There is a lady in our town who lives on Main Street. I mean literally lives on a bench located on the main thoroughfare of Corcoran. It's plain for everyone to see that she's clearly hurting. She sits and stares to the west or stands and stares toward the road. Sometimes she walks back and forth like she's one of the characters in small town version of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, waiting for some kind of salvation that never seems to come. She's moved a couple of times because she used to sleep on the sidewalk in front of the cafe where I eat breakfast everyday, and she was sleeping in the park with the other homeless after the local police told her she couldn't sleep on the cafe's sidewalk.
Like I said, she is clearly in some distress. But she's not the only one. Every day there's a whole group of people who traverse the stage outside the window where I'm eating. Dressed in scabs, filth, and ragged, unwashed clothing, they are all broken in one way or another. And clearly, the powers that be, depending where you want to place their abode either in Heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla, Washington D.C., or Sacramento don't seem to give a damn about them. I feel like I can say that that because it's been going on for such a long time and nothing seriously has been done to identify the problem much less fix it. Our political divide where both sides of the table are blinded by the ever expanding, ever darkening mists of their own flatulence can not seem to bring themselves to see past the end of their own noses, each side wanting and/or needing to keep the sores of the body politic gaping and bleeding and oozing in their misguided efforts to throw both blame and stones across the aisle as if their only job in life is to accuse the other side of sin.
I know that I myself should be a lot more empathetic. I really understand that I should do more myself, and I'm not trying to place the blame on others. I've just never been a person who could walk up to someone in such a wretched condition and say, "Here, let me take you somewhere where they can help you." It's not in me, and me makes me even sadder because I've so often searched those darkened reaches of my own inner world looking for the wells of healing water and only found an half-filled gallon jar or two, barely enough to satisfy my own needs in such arid times. I'm a typical American in that way, someone who write checks to charity, so I don't have to listen to the news. But everyday, this dystopian panorama is still outside the window where I sit and eat my eggs and bacon.
I often feel like someone who paid a lot of money to watch Beckett's Waiting for Godot in a luxurious theater after eating a fine meal and drinking several Scotch and waters (at least four, the last one a double). My conscience is pricked and made alive by the stern scenarios, but by the time I get back home, I leave my conscience outside and lock the door behind me where sometimes, I hear it scratching like a spoiled cat.
Yesterday, I drove to Fresno to give my daughter some money to help a lady in need get off the streets. I was a little short while waiting for my SS check to come in, so I took my coins to a Save Mart in Hanford and traded them in for a little piece of paper worth $40. Yep, that's about as far as I go. I'm much better at complaining about things.
Whenever, I'm in Fresno, I go to Barnes and Noble. Normally, I buy a book or two. I'm trying to break that habit because the inside of my house looks a lot like library after an earthquake. As I'm typing this, I can look to my right and see a battered, used volume of Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness. The tag on the cover said I bought it for 25 cents. I remember I bought it because I needed to find something to tell my daughter that she needed to be a little less altruistic, so that she could take better care of herself. The philosophy in the book though reminded me a lot of Nietzsche, so I quit reading it after the first chapter. On the top of the stack of books behind my laptop is the book, Savage Journey, a biography of Hunter S. Thompson. I can walk into any room of my house and come face to face with some great thinker. While I'm ironing clothes, for example, I'll pause long enough to read a page or two of someone like Joan Didion or Carl Jung. Waiting for the shower to get warm in the morning, it's H.G. Wells's History of the World.
When I catch myself doing this, I'm reminded of one of my earliest images of my mother sitting in a chair in the living room smoking a cigarette with an inch long ash and holding a romance novel in the other hand while the vacuum cleaner stands before her anxiously waiting. My brain has always been restless, ever searching for the bit I missed the first time around. This state of affairs has its benefits, of course, but its not always a good thing, as it makes it hard for me to focus and get shit done, and its getting even harder for me as I age to sit still and just enjoy the beauty of the world around me. It seems that I would rather run the world through the filter of someone like a Larry McMurtry or a Carl Jung than actually see the same real thing right across the street.
So, now, instead of buying a book, I grab two or three and sit down at a table with my coffee and a small notebook to write down the lines or expressions that I like and want to remember. I kind of like this arrangement better because it adds the sport of people watching to the reading endeavor. Sitting there, I read an essay on Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five by Salman Rushdie in which he explained the meaning behind the iconic catch phrase made famous by the novel, "and so it goes." Rushdie explains that it wasn't so much a shoulder shrug offered in the face of existence, as most people think, but, rather, a respectful nod offered to the specter of death. Rushdie claims that every time the author used the expression someone in the book had died. It made perfect sense to me, so I wrote it down, now here I am talking about it.
I often wonder, when I am alone at night, why I don't possess a greater amount of empathy towards the people who sleep on our nation's sidewalks and haunt our crosswalks holding up cardboard signs to elicit our sympathy and aid. Sometimes, I think it might be because what empathy I have, I need for myself. I was cruising along minding my own business when the powers that be just started raining nuclear bombs down upon my head. It was like God let Harry Truman take the wheel for a moment, and he decided I was threat to the Domino Theory of Cold-War containment. My wife suddenly up and leaves, my mom has a stroke; the first night my dad spends alone at home because Mom is in the hospital, evidently thinking about the idea of living life without her; suffers a mental breakdown; dad gets dementia and dies; ex-wife gets cancer and dies, mom gets a pace maker and dies of a Covid related illness. And so it goes.
Kurt Vonnegut was actually there when the Allies firebombed the fairy-tale city of Dresden in retaliation for the German bombing of London. He went down beneath the ground of one of the most charming and magical places in Europe and emerged into the smoking ruins of a rugged Martian landscape. That scene resonates with me. I sometimes feel like I fell asleep on the couch while watching Father Knows Best and woke up to the Kardashians blathering about whatever the hell it is they blather about while sitting on that couch from Friends smoking a joint and watching a drunken Bill Maher urinating on Howard Stern's head while he's passed out in the doorway of the Mayberry jail. Otis the lovable drunk's neglected corpse is covered with cobwebs in the jail cell behind them but they never seem to notice. That feeling emptied my storage capacity of empathy about a half. Then, I think I hit a rock while driving the back roads to Tulare and punctured a hole in the tank that left me on empty.
Yet, it might have been that brainless twit of a judge that let those two drug smugglers who brought 250,000 hits of Fentanyl into the valley loose the very same day they were busted. That's more than enough Fentanyl to kill every person in this area. Stuff like that makes you realize that we're living in weird times and you can't just be handing over your empathy to every one with a cardboard sign all willy nilly like. Most of them, the drugged-out ones, would trade your empathy for some Fentanyl while you were standing there if they could. You might need it later to barter for something someday or need to dig a hole and hide it for an occasion where you know it's truly needed, and not just give it to someone of the ilk of the person who stole your mom's wheelchair and sold it for five dollars.
And it's not that I don't realize that the someone who stole my mom's wheelchair is worthy of empathy. I just used to know it a whole lot better before some people made a cottage industry as well as a political philosophy out of the signaling of virtue. They teach it to our children in our schools, and, hell, you can't even go into a fast food restaurant in America without the person behind counter asking if you want to donate your change to an advertising effort that shows the world how much more virtuous their corporate ownership is opposed to another corporate ownership. There is reason that the Bible says to "give your alms in private." People ain't changed all that much, especially corporate ownership.
I was telling my brother this morning that there's a lesson to be learned by the lady's presence on main street. I just don't know what it is yet. I told him that according to science, we shape our own reality by our thinking. I then told him to straighten up and quit thinking weird shit, and I would try to do the same. I thought about whether this world is one of those Escape Rooms that people pay good money to escape from (Don't ask me), and maybe what we needed to do was to come up with a phrase that would free us all. I remarked that the lady standing there dressed all in black against the stark background of downtown Corcoran looked like something out of an Ibsen play or that movie The Seven Seals by Ingmar Bergman. You know the scene where the knight plays chess with Death? So, as we ate, I googled Ibsen and started reading a list of famous quotes from his plays.
The first one was cool, and I thought very appropriate for these times. “It is the very mark of the spirit of rebellion to crave for happiness in this life.” I looked over at my brother and asked, "She still there?" He just shook his head sadly. I read the rest of the list, and then I would ask, and he would shake his head. The last one was the best. I told him excitedly, "This is great. It has got to be the one."
He had forgotten by that time what we were doing and sheepishly asked, " The one what?"
I looked at him with disdain and said, "The code word, the secret phrase, fool. The one that's going to change everything and make it go back to the way it was before."
I was almost frothing at mouth by then, "Before Covid! Before Newsome and his slick ass hair. Before The Joker. Before Schiff. Before Antifa. Before Hunter knew what crack was. Before Miley Cyrus. Before Nickleback. What do you mean before what? Before what ever it was that broke that lady over there's heart."
"Just shut up and say it." He's usually like Silent Bob but sometime he's heard enough.
"Okay. Here it goes, 'I don't imagine that you will dispute the fact that at the present stupid people are in an absolute majority all the world over.'"
I have developed an aversion to most professional sports. I can't participate in the charade anymore. Boxing was the last one to go, but I got to the point where I could convince myself that reading about the results afterwards was almost as satisfying as watching it live it on TV. I admit, I had to use the same kind of self-deception I practice when I am trying to talk myself out of eating another Milk Dud, that the sugar rush only lasts for a second. Once, I convince myself of the validity of that argument, it becomes a lot easier to forgo the candy.
