concerned with the lack of parameters in the world that they are pushing us toward, or the long-term effects of the lies they tell us everyday. And we know that we can't trust any of them to give us straight answers when we need them, and we especially understand that they'll be among the first to shame us if and when we make mistakes.
What they don't realize though, is that our dads are always around somewhere advising us to be suspicious of preachers with pearly teeth and slick backed hair, not to get involved with women who think credit cards and bon-bons are the crown of creation, or placing our trust in people who constantly bad mouth our fathers.
It wasn't easy standing there on one leg trying to clean up the blood, the muscle, the bits of bones, the entrails, and even the dripping feces, and it was even harder to turn the handle on the paper towel dispensary using just one hand.
His wife Delia had just told him, while they were eating dinner on their anniversary no less, that she was leaving him. She looked right at him with a steely, heartless gaze and broke the news. Then she stood up, tossed her napkin on table and strode out of the restaurant like she was walking toward a job interview with God.
And, oh yeah, she took half of him with her. The left half. He suddenly felt a lot lighter, so he looked down and noticed that she had sliced him neatly in two, starting at the top of his head and exiting below his crotch area. He was just starting to wonder just how the f**k she could done the thing so neatly and so swiftly when he remembered that Delia wielded words like a highly trained samurai wielded a katana blade, and she also had a natural gift for turning his own words into weapons that drew blood.
As far as the people eating at the surrounding tables knew, he was okay. Sure, they had witnessed the tossed napkin and the storming out, but to the outward vision, he was still in one piece. He played along with the charade, paid the bill, and slowly made his way into the restroom where he stood before the marble counter and carefully surveyed and listed the real damage.
Anybody knows that possessing half a heart is damned near as worthless as having no heart at all. But a lot of people do not understand that the heart is also a seat of memory and the hub of all emotional activities. So, all of his emotions now entered in a limbo after discovering the hub was missing. They wandered about the halls of his consciousness lost, lonely and confused, sometimes hooking up with the half baked ideas that were still being emitted by the still intact right side of his brain. This resulted in a lot of strange behavior on his part. Sometimes he fell in love with an episode of CSI, at other times he would rage at the sight of cute squirrel eating a peanut in the park.
It was his daughter Lacy who had to have the talk with him. She had won the honor because she drew the short straw, actually a piece of spaghetti, in a contest with her sister.
"Dad, people are starting to talk."
"What the f**k do I care bout what they think? Your mother took the half that cared, remember?"
"She's gone, Pop. She died. You, on the other hand are still here, and that means you need to get your shit together."
"You been telling me that for years. And I know it don't look like it, but I'm trying. It's just hard hard to do things when you only have half a body."
"You look fine."
"On the outside, Hon. On the inside, I'm missing a lot of pieces. It takes a lot of time to grow things back to where they were. I was forty-eight years old. I had a forty-eight year old heart, and a forty-eight year old fully functioning brain full of forty-eight years of life experiences that helped me make solid decisions. Now, I can barely see a little nub starting to grow back where my left ventricle used to be, but it's going to take some time, Sweetheart."
"Dad, it would help if you found something or someone to love."
"I do. I love you and your sister."
"You know what I mean, Pop."
Later that night, at the Casino, he thought about what she had said. He wondered what the odds were that he could find someone who was missing the right side of her body. Someone who was left brain analytical and who just happened to need someone with a more spiritual outlook on life. Someone whose own heart had been torn exactly down the middle.
For some reason, he had taken to playing the Romeo and Juliet machine hidden deep on the left side of the building, and he didn't really know why. He assumed that it had something to do with the idea of fateful, ignorant assed love, an aspect that been missing from his life ever since Delia had stormed out the restaurant that night.
He was twenty-five dollars down when he felt the presence of someone standing behind him observing. A minute later, a woman sat down beside him at the Space Journey machine.
"Hello there, having any luck?"
He turned to his left and saw an attractive looking red-haired lady, maybe a little younger than himself, smiling at him. He smiled and replied, "Not a whole lot, but I just got here. How about you?"
"I just got here too. I always start off by playing that machine."
"Oh, I'm sorry. It won't take me long to lose what I've got in there."
She laughed, "Oh, don't worry about me. That's a terrible way to look at things though. You have to have some faith."
He laughed too, "I do have faith though. What I don't have is the sense to realize that none of this would exist if I was supposed to be winning."
