Sometimes I fall into the mistake of thinking that I haven't been writing lately. I have, but I haven't been sharing a lot of it. I have developed such a deep distrust of a lot of the media platforms because of the blatant dishonesty they put on full display at the end of the year. I was looking back at some stuff and while pleasantly surprised by some of what I did write, I also noticed that it was also full of so much longing and regret.
The View From Mt. Fuji
"I knew you guys would come. Or, I knew someone would. I figured the universe couldn't be so cruel as to leave me standing there with my thumb up my ass in front of a prison where I was locked up for five years."
The van was old, rusty and noisy, and they had to raise their voices in order to talk. Lola took a deep last drag off of her Salem and flicked it out the window and then slowly exhaled the smoke out of the window too. "That's where you wrong, sonny boy. The fucking universe would have let you stand right there until the guards came and locked your goofy ass right back up. It was your mother who picked you up. Remember that. I ain't gonna lie though: it was Carla reminded me. Otherwise, I woulda just gone down to Hanratty's and gotten drunk like every other day. Not that I wouldn't have come, of course. I had just forgot."
Old Dudes Fishing
The shiny, new Lexus backed out of the parking slot and straightened its wheels so that Rodney, sitting in the back seat, was level with where Geezer and Pancho were standing. His head and shoulders were slumped over, and his head was barely above window level; he looked up sadly and barely raised his hand and waved as the car pulled forward.
Pancho and Geezer stood right where they were and waved long after the car turned left on Derry and drove out of sight toward the outskirts of town.
After a long while, Geezer turned to his friend and started to say, "Maybe Big Larry's right. It might be good for. . . ," he then noticed that Pancho was crying, "Are you crying? You damn crybaby. Two tours of duty as a helicopter gunner in Nam just to come home and start bawling outside a shit hole restaurant.. Knock it off, Pancho. We ain't freaking snowflakes! We real men remember. The last of a dying breed and don't you ever forget it!"
Pancho turned toward Geezer and smiled through his tears, "Said the same dumb ass fool who cried all night when Jerry Garcia died. I'm gonna miss that fool, Geezer. He didn't talk dumb shit all the time like you."
So You Want to Shag a Movie Star?
"Do you honestly mean to tell me that you think that your answer was appropriate for a high school literature class?"
"That's a different question. I answered the question he asked me, and I answered it honestly. It's not my fault that Mr. People's is a hypocrite."
"So, your deepest desire is to sleep with a Hollywood movie star?"
"There you go to changing the question again. I didn't say it was my deepest desire. My deepest desire would be to be able to function in a society where I didn't have to lie or modify my truth in order deal with the inability of others to accept it as such. In response to your question, I would just say, how could it be otherwise? That's why those stars exist, to create desires where none existed before. They use our desires against us, to sell us stuff, including false realities and untruth."
Ms. Stephens started coughing at that point.
The Languages of Trees
The memory of Petey's death strangely made me think of the image of my dad kneeling down and scratching the words, "Petey Our Beloved Puppy," into the wet cement slab he had placed on the dog's grave and then just as quickly, that old memory morphed in the newer memory of my brothers and I standing at the side of my father's grave. I had thought of Petey's funeral on that day too, wondering who had etched the words into my father's headstone. It was a cold, breezy day the middle of an unusually warm Autumn. My brother Cody had selected Elvis's Peace in the Valley as the music marking the end of the ceremony.
My childhood friend Hobo, real name Larry, came up afterwards and hugged me tightly. He whispered, "Did you pick out that damn music?"
"Naw. That was Cody's idea. He loves Elvis, man. He'd sang it hisself if we'd let em."
Hobo pulled back and said earnestly, "Good fucking choice though. I always said that if'n the King can't break you down, you can't be fucking broken down."
I laughed, "Shit, fool. Don't be making me laugh. It's my dad's funeral for Christ's sake." I then thought about it a minute then said, "Hell, the song was a lot better than that damn preacher though."
"Ain't that the damn truth! Where did you guys get that mealy mouth motherfucker, out the Yellow Pages? Sound like he was trying to sell us a car."
I laughed again, "Knock it off, I said. Damn, dude. Jennie said that if we used Old Penrose she wouldn't even come. Glen came up with this dude."
Hobo pulled a package of Marlboros out of his shirt pocket, lit a one, and exhaled slowly, "Well you know what they always say. Same shit, different suit."
The Man With Half a Heart
And, oh yeah, she took half of him with her. The left half. He suddenly felt a lot lighter, so he looked down and noticed that she had sliced him neatly in two, starting at the top of his head and exiting below his crotch area. He was just starting to wonder just how the f**k she could done the thing so neatly and so swiftly when he remembered that Delia wielded words like a highly trained samurai wielded a katana blade, and she also had a natural gift for turning his own words into weapons that drew blood.
As far as the people eating at the surrounding tables knew, he was okay. Sure, they had witnessed the tossed napkin and the storming out, but to the outward vision, he was still in one piece. He played along with the charade, paid the bill, and slowly made his way into the restroom where he stood before the marble counter and carefully surveyed and listed the real damage.