Last March, during the College basketball finals, something happened that pushed me over the edge. During the telecasts, they allowed the reporters to ask the coaches a question during the timeouts. I've been a basketball coach for almost forty years. Seeing this play-out on TV was, in my opinion, the equivalent of some reporter interrupting a brain surgeon while he was operating on a patient. I know that's a silly allegory, but having a dumbass reporter ask a coach a stupid question at such a time is pretty damn silly too.
I've also been a human being for almost 71 years and a big sport's fan for most of that time. I've watched as Professional Sports evolved from being organizations at least somewhat concerned with the well-being of their fan bases into major corporation entities concerned with squeezing as much money as possible out of a gullible citizenry to the point where even their charitable aspects are based on how it affects their branding and not on genuine empathy. I think that the greed has become so entrenched in professional sports that the stars on the NFL logo should be replaced with dollar signs and the NBA logo with Jerry West should be replaced by the silhouette of David Stern holding a fan up by his ankles and shaking every last dime out of the fan's pocket.
I used to be able to turn to college sports for sanctuary though. Now, that's no longer true. Indeed, the failure of the colleges to defend the last bastion of amateurism has been even more sinister and marked by greed and corruption if anything. Sport fans always relied on the colleges to protect the innocence of athletics from the pimps, the panderers and corporate hucksters who would sell their own mothers for a bigger piece of the pie or the money to upgrade their Porsches into Lamborghinis.
It's always been a challenge, but at least they tried sometimes. That all changed during the NIL and Transfer Protocol arguments. The courts ruled college amateurism dead and the admins reasoned they could no longer support it. Well, they could have, They surely could have made principled stand for it, but the money required would have had to have come from their end of the skim, and they sure seemed a more than a little concerned with the protecting of their own cut than the prospects of turning amateurism into a prostitution ring. You would think that people who ran the universities would have read Dante at some point in their life and understood why he assigned the pimps, panderers, and con-men an eternity of being buried up to their necks in frozen firmament of the 9th Circle of Hell.
What they have unwittingly done is helped turned our prestigious universities from institutions committed to higher learning into sports-entertainment factories, more committed to TV ratings and "Woke" politics than the teaching of genuine truth.
I personally believe all of the administrators who have participated in the destruction of the traditional conference alignments because of their insatiable thirst for TV money should be forced out of their offices and kicked out into the streets. They should count themselves lucky that we don't live in the times when people were prone to pour molten gold down the throats of the government administrators who betrayed the public trust in favor of accumulating wealth. The idea that you must cast aside traditional relationships and decades old rivalries because it costs more to run a program nowadays and you need ever more and more money to compete on a national level, doesn't work either, so save your dumbass breath. You don't have to go backwards either. Just take a pause, reexamine your values and you will begin to notice that there's other paths forward than working for ESPN.
I would advise the four schools left behind in the Pac-Four from the departure of the SEC wannabes, to swallow their pride, merge into the Mountain West and do the following:
1) Lower your ticket prices. We are living in tough economic times.
2) Quit begging for money. See what it's like to make do with what you have for a while. Everyone in this country is hurting. Quit acting like you're entitled, or a victim.
3) Get rid of all TV time-outs. You have the upper hand. You have the content! Quit acting like it's otherwise. Rename all the bowl games to something less stupid, and let the advertising adjust itself to the game and not vice versa.
4) Market yourself as being the Anti-Corporate Greed Conference. This is the same thing I would advise the WNBA to do. Quit whining about the fact that more people watch the NBA. Concentrate on making your brand more attractive. People are sick and tired of having other people's opinions forced down their throats and then having to watch overpaid (Not even an argument) athletes whine about how bad they have it. Make yourself into the better, more viable option.
5) Recruit kids that value loyalty. This mean you have to be loyal too. Create more campus jobs and opportunities for athletes to earn money for things like airplane tickets home. If the recruits want to whine about having to work, then send them to the SEC and Big 20. Non-athletes have to work for an education and most are not getting their schooling and room and board paid for like athletes. Look for kids who are grateful for the opportunities you offer.
6) No more NIL deals. This means the school can’t sell their image either. They are athletes not influencers or models. If the athletes want to sell their image, tell them to go pro or create an Only Fans account.
7.) Treat scholarships as contracts that both parties must honor for the full term.
I can't believe how twisted things have gotten in such a short time. I used to have a Pentecostal neighbor who wouldn't watch TV because he said it was evil. I laughed at him back then. I don't laugh at that attitude any more. TV has proven time and time again that it is about the selling of stuff pure and simple. The days when there was a balance between presenting entertainment and watching commercials is long gone. And it's ubiquitous and spreading like a cancer. Remember when you didn't have to watch commercials if you paid to see a movie? I once looked for YouTube video of Dr. Kings I Have a Dream speech to show my kids in class. There was Ad about two minutes in that interrupted the speech to sell something like sleeping aids. If they could sell commercials in our dreams, they would have already done it.
College admins should never have to be reminded that they should be more like the Woodsman who rescued Red Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf and not like the Big Bad Wolf. The modern version of the story has the Woodsman looking down at Red and saying, "Damn, this bitch looks hot," and then holding her down while the wolf goes first. It's time for our leaders, especially those in our colleges, to start doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do and not justifying evil because the television money is so good.
I have this trick I use sometimes when I think the world is getting too damned logical. I do illogical stuff. If someone was to see or hear me, they'd think I was losing it, but the world is just too damned absurd when it runs along for several days on end just being so-called normal. One night, when I was at college, and I couldn't sleep, I went to a coffee shop and sat in a back booth and drank coffee all night and wrote in a journal. Just for the hell of it, I wrote down the names of all the people I personally knew who had passed away. I was only nineteen years old and I already knew the names 103 people right off the top of my head who were no longer living in my world. We all live in an infinite universe and don't seem to understand what it even means, hell, most of us act like we don't even know it.
This morning, when I got out of bed, before all this shit happened, I was passing by the big, round, gold framed mirror by the door in our bedroom. Just being dumb, I asked it, "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's the biggest dumbass of them all?" Then I pretended I heard it answer, "You are, you dumb sumbitch." Then I pretended like I was shocked but grateful for the news. Jesse walked in before I was done, carrying some folded clothes.
"What did I hear you ask that mirror?"
"I asked it who was the dumbest of them all."
"In this house, or the whole town?"
She smiled and said, "That shouldn't even be a question."
It's a good way to start a morning, making the woman you love smile. I guarantee you it's a damn sight better way of starting a day, then walking in house after not delivering on the one thing you promised her you'd do.
It was just like I said, the moment I walked in the door and told her that I couldn't find Dealie, she sensed that something didn't ring true. It didn't help my ability to focus under the onslaught of questions that followed because she'd been drinking coffee out by the pool and came in wearing a pair of short blue jean cut-offs and and a neon purple bikini top that made her violet eyes just pop out of her head.
"I'm going to ask you one more time, and I want you to tell me the truth, Lee, where's my damn brother!" She didn't yell it or nothing, but when she talked all low and serious like a prosecutor in a courtroom, it scared me worse than when she was screaming.
"Jesse, truth is I don't exactly know where Dealie is right now. All I know is someone said he was going out of town to talk to somebody about something."
"Who said it?"
"I can't tell you that."
"I made a promise."
She stepped back and looked at me funny. The way her mouth was all screwed up and twisted, told me she was measuring what I told her out in her head. The woman knew me almost as well as I knew myself. I was the world renown expert on her moods too. She was smart enough to know that sometimes, especially when you are dealing with matters such as these, that the less you know the better. She was trying figure if this was one of those cases. I guess she came to the conclusion that it was because after a while, the tenseness went out of her shoulders, and I knew I could relax a bit.
"You better not let them shoot my brother. You want lunch?"
I whipped us both up a couple of BLTs and we chatted about her plans were for the day and what the kids were going to do when they got back from a swim party next door. I told her I needed to go into town and stop by the shop. I had a problem I wanted to deal with concerning Clem Matthews, my top employee, but before I did that, I wanted to stop and talk with one of my friends, a guy who happened to be one of the town's favorite sons because of the six-year stint he did in the NFL playing for the New York Giants. Concord was situated right in the middle of Forty-niner, Raider, and Ram country, but most nearly all the football fans here about followed the New York Giants too because of Troy Austin. Shortly, after a knee injury ended his career, Troy came back from the Big Apple and opened up an insurance business on Main Street. Troy's office was about a block away from my place of business.
When I walked in, there was pretty young black girl sitting behind a desk filing her nails. She put down her file and came around her desk to give me a big hug. It was Troy's youngest daughter Oleta, who was working for her daddy while she was on a short hiatus before she started Med school. She was named after her mother, who, in my opinion, was the only woman in the town who could give Jesse a run for her money as far as looks were concerned. It was a good thing that they were good friends, so close, in fact, that if you messed with one, you messed with the other.
"Lee, how have you been? I was just asking Daddy about you?"
"Nothing bad, I hope."
"Nothing like that. I usually see you go into work, but you haven't been there the last few days."
"Nothing really, I just been busy with other things. What you been up to, Ole? You still seeing that dude who plays for Stanford?"
She went back and sat down and resumed her filing, "No, that was three months ago. I'm giving the romance thing a break while I get ready for school. It's going to be a long haul, and I don't need the distraction."
"Well, you know what they say about all play and no work."
