TELL ME A STORY FUCKER

November 9, 2017

We were sitting around a campfire at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a cold November night. I was there with a friend whom I didn’t know very well and the other people around the fire whom I didn’t know at all. There was really no reason for me to be there and as I watched the sparks fly up into the sky I wondered if my life finally sucked so much that I would let myself be dragged around to events where I wouldn’t have been caught dead five years ago. This was a collection of hippies and nature lovers who were eating nuts and shriveled up little vegetable items from their own gardens while they drank partially fermented juices and other low alcohol beverages. I had guzzled down half a small bottle of whiskey in back of the house before I came out to the fire. That booze was my only bright spot and it really wasn’t very bright. I was not prepared to enjoy myself.

Supposedly the point of this get together was to sit around the fire and tell stories. It definitely had that planned out feeling that was so common in this day when people tried to recapture some natural thing from the past and relive it, only to make it strikingly unnatural. I was not looking forward to it because I couldn’t imagine any of the people there having anything to say that would interest me at all. Before we could begin the stories the guy who organized the whole get together gave everyone a little tobacco. I asked him if we were going to roll cigarettes and he said “No, it’s to offer the fire.” Everyone tossed their little wad of tobacco into the fire and the story telling began, presumably under the watchful eye of the tobacco smoking fire god.

The first person who told a story was a girl with feathers stuck in her hair like she was trying to be an owl or hawk. She said she had a story about a bird and proceeded to pull out of her pocket a folded up piece of paper. She had typed out her story because she said she’d never been good at remembering stuff. I thought that a written out story for a campfire was not going to be good. She said, again, that it was going to be a story about a bird, like we might have forgotten what she’d said six seconds ago. She read it in about three minutes. It was terrible. Like, birds are nice and know all sorts of mysterious stuff. Plus they can fly. That was the gist of it. Everyone clapped and said it was great. I asked the girl if I could see her story and she handed me the paper. I folded it up and dropped it into the fire. Everyone was staring at me and I have to admit I had to ask myself, “Have I finally cracked?” It was one of those acts that was so horrible you knew that it couldn’t be undone in any way over any period of time, that as long as these people were alive, this little nasty item would be in their minds. I didn’t have anything to say about all the shocked eyes staring at me but I did feel that something had to happen very quickly or we might all die. So, I said, “Next story please.”

A delicate looking hippy dressed in farmer’s garb stood up and began his story which was called “The Farm.” The story began by describing a farm and ten minutes later it was describing the people who lived on the farm. I stood up and held my hand out in a stopping traffic fashion. I said, “Stop.” and then, “I want to hear a story, not what a story looks like. Next!”

The people around the campfire seemed to be fairly disturbed but I was in a mood.

A person who had some sort of mental illness began the next story. It was a person who had, by his own admission, been dropped on his head or something when he was a baby and so his words were halting and sometimes strangely arranged. But you could definitely understand him and his story was very good. It was about a camping trip he had taken as a child out to the Glacier National Park and about how he and his mom were attacked by a grizzly bear while they were sleeping in a pup tent. Apparently, on this trip as on others, his father did not want to sleep out in their pup tent and so rented a room in the old Sperry Chalet which was about a thousand feet from where the tent was pitched. This guy telling the story, I was to find out his name was Norman Noodle, and his mother, Un Noodle, an Asian American, were really into camping out and had a goal of camping out with their pup tent in every national park in the country and in all of Canada’s national parks. Glacier National was their fourteenth park and they were terribly excited about camping there. That evening after having hot dogs and beans cooked over a camp fire the father kissed them both goodnight and headed off to the chalet. Norman Noodle explained that his dad was not afraid of sleeping in a pup tent or anything like that but that he really liked to drink before going to sleep and his mother disapproved of this. He said his dad was pretty much a huge redneck from Idaho and that he married the Asian Un after meeting her on the internet via a dating site sanctioned and supported by his church which was of the Later Day Saints. I immediately became interested in this dude’s dad. A giant redneck from Idaho who was a Mormon, drank, had a son named Norman Noodle, and married an Asian named Un that he’d met on the internet. It was intriguing. A drinking Mormon? I grew up next to a Mormon family and they were shunned by the whole neighborhood for not drinking. I stopped the story teller and asked him how tall his mom was. He thought this was a perfectly normal question and responded that she was just over four feet tall. He alternately referred to her as the Asian Un (the Asian one) and his mom and I complimented him on this story telling device.The other people around the campfire looked at me like I was a troglodyte but I ignored them. The story teller pushed a glowing piece of wood into the fire with his foot and continued. After the father left the campsite for his room, Norman Noodle and his mom decided that they would roast some marshmallows over the glowing fire so they could have a little treat while looking up at the glittering stars. After that they both went in opposite directions from the pup tent and peed. When they got back they pushed some dirt over the fire and crawled into the tent. They got into their sleeping bags and promptly fell asleep. About three hours later, while frost was beginning to form on things outside, their entire pup tent began to move across the ground. They both awoke at the same time and his mom shouted “Boot! What are you doing!” Boot was the dad’s name and evidently he had done this very prank before. Come out in a drunken stupor and either dragged or knocked over his family’s pup tent in the middle of the night. “A man name Boot! And Un and Norman Noodle. What a family!” I thought. I looked expectantly to the story teller whose eyes were deep into the fire. He continued. After being dragged about ten feet they heard the growl. The simple laws of physics told Un and Norman that it could not have come from the chest of even a huge man. They knew it was a giant bear and Un wrapped her arms around Norman as she began to whisper to him to not worry. Suddenly they started to cough from smoke. The bear had dragged them over some smoldering embers from the fire and the bottom of the tent was beginning to burn. Incredibly, at this point, Un Noodle gave out a small laugh and said in a whisper, “Too bad we used all the marshmallows.” Norman Noodle said it was his mom’s sense of humor that kept him from panicking and bursting out of the tent. Smoke started filling the tent and then the back piece of canvas puffed into flame. The bear ran off at the same time Norman and Un came out the front of the tent and they could hear it crushing through the brush as it tumbled down the mountain. They sat in front of the tent as it burned up holding on to each other and when it was just a glowing ash they got up and made for the Chalet. That was it. Norman Noodle said “That’s my campfire story.” I clapped my hands and whistled my approval. The rest of the hippies didn’t seem to be moved that much by the story. I sort of shook my head and said, “You clapped for that retarded story about the bird but you don’t like this story?” One of the hippies, a girl with long dreadlocks and yellow glasses, said, “Norman’s dad sounds like a dick!”
“Whadaya mean?” I asked.
“Who goes out and knocks over their family’s pup tent in the middle of the night?”
“Some one who is fun?” I replied.
“There’s nothing fun about that.”
“You people really are something.” I said. “Why don’t one of you tell another story and then we can critique it for its fun factor. That bird story was sure fun. I mean if you have the brain of a chipmunk.”
“Lolly’s bird story was a nice story.” Said a guy who was dressed like Sonny Bono and who even had a cave man haircut. I looked at him more closely and thought that I actually liked the way he looked because it reminded me of a real hippy from the sixties. But he wasn’t a real hippy from the sixties. He was a fake hippy from now.
“No it wasn’t nice.” I said. “It was nothing. It was the description of a bird. It was not even a story.”
“It was nice.” Said another hippy.
At this point I pulled out my small bottle of whiskey and drank the rest of it in one long gulp. I wiped my mouth on the sleeve of my fatigue jacket which was camouflaged and which contrasted quite sharply with the attire of the hippies, and then I threw the bottle into the fire. 
“You can’t do that!” Said the main hippy.
I just did it. You saw me do it so don’t tell me I can’t do it.”
The booze was warming me from the inside out and I felt like tormenting all the hippies. “So, let’s have another story.” I said, “And it had better be good.”
A really tall woman with wide hips stood up and shook her hair around like a lion shaking bugs out of its mane. I have a story she said. She began telling the story and after about ten seconds I realized that she was reciting the lyrics for the song “One Tin Soldier.”
“Hold it! Hold it!” I said. “That’s not a story. That’s the lyrics to One Tin Soldier.”
“No it’s not!” Said the girl. “I wrote this myself.”
“What a load of shit. They used that song in that retarded movie Billy Jack back in the 60s or 70s. I’ll tell you the end of your story. The people from the valley find that the treasure they killed all the people on the hill for was just a piece of paper or something that said, ‘peace on earth’ or something like that.”
“You’re wrong!” Shouted the girl. “That’s not the way my story ended.”
“Yeah, then how’s your story end?”
“I’m not telling you. You ruined my story. I’m done.” And with that she sat down cross legged like she was going to do some yoga.
I said, “Well that was original. Let’s have another one.” and at that point I pulled out my giant Case folding hunter knife and began digging crud out from under my fingernails. It was a menacing act I liked to employ now and then. I also spit into the fire a lot.
The next story teller was a young girl I think. I couldn’t tell for sure. It could have been a young boy. The person looked too old to be the child of one of the hippies but too young to actually be one of the hippies. I was confused as to the nature of this person but he or she had a very pleasant face with the kind of sleepy eyes that bespoke of supreme calmness rather than lethargy. I became somewhat mesmerized and couldn’t stop staring at the creature’s glistening white teeth which were like pearls because of their perfection. It began by saying that its story was actually poem (once again on a piece of paper.) It went thusly:

A vegetable grows in the dirt
A Mexican takes in my shirt
A brick is red
A bed is a bed
I want to drive a car
I think I saw a cigar
There’s a bicycle in my garage
I’m gonna pay someone a homage
I like to breath air
I went to the fair…. and so on for at least ten minutes.

Finally I stood up and said, “Stop! Jesus Christ STOP!”
The main hippy stood up and said, “What’s the matter? This is pretty good! Plus she just turned 18 and if this isn’t good for an eighteen year old I don’t know what is.”
“God damn!” I said. “A fetus could write a better poem than that! I mean GOD DAMN! What is wrong with you guys?”
The poet looked sad. She stood up, tossed her poem into the fire, and walked off into the darkness. Everyone bowed down their heads and tried to add to the effect. I was really at a loss for words.
“I hope you feel good about yourself.” Said the hippy with the yellow glasses. “She’s already prone to depression.”
“Well god damn I’d be prone to depression if I wrote a poem like that. In fact, I’d blow my brains out!”
At that point the main hippy jumped up and shouted, “Well why don’t you tell a story if you’re so good!

All the hippies looked at me like I was going to do something strange but I just put away my knife, clasped my hands in front of my knees, and rocked back on the log upon which I was sitting. I adjusted my feet and began: “When I was a kid my sister went out with nothing but hippies. She went out with one named Bebo, one named Tonto, and another named King. They were all the same in my opinion and though I was actually older than my sister I had matured very slowly and all these hippies were covered with hair while I was barely covered with the light downy hair of a girl. I felt like an albino when I was around these dark cave men who liked to eat yogurt and lick my sister at all times of the day and night. I remember opening the refrigerator and seeing vats of bubbling yogurt splattering little beads of vile yeast on the other containers inside. There were big black trash bags full of marijuana in my sister’s station wagon. There were Mexican beads all over the house and literature written by Indians which foretold the end of the world any second. There were lots of feathers and bell bottom jeans. Through all of this I didn’t really understand that my sister was a hippy. You have to understand that back then hippies were kind of a new thing. We weren’t really sure of where they came from or what they were doing. At least I wasn’t. For all I knew all sisters went out with Bebos and Tontos and Kings. I thought the yogurt and feathers were a phase like the plastic horses she collected when she was small. Most importantly, I didn’t really pay all that much attention to her and her boyfriends. But one day I was down in my basement room taking apart a mini bike when I realized that my sister and Tonto were up in the kitchen having one of their crying sessions about the end of the world. I went to the top of the stairs and sat down to listen to them. It was around lunch time and my dad had come home from work as he sometimes did to make a sandwich and have a cup of coffee. I heard him whistling in the driveway and then come into the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” He asked my sister and Tonto.
My sister blubbered out, “The world is being destroyed by the man!”
“What man?” Asked my dad.
“The people who run this country and all the businesses.”
I peeked through the door at the top of the steps and saw Tonto leaning against the sink and my sister sitting on the counter top. They were dressed like Indians with bare feet and bandannas around their foreheads. My dad was getting stuff for a sandwich out of the refrigerator.
“Is this how you spend your time? Sitting around crying about the world? You could go out and rake the lawn.” Said my dad.
“That’s the problem man.” Said Tonto. “People think we should just work and earn money until we die.”
“Well,” Said my dad, “I wasn’t’ going to pay you. You’d just be earning the electricity you use in this house.”
“See!” Said my sister, “You just constantly try to figure out ways to harness us like donkeys to do your work.”
“Jesus.” Said my dad.
“Dad,” Said my sister, “I’m moving out into the yard. I’m going to live in a tent with Tonto.”
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t mind having you live in the yard since your room is a dump but old Tonto here is not living in the yard. Not this yard.”
“See! You just want to control everything I do!”
“You know you kids actually smell. You smell like milk that’s gone bad.”
“All you do is pick on us. You’re trying to break us down.”
“No I’m not trying to break you down. It’s just ridiculous to come home and find you crying in the middle of a perfectly good day over a bunch of crazy ideas.”
“They’re not crazy ideas. We want the earth back!” Shouted my sister.
“Well then go out there and take it! You can start with the leaves. You can rake them up and take them wherever you want.”

While my dad was saying these things he was eating his sandwich. When he finished he picked up his briefcase and before he walked out the door he told my sister that he wanted the entire refrigerator cleaned out before he got home. I sat on the stairs smiling. My dad picked on me a lot too for my room being a pit and for making a mess of the garage and yard and sometimes I really hated him, but I loved listening to him get after my sister and her boyfriends. After he left I came into the kitchen and went to the refrigerator. I opened the door and… “
At this point a hippy sitting on the other side of the fire from me said, “Ok, ok, hold it. I see where this story’s going. You’re going to be going down on people who like nature and peace.”
“Yeah.” Said the tall woman with the fat butt. “This is a negative story.”
Another one said, “God, your sister was living with the system right in her house!”
“So,” I said, “you guys are like the story police I guess. If your story is not stupid enough we’re not going to let you tell it?”
“The bird story and the poem from Mixie and the story you ruined about the tin soldier, have been the only good stories so far.” Said a guy sitting near me.
“You guys really liked the bird story didn’t you?” I asked. “I mean it had everything I suppose. A deep plot, well developed characters, a riveting narrative, and an amazing ending. And what’s the matter? Didn’t you like the farm story? Now we all know that a farm has a barn and plants and animals and that the sun comes up on one end of it and goes down on the other end!”
“It was nice!” Shouted the fat butt woman.
“It was vapid.” I replied.
“You have a negative attitude.” Said the campfire storytelling organizer.
“No, I have thoughts. You know, they’re these things that go around inside your head and they mean something.”
“We should call you Mr. Negative.” Said the fat butt woman.
“You can call me whatever you want. I’m going to call you Luna Big Moon.”
At this point someone jumped on my back and toppled me off my log into the dirt. One of my hands went into the fire and I thought I’d burned the piss out of it but for some reason it didn’t really get burned. I reached around and grabbed the person around the neck and pulled them down to the ground where I rolled over and put my knee into their chest. It was the girl person who’d told the poem. She was grimacing and crying as she slapped at me. “You fucker! You fucker!” She shouted. “My poem was good!”
“Hey! Hey!” I said.
The creature went limp underneath me but I didn’t get up. I put my unburned hand under her chin and held her face still. Her eyes settled back down in the firelight and the beautiful face was pale and smooth on top of the black ground. I looked around at the hippies and they glared back at me. I let this person’s head lay back down in the ash outside the fire and stood up. I dusted off my fatigue jacket and looked around. Little flickers of flame were dancing on every face. I realized that, of all things, I had just had pretty much fun. I turned to the person who’d brought me to the campfire and said, “Shall we go?”
“Do you really want to?” She asked.
“No.” I said as I sat back down before the guttering flames.
“Next story please.”

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WHO?

November 9, 2017

Well I don’t know why I did it but I did. I was just sitting outside of a coffee shop typing and passing the time of day with thoughts of transcendental numbers and wondering why the internet was never working when I wanted to know something. I didn’t even know what a transcendental number was but I was thinking about them anyway and I was sort of becoming anxious for the Chinese girl to fix her stupid router so I could look them up. Look up transcendental numbers that is. I really was a wastrel when you got right down to it. Anyway, that’s what I was doing when I noticed a woman coming towards me in the parking lot. She was looking right at me and had a slight smile on her face. I had no idea who she was but I smiled back and resumed typing. She walked up to my table and asked if I was Dr. Silver.

I began my day’s adventure by saying “Yes.” even though I was not Dr. Silver but instead Walnut Thompson of 31 Piney lane, Charlottesville Virginia, currently employed as a laborer at an asphalt road making company. She put down a folder on my table and held out her hand. “Glad to meet you.” She said, “I’m doctor Kane and I’ve been looking forward to this all week.”
I said, “So have I.” And I meant it. The week had been profoundly boring with nothing to do but repave roads in the sweltering sun, which I hated, and sit around typing whilst thinking about transcendental numbers.
“Do you want any coffee or anything?” She asked. “I’m going to get some.”
“No thank you. I’m fine.” I said. But of course I wasn’t technically fine as you’ll soon see. I resumed typing while the woman went inside to get her coffee. It’s funny but I honestly didn’t think about what I was going to say or do when she came back out. I really liked to play things by ear and not obligate myself to one or another sort of behavior when I didn’t have to. So you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that by the time she came back out with her coffee I’d almost forgotten all about her. But when she sat at the table with her coffee, which was a giant latte with a funny face drawn in the cream floating on top, I remembered that I had agreed to be Dr. Silver. She opened the folder on the table and took a sip of her coffee. She said, “I’m really glad that you think I can be of some help. It sounds like quite a refractive case to me and working with someone else can be much more effective in resolving something like this.”
I said, “I agree entirely.”
She said, “Why don’t you tell me, non-clinically, what you think of the patient. Just to get started.”
I said, “I really want to do that but I think it would be more helpful to hear your impression first, as briefly as possible, with regard to this patient and their problem. After all, I’ve been so immersed in the case it would be good to hear a fresh, untarnished, point of view. You know, an effort to step back so to speak.”
“Well, he’s clearly suffering from a constellation of problems but I think the desire to become a blurson is the most troublesome. From what I understand he has found a surgeon in L.A. who seriously believes he can do the work although God only knows what he means by that. When I heard about this doctor my first thought is that he should be undergoing psychological evaluation himself.”
“Yes,” I said. And then I thought to myself. “Holy shit! Someone wants to be a blurson? What the fuck was that?” What ever it was it happened to be quite a coincidence that someone wanted to be whatever a blurson was because just that morning I had been thinking about how the world had turned upside down with everyone wanting to change genders, addresses, careers, political affiliations or whatever and I was thinking that I was tired of change. I didn’t even like change. It reminded me of motion sickness and I didn’t like that either. Hmm…well I needed to find out what a blurson was so I excused myself by saying I needed to go to the bathroom. Once in the bathroom I looked up blurson on my phone and found out that bleople were people who didn’t want to have any gender at all. They didn’t even want to be considered people because they disliked labels so intensely. Well what the fuck. It just sounded like a new kind of psycho to me. I decided I had nothing to lose by consulting with a doctor about something I didn’t care about at all. So I went back out and sat with Dr. Kane. She was stirring her coffee and looking up a me with a smile on her face. She said, “You know I read your article about catabolic phrenology and it’s susceptibility to chemical interference in the ice age. I read it back in college and was so impressed. It’s interesting that you would have wound up in psychiatry after excelling in that field of research.”
“Well,” I said, “that catabolic phrenology can wear you out faster than you might imagine.”

I guess the problem with me was this. I was susceptible to profound boredom but unfortunately it didn’t keep me from learning about a bunch of stuff. I could have a conversation with anyone about anything and come off as fairly knowledgeable, but if someone were to dig down, to even scratch my surface, I would implode with an indifference that would betray a flawed knowledge or even a dangerous knowledge. If this wanna—be blurson wound up chopped to pieces on a surgeon’s table it wouldn’t bother me just because I would view it as something mildly amusing for a few minutes before it sloughed off into my dust bin of boring tidbits. Some person once said I was a nihilist and a bad person but that kind of clever observation didn’t effect me. Though, when I looked up nihilist and read the last part of the last sentence which said, “has no loyalties, no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” I thought, “That’s me!”

“Well,” said Dr. Kane, “I guess the first thing I want to know is if you think that there is any possibility of organic disease in the subject?”

“Yes.” I replied. Now listen to this. I made this up on the spot: “There seems to be some very good evidence that her amygdala has atrophied lateral to the distal aspect which, as you know, causes a broad array of acute psychological pathology.”

“What do you mean her? You mean his.”

