Monthly Archives: June 2013
Complete Custodial Care (part two)
We got back in the car with Lee at the wheel, and had some sort of dithering conversation before one of us said, “OK, be cool. Let’s think about this.”
“We have to roll. Sit up straight.”
“Where are we going.?”
“Just head down the street.”
”Where is this place?”
“This punk rock club you’ve been wanting to go to.”
“How’d you know about that?”
“Never mind. Where is it?”
“Out by European Crossroads. Can you get us there?”
“Yeah, we’re gonna get on Central Expressway at Mockingbird and head north.”
Lee sat up and peered through the windshield. “OK, so where do we go?”
“Take a left. Your other left. Your other left! THAT WAY!”
“Calm down. It’s cool.”
We passed the SMU Football stadium and the blue-trim, deserted-looking bakery. After we cleared the ramp onto Central, Lee said take the wheel. He dropped his hands to his lap and I steered the car with my left hand from the passenger seat. We did this all the time. It began once when he needed to roll a joint. My thoughts stopped flitting about the sky and concentrated on the road ahead. The red tail lights smeared around just a bit, but tripping is more of a feeling, an intense feeling, than a picture show. Your eyes are busy, oh boy, and everything looks fresh and fleeting. But the main thing is being connected to everything and everybody and things constantly occur to you for the first or, even, third time. We talked non-stop. All the headlights seemed like stage lights and I kept seeing this black and white movie image in my head of the two of us in backlit silhouettes as if shot with a handheld from the backseat, with our hair flying around. I was steady on the turn onto Northwest Highway. Lee said nice.
Northwest Highway gives some relief from the unerring flatness of Dallas in all directions as the roadway undulates over some big easy ups and downs. It’s a nice stretch past streets full of brick one floor ranch houses and live oak trees. Then you come to Bachman Lake and you see jet planes with flashers and strobes coming in on Love Field. We were ourselves flying at tree top level in a large American car with the windows down. Talking, talking, talking. We came upon a section of strip malls and gas stations and stopped at a red light. Lee said my wheel and I said your wheel. There was lots of traffic. It made me feel funny.
For once, Lee drove right us into the parking lot of the very place he was looking for. It was called Club Seal. Two big placid brown eyes looked down from the sign on the roof. They made me feel funny. We went in.
It wasn’t a big place. The bar was by the door. I got us two vodka tonics. We each took a sip and clinked glasses. Lee said bubbly. He also said quit smiling so much.
“I can’t help it. I keep forgetting. My cheeks hurt. Besides, you’re grinning like an idiot.”
You mean, A Person Requiring Complete Custodial Care?” We laughed and laughed.
“Hey, you’re turning red.”
“So are you. Cut it out.”
There were no tables and chairs in the place except for the bar stools. The rest of the place was a rectangular room with three wide carpeted steps to sit on going down each wall. Guitars and a small drum kit jammed a small square stage just one foot high. There was a DJ booth on one wall. A guy with thick black glasses messed with records while a bass-heavy reggae song played. He wore a 7-11 smock with big orange circles on it. I thought that’s the perfect punk rock shirt.
Immediately, Lee was hailed by a couple sitting by the stage. He always knew people everywhere we went. This happened the first time we tripped way out in the country. Just as it was getting dark,after we’d been tripping for hours, an old white convertible with four people in it rambled down the dirt road to our campsite. Turns out, Lee knew both of the guys in the front seat and had met one of the girls in the back seat. They said they were going to get beer and did we want some? We gave them ten dollars and they drove off. I said so we just paid them ten bucks to go away? Pretty much Lee said.
I nodded to the couple Lee was talking to, got another drink, and sat on the steps watching the sparse crowd. The place was about half full. I heard people talking about how much they liked the first band, but the second band remained at large.
An attractive girl holding hands with a tall guy showed up out of nowhere to talk to people sitting next to me. I was blitzed on high grade blotter acid, but I’d swear they wore prom clothes and they were soaking wet and they had on white clown makeup which made them seem dead. I thought of them as high school sweetheart zombies. And you gotta remember that this was in the days before you saw people dressed as zombies everyday. I was entranced, but they made me feel funny. I wanted to get out of there.
I nodded to Lee and then to the door. He nodded back and put up one finger to indicate, “OK, give me a minute.” I could tell from where I sat that he was hitting on the girl. He slipped into this conversational tactic naturally and usually without premeditation. It was his default mode. The girl was caught in his tractor beam. Her companion was no longer smiling.
My thoughts followed an elliptical track that periodically passed right through my skull. Penny was on my mind. I remembered that she was out somewhere with her sisters drinking frozen margaritas.
Lee stood in front of me and said let’s go. The guy and the girl were both looking at us. The guy was standing and, BOOM, we were back in the Dallas night. I was aware of some commotion at the intersection before I heard or saw anything. It was something in the air. We passed the car and went around a corner to find people standing around two cars that were somehow fused together. There was glass twinkling on the pavement.
Evidently no one was hurt. One guy got back in one of the cars and shifted into reverse, but the bumper of the other car held him fast. He shifted back and forth trying to rock it loose. No one seemed mad. It was all quite matter of fact until a cop car pulled up with it’s lights going. Traffic backed up and a car horn sounded. Cars in other lanes were slowing down to check the action. A big cop spun Lee around and asked him what’s going on. Lee hadn’t noted the police presence until then and he started laughing. The cop didn’t like that.
I blurted out, “This is not us!”
The cop said, “What do you mean this isn’t you?”
I said, “We’re not in these cars.”
“I can see that you idiot.”
Lee watched me with wide eyes and a big open mouth grin. He shook his head as if to say don’t say it. He looked slightly crazed, but he had a good point. Meanwhile, some other bystanders, who’d been pushing down on the empty car, by some unstated mutual agreement, all turned around and hopped up on the front hood. The bumpers separated with a loud clack and the guy behind the wheel of the other car backed up few feet. The big cop gave up on us and began questioning the driver. We stood on the corner for a few minutes grocking on all the blinking lights and then headed for the car.
I started fiddling with the radio and when I looked up we were somewhere else. Someplace I didn’t recognize at all. I said God Damn It, what did you do?
Lee giggled. This was a conversation we’d had many times when he was at the wheel. It wasn’t the acid. He could get lost faster than anyone I’ve ever known.