She laughed, "Didn't say that, Lee. I'm just not going to get romantically involved."
"Uh oh!" I laughed with her. "Your daddy in?"
She nodded in the direction of the hallway. "He's pretending he's working, but he's really working on his short game."
I knocked and Troy told me enter, and when I did, I saw that Oleta was right. There was glass in the middle of a green carpet with about ten golf balls scattered around it.
"Goddamn Lee I was just to getting hang of this here putting shit and you came in and broke my concentration."
He put down his putter in one of the two comfortable looking red leather chairs in front of a large, dark oak desk. "Troy, you could be a great golfer if you didn't putt like a twelve year-old-boy hiding a hard-on."
He went over to a small bar and poured us two short Scotches putting a little water in mine. He handed me one and went and sat down behind his desk while I sat in the other red leather chair. "What's this shit I hear about Dealie shooting Jake Barlow?" he asked.
I just shrugged, "You know well as I do that Dealie ain't no dang killer. I'm trying to figure out who did it though. Jesse's real worried about one of these Keystone Cops round here might end up shooting him."
"I'm not going to ask where he is, because I don't want to know, but he's aware of the danger he's in, isn't he?"
"I saw him this morning, and he don't seem to be too worried. He's focused on that other situation we were in together. Went off to talk to somebody. I got the impression that he thinks the two events, that trial and Barlow getting shot are somehow connected."
There was moment of silence as we were both thinking about things. Then I remembered why I was there. "Troy, you remember that day I saw you and Belinda Barlow out behind the Library at school?"
"You going to have to be a little more specific, Lee. We went back there a lot that year. It was kind of our meeting spot, you know what I mean. Let me remind you also, Belinda was pretty good looking back in the day. Nothing like she looks now."
I nodded, "I remember. Her and that yellow Camaro she drove. You guys were arguing, and she was crying and screaming about something."
He held up his glass and pointed, "Oh yeah! That must have been the day I broke up with her. Home girl went crazy. I didn't really want to do it that way, but her daddy was threatening to screw up my scholarship. Besides, I wasn't all that in love with her to begin with; I still have a scar on my left forearm where she dug her fingernail in me."
"It was your business, so I never got involved, or said nothing, but did you know her daddy was looking out of the second floor window in Mr. Luna's classroom watching you guys? I just happen to look up and seen him and the principal standing there."
Troy was shocked when I said that, "I didn't know that. He even offered me money to stay away from her. I liked her, like I said, but not in the way that she liked me. Told him to shove that money up his butt. Still, I feel bad about how she turned out. I blamed myself but wasn't much I could do about it."
"Wasn't your fault. Remember she totaled that Camaro out two months after that. I heard she was drinking hard that night. I wonder if she ever knew about her Daddy telling you to keep away from her?"
"Tell you the truth, Lee. I've always suspected he told her hisself."
"Probably so. Let me ask you one more question before I leave. Why the hell did you come back here after you retired? I've always wondered, you were a big star, Man."
"You know I got the job at Corporate headquarters? Had me a big tenth floor office in downtown Manhattan with door to ceiling windows. But the job was symbolic; back then they weren't going to let no black man do anything important. They just wanted to trot me out for the tourists. You know, kind of like they were doing to Joe Louis in Vegas. Hell, but should know, man. Ain't every skinny assed white boy from Concord gets into Princeton, dude. Small town famous, that's what we are."
"Yeah. Thought I was going to conquer the world back then. I missed Jesse too much though. She didn't want to leave her Mama." I put my glass down on the small table between the two red chairs and got up to leave, "Thanks for the Scotch, Troy. You coming on Friday?"
"And miss hearing you get drunk and getting all worked up talking about Gravity's Rainbow. I wouldn't miss that for the world."
"I don't know, Man. I think I might give Thomas Pynchon a break. I'm thinking about asking the group to help me figure out this mess that Dealie's in."
I stepped out into bright sunshine and looked down the street toward my office. I sure needed to talk to Clem Mathews. He was way too valuable to my business operations to mess around and lose. But I was tired and figured it could wait another day.
Until this morning at Deuce's store, I hadn't seen Dealie for five years, yet it only took me twenty minutes to find him, and most of that was driving time. He had been adamant about me and Jesse not ever going to see him in prison, and he'd get spitting mad if we mentioned bringing Rowdy to visit his dad. I only had about five minutes with him after they found him guilty, and he made me promise to take care of his sister and his son.
There was this old farmer named Dickie Miranda who grew almonds out by the river north of town. Dickie had lost a leg in WWII and was an old poker playing buddy of Pepper Jack's. When I was a kid, and someone would mention him losing leg in the mountains of Italy, I'd always if anyone ever found it. He'd like he was mad and get into a boxer's stance with his hands up, and he's say, "Bring it on, you little basted." Then he grab around the head and act like he was beating the shit out of me. He had this cool little cabin, a true man cave if there ever was one, set back in some trees on his property where him and friends would play cards and let their hair down when their wives were started to annoy them. The outside of the cabin looked like a well-maintained hundred year old building. The inside was outfitted pretty nice, it had a fully stocked bar, big leather chairs, and a big screen TV. It had great stereo system, and Dickie always Sinatra or Toney Bennett spinning on the turntable. About a hundred yards from that cabin, almost completely hidden from view, was a beautiful little fishing hole where me and Dealie would fish while Pepper played cards. Miranda had three daughters and no son; he loved Dealie like his own boy and gave him the only other key to the gate that would let you into the property and the road that led back to where that cabin was.
It was late in the morning when I got there; I discovered that Dealie had placed the lock back on the chain to only make it look like it was locked. I got a little choked on that because it showed that even after these last five years, Dealie still trusted me enough to know that I might want or need to find him. I didn't want my car to be seen from the road, so I opened the gate, drove in, and placed the lock back as I found it. A half mile in, there's a place where you could drive back into the trees that you wouldn't know where it wast\ unless you knew about it. I saw Dealie's truck and parked beside it. There was a real narrow, barely noticeable path between some bushes. I slipped in between them and right there he was, sitting in a beat-up, old school orange lawn chair, sound asleep.
I picked up a assed big rock and threw it in the river where it landed with a loud splash. I was surprised when huge white crane suddenly flew out of the tree that Dealie was sleeping under. Dealie woke up with a start, looked around like he was worried then saw me and grinned. "Damn it, Lee! You scared the shit right out of me. How'd you like being woke up like that?"
"Naw, one or two nibbles. What brings you out this way."
I told him the news straight out, "Jake Barlow's dead. Someone shot that fool in the head. Shot him twice. They think that maybe you did it."
To be perfectly honest, he didn't seem all that surprised, but I thought that could be explained by the fact that most people in town who knew him, didn't figure that Old Man Barlow wasn't going die of old age any way.
"Who exactly is they?"
"Jesse got a call from Eunice down at the station. They said he'd been shot twice in the head, and they wanted to talk to you about it, Sheriff Johns and Deputy Dumbass that is."
"They got a warrant for me?"
"I don't really know. I don't think so." I was about to tell him about them pulling up in front of my house when that damn chicken came rustling out of the bushes with half of a piece of bread in its beak and walked over and sat down by Dealie. "Jesse made me promise to go look for you. She wants me to convince you to go talk to them. They pulled up in front of the house when I was about to leave. They seemed pretty convinced you did it. I did find out though, that the house, Barlow was renting Old Man Martin's place out by the river on the other side of town, was locked from the inside, and that somebody, a woman, called the murder in."
"That means a woman was involved somehow."
"I expect that's true."
"Well, that right there leaves me out. I been in prison for five years.
Sides, I don't have a gun. I used to have a hunting rifle, but I left in Mama's house before I burnt it down. Hell, I also wouldn't a wasted one bullet on that fool, much less two. If he was locked in how'd he get shot."
"Well, it had to be a rifle, shot him through a side window and it appears they used the trellis to steady their aim. Dumbass said that Barlow's eyeball was smashed into the TV screen. Sheriff Johns sure seemed like he got mad because Dumbass told me that."
He chuckled, "Dumbass probably made that detail up thinking it'd make him look good in the eyes of a female reporter."
"Dunno, when that mobster Bugsy Siegel bought the farm, they said his eyeball flew across the room and smashed in the keyhole on the door handle."
"What happened to Bugsy Siegel's eyeball is neither nor there. We need to focus on Jake Barlow's eyeball."
His answer made me a little mad. I thought I raised a perfectly pertinent point. "Well, we going in?"
He answered back right away, "No. Can't right now. I got some other stuff I gotta do. Besides, I don't think I'd be too damn safe sitting in the jail at Hartford."
"I promised Jesse I'd see to it that you got there safely."
"Well, that's your problem, Lee. Shouldn't go making promises you can't keep. Hell, you didn't know my itinerary for day before you made that promise."
"I don't understand why, if you're innocent, why it would hurt to go talk to them fools."
He didn't say nothing at first, just stood there scratching his ear and looking out over the river. It was so quiet that I could hear a tractor start up on the other side of the river.
"Lee, did you ever talk to that detective your daddy hired to find Lucky."
I got to admit the question caught me more than a little off guard.
"No, I didn't. I told him thanks and all, but I was purely relieved to get my ass out of that damned jail."
"Sit down for a minute, we need to talk." I pulled up another lawn chair that was sitting on its side. It looked just like the one he was sitting in which I recognized as the set that Jesse and I used to sit in when we was courting. He waited till I was sitting down before he started to explain things, "I talked to that guy. He told me that when he found Lucky, that Lucky didn't want to come back."
