Another Boomer Passes
Norman Westbay passed away a few days ago. Truth be told, I never talked to him all that much, just a few times in passing really, but the news of his death made me very sad. Later on in life, we became Facebook friends and found out that we kind of thought alike on a lot of things. This was probably because we grew up within two blocks of each other on the Southside of Corcoran. We didn't live out there because our ancestors were manor borne and bred or had staked out a claim centuries before. We came from migrants, people who moved into the area in search of better times; people who didn't mind getting blistered, sunburned, and dirty to find them. Yet, at the same time, my dad was probably the first person who ever broke the ground of our yard in order to plant something in the entire history of the world.
Norman and his friends were a few years older than me. He was older than my brother too. We were of that generation when the young men were being shipped off to the jungles of Asia with the admonition that it was, "Kill to be killed" out there and our leaders didn't seem to be overly concerned over which one happened first. On the home front, a lot of the drugs that were floating all over the place at the time happened to be provided by our own government. They didn't us tell that at the time. I only found out about it much later, read about it in a book.
I came out of the Southside with a chip on my shoulder. Most Southside kids did. It's still there, by the way. It's the how the good Lord's going to identify us Southside kids when we get to heaven.
My dad once sent me to a parts store to get a piece of packing because he was working on fixing our water pump. He was all greasy and didn't want to put his hands in his pockets, so he told me to just charge it. I went and got it, and it cost thirty something cents. There were four men there when I told the man behind the counter to put it on Dad's bill, two on one side of the counter and two men sitting on stools. I will remember until the day I die how those men looked at me when I told the man to charge it. I feel no hatred for any of the men; I never hated my dad for it either. It was just a moment of great clarity where the universe let a young boy know his exact position in both the world at large and the smaller hierarchies of a small farm town. There were probably times in my father's life when that thirty something cents could have been the difference between success or failure.
Lawns were manicured on the North side of Barnum Avenue. The only curbs on the Southside ran around Mark Twain School. Men over there wore white shirts and ties in the middle of the week. The only time men wore a shirt and tie on the Southside was at a funeral or at church on Sunday.
The differences were often very subtle, and even almost non-existent at times. Yet, there was no getting away from the fact that some of my immediate family had eaten possums and squirrels when they were young, and anybody who would eat one of them nasty ass critters would have had to have to have passed down something special in their DNA, something that distinguishes us from those whose ancestors were several generations removed from that particular source of protein. I'm seventy years old and I can still sense the condescension in someone's voice when they are talking about completely unrelated, and I can see it their eyes from across the room.
Norman and his buddies were our heroes growing up. They rode around in cool looking vehicles with good looking females at their side, but mainly because they they didn't appear to take shit from anyone, especially those people wearing white-shirts and ties in the middle of the week. They taught us in their cheerful defiance, that it wasn't wise to trust an over-zealous preacher any more than a car salesman with a drinking problem. My brother told me that when he was a freshman, he had to sneak around the high school to keep from ending up being stuffed in a trashcan. Once in his PE class, the seniors were surrounding him, and it was Norman who stepped in and told them to leave my brother alone. That's pretty much what it took to become a hero on the Southside, to identify as one of us when the cool thing would have been to step away.
Most people are mistaken in their understanding that consciousness works like a river, constantly flowing. It's more like a collection of individual photos moving so rapidly that their projection seems seamless. As one scene appears, the next is already hovering above it, and they transition at such a fast rate that they actually dissolve into each other with only the minutest change taking place. Eventually though, those changes add up and you find yourself in a completely different scene.
As baby boomers, we shared a world with the likes of such diverse characters as Theodore Cleaver, Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, Davy Crockett, Mick Jagger, John Kennedy and his brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendricks, Buzz Aldrin, Robert Young, Minnie Pearl, Red Fox, Elvis, Richie Valens, Martin Luther King Jr., Jane Fonda, Malcom X, Willy Mays, Cesar Chavez, and a whole host of others, fictional and real, who helped shaped our perception of reality.
On the Southside of Corcoran, we shared a seemingly smaller world but one actually much bigger because of its proximity, wherein people like Pops Ramirez, Polly Payne, Mr. Coffman, Howard Loo, August Baker, Sixto Miranda, Ruth Dougherty, James Reed, and Mr. and Mrs. Reed loomed large. Their family stories were our stories, and their struggles to survive became our mythologies.
There's a young girl who was recently offered, if I remember correctly, four million dollars to sell a T-shirt brand that basically dismissively called for my generation to hurry up and die. We are doing exactly that, but not because of the efforts of one stupid little girl. It's just the way that this world works. My dad was a part of what was known as the Greatest Generation. He lived just long enough to witness a world that not only didn't have a clue as to what that meant, but one that actually somewhat ridiculed his generation's efforts to save the world from tyranny.
I hate to see any of the people of my generation die, especially the ones I knew personally. Dylan warned us early on about the harsh nature of this living, he was talking about our parents, but his words were an ominous prophecy of the current state of affairs, "Don't criticize what you can't understand," and "Get out of the new one [road] if you can't lend a hand." I guess we were never meant to understand any of this current insanity anyway.
I hate it even more to see someone pass on who shared in what it was like to grow up back then on the Southside of Corcoran. Especially someone I looked up to and admired. It makes me feel pretty fucking lonely.
Oh Yeah, Life Goes On
This morning I walked out of El Capitan after having breakfast with my brother and the homeless woman who sleeps on a little strip of grass by the parking lot dropped her pants down to her ankles. She not only mooned the cafe's regulars, but the people at the drive-in across the street got to view the Full Monty. The speakers on the lamp posts were playing, "A little ditty about Jack and Diane," which gave the whole situation something of a surreal feeling as it were taking place in darkened, smokey New Orleans' strip club. Not one of the fancy ones right off Bourbon Street, but further back in one of those dives where the strippers' stomachs are all ripply as a washboard and their sagging breasts lie flat against their chests as they awkwardly undulate to a two-piece jazz ensemble while chewing gum.
A young guy was walking down mainstreet with a German shepard on a leash and even the dog seemed to be disgusted by the sight of the woman. The young guy was triggered, and he yelled at the woman, "Pull yo damn pants up, Bitch. That's nasty!" She paid him no never mind and just pulled a crumpled joint out of somewhere and lit it up. Me and Steve just stood there transfixed and more than a little bit nauseous. It's hard to acknowledge that we were too jaded to be properly outraged by such a sight, but, in truth, we have become more than a little bit inured to such strange occurrences. Once you've had to change your mother's diapers while watching her slowly wither away, nothing much that life offers up seems to penetrate down to the level where it might register as being too painful to endure.
Besides, it wasn't the craziest thing we've seen since we've been sharing breakfast at El Capitan. That could be the time the crazy girl with the half shaved head and one red shoe who dropped her pants and stuck her ass in some bushes and did her business right there in full view of anyone who had the misfortune to see it. Or, it could have been watching the one legged meth-head pushing himself down main street in the broken wheel-chair that he had stolen from my mom's house the night before. Fact is ever since our crazy governor and his goofball minions have designated our downtown park as New Amsterdam, there's way too much crazy stuff going on around there to take much notice.
I've been having an internal war since those tents starting popping up in the park like mushrooms after a rain. I'm outraged, but at the same time, I'm torn by a desire to feel something akin to empathy. When it all started out, I was bouncing back and forth between the two polarities of feeling empathetic and feeling anger, with the two little angels on my shoulders bickering and calling each other names. Now, it's a full-on wrestling match with brass knuckles and steel toed boots. I don't feel the need or the urge to punish the woman, but damn if I don't believe that if something about the situation is not done pretty soon, shit is going to get real freaking real as the meth continues to do a number on all their brains. Someone is bound to get hurt; people have already been hurt. People don't seem to be taking notice of all of the weird shit; maybe because of the even weirder stuff going on in the world at large.