“Where the hell are we?”
“I don’t know. I thought this was the way.”
“The way where? We don’t have a plan.”
“We don’t have clue.”
“OK, slow down. Let me read some street signs.”
The first intersection had no street signs. We were on some industrial thoroughfare. We passed two girls walking along wearing halter tops and hot pants. The had big dangling earrings.
“We must be on Harry Hines.”
“How do you know?”
“Those were hookers.”
At a red light I spotted a sign for Walnut Hill. I said take a right I wanna show you something. We drove a few blocks.
“You know where we are?”
“Yeah, the warehouse for Jones Santa Rosa used to be out this way. Pull in behind that building right there.”
Parked out back was a rusted out the WWII Duck I used to stop and look at when I was out here on the way to the warehouse.
“What’s this thing?”
“It’s an amphibious truck. They used ‘em at D-Day.”
“AM FIB BEE US. AM FIB BEE US. We’re using some mighty big words for somebody who’s so fucked up.”
“Hey, I least I know where the hell I am.”
We climbed up on it. The seats were just springs and all the equipment had been stripped off it except for the steering wheel and, behind the seats, the mount for a 50 caliber machine gun. Someone had welded bicycle handlebars to a length of big square tube and welded two side by side pipes to the front in an approximation of a machine gun. Lee swept it back and forth and made shooting noises like a little kid playing army. He was good shot. He cleared the beach in no time.
In the middle of the Duck were two long, built-in benches facing each other. The fact that they reminded me of the bench/steps at Club Seal seemed really important to me for a couple of minutes. I bummed a smoke from Lee and we quietly sat smoking for a while. Still tripping.
The Duck sat parallel to the building on a patch of grass just beyond the parking lot. There was a driveway on each side of the building and from the left one came a broad beam of light. As it passed, the building had a halo, then the right driveway got dazzling bright. And then, it was dark again. Adrenaline.
We waited a bit and then got out of there. I drove. The conversation continued unabated. Endless reels of horseshit. Questions, rants, palindromes, do you remembers,non-sequiturs …color theory. Who, what, why, where, when and how? LOOK OUT! Yo Banana Boy. The time the latrine blew up. I feel funny. Orange and Blue.
“What do you want to do?”
“Let’s go somewhere.”
“OK, but I don’t wanna talk to anybody.”
“Me neither. Nobody.”
“Do you wanna talk to nobody?”
“I just wanna go somewhere and relax.”
“There is no relaxing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not ‘til tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Let’s go to the park.”
“Let’s go to Lee Park, get it?”
So I took us back through Swamptown going south on Preston Road. By now, I was OK with driving, although I kept having what my philosophical friend, Otto, would call, “Concisousness of Reality Attacks.”
I said take the wheel and Lee said my wheel.
We were doing fine tandem driving, being very-very cool, when
the rear and the side view mirrors lit up real horrorshow. All blues and red. I put both hands on the wheel at ten and two.
We both said oh shit before the officer was at my window, but we kept it together pretty well. I got out my license and Lee pulled an envelope with all pertinent information from the glovebox. His dad was an organized man.
We sat fidgeting while the cop was back in his car checking us out. Reflections off of everything on the dashboard. From the mirrors. From the windshield. From the passing vehicles. The whole world was crystal and glass. Everything looked like a trinket.
The cop asked me lots of questions and told Lee twice to keep quiet and gave us a ticket for a burned out tail light and we were underway again. Now then, what were we discussing?
I parked us on a side street, Lee grabbed his frisbee,and we walked into the park along Turtle Creek. Everything looked excellent. Some of the trees around the little mansion, atop it’s sloping expanse of front lawn, had lights in them. The little mansion was covered in scaffolding. We were still talking.
The frisbee kept getting away from us so we moved into a sunken garden covered in ivy. We stood at each end of a little oval sidewalk. A nearby street light on the street above gave us just enough light to see what we were doing. It looked like an Edward Gorey drawing. It made me feel funny.
We got a good volley going; throwing the disc exactly the same way each time. Catching it the same way. Sometimes it was a glowing blur until I got it. Other times I clocked each revolution as it spun toward me. Then I tossed it again, but Lee turned away before it reached him. I got a bad feeling. We both both balled our fists and hunched our shoulders. A long screech and BANG. Glass breaking. Lee said we have to help those people and he took off running. I followed him out of the garden and through some trees to the corner where Lemmon Avenue crosses the boulevard and goes over Turtle Creek on a concrete bridge. Two cars were jammed together right front to left front. I thought how often does this happen?
The car heading across the bridge on Lemmon had smacked a car attempting to turn right from the boulevard and cross the bridge in the same lane. The driver of the Lemmon car was standing by his door with his hands on his hips. Lee was at the other drivers door. It was damaged and couldn’t open. The window had been up but was now blown into the car in thousands of glittery pieces all over the bewildered driver lying on his side with his fists balled beneath his chin. His throat was bleeding from three small cuts opened by glass shrapnel. He kept asking what happened and Lee kept telling him you were in an accident and you’re going to be OK.
“What kind of accident?”
“A car accident.”
“Was it my fault?”
“No. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You were in a car accident. You’ll be OK.”
Lee reached in an took the guy’s left fist, unclenched it and held his hand. I stepped onto Lemmon behind the wreck and began directing traffic. That was so cool.
Other people were there now and attempting to help the first driver disengage his car. I told them to sit on the hood. I smelled booze in the air. The driver got in and backed up his car and started to pull away. Three guys got off but one rolled over on his belly and screamed at the driver face to face through the glass. The car kept going and the guy on the hood spread eagled and gripped the windshield wipers. The car sped across the bridge and up the hill on the other side with an outside passenger holding tight. Just then a cop car pulled up.
Three of us went to the cop behind the wheel and told him what happened. His partner got out and the cop car raced off. The cop started questioning me while Lee tended his patient. The short half of a Mutt and Jeff gay couple spoke up and said he’d seen everything. He had his shit together and gave concise adamant answers and the cop stopped talking to me.
An ambulance crew got the door open with some kind of intricate crow bar and loaded the injured man onto a gurney. Lee held the guy’s hand until they closed the doors and drove away. There were more cops and burning road flares.
I directed Lee to a waist high bridge wall and bummed a couple cigarettes off of Mutt. They were Dunhills. We sat there and watched the tow truck driver take the wreck away. The bystanders drifted. Soon it was just us and the road flares. Dunhills last a long time.