"Didn't want to come back! We were on trial for killing him!"
"He said that your dad had to pay a little extra for him to hire a couple guys to further explain to Lucky the benefits of his participation in our defense."
This was new to me. In fact, it was total surprise. I didn't know what to say. I was trying to process the information but kept running into the fact that Jake Barlow was lying in morgue with two bullet holes in his head.
Dealie let the news sink in a bit before he went on, "I've had five years to think about things, especially about finding that damn finger with the ring on it sitting on that blood soaked table."
He stopped to see how I would react. All I could do was give him a questioning look that meant, "And what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Why a finger with a ring on it? Why were Sheriff Johns, Lucky's dad and that sumabitch DA in such an all-fired hurry to get us convicted of murdering Lucky? It had to be a set up. Why, I don't know. You knew something though. You tried to talk us out of going, remember? If I wasn't so obsessed bout seeing where that dragon tattoo on that blonde's back was leading, I mighta sensed it too."
His words triggered a long forgotten memory, "All three of them girls had same tattoo. That's why I relented. I was curious about that shit too."
"My cellmate was from San Diego. He said that Lucky's down there selling cocaine to the sailors on the base and running a couple of girls. I'm going to go talk to him."
"Are you kidding me? They want to question to you for a murder. That can wait. We need to clear this shit up first. Else every cop in the area going to be looking for you. I'd bet ya that that stupid ass sheriff would put it out that you're armed and dangerous. Jesse's worried that some idiot would shoot you first and ask you questions later."
He didn't say anything at first, just went back to scratching his ear. Then he asked me another question. "You remember Barlow at the trial?"
This one caught me off guard too. Then suddenly a memory I hadn't thought of in years came rushing back, "Yeah, now that you mention it, I do remember that fool used to come in and sit in the back every day. He was Petey sometimes, then sometimes with Belinda."
"Pop was still alive back then. Barlow had no dog in the fight. Why was he so interested in what happened to three dumb kids?"
"You think he might be tied up with them other three."
"I can't put my finger on things, but I expect so. I need to time to get to bottom of things, and I can't do from a jail cell."
"But if you was innocent, why would they put you in jail?"
"You didn't kill Lucky, but they put you in jail. You need to tell Jesse that you looked all over and couldn't find me."
"Damn, Dealie, I know it sounds corny, but I hate lying to her more than anything else in this world. I bend the truth a little try to make things easier, but I don't like telling her full scale lies. She knows when I'm lying."
Dealie laughed, "I understand. You just need to lie better. You remember Coach Haroldson the football coach?" I nodded, so he continued, "They always called him One Way Joe because he was all cut and dried about everything, only saw things as being black and white. He cost Bill Anderson a football scholarship to UCLA. Bill's mom died, and he missed practice to attend her funeral. The scouts were coming down to see him play and Coach Haroldson benched him for missing practice."
"Am I supposed to learn something from that?"
"Now, think about our basketball coach, Coach Moore. I was having a drink with him at a bar one time, and he told me that real coaches have to be masters of operating in the gray. He cut Ruben Sanchez because Rueben posted a picture on-line all dressed up in gang clothing and chugging on a forty. He had helped Ruben stay eligible for years but said that Rueben gave him no choice in the matter by being so public."
I remembered this stuff. It was local legend. Bill Anderson was so good he could have played in the NFL. He had a brother who was even better. The brother moved to Hartford because he wouldn't play for Haroldson. That was also why they finally fired One Way Joe. Still, I had to ask Dealie, "And the moral of the story is?"
"Coach Moore said that he never went home until the last kid got picked up. Every time the bus came in from an out of town game, and while everyone was waiting for their parents to pick'em up, a voice would invariably come out of darkness from someone riding by on a bike, 'Moore! Celtics Suck!' Coach would just laugh. One night, it was just coach and two cheerleaders left and couple of clowns thought they could impress them girls by acting stupid. Coach told them them fools leave, and they got mad and jumped him and started kicking him. Out of nowhere, Ruben came riding in on a bike and plowed into them fuckers like a hurricane. They never knew what hit 'em. He picked Coach up, dusted him off and told him, 'I been riding by here every away game checking up on you, waiting all these years, Coach, for a chance to pay you back for letting you down.' Coach just hugged him, looked him in the eye and told him, 'Ruben, you never let me down, Son. You let yourself down, but you need to forgive yourself.' One of them girls later told me that Ruben broke down and started crying while coach held onto him. Think about that, hard core gangbanger that Ruben was, crying. Then he got back on his bike and rode back into the darkness.'"
I loved Coach Moore and teared up at the story. He had died while Dealie was locked-up. "I still don't get it, Dealie. You telling me this story to tell me what, me lying to Jesse is what's best for her?"
"No. I love the fact that you don't want to lie to her, Lee. It's why you're my best friend. But sometimes the situation places demands on us, and we can't just sit here with our thumb up our ass moralizing bout and thinking shit over. You got a few people who can afford to be like One Way Joe, but most of us have to learn to master the gray zone where the black and the white overlap. I need some time to answer some questions. Then I'll come back, and we'll go talk to them fools."
It only took a second to reply, "What do you need me to do here?"
It took a bit before Jesse was able to get the story out; she kept breaking down and crying. Five minutes before, she was ready to castrate Dealie, now though, she couldn't quit sobbing. She was sitting in a small chair we kept by the phone table in the foyer. I always called it the stupid chair because I thought it was stupid because no one ever sat there. I got down on my knees before Jesse and place my hands on her hers.
"Take a deep breath, Jess, let it out slowly, then tell me what Eunice said.
She took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. At moment, Ricky, our seven-year-old daughter came in from the kitchen, dripping wet from playing with the hose outside. "Why's mama crying, daddy? You screw up again."
That made me a little mad, first words out her mouth assuming I did something wrong. I kept my temper in check though, "Hell no, I didn't do anything. Why would you say that?"
Ricky had red all over her mouth because was busy working a popsicle over, "Whenever Mama's crying it's usually because you did something dumb."
I chicken-necked her, "Now that ain't nowhere near the truth, Ricky. When they told your mama Grandma Lu died, did I do something dumb then?" I had whole list of things, and I was going to keep on fact-checking her like a Facebook algorithm when I followed her eyes over to where her mama was sitting there looking at me like I was some kind of an idiot.
"Sorry, Babe. What did Eunice tell you?"
She turned to Ricky first, "Honey, you do your mama a favor."
Ricky shook her head yes, "You bet, Mama." Then she turned and stuck her red-colored tongue at me.
"That cat done went and peed all over the bathroom floor again. I've warned her several times. I need you to catch it and give it a good spanking. Tell her not to be peeing on my newly mopped floor. You do that for me?"
"Which cat, Mama, Sweet Kitty or Dumb Demo-cat?"
"Did I ask you to quit calling Delores that name, Honey?"
"That's besides the point. We've had that discussion, remember. I need you to catch Delores for me. You think you can do that?"
Ricky nodded and took off running out the door. Now, before you start thinking that my wife is an animal abuser; Jesse knew full well that Ricky had a better chance of catching Lou Brock stealing second than she had of catching that dumbass cat. She had a better chance of throwing a BB out the kitchen window and knocking a pecan off of our apple tree. I wouldn't want say that our darling little girl was smart mouthed and clumsy, but I got pulled over by a deputy once, and the deputy made Ricky get out and take the tests for public intoxication. He was just trying to make a point about her mouthiness. She wasn't drunk, of course, and she let him know she weren't very happy about the situation. I laughed my ass off all the way home while she sat there and fumed. She even flipped me off before she went in the house.
Jesse waited until Ricky left, then said, "Somebody shot Barlow in the head twice while he was sitting at home. Sheriff thinks it was Dealie."
"Did he say that exactly?"
"Didn't have too, Lee. They called here looking for him. Asked me if you knew anything about where he was. Do you?"
"No, not really. I think he might have gone fishing though."
"Do you know where?"
"I can look ."
"You need to do that, Lee. If they come on him suddenly, things might get out of hand causing them to shoot him or something."
"Dealie wouldn't pull no gun on a cop?"
"He didn't mean to shoot Barlow that time either, but he did. I want you to find him and talk him into turning himself in, and I want you to go with him when he does. Can I trust you to do that, Lee."
The last bit caused me frown, "Why you even ask like that?"
She saw that I was upset and got up and kissed me, this time on the lips. "Go save my brother, Hon."
I was outside backing out the driveway in my two-toned, blue and white 65 Ford Ranchero when Sheriff Johns and Deputy Jones pulled up in front of my house in a police cruiser. I was looking in my rear-view when I saw them get out and saunter over to where I was. Sheriff Johns walked just like Jackie Gleason in the Smokey and the Bandit movies, he got there out of breath and motioned for me to roll down my window.
"Well, well, well, look what we got here, Deputy Jones. A suspicious looking character doing suspicious looking things." When I didn't bite, he tried a new approach, "Where you headed off to in such an all-fired hurry?"
"Who said I was in a hurry. Besides, it's none of your business where I'm headed, Butch." He hated it when people didn't respect his office. I knew it but figured he'd more likely let things slip if he was angry."