I love this crazy little town, but damn if she don't break my heart every time I turn around. She don't look anything like she did when we were younger. Back then, she got all dolled up every now and then and, "Every time I looked at her, I couldn't speak because, I couldn't get my mouth to move, that's how beautiful she was." Now, her one faux silk dress is grease stained and has a threadbare patch on her ass, her bleached blonde hair never gets brushed, her teeth are nicotine stained and her breath smells like a glass of two day old Modelo with a bunch of cigarette butts swimming around in it.
The eminent psychologist James Hillman once said that when we get old its not so much that we lose our strength and energy as much as we lose our illusions. I don't have any illusions anymore, ran completely fucking out, so now I'm starting to look at life as if I'm stuck right smack dab in the middle an episode of The Twilight Zone written by Rod Serling after he suffered a bad case of hemorrhoids caused by month long cocaine binge. Carl Jung wrote in one of his books about how the things we hate the most about other people are often the reflections of our repressed selves that we see in their actions and words. I used to write about this little weed I saw one time at stop-sign on the outskirts of Shafter. The wind kept blowing it over, but it kept popping back up every time. That little weed's zest for life inspired me at a time that I most needed some inspiration. My wife had left me after thirty-one years of marriage and my father had lost his mind and died on his bathroom floor after stepping out of the shower. I had to feel around to check for his pulse. It wasn't where it usually was. The sight of that naked homeless lady wasn't anything compared to the sight of my father lying lifeless on that cold bathroom floor.
My beloved mother died last April all alone in a hospital bed in her TV room while I worked on a crossword puzzle in the living room. I had to close her eyes and wipe the drool from the side of her mouth. An hour later, I watched as my daughter helped carry her body out wrapped in a sheet because the gurney couldn't handle the front steps. I have arthritis in my right shoulder, so I couldn't help much, besides I have would have probably dropped her because of the state that I was in. Illusions are luxurious things when you think about it, they help soften the hard corners and jagged edges of life. You can't sustain a smile without them. I wish I'd had the sense to have kept a few of them around, or that there was some way of manufacturing them out of stuff you have on hand like old memories, photographs, a good Scotch, or a favorite song or book. Sadly, life don't work that way. I know that one of the reasons that woman this morning upset me so much, was that she reminded me that eventually, if the wind kept blowing long and hard enough that the tiny weed would have to succumb to the gravity of the situation. I see some of myself in her desire to just pull a blanket over her head and sleep. It's the kind of thing that most of us will have to to fight against at some point in our life. Her giving up the fight for verticallity is troubling, as is the willingness of those other denizens of the park doing the same.
I hope and pray that someday soon my brother Steve and I will be able to come out of El Capitan in the morning and see some kiddos laughing and playing in the park and hear the speakers on the lampposts playing some Miles Davis from the Kind of Blue album, you the know the one with Bill Evans on the piano. And then, a white dove will fly down with an olive leaf in his beak and lay it on the hood of my car. I'll pick it up, examine it, and know that solid land is out there somewhere not too far away. We'll both look at the dove and whisper in unison, "Thank you."
Then the dove will cock his head to one side and answer by cooing, "Da nada." I least that's what I think it will mean. I don't speak dove talk very well.
January 26th, 2023
On Christmas and Hemlock
The other day I came out of El Cap after eating breakfast with my brother and the speakers on the lampposts were playing "Frosty the Snowman". I've always liked the fact that they play music downtown. It makes me think like there's a movie soundtrack to life in Corcoran.
That song always reminds me of watching the animated movie with my family around Christmas time when I was a lot younger, back before my parents grew old and died and my life took a significant turn for the worse, exiting the one lane mountain road leading upward to heaven and somehow ending up a passenger on a nitro powered Greyhound bus speeding down the six hundred and sixty-six lane highway to hell. I know that sounds more than a tad bit melodramatic, but all I'm saying is that I feel like everything was going fine and then, suddenly, a huge flying elbow came out of nowhere and knocked the rose colored glasses I was wearing off of my head and clean out of the ring up into the twelfth row of the arena where they landed at the feet of a toothless bald man wearing a Rowdy Roddy Piper T-shirt that exposed his hairy belly. He not only stepped on the glasses, shattering the lenses, but held them aloft so I could see them. Yeah, it's like that. People always tell me how crazy life is now, but truth is, life has always been freaking crazy. It's built into the blueprints of the situation, like being born into a world where no ever really seems to understand why we even exist in the first place.
I went to Visalia and watched a movie that had just come out that very afternoon. It began with an elephant shitting all over two guys who were trying to push a truck with the elephant on the back up a hill. Within a couple minutes the movie got markedly worse when a scantily clad young lady urinated on a naked fat guy lying on a floor. I wish with all my might, I could say that I left the theater after such an auspicious beginning, but I didn't. You see, I've become somewhat jaded and wanted to see what could top that shit. However, I felt the same way leaving that theater as I did after watching the movie The Joker. I knew The Joker was an omen, a harbinger of things to come, a feeling that was vindicated not long after with the nightmare that was the summer of 2020.
I saw a video the next morning that listed the Top Ten Christmas Movies of All Time. At the top of the list were the Home Alone movies and Bruce Willis's Die Hard. Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, which actually is one of the best Christmas movies ever, had fallen all the way down to tenth place right behind The Miracle on 34th Street. My daughter called me later and said her family was going to watch Home Alone that evening. I asked her if it bothered her any that the laughter in the movie was based on the suffering of the two bumbling thieves; she just laughed, insinuated that the question was crazy, and said no. Later on, I read a comment under another post where a guy said that he would defend to the death the fact that Die Hard was a Christmas movie, and he didn't care what anybody else had to say on the subject. That comment was on a post that was more of a bio about some young athlete and didn't have much of anything to do with Christmas, but apparently he felt compelled to let his feelings be known on the subject. There was another list ordering the best Christmas movies which listed Tangerine as the fourth best Christmas movie of the year. Tangerine is about a transvestite prostitute who gets out of jail and staggers across the underbelly of LA in search of the pimp who done her wrong. The author of the list references the film's humor. It is about as funny as having a toothache during a prostrate exam taking place on a bed of nails, and had very little, if anything, to connect the story to the birth of Christ.
I know that these internet lists are created by people who are willing to play fast and loose with truth in order to get clicks. I also have to admit that I used to watch Keven torture them two dumb fucks in Home Alone with as much relish as anybody else. I have binge watched The Sopranos, Deadwood, Rome, and that bleakest bitch of all, The Wire. I watched most of The Game of Thrones even after they killed the Sean Bean character off in one of the earliest episodes, and I knew that no good would come of it. I've watched Pulp Fiction so many times I can quote whole scenes from memory. I've wished the characters (Casino, Good Fellas) played by Joe Pesci so much ill will that when something bad actually happens to him, I'm going to feel kind of guilty.
In spite of all that, I feel kind of good about the fact that I can still understand the vast difference in calling Home Alone a Christmas movie and calling It's a Wonderful Life a Christmas movie, and I marvel at the fact that so many people around me no longer can. I don't think it makes me any better than other people, but it does cause me concern. The human ability to justify bad behavior is the very thing that Jesus speaks about the most. It's why we don't object to the $125 million contracts for quarterbacks playing a game, or the fact that every damn so-called reality show is scripted. I'm as guilty of it as anybody.
I think the real message in the story of Christ concerns the role that our relationship to infinity plays in the story. I do not believe that humanity will ever be able to break off a piece of the universe, place it under a microscope and suddenly be able to explain the meaning of existence. That means that we can only learn about it by trying to understand what the human condition has to do with our position between infinity and the finite, and that will only come from the revelations we encounter as our perceptions expand to embrace a more transcendent and larger view of reality, the kind you get when you actually think of such things in lieu of watching scenes of people killing or torturing each other on a movie set with a Christmas tree in the background.