We eventually retrieved the frisbee and walked to the center of the lawn. We could see the big statue of Robert E.Lee astride Traveler.
“Man, what else can happen tonight?”
“I’m getting tired.”
“Me too, but let’s climb up that scaffolding and smoke a joint.”
“You have a joint?”
“You clever bastard. I can’t believe it.”
“Believe it, baby.”
“Don’t call me baby, baby.”
“Baby. Baby. Baby.”
We climbed off the scaffold onto the roof and sat on either side of the little fake cupola. Each with an elbow resting on its copper cap. When the roach was burning down we heard sirens.
“Man, they’re coming back.”
“No those are fire trucks.”
“How do you know?”
Soon a fire chief’s car passed us and went across the creek. Then from another side came a pumper. A ladder truck crossed the bridge. We heard other sirens. Across the way in some trees I saw an orange-red light which steadily got bigger.
“Look over there.”
“Something’s on fire.”
The orange-red now illuminated apartment buildings and we could see a guy on top a ladder directing a stream of water at the flames. The sky was yellow with firelight and smoke. This really happened. I felt funny.
“OK, we should call it a night. I’ve seen enough.”
“Yeah, let’s call it a night.”
Lee drove us, without incident, back to his house, where I was to spend the night. His older brother was away at college and I had use of his room. It was late. His parents and younger brother had been asleep for hours. We went down the alley and in through the garage at the back of the house. This was an addition with a second floor where the two oldest boys each had a room. One of Lee’s two windows faced the separate roof of the main part of the house. At night, we’d often sat in the valley between the two roofs.
We were still talking, but very low. He kicked off his shoes and got on his bed. I sat at the desk chair. We talked a long time about what a weird night we’d had. His cat came in the open window from the roof and hopped up on the bed next to him. Lee rubbed behind the cat’s ears while she glowered at me from beneath her whiskered brow. Finally, as I drew spirals on scrap paper, I noticed the two of them were sleeping.
I took one of Lee’s cigarettes and climbed out the window. I leaned against house roof and planted my feet on the slope of the garage roof. As I lit up the cat hopped up on the window sill. She sat upright with her front legs like two pillars, her paws right together, and her tail wrapped around them. I strongly felt her mortal presence. I felt her approbation. Not contempt but disapproval.
She looked right into my eyes and we had a staring contest. It lasted a long while until some night creature called out and she lost it. She began delicately licking a paw. I looked up and exhaled a thin plume of smoke. I could see five stars.
Maddie had been psychic as long as she could remember. And from before she could remember she had had her special power as well. From her watery home inside her mother’s womb a sense of anticipation would suddenly seize her making her kick and thrash. Her mother would grab her expanded belly with a gasp just as booming fireworks burst over-head or when a car loudly backfired in their normally quiet neighborhood.
“There she goes again!” her mother would exclaim as she came to expect the baby jerking from inside. But no matter how much soothing and calming her mother tried to convey to her unborn child, there would still be times when she would be thrashing about. Her mother began to realize the connection to the noise or events was out of sequence. The baby would react BEFORE the noise. She began to take heed of this and listen more carefully to what the baby was telling her through her movements.
“You even saved your papa’s life!” she explained to the child when she was 4 years old. “I felt you moving all around in there so I knew something was about to happen. Your papa was out in the driveway tinkering away under that old junker of a car that never ran. Tires off and up on a jack it was just a big eye-sore in our driveway and I was bugging him to get it running or get rid of it before you were born. But the minute I felt you twitching I came outside and yelled out to him to come quick. Thinking it was something the matter with me, he came running, and right when he got to the porch that old car just slammed into the ground. Fell right off the jack. If he’d still been under there you wouldn’t have grown up with a papa.”
Knowing this information and understanding what she could do was still beyond Maddie’s comprehension at that age, but she did feel pretty proud to have done something so significant even if she couldn’t remember it. Her awareness of her power didn’t come fully into focus until the next year when she entered Kindergarten.
Entering school was traumatic for Maddie. She didn’t have any brothers or sisters at home, and her mother had kept her always close to her side because they couldn’t afford day-care. Upon entering school Maddie quickly realized that she did not fit in with all the children who had already formed social skills and friendships through pre-school and day-care. In addition to feeling outside the group, Maddie was also faced with a constant sense of trouble. Kids fall down and hurt themselves and she was picking up on this constantly. She hadn’t mastered the art of tuning out the low frequency hum from the major jolts that alerted her to imminent danger. So she tried to physically separate herself to create a quieter more peaceful feeling inside her jangling mind.
“Maddie, why don’t you come join the other children on the new jungle gym?” Ms. Harrison the play ground monitor gently asked.
“No thank you.” Maddie politely replied. “I’m building a secret room to hide in from the sky monsters.”
Ms. Harrison had been around a lot of shy and imaginative kindergartners so she knew to give Maddie her space and let her come to the group on her own terms. “Alright sweetie. You just let me know if you want to come play with the others and I’ll make sure they make room for you on the new big toy.”
Maddie went back to digging out a space in the loose wood chips up that she imagined would become a hole large enough for her to climb into and disappear from the chaos of the playground. On that day Maddie felt an even stronger sense of imminent danger and was trying to make the noise in her head stop. Looking back at the children swarming on the new play structure Maddie saw a boy from her class, Tommy Deyoungen, scaling to the uppermost bars. She knew in an instant that he would fall and was faced with the dilemma of what to do. She had no allegiance to Tommy, but the feeling of danger was so strong she rose up and went over to Ms. Harrison.
“Excuse me.” She said quietly to the playground monitor’s back. The teacher didn’t hear her over all the shrieks from the happily playing children and was busy talking to another teacher who had come out to bring more jump ropes to the playground. Maddie paused while the teachers spoke but then nervously tugged on Ms. Harrison’s sleeve after the other teacher turned to go back inside.
“Oh, yes Maddie! What is it? Do you want to play with a jump rope?” asked Ms. Harrison.
“Um, that boy…” Maddie said pointing to the top of the monkey bars.
Just as Ms. Harrison looked to where Maddie’s small finger pointed, the boy, now hanging upside down from the highest point, slipped and crashed headfirst to the ground.