He turned red, "Damn it, Lee! We got ourselves a real honest-to-God murder on our hands; so don't go messing with me today . Let me remind you, these here badges we're wearing carry the full authority of the law. You don't want to mess round with the Law, we got this here thing called obstruction of justice. Law don't take kindly to those who attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the wheels of justice. We just might have to run you in and lock you up. I hate to think about that pretty little wife of yours out here by herself."
I laughed, and it made him madder. "I know you didn't come out here arrest nobody today. There's only two of you. Remember the last time you two tried to take Dealie in by yourselves? Besides, you got no reason to suspect him for killing Barlow."
The mention of Dealie's name sure got his hackles up in a hurry, "Then how you already know we looking for Dealie? How you know Jake Barlow got hisself ventilated last night?"
"Ventilated? Damn, Butch, you been watching too many cop shows on the TV. Your secretary Miss Eunice called out here about thirty minutes ago looking for Dealie. I suspect she mighta already found him by now while you two out here playing TV cop."
He got madder than hell and turned toward Deputy Jones. I heard him say something under his breath like, "Damn that woman!" It took him about a full minute before he regained his composure and turned back around.
"If you know where Dealie Reed's hiding out, you better tell us, less we might suspect maybe you have something to do with it."
"I'll be honest with you. I was just going to look for him, I'm going to try to talk him to go in and talk to you guys."
It was Deputy Jones who answered, "You suspect him then?"
"No, I don't. I got no reason to believe that Dealie would do something like that. He ain't no killer. I suspect that you guys ain't being guided by anything more than a strong dislike for the feller. I just don't want to think bout you two numb nuts tryin to sneak up on Dealie with your guns drawn and someone getting their dick shot off by accident."
"Dealie's the only one, far as I know, that's already put a bullet hole in Old Man Barlow. He went to prison for burning the man's house down, remember?"
I had already argued with Jess all morning and I was tired of arguing. "If I find him, I'll bring him to you. In the meantime, you need to go back to where you found Barlow and find some real evidence. The kind you can use in court. If I remember right, you the only one, far I know, brought a case against someone for murdering someone who wasn't even dead."
I decided to get out of there before the volcano erupted and rolled my window up, and as I pulled out, I saw the sheriff and Deputy Jones start arguing. It was probably because what the Sheriff had said about Miss Eunice, the secretary/dispatcher, who happened to be Deputy Jones great-aunt. I suddenly remembered something I needed to know, so I pulled back up to where they were arguing. Whatever it was about, it was getting pretty heated.
"Where was this killing done? I thought Barlow was living over in Hartford with that widow woman."
It was Deputy Jones who answered, and he had to look over at the sheriff before he did. I saw the sheriff hesitate, and just that moment, Jesse stepped outside in a white halter top and a pair of shorts, they both stood there silent for a moment, then I saw the sheriff nod his head allowing Deputy Jones to speak."
"He was living with that widow in Hartford up until a couple of months ago. We heard that her three boys got together and convinced him to find other living arrangements. He came back and rented Jack Morton's old place out by the river. He had been out drinking, but left the bar about midnight. He was sitting on a sofa in the living room taking his boots off when somebody, using a trellis outside a window on the north side of the house to aim the rifle, shot him twice in the head. Sheriff found one of his eyeballs smashed up against the TV screen." Deputy Jones started chuckling, "It was like that CBS image with the eyeball and shit."
The sheriff gave him a look that told Deputy Jones that he wasn't supposed to be revealing that kind of information an another that said 'don't be laughing. It ain't professional.'
I ignored the looks and asked, "If he was already home, I remember from him living with Lu, she said he locked the doors every night."
The deputy nodded, "That's how we found it. House was all locked up."
I waited for him to figure out the obvious information that I needed to know. It took a minute before he realized it and blurted it out, "Someone called it in. We got the message on the recorder about six the next morning when Miss Eunice came in to work. She said that someone had tried to call it in before, but got flustered and hung up the phone."
"Someone? Man or woman?"
"What did she say?"
"She said that Old Man Barlow was dead in that house, gave us the address and said that it was Dealie who killed him." That was it, Deputy stopped talking and just stood there grinning like he expected me to pat him on the head or something.
"Seem to me that instead of being out here harassing law abiding folks, you two oughta be looking for a woman."
The sheriff looked a little perplexed and I heard the deputy whisper, "The woman who called it in." I was already backing out the driveway when the sheriff got the message. The implications of the question made him made so he started running down the driveway after me.
As he ran like Jackie Gleason, more of a stumbling forward really, he was yelling,"Who said we ain't, you little smart aleck sumbitch? Who said we ain't looking for a woman?"
By that time was already on the road. I looked over at Jesse who was watching from the porch and waved. My pretty little wife waved back.
As soon as I turned the corner on Oak Street going toward home, I could see Jesse had already heard the news. Our street was lined on both sides with these tall stately oaks. It looked like a movie set for a movie made back in the Fifties. Our house, which was built by the man who designed Concord back in 1900, was at the very end of the street in the center of a cul-de-sac. I could see her standing out on the veranda, and she was obvious she did not look happy. Small town women are like the CIA, they know everybody's business. I suspect the only reason that the Agency don't recruit more of 'em is they are not known for keeping secrets either, soon as they hear something juicy they consider it their sacred duty in life to make sure ever body else in town knows it.
My wife Jessie can scream like a ten year old girl. Good thing she's pretty. People seem to tolerate shit like that more if the person doing it is reasonably good looking. I remember back in grade school there was this big, red-haired freckle face girl with shoulders like a linebacker named Luella Douglas who ever body thought was crazy. They all teased her relentlessly. Later, she earned two PhDs and went on to lecture on Philosophy at Berkeley. At the same time, there was this skinny, good-looking kid named Billy Prescott who was one crazy sumbitch. It was obvious Billy was going to look like an Adonis when he growed up. He'd tear the wings off of birds and shit, but people treated him normal in comparison to how they treated poor Luella. Billy Prescott used to trail after her on her way home and shout stuff like, "Luella Douglas has a face like a frog, red on the head like the dick on a dog!" One day, she had enough of it, and hauled off and knocked him out cold in the hallway at school. I mean to tell you people treated her different after that. Funny thing was, was she seemed to become more attractive after she dropped Billy. I don't know if it was the confidence she felt or just that people looked at her different. Billy, on the other hand, dropped out of school because he couldn't take the teasing. He later lost his front teeth to the crack pipe, went without bathing, and became a sneak thief. Then, after his second wife left him, he ran a hose out his tailpipe into the cab of his truck and went to sleep for good. I don't know what it means, or even if it means anything; it just a memory that popped in my head when I was thinking about how to tolerate Jesse's screaming at me.
You could take my wife, put her in pair of cut-offs and cowboy boots, and drop her down on Rodeo Drive and no one there could tell the difference between her and any of them other models, millionaire's girl friends and wives, and movie-star wannabes. That is except for one thing, the beauty of them women, if described using just one word, would have to be the word, vacuous. I've thought about it a lot and don't know how else you could describe someone who's willing to pay a hundred times more for something, just to able to say that they paid a hundred times more for something. Them women look awful nice, but they don't seem none too bright, or even all that happy, for that matter, running around wearing all them sequins and jewels.
I don't think Jessie would do something like that even if she had the money. Outwardly, she had the same kind of looks as them ladies, flawless skin, perfect teeth, beautiful auburn hair and these luminous violet eyes, but if I had to choose one word to describe her looks, I would have to say she had a curious beauty. I guess might even say suspicious, or uncertain, but I think that look of self-doubt that pops up ever now and then, only comes from her always having to deal with her daddy issues. Her daddy Pepper Jack Reed was the craziest sumbitch this town ever seen, and her older brother Dealie Reed, well let's just say Dealie didn't fall far from the tree. Ever since I've known her she's wanted to know things, you know, like how things worked and shit and , on top of that, she's always unsure about how she looks? Her beauty could be overwhelming at times, I wouldn't even be ashamed to use the word transcendent to describe it; there were times, when just looking at her as she slept, helped me understand that despite of all the bullshit associated with being alive on this weird little planet, there was something right and good about it all. But when she was bubbling over excited about something at the dinner table, describing something she had learned about a movie, or a book, well, she could force a smile out of a flat rock.
Right now, though, she was standing right in front of me, poking me in the chest with her index finger, madder than hell, and screaming like a ten year old girl.
"Damn it to hell, Owen Leon Davis! What did I tell you would happen if I ever caught you talking to my brother Dealie?"
"Don't you go trying to 'Now Babe' me, Lee! What did I tell you?"
"You said you'd cut my testicles off with a rusty saw blade and feed 'em to the neighbor's dog."
"You'd divorce me and marry Tubby Rollins and drive around town with the top down, so ever one could see what I made you up and do."
"You'd wait till I was asleep one night, pry my mouth open with crowbar, and cut out my tongue with that same rusty saw blade that you cut my testicles off with and staple it, my tongue that is, to my forehead with a carpet staple."
I knew she was gonna scream that word "AND" again. She was kind of predictable in that way and pretty fed up with her brother Dealie at the time, and it was a fairly long litany of punishments that she had come up with, and I been forced to memorize them all and repeat them back to her on more than one occasion, but right before she said the word, she looked down and discovered, to my complete and utter embarrassment, that I was getting more than little bit turned on by screaming at me.
I guess I should explain. You see, pretty as my wife is when she's sleeping, she is so much freaking hotter when she's angry. I don't believe there's ever been anyone hotter in the whole damn universe than Jesse Reed Davis when she's angry.