Sometime in the not to distant future, when It's a Wonderful Life has fallen off the list of The 100 Greatest Christmas Movies completely, Hollywood will suddenly awaken to the fact that it can quit beating around the bush and just remake the Christmas story to it's own liking. It will use product placement and viewers will be treated to the sight of a Dentine chewing, wise cracking, Jesus popping open a Coca Cola and his family being turned away from an overbooked Hilton by a bellhop played by Rob Schneider. Tom Hanks, of course, will play Joseph with Jennifer Lopez portraying the pregnant Mary. There will be diapers, aspirins, energy drinks, chicken dinners, and the McDonald arches situated beneath the neon star of Bethlehem lit up by General Electric. Bruce Willis might even make an appearance as a disgruntled ex-cop seeking to thwart the evil intentions of King Herod played by Joe Pesci. Eddy Murphy will narrate as the voice of the donkey complaining about the journey to Bethlehem. I am hoping however that the Sean Bean character will keep his head this time, that there's no elephant covering people with shit and there's no naked girl holding a sprig of mistletoe while peeing on a fat man. But, most of all, if anything like this ever does come to pass, I hope I have the good sense to get up and leave.
I drove home from San Diego the other day with my oldest daughter. When I mentioned my desire to to write something about that aforementioned Christmas list of movies, She advised me not to. I value her opinion, and it almost persuaded me to give up on the effort. I bought a new mattress, and it is the kind that has a remote that allows me to sit up in bed and read. This morning when I woke up, I picked up a book from my lamp table entitled The Consolation of Philosophy. The first chapter was about defending unpopular ideas and focused on the story of the death of Socrates. The author mentioned that he bought several post cards of the 1786 painting by David of the death of the philosopher who had been sentenced to death for telling his version of the truth. The author mentioned that when looking at one of the postcards, he saw, "The behavior depicted contrasted so sharply with my own. In conversations, my priority was to be liked rather than speak the truth. A desire to please, led me to laugh at modest jokes like a parent on the opening night of a school play."
I recognized myself. I don't even wish I was as honest and steadfast as Socrates. It's way too much damn work, and people didn't really like him because he was always in their face getting on them about shit. I know on the inside, I'm still going to laugh whenever Joe Pesci gets hit in the head with a brick, or the anvil lands on Wiley Coyote's head. I just don't need to see it any more, and more often than not look for something more edifying to watch (which is a task unto itself). I'm hoping someday though, I'll quit doing that altogether and completely cut Hollywood out of my life and get serious about reading all these damn books with which I've surrounded myself.
For right now though, I'll just settle for knowing It's a Wonderful Life needs to be at the top of any list of top Christmas movies followed in no particular order by A Christmas Carol, and The Grinch that Stole Christmas (animated version). And Home Alone and Die Hard, well, you know,
December 18th, 2022
It has become way too easy for us to ignore the reality of the infinite cosmos in favor of the near and the finite. I taught thirty-one years in a public school, and the subject of how to live in an infinite universe almost never came up. The fact that I taught 7th grade Language Arts only serves to underscore the fact that our young are not being taught to basically ignore the most fundamental question of the human condition - how are we supposed to relate to the oft neglected the truth of infinity
I learned about concept of Metaxy after reading a thesis by a guy named Glenn Hughes on the philosophy of German political philosopher Eric Voegelin who believed that the principal duty of our thinking is to, "Keep in mind the encompassing context of the Whole of reality within which thinking and living incur," with Metaxy referring to the idea that human beings dwell in a space in-between the infinite and the finite that gives rise to the human race inhabiting a perpetual state of tension because of the polarizing thinking involved. How are we supposed to think and act when we are living in an infinite universe, yet must constantly deal with finite material concerns.
Voegelin believed that for any artistic creation to stand the test of time, it had to reference both the existence of the cosmos and mankind's relation to it. In his view, all of the garbage we currently have on our TV sets, movie screens, bookstore shelves, and radio airwaves is just so much distraction from the real thinking that we need to do in order to align ourselves to some kind of a transcendent reality. For a while, I believed it was all just about culture and the creation of art but finally wised up to the fact that this thinking would apply to every human endeavor, even something as seemingly mundane as playing basketball.
We used to understand that playing sports were all about achieving some form of transcendence, that is, before it all got corrupted by the influx of money and politics. On every basketball court there are ten individuals each with their own history, motives, skills, egos, and self-doubt running around in a state of flux. They do their best to score points for their own team and deny the other team members a chance to score. Whether they know it or not, the players are out trying to prove something, to others like their coaches, friends, or family members, but mainly to themselves.
Upon Closer Attention
Last night, while standing in front of a urinal at a Chick-Fil-A in San Francisco, I had a face-to-face meeting with God. I had entered into the restroom and found that someone had plugged the toilet with toilet paper and flushed the toilet several times making a huge mess. The manager was in there with an employee cleaning it up and commiserating upon the stupidity of human beings. The urinal by the sink was relatively clean, so I stepped into the stall. I was staring at the blank white wall when suddenly God spoke, "You're not getting any younger, Doug."
I hesitated for a moment, thinking, 'Why here? Why now?' When I finally spoke, I answered, "I'm seventy. What's your point?" I noticed that the two men had quit their bitching and eyed me suspiciously. I decided that it was probably a good idea to move the conversation to internal dialogue mode figuring that God would catch on and do the same.
"No real point, just suggesting that in few years, you and everyone you know will disappear off of this planet as if you had no more substance than a summer mist. You might want a pay a little more attention to things happening around you."
I hesitated again, thinking that he might be trying to tell me something important without saying it directly. You know, the way he normally communicates with people. For example, instead of saying don't build a temple to Baal, he'll wait until you build it and put on a barbecue where you sacrifice the first born males of the entire city, make a bunch of speeches saying how great your shit is, then he suddenly sends an earthquake that not only destroys the entire city but a toilet seat flies up out of the smoke and dust and miraculously lands around your neck, so you just end standing there gaping with flies buzzing around your mouth looking monumentally stupid.
"Are you saying that there's going to be a test at the end?"
He didn't answer. I guess he figured he had more important things to do. While I washing my hands though, the employee looked up from his mopping and wished me a happy holiday. I came out of the restroom and decided that from there on out, I was going to pay more attention to what was happening around me. I had always had a sneaky feeling that the universe was trying to tell me shit, but I treated the pronouncements like they were coming from a boozy uncle with garlic breath, an annoying habit of calling me Sonny Boy, and enormous amounts of gray hair growing out of his ears. I figured that my lack of curiosity probably accounted for why God chose to approach me in a nasty restroom in San Francisco in the first place, catch me with my guard down, so to speak. I mean I used to go to church all of the time when I young, but I was never there mentally. I mean a few times, I even brought in a transistor radio and ear phones to listen to a Giants' game. That little ploy was ended when I got caught up mumbling the lyrics to Inna-Gadda-Da-Vita when the preacher was delivering a sermon on forgiveness. My mom snuck up me and slapped a pair of those round, pink colored glasses that John Lennon used to wear right off of my head. I looked around and everyone was laughing at me except the preacher who had turned cherry red with anger. I didn't say nothing, but inside my head I fairly screamed, "What about forgiveness, Asshole?"
Returning to the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was a group of young kids who were just there hanging out. One of them, a fashionably dressed boy about twelve, wore a red hat that said "No fucks to give" written across the front. He was wearing sun glasses and was clearly doing his best to act out the message on his hat. Every now and then, him and his friends would scream loudly or do something stupid to let everyone in the place know that they had no fucks to give. Stuff like that always makes me sad. I have no reason to complain though, the stuff that I did at that age was pretty dumb too, but I learned my lessons and got scarred up pretty badly in the process. I look ok in public, but I still bleed from some open wounds, and at night, when I'm alone watching TV sitting on my sofa in my underwear, I grieve sometimes and sit there dumbfounded, wondering how I got from point A to point B. I even wrote a song about it. Some of the lyrics go:
The thing that I remember most
As the rain kept coming down
We never really tried that hard
Try and find some common ground
But the thing that's so amazing
Is that I've been all around
Now, I'm stuck here all by myself
In this lonely little town
The song's about my ex-wife leaving me after thirty-one years of marriage. The fact that she left me doesn't surprise me nearly as much as the fact that she waited so long to do it. It don't do no good to grieve though. Ain't got time to waste like I did when I was young. I've resolved to pay more attention to life as it unfolds all around me. It's a pretty amazing thing when you think about it. I have this beautiful little granddaughter named River. I watch the videos of her learning how to use a slide by herself every night before I go to bed in hope that they'll help me have good dreams. Everything she does fills me wonder, but I also feel sad too, knowing how life can so casually break your heart like a disloyal girlfriend looking for a guy with a nicer car.