“Oh my god…” Ms. Harrison’s voice trailed off. “But how did you…”
Maddie dropped her arm to her side. She shrugged her shoulders at the half-asked question. She always felt relieved after the premonition had been fulfilled, but also felt drained and breathless as if the anticipation of the event had prevented her from breathing deeply. Now her throat felt dry as if she had been yelling or running. “May I have some water, please?” she politely asked the still stunned Ms. Harrison. The simple question broke the teacher’s spell as she quickly began to move towards the fallen boy, around whom all the other children had gathered.
“Yes, child! Go find Mrs. Mathews, the nurse! Tell her there is a hurt child! Hurry!”
. . .
Maddie sat inside the nurse’s office on the smooth molded plastic chairs with her paper cup of water long after the ambulance sirens had receded. She heard a teacher in the hall say, “… A broken arm and a dislocated shoulder, but he’ll be fine.” Maddie knew at this moment that her secret power was something uniquely hers. And that she needed to act on her premonitions more quickly. Deciding how to tell Ms. Harrison that they needed to dig a much bigger hole so that all the children would be safe from the sky monsters was what Maddie needed to do next.
Florence Williams loved her garden. She was the neighborhood flower lady. She loved dahlias and peonies, roses, lilies and delphinium. You could say she was a flower hoarder. All flowers were welcome in her garden without prejudice, and they rewarded her passion with a psychedelic display from early March’s buttery daffodils and joyful tulips and sweet lilacs, all the way through October’s autumnal cornucopia of oversized dahlias and zinnias displayed in gothic hues.
On this beautiful late spring day, Flo was watering when her husband Jim, came running through the garage door, not a run really but at an old man trot. He was carrying a pink plastic flamingo that was missing one of its metal stick legs. He spotted Flo who blended into her garden in a pink straw hat and a floral print muumuu with green leaves and pink hibiscus flowers.
“Oh Jim, what’s this?”
“Somebody’s been messing around with the birds again. I just fell asleep on the porch for an hour or so and the little thieves attacked Miss Pavola. They took her leg this time. I’m so tired of this. Last week they were content to move them around thinking I wouldn’t notice. I’m getting a bit pissed off.”
“We’ll have to catch whoever it is.”
“I know. My display is getting ruined by this stupid person.”
“Well, we’ll have to come up with a plan. What we need is a large rat trap for humans.” Flo laughed and turned off the water.
“Yes, especially for human children because I think it might be those little boys across the street.”
“Jim, we can’t accuse anyone unless we have some real proof. Those kids seem nice enough. We don’t want to start a war with the neighbors.”
“Proof Smoof. They keep doing this to different flamingos. Yesterday it was Karsavina. Next they will be tearing the legs off Fonteyn.”
“Let’s go and sit in the shade dear and try to come up with a plan.”
They meandered around the side of the old farmhouse where hidden from view was an old bench stashed under the flowing branches of the weeping willow.
“Look what I got today from the store.” Flo held up the jar that was filled with California outdoor grown bud. “Here Jim I know you will appreciate this.” Flo pressed the button on the already filled vaporizer. She passed the device to Jim who pulled gently on the stem and exhaled a faint cloud, like a whisper from his whiskered lips.
Flo refilled the vape and savored the flavor and quality of this special strain of marijuana. As she leaned back against the bench she relaxed into a reverie of her present being. They had lived here for almost fifty years but in the past few months her stable solid world had been subtly changing.
“Jim, remember when we tried to raise chickens so we could have fresh eggs?” Jim, his eyes half open was fast asleep.
Oh hell, I probably shouldn’t have made him smoke that. He’s been falling asleep every time we smoke a bowl. “Poor Jim, he’s going to have a hard time moving from here,” she said aloud thinking Jim was still sleeping.
“Flo,” he said in a clear deep voice, “life has ups, downs and changes that you can sometimes predict but most of the time shit happens and you don’t know how or why.“
“Oh Jim,” I thought you were sleeping, in fact I could have sworn you were fast asleep.”
“These days I seem to go to sleep but more and more I am in what I have come to think of as an alternative universe. I mean–I am here but not here. I’m like that Roethke Poem, The Waking, you know the one “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.”
“Wow, that is really strange. When did this start happening? You didn’t do this before. You have always been so steadfast. You’ve never told me about this, Jim.”
“To tell you the truth Flo, it’s been like this for a while now. I don’t know what the hell is happening to me. At first I thought I was getting senile, after all I am going to be seventy-two soon.” He worked the remaining two wire legs from Pavlova and placed the bird on the grass.
“That’s not so old Jim. These days seventy is the new fifty.”
The two chuckled at that as the willow branches swept a cool breeze full of the perfume of roses in full bloom into this shaded spot.
“Flo, you’ve seen me acting all crazy lately, naming the flamingos, losing my taste for foods I’ve always loved. Being so spaced out especially after smoking the herb. I’ve been feeling like a stoned out kid and that is scaring the piss out of me.”
“My god man. Why haven’t you told me this before? We’ll have to see the doctor. I’ll call and make an appointment today. Maybe there’s something she can do.”
“Flo, let’s face it. You’ve seen how I am these days. Do you really think those over educated quacks can help me?”
“But there could be something simple wrong with you. You could have a deficiency, a vitamin B-12 deficiency or something. Maybe you need more vitamin D. I’ve heard that lack of B-12 can make you go mental.”
“No no, Flo. I feel something in me has changed, something fundamental in my real self. Maybe it is the realization that we have to move, maybe it is something in the universe that is telling me that my time is almost over, that my thread is growing shorter and shorter.”
Flo refilled the vape with some freshly ground bud and pressed the power button on. She waited for the light to go off and thoughtfully took a slow draw. She then refilled the device for Jim but now he was quietly dozing.
I won’t wake him but boy this is not how I planned this part of my life to go. We were going to move in the winter. We had everything planned for a beautiful end game in a tropical paradise and now this so sudden, so soon. I thought we would just drift into the future with ease and now it seems everything is going to change. My life as I know it is going to be radically changed. I’ve always had such a wonderful life. Oh sure We’ve had our ups and downs who doesn’t but after you’ve been together for so long I just don’t know how I am going to handle this. Jim has changed. I guess I’ve seen it coming but I sure pushed his behavior quirks under the rug.