She had looked down at the same crotch area that she was just threatening to mutilate with a rusty saw blade and saw that all them threats were doing was turning me on. The look on her face instantly went from one of rage and fury to one of stunned disbelief, "Leon Davis, do you actually mean to tell me that you are standing there getting sexually excited while I'm screaming at your dumb ass?"
My own facial expression went from being completely contrite to one of abject embarrassment. "I surely wish I could say no, Honey. I know how stupid and shallow this makes me look, but, I just can't help it. Damn it Jesse, when you are sleeping, I look at you and think, you're the prettiest girl in the whole state of California, and that's saying something because its a big ass state, one of the biggest, but Babe, when you're angry and screaming and shit, in my eyes, you become the sexiest woman in the entire universe. It's got something to do with your nostrils flaring. I'm not sure what."
It took a second for the words to sink in, but when they did, they worked, and they calmed the storm a bit. She was trying her damn best to stay mad at me, and couldn't, but she was also equally determined not to let me off the hook so easily.
"Sexier than Marylyn Monroe?"
"Shit, she would have been the First Lady of these here United States if she was half as sexy as you. President Kennedy would have kicked his old lady to the curb. Hell, if she'd been sexy as you President Kennedy would probably still be alive."
Now I'll admit, I'm not all that bright. My daddy used to call me dumbass when he called me at all, but I could sure come up with pretty good complement when I needed one. I know that most women would have thought what I said was pretty damn cheesy and wouldn't give me the time of day if I addressed them words to them, but I didn't come up with complements for them, I had carefully crafted 'em for Jesse. My wife wasn't dumb either; she was actually one of the brighter people I knew, but I knew she had some serious daddy issues too. And I swear, I never took advantage of this knowledge unless I knew it was for her own good. She needed, for her own sake, to get over her anger at the only brother she had.
I also had enough of getting scolded and worked up a little courage when I saw that dimple she was trying to hide appear on her left cheek. Our two girls were on the other side of the lawn playing with a water hose and were just starting to look over at us like they were worried about their daddy. "I get the picture, Jessie. You're mad at Dealie! But I ain't saying another damn thing until you let me explain myself."
She didn't say nothing, just stood there tapping her foot and giving me that look that said whatever gave out of mouth right then had better be freakin good.
"I didn't have a chance, Jesse. Dealie came out of Deuce's Store fore I even knew he was in there. I was just pumping gas and minding my own business."
"You could have walked away without talking to him."
"Bullshit I could! Dealie been my best friend my whole damn life! How'm gonna turn my back on him? Hell, let me remind you, your brother saved my life more'n once."
She called my bluff on that one. Remember, I said she was suspicious. She had caught something in my voice that didn't ring true, "Remind me, Lee. How exactly did he save your life?"
Actually, I had saved him from drowning once, so I just reversed the facts, crossed my fingers and hoped she didn't remember the details, "He pulled me out of Dawson's Reservoir that time when I fell in passed out drunk. Remember?"
She eyed me some before nodding, "Okay, that's one. What other time?"
I hate to reveal how shrewdly calculating I can be so early in the story, especially when it involves my dealings with the woman I love more than life itself, but I aimed this one like a matador in a bullring, "You don't remember? Now, that breaks my heart, Jesse," I feigned like I was staggered, "He introduced me to the most beautiful girl in Concord. My entire life changed at that moment; it pivoted, I mean did a complete 180. You got to admit before I met you, I was a worthless little sumbitch, and suddenly I found a purpose." Jesse started to laugh but caught herself before she did. Then she took off one of the pink flip-flops she was wearing and tossed it at me.
"You're still a worthless idiot, Lee!" She acted like she was still angry, but her tone had changed, "He burned down my Mama's house, Lee. Burned it down with her wedding dress and all her jewelry. Burned up the tea set that my great, great, great, grandma Irene Lewis brought over from Ireland. All our family pictures and all our mementos were in that house. Everything my Mama owned was in that house, the house that your friend Dealie burnt to the ground without so much a thought about what it would do to me."
She was quickly working her way back into a rage. She had inadvertently let it slip that she wasn't so mad about the belongings though; revealing that she was angry because he did what he had done without any regard for her feelings. I decided to gamble and knew I had to bend the truth a little. I had no other choice. "Not thinking of you? He's really sorry, Jesse. He told me to make sure you understood how sorry he is, but he just couldn't handle the idea of big-assed Belinda Barlow sleeping in your mama's bed."
"Belinda Barlow sleeping in my Mama's bed? What the hell are you talking about?"
It was bending the truth a little because I didn't know for sure, I was assuming a lot, but I was still 90% certain. I did know for a fact that old man Barlow already had a well-to-do girlfriend over in Hartford while Jesse's mama was dying in the hospital, and I'd seen his nasty looking daughter Belinda carrying several boxes of household items from the back of loaded pick-up into the backdoor of Lu's house after Lu's funeral.
"Yeah, Dealie said he'd heard that Barlow was going to give your mama's house to Belinda, and she was going to move in with her husband and them six crazy ass kids."
"All them wild-assed kids she had by that lunatic Larry LaValle? My mama's house?"
"Well, technically, Jess, it was Barlow's house after Lu passed away. But this new lady friend he has owns a nice spread outside of Hartford, so I believe he was going let Belinda and her kids stay in your mama's house. Dealie said he went blind crazy when he heard that, and he knew what it would do to you, so he decided that there was no way in hell he could let that gross, filthy ass Belinda and that sleezy Larry LaValle sleep in his mama's bed. Not to mention all them crazy kids going through Lu's jewelry and stuff."
They say that the way into a man's heart is through his belly. Could be true, I don't doubt it, but the quickest way into a woman's head is the mention of another woman. If Jesse thought for a moment Belinda Barlow, the grossest, filthiest female in the whole county was going to be sleeping in her mama's bed with someone as nasty and disgusting as Larry LaValle, she would have burned down the house down herself. Might even been a rusty saw blade involved too. I could tell that she had lost all her anger about me and Dealie talking and was pondering on the ramifications of what I'd told her.
"That house was rightly ours. It was my granddaddy's house. Mama was born in that house."
"No argument from me. Never could understand what Lu was doing with Barlow."
That observation added a twist to whatever Jesse was thinking.
"She was lonely, Lee. She told me she was lonely after Daddy died."
"I understand that, Hon, but to go from Pepper Jack to Jake Barlow, that's more than a little leap. That's one of them quantum type leaps. No body in this town could undertstand it. It'd be like you going from me, the handsomest man in the Tri-County area, to take up with Fuzzy Brown, a man who ain't took a bath since he fell in the river chasing a runaway pig."
And just like that, I was out of the woods. Jesse started laughing and couldn't stop, and I tell you, if she was sexy when she was angry, and transcendent while sleeping, she was way too lovely for any man made words to ever describe her when she laughed. I just stood there grinning and let her laugh. After a while, she stopped and walked over to where I was and kissed me on the cheek. Then she took my hand, lifted it to her lips and kissed it too.
"I guess, he'll want to see Rowdy," she thought out loud while I was pushing a loose strand of lustrous brown hair over her right ear.
"I expect so, Jess. He's his daddy after all."
When we were walking back toward the house, the phone rang inside. Jess signaled for our five-year-old Mattie to go answer. Mattie came back out and told Jess that it was for her, so Jess let go my hand and hurried to see what it was about.
I was thinking to myself what I needed to tell Dealie to set our stories straight. I was happy that I hadn't had to outright lie too badly. I knew that Dealie hadn't been thinking about Jesse when he burned down that house, he was way too impulsive to ever think like that, but it all boiled down to the same thing. Jesse would have lost her shit had she known about Barlow's plan to give her mama's house to his daughter. I didn't figure I was too far off on that. And she came pretty damn close to telling me to go deal with him myself when he wouldn't give back her mama's jewelry. In fact, we were discussing our legal options on the matter when we heard the fire engines heading toward Lu's place. I was mulling all this over when she suddenly popped her head out the front door holding the phone in her hand. There was a weird expression on her face."
"Lee, Jake Barlow's dead. They're looking for Dealie!"
The moment I pulled up to the gas pump, looked over and saw the chicken sitting by the opened passenger door of the sixty-nine Camino with a off color tailgate parked in front the store I knew that Dealie Reed was back in town. I tried to get my gas pumped so I could get out of there before he saw me, but there I was in the process of screwing on the gas cap when he burst out the store, popped the top on a tall can of Coors, took a big-assed swallow and saw me. His long brownish blonde hair hung down to his shoulders and he was shirtless, red from the sun, and wearing a pair of cut-off jeans and a pair of muddy neon-green Crocs. From where I was, I could see some of the skin on his shoulders was peeling.
"Damn it to hell! If it ain't Leon Freakin Davis his own damn self! Get your ass over here, Boy!"
I waited for my receipt, calmly shut my door and walked over to the front of the store. Dealie jumped down off the curb, bounded toward me, and grabbed me in a big assed bear hug.
"You bout the last person I expected to see in Concord today, Dealie! I thought they run you off for good. What the hell brings you back here?"
"Run me off! Shit, boy, you know me better than that. They tell me not to go someplace, and I'll guarantee ya, that's the one place I'll be." He took a big drink from his beer, "I know you heard bout Aunt Lucy breaking her hip. She said I could stay in that room behind her garage if I helped out till she got back on her feet." He released me, and we stepped back a foot or two and gave each other the once over. "I know you was probably tryna get back in the car and get away from here before I saw you."