"Well, you got me then. I don't really have much faith either. My husband did though. My deceased husband, I should say. He had more than enough faith for the both of us. I like playing that machine because it was his favorite, and it always reminds me that I need to have some kind of faith in something besides the numbers I crunch all day."
"You know why I play it? I play it because when you get the Bonus, or the nine little hearts all lined up, they morph into one giant heart. I know that sounds pretty damned silly, but it's the only way I can explain it."
She looked into his eyes with a sad expression, "You been widowed too. Huh?"
"Well technically, she left me before she died."
They both sat in silence for a moment before she blurted,"Hey, I got an idea. You've got a hundred bucks in there. What say, I put in a hundred and we'll go halfsies on the winning?"
He thought about, "Sounds good to me. Double our odds, or something like that."
"Good! We'll have to do one thing though?"
"Bet the max. It's only four dollars. Jerry used to tell me. If you ain't all in, the machine senses it and takes all your money become you aren't fully committed."
"Kind of like life, I guess."
They won two thousand dollars on the third pull and both joyfully leaped up and embraced.
They split the money right down the middle and decided to share a cup of coffee in the diner. On, the way to his car afterwards, he knew he was going to kick himself in the morning though for not asking for her number. He wouldn't even had known her name if wasn't for the forms they had to fill out.
But, at that particular moment, he was only thinking about the thousand dollars in his wallet, and the fact if he got there before midnight, he could still catch the two-for-one lapdance deal at The Shady Lady on the outskirts of town.
I didn't open up the shades the first thing this morning like I usually do. I sat there on the small sofa in front of the window contemplating the light as it seeped into the room through the gaps in the blinds. Light is funny. It can enter into a room via a series of small horizontal stripes, but it instantly diffuses and permeates the darkness much in the same way that a teaspoon of sugar dipped into a glass of water would do. You could use three grains of sugar or a cup and all the water contained in the glass would contain the same amount.
I've been thinking more about Jesus lately, and I have to admit that is something I don't usually do. I have his picture tucked neatly into the corner of the frame of my dad's picture. They are both looking at me as now as I think. The picture of my dad was taken right before he died when everything outside of his immediate wishes was first considered as a threat. I use it to remind me to suck it up, and by it I mean life's more painful lessons.
Here's the thing about Jesus. There's always a part to his story that seems to point an accusatory finger. Dying on the cross for the sins of others sets a pretty high bar, and one that most of us walk under every day. I've been intensely aware of my failures as a high jumper all of my life, and it's caused me a lot of problems.
It didn't help things that I first came face to face with Jesus in a small Baptist church that didn't offer much in the way of training when it came to Sunday School teachers. I've written about the incident a lot in my blog. A lot of times, when writing, I create characters and stories whole cloth using tiny bits of memory and reality to fashion the design. The story I tell about being told when I was ten years old that I would burn in Hell if I didn't accept Jesus on the spot is something I never ran through any filter. I remember it that well.
It seems to me, that my church used the Cliff Notes version of the Bible, and even then didn't place a lot of emphasis on chapter summaries, it was pretty much the timeline repeated over and over. That made me look at Jesus as if he were a fifth or sixth cousin who only visited one time with another relative that us kids didn't even know.
Mom scolded us, of course, before he showed up and warned us about playing nice. But he was shy in our presence and never said a word; it was the fact that they had dressed him up in the clothes of Little Lord Fauntleroy that made us think of him as a sissy boy and a snitch. I guess, that, at the time, the part about the nails through the palm and the scourging hadn't sunk in, and it was only the part where people kept pointing out that he was so much better than us that caught my attention.
With my dad, it was different story. One day, two guys came into the yard with the intention of beating me up. I ran into our back porch when I opened the back door thinking I had reached safety, my dad was standing there with a belt. He answered the question I was formulating before I even asked it, whipping me one time hard across my butt while saying the words, "Stand and fight," through clenched teeth.
I've always carried the welt but not on my ass. Its somewhere deep inside of me where I've tried to hide it from the view of others. I knew at a tender age what Abel felt when he brought forth the fruit that was spurned. Our fathers are our God when we are only boys. I disappointed him by trying to use rhetoric and logic when a sacrifice of pain was required. He didn't punish me, so much as tell me, "Son, life will be full of pain and if you run at the first sight of snakes, you'll only make things a damn sight harder."