Oops. “Well,” I said, “I’m so used to thinking of this person as a blurson that I have dispensed with gender consistency.”
“I said he.” She said.
Dr. Kane looked at me with a small quiver of trepidation on her face and this subtle revelation caused my nefarious machinery of deception to fine tune itself instantly. I said, “Really, Dr. Kane, it is quite important to suspend your gender labeling when dealing with all cases of sexual identity. In fact, it’s imperative both ethically, as a medical provider, and clinically as an adjunct to protocol established in the art of bedside manner.”
Now Dr. Kane looked at me even more oddly and caused me to think something fairly disturbing. “What if she knew that I had no idea what I was talking about?” Well, I thought that and then immediately disregarded it. I didn’t matter one bit about what people thought that I thought. It’s all about recovery. Rebounding. She was looking at me and then down at her phone. And then back up at me. I had this horrible thought that maybe the real Dr, Silver was texting her as we spoke. Maybe texting, “I’m sorry I’m late. Stuck in traffic.” What if the tables were turning right before my eyes and this doctor Kane knew I was an impostor?Would she play along and cleverly keep me at the table until some stout men in white uniforms came to get me? This was disturbing but it was also exciting to me. I loved this sort of raw human interaction. It made me think of wild animals meeting in the woods with the intention of eating each other. There would be a couple of seconds before the fight started where they were sizing up one another and their brains and instincts would be on full blast. The moments before the moment of truth so to speak. That was the feeling I had right then as Dr. Kane looked from her phone to me. I thought, “I have two choices. I can give up and admit that I was posing as Dr. Silver or I can continue the ruse and hope to escape somehow before the real Dr. Silver arrives.” And then it occurred to me that the real Dr. Silver really was coming and since he was late he would certainly notify this Dr. Kane. The chances were very good that she knew right that second that I was a fake. I looked into her eyes and I could see that strange fear, like her pupils were just a little too big for the light around us. I tried to imagine what she was thinking about me and what I would think about me if I were she. What a conundrum! There was just nothing I could think of that would redeem me. Then suddenly she said, “You know, our clinic right here in Charlottesville is world renowned. We can help some people that you would imagine were beyond hope.”
“Like this blurson?” I blurted out.
“Uh, nooo….” She drawled.
In the parking lot a shiny black van had pulled in and was creeping towards us. The windows were darkened but I could see through them enough to see two stout men. I had the impulse to jump up and run but I just couldn’t do it. I had to see what would happen even if ruined me. But then I thought, “How could it ruin me? Would I be unqualified to tamp down globs of tar on the highway? Would I be unqualified to sit around coffee shops contemplating transcendental numbers and typing stories about stories?” There was really nothing they could do to me. I sat there with my arms crossed as the men pulled right up to the curb in front of us and got out of the van. They walked up to the table and each of them took one of Dr. Kane’s arms. She just sort of slumped like all the blood in her body had stopped moving and they took her away. I couldn’t believe it. As the van rolled out of the parking lot I noticed that the Chinese girl had fixed the router and a page about transcendental numbers was loading on my computer. Twenty seconds later I was completely absorbed, comfortable, and fairly happy.

WE PAID WITH SLEDS

September 19, 2017

I came about to find myself in the land of Punt. There, instead of paper money or coins we used sleds to pay for things. I was not very wealthy. I had just about four sleds that I dragged around with a piece of tattered string. I say just about four sleds because one of my sleds was broken in two and missing a runner. I dragged it around anyway thinking that if someone didn’t look too closely they would think I had four sleds.

It was around the weeds that I lived. I ate turtles and small fish as well as berries that smelled like camphor and left my teeth stained black. I pretended that I knew several rich people who had hundreds and hundreds of sleds but all I really knew about them was where they were. They lived in beautiful mud huts and had their sleds stacked in neat piles. Whenever I dragged my sleds past the rich people’s huts I thought, “I want to be rich.” But I hadn’t a clue as to how I could do that. I wasn’t even sure it would be that great to have to take care of so many sleds. Whenever I imagined myself with all those sleds I just worried about people stealing them. And then I would think I’m suffering with the worries of being rich while I’m pulling around four sleds. That kind of thinking was probably why I had only four sleds.

Something you should know about Punt. It’s a squalid desert-like place with a few streams and one small lake. There are several wooded areas but even the floors of the woods are sandy and rocky. Our sleds are dragged around on the sand and over dirty rocks. If you tried to put something on a sled and pull it somewhere it would just sink into the sand and be like pulling a boulder. There’s no reason in hell a sled should be anywhere near Punt. But everyone wanted more sleds. Presumably my four sleds were left to me from my mother and father.

In one of the rich people’s huts there was an awfully beautiful girl. Whenever I was pulling my sleds past that place I would look for that beautiful girl. Sometimes she would be outside eating fish which would be passed out a window to her, one after another, by a servant. I never dreamed of trying to speak to this girl because I just assumed she was a rarified creature who would not deign to even look down at me, a dirty peasant with four sleds in tow. Sometimes, when I was walking past her place I would run these scenarios through my head like pretending that the girl was being kidnapped by bandits and having her clothes torn off as they dragged her away on an ominous looking sled. I would pretend that I was jumping out in front of the bandits and blocking their way with my four sleds. I would swing a stick around in the air lopping off imaginary bandit heads while the girl panted and looked up at me with big brown eyes. Sometimes I would wonder if people with hundreds of sleds would run scenarios like that through their heads. On one hand, it seems like it would be nice to sit around imagining an adventure like that just for something to do. On the other hand it why would you do that if you already had the pretty girl sitting right outside your window eating fish? Also, it seems like with that many sleds you would always have something to do in the first place.

One day I was pulling my sleds past the girl’s house. I was not in a good mood since my broken sled had been broken even more in the middle of the night by some angry turtles that I had captured and was planning to eat for breakfast. I don’t know how they did it but the sled that had been broken in two was now broken in three. I immediately decided to call that sled the thrice broken sled. The turtles got away too. I was hungry as well as not in a good mood. When I looked up to where the girl was usually sitting I saw a one of the effeminate brutes known as a Brake. The Brakes were essentially the criminal elements of Punt. We didn’t really have bandits so that was another thing wrong with my daydream about saving the beautiful girl. We only had Brakes and they wouldn’t dare kidnap any girl. They wouldn’t kidnap anyone or even beat anyone. They wouldn’t steal stuff or destroy anything either. But they were called criminals as the result of the ancient labeling law. The Brakes were extremely dangerous. If they got ahold of you they could bore you to death in about five minutes flat. What they would do would be to start talking about what they did in the previous five minutes or maybe even the last 24 hours. If they had any sleds, which they usually didn’t, they might tell you about how they dragged one of them over a rock or something. It would just be noise. Air coming out of their mouths. The Brakes came from an ancient thing called the Facebook, or a Facebook, I can’t remember, but it was this thing that created the tribe of Brakes. The Brakes were genetically programed to think people cared about what they had to say. But that’s all from long ago. Now they just walked around terrorizing people by buttonholing them and seeing how fast they can bring on the tears of boredom or occasionally the throws of death. Well seeing one sitting there where the beautiful girl usually sat was a shock. He had the telltale sloped forehead and lack of philtrum which used to be a sign of alcoholism in mothers and was now a sign of the Facebook, or Brake gene. He seemed to be mumbling to himself which was also a classic sign— they could not shut their mouths. Now I stood there holding onto my four sleds and thinking about whether or not I was in a situation where I could save the beautiful girl somehow. What could I do to that Brake? I sure couldn’t go up to him and ask a question. That was like putting a loaded gun in your mouth! I thought that maybe I would throw a rock at him and then see what happened. But then what if the rock only stunned him and he could still talk to me? It could be dangerous. Then I imagined the girl inside her house lying on the floor in a catatonic state with her ears still ringing from the Brake. What if he took advantage of her! Sometimes, when a Brake got ahold of a woman they would be more inclined to talk about a social or psychological issue which could cause extreme and instant boredom often with accompanying nausea. What if he did that to her! I had to find out. I decided to stealthily go around to the side of the house and try to look in a window. But when I got to the side there was only a window that was about 20 feet from the ground. How could I look into that? I was just standing there rubbing my chin when from around the corner came the beautiful girl. She had a fish in each hand, holding them by the tail as water dripped out of their open mouths onto the sand. I just froze. What was I going to say? I’d never been so close to her before and I could now see that she was not as pretty as I thought though still very nice looking. But maybe that was  just the reality kicking in. Supposedly, reality was never totally beautiful, or so they said, and I trembled to think that I was close enough for it to be real. I could see her looking down at my four sleds and then focus on my thrice broken sled. I could feel my face blushing red and I wanted to turn and run. I rubbed my foot on the back of my calf and then stammered, “There’s a Brake sitting by your kitchen window.”
“That’s my future husband.” Said the girl.
“What! You’re going to marry a Brake!” I said rather loudly before I could help myself.
“Who are you? What’s it too you?” She asked.
“Well I’m the person who walks past your house all the time.”
“Why? Why do you walk past my house?”
“It’s on the way to the woods. I work in the woods.”
“A Treeman?”
“Yes, a Treeman.” I replied. A Treeman was a person who went into the woods every day and chiseled away at the trunk of a tree with a small piece of flint. After about a year the tree would fall down and the Treeman would spend the rest of his life chiseling the tree into some useful object with the piece of flint. My tree fell down about two years ago and I was making a medium sized duck decoy. I figured I would probably die while working on the finishing touches of the beak. But if I lived to finish my duck I could expect to trade it for approximately 8 sleds at today’s prices. Sometimes I would dream about what it would be like to drag around a dozen sleds but it really seemed like a pipe dream.
“Well, I don’t think a Treeman has much room to talk about how bad a Brake is.”
“How can you say that? I do something useful. I’ll have a wooden duck to show for my years of chiseling. When I die I’ll leave something behind. When that Brake dies he’ll leave nothing but evaporated words.”
“So He’ll have polluted the earth less.”
“Where do you get that idea?” I asked
“It’s just a fact. The Brakes are the cleanest people on earth. All they do is talk.”
“But what good is that?”
“It does less damage. You manipulate the earth and distort nature.”
“Well you have about a jillion sleds sitting around your house. That’s not natural.”
“They’re just sitting there doing no harm.”
“But they must have come from somewhere. Someone must have made them.”
“Yes, but it was done sometime ago. They’re here now and they’re harmless.”
“But they already did their harm. Just by having them you justify that harm as having been worth it. And I’ll bet that’s why you like words so much. By manipulating words you can justify your sleds.”
“Well just what is it that bothers you? Are you jealous of my sleds. Are you jealous of my Brake?”
“No.”
“Then what’s your problem?”
“I guess it’s just this idea I used to have.”
“What idea?”
“Well, I would walk past your house and daydream about you.”
“You did? What did you daydream?”
“Well I would daydream that I would save you from some bandits that were trying to kidnap you.”
“That’s quite a daydream. And then what?“
“Well, I guess I really didn’t daydream past that. I just saved you from the bandits.”
Well, there’s your problem. After the bandits there would be life. Just plain life. That’s why you only have 4 sleds. You have incomplete dreams. And by the way, I see that you don’t even really have 4 sleds. One of them is broken. Even your 4 sleds are not complete. You have to finish things. You have to!”
With that I drew up the string to my four sleds and trudged off towards the woods and my giant fallen tree that would presumably be a complete duck someday.
From that day onward I found it extremely difficult to get up in the morning. Wouldn’t you?

LIMITS

September 6, 2017

When I’m on stage in front of an audience I examine my mental status and try to imagine just what it is that I am. This adds to the confusion and stress I’m soaking up. Basically I think that I am putting myself out there, very naked, for all to see. I write the songs and perform them with a drummer and bassist. I can’t blame anything on anyone else no matter what happens and there is nothing to hide behind. Usually I deal with all this all right. When we come off the stage I usually think, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

In the recording studio it is a different thing. It’s not like I’m just putting myself out there naked but rather it is like I am being opened up and examined with my veins and entrails pulsing under the light. Every click of my finger on the guitar and crack in my voice is etched in some audio memory where it can be pulled and pushed and listened to over and over again. Now, to me, this is much more nerve wracking than performing on stage. It’s like I have agreed to record all my fuck ups and then listen to them in front of strangers so we can all pick them apart and examine them. But it’s even more than that. It is like I am pushing up against a wall, the ultimate wall, where I am confronting the rest of the world and saying, “I am trying as hard as I can. This is the best I can do right now. And I’m letting you SEE IT! I’m letting you see me being pressed up against the wall where I’m trying my best! There is no reserve I’m keeping back! There is nothing better hidden somewhere in me!” When I add the “right now” part, I do it to keep myself from sinking into some horrible depression. If I were to say, “This is the best I can do. Period.” then I would have faced myself and might as well said, “you are finished.” Now I don’t know exactly what to think of this. Not exactly. But sort of.

I guess that I was born, like everyone else, with some talent. But I’m pretty sure it was the same paltry amount that most people get. I have never ever done something where I thought, “Wow, this is something I can really do well!” Never. I have been playing the guitar for almost 40 years and there are 14 year old kids who can blow me out of the water with their guitar playing. I am not into any of the guitar hero sort of stuff. I can’t think of any guitarists that I admire terribly. But I am acutely aware of the fact that I am a “sufficient” guitarist, and that is all. That wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t for the fact that I have tried so hard to be a good player. I have played so many hours. SO many hours. But I am cursed with my mother’s fingers. They are long and somewhat delicate in a raw way. They look like they should be able to do some things. But they just won’t go beyond a certain point. I do almost believe this is a curse. My mom was a pretty decent pianist but she would often complain that she just couldn’t play the fast complicated stuff. I would be like, “Why not mom? Won’t you try?” and she would say she just couldn’t. I really couldn’t understand that. I could not understand limits. I really believed that my mom couldn’t play the fast complicated stuff because she wouldn’t try. I’m still convinced that she didn’t really try. But I’m not absolutely convinced. This was not something that I dwelled on as a child. But it was in my head. In college I met a girl who might have been the love of my life if there is such a thing. The first night we ever actually hung out together and talked we wound up playing a game of pool in the student center. Sometime later she told me that on that first night, as she watched me playing pool, she thought, “Those are long beautiful fingers but they don’t know how to move.” This too stuck in my head. Ironically, this girl went on to become a base player who was extremely proficient because her fingers did know how to move. She could eat me alive on stringed instruments and no matter how many hours I practiced she rose and rose while I just hovered on a broad, endless, plateau of mediocrity.

Playing music is not a real important part of my life. I like it. I have fun doing it. But oddly, I think rock and roll music, which is what I play, is incredibly stupid. Everything about rock culture is to me excruciatingly boring and meaningless. I consider it to be one of the worst creations of the worst generation, the Boomers, to which I belong. Rock music was burned into me like everyone else from that time. It was a lovable thing as a child and a teenager but, personally, I think it should be jettisoned from your mind once you’re over 20 or so. It was another reason so many Boomers never grew up. It’s philosophy of brainless rebellion is like the cheapest most ubiquitous drug ever invented. Having this music in me is like having hepatitis—you can live with it but it’s certainly nothing to celebrate. But it’s there. And it just so happens to be that music is the medium where I have decided to look into the deepest mirror. I could have done it in the business world or the world of architecture. I could have done it with writing maybe. I guess I could have even done it in the world of relationships and human discourse. It could very well be coincidence that I’ve been doing a lot of music lately, right at the time that I have decided to pull up something which has been covered for all my life. What I’m uncovering is my limit. It is a psychological execution of sorts. It it when you stand there looking at yourself and you say, “This is all I am. There is nothing more.” It is a curious idea to me. In my long very playful life I have spurned serious thoughts like they were gnats. I know they make you sad and so I have put them off for as long as possible. But I have recently begun to think about this limit. I don’t have a choice anymore though I could not tell you why I no longer have a choice. I have begun to look at it.

I believe that for most of my life I have had this attitude of not really trying very hard. Part of it was laziness and another part hubris. I would think things like, “I can do anything I want, but I don’t have to do it now. I’ll save it.” Part of my problem was that I was not satisfied doing this or that. I really wanted to do everything, or, at least, a lot of things. My philosophy, in a rudimentary way was, I can do anything any other human being can do. I really believed that! But now I am right here right now and I am near the limit. I am at the point where I begin to face the truth and I honestly wonder how I will take it. I imagine having my wings crumpled and beginning a rapid descent if I look at my limit and see that I am there. But I also believe in facing the music. How do you decide that you have reached your limit?

Many people I know use multiple palliatives to ameliorate the crush of real life. I have used one. The future. There has always been the future. The future where I can do anything and anything may come true. I have believed in that with all my heart. But i am anticipating that as you approach the limit you see that the future comes very close to you. It becomes a small reservoir, and then a teacup, and then a thimble. I can see that.

So I’ve listened to part of our recordings and I’m waiting for other songs to be mixed down. It’s just a demo but I am not satisfied at all. Other people seem to like it but in the world I live, the world where all the artists trip over each other patting one another’s backs, I have good reason to disregard opinions. I have written good songs but I have never written a great song. Not even close. My guitar playing and singing are so-so at best. In the past I have always had the excuse, “I’m not really trying that hard. I don’t really care.” Well, now I have to care. I don’t want to. I have to. Maybe it is some horrible thing inside me that makes me like this, but being even a little good is not good enough for me. Not if you’re actually trying. When you go all the way, when you’ve made that decision, then you are probably going to meet your limit. So this last few months I have pushed pretty hard. I have brushed up against my limit and I can tell you the horror of it is electrifying. Maybe even horrifying enough to try harder than ever before. Which puts you closer to your limit. Which makes you try harder…

In the limit of calculus there is a sleight of hand I suppose. You get so close to the limit that it might as well be the limit. But you can’t actually get there without being gone. I am keeping that in mind.

SMILE

September 6, 2017

Mini Plate stood on a street corner trying to decide how to kill herself. It was mid morning and ever since she’d awaken she’d been overwhelmed with a sense of emptiness and dread that would give no quarter. Everywhere she looked and and every thought that crossed her mind yielded nothing but misery and she was convinced that it was only a matter of time until she made that split second choice that would kill her somehow. Every car that went by was like a large crude bullet and all the buildings around her could be used to collect gravity for a fall. She had a gun back at home, numerous sleeping pills, a razor sharp kitchen knife, and she knew exactly where her ulnar artery was. There were so many choices but thinking about them was just as depressing as everything else. When she thought about it it seemed that she was too depressed to even kill herself and that made her laugh.

It happened like this. Several months ago she decided that she needed more than just her boyfriend. It seemed like they broke up every few months and every time it happened she realized that she had absolutely no one to go to or talk with. She really wondered how it came to be. She used to have friends. She had people she used to meet with several times a week for various unplanned get togethers. Just plain friends and she would talk to them about everything. But slowly, over the years, those people drifted into various lives that did not include her. By the time she noticed that this had happened she was fairly used to it and didn’t fret about it. But these breakups that had been happening for the last couple of years exposed her to a genuinely terrifying loneliness. When she experienced these bouts of loneliness it felt to her like she was a stupid animal trapped in a cardboard box. Like the remedy was so obvious and easily achieved that it was maddening and she might as well be running around bumping her head into walls. She just needed to make friends. And that would not be hard. She was the type of person that strangers talked to often. But then something awful happened. She began to meet people and realized that she did not have the capacity to talk to them. Something had happened in the last decade that rendered people incapable of piquing her interest. It was like she was trying to talk to blocks of wood and she just could not fake being interested in them. She tried and tried but everyone she met bored her out of her mind within several sentences. She knew that she was not particularly interesting or intelligent herself so, to her, it seemed that something horrible had happened to the human race while she wasn’t paying attention. It was one thing to think that you needed to make friends and quite another to think that there was no one left to make friends with.

So she was standing on the corner in a state of paralysis. Frozen to the moment and the horror of no where to go no one to see. If you looked at her you would just see a women standing there. But if you looked closely, walked up and looked into her eyes, you would see deep black terror, the icy pupils blown open with fear. Her eyes might be looking for something in the way of a cat. Acutely sensitive to movement but vacant in the mean time. Vacant with fear.

Two men came out of a church across the street. They were some sort of missionary men who were dressed in neat suits. One of them was black and he wore a large hat that hooked down over his face and the back of his head. The hat didn’t really go with the suite and if you looked closely you would see that there were other smaller idiosyncrasies with his dress. But you wouldn’t look more closely because you would be so taken by the man’s smile. He had giant bright white teeth and his smile was more vertical than horizontal giving it a reality and truth that you couldn’t deny. The white man who was by his side, talking as he shook his head, did not have anything that could compete with the smile of the black man. He was just wearing a suit and there was nothing else to say about him. Mini Plate saw the black man’s smile and her eyes flickered for a moment. A little nerve sputtered in her head and she fixated on the smile like it was the most important thing in the world. It was like a life line had been tossed into the darkness and she grabbed at it with both hands and her teeth. She thought, “That person is happy on the outside and happy on the inside. That smile couldn’t come from anywhere else.” She immediately thought that she would like to love that man and a few moments later thought that she did indeed love him already. She watched him talking to the other man and his smile didn’t move as his lips formed words around it. It was the smile of life. Right then her life was saved and she smiled herself feeling the unused muscles of her mouth reshape her face into the feeling of hope.