So, if you see me out driving somewhere, and you see my head turning circles like one of those owls hidden in the rafters of a rundown barn, or one of them pictures of Jesus where his eyes follow you everywhere, don't let it creep you out none. God told me to pay more attention, and I'm just getting in some practice.
A Little Bit Frayed
I was sitting in the Arena Bar and Grill in Simi Valley the other night listening to the most amazing cover band I have ever heard. There were four dudes in this band; three of them were kind of on the young side, I mean if you consider being just on the under side of forty being young. I do. The bassist though looked liked he'd died and been brought back to life on more than one occasion. I don't say he was old and wrinkled looking, but that dude made Keith Richards look like he'd been using skin care products all his life and not the cheap shit either. Old or not, that sumofagun could sure play his bass guitar. He handled that thing as smoothly as John Travolta handled Karen Lynn Gorney on the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever.
As good as the band was, and it was very good, it still took several songs before I relaxed enough to let go and start enjoying the music. That led me to thinking about how tightly wound I've become since the devil-may-care days of my youth. And that made me start thinking of all the hard, painful realities I've been dealing with the last few years, and that, in turn, led to the realization that life in general sure can be a cold-hearted bitch. The large room was full of people of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities. The occasion was meant to raise money to help the family of a young mother who passed away from liver disease a couple of weeks before. Everybody appeared to be enjoying the music, but it was still easy to see the tale-tell signs and erosion of hope in their eyes, and the sadness etched on their scarred bodies. There was a beautiful black-haired woman in a short, skintight black dress who was working very hard to cover-up the extra pounds she carried around her middle, a hard-looking biker dude with tattoos all over his neck and cold, ball-bearing eyes, and a bleached blonde matronly looking woman with one side of her head shaved and tatted, wearing a dress much too short for a lady of her age and girth. The only ones there who appeared unscathed by life's vicissitudes were the children out dancing on the dance floor, happy, yet slightly apprehensive from trying to comprehend all of the antics of their elders.
Earlier that morning, I was forcefully reminded about my mother's passing. Someone had broken out a Capri-Sun drink in a little plastic pouch, and it reminded me of the apple-sauce packets that we kept in her refrigerator to feed her as she lay dying. She passed away last April, and I'd been hiding from the memory of those bleak days like a kid playing hide-and-go-seek for money. But suddenly, the image of her laying in bed struggling to hang on to what little bit of life she had left hit me right between the eyes like a sucker punch. It took some serious and frantic gymnastics with the TV remote before I found a college football game interesting enough to distract me.
For over two years, the small park in the center of Corcoran has been taken over by the homeless. I go back and forth between anger and empathy over the sad state of affairs. It seems like every street corner in the certain sections of Hanford, Visalia, Tulare and Fresno have been taken over by people with cardboard signs expressing their hunger and/or desire for alcohol and drugs. We, the supposedly average citizens, become immersed in a culture of death and dying. In California, we got ourselves a Governor who wants to make our once beautiful state into the abortion capital of the United States. I don't think he believes in any of the reasons that people put forth to argue for abortion as much as he wants to use the issue for his own political purposes. The politics of the issue have taken over to the point that neither side can see there is a lot of things that can be done to mitigate the myriad tragedies of unwanted pregnancies that people could agree upon without compromising any their own beliefs.
I believe the whole thing, the divisiveness over the abortion issue, the homelessness, the transgender issues, in fact, everything that polarizes society, is both political and purposeful. I think that they want it to be that way. They do not wish us to ever come together and view our willingness to resolve issues by talking them out as a danger to their hold on power. Who are they? The people who benefit most from the current state of affairs. The rest of us are left to our own devices to make do as best we can. I'm still slightly unconvinced about the whole Covid narrative, but firmly believe that there was absolutely no reason to rip the hems off of the social garment. Since when has it ever been a good idea to tear society apart in the face of major existential threat? Yet, that is exactly what happened. Instead of tightening things up or battening down the hatches, we emptied out the jails at the same time we defunded the police, we created sanctuaries for the homeless in every public space to serve as a constant reminder about the hopelessness of life. We legalized drugs and ended cash bail, releasing criminals back on the street almost as quickly as they committed their crimes. Our Governors wrested control of the states from out of the hands of our duly elected officials and put us all in jail for our own good, or so they said. It has become a major social faux-pas to mourn the loss of free speech which now apparently exists only for the benefit of the people who advance one side of the narrative, or who have little or no common sense.
It's a scary place this modern world, full of scary people and stupid ideas, bloated like a parking lot full of dead cows in the summer sun, floating around with all the grandiose pomposity of the Hindenburg. The stench of decomposition fills the air and the babblers, singing like a choir composed of cartoon squirrels, tell us that the aroma is just that expensive perfume that one Kardashian girl wears to cover up the perspiration she is profusely sweating because one day, she knows with all the certainty of death and taxes, there will be a time when a little boy points at her as she exits a limo, who will say, "But Mama, she's not wearing any clothes," and the whole world will suddenly awaken from its narcoleptic slumber and see her and her siblings for who and what they really are.
Solutions? I have none, just to try to get as close as I can to some sort of truth and live life where I cause no pain. That's hard to do nowadays because everyone is so sensitive and entitled, a hell of a lot more entitled than we used to be. They taken away our right to laugh at shit, and that's the biggest loss of all because if you can't laugh at life, all it leaves you is the tragedy.
Nope, I don't know what the answer is. I just know that whatever this shit is, ain't it.
The Colder Days of Autumn
Last night, I was coming home from a tournament in Stockton, and we stopped near Manteca to eat at an In-n-Out. Five young men entered and there's no other way of saying it, they looked pretty silly. One was swearing a T-shirt wrapped around his head and a black face mask. Another had a halloween mask of a killer clown sitting on top of his head like a hat. Three of the five wore their pants below their ass and belted across their thighs, holding them up with one hand when they walked. You could tell they thought they were the shit. They looked at everybody around them with cool disdain, pointing and laughing at different groups of people. They played with their food and made a big mess on the floor by throwing fries all over the place. One of them went to the soda machine and, walking back to his seat trying to balance his tray while holding his pants up with one hand, looked at me like I was already feeding the worms.
"Yeah, I might be heading in that direction," I thought to my myself, "but I'll take that rather than be as foolish as you look, or to listen to your music and act the way you act, or to even think the thoughts that you think."
A lot of people might think it's rude to prejudge these youths on their appearance, but it wasn't just their appearance, it was their whole demeanor, their actions, the way they laughed like hyenas as they made the mess on the floor and just left it. And besides that, I wasn't just judging from a distance, I knew exactly what was going on inside their head because, at one time in my life, I was one of those boys, and most of my guy friends were too.
I screwed shit up. It hurts a lot when I think how stupid I was, and I can't linger on it for very long because it is way too depressing. I wish so much that there had been someone back then, anyone, who could have slapped the living shit out of me and reached through that thick fog of stupidity and set me on a better path, but there wasn't. I looked. I kept waiting for someone to save me from myself, and in the absence of that person, I turned to other less worthy, people like John Lennon, or Jimi Hendrix for example. At one time on my life, I even thought that people like Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman, and Mario Salvo had something important to say. That is before I finally figured out what ignorant putzes they were.