My brother and I watched a movie the other night. It had some blue-eyed European dude in it playing Jesus. The movie for all its pretended glamor and Hollywood trappings looked pretty cheesy. But beneath all that, the power of the story couldn't be restrained. It's a powerful story, the most powerful myth of all, and I use the word myth with its truthful meaning, "Extraordinary events that shake humans to their very core."
The word doesn't mean, as a lot of imaginary spiritual leaders think, something that is not historical or real. On the contrary, it is the underlying reality of the whole shebang, the source of the cause and effect and not the result, and it's a thing much too large to for us to ever understand completely, or, at least not, without the commensurate expansion of consciousness that comes with knowing the truth, the breaking of old jars.
The picture I have is just as phony as the actor in the film, but there is something truthful about the sadness in the eyes. Jesus was never accusatory, or at least, not till he discovered the people selling their goods in the Temple. And he knew well that most of us were more like the turtle in the race with the fox than Dwight Stones.
For years, I thought that the scar on my right hand where my Mom accidentally dropped a hot iron while she was doing my shirts was my only similarity to Jesus. He always said though that he lives inside us all and is always standing there ringing the doorbell, dressed in his Sunday gotomeeting robes, and with a nice bottle of newly vinted wine tucked beneath his arm.
And if anything good comes out of this craziness we're going through now, it might be that we get so sick of tired the fools arguing, the clowns singing and dancing, and hearing the braying efforts of all the unscrupulous sellers trying to breech our temple walls, that we turn our TVs off long enough to answer the damn door.
I looked in the mirror this morning and was appalled by the amount of weight I've put on during this lockdown. My eyes also betrayed the fact that I'm beginning to get a little frayed around the edges too. But, I don't need a bunch of nervous Nancy's telling people that they can't say or even think that I'm fat because that's exactly what I am.
People usually have enough inherent goodness that, when left to their own devices, they can generally work things out for the better. It's only when those who believe they have some kind of advantage over others start putting rules down to protect their inflated opinions of themselves that we start turning small amounts of shit into mountains of the stuff.
I know that there are those who are genetically disposed to being assholes and can hardly be blamed for following the blueprints provided. But if the neighbors band to together and, out of love, form structural walls even the worse shit written down on the bluest of paper can be corrected.
There are also those who have been traumatized, actors in plays written by Tarantino inspired parents. There have probably been a lot of great actors who have failed only because the words they read were written well before the current crop of auteurs with their, "Hey! look at me, I'm saving the fucking world. No me. Over here," mentality started scripting everything that came out of Hollywood's hemorrhoid encrusted arse. Seriously, we can't blame people for obeying the ghosts of their demented ancestors. Blame no, correct yes, and it could be done relatively cheaply by teaching literature correctly and providing one or two more counselors in every school. Just make the kids aware that there is script of their own creation hidden inside of every one them. And, oh yeah, put the Ten Commandments back where they are supposed to be. You'd have to be the biggest, dumbest, Karen in the whole fucking world to say they have no place in our current society.
The biggest problem though is the idea that just because you have 240 characters to use that you need to use them all. We need to say out loud; "Some people just need to stay the fuck off of social media", or at least restrain themselves from commenting on every freaking thing under the sun whether they a clue or not. And when those dumbasses report that shit like its written in stone by the very finger of God, we need to collectively moon their ass while shouting, "Shut the fuck up!" We had way too many damned liars, devious salesmen and crooked lawyers before the internet appeared.
People like Shakespeare, Lincoln, Jane Austen, and even Jesus himself would be appalled, not so much by the restrictions imposed on their own output, but more so by the idea of providing a social standing and a platform for those who really are, in truth, only capable of saying things like, "You suck donkey dicks, asshole."
One of the things I worry the most about during this pandemic is the vast display of ignorance that has occurred beneath its aegis. I look at things mythologically, with an understanding that I don't need a 'smoking gun" to tell me that something groundshaking is going on, an earthquake being readied strong enough to level buildings, bring down bridges, and burn down memory itself.
I try hard not to ever get involved in political debates because it brings out the worst in people, turns friendships sour, and like a big, steaming pile of shit only seems to attract flies seeking sustenance in the nutrients found in feces. But sometimes I get angry and can't help myself. The people who run the media in this country are experts and know how to push buttons as well as they know how to make lying look easy. They are, in fact, only pimps with perfectly coiffed hair and bright, white smiles. They are chosen, you know, more for their ability to fake an incredulous look than any knowledge they may possess. I wouldn't trust in their ability to think their way out of a room with an opened door, much less their expertise in explaining the world to us lesser humans.