MAKING LULU CRY

May 29, 2017

One day I realized that my body had been consumed by pain. I don’t know what I did to it that caused so much destruction other than being a blue collar worker. It’s funny. Someone once told me that my body was coming to pieces because I was a hick and low class and that low class people always thought their bodies were coming apart which tended to make their bodies fall apart in reality. I guess I believed it. With the exception of the me being a hick part. But it didn’t matter. All that mattered was my roiling bones and muscles. I couldn’t take any drugs to relieve the pain because I was against drugs and I couldn’t go to a chiropractor or take yoga because it required succumbing to errant ideologies. So, for some time, I just sat there after work boiling in misery. But then one day I realized that I was really dying of pain and I decided to do something about it. I decided to buy some stuff. I went onto craigslist and started looking for stuff to buy. I know it sounds ridiculous but I knew for a fact that buying stuff really could make you feel better. At least temporarily. Very much like drugs which I was, as I mentioned, against. The first ad that caught my eye went like this, “Bunny for sale. Doesn’t bite. Not house trained.” I immediately thought that if I bought that bunny it would help fix up my life. Imagine, bunny that doesn’t even bite! Well I called the number but the only person I could seem to talk to was a young girl who claimed to be the person selling the bunny. I really didn’t think it was right to deal with children because it was so easy to rip them off and I never knew whether they had the legal right to sell something with free and clear title. I didn’t want to buy a bunny who might turn out to not really be mine. But this little girl was insistent. She seemed to think the bunny would be perfect for me. Well, she gave me her address and I immediately drove out to the place which was like a mini farm of some sort on the outskirts of town. A mini farm! In my mind mini farms were excuses to throw stuff out in your yard and not be called a pig. There were a couple broken cars out on the lawn, a couple bathtubs with dead plants in them, a thing that looked like a tipped over oil rig, many cars, and about 3000 pieces of large confetti. These people were very near my saying, “if your cars weigh more than your house then you’re a hillbilly.” One of my very own inventions for identifying unwholesome groups. This place was not very farm like in my opinion. If I had to say right off the bat I would say that hicks lived there. Looking at the ground from my car window I saw that the confetti was actually lottery tickets. When I got out of the car this little girl came running out of the house and waved a piece of paper at me.
“Are you the person to buy the bunny?” She asked.
“Well, I’m here to look at it at least.”
“Oh, you’ll buy it mister.”
“Well, we’ll see. Where is it?”
“It’s at my mom’s house.”
“Whose house is this?”
“This is my uncle Buck’s house.”
“Well why did you tell me to come here if the bunny isn’t here?”
“Because I’m here. You have to drive me over to my mom’s.”
“Well where’s that?”
“In Covington.”
“Covington!”
“Yes.”
“That’s 75 miles from here!”
“That’s not far. We drove to Ohio once.”
“Are you nuts? Do you think I’m going to drive that far just to look at a bunny?”
“You’re not just going to look at a bunny. You’re going to buy a bunny.” She said, “It really will be the best bunny you ever saw. It won’t bite you even if you step on it by mistake and it can play games.”
I wasn’t about to drive to Covington to look at a bunny but as I turned to go I felt the muscles in my back pulling like claws against my nerves and I just thought, “What the hell? I have nothing else to do but suffer.” So I told the girl to make sure it was ok for me to drive her to Covington and she ran into the house and ran right back out again screaming, “It’s OK!” I didn’t think she’d asked anyone whether or not it was OK but I figured what the hell. They’re hicks anyway and give their kids away to each other like puppies. At least that’s the way I saw it. I had a very low opinion of hill folk. City folk too for that matter. I really just didn’t like people who were different from me in general. I used to like them but then all my friends convinced me not to like them because they were so obsessed with liking them. I guess I didn’t really dislike hicks and city folk, but I tried to.
So this girl gets into my car and immediately turns on the radio to the worst channel in the county.
“I’m not listening to that.” I said.
“Why not?” She asked.
“Because they play the same three bands over and over again. Van Halen, Journey, and Rush. No other bands on there. Unbearable.”
“It’s uncle Buck’s favorite channel. He calls in and talks to the DJs all the time.”
“Figures. Since I’m driving I’m picking the channel and my favorite channel is silence.”
“Why don’t you like the radio?”
“I do like the radio. It’s a great invention. I just don’t like listening to crappy music.”
“What do you listen to?”
“Nothing.”
“Well that’s no fun.”
“No, it is fun. It’s fun to be quiet.”
“I don’t like quiet.”
“Well you’re a child and children like noise and bright colors. You’re like primitive tribes.”
“Can’t you drive faster?”
“No.”
“Can we stop at McDonalds?”
“No.”
“Do you have a wife?”
“No.”
“Do you have pets?”
“No.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“We’ve gone like 900 feet and you already have to go to the bathroom?”
“I drank two cokes at once.”
“Jesus. Well you’re going to have to wait until I get to a gas station. I’m not turning around.”
We traveled along for awhile with me not thinking about much and the little girl prattling on about this and that. She told me that her name was Lulu Calhoun and she was born at the exact same time, to the nearest minute, as Jesus, only 2107 years later. I told her that that was unlikely and she told me that it was absolutely true and that her grandpa had “a stopwatch on her.” I really wanted to say, “What a load of shit.” but since she was a kid I just said. “Unlikely.” She said that she got lots of presents because of her birthday and Christmas being on the same day and I wanted to tell her that for complicated reasons having to do with psychology and economics she probably got less presents (net) than she would have if her birthday and Christmas were on different days but I thought it would open a complicated door. After we’d gone about twenty miles we entered the town of Fishersville which really wasn’t at town at all and I found a gas station. Lulu got out to find a bathroom and I went into the station with no other intention than to stretch my legs. The station was run by one of those foreign families who smile a lot and hope you don’t say anything that might require them to speak English. I’ll tell you something. Pain does strange things to your mind. Sometimes, when it gives you a jolt, it makes you want to inflict misery on innocent others. It’s like you want to share the pain. My back felt like some one was grilling shards of glass on it. It made me smile at these folks and say, “Did you know that Virginia Woolf wasn’t really a wolf?” They shrugged, smiled, shook their heads, bowed their heads, shuffled their feet, and then went back to staring into space. I bought a Slim Jim and walked out to find Lulu with her entire arm sticking up into a coke machine so that it almost looked like the machine was trying to eat her.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Uncle Buck said that my arm is finally just the right size to get free cokes.”
“Free and stealing are not the same thing. Get your arm out of there.”
“It’s stuck.”
“Oh God.” I said.
I went in to get the smiling people and brought them out to the coke machine. They looked at the girl and then the machine and then me.
“Arm stuck.” I said. “Little girl bad. Arm stuck.”
Lulu made a mean face and then her arm popped out. She said she just had to let go of the coke to get her hand out.
One of the foreigners said, with a crystal clear unadulterated midwestern inflection, “Your child is not very well behaved.”
Well what could I think of that?
We got back in the car and headed down the highway in a westerly direction. We drove for a few miles in silence and then Lulu told me that an unusual number of birds were crashing into windows around the country. I didn’t have anything to say about that. But then she told me that the reason they were crashing into windows was because they were all watching television through people’s windows and it made them so stupid that they tried to fly through pure glass. I asked her where she ever heard of such a thing. “Uncle Buck.” She said.
“Well your uncle Buck may be nuts.” I said.
“He’s smarter than you.”
“I doubt it.”
“He has over a million dollars in just change.”
“Hmm… that would be a lot of metal.” I said. Maybe it said something about my personality and maybe not, but this was just the kind of thing that I liked to think about. How big would a million dollars worth of change be? I immediately started thinking about the difference it would make with regard to what kind of coin you had. All nickels verses all dimes for instance. I was drifting further into this pleasant line of thought when Lulu told me that her uncle Buck paid her a penny for every breath she took.
“You’re quite a story teller.” I said.
“I’m not telling a story. He gives me a penny for every breath I take. All I have to do is count them all day long and tell him how many at the end of the day.”
“So, how much do you get a day?” I asked.
Usually nothing because he always thinks I haven’t really counted all day long.”
“Well,” I said, “maybe he’s not so nuts.”
“You know, he’s a doctor.” She said.
“A doctor! What, like a doctor of lawn mower engines?”
“No he’s real doctor. He used to do operations on people.”
“Uh huh.” I said.
“He really was famous for his operations. He transplanted feet from animals.”
“Wow.” I said. I was squinting through the windshield and noticed the sky beginning to turn dark in the west. I checked to see if my windshield wipers worked and they didn’t.
“You know.” She said, “If we were in a crash right now uncle Buck could sew us together faster than any doctor around here.”
“Uh huh.” I said.
“If you went through the window and had your head chopped off he could sew it back on.”
I wasn’t really too interested in uncle Buck because the storm in front of us seemed to be somewhat ominous and I was thinking about the fact that my car leaked like a wooden boat kicked full of holes during a rain. I was thinking that it looked like more than the usual afternoon thunderstorm. I said, “But could he sew a button onto a shirt?”
This seemed to make Lulu pretty angry, and I was surprised that she got the comment, but she did and she went off like a little time bomb chirping about how great her uncle Buck was. He could fix a car, a person, a cat, or an Osterizer. He could read a whole book in a day, jump over a trailer, catch a squirrel with his bare hands, drink a case of beer in an hour, and paint pictures of naked women without looking at naked women. When she was done I could only shake my head and say that he must be some amazing person. Then she said that she planned to marry him when she was older. I shouldn’t have said anything about that, first, because she was a child and second because I didn’t care, but my low opinion of hicks made me incapable of keeping to myself about this delicate issue. So I said, “You’re going to marry the brother of one of your parents?”
“Well, I told him I’d marry him when I was old enough.”
“I’ll bet he loved that.”
“I don’t think he believes I’ll wait.”
“That you’ll wait?”
“I’m really popular in school.”
“I guess you’re pretty modest too.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“It means you don’t like to brag about yourself.”
“No, I don’t mind.”
I wanted to say I was being ironic but what was the use? I was one of those people who just could not believe there were people who didn’t get irony. I would honestly expect a pink baby to get irony and would, quite frankly, shake my head if it didn’t. Some large raindrops started smacking into the windshield. Because the windshield wipers weren’t working I told Lulu that we were going to have to get off in Staunton and wait for the storm to pass. We pulled off and drove for a few minutes past car parts joints and crappy food places. We arrived downtown just as the storm was about to rip lose and since we parked in front of the Pompeii Lounge I told Lulu that I would take her up for a coke while thinking to myself, “And I can have a little nip,” which was the phrase I liked to use for having a couple shots of whiskey. We went into the front door of a restaurant on the street level where a man was standing behind a podium. The Pompeii Lounge was three floors up and you had to get past this man and get to the stairs in order to go up there. He was sort of like a host and a guard although I can’t imagine trying to keep anyone out of the Pompeii Lounge. He asked me what he could do for me and I told him we wanted to go up to the Lounge. He looked down at Lulu and then said into a microphone, which was on the podium, that two people would be coming up to the lounge. “A man and a child.” He said. Sometimes I thought that there might be something special on the second floor that they didn’t want anyone to see and so they announced you thus allowing the people in the Lounge to account for you in a certain amount of time. Maybe if you didn’t arrive on the third floor within about two minutes they would send someone out to search for you. But walking past the second floor there were just a couple of closed doors and I didn’t feel like looking into them as much as I felt like drinking whiskey. I experienced at tinge of guilt about drinking, knowing that I was going to be driving with a kid in the car but, again, my bad attitude towards hillbillies just made me think of Lulu as sort of a pet more than a human being. I was really bad about things like that. I was one of those people who, though not religious, would often tell myself, calmly and with gravity, “You’re probably going to hell,” and I wasn’t kidding. It didn’t really affect my behavior though. In the Pompeii Lounge it was kind of quiet since it was still afternoon. Behind the bar was a tattooed woman of about 35 who didn’t even look up at us such was her interest in her phone. At the bar was an old man staring at his hands and a hipster dude who was drawing on a napkin. There were two college girls from Mary Baldwin sitting at a table by a glass door which led to a small outside courtyard in the center of the building. You could always tell a Mary Baldwin student because they looked unwanted and frumpy. I’m not saying that in a mean way. I can’t stand the thought of implying that some girl is undesirable. I’m even particularly nice to frumpy girls because it’s one of my soft spots. Having said that I’ll tell you one of my favorite sayings about the Mary Baldwin girls. Supposedly, the local high school boys would say this: “The odds are good but the goods are odd.” I guess the fact that the local high school boys felt worthy of pursuing these college girls also says something. I know it’s not a very nice saying but I like it anyway. I guess a good phrase trumps my better nature. I smiled at the two MB girls and they smiled back. I went to sit at a table near the girls but Lulu wanted to sit at the bar and I had this idea that I wanted to keep her as quiet as possible so I acquiesced and we sat at the bar near a window that was open to the courtyard. It had started raining and there was thunder bombing away over the town. I wondered if the courtyard could fill up with water and make the building collapse. I made a mental note to think about that later since it fell in line with my kind of pleasant thought like the million dollars in coins question. I got the attention of the bar keeper and ordered a coke and a shot of whiskey. The bartender asked me if I had an ID and I gave her a look because there was no way I looked under 30 and then to show me she was kidding she asked Lulu if she had an ID to which Lulu answered, “I can’t even drive.” Once we had our drinks I held my glass up to Lulu’s coke and said, “Here’s mud your eye.” to which Lulu responded, “Fuck it.” which made me inhale my first swig of whiskey and forced me to cough until my eyes were watering and all of the bar patrons were looking at me. “Lulu!” I said, “You can’t say that! Why did you say that?” The bartender was standing there with her arms crossed, looking at us with obvious disapproval as Lulu said, “That’s what uncle Buck says when he drinks.” I really didn’t know what to think about that so I just said, “Well we’re not uncle Buck.” and shook my head at the bartender. Nothing got my goat so much as having someone like that bar maid with her atrocious tattoos looking down on me like I was some double wide trailer trash. And that sure was what she was doing after Lulu’s toast. I wanted to say something like, “I’m really not a hick and this kid isn’t mine and I don’t even know her or her kind…” But just thinking about saying it made me tired and made me wonder about my own situation in a way I didn’t want to. I sat staring into space for a few minutes thinking about how the courtyard could be a swimming pool with the proper sealant. Then I thought about the fact that despite being saddled with Lulu and the pain which registered in my body through numerous means, I felt pretty good. With the rain pelting the canvas awning out in the courtyard, the cozy quiet approximation of the other patrons, and the warm amber whiskey spreading inside my body like a soft feathery fire, I could imagine the possibility of no pain and no trouble. Normally I would never think of such a thing. Normally, I thought about pain and trouble because I felt they surrounded me and had to be acknowledged. Sometimes I thought that there was something wrong with me because of the things I thought in my spare time. I looked down at Lulu and watched as she blew bubbles through her coke with her straw. I tried to remember what it was like to do that but I couldn’t. How great it would be to be a kid with no worries in the world! I couldn’t believe how fast my life had gone by and how much things had changed. I felt profoundly disconnected from contemporary culture and it seemed like the people I met were foreign things in which I had no interest. I broke up with my last girlfriend because of sheer boredom. I simply could not be interested in the things she was interested in no matter how hard I tried. She finally realized that I only drank alcohol in abundance when I was around her and when she confronted me with that observation I couldn’t help myself and told her that she bored me to death. It was very unpleasant because it was such a simple and unmalleable truth that there was nowhere to go with it except down. It was horrible to be in love with someone you couldn’t bear to be around. And I could extrapolate part of that notion to society in general. It really bored me to death to have to listen to people repeating the tidbits they’d learned on TV or seen on Facebook. It felt to me like people scoured every nook and cranny of the earth for the most boring ideas they could find. There’s nothing worse than being in a conversation where you know everything that’s going to be said before it is said. But that’s the way people were to me. It made for a very empty world. Looking at Lulu I couldn’t help but to feel a little sorry thinking what was in store for her. I mean, how horrible would society be by the time she was an adult? I didn’t even like to think about it. And then I thought, “Maybe it was I who have changed. Maybe I skidded off the rails a long time ago and didn’t even notice.” I just didn’t know.