How do I know that they were putzes? That's easy. For one thing, they presented everything they said as if it were the Gospel truth when it wasn't. You know like Lebron James thinking he's an expert on Sino-American relations just because a lot of his personal wealth originates in China. Or like President Biden talking about HIS policies when he's just doing what he is told. I learned one important lesson during the Covid Dark Ages and that was that these multi-millionaire celebrities who derive their wealth from the diversionary industries (read sports/entertainment) should just keep their traps shut when serious issues are being discussed. If you take lots of money to distract people from dealing with the idea of how the concept of infinity effects our relationship with the universe, then you have absolutely nothing to say that we need to hear when that same universe starts pressing in on our reality, you have nothing we need to hear. I understand the need to make a living, or even the need to attract a beautiful/handsome mate, live in a nice, big house and have an occasional meal at a great restaurant. I don't begrudge people any of that. But I do dislike people who do things using the stage at the Oscars to tell me how to think. If you want to tell me something then climb down the mountain to the valley where I live and quit shaking your jewels from the mountain tops. Do it like Gandhi, Jesus, or Dr. King did it. You'd have a lot more credibility with skin in the game. I believe that there's a special place in hell that Dante never dreamt about for people like Mr. Kimmel and them so-called ladies on The View.
My parents tried to be good role models, but the culture of the time was overwhelming. It was like getting caught in a riptide in an ocean of sewage. That outgoing current is even stronger than it was back then, and a lot of the kids nowadays have even less of a fundamental foundation to fall back on than we did. Hell, most of my friends could name more than a few of Ten Commandments. I don't think that's true of a lot of these kids nowadays.
Recently, I went to a funeral of my wife's childhood's best friend. A lot of my old friends were there and we looked, no, not looked, we are old. We look like our great-aunts and uncles used to look when we attended funerals when we were young. I was thinking of our memories and how crazy we acted, and how much we loved sharing those old stories about when we were younger and crazier and obsessed with doing crazy things. Life does that to us. It's a way of saying, do what you gotta do, Life. I ain't afraid. But that's the thing, we are afraid and spend most of our life trying to hide that fact. One of my friends told me, "Old age ain't for sissies." That's a true statement too, but life, no matter what age, ain't for sissies. It's hard and it's often tragic, and I can understand why the young try to thumb their noses at the fact. I'm guilty of the same thing when I don't allow thoughts about my forseeable future to stampede me into worrying all of time about disappearing into the mists of infinity. At my age, even getting out of bed in the morning is an act of defiance.
The thing that upsets me the most though is knowing how much better my life could have been had I lived it from the start lined up with the truth and with the understanding that doing the right thing is always better than being stupid no matter what the culture says. What an example I could and should have been, how much better a father I would have been, and how much more I could have helped the people all around me.
I know that I'm not the smartest bulb in the room, and never had been. I am just smart enough to know how much I don't know, and I'll accept that as always being better than thinking I know it all.
But, I also know, I could given those boys some great advice that could have helped them a lot had they been willing to listen.
But that always the problem, the young never have liked listening to the old. Maybe that's because we do complain a lot.
"Time is the cellmate who sodomizes us all."
"What's that, Pop?" Tall, dark-haired and tatted, Ronnie Greenway entered the room carrying a fresh pot of coffee in one hand and handful of Hazelnut creamers in the other."
"You heard me."
"Yeah, but it's a kind of a gross allusion, Pop. That's very unlike you."
"You don't think that what time does to us can be viewed as being gross?"
Ronnie knew that his father was trying to get him to talk about his mother's death the previous winter. Although divorced, his father had been there when the coroner had came and placed his beloved Julia in bag, put her on a gurney and wheeled her out the door. Ronnie was in no mood to talk about it though; he had been there too. "Yeah, I hear that, but I don't know what you're getting at. Time sodomizes us; what's your point?"
Noah Greenway, an aging, white-haired, blue-eyed man wearing black horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in a blue work shirt, white sox, and some faded blue jeans, was sitting in a large, comfortable brown leather reading chair. He was reading a new hard-back book when his t-shirt and blue jean clad son entered the room, so he closed the book and placed it on a battered oak coffee table that had seen its share of use. He carefully stirred a couple of Hazelnut creamers into his coffee and took a sip before answering, "Just thinking out loud. I've been reading this new book where the author is arguing that the continued use of the narrative arc in the writing of novels is an outmoded, unnecessary, and a limiting device. She offered up a list of other formats such as meandering, radial, or fractal that she thinks would serve just as well. It made me think that she's missing the point about the importance of the time element involved which led to the metaphor I just used."
"Did you come up with that on your own just now?
"Just popped in my head right when I said it. I'm surprised you can't see the light bulb still suspended over my head."
"Cool. So, I take it you don't agree?"
"No, I don't. Listen to this, while she's referencing the elements of fiction she says 'character, plot, place, etc.' Notice what she did there?"
"She failed to mention time as being part of the setting."
"Exactly. That tells me she knows."
"Knows what? That time is a cellmate that sodomizes us all? Who is it that drops the soap in the shower in that deal?"
"Don't get smart, asshole. It tells me she know the weakness of her argument. Setting is always getting the short shrift in fiction, always placed in the background and treated like a stage prop. In reality, time is the principal element that propels the story forward creating the tension and need for the arc. Most people have a tendency to ignore the fact that it is time located in a particular place that determines the meaning of the story. Everything in material existence has a beginning a middle and an end. Hell, even the act of reading a novel follows the narrative arc, as does cooking eggs or drinking coffee. The examples she gives to support her argument sound about as interesting as a travelogue."
Ronnie placed a blue porcelain plate loaded with bacon and scrambled eggs down on the coffee table in front of his father then went and sat down in a green easy chair at the western end of the table. "I think she's just trying to say it makes no sense in placing limitations on an art form, I mean, there's always other options; why just choose one. Seems that I remember that it was always you pushing the idea of transcendence on us and reminding us that time as we know it is actually a human construct."
"So is literature, a human construct I mean. I pushed it on you and your siblingss because society does a horrible job of helping us understand our relationship with an infinite universe. I understand, Son that time is a human construct, and infinity is the ultimate reality. You can do a lot of different things to change the form of a novel, you can meander, you can spiral it out, you can divide shit up, but you can't get away from the fact that we come into this world, we live, and we die."
"Yeah but, Dad, remember what you always say about eternity and the infinite universe. Our lives are seemingly little more than flyspecks on God's gigantic home movie screen."
Noah chuckled, "Goddamn this is good bacon. Where did you get it, Caldwell's?"
"No, Lawsons. It's a new place over there on Vine and Bellrose."
"It's great. I'll have to try that place. You can read the newspaper through a piece of Caldwell's bacon." He took another sip of coffee before he continued, "No son, that's a very good point you make. And if that's what she really means, she's on to something. It would definitely change how we relate to world if we all thought in terms of the infinite, but we don't think in those terms. We can't, at least not for long. As we are now, it would freeze our brains or fracture our consciousness into a thousand pieces. It's what Christ was talking about when he mentioned the impossibility of pouring new wine into old bottles. Besides, all those alternate forms she mentions also take place in time. These alternate forms she's talking about, if that is what she's doing, would also be contained in the narrative arc. In fact, the story of how to obtain a more inclusive visions of reality is itself guided by the narrative arc."
"Well for one thing, it is what climactic moment of a story actually represents, the sudden epiphany, the sudden and all encompassing transformation of the hero. Narrative at its most primal story is the recognition of mankind's true condition, understanding of our real place in the infinite universe is what the ultimate climax represents. That's why in most movies it is usually accompanied by lightning storms, windows breaking, bullets, screaming, or car crashes, things that represent the shattering of the old, pre-illumined Ego. I believe that literature is secretly a ritual created to convey the idea of the Great Myth mass audience beneath the prying eyes of the Church. The irony of the author's position, is if she did managed to convince people of the truth of her argument, she would be actually be getting rid of the very ritual that kept that myth alive."