Anybody knows that possessing half a heart is damned near as worthless as having no heart at all. But a lot of people do not understand that the heart is also a seat of memory and the hub of all emotional activities. So, all of his emotions now entered in a limbo after discovering the hub was missing. They wandered about the halls of his consciousness lost, lonely and confused, sometimes hooking up with the half baked ideas that were still being emitted by the still intact right side of his brain. This resulted in a lot of strange behavior on his part. Sometimes he fell in love with an episode of CSI, at other times he would rage at the sight of cute squirrel eating a peanut in the park.
Mourning in April
I started thinking that life comes at people like a fastball thrown by a hall of fame pitcher while we are looking for the curve. The ball gets up on us so quickly that we swing weakly and miss it by a mile. We know we can't quit though, it wouldn't be right, so we tell ourselves on the way back to the dugout that that motherfucker gotta wear out sometime, and sooner or later, he'll hang that curve right over the plate. Trick is being in the batter's box when he does and still having your team close enough for it to mean something. I was of the mind that after striking out three times, I was fixing to get pulled for a pinch hitter anyway.
It's been over twenty-five years since that star flew across the moon that night and almost the same amount of time since Gladys crushed my hopes like a bug on the first day of seventh grade year.
You'd figure that those two events should have been deeply buried in the sediments by now, far enough beneath the surface of the water, rusted and forgotten, that they couldn't possibly affect me anymore. But you'd figure wrong.
And it's always those deep, forgotten, rusty things that hurt the most.
The Secret of the Sliver Moon
Lazarus Russell died all alone on outskirts of Concord, a small, judgmental town full of people who often carved their presumptions out of stone, yet had a hard time scratching the surface of the obvious. Lazarus had lived there so long that he had become to seem of no more substance or meaning than a barely noticed tree, or a warning sign posted on a certain corner that no one ever heeded.
It was cold and bitter the night he died lying on a dirt embankment beneath the railroad bridge along State Route 23. He looked up at the slight, blurry, sliver of silver hanging in a dark black sky then lowered his gaze toward the brackish water pooled below the railroad bridge and saw the same slivered moon undulating lightly on its surface. He then closed his eyes, mumbled something toward the shadows, exhaled and surrendered.
Kevin Cash ran through life like his tail was on fire. Looking back, I often wonder if he didn't have the right idea. Life is like a big assed wool blanket and if we stand still long enough, or worse, just sit and watch, it will eventually smother us all.
Standing there by his grave, all his friends were gathered at one end, clustered in between a flower arrangement that spelled out 'Go for it!' in red roses at one end and one that said 'Tell Johnny I Said Hello' in blue and yellow roses at the other. The picture his sister Sharon took of the sad looking group looked like the after picture of the whole Sixties era, and, in perfect truth, captured the essence of those confusing times as they played out in our dusty, little town in the great San Joaquin Valley. I can't help but wonder though how many other such photographs exist and how many 'What the Fuck?' responses they would one day engender.
We laughed that there was nothing inside that shiny walnut box but the ass end of big joint in a roach clip. We joked about it because we had all seen it coming, and, each in our own way, had tried to warn him. We always presented ourselves like a stoic bunch of sad-eyed losers but a little bit deeper down, underneath the thin layer of epidermis we passed off to the public, our hearts were drowning. It was like being at the funeral of Icarus. All of us got a little sunburned, but it was always Kevin who flew the highest.
"Pop, is there anything about your God forsaken life that you actually regret?"
I saw that the question hit him right between the eyes, and he flinched for just a second. For as long as I had known him, my dad had never, ever looked backwards. He even told me once that he had taken the rearview mirror out of the first car he owned. When I asked him why, he surprised me with his answer.
"A old man I knew, Guy Mitchell, used to be a Professor back in Arkansas, once told me a story about a mule sitting equal distance between two bales of hay. He said that damn fool mule couldn't make his mind up which bale to eat and starved to death. There's only one way to go, Son. Forward. And because life is hard on your ass trying to run you down you gotta move fast, so you got no time to sit cry in your fucking beer."
"Regrets, Pop? You got any?"
He looked out the window as the town he had lived in for over sixty years flew by like the moving back drops in the old Western movies he loved so much. After a minute, he turned back and looked me in the eyes. He wore thick lenses, and they magnified his eyes so that I could see that his bottom lids were damning the flow of the only water I had ever seen in those eyes.
This man had cracked jokes at my mom's funeral. He complained so much about her cooking, that I had to threaten to kick his ass if he didn't shut up. It was only now though, in sudden flash of insight, no doubt helped along by the shock of seeing those damn tears welling up, that I realized the jokes and the complaining was all facade. I knew that he was hurting, maybe even feeling guilty as we sat there by the side of my mother's grave.
"You can't live life the way I"ve done and just up and start feeling guilty or ashamed. It wouldn't be honest. My old man use to beat my ass every day. Right up till the time I took his belt away and turn the tables on him. The way I see things, I only have two regrets anyway."
Pop stopped mid thought. I waited and waited and the answer didn't seem to be forthcoming. "And?"
He then gave me the saddest look I had ever seen, "I regret in taking the pretty offa your mama. She was the prettiest girl in this county at one time. . . . . .then she had the bad judgement to take up with me." He chuckled sadly, "I used to parade her up and down this very street like I was toting peacocks."
With that, he grew silent and turned and looked back out the window. I could tell though that what he was seeing in his head sure wasn't really out there now.
"Pop, you said you had a second regret?"
The words came out simply, hard, fast and resigned, "My greatest regret is turning that belt on my daddy. I should never have done that."