Lulu and I left as the rain began to let up. Back in the car I sat for a moment thinking about the broken windshield wipers and my life. Lulu asked me what was wrong. “Nothing.” I said.
“Then why aren’t we going?”
“We are.” I said as I put the car in gear and started rolling. I drove the long way out of Staunton and got on some country road that I knew headed south towards Covington. I really didn’t like to be on 81 with its perpetual tractor trailer crashes and ten mile back ups. I would rather drive an extra hundred miles than be stuck in a ten minute traffic jamb. Plus being a little tipsy made me want to avoid traffic. Lulu said she always like to go the back way no matter what and then she said it looked pretty outside and I agreed. The clouds were very defined and blowing by like dark grey steam while the sun tried to burn through various holes. It was really an amazing post storm sky. We went over a rise that revealed a spectacular view of some valley and Lulu asked if we could stop and get out to look at it. I was somewhat surprised that a kid like Lulu would want to look at the sky but I guess it goes to show you never know what someone keeps in their brain pod. While we were standing there looking at the exhausted remnants of the storm I asked her what her mom did in Covington.
“She makes tons of money selling stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Spices and herbs and stuff like that.”
“Hmm…”
I could imagine those spices and herbs being laced with crystal meth or cocaine but I didn’t want to pursue the subject. We got back in the car and drove on quietly for awhile. Lulu pulled a phone out of her pocket and started fiddling with it.
“So you have a cell phone already.” I said.
“It doesn’t work with anything. I can just look at pictures on it. My mom and uncle Buck won’t let me on the internet.”
“Well that’s probably not a bad idea.”
“No it is a bad idea. Do you have a phone?”
“Yes.”
“Can I look at it?”
I really didn’t want her messing with my relatively new iPhone but I kind of felt sorry for her having a neutered cell phone so I pulled mine out of my pocket and handed it to her. Within ten seconds I heard the voice of some girl I hadn’t talked to in two years. She was saying, “Roland, Roland, is that you? Roland, are you there?” I couldn’t believe my ears! Lulu had somehow called the last person on earth I would want to talk to. It was Connie Spinner and she was the highest ranking on my ranking of psychotic ex girlfriends. She once called the cops on me for running over a bird. It was a crow or something eating a dead animal in the road and it flew right under my tire when it tried to get away. Believe me, I wouldn’t run over any animal if I could help it but I had no idea how I was supposed to dodge a bird. She called the cops on me right then and there and told them I was heading south on 51. She was mad at me for not liking the food at some crazy Mongolian restaurant she had insisted we try. The food was so horrible I had to choke it down while holding my nose and it made her furious. Now there she was bleating through my cell phone just like the insane harpy she always was. I had no idea what to do. I would rather talk to a vacuum salesman than her. I wanted to hold my finger up to my lips to indicate to Lulu that she shouldn’t say anything but before I could do it she spoke:
“And who is this?” she asked into the phone.
“Who is this? Who is this?” I heard coming out of the phone. “Is this Roland Lynne?”
Hearing that voice chilled my blood and made me feel faint. I wondered if I should crash on purpose right then.
“Who is this?” came out of the phone again. Connie Spinner would not stop now. She would hound that phone until the cows came home.
Lulu said, “This is Roland’s new wife! What do you want?”
“Roland’s new wife! What do you mean what do I want? Who are you? What are you doing?”
Lulu said, “He dumped you for me and I’m only 11.”
“Is this an obscene phone call? Do I need to call the police on you Roland Lynne?” said Connie.
“He kissed me over a thousand times.” said Lulu in a louder voice.
“I can have the police trace this phone and come get you!” Shouted Connie Spinner.
“We’ve already had two babies and they’re cute as can be!” Shouted Lulu.
At that point my nerves unlocked and I grabbed the phone from Lulu. Connie Spinner was panting into the phone with her furious breath and I could imagine the red blotches on her face and the throbbing vein on her forehead. I pressed the button that hung up and put the phone back in my pocket.
“Lulu! Why did you do that? No wonder you’re not allowed a live phone! Holy crap!”
Lulu made the same mean face she made when she had her hand up in the coke machine.
What a child! What was I doing? Suddenly the thought of going the rest of the way to Covington didn’t seem like the right thing to do. But my pain erupted like lightening in my back telling me, “Go go go… do anything but don’t stop here.” so I kept going. I found myself wanting to imagine that I was on a Homeric trip of some sort in order to justify something but I couldn’t do it. Lulu asked me who that lady on the phone was. Good God. Where to start? I simply told her that Connie Spinner was a crazy woman whom I went out with sometime ago. Then I found myself telling Lulu the real story, thinking that it might be comforting telling it to someone who couldn’t possibly fault me for anything likely to arise with regard to adult relationships. I put it this way: “I was going to a liquor store quite often back then and I would only buy those tiny one shot bottles of whiskey because I didn’t trust myself to stop drinking after a couple of shots. One day the lady at the register asked me why I didn’t just buy big bottles of booze and save a million dollars a year.”
“You spent a million dollars a year on booze?” asked Lulu.
“No. That’s just the way she asked it. Anyway, instead of telling the truth I just said that my girlfriend was a drunkard and that I couldn’t have any alcohol in the house or else she would drink it all non-stop. Actually, Connie Spinner didn’t drink at all and disapproved of my drinking.”
“Well why did you say that?” Asked Lulu.
“Because I didn’t feel like making up some long story about how I couldn’t trust myself with big bottles of booze. I really would have had to make up all sorts of complicated things and I just didn’t feel like it.”
“I woulda kicked your ass for being a liar.” Said Lulu.
“Lulu! Don’t talk like that! Anyway, one day, without thinking about it, I brought Connie Spinner into the liquor store with me to buy some egg-nog mix for a Christmas party we were going to.”
“And you got caught!” Said Lulu.
“Stop interrupting me. But yes, I got caught. The girl at the register was a real concerned citizen type who couldn’t mind her own business and when I got to the register with Connie she asked me if this was the girlfriend who couldn’t handle the alcohol. It was a terrible scene and then soon afterwards I ran over a bird and Connie called the cops on me,…and.”
Lulu was looking at me with her big eyes and I stopped telling the story. It wasn’t bringing me any sort of relief to tell it. What was the point anyway? Suddenly, I really didn’t want to think about anything except for the road in front of me. But Lulu wanted to know more things about Connie Spinner.
“Yes, she was very pretty.” I told her. And she was.
“So why didn’t you marry her?” asked Lulu.
“Because we couldn’t stand each other.”
“Well, why was she your girlfriend then?”
There was just no way to explain it so I said, “I just liked the way she looked.” And that was the sad truth I suppose. Lulu shook her head and said, “Poor Connie Spinner.”
Well, what could she know? The sun was going down and there was another strip of black ink rolling over the western horizon as we rode up and down the hills of the Shenandoah Valley. We drove in silence for awhile and then Lulu announced that she was hungry. I was hungry too and so I told her that we would be able to eat at the Edelweiss restaurant which was about ten miles away.
“What kind of food do they have?” asked Lulu.
“German food.” I replied.
“What’s German food?”
“It’s food like they would eat in Germany.”
“What kind of food do they eat in Germany?”
“The kind of food Germans eat.”
I don’t know why I did this to Lulu. I could go on in one of these circular question-answer sessions for ever. Probably for the same reason that I liked watching trains go by. I liked simple things that let my brain coast. On the other hand I was driving a child to Covington to buy a bunny. What could come of that? Nothing simple.
“What kind of food do Germans eat?”
“German food.”
I guess I also liked to speculate on the way a child’s brain worked. To me they were like little experiments. They made me think about the development of the human mind in general and sometimes I would think that I should have been a researcher so that I could spend all my time studying the human brain. But I was far too lazy to apply myself to anything like that. I told Lulu that German food was things like wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut. She said she’d never heard of any of those things and asked what it tasted like. I told her that everything tasted like a chicken or a snake and that every food known to mankind tasted like a chicken or a snake if you took away the spices. Again, I don’t know why I was telling Lulu this. Maybe it was from being hungry myself. I think it made me annoying on several levels. Before we got the the Edelweiss restaurant we passed a truck stop that was next to 81. It was a major truck stop lit up with gaudy signs and full of chugging diesels sitting around, their darkened windows hiding who knows what kind of illicit activity. I really didn’t like truck stops even though I’d hung around worse places for many years. I preferred the railroad tracks. They were less prurient but still dirty and dangerous.
“That’s where I was born.” Said Lulu.
“You were born at that truck stop?”
“Well I was born at a some truck stop.”
“So you’re just a little country western song aren’t you? Born at the same time as Jesus at a truck stop.”
For some reason this made Lulu burst out crying.
“Hey, hey, what’s the matter? There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s romantic!” I said. But she kept crying and I could feel my heart melting. I maybe had never before been around a crying little girl. I don’t know but I hadn’t felt something like what I was feeling for a long time. And then suddenly I realized that the pain in my back was completely gone. I sort of twisted around in my seat to see if it was real and it was. I said, “Lulu, I think my back is fixed!”
“What?” She snuffled.
“My back isn’t killing me anymore!”
She whimpered and folded her arms in front of her like she’d just made up her mind about something. I was torn between being concerned for her and trying to absorb the fact that my back was not hurting for the first time in several years. It was like I’d just been taken off the rack or let out of jail. I felt very light and happy. Lulu dried the her eyes with the front of her tee shirt and I looked at her a couple of times trying to decide what was wrong.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“I’m ok.” She replied. And then I started feeling my back coming to me via the pain. It was like the old familiar clamp tightening up and saying, “hello, it’s me!” The first thing I thought was that somehow, feeling sorry for Lulu made the pain in my back go away. I mean, something was definitely happening there. What a strange thing. Then I had this really horrible thought. What if I could only have pain relief by making Lulu cry? I was trying to remember the feeling of no pain in my back. It was so luxurious. I wanted to make Lulu cry again but it seemed like it would be a horrible thing to do no matter how I did it. I wondered if there was a humane way to make Lulu cry. I thought about onions or pinching her nose for a second. But I could feel that she would need to be crying from sadness or anger or something emotional. Who could consciously elicit that response from a child? I couldn’t imagine it. Well, I could imagine it. I just couldn’t do it. We pulled into the Edelweiss restaurant and I parked. The place appeared to be closed but since it was a German restaurant I thought maybe they were being thrifty with the electricity.
“Well they’re closed.” Said Lulu.
“Maybe.” I said.
“What? They’re closed.”
I got out and went up to the door where I saw the tiniest closed sign in the world. I guess they didn’t want to waste paper either.
“Closed aren’t they.” Said Lulu.
“We’ll have to find somewhere else.” I replied.
“We could eat at the truck stop.”
“I don’t like the idea of taking you in there. Some trucker might take you and sell you in Mexico or something.” I said. Really, I’d eaten there before and the food was revolting.
“No one’s going to kidnap me!”
“Well the food’s also kind of bad.”
“I’m starving!”
“We’ll find something in Greenville.”
“Where’s that?”
“A couple miles up the road.”
We drove a few miles and came into Greenville. The sun was down but it was still slightly light in the west and another storm was rumbling in the mountains. Greenville did not look too appealing. It was one of those little towns that was known for nothing at all. Many years ago I’d been in the town of Greenville. I was on the way back to my ship which was in Norfolk after a two week leave. As usual, my car, an MG Midget, was running very badly and I stopped at this little store where, in the parking lot, I adjusted the points and the rotor to try to make it run better. It was snowing and night time. I pulled out of the parking lot onto the road and my engine conked out. I got out of the car and started pulling it backwards, which was easy to do since it was the size of a go kart, and I remember suddenly seeming light on my shoulder which indicated a car coming up behind me. I jumped out of the way just in time and the car, a van actually, crashed in to my MG Midget. It was totaled. The van had a dent the size of a nickel on it’s bumper and when the police came they told me I should just forget about it and move on. I had some very nice tools in the car which included a beautiful transit level given to me by my grandpa. I brought all the tools into the little store and told them that I had to get back to my ship and asked them if they could keep the tools for me until I returned from a Mediterranean tour which would be about six months. They said sure. Well I never saw the tools again or my MG Midget. I probably could have gone back and maybe the tools would have been there but I just didn’t do it. Sometimes when I drive through Greenville I wonder if my tools are in someone’s garage nearby. Sometimes I want to put up a sign that says, “Tools lost at this little store thirty years ago. Do you know where they are? Call Roland.” That was the kind of absurd thinking I would do while driving through Greenville. Now, all these years later, on one corner were three log cabins which were being renovated by hippies. They’d been working on them for about ten years and they always looked the same with two broken Volvo station wagons in the yard, the same windows knocked out, the same hammock filled with empty flower pots, and so on. There was a hardware store that was never open and an antique shop run by the hippies which had nothing to sell except buckets full of skeleton keys and about a ton of old burlap sacks. There was a restaurant called Jimbos which was where I was thinking we might get something but when I turned down the little drive where it used to be there was now a restaurant called Mitch’s Pig Hole.
“Let’s eat there!” Exclaimed Lulu.
“Are you kidding? There’s no way I’m eating in a place called Mitch’s Pig Hole.”
“Please.”
“Forget it.”
“Come on. I’m starving!”
“No.”
Lulu folded her arms over her chest and pouted. She wasn’t crying but she looked like she might begin at any moment. And sure enough, as I appreciated Lulu’s displeasure there was a slight relief in my back pain, like some weighted barbs were being lifted. There was soreness but the knife was no longer there. It was so horrible but I felt this desire to tip Lulu towards crying by saying or doing something mean. But I couldn’t do it. Just seeing her lips turned down nearly killed me and so I said “Ok, we’ll try Mitch’s Pig Hole.” and parked the car. She immediately revived and my back split in two with pain. “What a thing!” I thought as I clinched the steering wheel with all my strength and felt little beads of sweat forming on my forehead. I noticed the pain was quite different after a moment of relief. Oh did it hurt!
The parking lot of Mitch’s Pig Hole was filled with pickup trucks and motorcycles. I wasn’t worried about bringing Lulu in there because I figured her family was probably made of the same people who were in the restaurant. I also wasn’t worried about getting into a fight with rednecks since I always imagined a good fight as possibly doing something chiropractic to my back. Pain will make you look far and wide for relief. I was worried, however, about eating gross food. I used to try various unheard of restaurants but finally came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it because the food was almost always atrocious. At first I thought that we lucked out because it seemed like the front door was locked but it was just hung poorly and opened when Lulu kicked it. “What a girl.” I thought, “They’ll probably hire her as a waitress.”
The place was dim inside. The walls were entirely covered with animal heads from about above six feet to the ceiling and below that were all sorts of weapons bolted to wainscot. So it was to be a hunting motif. There was some dreadful country western music playing, that sort of country music that was more like rock with extra pitiful lyrics and which was nearly unbearable to hear. Give me some Merle Haggard or Patsy Kline but not that stuff. Lulu immediately skipped out a little dance at the sound of the music and I cringed as I thought of her 11 year old brain already being infected with low class, not so fine, art. The patrons appeared to be what you would expect, gruff men and women in various states of stupefaction slumped over their beers and ashtrays, food spattered on their faces and dimness in their eyes. A number of eyes aimed at Lulu and me as we walked to a table up against the wall. We sat down under a wild boar. Someone had put a crumpled pack of Marlboros in its mouth and there were initials carved in one of its tusks. I was impressed. Lulu looked around like she was right at home and I tried to imitate her. There were a couple of guys at the bar who had the look of real violence about them and they were staring at us. There were just certain guys who I could feel were cut out for fighting. Who enjoyed fighting like someone else might enjoy a massage. These guys were that type. Thinking they were country boys when they were in fact just bipeds, one or two notches up from monkeys. I couldn’t tolerate people like that even though I totally understood them. They really were animals disguised as humans, able to pose as humans for all practical purposes, but never really part of the human tribe with its social checks and balances. I stared back at them with a neutral face while hoping that they would forget us and resume talking about killing things or whatever they talked about. I refused to be afraid but I knew either one of those guys could break me in half so I really didn’t want them to be perturbed. I was looking right into the eyes of the fattest of the two when suddenly a white spot appeared on his forehead. His face turned very red as he reached up to the front of his sloped head. I turned to see Lulu holding a plastic fork and chewing straw wrapper when I realized what had happened.
“Lulu! What are you doing!”
“I was aiming at you!”
“Good God Lulu! You sure did miss!”
I thought the guy would come over an kill us but he and his friend just burst out laughing and resumed drinking their beers. I thought, “We’ve been in this place for less than 30 seconds and Lulu has already brushed me against death. What a child!” I was also annoyed that my judgement of other human beings was so profoundly wrong so often. I almost would have rather those guys had come over and killed me just to show that I’d pegged them right.
Lulu was now looking at a menu and smacking her lips. I picked one up and took at look. It looked like normal red neck fare, greasy, salty, and deadly. A waitress came at our table from behind me and leaned her hips to the table in what I would have to call a provocative manner. “What can I get you two little chick peas?” She asked.
“I’ll take the Hog Heaven Slow Delight and a large Coke.” Said Lulu.
“Do you have hamburgers?” I asked.
“We have the Triple Decker Piggy Paddy Delight.”
“Ok.” I said, “That and a Bud I guess.”
“Delightful.” Said Lulu.
The waitress walked away.
“Everything on the menu is delightful.” Said Lulu in a sing song manner.
“Yes I’m sure it is.” I replied.
“What a revolting place.” I thought. And then I thought about how it seemed to me that everything I experienced in the contemporary world was somehow revolting. Like every little experience brought an uncomfortable feeling with it. Did the pain somehow change my entire world view? It really did seem that this negative phenomenon began with the onset of my body going bad. I mean obviously Lulu liked this place and the red necks liked this place. I wanted to think that they were all really just children with children’s taste and that the entire world was turning on childish cultural bearings but it didn’t make sense to me. Why would it bother me? I thought I liked the way children thought. Straight to the point without the sophistry. Was Mitch’s Pig Hole to the point? Maybe it was. Really, the origins of our food were hanging all over the walls. The tools of our trade were too. People were eating and smelling funny and drinking. They were laughing and vibrating in their chairs with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. They were certainly enjoying their surroundings. They didn’t see gaudiness or grossness. Why did I? Was it because I found myself in these places so often? Was it possible that I was precisely what I had such a low opinion of? Was I this?
“…and call someone else on your phone,”
“What?” I asked. Lulu had been talking but I hadn’t heard her.
“We should call someone else on your phone.”
“Oh yeah. That was fun. Maybe you could call all of my old girlfriends and have a talk with them.”
“How many girlfriends did you have?”
“About five hundred.”
“Really!”
“No.”
“Who’s your girlfriend now?”
“No one. And that’s the way I like it.”
And it was true. One of my favorite lines of all times was, “If you’ve had one girl, you’ve had them all.” I swear that was my experience. I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them so what was the point in chasing girls? My only regret is how long it took me to figure it out. I’m not implying that men are any better in any way. I’m sure they too lose their luster. But I wasn’t going to tell any of this to Lulu, even though I had a strange compulsion to do so.
“You should always have a girlfriend no matter what.” Said Lulu.
“No, I shouldn’t.”
“You might need someone to bring you beer in bed if you’re sick or to come get you out of jail.”
“That’s just depressing Lulu.”
“What’s depressing about it?”
“Nothing.” I looked around at the place and tried to figure out why I was there and then I said, “We should call your mom and tell her we’re on our way.” It had occurred to me that I should act like an adult for a moment. “You did get permission to go with me didn’t you?”
She looked down at the table and I knew that she hadn’t. But why was I even asking? I knew she hadn’t asked from the second she came running out of the house.
“Lulu,” I said, “I hope this isn’t going to cause trouble. I don’t want us to get in trouble with your folks. I should have checked with your mom or dad before I took you. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You won’t get in trouble. As long as uncle Buck doesn’t find out.”
“Well now what makes you think he’s not going to find out? And how do you think we’re going to go to your mom’s house and look at a rabbit without her noticing? I must have been nuts! You don’t think he’s going to notice that you’re gone? And what about your dad? Where’s he?” I didn’t know why I asked that all of the sudden but I did.
“My dad got killed.”
“Oh I’m sorry Lulu.”
“He got squashed by a tractor.”
I couldn’t help smiling a little bit because I once met a dude on a job site who told me about how various relatives of his had died. Basically, everyone of them was crushed by a tractor which had rolled over onto them. Ever since then I imagined being squashed by a tractor as being a particularly country way to go. But I shouldn’t have smiled. Lulu once again started crying and everyone in the place turned to look at us.
“It’s not funny!” Sobbed Lulu.
“No. I know. I know. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” and I was. My back felt like it had been pumped full of morphine but seeing the tears in Lulu’s eyes was worse than the back pain.“Please don’t cry Lulu.” I said.
“My dad was a great tractor driver.”
I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing and Lulu could see right through me. She cried harder and my back felt like the back of an eight year old—perfect, supple, absolutely painless. But Lulu was breaking my heart. She got up and started running for the door which she slung open so hard that some feathers fell off a stuffed hawk above the exit. I went after her but when I got outside she was gone. The sky was dark and the storm which had been in the mountains was now coming down and rumbling in the valley. I suddenly was mortified that she would run off and be lost out in a storm. “Lulu! Where are you? Come back!” I shouted.
I looked around the edges of the parking lot and then happened to look at my car where I saw Lulu sitting in the front seat at the driver’s wheel. I ran over to the car and opened the door. 
“Lulu, I’m sorry.” I said. “I swear I didn’t mean to laugh. There was a reason for it but it wasn’t a good one. I’m really sorry. Come on. Let’s go get our food.” But she just sat there. I squatted down by the door and said, “What’s the matter honey? I truly am sorry.” And then I realized that I hadn’t squatted down like I was for a number of years. I just couldn’t do it because of my back. Some rain drops started popping on the parking lot so I stood up and pushed Lulu over then sat down whereupon my back started tearing away from the spine, or so it felt. The pain made me know that Lulu was feeling better so in a way I welcomed it even though every time it came back there seemed to be a new vengeance to it. I looked over at Lulu and saw that she was looking out the windshield at something. I looked up just in time to see a large black bird crash into the glass. It rolled off the hood and fell to the ground. “Jesus Christ.” I said.
“I told you.” Said Lulu.
I looked at Lulu again and wondered if she had some sort of magic powers even though I did not believe in such things. I’ve seen birds crash into windows before so I couldn’t think that it was such a big deal. But Lulu had mentioned it. And there was no doubt that her emotions had an effect on my back. I wondered about the pheromones and electrical signals that a living thing exuded. I believed there was a scientific reason for everything. But I was too lazy to think through those sorts of things. In my mind there was calculus and then there was magic. One was true, the other was easy. I should have been examining my emotional defects, like the one that allowed me to smile at Lulu’s revelation about her dad. I literally couldn’t help it but I had to ask myself, “How could you do such a thing!” I felt sick. I asked Lulu if she was all right and if she wanted to go back in and get our food. She said ok and we went back in.
Our meals were sitting at the table and we fell to eating them. I looked at Lulu and wondered about her. Despite her country ways, she was a very tidy eater. She didn’t spill a thing and I would have to describe her eating manners as oddly lady like. I, on the other hand, seemed to be dropping food left and right, and I imagined all sorts of stuff sticking to my face. This was just the kind of thing I imagined happening to me all the time. I was in Mitch’s Pig Hole, despising it for being so gross, and yet, despite my best efforts, I was eating like I belonged there. Lulu’s one eating fault was that she liked to play with her cokes. She really liked to blow bubbles through her straw. But I wasn’t about to complain about that. When we finished our food she leaned back in her seat, patted her stomach, and said, “A cigarette would be delicious right now.”
Her lady like eating habits were evidently terminated.
“Jesus. Don’t tell me you smoke already.”
“Sometimes.”
“Well, you really shouldn’t. It’ll stunt your growth.” I said that just for the hell of hearing it said. I think my grandpa used to tell me that and though I didn’t believe it I wanted to say it to Lulu. Sitting there I had the thought that ideas and sayings just sort of die out for no reason and it struck me as somewhat sad. I did not like to see things go away or change. But everything did just that. Looking at Lulu I realized that she hadn’t changed yet. She was a kid and I enjoyed her straight forward way of looking at things. She was someone that I could actually stand to be around. She said things that were interesting even if they were wrong or infected with hick notions. I wondered what would become of her.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked.
“I want to be a police detective.”
“Really? That’s interesting. Why do you want to do that?”
“So I can shoot people.”
“That’s nice.” I said. What a perfect example. How many people would be that honest?
So what if it was the wrong reason for wanting to be a cop. It was better than saying what everyone else would have said which would be something like, “I want to help people.” And as I thought about this it occurred to me that this very notion could be responsible for the ascendency of fake news. Maybe there are other profoundly bored people out there who are sick of stock answers about social issues. The new president wants to make poor people into fertilizer? Ok, I’m for it! Not because I’m really for it but because I want to torment the hippies who would be writing naughty words on the sidewalk and blocking traffic to show their righteous resistance. Was the nature of adult boring predictability a thin layer of imagination covered by tectonic plates of conformity? I was a grown up in the sense that I took care of business and more or less did the right things. But I could never understand the desire to conform and belong to the group, to constantly reiterate common knowledge and feel for dents in the seamless beliefs of large crowds. Yuk! I would take Lulu for an intellectual companion any day!
The waitress returned and asked if we wanted any dessert. Lulu wanted a piece of pie and I said ok since I was still feeling bad about her dad. I really wanted to know how long ago he died and to ask her questions about her family but I didn’t. When she finished her pie we got up and went to the cash register where our waitress was standing with her elbows on the counter looking down at something very intently. I looked down and saw that she was reading “The Broom of the System” by David Foster Wallace. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like finding a baby building a railroad trestle! I felt like God was trying to prove that I was wrong about every thought I had.
“Can we pay?” I asked in a friendly manner.
“Sure thing. How was that grub?” She asked.
“It was delightful!” Said Lulu.
“It was good.” I said “The beer was fresh.” I don’t know why I said that. I guess because the food, to me at least, was not that good. But I didn’t like telling people their food wasn’t good unless they were perpetually trying to get me to eat it, like, for instance, Connie Spinner used to do. Basically, I felt that if I never had to eat your food again as long as I lived then I wasn’t going to tell you that it was bad. But I didn’t want to tell a flat out lie either, hence, the beer was fresh comment. What a mess!