Flo got up quietly from the bench so as not to wake Jim. The pink flamingo sat at his feet as if nesting. She pushed aside the fresh pale green branches of the willow and stepped out along the path through the stands of white lilies propped up by stiff emerald leaves. The heat from the late spring sun broadcast the heady perfume into the air smelling virginal and fresh.
Her peonies, riots of pink and fuchsia, drooped heavily laden petals sweet enough to kiss. This year her roses were profusely spectacular. Some wet years the roses suffered from powdery mildew, aphids, root rot and black spot, witches bloom and cane cankers.
This year’s early dry spring produced heavy buds and bright fragrant yellow and coral roses. Huge trellises of pale pink tiny florets, bushes of tree rose hybrids and magenta tea roses. Big white roses spiraled in perfect symmetry.
Flo made her way to the center of the garden. She loved this time of the year, late spring almost summer with big fat bees buzzing with pollination.
Jim opened his eyes and stared out beyond the willow screen. He could see a movement of beauty. There was Flo in the distance, her head surrounded by the flowers of her labor in a kaleidoscope of color. He didn’t recognize reality. He thought he was dreaming.
“How long ago do you think it happened?”
Despite my revulsion, I could not turn away. “Not long, I imagine. Remember how they used to drive us crazy at the store – if we didn’t get the garbage all locked away they would scatter it all over the loading dock?”
Sometimes you feel like it is all coming apart, and you are watching it, and you cannot stop. We hear on the proposal today, and if this project doesn’t go through my surest bet will be looking for a new job. It is all in play now. I can only watch and wait. Now, I like to think I’m not superstitious, but at times like these I am looking for omens everywhere. Not admitting it to myself, but I am.
Which hand is itchy? Left, oh no. What color was that cat?
You see, it isn’t even these contrived neurotic signs of madness that I am looking for. Just stupid stuff, like the color of the cat that crossed in front of me. Or how many times I had to wait for lights on the way downtown. Just sillier and sillier. I look at my watch; I can feel my hand shaking. Check the phone again and nothing new. And now this.
“They say crows are smart. And they are, I’m telling you. You know, they call a group of three or more of them a murder. Did you know that?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before. They are smart, and unlovable.”
“Did I tell you about the one that gave me the evil eye? That totally spooked me.”
“Rich, this is already gruesome enough. Come on.” Was he reading my mind? Did he know how close I was to it all just hitting the fan – with me close, so close, to the blast radius? That was his charm, he didn’t have to know, he just understood.
“There he was. Looking me right in the eye. Lifeless looking eyes. I could call them crazed, based on his behavior. Or hers. I don’t know. How do you tell one from another? Possessed he was. Banging away on the window, yelling at me as I watched him. He did not look good either. You always think of them as being uniformly black, but there was some gray in there. Some stuff was stuck to him. And there he is, just banging on my window. Old crazy fucking crow. But after that, I noticed things were different, you know. It’s hard for me to put a finger on it. But different they were.”
Rich took a drag on his cigarette.
“I’m not really superstitious or nothing, but shit started to get weird. Not long after that Sherri dumped me. I knew that was coming, you don’t have to tell me. I mean, it didn’t happen until after that fucking crow tried to break my window, puts me all on edge. Then bam, the shoe drops, and she it’s over.”
“For fuck’s sake Rich, can you shut up about the crow? Don’t you have anything else going on?”
“What’s got you so grumpy? Look, loan me some cash so I can get another pack of cigarettes after I get home. C’mon man, whaddaya say?”
“Up yours, man. It’s the first week of the month. Didn’t you just get your check?”
“It don’t come in until the tenth. What do you know? Come on – how about some apple fritters? I’ll go get them.”
I smiled. “Alright, alright. Apple fritters all around.”
Off he went. Fifth Avenue was still waking up. The night’s cloudy remnants ensured we had the sidewalk seating to ourselves. Rich and I have been friends a long time. We’d met working at the grocery store twenty years ago. I was trying to finish my degree, and he was fresh out of jail and working on staying clean. He had stayed clean, if you could call him clean with the way he smoked. You would have thought the price of cigarettes might make chain smoking obsolete. And he would say that it had. But he smokes way more than anyone I know. And we still meet every Monday for coffee and some breakfast. And we haggle over how he’s going to get enough cash out of me for a pack of smokes.
I watched him returning with the fritters. Our fritters.
“They are still hot.”
I sniffed mine before I bit into it, relieved that the odor from his cigarettes had not attached itself to my breakfast. Checked the time on the phone. You are not going to hear anything before noon, I bet. And it occurred to me.
“Wasn’t Sherri a total bitch? On top of many things, didn’t she once blow your disability on pull tabs and pitchers at Uncle Mo’s?”
“You are right. She did. I reckon if I did not go back to drinking after that I never would.”
“And didn’t she insist that you give up smoking?”
“True. That was the longest week of my life. She said it was for my health. She wanted my coin! Blast her.”
“Right, and a year later you moved in with Rita. So how was the crow a harbinger of doom?”
“Oh c’mon man, she broke my heart. We had that friction, tension, a spark. Plus, I can’t look at it that way. I ain’t like you. Its day to day, has to be, to keep my head straight. Sure, things could look up next week. But what about now? Like, maybe Sherri and me could have worked things out. But we didn’t. That crow coming to visit was a message from all that stuff that’s going on around us that I can’t decipher. All that shit swirling around I just can’t see. One way or another – if I can’t figure it out it may as well be magic.”
“Well, if that’s the case. You can’t really blame the crow. It was just some loony old crow. Don’t you think?”
“It’s not for me to ask, man. All I know is that after its visit Sherri dumped me. Kicked me out. I had to move. It just sucked. The grocery changed my shifts. And right after that the new cigarette tax came in.”
“Was there some omen before you met Rita?”
“Rita was the omen, you dummy. She still is.”
We laughed. And I sighed. Whatever way it comes out, I’d rather sit here and drink coffee all day. With Rich, two fools sitting here outside Top Pot. I can tell myself I didn’t worry then, back when we worked together, but I did. And if this project goes through I will not be sharing a toast with Rich tonight. And I’ll still be worried.
Triumph or tragedy, what’s the better time? Fritters with Rich or champagne? Win or lose he’ll still be waiting for me next Monday. Unless some bad omens get in the way
Our eyes returned to the crow dodging the rising traffic on fifth. It was dining on some roadkill, presumably squirrel. Gruesome. Screaming, chasing its smaller pals away.
