"And I don't know no love
Like the first love
When I think about the best times
She's the one I think of
Deep inside me
All though the taste is bittersweet
I see her smilin' even though she's gone"
Turning Home, David Nail
I have spent about 99.99% of my existence living in the small town of Corcoran, California. I have developed a deep and abiding love for the place. I'll tell you though, it's kind of like falling love with a short, obese, woman with a fairly large wart on the end of her nose. I learned to love her when she was young, saucy, pretty and full of life, and I'm always on my toes finding reasons for ignoring the wart, the short legs, and the obesity.
There are those times when she rubs me a little wrong, and I can't help noticing the wart, the garlic breath, and the overdone make-up too. At such times, I'll have to admit that more than once I've told people that I live right close to the sphincter muscle of the universe. However, if you are a fellow Corcoranite, and are being totally honest yourself, you would have to admit that you have also expressed the same sentiments and probably on more than one occasion.
I've grown old here; I've grown used to the garlic breath that mixes with the foul odor of wet turkey shit forming a very light mist about six feet above our sidewalks and roads. I burn incense in my house and spray Ozium in my car.
I've become somewhat oblivious to all the metaphoric warts and blemishes I come across as I make my rounds. Nowadays, I see Corcoran kind of like Jack Black saw Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie Shallow Hal, being somewhat hypnotized by the often understated and often unappreciated beauty of the place. To truly love her, I have had to learn to accept her with her make-up off, when she scratches herself with her own fingers, and when she wakes up in the morning with her eyes blackened by all her faithless lovers.
I wouldn't say that it's a love-hate relationship, but more like a love and regret relationship, always knowing that I could have done more when I had the chance. I could have told her she was pretty once or twice, or kissed her and held her in a prolonged embrace a time or two when I didn't feel much like kissing or hugging.
As I've aged, I've started using a mental version of ultra soft toilet paper to wipe away the bitter memories and dark thoughts which have made my life here such a Dickensian pastiche. I now prefer to attach memories, both bitter and sweet, to all the worn out streets and shabby buildings that I pass and to gaze into the past while idling at the four-way stops on Whitley. If you see me doing this, honk or something, and I'll pretend that I got my cell phone in my lap.
It's a hard row to hoe to do this much ignoring, especially while driving around and noticing fresh graffiti on the side of a house, a car seat being used as lawn furniture, or the fact that there are more shopping carts lining the streets than there are at the store that owns them.
Having developed more of an empathetic nature, I have often had to wonder if there is some kind of message being spoken of here, some austere beauty we are supposed to recognize somehow, to solve the great mystery of why we are all still here before we can pass Go and collect our hard won $200.
The strangest thing is that I recently discovered that Corcoran has become prettier the less I that go out in Public. I have found different perspectives with which to observe her without having to look at her through squinty eyes.
The first is through my data banks on the subject. For example, there is a little road on the southern outskirts of town where I first made love to a woman. That road is now serving time within prison walls. Talk about a metaphor. When I drive by a certain house in town, or hear a certain song on the radio, I always remember the magic of that night.
There is also the tired little building that used to house Pop's Candy Store down on Oregon Avenue where I once saw a pretty girl named Shiela shimmy to the song Liar, Liar by the Castaways as I was sipping on a ice cold Coca Cola full of peanuts. She was wearing silver lame' hot pants and a halter top, and her feet were bare and dirty. I've always wished that it was me who was dancing with her that day.
For years, I have first divided my friends into those who idled away the hot summer days with me and those who know not of what I speak, those who knew Pops personally, and those who only knew the legend.
The Candy Store was the one and the same place where my mom and the school ladies found me playing pinball when a kindergarten friend and I made off with the bag of nickels meant to purchase the class milk run. They found us because we'd parked the class wagon outside.
The cemetery on the way out east out of town, a gloomy place for all the young, is more like a scrapbook when you reach my age. I can't turn around there without being overwhelmed by memory. I recently went there after dark, something I would never have done before, to place a solar-light on my ex-wife's grave. I had resolved to get it done that day and had forgotten on the way out of town that morning. A tear or two was shed in the process.
Secondly, I have gained a new way of looking at the town via the Internet of all things. It has opened up a pathway to the interior of the community, where people are judged not by the facade they erect in order to fit in, but by their personal motives, their actual thoughts, their own words and their memes.
I have people on-line who pray for me daily. You best believe that makes me smile a bit. I can sometimes even see the influence that I have had on a young person's life. That makes feel good too. I can see pictures of friends and loved ones who now live thousands of miles away, and also pictures of friends who live only blocks away, but I almost never see in person.
Then there are those who are hell bent on trying to create some kind beauty or awareness around here. Like Paul Garcia, for example. He plays bass in a pretty good band I'm told, and when he ain't too busy trying to pester people and make them laugh, he picks up a guitar and sings to us all. I ain't gonna lie, he's not using auto-tone, but his voice is nice, its warm, and its real. More importantly, you can easily hear he is singing from his heart and not for a paycheck.
There is also my friend Roger McVay, a much loved local figure, who did something else his whole life only to discover that he had great gift for freezing moments in time. When he gets things all still and calm like he does, it sure is a damn sight easier to see the purty of it all. No more need to ignore all the warts and the blemishes, Roger makes even them seem both unique and beautiful.
There's also his brother O.D., who goes by the name Shanks nowadays. Shanks has filtered every thing he has ever learned through a mixture of bacon grease, shamrocks, coffee, and muddy ditch water held together in a white cotton sox with a rubber band on top, a device that could have only been contrived on the south side of Corcoran. It is a thing that our cultural fore-bearers once used to find gold nuggets hidden in piles of cow manure. I lost mine at school, and I'm mighty glad that he still has his.
Shanks gnaws off big pieces of life, chews it all down, and starts spitting out wisdom, like a Californiated version of Will Rogers. Once he gets it all filtered, it comes out as fresh and authentic as the first cup of hot coffee in the large, cracked hands of a farmer nodding his head on a gray November morning.
And how about Angel Cortez, another old Southside friend, who posts memes and writes humorous anecdotes sharing his take on things like motorcycles, retirement, goats, and noisy neighbors, so that the rest of us don't have to.
There are so, so, many more, people in this town who send out smiles and well wishes every day, some who share their joys and their pains, people who have the praying hands emoji on speed dial for when it's quickly needed. People who like and laugh at our memes but are also genuinely willing to share in the pain that we all must suffer for merely being born human in a small farming town trying to masquerade as someplace more important than it really is, like all small towns do.
I ain't going to lie to anybody anymore. Corcoran is still a little raw, but it ain't located anywhere near the sphincter muscle of the universe (give you a hint, the name of that place ends with a D and C). Corcoran ain't ever going to stack up well against a sleek sophisticated beauty like Charlize Theron, but she would more than hold her own in a cage match/ beauty contest against. . . say, Betty White.