Out in the parking lot Lulu asked me if she could drive to which I replied no. We hadn’t known each other for two hours and yet I could see that she was beginning to manipulate me in subtle ways. I’m sure she knew that I felt bad about her tractor smashed dad. It’s funny, but I realized that you don’t have to be a parent to understand how a child’s mind works. I mean we were all children once and those simplistic methods of human push and pull are hard to forget. I found that it was hard to say no to Lulu but after the initial moment of feeling mean or bad you knew you’d done the right thing and wanted to keep adding up those things so as to make a good child. At least that’s the way I looked at it. We headed out of Greenville and cut back over to some dark roads in the county where we made for Covington. There were little spats of rain here and there but the storm seemed to be lingering at the edge of the valley and the mountains where the distant lightening cracked and lit the lush greenery into a violet relief. Lulu fell asleep for about half an hour and I just focused on the road. When she awoke we were about two miles out of Covington and I asked her where her mom’s house was. She said it was right down town on top of a building.
“So she lives in an apartment?”
“No she lives in a house.”
“On top of a building?”
“Yes. It’s a great view. You can see the river and the railroad yard and drop things on people who are walking on the sidewalk.”
“That doesn’t sound very nice.” I said. But another side of me thought, “That sounds nice.” and I realized that I missed tormenting people just for fun. I know that’s a strange thing to say but it is absolutely true. It seemed to me that people only picked on each other in professional forums but that in normal everyday life tormenting people was no longer practiced very much. It’s was like people had become so good and serious that they just couldn’t torment properly. I really missed tormenting people. It was a form of interaction that had deep roots in my opinion. But now people practiced ‘mindfulness,’ which, to me, meant ‘vapidness’ and I realized that the people I knew who were the most vocal advocates of such thought were also the most simple minded and boring. They were the people who did derivative art. The real artists were brutes and children who knew that picking on people was healthy and natural.
About a mile out of Covington we went past a cemetery which had a single feeble sodium light burning over two ornate metal gates.
“My grand pappy’s buried there.”
“What was his name?” I asked.
“Lepton.”
“Well that’s an interesting name. Did you know him?”
“Yes, I told you he timed me when I was born.”
“Oh, right.”
“Did he die recently?”
“When I was nine.”
“Well I guess he was a good grand pappy.” I said not knowing anything else to say.
“He invented steel wool.”
“Ah. Well.”
“He had a steel wool factory called Fuzzies. That’s what he called it when he invented it but then someone stole his idea and changed the name to steel wool.”
“Are you making up a story Lulu?”
“No, honest. He would have been so rich!”
“Well where’s his factory?” I asked even though I felt it was wrong to interrogate a kid. I didn’t mind Lulu making up stories but I just couldn’t let it go when I thought that she thought I was gullible.
“My mom lives on top of it.”
“Ah ha. Well I can’t wait to see it.”
Lulu sat up very straight in her seat and said, “Turn left here.”
I turned down what appeared to be a main street. The town was another place around the size of Staunton but with a more squalid atmosphere. It was another place I’d been to many years ago. It seemed that every one of these little towns in Western Virginia had been on my route somehow when I was serving in the Navy. Driving between Norfolk and Dayton I never seemed to be able to stick to the road but would instead wander off and explore. The thing I remembered about Covington was climbing a set of stairs that went up a small mountain in the middle of town. I climbed the stars while wearing long black coat and being on an unauthorized absence from the Navy. I wondered why some one would put a set of concrete stairs up such a tall hill. At the top of the hill there was nothing but the end of the stairs. It was the perfect metaphor for my life at that time. Always going and ending up nowhere. And then while creeping down this main street with a small girl in my car I remembered that the town with the steps to no-where was actually Clifton Forge, not Covington. My poor brain!
“Just park here.” Said Lulu while pointing to a long blank curb.
“Here?” I said as I pulled up to no place in particular.
“We’re here!” Said Lulu as she jumped out of the car. I got out and saw that we were in front of a dismal grey building. There was a sign over the entrance which read, in very faded letters, Fuzzies Pawn Shop. est. 1943. I could hear voices coming from somewhere up above and I asked Lulu if that’s where her mom was while pointing up.
“Yes, that’s my mom’s. She’s having a party!”
Suddenly I felt very unpleasant. The thought of crashing a party and announcing that I’d just driven one hundred miles with a child I didn’t know to look at a bunny struck me as beyond insane. On the other hand my back was constantly reminding me that my life was right near over and I had not much to lose. Certainly, I could be a fool and if it felt too bad I could compare it to my back! We walked up to the entrance and Lulu pushed a button and held it down. After about thirty seconds a loud “WHAT!” came through a speaker.
“It’s me Lulu!” shouted Lulu.
“What! Did you say Lulu?”
“It’s me! Lulu!”
“What the hell! What the fuck is Buck doing?”
“I’m not with Buck.”
“Not with Buck? What the fuck! Stay there!” And then the speaker crackled like someone had hit it.
I actually started feeling like I was going to start shaking and my heart was pounding like crazy. I could hear footsteps clopping down the stairs and then numerous bolts being shot back on the door. I imagined saying, “Hi. I’m Roland Lynne and I came here with your daughter to look at a bunny.” I felt a strong urge to run down the street and hide in an alley, or run a little further and jump into the river. This whole thing was not really that unusual though. It seemed that I often put myself in these really unpleasant situations and then just stood there in the klieg lights basting in self inflicted misery. Just waiting to see if I would crack. It created a truly horrible feeling. A metaphysical experience brushing the fringes of historical pain. The door opened and standing there was a lovely woman. She appeared to be about forty years old with a very intelligent face and dark green eyes. I could not tell, though, if she was smiling or scowling because there was something funny about her lips. She stared at me and then down at Lulu who was just standing there. I had expected Lulu to at least hug her mom or her mom to hug her but they both just stood there until I finally asked, “Lulu is this your mom?”
“Yes.” She replied.
“Who are you?” The woman asked me.
“Uh, well, I know this will sound strange but I came here with Lulu to look at a rabbit that is being sold.”
“What?”
“She said there was a rabbit at your house and that I should look at it.”
“Did you escape from somewhere?”
“No ma’am. I’m sorry. I know it’s unusual. I almost don’t know what I’m doing here myself but I just saw this ad for a pet rabbit and called about it.”
“And you let an eleven year old girl talk you into taking her to Covington.
“Well, as I said, I know it’s strange. But I really was looking for a pet.”
“A rabbit?”
“Or something. It just happened to be a rabbit.”
“Does your uncle Buck know where you are?” She asked Lulu.
“No. He wasn’t home.”
“And you told this man you were selling the rabbit? And that it was out here?”
“Yes.” Replied Lulu sheepishly.
“That rabbit died a couple of months ago.” She said to me. And then she turned to Lulu and asked, “Why did you do this?”
“I wanted to come see you.”
And right there I could see something deeper in the woman’s eyes. A cruelty of the sort a person develops after they have decided that they have been done wrong by all of life and were no longer interested in being human. And as I perceived this, my back began to float away as if its own little soul was fluttering to heaven. And my spine, being connected to my brain, lifted me along with it. I knew that Lulu was being crushed and as we stood there my mind began bend and flex with desperation. I felt the euphoria of my healed back fighting with sorrow and the two seemed to be deep in my soul where the heat had been dissipating for so long. I suddenly realized that I had been heading towards being precisely the person Lulu’s mom was but now the brakes were screeching and smoking as I tried to stop it. It was like I was at a car crash and someone was bleeding to death before me and I couldn’t stanch it. I wanted to take Lulu back home to her uncle Buck’s just to get her away from here and this. I wanted to save her. But I was petrified that if I asked her mother she would say, “Take her!” which would be too much for both me and Lulu. My heart was swelling with emotions and then something burst and it suddenly occurred to me what to say. But I didn’t get to say it because Lulu’s mom simply shut the door and bolted the locks.
“Oh Lulu.” I said feeling like I was going to die of sadness.
She started crying and I really thought I was going to crack up. I stooped down and put my hands on her shoulders. “Lulu…”
She looked at me and snuffled, “Are you mad at me?”
“Oh honey no! Oh Lulu.” I wanted to say so much but what had happened seemed to be such a crushing thing that I did not want to give it any more weight. I thought, “I have met the strongest little person in the world.” and “This is what people are like before something from society begins to grind them away.” I told Lulu that I would take her back over the mountain to her uncle Buck and she seemed to be ok with that. On the way back she talked about this and that, made up unlikely stories, and smiled at things out the dark window. I kept thinking, “I want to be like Lulu. I want everyone to be like Lulu.” My back was killing me and it felt great.

COME OUT PRETTY

March 18, 2017

Why I liked her I did not know. There was no reason at all and when I really thought about it I always came to the conclusion that I just picked her out of the blue. But then I don’t see how that could be. According to my computer science course nothing could be picked out of the blue. True randomness was almost impossible for a human to execute. Supposedly. Anyway,
I guess I did like the way she looked. Now I’ve been in many arguments about objectifying a woman’s body. But that argument usually originates with a woman whose body I have not managed to objectify. I don’t really care about the validity of any aspect of that argument. We are human objects as far as I’m concerned and if someone who didn’t know a thing about me looked at me and decided they wanted something to do with me, I would be fine with it. That’s not an argument but a meek opinion. If I were proved wrong by some sound intellectual posit it wouldn’t bother me either. Perhaps we shouldn’t form any opinion about another until we meet them intellectually. Usually, though, I don’t meet people in their minds before I meet their physical, walking, talking body. I don’t live on that planet yet.
But that planet is coming fast.
Anyway, this girl did not like me and I did not like her. But I wanted her anyway. Incredibly, one day, I saw her in this little shop that was a combination eatery and bookstore. It was incredible to see her there because it was in a town that was about 20 miles from where we lived. The town is important because it is one of those places where a certain kind of person (she) is never going to live. There is nothing there but a giant factory, and a bunch of crappy little stores that sell items which this certain type of person would never buy. It is the kind of town where desultory tattooed kids wearing pajamas stand around smoking cigarettes in parking lots while their obese parents go back and forth between death and television. Trash blows down the streets which are crumbling in the way of modern concrete which implies age without fortitude and shallow ideas of purpose. When you come into this town you do indeed feel it. It is spent somewhere back in time and the time when it was being spent was brief. It is, in a nutshell, depressing.
I like towns like this. I like them because they clarify things nicely. This girl, our subject, (and object) would not be caught dead in a place like this. But if she happened to be there and you happened to see her you would think, “What in the hell!” And you would follow her with your eyes waiting for some sort of explanation. Now that doesn’t sound very clarifying, that is, the question of why she’s there. No, the clarifying part is that she stands out so clearly. Like a dot of light in a dark place. But let’s make it clear, this dot of light is not good or bad. It’s just clear. This is what happened in the little shop. I was sitting there eating some soup and reading a book about fascist poets when she came through the front door and walked up to a book cart. She pushed her glasses up her nose and picked a book which she flipped open and started reading. Aside from wondering what a girl like her was doing in this town I was wondering if she was really reading the book. I mean how could she be concentrating on a book in a place where she did not belong? But maybe she saw this little shop like I did. It was like one of those little outgrowths on a railroad trestle where you could step aside when a train came so as not to be crushed. A place that works within a place you should not be in the first place. I shouldn’t have been there either. It made me feel odd to be in this tiny isle of books within a grotesque city of no books because I knew I was there to do nothing less than find the very girl who walked through the door. I could not pick them out in my own town which was flooded in books and women. I really needed contrast for my lazy head to work.
Now I pretend I’m reading my book on fascist poets (who would write such a book!) but I’m doing nothing of the sort. I’m looking up at the girl and trying to decide one simple question. Is she reading the book or is she pretending to read the book, which is what I’m doing. I WAS reading the book but now I’m trying to read the girl. Tons of ideas come into my head. Ideas about reality and the history of philosophy. “What could I know! What does everything mean! What can this girl know? How does it work?”
I know that I’m in the giant game of culture. The big mesh and mash of ideas created by others and adopted by me under duress. A powerful voice tells me I don’t belong in this place or time because I do not like to solve puzzles which were created merely to be solved. Solving buildings, machines, and technology interests me. But the follies of the emotional mind! The interaction between humans! What a bottomless pit!! And I’m marginally good at playing the game. That’s the worst part. I can solve the puzzles over and over again. Not perfectly mind you, but close enough to work. And isn’t it strange that every time I solve one of these puzzles I want to add some spice to the pot for the next time around. Like I want to add more puzzles to the puzzles. I play the very game I loath. When I think about this what I really want to do is break away from it all with some physical violence. I want to clear the decks of all the convoluted wasteful thought that flutters around in my head wasting my time. And just as I’m thinking all of this the girl looks up from her book and stares right into my eyes. One thing I didn’t mention is that this girl did know me. I just mentioned that she didn’t like me. She knew me and didn’t like me. This shows you how upside down my world was. I was attracted to the fact that she didn’t like me. Objectively, she was quite wise not to like me. Subjectively, she was also quite wise not to like me. And this was exactly the way I thought I wanted it to be. I think in Flannery Oconner’s book “Wise Blood,” the character Hazel T. Motes wants to create a church called the Church of Jesus Without Jesus. And that was what I wanted. I wanted the girlfriend without the girlfriend. And I figured the best way to have a girlfriend with out the girlfriend was to meet a girl who didn’t like me and then keep it that way. What a complicated thing. It would be no problem being disliked but how would I create a connection that somehow bound us in a relationship where we would see each other and be together without being together? This girl had been not liking me for approximately ten years and I thought that was a solid sign that she would be a good candidate for being my girlfriend without girlfriend.

So I asked, “What are you doing here?”
She answered, “Looking for a book.”

Now there was the first swing of the ice pick. The first little chip of ice comes flying out of the massive sheet, the glacier which comprises this girl’s emotional bridge to me. She will talk to me. I already know that. We have talked many times and she is very civil. But now I want to actually dig in. To get a rhythm going with my pick.

“What brought you into this place to look for a book?” I asked
“I’m on my way to Massanutten for a skiing expedition. I want to find a book on skiing.”
“So are you going to learn how to ski by reading?”
“I already know how to ski.”

I looked at her lips which always reminded me of an upside-down mouth that might have been on a doll. Her nose was peasant like and she had eyes that reminded me of a rodent. It just killed me that I was so attracted to her. I didn’t even care about her body since she was a little fatty. Not obese but a little plump. Pleasantly plump I think it’s called. I thought about how would I define the shallowness of my own mind. Very shallow? As deep as a nick in a penny? It just drove me crazy that I already knew why she didn’t care for me and I could not think up the tiniest flicker of defense because I knew she was right. I would have to promote myself over a pretty big hurdle.