But engaging in the political fray only creates more drama. One of the most profound things Jesus ever said, and one that probably gets the least attention, is "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." He meant that money and the power it represents is the only way that a politician/materialist can ever value life. It further means that Pilate, who feigned indifference on the matter of crucifying Christ, actually colluded with with the spiritual/political leaders of the day into passing the guilt for his crucifixion onto the shoulders of the ignorant masses who had already been told what they were supposed to think and do about the matter.
The episode offers up no ringing endorsement for the intelligence of humankind, and only offers up the truth that if you depend upon the media to tell you what and how to think, you really have no God given right to criticize or hate those who only do the same.
A response to a recent Facebook post of mine reminded me that I've always been a better teacher and coach than a political pundit. So, I've decided to resurrect the habit of talking more about what I've learned, where I learned it, and why it is important than explaining why people are such fools for believing whole cloth in anything that comes out a politician's, or a news person's mouth. It's always about the motives, people.
JFK: An American Coup D'etat
This is my favorite book on the subject of the Kennedy assassination. I thought I knew everything about it but who killed him, but I was so wrong. For example, this is where I first learned that a picture of Allen Dulles with LBJ ran in the Dallas' papers shortly before the hideous deed, or that mayor of Dallas's was also brother of one of Dulles's right hand men, or that the guy that Dealey plaza was named after had a beef with JFK, or that it was Bill Moyer who notified the Kennedy people about the change in the motorcade's route. I often wonder why this simple fact has not been pursued to its real end. More importantly, this book is where I learned that that the CIA employed over three hundred news sources to push out information in the Sixties.
The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors
I always find it surprising that the information contained in this book about the Venona Project was locked up for over fifty years after the war ended. It details (Chapter 13) about the communist infiltration of the American media. The information could have also been used to put to rest a lot of things that were being presented to the public as being 'up in the air'. For example, we could have been told that there was no question about Alger Hiss's guilt as a Soviet agent, or that one of that one of Stalin's agents, Harry Dexter White implemented on Stalin's orders Operation Snow which led not only to the events at Pearl Harbor but also America's involvement in the war. It also blows up the myth that the worries about Soviet penetration into our top levels of government at the time were all based on rumor and hearsay.
Looking back upon the war and the post-war era with a new perspective provided by the information discovered by this rogue intelligence operation is very enlightening and also somewhat worrisome when you notice the parallels to what's happening today.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
This is the book that really opened my eyes to the idea that schools deal with trauma in the wrong way. Every year, we sat through training that only served to indoctrinate us to the idea that trauma was only about the big ticket issues, such as sexual, physical, or hardcore verbal abuse, and also served to mask the real damaging effects of the thousands and thousands of smaller traumas that influence our every reaction to life itself. Kids need to be taught about self-awareness and how important it is to their development, and yet most of our schools probably only have one person, if that, trained to talk about the issues involved. This should be a whole school activity and taught via Literature. People used to understand this, and it is alarming that we have gotten so far away from it. This means that the proper teaching of literature becomes of paramount importance, and that makes me wonder why the educational policies of the last several years has sought to play it down.
The Society of Spectacle and Anti-Education
I place these books side by side to acknowledge them as the source of the concept of how our culture now tamely accepts the the authority of incompetent knuckleheads to explain life to us. Nietzsche chalks it up to the lowering of standards in academia which he claimed led to the development of the 'journalistic mode of thinking' which has led us all to believe that the thirty second summaries of world events was more than enough to explain away every complex issue, a Cliff Notes version of life, so to speak.
Guy Debord expands upon the idea that saying it is the also way that Elites control us by pretending that we have an endless source and variety of views and explanations. each one delivered by someone hired more for their looks and their willingness to say what they have been told to say than any other expertise they may possess.
The evidence is all around us. Whoever hired a narcissistic asshole such as Chris Cuomo knew what they were doing, but it never had much to do with the telling of the truth. And has anybody ever wondered why the thick girls who studied meteorology in college never seem to make it far as weather persons on the networks? Or for that matter, how come only supermodels seem to know anything about professional sports?