"Yeah, Pop, but we're not in the Dark ages anymore. I don't know if you noticed or not, the Church has lost its stranglehold on our consciousness."
The comment made the old man almost project the drink of coffee he was taking out of is nose, "Man, I call bullshit on that one! The Church's grip has morphed into the prison constructed of cold hard rationality, a rationality that for some reason prefers we forget the reality of the infinite. These empirically driven scientists are the new inquisitors, thinking that'll someday they'll be able to explain infinity by studying a small piece of it."
The young man shrugged. "Yeah, whatever, Pop. I'm not going to argue with you. Not to change the subject, but do you remember that time you sent Hannah a framed copy of Howl for her birthday? I thought homegirl was going to blow a gasket."
"I thought she was never going to speak to me again. I also remember the time when she came in my study without knocking and caught me reading from a book of Bukowski's poems. Hannah takes after her mom, I guess. Your mother wouldn't even let me have a copy of Henry Miller in the house. I had to hide them in a cardboard box in the attic behind a framed poster of Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg."
"Miller? The Beats? You and mom both taught the Classics, Pop. Do you really like that stuff?"
"I appreciate beauty of a well turned phrase wherever it comes from; listen to this. I wrote it down; it's from Bukowski, '
'There's so many days
when living stops and pulls up and sits
like a train upon the rails.'
Ronnie nodded, "That is pretty good. The way I see it is Mom spent a lot of years mastering the knowledge needed to get her doctorate, and she didn't appreciate people like Miller, Ginsberg and Bukowski coming along and ripping the ground out from it all with all that stream of consciousness and free verse stuff."
The old man stood and went and a took cigar out of a humidor on the bookshelf behind him. He offered one to his son who declined. He performed the ritual of lighting it and returned to his seat puffing on the cigar.
"Yeah, but she loved James Joyce." He shook his sadly. "There was no figuring what was going on inside that woman's head. That's why we divorced. Ronnie, do you remember when Sophie and I got into that big argument the last time?"
"Yeah, I remember she didn't talk to you for quite a while. What was that all about."
"Talk to me, hell, she didn't even invite me to the ceremony when she got her Masters, and it was all over her masters project. It was a multi-media presentation about Medusa, and knowing your sister, I knew she was going to make it into a feminist statement, and I warned her that she should not do that."
"I told her the Greeks would not understand. To them mythology was the way they considered the whole enchilada. They wouldn't dare to profane mythology trying to use it to make political arguments. What I didn't know that she was almost done with the project and that her advisors had loved it."
"I don't know, Pop. It seems like you can make anything fit into a political argument these days."
"Doesn't make it right though. Besides, I don't think that was the real issue. I think she was hell bent on making a point about the evils of the Patriarchy, and I don't think she believed it was fair of her to attack the Patriarchy and not attack her own patriarch. She threw me under the bus in the presentation and didn't want me to be there to see it."
"Shit. That's fucked up. I mean unless it was her relationship with you where she gathered the power of her argument. Do you know that for sure?"
The old man nodded. "Yeah, she also blamed me for killing your mother."
"Killing mom? Mom had brain cancer. How the fuck does she blame you for that?"
The old man shrugged, "How the hell should I know? I'm just an old man, make that a foolish old man who has never been able to fathom in the least all of the mysteries of womanhood. I loved your mother with all my heart, yet never understood her in the least. Your sister cared for her as she was dying and listened to all her complaints but lacked my ability to decode what her mother was really saying."
He looked at his son's mouth hanging open and knew he would have to explain things further, "Your mother wanted me to more like the man her father and her brothers were. She wanted a lawn mowing, furniture fixing, house painting, pick-up driving, bitch slapping, hard drinking, poker playing, God-fearing, bonafide HE man, and I wasn't any of that."
"Mom? You're saying that my mother, the classic loving professor of English literature, secretly desired a Stanley Kowalski to come in and slap her around some?"
"That's where the decoding comes in, Son. Your mother wanted to move to a cabin in the mountains where we could sit around a fire, ski in the winters, and have picnics at the lake in the summers."
"And, what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, besides the fact that none of the rest of us wanted that life. We're all book people, theater goers, movie critic types. Besides it's not what she really wanted at all."
"I'm confused, Pop."
"What she really wanted was for someone to take the burden of dealing with the decline of her parents off of her shoulders. She was the baby of the family and they left it up to her. She couldn't really blame it on her siblings, so her anger fell on me."
"Well, why does Hanna think that it was your fault?"
"Well, for one thing, I could have been lot more helpful. I should have helped her more. I was having my own crisis of identity. She kept comparing me to her father and her brothers, and I kept agreeing that I didn't come off looking too good in that comparison. Hell, I never believed I measured up to my own dad."
"Pop, Grandpa Moses and Grandpa Joe neither one of them had an eighth grade education. You earned a PhD at one of the most renowned universities in the world. You teach at one of the most elite universities in the world. What you are talking about is like comparing apples to oranges. That's absurd reasoning."
"Yeah, that's what I try to tell myself, but when I'm all alone at night, left with the memories of the those last few years, a voice keeps saying, 'Not apples and oranges, Mano y Mano. Your grandpas were men of action. Men who were not afraid of bleeding when blood was the required medium of exchange."
"You are way too hard on yourself, Dad. All we can do is try and do our best. You guys are okay now aren't you? I mean, she had some kind things to say about that last review you published."
"Yeah. As long as I keep my mouth shut about certain things. Besides, if a father gave up on the relationship with his children every time one of them broke his heart, he'd end up a lonely old fart."
"Or like Mom."
The old man frowned and wiped a wisp of his long gray hair behind his ear, looked up at his son and almost whispered, "Exactly."
The conversation halted for a moment. The son watched as the old man's eyes drifted off into the past. His father had told him once that the saddest moment of his life was when his wife was crying over something that one of the girls had said and for the first time in their relationship, he couldn't make her smile, couldn't pull her out of the sadness. "I knew then I'd lost my magic," he'd told his son, "and I knew she was over me too."
The need to brush his ash off into the large, black marble ash tray brought his father back into the room. "Everything we know is false because we judge it without any true understanding of the Cosmos."
"I don't know, Pop. I remember what you said about Vogelin and the idea of Metaxy, for any artistic creation to stand the test of time it must reference the transcendent nature of the universe. I assume that's true of life as well."
"Don't be vague, such as?"
"Say for the sake argument, painting the Mona Lisa, composing 23rd Piano Sonata in F Major, recording Shelter from the Storm,, Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus, Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul, building a house from scratch, running a trucking company, teaching the young how to understand what Dante was saying, need I go on?"
"Smart ass. I noticed you left out Fred Gibson's Old Yeller."
Ronnie smiled, "Don't make fun of Gibson, Pop. You know that's my favorite book. Well, tell me, what are you going to write about that lady and her book?"
"I already told you."
"Time is the cellmate that sodomizes us all."
"I like it. Especially the way you use the prison cell as the part of the setting, but you still didn't answer who it was that dropped the soap."
"If you're trying to get me to say that it was God's soap, you're wasting your time."
This story is somewhat based on a true event that I always wanted to tell but was afraid it would depict the neighborhood I grew up in a bad light. I love that old neighborhood. It was such a great place to grow up, full of wonderful, strangely unique individuals, a great bunch of friends, and a whole lot of things that a kid should and shouldn't do. I never had any real problems back then; those type of problems didn't begin until I crossed over Branson Avenue and started going to junior high school on the other side of town.