“What part do you think he’s eating now?” Rich mused.
I ignored that, but indulging my anxiety, I asked, “So, is this a good sign for my day, or a bad one?”
“What am I, a crow reader – just ‘cause I stared that one in the eye? Don’t make any assumptions. You’ll have to wait and see slim, wait and see. You might know tomorrow, you might not know for years. It might not be a sign at all. Do you want your change?”
“No man, get some smokes.”
“Alright then – thank you sir, you are a gentleman. I gotta catch a bus. I’ll see you next week.”
He left me alone on the sidewalk. I craved a cigarette, if only to keep my hands busy. And I could not tear my eyes away from the crow and its feast.
The cupcakes sat unsuspecting on the desk, their bright colored frosting and wrappers contrasting with the dull white desktop. The cupcake on the right looked sweet to the touch. It had bright pink frosting swirled around the cupcake top, forming a fluffy sugary dome, a lone white chocolate chip balancing on the top. It may have been strawberry flavored or vanilla with a touch of red food dye. The cupcake on the left was, in contrast, dark. Its dark brown frosting lay like a soft cloud on top of the cupcake, topped by chocolate sprinkles. The cupcakes continued to sit there, on the desk, unaware that they were watched and that a plan was forming…
Allison ducked her head warily as she approached her cubicle. As soon as she had exited the elevator, her eyes were drawn to her balloon filled desk and she knew that her hopes of skating by this year without celebrating her birthday were gone. She narrowed her eyes at the two culprits standing next to her cubicle she assumed were responsible for the garish decorations.
“You guys,” she groaned. “Way to be subtle about my birthday,” She dropped her bag on her chair and stared at the decorations on her desk. In addition to the balloons tied to her chair and the edges of her desk there was a Happy Birthday banner stretched across the right side of her cubicle wall and confetti littered her desk. Two cupcakes sat in honor in the middle of the festivities.
“It’s just cupcakes and a few balloons,” said Emily.
“Right,” scoffed Allison. “Cupcakes, balloons, confetti, banners. What next? Do you have a clown hiding somewhere?” Allison made a show of looking around and under the desk.
Dave laughed. “No clowns,” he said. “But I would be on the lookout for the birthday goblin.”
“Birthday goblin?” Allison snickered. “What is a birthday goblin?”
“You’ve never heard of the birthday goblin?” Dave asked incredulously.
Allison looked to Emily who was staring at Dave skeptically. “No, I’ve never heard of the birthday goblin.”
Dave leaned against Allison’s cubicle. “The birthday goblin is this goblin that loves birthdays and loves playing pranks on birthdays. He especially loves birthdays that have cupcakes. Whenever there are cupcakes around, he appears and steals them.”
Emily laughed. “Sure,” she said.
Allison rolled her eyes. “Well, I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for goblins stealing my cupcakes.”
Dave shook his head. “Oh no. You wouldn’t be able to see the birthday goblin. He only appears to people who believe in him. People who don’t believe can only hear him.” He looked at Allison and Emily seriously.
“Okay, then I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for invisible goblins stealing my cupcakes.”
“Hey, I’m just warning you. You leave your cupcakes out and they might not be there when you get back.” Dave held up his hands and walked back to his desk.
Allison and Emily looked at each other. “Birthday goblin, right,” said Allison. “Where does he get this stuff from?”
Emily laughed and shook her head. “I have no clue. Anyway, Happy Birthday.”
Allison watched Emily walk to her desk, then reached over to turn on her computer. She picked up her bag and placed it on the floor. Sitting at her desk she shook her head again. “Birthday goblin,” she muttered. “What a joke.”
She glanced at her cupcakes and then in the direction Dave had walked. She leaned to look under her desk but saw nothing but wires. She quickly sat up straight and glanced around to see if anyone saw her. Allison shook her head at her foolishness and turned to her computer to check her email.
Seeing no new messages, she grabbed her coffee cup and got up to get some caffeine. Luckily it was still early in the morning so she wasn’t bombarded by people asking her about her decorated desk. She got back to her desk and sat down. As she sat, she noticed something was different. She frowned and looked around her desk. Her phone was in the right spot, and all her papers were stacked together. Her eyes swept to the left and right and then she realized that her Happy Birthday banner had been moved. When she got to work it was on the right side of her cubicle and now it was on the left. “How did that happen?” she wondered.
Allison’s hopes of escaping her birthday were dashed as the balloons around her desk attracted a lot of unwanted attention. All day co-workers stopped by her desk to wish her a happy birthday. Allison thought that their mentalities were nice, however the attention was unwanted and only caused distractions for Allison. She was thinking of this as another well wisher left her cubicle after exclaiming over her balloons and cupcakes.
“So how is your birthday going?” Emily asked as she walked up to Allison’s desk.
“Ugh, don’t ask,” sighed Allison. “The balloons mean that everyone comes over to see what they are for. It’s just been interruption after interruption.”
Emily laughed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just wanted to do something nice.”
“It was nice,” said Allison. “I just –“ A noise made her pause. “Do you hear that?” she asked.
“That whispering. It sounds like someone is whispering under the desk.” Allison looked around, but there was no one around talking.
“No, I don’t hear anything,” said Emily slowly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Allison said.
“If you say so. Come on, we have that department meeting in 5 minutes.”
Allison grabbed her pen and notebook as she got up from her chair. She glanced around as she made her way to the conference room and couldn’t help the shiver that ran down her back as she swore she could feel someone staring at her.
Allison sat in the meeting staring at the wall across from her. The manager’s voice seemed to drone on, to the point that all his words seemed to blend into one another. She sighed and glanced at the clock at the wall, wondering how much longer the meeting would last. She tapped her pen on the tablet on the table in front of her and slowly cast her eyes around the room, observing the other people in the meeting. As her eyes passed over the door, she stifled a gasp as she thought she saw a dark blur run across the doorway.
Emily nudged Allison. “What are you looking at?” she whispered.
“Nothing, I mean I thought I saw, it was nothing,” Allison replied as she turned in her seat to face the front of the room.