It is gotten to a frightening point because now they are demanding that we forget all about history and to even discount our own eyes, ears, and personal experiences in favor of listening to, and accepting as truth, all the perfumed excrement that they spew forth.
I don't know what it was about the guy that irritated me. My brother and I were headed to our favorite breakfast spot in Freiberg. There was a middle aged guy jogging on the side of the rode with a friend who was riding a bicycle. The jogger was decked out in an expensive looking jogging outfit. That could have been it, or it might have just been the fact that he was jogging.
I don't what made me do it, but I rolled down my window and shouted as we drove by, "You ain't no Greg Louganis." Rolling up the window, I laughed and then looked over at my brother who was staring at me strangely.
"Why the hell'd you do that for? He wasn't diving into a pool; he was running for Christ's sake."
"I wanted to make the sumbitch think about things."
"Well, you probably succeeded in that regard. What if someone just rolled up next to you, and yelled, 'You ain't Brad Pitt?'"
"I'd smile at him, thank him, and give him a middle finger as he drove off."
He looked at me with that pained look again, "Well, that don't make any more fucking sense than yelling that nonsense in the first place."
"Makes perfect sense."
"Don't fucking talk to me. Just drive."
So, I drove. We were on way to the Fig Tree Cafe to have breakfast. It was something we did every Sunday, a routine, so to speak. Afterwards, we would go to peruse used bookstores. Coming from Concord, I always left the freeway at where it joined into the southern end of Freiberg's main drag and then followed that road all the way across town. It was journey that took us through the homeless lined streets of downtown Freiberg, then through the narrow oak lined streets of the old town section, past blocks and blocks of mansions and then to the affluent shopping center on the north end of town. Glen and I never knew what we were going run across on this journey, and that's why we did it that way.
We always passed this one bench by the side of convenience store where a homeless man and a woman were always sitting together and talking.
"I wonder how long it would take if we started waving at them every Sunday, until they would wave back?"
"Why would we do that?"
"I'm just interested in knowing. I don't mean any disrespect or nothing. I'm just interested."
"Well, let's not do shit like that. If you want to help them, pull over and give them some money."
"I didn't say anything about helping them; I said knowing. Besides, I already give money to the homeless shelter. Hey, look at that shit over there!"
Off to the right, a man and a woman had stopped at a stop sign in front of the Hyatt Hotel. They both emerged from their shiny, red BMW leaving the door open. There were shouting at a transient who had apparently said something to them as he walked across the crosswalk in front of them. I hung a right so we could get closer.
"Oh God, Danny, you and your curiosity's gonna get us killed one of these days."
We pulled alongside the couple, and I rolled down my window, "What's up!"
They man, a big beefy muscle bound dude with a scowl walked over and leaned down, "That asshole over there, called my wife a rich cunt. We work hard for our money. He got no right to say that about my wife."
"You right, man. But you need to understand something about this."
He guy straightened up a little, "Yeah? What's that?"
"You ain't Greg Louganis!" I peeled out leaving the scene, throwing up some pebbles and the smell of burnt rubber. I was laughing maniacally, but Glenn was angry at me again.
"Have you lost your damn mind? You can't go around doing shit like this! For what purpose? You're crazy."
"If you saw a old lady slip and fall in mud puddle, would you help her up?"
"Just answer the question. Would you help the woman up?"
"Hell yeah, I would. You know that. But that's got nothing to do with you yelling stupid shit out of a car window."
"That's where you're wrong. All these damn people are living in ruts. We're living in a rut. I'm just shaking shit up a little, offering them a hand up, so to speak."
Glenn just rolled his eyes.
I pulled the trick three more times before we got to the cafe. Once, I yelled to a whole group of cyclists riding by us in the opposite direction. The leader of the group popped a wheelie as I yelled. The last time was at a guy in Porsche convertible. It was a cold, wet day, and he had his top down and pulled up to the opposite stop sign and just kept rolling when it should have been my turn to make a turn, so, I shook my fist and yelled as he sped by.
"Now, you're just being motivated by vengeance. I thought that you were all, 'Just trying to shake shit up a little. Get us out of our ruts''' He used air quotes.
Later, leaving a bookstore, he asked me, "Why Louganis?"
"When we passing that jogger, I couldn't think of any well-known runner. The image of Greg Louganis just popped in my head. You know the one where he looked like Adonis standing on that diving board."
"I still don't understand. What you're doing is absurd. It makes no sense."