One of our neighbors back then had been a snake-handling preacher in Alabama before moving out west. Obie Dunworth was still kind of a preacher I guess, but he had toned it down quite a bit. He told my dad that that the snake fondling racket didn't play out too well in California. Obie had the same type of build as the guy who played Daniel Boone's side kick in the old TV show starring Fess Parker, skinny legs but kind of bulging in the belly area. He belted his pants way up high right across his belly button, made it look like the equator, dividing the bulge into two equal parts like it did. One day, I was outside bouncing a tennis ball off the back wall of the house, and he called me over to the back fence where he had two small wooden sheds both about 10 feet by 10 feet, one red and one blue, in the southeast corner of his yard about twelve feet apart forming an area where he couldn't be seen from the road. My dad parked his big, white Chevy 3/4 ton truck back in the north east corner of our yard, so standing next to the fence made me kind of hard to see too.
"Mornin there, Danny, Come on over here, son; I got something I want to show you. I sent my grand-son Donnie to go fetch it out my truck."
"Morning, Mr. Dunworth. Ya know I been meaning to ask you a question about them snakes you used to handle back there in Alabama. How come they didn't bite you when you picked them up?"
He looked at me like the last thing he wanted to do was talk about them snakes; I could tell he was a little nervous about something, but he decided to humor me.
"That was the whole point of it, sonny boy. You reach down in that there box and pick one or two of them snakes up, and if they didn't sink them fangs in ya, it meant you were being protected by the Holy Spirit."
"That's what was puzzling me. Let's say, you didn't reach down in that box, well, the snake couldn't have bit you either, doesn't that mean you was being protected before you reached down in there."
His face squeezed up together and his eyes got real narrow like he was mad at me for something. Fortunately for me, his grandson Donnie, who all the kids called Donnie Dumbass because he was more than just ordinary dumb, came around the corner of the garage struggling to carry a big card box full of something.
I kept looking at him waiting for my answer, so Mr. Dunworth finally said, 'Yes, I guess it does, but it's the temptin of the devil that's impotent in the sitchiation; you givin Ol Luke a chance to hurt ya, and God said no, you can't hurt none of my chiren." I guess the answer satisfied him cause he quit talking and went and fetched that box off a Donnie, brought it over to the fence and held it up high enough for me to look inside and see the contents. He then told Donnie to go tell his grandma to cook breakfast for him. Donnie didn't seem happy about it but scurried away anyway because he knew his grandpa would backhand his ass if he didn't.
"That there's what they call a whole case of Ripple wine, boy. It's good stuff.Twenty four unopened bottles of it. I heard tell that you kids love this stuff, and I'm willing to part with for only a dolla on the bottle."
I looked over the fence and sure enough there 24 green bottles staring back at me. He was right too, us young really did like that stuff because it was cheap, and you could pass it around and drink it right out the bottle. I fished around in my pockets to see what I had on me, "I only got $12, Mr. Dunworth, cash money. That way I won't have to go see if I could get a loan from my daddy."
There's was no way my Dad was going to give me $12 to buy wine over the back fence, and Mr. Dunworth knew it, but he also knew that he didn't want my Dad, who was a deacon in the Holier Than Thou Children of the Savior Baptist Church, to know anything about the transaction that was going on. I guess that was because it was like they was in some kind of competition or something. (My dad's church really didn't have that name either. My friend Richard put that adjective on the front because every-time we asked a grown-up a theological question, the answer came back at us with lecture about how morally superior we Southern Baptists were compared to other Christian sects.)
Like I said, Mr. Dunworth had given up his snake handling ways by then and joined the plainly named but still stylistically outrageous 6th Street Baptist Church. They not only talked in tongues there but put it out on the loudspeaker so the whole neighborhood could hear the chatter which was being backed up by two guitars, a drum set, a trumpet and a saxophone. It sounded kind of like if John Coltrane and Miles Davis were improvising a call to prayer using a passel of starving cats for the chorus.
Obie wasn't real happy bout my counter offer, but he thought about it for a minute before blurting, "Give me that $12, boy. I reckon it didn't cost me nuthin in the first place, and $12 is $12." I handed him a wad of crumpled bills, and he handed me the box over the top of fence. It was pretty unwieldy at first, and I almost dropped the box before I got a handle on how to deal with the load. As I toted it to where my car was and popped the trunk open, I was softly singing the song Ripple by the Grateful Dead,
"Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men."
I made sure my mom wasn't looking out the window, put the box in my trunk and slammed it shut.
I went back behind the house to toss the tennis ball some more. I know that some the neighborhood adult's used to look at me like I was crazy because I was still tossing that tennis ball and pretending I was playing baseball, but it was my stress relief. From the time I was small, I'd be out there pretending to be a San Francisco Giant. Sometimes I would be Juan Marichal with that high leg kick, sometimes I'd be Gaylord Perry throwing knuckleballs, and sometimes I'd be my hero Willie Mays making a throw from center field. It was pure escapism, and it always helped me to forget my troubles for a while.
I was in the middle of my wind-up when I heard someone singing over the fence in a wobbly voice that kind of sounded like whoever it was had been crying.
"Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves."
I went to investigate, looked over the fence and there was Donnie Dumbass, Obie's grandson, pants to his ankles, squatting and taking a crap behind his grandpa's garage. I tried to avert my eyes real quickly and get out of there, but it was too late."
"Hey, Danny! I want to ask you somethin."
I only looked enough to see the top of his head, "What you want to ask me, Donnie?"
"How bout selling me them bottles back?"
I laughed, "What are you, dude, ten? Twelve?"
"I'm twelve, but that don't mean nothing. I can handle myself."
"It's a big no, Donnie. I ain't selling no wine to no kid!"
"Come on, Danny. I thought you was a cool cat."
"I am. But I'm too cool to get caught selling alcohol to a minor."
Suddenly, his head appeared above the fence. He walked toward the fence buttoning up his pants. His eyes were red liked he had been crying about something. I figured his Grandpa had hit him for something. Donnie always looked like a shabbier, hillbilly version of that dude on the Mad magazine covers. He had big grin which revealed a mouth full of yellow teeth that had clearly never been introduced to a toothbrush.
"We got ourselves a deal, Danny?" He stuck his hand over the fence.
"Get yo damn hand out my face, boy! Did you even wipe your ass?"
"I sure did! Look, I used that old sock over there."
I swear to God, I tried my best not to look, but before I could stop myself I stole a glance over the fence, and sure enough, there was one of those white athletic tube socks with the two red rings on top sitting in the middle of a huge pile of Donny Dumbass shit.
Later that night, my friend Golly-Gee had a party at his parent's house. The parents were gone to Pismo for the week-end and he had invited a few people over. I took the case of wine bottles and, sure enough it made me into the bonafide hero of the evening. Golly and I went outside by the fire-pit to smoke a joint, and it was there I told him about the incident with Donnie.
"Damn it all-to-hell, Danny Wilson, I could've went my whole life without that damn image in my head! Now, I'll never be able to get it out of there. Why in God's holy name did you tell me that?"
"Sorry, man. It was just much too big a thing for me to keep it to myself."
"Don't forget, you told me when you caught your cousin Rascal masturbating in your daddy's tool shed.
I knew Golly pretty well, and I knew he was going to make the point that it wasn't a fair trade, but right before he started, he stopped cold, threw up his hands, and blurted, "All right. we're even. But understand, this wipes the slate clean, and don't ever tell me nuthin like this ever again."
I was going to say okay, but there was something else I had to get off my chest. "Golly, I don't know how to say this, but there's more to the story." I paused to get my thoughts in order before I told him, "I told ya, I didn't look for more than a second, but in that briefest of moments when I peeked over that fence, it sure looked like Donnie had a golden halo around his head."
Golly, a tall, thin young man with long, brown hair, looked at me with his face all screwed up like he had just bit into a lemon. The look told me that he suspected that I was smoking some of that stronger stuff like our friend Rambo Jones had broke out when he got back from his trip to Arkansas the previous summer.
"Golly, I swear on your Granny's mustache I ain't lying. It was there. A circular golden glow, and there's more to the story. When I saw that one, dingy white sox sitting on that top of that ugly little pile of excrement, I had myself a moment."