Allison walked back to her desk. As she got closer she realized that something was wrong. Something was missing. She looked over her desk. All her papers were in place. Her coffee cup was where she left it. The pictures tacked onto the wall were in place. Even the post it note she had jotted down some notes on was still lying haphazardly posted on her monitor. What was different, she wondered.
She sat in her chair and realized that her balloons were gone. She looked around her desk but there were no balloons to be seen. Frustrated she called Emily. “Did you take my balloons?” she asked.
“No,” said Emily. “Your balloons are missing?”
“Yeah, I came back from the meeting and they were gone.”
“You don’t think…” Allison paused.
“What? I don’t think what?” Emily sighed loudly. “Don’t tell me you’re buying into this birthday goblin crap that Dave has been spewing.”
“Well,” said Allison, “my balloons are missing and I’ve been seeing weird things around the office today.”
“There is no such thing as a birthday goblin! I bet it’s just Dave trying to trick you. I bet if you go over to his desk right now, you’ll find your balloons sitting there.”
Allison got up and marched over to Dave’s desk, ready to tell him that his games were not funny. But Dave was not there and neither were her balloons. She scowled as she walked back to her desk and sat down. Allison reached over to pick up her phone to call Emily and froze. Her cupcakes were gone! Allison looked to the left and right of her desk. A muffled giggling came to her ears. Allison stiffened. It sounded like it was coming from underneath her desk. Her eyes narrowed. Slowly, she pushed back her chair and looked under the desk. No one was down there. She sat back up and scooted in her chair. Suddenly, a hand came rushing towards her from her right and her face was full of cupcake.
“Make her sit down in that seat, Joni! Joni!”
“Wave to Grandma, okay?”
I waved to Grandma, giggling as we hit the bump at the bottom of Grandma’s driveway, my mom swinging her arm in front of me in case I should pitch forward.
The radio was playing one of my favorite songs.
“The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you…”
I liked the word makeup. My mom would say, “Three year-olds don’t wear makeup, monkey,” but sometimes she would put rouge on my cheeks if I was very good and held still while she brushed my hair. But not today. Today I stayed at Grandma’s and Grandma never offered her rouge.
It had been a sweltering day, and although the sun was starting to drop in the sky the heat held on. My mom had her aviator sunglasses on and looked like she should be on TV. I was almost as tall as she was, standing on the passenger seat next to her. “Too snug in our bug!” she laughed, rolling down the windows so the wind could blow in our faces. It felt good. I was a little sunburned, despite my grandmother’s best efforts to keep a hat on me, and my sundress was still damp from running through the sprinkler. The fabric stuck to my legs.
I asked if we could have French fries.
My mom smiled.
“And a white milkshake?”
“Sure,” she said, “Why not?”
My mom took the corner fast to Stan’s Drive-in, me squealing and practically flying into her lap. She nudged me with her shoulder and elbow back in my seat as she shifted into reverse to back into a parking spot.
“Hold on to the handle above the door, okay?”
I held up my hand, demonstrating my inability to reach.
“Hmm. Well, don’t hold onto the door handle. I don’t want you opening the door and falling out.”
I didn’t want to fall out either, and became so paranoid about the possibility that, despite the fact that we were now parked at the drive-in, she had to pull me out of the car on her side.
“Tuesday night special, huh?”
“Yep, you got it.”
“Beautiful out, isn’t it? Looks like the kiddo’s been in a pool or something.”
“Yeah, Mom let her run through the sprinkler with her clothes on. She’s still sopping wet.”
“White milkshake, please!”
“Coming right up, monkey.”
Roger barked our order to one of the kids in the kitchen and then asked my mom about work.
“How’s the student teaching gig?”
He asked her about our new yellow house.
“It’s small, but big enough, I guess. It’s pretty nice. The kitchen could use some work. I mean, if we stay there. I planted some dahlias in the front flower bed.”
I traced the grout around the tiles on the front wall of the counter with my finger. Down, side, up, side. Up, side, down, side.
“Here you go, Joni. Give your folks my regards, okay?”
“Yeah, Roger, I will.”
She made a show of opening her purse, but Roger rolled his eyes and turned away from the cash register.
My mom handed me the milkshake and she carried the other white bag as we walked back to our car. Inside, she let me press the button on the glove box to open our secret tray. I fit the milkshake cup exactly in the middle of the round indent.
She unwrapped our hamburger and used a plastic knife to cut it down the middle, setting it carefully on a napkin next to the milkshake. She placed the red-checked paper basket of French fries on the other side. It all looked so delicious. We had this picnic every Tuesday, in our car in the parking lot of Stan’s drive-in. But every Tuesday it seemed more magical than the last.
My mom spread one of the napkins on my legs after she convinced me to sit down. “I promise, monkey, if something exciting is happening outside I’ll tell you.”
Even though it was still warm, and not yet dusk, from my new vantage point I could see a newly-risen moon.
“There’s the moon, Momma.”
“Uh-huh. How’s the milkshake?”
My mom ate her half of the hamburger slowly, absent-mindedly wiping the ketchup off of my cheek or picking a stay French fry off of the seat.
“I love you, Momma.”
My mom leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes.
“I love you, too, monkey.”
I stood back up on the seat and looked around. There were other cars in the parking lot, but nothing too exciting. There weren’t any other kids that I could see. My mom’s eyes were still closed.
I reached out to the radio knob. I knew I wasn’t supposed to turn the radio on, especially when the car wasn’t running (I got in big trouble with my grandfather for breaking his car this way), but my mom didn’t move or say anything so I turned the knob to the right.
“You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend…”
My mom reached out with her right arm, like she did when breaking fast, but instead of using her arm like a turnstyle bar, she wrapped her hand around my waist. Several minutes passed. I didn’t dare move.
Then she opened her eyes.
“It must be bedtime.”
She started the car. I stood on my tiptoes and found I could reach the handle above the door if I twisted my body to the left. I made a show of doing so and my mom smiled.
“Good job, monkey. It’s always safer if you have something to hold on to.”
A Hometown Trip
There are few things worse than listening as anyone, even a dear friend, recounts a dream. One of those things is hearing anyone detail adventures while tripping. But that’s what I’m fixing to tell you about here. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you of some interesting occurrences. Lee and I talked to cops at four different points during our travels that night.
This was a Wednesday night, in March of 1980, during spring break of my first freshman year in college, when I had returned from East Texas to Dallas to visit friends still in their senior year of high school.