I laughed, "I ain't going to lie to you. Soon as I saw that dead chicken by the door, I knew it was you."
"That chicken ain't dead, Lee. She thinks she's a possum. Started fussing with me, so I told her to get the hell out the car. She just over there sulking." When he said that, the chicken stirred as if she'd heard her name. "That's right you moody little bitch. We talking about you!"
"Dealie, you do know if Jesse knew I was sitting here talking to you, she'd be throwing my shit out on the yard and changing the locks on the doors."
He laughed, "Damn, I never seen no one hold a grudge like that girl. She flipped me the bird at Mama's funeral. You know that?"
"Told me she did it. She also swears that you shot Barlow on purpose."
"I did shoot that fat ass on purpose. He was trying to kill me at the time. I just wanted to scare him a little. Try to get him out of my mama's house."
"Jesse can't get past the fact you took the gun over there in the first place."
"I'll admit to the fact that I went over there to beat up on him a little. I don't dispute that. Man was six foot three inches tall though. It was a lot harder than I figured. Hell, we must have wrestled and beat on each other for thirty minutes before he grabbed that pick-axe. I pulled that gun to try to scare him into not using that pick on me. I only shot after he stuck that pick in my shoulder. You know that Mansfield DA had it in for me ever since that first go round."
The DA in Mansfield County was an arrogant prick. He had once tried Dealie, me, and one of our friends named Tubby Rollins for murdering Lucky Roberts, another friend of ours who was the son of a wealthy car dealer. Problem was, there wasn't no murder. The three of us had gone to party back in the woods with some girls that Lucky introduced us to that night. Dealie, Tubby, and me woke up on the floor of this cabin in the morning with blood all over the place and a pinky finger wearing Lucky's ring sitting on the kitchen table, no girls, no shoes, no Lucky. We were examining that pinky finger when Sheriff Butch Johns and his Deputy Stupid Johnny Jones walked right in the kitchen.
Deputy Jones was a twin, and his brother was always called Smart Johnny mainly because he hightailed it out of Concord soon as he graduated from high school. Stupid Johnny didn't just land on his name by default though, he was more than just genuinely stupid. The patrons of the King Tut Bar and Grill were always getting in arguments, sometimes even fist fights, over who was dumber, Deputy Stupid Johnny Jones or Dumbass Lester Monroe, the dishwasher at the Tut. Local legend had it that Lester flunked first grade three times.
We deduced that we had no memory of that night because them girls had drugged us and stolen our money. Yet, the Mansfield DA was full of ambition, and Lucky's Dad was very pissed off, apparently because he had just bought Lucky that pinky ring for his birthday. Sheriff Johns had an life-long hatred for Dealie's deceased daddy, Pepper Jack. I had always heard that old Pepper had stolen the sheriff's fiancé right before the wedding. That fiancé was Dealie's mom Lu who also happened to be my mother-in-law as I had married Dealie's sister Jesse, or the Divine Jesse Reed as people called her around here. I never put much stock in that story because I couldn't see what someone as classy as Lu would ever see in Sheriff Johns, but then again, I couldn't ever figure what she ever saw in Pepper either. And saying that, there was no way any of us could ever figure why she up and married some one as universally despised as Jake Barlow.
Anyways, the three of them got together and concocted a crime without a body and without much in the way of evidence or witnesses. The Mansfield DA handpicked the jury and went to ranting and raving while waving around that pinky finger in the plastic bag. Most of them jury members had never seen a gold ring on a pinky finger in plastic bag and they were pretty freaking impressed. That DA was making a lot of noise and shit, but none of it made any sense if you cared to listen in on what he was saying which I guess I must have been the only one doing. Hell, Dealie was sleeping through the whole ordeal and all Tubby did was giggle and turn to jury to make sure they knew that Dealie was snoring. It was more than a little bit surreal even for a low rent place like Concord, and things didn't look real good for our chances. Hell, one time, while I was supposed to be sleeping, I heard Sheriff Johns lecturing Stupid Johnny on the benefits of using an electric chair instead of the gas chamber.
"Hell, we'd have to import that gas shit from somewhere else; we don't manufacture that stuff round here. We do got plenty electricity though." He nodded his head like he was an expert and passed it over to Stupid Johnny.
"My Granny says we got more'n nuff tricity to do the job. There's only three of 'em. She did says we might as well fry them Haskell boys while we got the chair out."
The sheriff would spit his juice in spittoon, wipe his chin off, and agree. He liked it whenever someone agreed with him," Your Granny's a right smart women. And I do agree with her about them Haskell boys."
My dad spent a whole bunch of his life's savings to hire a private investigator who finally succeeded in digging Lucky Roberts out of crackhouse in East St. Louis. So, Lucky came waltzing into the courthouse on the last day of the trial waving that little stub pinky at the jury, so they had to let us go. They weren't real happy about it. Most of them, jury and all, were really looking forward to a first class capital punishment display. Paper said that they hadn't hung nobody in our town since the 1870s when they strung up a German guy supposedly for horse theft but really more because he fought on the wrong side at Vicksburg. I guess people round here thought that that was an awful long time to go without an execution.
For some reason, I suspect because most the respectable people in town didn't care for Pepper Jack anymore than the sheriff did, that the Mansfield DA came out of the ordeal looking like a hero of sorts, and he got elected mayor of Mansfield after running on a law and order ticket.
I can't remember his real name. I was more than a little bit nervous at the time, and we got so used to calling him DA Sumbitch that became the appellation that I remember. When he ran for a second term as mayor, Dealie and his friends went all over the county crossing his name out on his posters and writing in DA Sumbitch. On election night, he got more votes under that monicker than he did his own.
As them memories of the trial were flooding through my head, Dealie had finished his beer, crushed the can and tossed it in the trash can by the front door, then gone over to his car and told that chicken to get in. The hen stirred and walked over and jumped into the passenger side as if it were obeying. Dealie then walked over closed the door behind it like he was locking in a prom date. Next, he started the Camino up and pulled over to where I was standing and rolled down the window.
"Lee, you gotta tell Jesse to forgive me."
It got real quiet for a minute. The conversation had come to the edge of things. Forward movement in any direction was bound to cause some serious repercussions.
"Dealie, I think she'd forgive you shooting that fool. It was you burning down your mama's house that pushed her over the ledge. Ever thing your mama owned was in that house."
"She gotta understand that I couldn't take that fat ass living in my mama's house. Thought I'd give him a Viking funeral."
"He wasn't dead yet, Dealie."
Dealie chuckled, "After I got out of jail for the shooting, I paid Tubby's brother ten dollars to get that fool drunk. I figured he'd go home and pass out. I nailed every door shut but clean forgot about the basement."
He looked over at me to see how I'd take that information. I din't want my eyes to betray the fact that I never really bought into the idea that Dealie really ever meant to kill Barlow. I knew him well enough to know that if that door to the basement was unlocked, it was because Dealie had left it wide open for Barlow to escape from. Trick worked though, Barlow left town right after Dealie's arson trial. Dealie got sent upstream for a while.The judge was kind of lenient though, most people round here didn't much the idea of a worthless piece of crap living with someone as loved and respected as Lu Reed was. Jesse and I were raising Dealie's boy Rowdy with our own two girls.
He stopped talking for a minute then looked up at me, "That ain't why she's mad at me anyway."
I thought about not asking but took the bait, "Then why's she so angry, Dealie?"
"You and her were the only two people in this town who ever thought I could rise above being born Pepper Jack's boy. She's mad at me because I let her down, same as you."
"Me! I ain't never said shit to you, Dealie, about nothing. In all the years I knowed you, I ain't said shit about anything you've ever done!"
"You tried to warn us, Lee, about them girls that night. Kept saying it was a mistake for us to go out in them woods."
"I coulda got out the car when we stopped to get beer. Carl offered me a ride home, you remember."
"I saw your face when you first woke up and saw Lucky's finger sitting on that table. You looked over at me."
"You don't always need words to cast judgement, Lee."
He rolled up his window slowly, mouthed the words 'tell her', and nodded at me before taking off through the gravel parking lot. I swear as he pulled away I saw that chicken jump up in the rear window and look at me like I was dumber than Stupid Johnny and Dumbass Lester put together.
I was having some drinks and dinner with my daughter once at a small bar at a hotel that I was staying at in San Diego. I was about three Scotch and waters in when I get a case of verbal diarrhea and start slurring out information on everything that I had been reading about for months. Now, the verbal genre of loose bowels is no different in some ways than the real deal and attempting to halt the flow of loosely bound words by placing your hand across your mouth works no better than trying to shove a cork up your butt.
The main discovery I had made in that time period was through reading Tom O'Neil's excellent book Chaos where the author blows the lid off the Manson killings of the late Sixties by revealing that DA Vincent Bugilosi and one of his prime witnesses Terry Melcher (the record producing son of Doris Day) knew that they were lying about things. The author infers that Bugilosi knew his case was dirty all along and was mainly concerned in seeing that the case worked its way out to a predetermined outcome. The message of the book is that the authorities and the media lied to us all along and used the highly publicized murders for ideological and political purposes.