"I read somewhere that the word myth actually means anything that's out of the ordinary. I'm just creating myth. Profane, you know, means anything that's ordinary. That's where the word profanity comes from."
"You're just creating myth?"
"Yeah. I read something this morning before you came over that said that what we all need to be is more radically amazed at life, to see the wonder in things. It said that ever since science showed up, mankind has been committed to taking the mystery out of things and making everything profane."
"Hence, the ruts?"
"Now, you are getting it."
"I heard this guy say something good on the news this morning."
"He said that you ain't Greg Louganis either, Bitch!"
"Well, no need to get rude."
I knew the moment I ordered that I had screwed up. You just don't order hamburgers served on square bread, toasted or otherwise. You see, I often drop by the Sonic drive-in out by the Winco when leaving Visalia. It's really a matter of the convenience. I do some shopping and grab some dinner and it's right there on the way out of town.
I always get tricked though by the Toasted Bacon Cheeseburger Combo I always order the combo and I never have liked. I thinks it's just the memories of my mom serving burgers on white bread at lunch when I was kid that keeps clouding my judgement. You can get tater tots with the combo and that kind of enhances its appeal somewhat.
I had skipped breakfast that morning and was pretty hungry, so I bit into the burger right away after leaving the parking lot, and right away my inner ego was cursing out my outer ego. "Well, well, well, you dumb sumbitch, you up and did it again." There was nothing tasting even remotely hamburger like in my mouth. Sure, it had some of the ingredients, like a beef patty and the fixings of a burger, but I've eaten pea soup that tasted more like a hamburger than that thing did.
Right away, I noticed that it tasted all onion ringy, so, I looked, and sure as shit, there was big assed onion ring. Once again, my inner voice felt compelled to comment on the situation. "What the hell kind of dummy puts an onion ring on a hamburger?" If it ain't an unwritten rule that you only put regular slices of onion on a burger, than it should be. If it ain't carved on the tablet of the Ten Commandments, then someone made a mistake (no names), and Congress should immediately pass legislation to rectify the error.
Most of the people I grew up with in Corcoran cut their burger eating teeth by eating the hamburger served at Chick's Cafe after midnight. They just lopped both ends off an onion and served it looking like a damn hockey puck. And once you've eaten it that way a dozen times or more, you never really go back to putting shit like onion rings and other foo foo crap on your burger. You just wouldn't think of it.
Then the fixings themselves tasted kind of like relish, with chopped pickles, tomato, and a chopped onion thing going on. That would be okay if I was eating a hotdog, but I would never eat a hotdog on a square piece of bread. I mean, for God's sake, you have to draw the line somewhere, man.
And I don't know for certain if the so-called burger had any mustard on it. It damned sure didn't taste like it, and that is a problem in itself. Mustard is the duct tape of the culinary world, it'll fix most of your problems. But you have to be able to taste it in order for it to do its magic. A Cheeseburger without mustard is something should you only eat if you are hungry, out of mustard, and the nearest open store is in Fresno.
I was already plenty mad when I reached into the bag to grab myself a tater tot, and I'll be damned if the people at the place had not forgotten to put my tots in the bag!
You see normally, I'll use the tots to fend off the urge to eat the burger on the way home. They have an immensely satisfying quality about them and never fail to put a smile on my face as I pop one in my mouth and let it melt as I look at the sunset hues from high atop the overpass out on 99 by where the Tagus Ranch used to be. It's always a great damned view from atop that overpass and when you got a hot tater tot melting in your mouth to boot, it's a Zen moment. Today though, because of the absent tots, all I could think about was how dusty shit looked and how badly the Covid has screwed everything up.
The rest of the way home, I composed the letter of complaint that I would write to voice my displeasure to the powers that be (Operating off of the premise that it doesn't help to keep that kind of stuff bottled up inside).
Dear Mr. Sonic,
I would like for you all to quit making the Toasted Bacon Cheeseburger as I can not help associating it with the burgers my mom used to make for lunch. Or, at least, suspend making it until your people learn that the things that separate a good cheeseburger from any other type of food are kind of consistent the whole world over: two buns (preferably with rounded corners), a little lettuce, a slice of tomato, a couple of dill pickles, a slice of onion, melted cheese of choice, and a beef patty slathered in a good mustard.
Next time you try to pass an onion ring off as a cheeseburger, you need to make damn sure that the tater tots are in the bag.