"Yeah, an epiphany, a sudden flash of intuition."
"I know what an epiphany is, Danny. Remember I had one myself when I finally got Donna Knowles to show me her breasts. It was a feeling so strong I sank down to my knees and started singing Hallelujah."
"That ain't nothing near what I'm talking bout. That's a whole different thing, remember when Donna walked into church that day and Preacher Preacher started stuttering?"
"Do I! My Grandma thought he was talking in tongues and jumped out in the aisle and started dancing. My God, I thought I was gonna pee my pants."
After laughing till my ribs hurt, I regained my composure and went on telling the rest of the story. "I swear, Golly, I suddenly understood the relationship of the event of Donny sitting there in a squatting position to the totality of the infinite universe. Not only that, I suddenly knew that no matter whatever had happened in all of previous history of the human race, me looking over that fence and seeing Donnie squatting there was destined to happen."
"Let me get this straight. You saying that if somehow, one of Donnie's direct paternal ancestors had got eaten by a bear during his family's passage over the Cumberland Gap, you would've still looked over that fence and saw him squatting there."
I nodded without saying a word and handed him the joint. He took a big hit, coughed a few times, and handed it back."
He kept on, "You saying that if Donnie's great, great, great grandma had fell off a cliff into the freezing water of a lake in Alaska where none of Donnie's family has ever been, and you had somehow managed to get yourself unto a airplane with engine problems and had to parachute out over the Andes Mountains, that you would have somehow ended up floating down just into time to see Donnie squatting out behind that garage."
Golly looked me strangely for minute, then he uttered the phrase that had given him his nickname, "Well golly gee, Danny. I guess I could see it, but let's keep it just between you and me. I don't think most of the people round here would understand in the least, ya know what I mean?
"Well, I was thinking bout telling Preacher Preacher."
"That's what I mean, especially don't say nuthin to Preacher Preacher. He'll bring it up in church. That fool been lookin for somethin to latch onto to restore his general reputation ever since that stutterin incident."
"Maybe it needs to be brought up though, I mean seeing that is all wrapped up in the bigger picture of things and all."
Golly just shook his head, "No. You just going to have to trust me on this one, Danny."
And so I did. I wrapped that memory up in a plastic bag, and poked a few holes in so that it could breathe, placed it in a styrofoam cooler, put a complete copy of Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough on top of it and hid it in the furthest corner of the deepest basement level of my subconscious. (It had a lot company down there. There was coffee can with the memory of when I peed my pants in my first grade classroom, a shoe box containing the memory of me joining in with a bunch of boys and teasing Barbara Lee till she cried, and a blue, locked, tin-metal box with the memory of when I broke down and cried as Julie Prime was breaking up with me.)
I didn't ever think about the incident until one dark, stormy Halloween night when I was attending Columbia University working on my Masters in Literature. I was home alone in my apartment reading a book about the French Revolution and was perusing this passage about the revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. Marat was a vicious rascal, and as radical as they come, someone who kept pushing the violence of the revolution. The author described him as having green tinged, scabrous skin (Marat suffered from a skin condition) and having a croaking, frog-like voice. It was said Marat would squat down on the banks of the Paris sewers while hiding from the authorities. He would later be assassinated by a beautiful young lady name Charlotte Corday and his death immortalized in the famous painting by the artist Jacques-Louis David.
The image of a toad-like Marat squatting down by the sewer opened the door to the basement room where my deepest memories were stored and the squatting Donnie Dunworth suddenly made an unbidden appearance in my room. I tried to nip things in the bud by closing the book and picking up another one and reading something else, but by some strange synchronous power, I opened up the page to an illustration of the Aztec earth goddess Tlaltcuhtli who was often depicted as having a squatting, toad-like body, crocodile skin, and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth.
It just so happened, at that time, I was also working on a graphic arts project where I was supposed to create a graphic image that could be commercialized. I suddenly had another epiphany. An image of a golden frog wearing a gold crown encrusted with rubies and emeralds surrounded by a halo appeared in my head. The motto of Alfred E. Neuman, "What me worry?" was written on a banner below the image. I immediately went over to where my computer was sitting on the kitchen table and created a mock-up of the image after changing the words from the Mad Magazine motto to "No Worries".
To make a long story short, the next morning, I printed up 100 blue t-shirts with the image and took them to a local flea mart. I sold out that first batch in under three hours. Thus, the idea for Gold Frog Industries was born. I copyrighted the image and printed it on everything you could print an image on, often changing the slogan to different sayings. I was smart and sold out right before the idea reached a point of over-saturation and walked away with a cool five million dollars. I also hired a bunch of college students to go out to all the flea marts in the area and buy up all the shirts that people sold knowing that sometime in the not-to-distance future there would be a market for the retro t-shirts.
Ten years later, I went back to Concord for my mother's funeral. Me and Golly got together and went to buy some beer at the local Seven-Eleven. By some strange circumstance in the universal ordering of events, as we pulled into the parking lot, we saw Donnie Dunworth squatting by the rear of a old, rusty blue Honda changing a tire. The passenger windows were down and a couple dirty looking little boys were hanging out watching their daddy work on changing the tire.
It took Donny a while to recognize me, but when he did, he quickly stood up and held out his hand while I approached. When he looked at his hand and saw how dirty it was, he pulled out a red rag from his back pocket and wiped it and held it out again. "Danny Wilson! Damn, man! I seen you since you moved out of your mama's house to go to school."
I grasped his hand and shook it vigorously. "Donny Dunworth, as I live and breathe. How you been dude?"
"Well, as you can see, I'm still here. I'm working at the mill over Hartford. They pay more than these cheap bastards in Concord. Hey, these two little heathens here are my boys, Obie and Obert. Hey boys. This here the neighbor I told you about, Mr. Danny Wilson."
"Hi boys. How come you ain't out here helping your daddy."
The boys both grinned and biggest one said shyly, "Daddy said we ain't big enough, Mr. Wilson."
The boys cheeks were covered in grime, but they were cute little fellers. "You keep growing and you'll be big enough before you know it."
We went in a got the beer, and when we came back outside, I handed it Golly who went and put it in the car. I called Donnie over to where I was and shook his hand and quietly passed him a fifty dollar bill.
He looked at the money and looked around, "What's that for, Danny."
"I figured I owe you for that case of wine. It was yours, wasn't it?"
Donnie's eyes widened, "How the hell did you know that. I never told no one. My neighbor, you remember Mrs. Jones? Well, she got saved one Sunday and swore off drinking. She gave me that case of wine and told me to get rid of it. I hid it in my daddy's tool shed. I was going to give it to mama for her birthday, but Grandpa found it and stole it."
"It took me a while, but I figured it out. You never told nobody?"
Donny laughed so hard his shoulders shook, " Hell, Danny you knew my Grandpa."
"I sure did. I reckon if I had to replace that case of Ripple in today's dollars it would cost me at least fifty dollars. So, you take that money, and we'll call it square, all right?"
Donny didn't say nothing, just smiled and raised his chin and nodded and turned to go back to his tire changing. Danny started walking back toward his car. When he opened his door and slid in behind the wheel, Golly nodded towards the doorway they had just exited and Danny turned and saw Donny leading the two boys into the store.
"You gave that fool some money, didn't you?"
Danny just smiled wryly
"All I had in my pocket was a fifty dollar bill."
Golly mulled things over for a moment, "How come you didn't give him more money. Hell, I know you got at least a $1,000 in your wallet right now. I mean, him copping that squat gave you that damn idea."
"Just watch." After they sat in silence for a moment, they saw Donnie and the boys come out the door and both of them kids were struggling to sip out of a 32 ounce soda using one arm and holding a couple packs of little chocolate donuts in the other. "I'll do something for them boys later. There's some people you just can't hand a thousand dollars. It' ll hurt'em more than do 'em good."
"And Donny's one of them."
Danny smiled again, "Top of the list."