“She already knows how to ski.” I thought.
I could say:
“How long have you been skiing?”
“Where did you learn to ski?”
“How often do you go skiing?”
“What kind of skis do you have?”
and so on and so forth. But if there was one thing I could not do it was conduct a normal conversation. I mean I could. I just wouldn’t.
So I said, “You really look nice and snug in your ski outfit.”
“Fuck you.”
I’m sure I was blushing. I really had a hard time when girls cussed at me. I could cuss up a storm and often did but I had a hard time saying cuss words at girls. At least if I knew them. I could cuss at a stranger woman easily enough.
“You look good in it.”
“You have a problem with the way I dress.”
Actually that was true.
She was an atrocious dresser. One of the worst in town. Rainbow colored cowboy boots with conservative grey skirts and middle eastern blouses. I mean horrible. I did not want to make fun of the way she dressed but it was impossible not to.
“I like the way you dress.” I said.
She didn’t say anything but turned down to her book and began flipping through some pages. A minute ago she was like an ice cube and now she was like a dry ice cube made of carbon dioxide, so cold that if you were to touch her your skin would be torn off. How do you make someone who hates you like you just a little bit? Was it possible? I didn’t want her for a girlfriend but I definitely wanted something. I wanted that girlfriend without a girlfriend. At this point I thought about girls who I knew liked me but whom I didn’t like. There was nothing that they could do that would change it. I really would sit around pondering these girls sometimes and ask myself exactly why I didn’t like them. The answer was always pretty simple—I just didn’t. That was the way this girl didn’t like me. She just didn’t. But I was always attracted to impossible things. Always looking for that minuscule crack in the armor which had repelled a million attacks. There was a planter next to my table and in it a couple of flowers under a larger green plant. I plucked out a little flower and took it over to the girl. She looked up at me and I held out the flower.
“Here.” I said.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving you a flower.”
“Why are you giving me a flower?”
“Well, I just wanted to.”
“You should keep it. I’d probably lose it.”
I went back to my table and tossed the flower back into its pot. She really was a tough customer. I wished that I could read her mind for a few moments. Just a few moments. I don’t think it would be fair to read someone’s mind for more than a few moments. I just wanted to see enough to see exactly what she thought of me so that I could try to correct what ever it was that she didn’t like. If I could just get her into a complicated conversation where I could suss answers out of her. It really was like pulling teeth! She saw herself as an intellectual and I’m pretty sure she saw me as pleb or worse. But I had no reservations about flinging out bait.
I cleared my throat. “Do you think Ezra Pound was a closet socialist?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I was just wondering about Ezra Pound.” I said.
“He was a fascist and he supported Mussolini.” She responded.
“Well, that’s what they say but if you read some of his poems closely you see flavors of socialism.”
She let out a little derisive snort like laugh and turned back down to her book while shaking her head. I thought about what she really liked. She liked horrible music and horrible clothes. I think she liked dogs and hipsters and the internet. I didn’t like anything that she liked so I couldn’t really bridge the gap with subjects of her interest unless I faked it. Well I didn’t dislike dogs really, just people who were obsessed with them. Her dog was a pretty bad dog. One of those skittish, formerly mistreated, totally destructive creatures that can do no wrong because of their unfortunate past. Believe me, I don’t blame a dog for anything it does but their owners can be tedious.
“How’s Snippy doing?” I asked.
“She’s dead.”
“Oh. That’s too bad. I’m sorry.”
Well I have to admit I was feeling pangs of defeat. And as I pointed out previously, I’m kind of lazy when it comes to thinking things out. Even though not a believer I found myself asking God if he planned on making everything that could possibly go wrong go wrong. I often found myself asking that question when a series of misfortunes befell me. I was pretty sure that the reality was that when you noticed something going wrong and were particularly annoyed by it you would immediately develop a heightened sense of effrontery. And I think you can attribute a lot of human misery to this idea: When things go wrong and you think there are forces against you it will cause you to eventually lash out senselessly. But I was restraining myself. For once I thought I have to marshall the crackling sparks of my brain into some sort of order and not allow that smoking apparatus to cloud my resolve. I couldn’t be lazy though I was dying to be!
“Doris” I said, “Would you join me for a minute?”
She came over and sat down across from me. She put her book on the table and I saw that it was a book about lucky charms and folk incantations. I bit my tongue and folded my hands in front of me on the table. I touched the spine of her book with my finger tip and then tapped it.
“I want to ask you a question but I don’t want you to answer right away. I want you to think about it for at least thirty seconds. Ok?”
“What question?”
“Well, I know you don’t really like me very much and I just want to know why.”
“I think you’re a rat.” She said.
“Well, that wasn’t thirty seconds but I guess that idea is pretty well formed.”
“It is.”
It’s funny that I was not at all surprised by her answer. In fact it was pretty much exactly what I thought she thought but hearing it still shook me. I didn’t’ mind being considered an eccentric person or a non-serious person. I didn’t mind having a criminal history or being unsophisticated. But the thought of being a simple rat was disturbing. And right then and there I could grasp that I was being rat like at that very moment by pursuing the engagement of this girl. If some girl I simply didn’t like kept pursuing me I would consider her to be a creepy rat and the more she pursued me the creepier and rattier I would think she was. I really was a big believer in leaving people alone if they wanted to be left alone. But wasn’t I trying to make her my un-girlfriend? Didn’t I want her to be mine without being mine? I thought I would take a chance. But then I stopped and asked myself if I had thought it through. How could I think it through? It was like trying to build a computer with twigs! I just had to say it.
“If you’ll be mine I’ll leave you alone.”
She stared at me and I noticed that there was a very big emptiness in her eyes. The liquid sparkle of depth and comprehension was very vague and it occurred to me that the girl was missing something that most people had. And then it hit me that she had no personality at all and a second torpedo hit me making me realize that that was exactly why I was attracted to her. Her upside down mouth and other doll like features were the very un human characteristics that drew me in. It was the laziness of my emotional mind coming to the foreground. I did not want a girlfriend. I wanted a giant doll! Some creature that could be put away into a corner without any feelings of guilt. It was an endless battle. In every girlfriend I discovered a person who needed constant care and attention. I was too lazy to do it. I could not face the strain of engagement. And though I would make up excuses for being that way, like, I have too much to do, or more important things to worry about, I knew I was afflicted with a serious defect. And then it crossed my mind that maybe she understood that she had no personality and as such regarded me as creepy for being attracted to a person like her. I kept looking into her eyes and wondering. She gave a slight cough and said, ‘Have you ever thought about seeing a psychologist?”
“No,” I responded, “I’ve never even thought about it. I have a personality.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“People without personalities go to psychologists. They go in the hope that the psychologist will build them a personality.”
I had no idea what I was talking about but I was willing to bet that she, like so many other hipsters in our town, saw a mental health professional and I once again saw myself digging into her emotions with the idea that something would come undone and give me some sort of purchase. Really, I was biding time with provocative small caliber shots from my limbic system while another part of my brain tried to formulate a tactic and then a strategy. Basically, I was thinking backwards.
“Just what do you mean by ‘be mine’.“ She asked.
I couldn’t believe it. A real question! A real question about our potential future non-relationship! 
“Well,” I said, “You have to hear me out. I have this idea about having a girlfriend without a girlfriend. I’m sure you’ve read Wise Blood and remember how Hazel T Motes wanted to create a Church of Jesus without Jesus and…”
“That’s not what he wanted.” She interrupted.
“What?”
“He didn’t want to create a Church of Jesus without Jesus. He wanted to create a Church of Truth without Jesus.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
How do you continue a sensitive conversation when the very beginning implodes and makes you look like such a peon? I was really counting on the literary reference to lend a tad of legitimacy to my idea. Now it didn’t even have a tad of legitimacy. I felt like I’d just gone over a waterfall and I looked around the little book shop cafe for something else to fixate on. The girl sat there looking at me. Outside a garbage truck lumbered by with two dirty men hanging on the back. Someone dropped a fork or something behind me an I could hear air coming out of a vent. I wondered what I should be thinking at that very moment. But was useless. I had to let go of all my ideas about this girl and do the laziest thing of all—tell the unvarnished truth.
“Look,” I said. “I’m going to tell you the facts. I’m attracted to you for some reason but I don’t like you. What can I do with something like that?”
She made a funny face and got up from her chair. She put her book back in the cart and then tugged up her ski pants as she walked to the door. I was thinking, “What a little thug.” when she turned around and said, “Gosh, I’ll have to think about that,” and then walked out the door. I sat there thinking that I must be insane while at the same time thinking, “Well, I really don’t like her!” And just as I was thinking that she came back in, walked up to me, and asked why I didn’t like her. 
I had to laugh.
“Why does it matter?” I asked.
At that moment the lady who ran the little book store cafe came up to us and told us we were making too much noise and must leave. I couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t like we were in a library! There were people slurping soup and chomping away on stiff biscuits all around us.
“You must be kidding.” I said.
“No, I’m not.” She replied.
“Jesus,” I said to Doris, “We’re being kicked out of a place in Waynesboro! That’s something for the books!”
But she didn’t seem to see anything funny about it.
We both went out the door and I said, “Should we do something?”
“Like what?”
“I could go skiing with you.”
“But you don’t like me.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t ski by you does it?”
“What else?”
“What do you mean?”
“What else can we do?”
“Well, we could eat food somewhere?”
“But you don’t like me.”
“We could still eat together.”
“What else?”
“What do you mean?”
“What else could we do?”
“Well, we could do anything any other pair of people do together. We just wouldn’t like each other while we’re doing it.”
“I don’t know why I’m beginning to appreciate this idea.” She said.
“I tell you, I think it’s going to be the wave of the future.”
“I think you may be right.”
We walked off down the street under the massive chimneys of the Dupont factory, hand not in hand, disliking each other pleasantly, as we both pondered years of anticipation and folly.

VISITING FEAR

February 9, 2017

I almost had a disaster while flying an airplane. Sometimes I wonder if it was the most frightening thing I ever experienced. It’s hard to tell for sure. I’ve had a loaded gun aimed at me and I’ve been threatened with knives, however those things, along with other frightening incidents were very quick and they didn’t get a chance to dig into my psyche. Shortly after the airplane incident I saw a girl I knew and she said I looked pale and unusual. I don’t remember anyone ever having said that I looked frightened. But I must have looked that way because this girl mentioned it before I even told her what had happened. At the time I’m not sure how much fear I actually felt. It seemed like I felt a sort of shock along with a suspension of belief or maybe a difficulty in absorbing what had happened. There was also an element of pleasure that may have been perverse. When I think about it now, however, I can definitely feel fear and it’s been years. It’s just one of those things where you think back and ask yourself, “What could you have been thinking? What was it like?” You want to relive it now and then to see how it feels. I’ll tell you, it does make you feel fear, though it may be a different kind of fear depending on your mood and your surroundings as you recall it. The terror has various elements, some irrational and some horribly rational. The actual incident took about eight minutes. Eight minutes of terror and a frantic marshaling of thoughts and physical movements. My mind, my hands, and my feet were the three things that could save me. They seemed like awfully weak little things at the time. But there was nothing else.

I was going to be doing my first solo cross country flight. The cross country term is a bit of a misnomer since you really weren’t flying across the country. You just had to fly to three different airports, one after another, which were at least fifty miles apart. So you were going to fly around two hundred miles and land at three airports. I was a student pilot and at that time I probably had about thirty hours of flying logged in, half of which was solo work. I cannot tell you why I wanted to become a pilot. I don’ remember ever thinking that I wanted to be a pilot. But one day I woke up and thought, “I’m going to take flying lessons.” I could have just as easily woke up and said, “I’m going to get a haircut.” There was no reason for it. But once I started flying I did like it. I enjoyed the precision of the machine and all its parts. I liked being in this small pod surrounded by complicated things. I liked learning about what everything did. There were so many little buttons, levers, wheels, fuses, pedals, knobs, and touchable things which controlled the plane. Their complexity lent you a feeling of security, like there was an intelligence melded to the machine. You could imagine that the system would not allow things to go too wrong. Like many hours of engineering and mathematical work were purring deep inside the works, watching out for errors and drawing you to attention if you went astray in your manipulations. But above all of that, when I was in the plane, I had the same sense of adventure and play that I had as a child when I climbed into a box and pretended to be in some sort of traveling vessel. Like the machine that was going to take you to across the Mongolian Steppes or to a dark rainy planet. It was a good feeling to revisit. Flying was very much a thought and a belief, a trust in the good side of imagination. You could fly a plane with no more force than it would take you to move a feather. It was far away from beating things into shape with hammers or tearing food out of the earth with rough hands. There was a delicacy to things. I liked it. I would think to myself that I wanted to be delicate and fine way up in the sky. It was like you were doing something that had a very serious physical component but you were mostly using you mind. There was a lot more thinking than moving. The movements were tiny. It was just the opposite of everything I’d been doing all my life. I’d used a lot of force without much thinking about it. Now I was on the other side for brief periods. It was beautiful and strange because there was a feeling in my gut—something like the confluence of intelligence, adventure, and terror. That was real. I didn’t know it very well but I knew it well enough.

The first part of my cross country flight was a long meeting with my flight instructor at the ground school. Here is the basic rule concerning your planing for a flight: You must make yourself familiar with every possible thing that could affect your flight. Weather, airports, traffic, radio frequencies, maps, your physical condition, the plane’s physical condition, documents, intentions, inspections, fuel, your level of skill, and on and on. There is no way you could really know everything that could affect your flight. For instance you couldn’t know that a bird will fly into your engine or a piece of the plane will fall to earth. But I’ll tell you, you do want to know as much as possible. I’m not saying that in the pedantic sense but in the gut feeling sense. You DO want to know. So you sit there and go over all sorts of things. The weather is a big deal when you’re flying. You want to know what it is like out there and then you really want to know what it is going to be like later on when you’re skimming through the sky. There are all sorts of resources for weather information and interestingly the reports are all coded in a manner that make one think of spy communications. I always thought that there was a psychological component to the complex way weather information is presented to pilots. It is very esoteric and it makes you think that there are super smart people out there somewhere who know things you can’t know and who can prognosticate in their rarified world with much better results than the local weather man who seems to be wrong so often. But the complicated reports, in reality, are as wrong as often as everyone else. Still, you feel better about them. Like, “I’ve figured out this code. I know the secret. It’s going to rain at three o’clock and not a minute sooner. I can go!” I guess in theory, at least, you could say, “Look, it said it was going to be nice out! That’s what I based my flight on!” The fickle weather had a major part to play in my disaster. It was not what it was supposed to be. But that wasn’t the ultimate disaster part. It was just the contextual terror.

So I sat there in the ground school with my flight instructor and went over everything. The kind of minutiae you review is like this: FUEL— I’m going to use X fuel warming up the plane. I’m going to use X fuel taxiing to the run way. I’m going to use X fuel taking off and climbing out to altitude. I am going to use X fuel in transit because of this altitude, this air density, this head or tail wind, the leanness of my engine mixture, etc.. It’s like you try to compute your fuel usage down to the tablespoon. Before you start the plane you dip a stick into the fuel tank to physically see how much fuel you have. Generally you fill the tanks to the brim no matter what kind of flight you’re planning. It’s so obvious! Fuel! You gotta have it! Anyway, we go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and all looks to be in order. I seem to know what to do. My flight instructor looks in my log book and ensures that all the preliminary requirements which allow me to do my first solo cross country have been signed off. He shakes his head at the endless rules and phrases then tosses me the book. I remember thinking, “How can he know what I know? Do I know enough?” This flight instructor is a real nice guy who is some big shot at a pharmaceutical company but who loves flying more than anything. He really was a good instructor. I think he about died when I did what I did. I had been through two flight instructors before him. My first one had a crooked eye which was slightly disconcerting considering the importance of visual acuity while flying, but he was very jovial and laid back. I remember him calmly saying “Whoa!” (as in you’re about to crash) during my first landings which were rough and he pointed out that I’d spelled pilot wrong on some form I had to fill out. I spelled it “piolet” Pee oh lay! I remember staring down at the word, not embarrassed, but amazed that pilot was not spelled the way I would have sworn it was. I really had tremendous hubris about some things. But not flying. It was one of the rare things I actually took seriously. That first flight instructor left to become an airline pilot which was his dream job. My second flight instructor was the son of Laura Ashely. He was very British in the stiff upper lip sort of way and he was a stickler for details. He taught me some important stuff via strange methods which combined military flight training with aristocratic snobbery. I once accused him of not having a very good sense of humor and he responded by asking if he should come to flight school with his underwear on his head to allay my impression. I wanted to say, “Yes, you would think that was funny.” His favorite thing to do was distract me with some gossipy conversation while we were flying and then suddenly point out that I was fucking up everything because I was not paying strict attention to the machine and our situation. I thought it was a mean thing to do but it turned out to be a valuable lesson. You can daydream in a classroom or while driving a car. You CAN daydream while flying a plane and there are many aspects of flying that incline you to do so. But you cannot let go and really sink into a daydream without taking a big chance. David Ashely neatly clipped my propensity to stray from the plane’s needs. After returning from my first solo flight he seemed to think his job was done and advised me to just go flying and have fun. Then he just vanished. I don’t know what happened to him. Looking back I think I had the perfect trio of flight instructors. The first one set me at ease about flying by being so laid back. The second one burned serious thoughts into my head by mortifying me and testing me constantly. And my third one was a natural born pilot who integrated many ideas into my sense of flying by simply being a good teacher . Later, when I was doing instrument training I had all sorts of instructors from diverse walks of life but my first three were my real flight teachers. Anyway, my flight instructor signed off on my flight plan and sent me out to the plane for my first solo cross country. I was not the least bit worried about anything.

It was a nice morning with clear skies and an occasional gentle breeze. The weather was expected to remain pleasant. Today I was going the furthest away by myself and I was ready. I packed my flight bag, inspected the airplane, and put out my maps. I did the engine run up which tests various systems along with the engine and made sure all my flight controls were free and correct. When I thought all was in order I filed a flight plan via the radio, and took off for the south. My first airport was in South Boston. On the way there I flew over my house and looked at things. I looked at my roof, the horses, the dogs and the cat. I looked at the little paths my pets made around my place. You didn’t really notice them when you were on the ground but from a couple thousand feet they were very distinct. I could see the Y of death where the dogs would run out into the field, and then split off to surround a doomed ground hog. They obviously did it often and with a consistent tactic. When I flew over the animals I liked thinking, “What if they knew their human was up their buzzing by in a machine? Would they even look up?” I doubted if they would. After I passed my house I climbed to just under 3000 feet, communicated with Potomac Approach to request flight following which allows them to keep a kind of passive track on me, and settled into computing distances and directions. Potomac gave me a frequency for my transceiver so they see me better on radar. It didn’t take long to get down to South Boston and the only thing I remember doing on the way was looking at the Norfolk Southern rail line trying to see a train. After an uneventful forty five minute flight I landed at the airport in South Boston and then immediately took off again heading to the second airport which was in Brookneal. Again, I flew for about half and hour or so and with a little difficulty, found the airport. You would be surprised how hard it can be to find a small airport in rural Virginia. I was not shy about admitting it when I couldn’t find an airport. I would call Potomac Approach and say, “I’m a student pilot and I’m lost.” I liked saying I was a student pilot because that was an excuse for not knowing what you were doing. I’m pretty sure if I were about to crash a 747 I would claim to be a student pilot because it would make me feel better for a few seconds. Even with my transceiver blasting out a signal I was always amazed that Potomac Approach could find me precisely all the way from up around DC and say, “Turn to heading blah, blah, blah, and the airport will be three miles directly in front of you.” It was like magic and it always worked. This time I found the tiny airport on my own. I landed in Brookneal and took off five minutes later after sitting behind two baulking planes waiting to take off in front of me. The third airport was in Farmville. I flew over there and made my landing and take off. Now all I had to do was make it back home.

There are all sorts of complications regarding which way you think you are heading and which way you are actually heading when you fly a plane. There are variations in the magnetic field of the earth which have to be accounted for depending on where you are . There are deviations caused by metal in the aircraft. The directional gyro, which is set to the compass, and has the ability to maintain rigid and therefor accurate direction in three dimensions, is an amazing machine. It can remain very accurate even after all sorts of jarring maneuvers and it is generally the instrument you use to determine your direction insofar as manipulating the controls are concerned. But you have to set if from the compass. It always struck me as strange that such a technical marvel as a modern airplane still used a device that was invented around 200 BC. You learned all sorts of things about a compass. You learned how, in the old days, pilots would break them open and drink the alcohol out of them when hard pressed for booze. You learned the myriad ways that they could lead you astray and all the formulas for countering their sensitivity. You could do all this stuff and compute till your head spun, but ultimately you would have to pick a number from the compass to apply to the gyro and hope it was right. When I left that last airport I did something at least slightly wrong.