That's some really important stuff right there, and most of the time I can suppress that natural urge to behave like the Howard Beale character in the movie Network and scream what I learned out of my upstairs window. But get a few drinks in me, and my brain does the equivalent of what my stomach does after it mixes up the contents of a large Chicken Salad topped off by a couple glasses of iced tea. I can't control the outcome. The words just start sliding out on their own. If I were sitting with someone who shared my passion for discovering obscured truth, the moment could actually result in a somewhat interesting if somewhat garbled bar conversation. (On long solo drives, I sometimes imagine myself having such conversations with the likes of Charles Bukowski, Martin Amis, or Christopher Hitchens.)
However, the fact that my daughter's interests are vastly different than mine, combined with the fact that we occupy staunchly opposite ideological positions, and the fact that she is far more acclimated to living in a much stranger world than the one where I acquired my basic foundations, I knew instantly that I activated the perceptual filter that revealed to her the presence of the tin foil hat I sometimes wear upon my head. The difference between her perception and mine is that I understand that everyone on this planet has been gifted with such a hat at birth along with the ability to filter out its presence in polite society. While the young often see it on the heads of their elders. No! Wait a minute! I take that back. Most people never actually see the hat. They simply use the phrase because they've heard someone who they admire use it to "roast" someone else who they don't particularly admire, and often those of them who use it most, do so directly proportional to their own ignorance of the subject being discussed.
On the other hand, the elderly eventually see the tin foil topper whenever they shave, brush their teeth, or place their dentures in a jar. They come to like the way it looks and sometimes fashion it into a patriot's hat, or an admiral's hat. Some even fancy they see themselves wearing the admiral's hat sideways like Napoleon with their hand tucked neatly into their underwear and come to imagine that it is doing yeoman's work in filtering out the combined, harsh effects of 5G, The View, Rachel Maddow, and CNN.
The divide between young and old is a natural thing. We are all born on the clock and have it written in our DNA that the time we have to make our mark is severely limited, but then we have to come to grips with all of the slow-assed drivers who appear to be taking one last scenic drive, one last victory lap perhaps, in the left lane while pointing out the window at all the posted speed limits. While, at the same time, far too many young people plant the nose-end of their Teslas firmly into the license plate frame of the car ahead of them like a male dog in heat, and have yet to understand the wisdom contained in the three car length rule, or have never even heard of Coach Wooden's advice to "Play fast, but don't hurry." One of the worse things we do as human beings is rush about with our heads up our ass circling the hour glass drain like headless chickens farting out our personal mantras via the syncopated and often synchronized puckering of our sphincter muscles.
That night in San Diego I wanted to cry. I was drunk blathering and couldn't stop myself, couldn't keep myself from looking foolish in the eyes of one of the two most important people in this world. I love my daughters and hate the fact that I live so far across the Gand Canyon from them on the ideological map. Yet, apparently not enough to abandon my personal beliefs though. I figure I might need these beliefs someday to save the world after the mainstream media and the mud brained mockingbirds have spread enough untruth to tip the balance in favor of the Lie. And if not the world at large, at least, enough of the boulders to hold fast to as the world I've known my whole life rapidly disintegrates into nothingness all around me. However, that night back in my room, I finally understood that there was really no pressing need for me to look for the differences in the way that we each perceived the world, while there was an urgent need to discover common ground. I also developed sense enough to keep most of my beliefs to myself in the presence of people who have little or no interest in my personally experienced and often modified version of truth. That is unless, of course, there is Scotch involved.
I told my daughter that night that I was going to start keeping a ledger where I would place all wild-assed, unproven and controversial facts I run across on one side of the ledger, and all the things I could somewhat verify on the other. I say somewhat verify because anything that exists on this material plane is open to suspicion. In fact, if we humans had ever acclimated our knowledge and understanding to the demands of infinity, we might have to someday actually face the weird reality that proven facts can be both true and false at the same time. Imagine having a brain that could handle that without freezing up!
The purpose of the ledger was twofold: 1) to clear my own mind of all the gimcrack bullcrap that was clogging up the avenues in my head 2) to make sure my foundations were fundamentally sound. More importantly though, I knew there was also the real possibility that the accumulation of such truth would somehow reveal some of the more obvious hidden truths that I was missing because of all the junk I had piled in the windows of my perception obscuring an outside view of things.
The book on Manson made me realize that it was time for me to question everything I thought I knew, even the oft glorified and golden myths of my youth, especially those myths! I now believe that anything of a mythic nature is particularly open to deeper discussion. You know, things like Ken Kesey's story of how he first acquired the LSD needed to jump start the Psychedelic Movement, the photo of three bums in Dallas, the thinking behind the Tonkin Gulf Affair, things of that nature. There's a whole freaking warehouse full of half truths and outright lies to look into. For example, why is it that everyone back then knew a whole bunch about Charlie Manson, but nobody hardly knew anything about Tex Watson, the man who did almost all of the killing?
I've decided not to watch any more television for the time being. The people on TV lie about things that they said on air just a week or two before. They lie about everything pretty much, even things where there is no discernible reason to lie. I guess they have to practice, but that makes them a pretty damn unreliable source in my book. And the conservative news people aren't doing any better as they sound a lot like that English guy on The Curse of Oak Island who gets way beyond excited every time they find a rusty nail. They keep handing their viewers information that is three and four years old, holding the bits out in front of us in their grubby little hands like its the most natural order of journalism to hand us facts we figured out for ourselves several years after it could have done any of us some good.
I no longer believe that the Sixties were in any way, shape, or form an Era of Peace and Love, except in the minds of the young and the foolish who were among the greatest victims of the time. I also believe that the people who work for the mainstream media along with a majority of our political leaders are actively engaged in the suppression of Hope, mankind's greatest weapon against the dark unknown.
Well, it's official. I've just lost my oldest, dearest friend. I'm cutting all ties to him. He's dead as far as I'm concerned. It's very sad because he's been my ride or die since I was about five years old. At first, he was so exciting to be with, so intelligent and well versed in all things. He knew more than anyone else I knew. We watched sports together and saw plays and movies. He literally grew up with me. He was with me when I first got a glimpse of what Disneyland looked like. He was SF Giant fan too, and we both followed the career of Willie Mays, my first hero.
Later we both got into basketball at the same time and fell in love with the old school Celtics, you know back when guys like KC Jones, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and Dave Cowans were playing. He loved Ali like I did, and Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler.
We went through the Vietnam era together, and he helped supply me with facts to bolster my arguments when my dad and I fought over politics at the kitchen table. He was also with me in Mr. Montoya's class in the sixth grade when we found out that President Kennedy had been killed. When I learned about my dad's cancer scare on the same day that we took mankind's first step on the moon, my friend was there too.
When I was all alone in my house after my wife left, he was the only one who I could consistently rely on to keep me company. We shared many a late night movie with me sitting on couch in my t-shirt and pajama bottoms eating double cream Oreos. He also was the one who kept me company late at night after my dad passed away.
Lately though, he's been babbling and sounding a whole lot like Pop did when he had full blown dementia. He was remembering things incorrectly and kept recalling things that never happened the way that he said they did. I could handle that, but then he started outright lying to the point I couldn't trust a single thing he told me. It was obvious that he was getting all of his information from someone else, someone who didn't have my best interests at heart. Finally, it got to the point that it was clear that all he wanted was my money, as he kept trying to coerce me into buying things I didn't need or want.
The last straw though was when he start hanging out with all these evil, nefarious looking people who lied as much he did which was pretty much every time they opened their mouth.
Yep, it hurts me so much, but after a long 65 year long friendship, I finally pulled the plug on HAL, my television.
I think the most important event in my mom's life was when she was about ten years old and her beloved father died in the middle of the war. I think dealing with that enormous heartbreak made her into the woman she was. The whole time I knew her, she always escaped into books in order to deal with the hard things that life put in her way. I got way too many books in my house because of her. I saw her bean my dad once with a can of green beans because he came home drunk. I was hiding behind the couch. I had snuck into the living room in order to watch TV after bedtime. I always felt that it was unfair because my dad worked so long and hard to support us and needed time to blow off steam. I asked her about it when we used to drive around the valley when I wanted to get her out of the house after Dad had died.
She told me the only time he had ever got angry enough to rough her up was when she knocked a glass of whiskey out of his hands in front of his brother and some other men. She told him on the way home that if he ever put hands on her again, she'd leave him and she assured me that she most certainly would have. I asked her if he did, and she looked at me like I was stupid or something because she was sitting right there and knew that I was just asking to be dumb. She told me they got married because they only had each other to turn to, and they had no where else to go. After he got beaned with that can of green beans, Pop suddenly got religion, started going to church, and quit drinking altogether. Things got pretty smooth after that, I assumed they figured they were working for the same team. I guess it's fair to say that what religious training I got was because of them green beans. I knew them sumbitches had to be good for something.
I had always been a cut and run kind of guy when things got too ugly to bear. It drove my wife crazy I know. The fighting that my mom and dad did in front of us when I was young still, to this day, cuts away the ground beneath my feet whenever I hear couples speaking in anger. I would even leave movies in the middle if a man and a woman started fighting in the film. When mom began the process of leaving this material plane, there was a whole lot of ugliness involved, and there were a lot of times I wanted to just run away and lose myself in a book so big that no one would ever find me, but I didn't. I stayed and did a whole lot of things a son should never have to do, and saw things that I'll never be able to forget as long as I live. But I'm glad I did, I was glad I was there and doing those things that needed to be done, and I only wish that I'd been there even more.
Mom used to tell me that time heals all wounds, but I don't believe she really knew. I saw the way her eyes would fill up with water whenever she mentioned her Daddy; that wound still looked kind of fresh to me.