A friend of mine from the old days stopped by to see me yesterday. I was glad because I had been meaning to stop by his house but had kept putting it off.
He laughed when I pointed out a card and envelope sitting on my television stand and told him that I had bought the card and had been waiting to find the right words to express my sympathy for the loss of his wife, but so far they hadn't come.
" Screw that Dougie. I know you're there, I know you're there."
He laughed again when I told them that I had thought about starting it, "Fuck you, Dumbass."
" I least I'd know it was you. They ain't nothing to say, I got so tired of them words when my dad died and then my ole lady. I finally ran everyone off cos I was tired of hearing it."
I've always wanted to be a writer, not just for the thirty-five people or so who read my blog post, but a real one. I wanted to write things that spoke to others, like describing the stuff lying in darkened corners or hidden in the shadows.
I made a lot of ridiculous attempts chasing that dream. I wrote stories to make people see colorful visual images, car wreck looky-loo stories that were bleached of any meaning whatsoever.
I finally learned not long ago that anything really worth writing has to be extricated from the sinews of our memory. It needs to enable the reader to hear the begging whispers of a thousand ghosts.
There can be no lie in the plot except in the interest of telling the truth, and there can be no pretense at all because pretense smells like sun ripened dog shit on the bottom of a shoe.
I failed as a writer because I mostly wrote about things I didn't know. Now I write about me from the perspective gained by walking barefoot from South Estes down to Carl's Market to buy cigarettes for my mom and a couple of comic books for myself.
It's a perspective formed in part by watching as dogs chewed up a good part of at least three people that I knew. A perspective shaped
by the daily basketball, football, and baseball games played at Mark Twain School. And I can't forget to mention all of the time I spent at Pop's Candy Store swapping tales, staring out the screened window, and watching the world go flowing by.
It was with great enjoyment that this friend and I swapped old stories and, when he left, I understood that our connections were not superficial; we were joined at the roots. He mentioned that he drank water from a south side pump as had I. He had done many stupid things there, some of them with me.
Pop's candy store was a little like the Agora of Athens. I said "a little like" so don't go getting all freakin crazy on me. It was where we all met up and discussed philosophy, analyzed events, and fed all the bits into gaping yawl of a giant queen mother who popped it back out in a gel having the same consistency of toothpaste that we all chewed for sustenance.
It was not the sustenance we got at home at the breakfast table, but the sustenance that fed our souls and rendered us impervious to the many social diseases that ran amok in those days. The paste temporarily blinded us to the poverty of our existence and helped us to envision old run down shacks and packed dirt alley ways as being places of great mystery.
The philosophical discussions we had weren't very elevated I'll admit.
It was more like, " Do ya think those are her real titties?"
" Hell no! She and her sista bofofem flatter than sheet rock."
"Well, what's she doing then?'
" Why ask me? Iffn I hadda guess, I'd say socks."
" You a idiot."
" Why ya say that?"
"Girls don't wear socks the way we do."
" Well fucken toilet papuh then! Hell's I know!"
It wasn't much, but just enough for the time. It was the way we reached conclusions and established consensus. It joined us all at the hip. To this day, I can tell you pretty much what the others would think about most subjects even though I'm lucky if I see them once a year.
And invariably, when we talk it always leads back to those golden moments, on football fields and basketball courts, that we shared and to those most sacred of discussions that we still hold dear. And even as the great wind of time has blown us apart in many ways, I know too that they are there, they are always there.
My daughter wrote a line in a song, "I figure salvation is not without scars." The line tells me that memory is genetic and is handed down too. I remember all of my old friends as saints though most of them spent less time in church than the wind passing through opened summer windows.
They are scarred as they can be with broken noses, canyon sized wrinkles, inner demons, and missing teeth. They have done things that we never talk about and which will die with us when the last one goes. Flawed as they could be, but saintly in the ways of suffering.
I figure the place where I grew up deserves a place in literary history. The stories of the Southside are as sad, tragic, comic, and compelling as anything ever written. You think just because we were all poor Okies and Mexicans, the children of truck drivers, mechanics and farm laborers that we couldn't grasp the theme of Hamlet?
Maybe not with all of the embellishments of the Bard, but you strip it away of all eres and tisses, we know they were telling the story of Errol who lived around the corner with an uncle who married his mom.
And though everybody I knew then was a great fucking story teller, there's only a few of us who write, and we bear a great responsibility because if we slack off and shirk our duty. Our collective past will become no more than the somewhat musty stench of broken wind.