When you’re a teenager three years is a long time, so Lee and I considered ourselves old friends. We’d met as Boy Scouts, had bonded during a National Jamboree, and began smoking weed together shortly thereafter. I first took notice of him when a scuffle broke out during a troop meeting. Someone called out, “Bite him in the neck!” I knew right then that I needed to meet this guy.
He was an athlete and a musician with no literal or figurative sense of direction. He was fleet footed and had a nice singing voice. His green eyes were speckled with gold flecks. He was also just a tad demented and the ladies loved him. I didn’t notice those gold flecks myself. They were described to me by a succession of girls who had just had their hearts bashed like bumper cars. He had a knack for paying close attention while you were with him and for not thinking of you at all while he was elsewhere.
Weed sufficed for a long while but we were enamored of the Sixties, which to us seemed like remote historical times. We read “The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test” and “The Whole Earth Catalog” and once double dated to a costume dance dressed as hippies. Finally, the previous August, we had gotten hold of some acid and went on a camping “trip” with his family’s pop-up tent trailer. We burned lots of brain cells in broad daylight beneath the Texas sun. Wild flowers, indeed.
In the interim, we had both tripped with others, but had not since had the chance to again climb into the orbiter together. I was staying with the family of one of our pseudo-hippie dates. Her name was Elizabeth. She and Lee were dating then and the three of us went to dinner at a German steak house near Knox-Henderson, not far from her home. After we ordered, Lee handed me two squares of blotter paper and said, “Take this brother, may it serve you well.” We had two more squares for Elizabeth but she declined in favor of completing her homework. We commended her studiousness and placed the squares on our tongues in deliberate mockery of the communion ceremony. Each square sported a blue lightening bolt.
After dinner, just as Lee and I began feeling tempted to make faces at each other, the waitress came by and asked if we needed anything else. I was just starting to rush and felt like I was in a play trying to remember a line. I said, “No, I would like to leave this place.” Elizabeth took umbrage on behalf of the waitress and said, “You know, you can really be an asshole sometimes, Marcus.”
I apologized and made the excuse that I was getting fucked up, but I also underlined a note to myself that maybe I had no idea how I came across to other people. I can’t say I’ve fixed that, but I never forgot it. I wasn’t mad at all. I told her I agreed with her and knew exactly what she meant. She smiled just a little bit.
Just as we were getting out of the car back at her house we heard, from the tracks a block and a half away, a train coming. The two of us quickly bid Elizabeth good night and good luck with the homework and took off running down the block, past a dead end sign, and onto the tracks. Most of the train had all ready gone by. When we saw the caboose coming we started trotting next to it. I grabbed the ladder under the window at mid car and ran with it until I hoisted my feet up after having dragged them through the rocks for several yards.
Just then a fist swung close to my forehead and I heard, “GONNA KICK YOUR ASS!”
I dropped off, but landed on my feet. Lee passed by, sitting on the rear steps of the caboose. He was seated with his chin in his hand and his elbow on his knee acting like he’d been there all day. I laughed as he went out of sight and I knew I had to pee. My mind whirled and it took me a while to find my way back out of the track side bushes. When I did it seemed as if it were a whole other evening and I found Lee leaning a forearm against a utility pole. He smiled and wagged his head as he looked down the tracks at several waist-high bobbing lights about a block away.
I said, “What are those?”
When I heard, “HALT, POLICE!”, I knew immediately that those were flashlights and we were running. My heart was a drum and my ears were speakers blasting the thumping rhythm into my head. Lee flowed with liquid ease through backyards and I lumbered after him. He vaulted a tall wooden fence like a dolphin at Sea World. I clambered up, my belt caught the top and I flipped head first into a tiny side yard with a walkway and dark sliding glass doors. No one home.
We heard police radios and cops yelling to each other. We sat down breathing hard. We were facing with our elbows on our knees. We shook hands and didn’t let go. Our heads were down. My eyes were closed for a long time, then I looked up just as he did. His back was to a gate that led to a driveway and the alley behind the house. A flashlight played all over the gate and the fence with beams shining between the cracks. It was pretty. We remained silent. Lee watched my face as I watched the light.
We waited another long while, but time is really hard to gauge when a thousand thoughts and emotions stream through your head every minute. We stood. The gate was locked. We climbed over it and, just as I landed, a fast-moving cop car shot by the trash cans. We froze like bunny rabbits.
Then we conducted a brief, intense, and whispered argument about which way to go. I convinced him of the proper direction but he wanted to hop a wire fence into a yard across the alley. I opted for sticking to the alley and the sidewalks, so we split up. By the time I made it to the end of the block I knew he was going to get lost. I walked slowly to keep my skull from flying apart. I felt like Mr. Potato Head.
Each car that rolled past was the Watch Commander until I, with the power of only my MIND, converted it into a mere civilian vehicle. The little man inside my brain was busy as shit putting out fires and sending the drunken file clerks back down their respective aisles.
I got back to the car parked in front of Elizabeth’s house and began pacing. I put the baggie with the last two hits in the crook of a tree and turned around just as a cop car rounded the corner and stopped. Lee was in the front seat sitting on his hands with his head back and lolling to and fro.
The cop got out and said, “Are you Marcus?”
I admitted as much and he told me to stay standing right where I was. He got Lee out and stood him next to me before getting on the radio.
Lee, out the corner of his mouth, said, “I have no idea what I’ve been saying to this guy.” The possibilities were infinite.
The cop chewed us out and told us that we’d had five Swamptown units tied up for an hour. Lee and I quickly shared a glance, but managed not to grin. He asked lots of questions while the still running engine of the cop car murmured to me in a menacing way. It seemed to know a lot about me and, frankly did not approve of my attitude. The cop wanted our addresses and I had to spell Nacogdoches for him twice. That was tough.
I had two thoughts; one, he was going to let us go, and, two, I was tripping my balls off.
Then, we were standing on the sidewalk by ourselves. A cool breeze wafted the scent of fresh bread down the street from MRS BAIRD’S BAKERY. I put the two hits back in my pocket and asked, “What now?”
Lee always had ideas. He said, “There’s this punk rock club out on Northwest Highway that I’ve been wanting to check out.”
“Well I do think we should get out of Swamptown. What about these two hits?”
Lee said, “We should eat ’em.”
(END OF PART ONE)