I guess I’d been flying along for about half an hour before I realized that I was lost. I could have called Potomac approach and asked for a vector but I wasn’t really worried about it. I knew I would hit the James river eventually and that I could then find Scottsville which would orient me. A few minutes later I saw the James and the town of Scottsville. And then two things happened at the same time which gave me the first pangs of concern. I looked at my gas gauges and saw that they were both reading quite low. And then I looked at Scottsville and realized that it was not Scottsville. This was where the strange constellation of ideas which make sense and those which don’t make sense collide. I thought, “There is no way I burned that much fuel! It simply didn’t happen.” I should have been able to fly around for four hours or so on full tanks and I’d only flown around two and a half hours. I also thought about the fact that fuel gages in airplanes are notoriously unreliable. I assumed that was one of the reasons why you used a stick to physically see how much fuel was in your plane before you took off. “Have I overlooked something that everyone else knows?” I wondered. I begin to think about what I know and do not know about my flight. I, once again, have the thought, “Who decided that I know how to fly an airplane? How do they really know?” I had thought this many times. Or the slightly more disturbing thought, “I can’t believe they let me do this.” It was almost like I’d never expected to be flying an airplane and when I was flying an airplane it seemed like a surprise. If I had read the giant book called the F.A.R./A.I.M. ( Federal Aviation Rules/Airman’s Information Manual) from stem to stern I would have come across the rules about fuel gages in airplanes. I had read large portions of the book but there were chapters which were almost impossible to bear because of their particularly federal denseness. I really should have read the whole thing. This is the bizarre rule: The fuel gages must be accurate when the fuel tanks are full and they must be accurate when the fuel tanks are empty. The implication is that for all readings in-between the gages can say anything. And I can tell you they do. That’s why I didn’t pay much attention to it. But if I had read that little passage I would have more inclined to believe I was really running low on fuel instead of completely not believing it. Well that’s not strictly accurate. I had a small idea that I might be low on fuel somehow. I was getting ready to call Potomac approach and tell them I was lost when I looked out and saw the face of the Red Hill quarry about 15 or 20 miles away. I didn’t know just where I was but I knew where I had to go and so I set off in that direction. On the way to Red Hill I looked at my fuel gages a few times to see if I could notice any unusual fluctuations but they just read low and stayed there so I tried to stop worrying about them. About the time I crossed Red Hill I tuned into a special frequency that transmitted an automatic report on conditions at the Charlottesville airport. There was nothing special going on there except for a bit of a cross wind. I wasn’t thrilled about hearing that because cross wind landings were one thing I was somewhat apprehensive about. To this day I still regard a cross wind landing as a throwing of the dice. You may have the wind coming across the run way at ten miles per hour and they will be able to tell you that, but the chances of the wind really blowing across the runway at a steady ten miles per hour are pretty slim. All it takes is a one second gust up to twenty miles per hour at the moment you’re landing and everything will be different. It sounded like there was about a fifteen mile an hour cross wind blowing across the runway. Every airplane was rated to deal with a certain crosswind component. Jets and large propeller planes can handle significant crosswinds because they’re heavy and still going relatively fast when they land which reduces the effect of the crosswind. But the little Cessnas I flew were like insects. The one I rented when I flew was rated to handle a crosswind of around 20 miles per hour. Student pilots were also rated for a certain crosswind capability and this number was entered into your logbook by the instructor. The number increased with time and skill. I was rated to handle around an eight mile an hour cross wind. But these rules were very inconsistently applied. There was a sort of rule that overrode a lot of other rules. It was a rule that said “for the purposes of training you can override all sorts of rules.” I never saw that rule written out anywhere but a number of flight instructors had told me about it, usually after some bizarre maneuver. Strictly speaking I should have called the airport and told them that I would need to go to another airport where the cross winds were lower. But I didn’t. If I could possibly be low on fuel I wouldn’t want to be flying further away. That was a thought. But I still didn’t really believe I was low on fuel. I know I didn’t believe it because about eight miles from the airport I decided to fly over Charlottesville and look down at the mall to see if I saw anyone I knew. It was a small deviation but I often look back at that few minutes when I was circling Charlottesville and think that it was one of those major “what if” moments that probably changed my life. It makes me cringe to think of what would have happened if I had flown straight to the airport. After leaving Charlottesville I radioed the airport and told them where I was and what my intentions were. They told me which runway was in use and mentioned that there was a pretty stiff crosswind gusting up to twenty miles per hour. When they said that I began to feel some more concern. It was like this little chemical mixture started brewing inside me. Something that made all my senses sharpen up and stretch out. When I got near the airport and was descending I looked down and was surprised to see how much the tops of the trees were swaying. I remember thinking that they looked like seaweed moving in a fast stream. This definitely put some fear in me. Since I’d begun flying I viewed wind in a totally different way than I had ever before. It was like this thing that was waiting for me, waiting to see how I would like it when it started pushing things around. Whenever I was on my way in for a flight I found myself looking for every possible clue as to what the wind was doing. I would look closely at flags and smoke. I would notice little bits of paper blowing down the street and try to determine how fast they were going. Used car lots were useful for all their bunting and banners twirling and flapping. But the things you could always see were trees. I had learned early on in my flying experiences that when you could see trees moving there was wind of aeronautic importance. I entered the pattern and was about 1200 feet off the ground. I could feel the wind trying to push me out of line and my body tensed up. I turned into the base leg which was the last turn before the final approach and I could feel the plane slow down significantly as I flew directly into the wind. I knew then that it was coming across the runway at a near perfect right angle. I could tell it was going to be a difficult landing and I was definitely nervous but I wasn’t thinking that things had reached a critical stage. It doesn’t really cross your mind that, “I’m not going to be able to land.” Obviously, you have no choice. Eventually you will land no matter what. But you can definitely worry about it. As I turned into the final approach I felt the plane trying to twist away from me as the wind pushed us out of line with the runway. To realign myself I crabbed the nose into the wind so that I was flying in line with the runway. This causes a somewhat uncomfortable feeling because you are flying straight down the runway but your plane is turned to the side to counter the cross wind. Whenever I did this I found myself twisting my body because of some irrepressible belief that I could force the plane to move a little more like I wanted it to. My hands and feet on the controls didn’t seem like enough. Sometimes, when I was struggling with an airplane, I would think of the phrase, “humans were never met to fly,” which would come up now and then with regard to sensory illusions in the cockpit. I was always suspicious of that phrase because I didn’t really think we were any more or less made to drive a car than fly a plane but maybe there was something to it. The sensation of suddenly being weightless or being pressed down so the blood goes out of your head doesn’t really happen in a car unless you’re in an accident. But it happens in a plane and your body just can’t believe it sometimes. There’s a fair tome of work with regard to the human body’s misinterpretation of reality while operating airplanes. Essentially it’s like operating in three dimensions is just a little too much for the human mind to properly process. So for a crosswind landing using the crab technique, in theory, just before you touchdown the wheels, you will straighten out the plane. It is a split second movement which I had done a number of times but not in a wind this strong. The runway at Charlottesville is a little over six thousand feet long. Within the first five hundred feet of concrete I was down to five or six feet above ground. But I could not get the plane down. The wind was pushing so hard that I was crabbed much further than ever before and I just couldn’t get the machine stabilized enough to finish my landing. I flew the whole length of the runway trying to get down. Most of the time I was probably going 60 or 70 miles per hour but it didn’t’ feel like I was going very fast. It never seems like you’re going very fast in a small plane because everything around you is so big. But you are moving fast enough to destroy things. At the end of the runway I radioed the tower and told them I was going to abort the landing and would try again. Just before I jammed in the throttle and began climbing I saw some of the personnel from my flight school standing out side watching me. I had the unpleasant thought that you can gather to watch a plane crash whereas you couldn’t really hang out on the highway and say, “I think we’ll watch some car crash.” I began to feel more fear. I took the plane back up to around 1200 feet and made the turns of the pattern. I tried to resist looking down at the trees again but I had to and they looked even worse than just a few minutes before. When I was halfway through the pattern I called the tower and reported that I was “midfield” which let them determine whether or not another plane could land or take off before me. They acknowledged my notification but that was all. I could hear a curt somberness in the air traffic controller’s voice. Like he didn’t want to tell me about the crosswind again, which would be the normal thing to do under those conditions, because he knew my plate was full. I was afraid. I was shaking and I knew there was cold sweat forming on my skin. As I turned into the base leg, about a thousand feet up, the most horrible thing happened. The engine began to cough and die. Most people are familiar with that little pang of fright when your car engine falters on the highway. That unexpected drop in power and speed that just comes out of no where. It is really hard to convey what that loss of power and the sound of an engine dying feels like in an airplane. It was such a terrifying feeling, almost like a real electric shock going through my body. I frantically pumped the throttle and the engine caught and ran. The impossible thing had become possible and then actual in a matter of seconds. I thought, “I may very well be crashing an airplane.” I wasn’t watching it on TV or reading about it somewhere. I was really going to crash an airplane all by myself and I was going to get to think about it for a few moments before it happened. I really should have called the tower at that instant and notified them that I was critically low on fuel. There were many reasons I should have done that. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was too much of a horror to tell them, “I not only can’t handle this crosswind but I’ve run my machine out of fuel too. I’ll be coming down.” Having to say it seemed like it would make it even more true though it was clearly true enough. I also felt like every molecule of my brain wanted to focus on making the engine run and keeping the airplane under my control. I didn’t pray or beg, I just thought, “Run run run!” I didn’t look at my fuel gages or any of the instruments or think about the radio. Everything was about flying. It was strange. I was coming down and I know it took awhile to fly down the runway again but I don’t really remember it very clearly. It was like the terror eased a little bit of my memory into the fog while I was zooming along that six thousand feet of concrete. I tried and tried to get the plane down but I thought I would crash if the wheels hit the ground while the wind was blowing so hard. My body was feeling so many things at once. It felt the plane, the gravity, the wind, and the chemical blasts of my endocrine system reacting to atavistic notions of survival. I twisted and turned in my seat. I leaned my shoulders into the wind. I pushed the rudder, the ailerons, and the elevators. The movements of my body were trying to react against something I could not see but only feel. The wind was not steady. It would not let me get a grip on it. Every time I came close to dropping the plane the wind would crush over my wings and tilt me horribly out of control. There seemed to be one last dictum making itself known to my mind and that was ALWAYS FLY THE PLANE. I guess years and years of records about airplane crashes showed that sometimes people were so terrified or stymied that they just let go of the controls as if there was simply nothing left to do. I could feel the overwhelming confluence of disasters trying to take the plane from me and I wondered if maybe I had already lost control and didn’t know it. And then at the very end of the runway, when I was just about to abort and try again, the engine completely died. I could just hear air rushing by. It sounded relatively peaceful compared to the sound of the formerly roaring engine. It was like I was suddenly in a large empty church, in front of a big screen full of earthly objects rushing towards me. I called the tower and said, “My engine’s gone. I’m coming down.” I said to myself, “I am going to crash someone’s airplane.” It was funny that that is what I thought. I didn’t think that I was going to be killed or even hurt. I just felt a mortification that I was going to destroy some magnificent machine that belonged to someone else and had been flying just fine for many years. I pushed the wheel forward and manipulated the rudder and ailerons to make the plane come down. I hit the ground hard and one of my wings tilted over precariously. Just when it was about to scrape the ground the wind relented for a moment and I straightened up. The blue lights at the end of the runway were right in front of me. I thought I would surely hit one of them and tear a wheel off but I went right between two of them and then off into the grass at the end of the runway. There was a fence in front of me so I turned sharply and rolled down a hill. I came to a stop down in a little gully. I and the plane were unscathed. I radioed the tower and told them I was ok and that the plane was ok. They told me to get out of the aircraft and get away from it because I guess they’d assumed I had done some damage and were afraid it was going to catch on fire. But the wind was blowing hard and I knew the plane would sail away if I got out and let off the brakes. The parking brakes on a plane were very much like the fuel gages—they didn’t quite work right. I wasn’t about to let the plane blow into a building or something after all of that so I stayed put with my feet on the brakes. The emergency personnel showed up followed by a bunch of flight instructors. My flight instructor, called me on my cell and asked what happened. “I ran out of fuel.” I said. I saw him standing outside the fence, the very fence I almost hit, with his fingers laced through the chain links. I felt sorry for him. The airport was closed and the state police were called. It was a big deal. A truck came down to tow the plane back up to the hanger complex. There the flight instructors checked the fuel tanks with sticks. They were bone dry.

We all went into the flight school office where I was met by a Virginia state trooper. He put his face right into my face while he asked his initial questions. I think he was trying to smell alcohol. The officer seemed to be treating the incident like I had been in an auto crash. But I didn’t crash. It was more like I had just skidded off the road. I could have (If I’d had fuel) turned around the plane, taxied up to the runway, and taken off again. The owner of the flight school said I might have to go up to the tower office and talk to the airport administrator. I wasn’t worried about any of it. All I could think was that I’d landed the airplane and didn’t crash. The trooper went out to look at the plane and then came back and filled out some sort of accident report. Then we all went back out to the airplane and inspected it. We looked for fuel leaks which would show up as red or green streaks down the surface of the plane. Aside from being very pure, the fuel for an airplane is dyed so that if there is a leak you can see where it came out. Then the flight instructors, including mine, started grilling me about the flight. They wanted to know about the altitudes I had flown and my fuel mixture settings. In the end they seemed to agree that I hadn’t leaned out the mixture enough during the flight. In fact, I hadn’t leaned out the mixture at all. Generally you don’t need to mess around with the fuel mixture if you’re flying below 3000 feet. I stayed just below 3000 for all of the flight. But there needed to be some reason and that was the one they picked.

Everyone who saw me land said that it was a great landing, under such adverse conditions, one that many licensed pilots probably couldn’t do. But, and it was a big but, I ran out of fuel. It’s a fairly common cause of small plane emergencies and so at flight school it’s driven over and over again into your head that you calculate your fuel supply and usage very carefully. There are even rules about how much fuel you must have on hand when you land at your destination. You need to have enough to fly for another 30-45 minutes depending on whether it’s day or night. I had run out of gas in cars and done some walks of shame down the highway with a gas can. But this was much worse. Pilots are very aware of each other’s reputed skills and behaviors. Now I would have a reputation as a pilot who’d run out of gas. I didn’t like that idea, but it did not bother me as much as it might have. Somehow, making the landing without smashing up seemed to make a lot of incidental fallout more tolerable.

Several weeks later someone else was flying the same plane and it almost ran out of fuel again. The flight school called Cessna and the technical people said there was no way that plane could burn as much fuel as it appeared to have burned. The plane was taken out of service and the engine disassembled. The mechanics discovered a freak bit of wear in part of the carburetor butterfly valve. Somehow this loose part was actuating an accelerator pump repeatedly which was engorging the engine with fuel. It was really an unusual thing to have happen. When I was told about this I felt somewhat exonerated. It was still my fault because of my not knowing about the fuel gages, but it was better.

The thing I fixate on is my slight detour over Charlottesville. Had I not done it I would have been sent to Gordonsville airport some miles away after my last abort. Evidently the air traffic controller was about to issue that suggestion just as my engine died. I would have climbed to a couple thousand feet and headed east. My engine would have stopped a couple miles away from the Charlottesville airport and then I would have to come down into a field or an empty straight road under very windy conditions. Because of the hills and the curvy roads I would have had a hard time making an emergency landing. I have relived this scenario a number of times and it bothers me more than the actual incident. It is such a real “what if” because my detour to Charlottesville was so arbitrary and spontaneous.

My feelings about flying are what I would call somewhat indifferent. I grew up, not around airplanes per se, but around the history of aviation. I think that makes me somewhat more interested in the idea of flying than actually flying. A lot of actual flying is just staring off into the great nothingness. If you’re up high the stuff on the ground is pretty homogenous. You could be driving a bus. You could fall asleep. But the history, the going off the ground and out into the sky—that’s important to me. My grandmother, as a child, played with the Wright brother’s niece and the house I grew up in was built on the country’s first private runway. As a little kid I would dig holes in the back yard and find pieces of asphalt and concrete. Jets from Wright Patterson Air Force Base would streak over our house and cause sonic booms that would shake your windows and make people jump. We loved a good sonic boom! During my life time we left the planet which I compare to some ancient human floating out onto a lake on a log, the first tiny step into something that will be utterly transformative to human beings. Just think of it. Out of all the thousands of years of modern human existence we are living in the time of the first steps away from here. For some reason that means a lot to me.

I went flying the day after my incident. My instructor thought I should get back on the horse immediately and I agreed. I actually felt even more comfortable flying after the incident. It was like I thought, “My horrible thing has happened.” I also found myself thinking that I was glad that it happened to me. I mean, how many people can say, “I ran out of fuel while flying an airplane.” It was something that happened to me. It will go into my catalogue of things that I will be able to think about when I’m sitting before the fire having a whiskey, too old to actually do anything else. I’m glad I have it.

RAW CHINESE

November 25, 2016

I pulled up to the stop light and looked down into the car next to me. There was a small Chinese girl sitting there with her mouth hanging open, staring off into nothing, and running her hands over her shoulders which were covered with a thick, brilliant white, furry coat. She was very attractive which was surprising to me since I generally was not attracted to Asian women. I could not figure out why she was so fetching and I was really transfixed. So transfixed that I didn’t notice when the dude who was driving the car with the Chinese girl in it got out and came around to my truck. He was not Asian but plain white and very thick around the crucial fighting points, i.e. the arms, legs, and neck. He had a shaved head and was wearing a big shiny metal watch. Just about when he got to my door the light turned green so I drove away waving down at the girl as I passed her. The dude ran back to his car, jumped in, and took off after me. His car was one of those things they call a tuner which I guess is the contemporary version of a hot rod. It had a high pitched little engine that screamed through the gears as it came after me. I kept going down the highway in my old truck which had a giant gas hog V8 in it. It had a lot of power but it was very socially crippled because of its hydrocarbon consumption. I liked it for the simple reason that it separated me from the contemporary man. It helped let the world know that I was backward and slow and that I liked raw force for the sake of raw force. The dude’s tuner was agile, high tech, fast as hell, and it got great gas milage! The modern man was after me in his tuner which was screaming like a mosquito as it bolted down the lanes.
When he was right on my tail I blasted off my engine and cowled his tuner in a thick black smoke that you could probably feel between your fingers and certainly taste in your mouth. I wasn’t worried about what the Chinese girl thought about it because I figured she wouldn’t understand what was happening and at any rate was probably used to thick smoke in her lungs if she was from China. That was another thing about being a slow backward man. I could take one look at someone and make all sorts of judgments. I was happy to do it. Of course I was wrong time after time but who cares? I sure didn’t. I could see the girl in my rearview mirror and her countenance hadn’t changed at all which I found to be very interesting. The guy was making all sorts of faces and punching his fingers away on his smart phone. I wondered if he could be downloading an app which might make his car faster. Or maybe he was downloading a weapon! What if he could download a Taser? I wouldn’t put it past these people today. Their world was to me almost magic. The things they could do! Now I was at another stop light and he pulled up next to me and jumped out of his car again. But the light changed and I drove away right as he got to my door. I waved at the girl again and smiled my best smile. She smiled back! Now I really wanted the dude in the tuner to follow me. I thought that there must be some way for me to get my hands on that Chinese girl. We raced down the main corridor that came into our town from the north and three times in a row stopped at lights where the modern man jumped out of his car to get me and three times in a row I simply drove off before he could. He was chasing me and I was chasing his woman. If he only knew! We came around a long sweeping corner and suddenly I heard a buzzing that sounded like it was on the roof of my car. I stuck my head out the window and looked up to see a drone flying along right over me. That dude had downloaded a drone! Now he came racing up next to me and the Chinese girl’s window came down. “You’ll never get away!” Shouted the dude over the girl’s head. “All I want is the girl!” I replied and then blasted down the gas pedal unleashing another choking cloud of soot and a formidable roar. I had it in my head that my truck might remind the Chinese girl of her home town in China assuming that she lived in a smoky, dirty, industrial hell hole. That’s what I was thinking when suddenly something grabbed my ear. Some part of the drone was holding on to my ear as it flew along right outside my window. Then I felt something being pushed into my ear. “An ear pod!” I thought. And sure enough a voice came through. “I’ve got a photo of you and your filthy truck on Facebook and you’re being shredded as we speak. I’ll have a live feed in another minute!” said the voice. The dude in the tuner had now established communications and I could guess that he had set up a “Pillory Page” for me on Facebook. “Can you hear me?” I asked.
“Yes. And so can the Facebook community.” replied the tuner dude. It was just as I thought. This guy was going to try to kill me using the internet. Our cars were running neck and neck allowing me to look right down at him and the Chinese girl who was now watching me on her phone.
“I only want your woman.” I said. “Also, do you know where I can buy some dirty black oil? I need to burn some more hydrocarbons.”
“Just keep talking.” said the dude.
I looked over and saw that they were on the other side of me now. The tuner was screaming along in first gear and sounded like a dentist’s drill boring through a molar. But he was probably using about a drop of gas per hour whereas I was burning cupfuls per minute. I wanted to tear away from them again but when I stomped down on my gas the engine blew a head gasket. I could tell this because of the squealing sound coming from under the hood and the copious amount of smoke coming out of my tail pipe as oil and water pumped into my cylinders. “Well that engine is gone.” I thought. But since it was still putting out some power I kept going. It looked like my truck was being followed by a oil well fire and my iphone alerted me to the fact that I was being mega-disliked on my Pillory Page. It was notorious but I was pretty excited about being so popular on Facebook. What a feeling! Over two million “dislike” hits and I didn’t have to do a thing! What connections the world could put together! The dislikes were pouring in by the thousands every few seconds. It was so invigorating. I could imagine people wringing their hands as they watched me pollute the air. And the tuner dude thought he was hurting me. He was helping me! I loved it! The rain of dislikes was like being in a refreshing shower, making my blood flow with fervor and my mind race along on endomorphs. It wasn’t that I really liked being a polluter. I mean I cared about the environment. I really did. I not only lived out in the country in my real life but had as a secret wish the desire to live in a simple hut in the woods without electricity or running water. That sounded extremely appealing to me, especially when I was in a giant grocery store or a giant traffic jam. I was one of those people who really didn’t need much or want much. Maybe it was from not wanting much that made me somewhat vigorous when I did want something. The dude driving the tuner had pretty much all I wanted at the moment, namely the Chinese girl. I know it sounds crude and mean to just want some dude’s girlfriend but, believe me, none of them care. We would trade girls like cold germs if we weren’t so bent on fighting over things. I never resisted some other guy’s attempts to steal one of my girlfriends. I always figured it was not up to me or the other dude but up to the girl being stolen. If she wanted to go what was I supposed to do about it? I mean really. I think that attitude came from having had several girlfriends who wanted to test my love for them by having me pummeled in a fight while defending their honor. I didn’t mind defending their honor but I did mind the fact that they had forfeited their honor by their own volition prior to my pummeling. Admittedly, those were girls of yore in the same way that I was not a modern man. Brute force really had a bigger role in past days. And maybe that was something that I missed. The intricate subtleties of contemporary behavior simple choked me down and left me gasping for air. People thought too much. I was too lazy to think. I preferred to misinterpret and then destroy evidence. It made me feel good to do that. I looked down and smiled at the Chinese girl and she saw me smile at her in the phone. She smiled down at her phone and I took a photo of her and posted it on my pillory page so that she could see that I saw her smiling. God damn! The things I didn’t understand! I had long accepted the fact that life transpired through social media. But in the era of energy concerns I couldn’t help but to think that there was something very wasteful about a smile having to be sent back and forth on the electromagnet spectrum, transferred from digits to pixels and God knows what else then back again. At the same time I didn’t want to be a frump about it. This was the way it was and just because I didn’t understand it didn’t make it wrong. In fact, in some strange way, I had to believe that it was right. That little tuner could blow away my truck because of the complicated secrets which resided in black boxes under the hood. My truck worked on the premise of iron and fire which had been around since the Newcomen steam engine which was invented about 1712. Why couldn’t I let go! I loved fire, iron, and smoke! Small, delicate, whispering machines just didn’t move me. And here I was after a Chinese girl who probably hated smoky factories and clanging iron. She probably wasn’t wearing that lush white fur coat for nothing. She couldn’t take her eyes off that phone with its quiet liquid flow of information. I wanted to catch her and force her out into the air. I wanted to roll her and her white coat in the dirt, throw her phone down a sewer, run my fingers through her hair and be a mess. I had thoughts of being raw and fundamental. But I knew I was wrong and for some reason I could feel the perception of my wrongness sapping the life right out of me. There was a reason the world was going the way it was going. The minds were displacing the bodies and the lives which could be lived through the mind were softer and less miserable. I didn’t want to be miserable but I didn’t want to leave my body either. I was one of those people who was simply too lucky and had too much fun with my body. My brutal truck and greasy clothes were vestiges of something I was losing. They were the tiny insignificant things I could control which prevented the past from completely snapping from the present. But it was absurd. And I knew it. I decided that I would go ahead and lose my mind. I stomped down on the accelerator and the grimy mill squeezed out a few more horsepower as I turned into the tuner and tried to run it off the road. Behind us a cloud of black smoke trailed and flattened out on the concrete as cars swerved and danced to their computer programs which were trying to figure out what pollution was. The Chinese girl was staring into her phone with a terrified look on her face and the tuner dude was shaking his fist at me with his giant metal watch bobbing up and down on his wrist. I could see that the watch didn’t have a face, like it was a strange little circle of nothing and I thought that it made sense that a contemporary watch would come right out of the factory without any ability to tell time. I had the tuner wedged up against a guard rail which was sending up blue and green sparks as the paint and galvanized metal burned each other. The Chinese girl held up her phone to the tuner dude’s face and was saying something to him. I imagined her saying, “According to the internet we are being squashed by a truck.” but who knows what she was saying. I could only have wild dreams about what she might be saying. Suddenly the guard rail stopped holding the tuner against my truck and we both went sailing into the air over a ravine. The Chinese girl was screaming and the tuner dude was frantically shifting gears and stomping down his accelerator in an effort to get away from the disaster. Parts were separating from my truck and winging through the air. I did not bother shifting gears or stomping the gas in an effort to get away from the disaster. I still believed in gravity and the doom it held for things flying high. But I admired the tuner dude for thinking that he could out maneuver the world. It really was a good way to be.

TRESPASS

April 21, 2016

The guy who sold me my M.G. Midget was named Miles and he looked like Tony Orlando from Tony Orlando and Dawn. Because he was so lowly in the sales chain his desk was in a half walled partitioned niche somewhat reminiscent of a baby crib. There was a bible on his desk. He also had a photo of a nice family sitting by his pencil jar but as I was to find out it wasn’t his family since his family didn’t have anything to do with him nor he with them. Miles was a consummate liar and charmer and I guess I knew that but when you’re buying a car on “the strip” which was the notorious street where sailors bought worthless junk, watched strippers, got drunk, and found whores, you aren’t going to do any better than Miles. In other words, there was a certain amount of resignation built into my psyche right off the bat when I started negotiating for my M.G. Midget. At fist they wanted 2 thousand dollars for this car so I offered 1500 which brought out a derisive laugh from Miles and caused him to go fetch the manager who, of course, was just another salesman. I guess I got my first real taste of theater on the car lots of Norfolk. It was an amazing display that Miles and David (the fake manager) put on for me. They leaned on the desk and stuck their faces in my face while I yawned and looked at my finger nails. They howled about my outrageous offers and scribbled meaningless numbers on pieces of paper. I ho-hummed as they referred to little black books and pulled out files referring to the history of my future M.G. Midget. I read my copy of Oliver Twist while they slobbered over an adding machine and crossed out numbers on sales contracts. When it was all done, I got the car for 1755 which was fine with me. Miles and David wanted to have a prayer with me after the contract was signed but I just couldn’t keep a straight face so I drove off in my tiny M.G. Midget, smoking a Kool, and letting the dirty streets of Norfolk hum under my snug new ride.

I drove the M.G. Midget around for about two weeks before the engine blew up. I couldn’t believe my eyes! When I went back to see Miles about this blown engine he said they could get me another engine for…about… 2 thousand dollars! I couldn’t believe my ears! I had my M.G. Midget towed to a shop run by the Navy where you could work on your own car. I took the engine out and found that it hadn’t blown up at all. A washer had fallen off of something and lodged between the flywheel and the bell housing causing the engine to seize. I was happy about that but I decided that I was going to kill Miles anyway. If that sounds like abrupt, unsound decision making you might want to keep in mind that I was a very young man in the Navy. The whole world was a different creature from where I’d come or where I would be going. In a nutshell—it was simple and to the point—perfect for a young man’s attention span. So I started hanging around at a bar which sat across the street from Miles’ car lot. I could only hang out there a couple nights a week because of my ship board duties so it wasn’t very efficient but eventually I was there one night when Miles came in with some scagg woman. I was sitting at a table in the corner by a cigarette machine drinking a coke and reading Interview with a Vampire. I was at a really good part of the book where Claudia was bemoaning her lack of sexual outlet so I was less excited about finally seeing Miles come in there than you might think. I waited with my head down in my book until Miles finally got up and went to the bathroom. He had to walk right by me so I was worried that he might make me out but he didn’t notice. After he’d been in the bathroom for about 30 seconds I went in. He was standing at the sink washing his face of all things. When he heard me walk in he started to turn around but I grabbed him around the neck and choked him down to the ground. I banged his head on the concrete floor twice and he was knocked out. I took out his wallet and took his money which was about 30 dollars and then flushed his ID down the toilet. I never really planned to kill him I guess but I bumped his head pretty hard on the concrete. That was not my first act of violence but it was the first time I’d actually hunted down someone and I wondered if that would turn out to be something.

The next day, while having breakfast at McDonalds, I read in the Virginian Pilot about Miles being attacked. He said he knew who his attacker was but refused to tell the police. This was the kind of tactic I would expect from someone like Miles. I didn’t really think that he’d had time to see who I was when I attacked him but I could see him trying to scare his attacker by saying he knew his identity. I wasn’t worried about it either way but then a few days later I received a letter from the car dealership where Miles worked. It said, “Important Warranty Enclosed do not throw away” but when I opened it I found a typed letter which said, “I know you did it. David and I will pray for you.” Well, I have to tell you that put the spook to me. For one thing Miles and David were about as religious as a bird. Their whole Jesus thing was just a ruse for selling cars to gullible sailors. I mean if you saw Miles in that bar with that scag girl you’d just know he was a sinner from Gomorrah. But this letter showed me a new side to Miles. This was the kind of toying a psychopath would participate in and now I was wondering if I might have to revisit the idea of killing Miles. But instead I sent a letter back to him saying that I knew that he didn’t know I knocked him out in the bathroom because I could clearly see that he didn’t see me before I got him in a choke hold. I imagined this as one-upping him on the psychopathic front because I was a big believer in fighting fire with fire. But then Miles one-upped me by sending back a drawing of me choking him in the bathroom. He said that David was an expert licensed forensic artist who like selling cars better than drawing but who could be counted on to help a friend in need when art was called for. He said he described me to David using nothing but “psychic influx” and they were able to come up with this rendering. It was really an astonishingly good drawing of me except there was a big wart on my chin that I didn’t have. Now I really wanted to draw a mean picture of Miles (and David) with them in some sort of morally compromising situation but for the life of me I just couldn’t draw people. No matter how hard I tried, my people looked like things that children would draw. Like if you looked at my drawings you could say, “That’s a person but if it had two more legs it could be a cow or a dog.” It was really terrible art. So I had to give up on that idea and wound up writing a scathing letter that I pretended was from the attorney general notifying all Virginian used car dealers that they were going to be investigated for fraud, that a list of names was in my possession with various fraudsters who were known to trade in M.G. Midgets among other small, easily hidden, smuggled, stolen, converted, and illegally imported vehicles. I made it sound super official and yet very subtle. After I sent out that letter I got a certified letter back from Miles’ real lawyer and I have to admit that put another spook to me. At this point I decided to go back to the “just kill Miles plan” since I was tired of writing and drawing.

It’s funny how violence is just the simplest answer to all human problems. I mean you can sit around arguing for 50 thousand years or you can just kill someone and be done with it. Of course, all my friends lambasted me constantly for saying such things but they couldn’t come up with any convincing arguments against it. Also, they read things like the New York Times and the New Yorker as well as listened to NPR—all anti-kill advocates in every way. You wouldn’t think those kind of people would be on a war ship but, believe me, they’re like the common cold and can be found everywhere. Why they always wanted to be friends with me I’ll never understand. Maybe they didn’t think my heart was really in the violence. I do smile a lot. And, you know, you don’t have to be some sort of mean horrible person to be a killer. I mean, I’m very nice to almost all people that I meet. I mean, I was even nice to Miles when I first met him! I don’t know. Ultimately, I guess you could say that I just don’t have a whole lot of patience.

So I started to spy on Miles. First, I followed him home from work and discovered that he lived in a shit hole apartment not far from the Naval base. I also discovered that he had a sister who lived with him and, according to their mail, went by the name of Petunia. Petunia was exceptionally good looking and it annoyed me to no end when I thought about the fact that she was related to the odious Miles. Imagine sitting on a bicycle (I couldn’t use my M.G. for obvious reasons) smoking a cigarette and thinking, “I have to kill Miles.” and then two seconds later thinking, “What if Miles winds up being my brother in law.” That is quite a range of possibilities if I don’t say so myself. Miles saw me hanging around on my bicycle a couple of times and chased me away with a baseball bat. The second time he did it I shouted back at him, “I’m going to date your sister!” which caused him to throw the bat at me. I have to tell you that one nice thing about being in the Navy is that you are safe as an egg on your ship. In other words it wasn’t like Miles could ever come get me and strangle me in my sleep since he’d have to get past all sorts of armed guards and watchmen. Essentially, I could torment Miles to my heart’s content and then go back to the ship and sleep like a baby. Actually, looking back, that might have been a detriment to the development of my social skills. To be able to escape the ramifications of your behavior for restorative periods might have allowed me to develop an unusual sense of social norm. Anyway, one day I was sitting their by Miles’ place looking at my partially flat front tire and tossing pebbles down a storm drain when I looked up and found Petunia standing before me. She was wearing a light blue dress with little white hippopotamuses on it and when I looked at her face she was smiling in a funny way with the corner of her lip raised like Elvis might do. She was incredibly pretty. I couldn’t think of a thing to say and before I could not say it, she raised up her dress exposing her dainty underwear. She then dropped her dress and walked away. “Man! That girl knew how to stun!” I thought. If she had me in her hands she could have done whatever! But then I thought, “That was not normal.” And I wondered if she had some of the unusual personalty traits that afflicted Miles. And then out of the blue, at that very moment, I realized that Petunia was Miles’ wife and not his sister. God, what was I thinking!

At this point I completely forgot about Miles and Petunia for about three weeks while our ship went up to the Yorktown Naval Ordnance Base to take aboard some bombs. It was funny but when you left the land and went out on the great blue ocean you could just forget everything that was bothering you. By the time we pulled into Yorktown I was completely absorbed in an “at sea” college course in algebra. I was very excited about this because I actually pictured myself as being in college. Before I went into the Navy I sure as hell didn’t want to be in college but now that I couldn’t be in college I DID want to be in college. So as a college student I really wanted to do a good job at my algebra. I got an A and was so proud I sent my tiny, one letter, report card to my parents to show them how much I’d changed from being a straight D student in the old days, which were about a year ago. My dad sent me a dollar. That’s what he always said he’d do for every A I got. I was pretty pleased with myself and thought, “That’s the first money I ever earned with my brain!”

On the night before we pulled back into Norfolk I started thinking about Miles and Petunia again. It was a rough sea off of Cape Hatteras and I was sea sick just like everyone else. I tried to think of just Miles so I would associate him with my sea sickness but it was hard not to think about Petunia. I had come up with a plan for stealing her from Miles and getting her to marry me. Since I’d finished reading Interview with a Vampire I’d been thinking a lot of strange things may be possible. For instance, I thought that if I learned all of the chemical elements and their atomic numbers I would be far ahead of the general population intellectually. And I had this vague idea that I might be able to use algebra to get my hands on Petunia. I fell asleep thinking about all sorts of formulas with Xs and Ys all over the place. Now, looking back on it, I can’t imagine how I thought I would use algebra to win Petunia’s hand but I really did believe that that was what I was going to do and believing in something with your whole heart, I can tell you, is a powerful thing. So, a few days after we’d returned to Norfolk, I was sitting in my M.G. Midget (there was no use trying to fool Miles anymore) by Miles’ apartment. There was steam coming off the asphalt because it had been scorching hot and then it rained for about three minutes. Petunia was lying in a chaise lounge by the apartment pool reading a book. Miles had the day off and was up in his third floor crappy apartment looking down at me through some binoculars. I was looking at Petunia through binoculars too. Lots of people used binoculars back in those days because of James Bond and all those spy shows so it wasn’t really too unusual seeing a couple of dudes looking around with them. I was torn between looking at Petunia’s body in her black one piece swimming suit and trying to see the title of the book she was reading. I was also writing down numbers and Xs in a notebook I had on my lap in an effort to derive an equation that would bring Petunia into my world. Looking back on this particular aspect of my endeavor I have to admit it was somewhat insane. I can’t in my wildest dreams imagine what I thought I was going to do with a bunch of numbers that would bring about romance. Squinting my eyes through my binoculars it really looked like Petunia was reading The Thorn Birds which had me very excited since I happened to be reading the same book. I guess it wasn’t that incredible though since everyone was reading The Thorn Birds right then. The world was really somewhat smaller and more coherent in those days. Anyway, that’s was we were all doing when suddenly a little brick building with a green pipe going into it next to Miles’ apartment blew right off its foundation raining bricks down all over the place. Bricks were making giant splashes as they landed in the pool and one of them landed on my hood leaving a perfect brick imprint before it bounced off. Petunia jumped up from her chaise lounge and went under an umbrella over a picnic table. She had to climb up on the picnic table to get under it all the way and I admired her limber, slightly plump body as her feet gripped the wooden boards. People were streaming out of Miles’ apartment like ants and I noticed that Mile’s was now looking out of an open hole since all the glass had been blown out of the windows. He was looking right down at me with his binoculars and I shrugged my shoulders like, “I didn’t do it!” Police cars and fire trucks started arriving and with their sirens howling and their lights flashing. I felt a little bit stunned and confused about what I should be doing after an explosion like that. But since I had a well oiled nineteen year old mind I figured out that what I needed to do was start my M.G. Midget and move it twenty feet closer to the pool so that it would appear that I had a purpose. After I moved the car I got out and climbed over the fence to the pool. I started walking around Petunia’s picnic table, sort of rubbing my chin and pretending to be thinking about something deep. By now the police and firemen were running all over the place like chickens with their heads cut off. Surprisingly the civilian people all seemed to be calm enough as they milled around the front of the apartment building and I wondered what they’d all been doing before they were interrupted by the explosion. I was on the fifth lap around Petunias’s picnic table when she said, “What are you walking around this table for?”
I really didn’t have any good reason to be walking around her table except for the basic truth that I was acting like a shark moving in on some delectable prey but I couldn’t say that. I really had a hard time expressing myself back in those days. Usually, I expressed myself through some sort of brainless behavior and tried to avoid words. I mean I kind of thought like, “If I don’t have any words, at least I can throw a rock or something.” Lots of young men crash their cars into bridge abutments or drink so much booze that their brains pop out but that wasn’t me. I mean, I did something similar but not so over the top. I considered myself to be totally under control. Who doesn’t think that they’re under control? At least until there’s verifiable proof to the contrary. So I told Petunia that I was here to make friends with her. As soon as I said it I couldn’t believe that those words came out of my mouth. But they did come out of my mouth. They were still ringing in my ears while my face turned red and my eyelids fluttered in my head. Petunia looked down at me with a curious look on her face. I was wearing my sailor’s uniform which was all white except where an ink pen had exploded in my front pocket leaving a blue mark shaped like West Virginia. Suddenly, I felt very stupid and exposed. I felt like someone had just pushed me onto a stage, before an audience, with no script or idea of what was going on. But Petunia reached her hand down and I took it. She climbed down off the picnic table and asked me if I knew what just happened. I told her that a little brick building had just exploded. Probably a gas main or something. She asked me if it was safe around there and I said it probably was very dangerous and that she should come with me in my M.G. Midget to a safer place. I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was just like a dream coming true right before my eyes! I opened the passenger door and Petunia climbed into my tiny car. I got in and started up. I still remember the smell of the leather seats and petunia’s damp swimming suit as we drove out of the parking lot. It was the first really warm day of spring and all around us I could feel life breathing in and out. I was unbelievably happy. I turned my head at one point and saw that Miles was looking out the window at us. I had to stop for a moment and look at him with my binoculars. His mouth was hanging open like the entrance to a bird house and I found that satisfying.

That day I took Petunia way out away from the squalor of the base and the strip. I drove her out into the country to a place where I would hang out. It was a sort of strange place called Dean’s Booster. I don’t know how I ever discovered it in the first place since it was just a slab of concrete out in the middle of a corn field. There were a couple iron pipes coming out of the concrete and there must have been some sort of little tag on something that said Dean’s Booster. I figured out that it must have been a pump house for an irrigation system that was long defunct. It was a nice place to go in order to get away from everything. Or at least you would think that. In fact I had just a few months earlier been caught there by a cop. I guess he followed my trail through the corn field where I’d mowed the corn down with my car. I drove through a lot of farmer’s fields back in those days, thinking of my M.G. Midget as a sort of a toy machine instead of a car thereby thinking that it didn’t have to follow the rules of full grown cars. Of all things, the cop showed up just as I’d started installing a cassette player and some speakers that I’d bought. He wanted to see the receipts for the cassette player and speakers which I thought was odd. Of course I’d already thrown the receipts away and so he made me put my hands on the trunk of my car while he called me in. They didn’t have anything on me so then he wanted to search my car. That worried me since I had two pistols hidden in there but he didn’t find them. Incredibly, he let me stay there and continue installing my new cassette deck and speakers without even giving me a warning or anything. He just left. Anyway, that’s where I brought Petunia. We got out and sat on the warm concrete. There was a nice dry heat coming through the dead stalks of corn and it smelled very fresh and pleasant. We started talking about where we came from and I found out that she was the daughter of a state senator. She told me that she was MIles’ wife but that they were now divorced and only lived together to save money. She said that Miles was really not that bad a person but just too obsessed with being a salesman and making good deals. I told her about my deal with the M.G. Midget and how Miles wanted to say a prayer after the sale and she told me that it was all part of his sales ideology. He thought that there was a some fundamental connection between Jesus and marketing and that if he figured out the exact nature of that connection he would be able to make a killing. I told her about how I pounded his head to the floor in the bathroom and about his ugly girlfriend. Then she said, “He’s a dick head.” and we moved on to other topics. She wondered how I wound up in the Navy and I told her I had no idea. It was kind of funny because I found myself really wondering, “How DID I get in the Navy.” So we both talked about my past trying to figure out how I got in the Navy. Every time I looked over at her I found myself thinking, “I can’t believe this.” A real pretty girl sitting right there across from me on the concrete slab wearing a nice black one piece swim suit. I wondered if I was in heaven. I wanted to sit there talking with her for the rest of my life. It was really the fist time I’d ever been with a grown woman. A grown woman who was even married! A real grow up! And oh but she was beautiful. She had black curly hair and a wide face that made me think of a Russian. She was slightly plump but just so and just right. She had a way of sticking her tongue out when she talked which I liked immensely. Every second I was thinking, “What do I do next?” and “How do I proceed to keep this person in my life?” It felt like those first few seconds when you’re actually balancing on a two wheel bike and magically not tipping over. No grownup holding the fender and no training wheels. You’re really doing the magical thing against the whole world’s gravity! A gentle breeze annoyed some dust into a small twister that went by Petunia’s face causing her to shut her eyes momentarily. I imagined her sleeping next to me with her eyelashes touching her cheeks. I imagined living on a farm with her where we would get up in the dark and feed animals and then watch the sun come up and enliven all the sleeping things. I imagined us having little rollie pollie babies who would crawl around the barn and eat bugs. And then she told me that she was going to marry a sailor from the USS Enterprise. I could feel my heart foundering and plunking my ribs feebly. This was reality! This was what real people did! They just said real facts and damn the consequences. Now I had to act the same way! I said, “Well, congratulations.” I didn’t mean it at all. I thought, “Fuck the Enterprise and all the sailors on it!” What was I going to do? What!? One minute ago I was in hog heaven and now it was despair! In all ways it really was too much for me. I just sat there looking at Petunia and wondering what I could possibly do. And then because I couldn’t think of anything else to say I asked, “When do you think you’ll get married?”
“Oh,” she replied, “I’m not sure I really want to marry him.”
“Holy Moly!” I thought. “There was hope! Despair has been crushed and replaced with hope just like that!”
And then she said, “Why don’t you take a look around you?”
“What?” I said.
She scooted a little closer to me and said, “Take a look around you. Someday. Someday you’ll remember this day and it’s gonna make you cry. Someday, far in the future you’re going to be in a whole new world and when you look back on this day and the days around it you will hardly believe that they even happened.”
“Are you trying to tell me my future?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “it’s not your future. It’s THE future.”
This was the kind of nutty thing my hippy sister’s friends would say to me and I would usually blast them with my version of reality which was nothing but the way it was. Petunia, however, warranted listening to because she had me transfixed with her beauty. That was a bit of reality. Until you knew better, pretty girls were interesting to listen to because they were beautiful.
“Look,” said Petunia as she plucked a small bit of corn tassel from her hair, “I want you to burn this time into your memory.”
I didn’t really understand what she was saying. But I figured I had to say something so I said, “I think I will have this time burned into my memory. It think it is already burned into my memory.” I didn’t mean it though. There was really no such thing as memory for me. There was nothing to remember because hardly any time had gone by yet.
“Because,” she went on, “Because some day this is going to seem so beautiful to you. Just sitting here on a slab of cement out in a corn field.”
And then before I could help it I said, “Because you’re here.”
Petunia’s face flushed a little bit and she licked her lips. “Well, maybe, but it’s more like this. It’s more like this time is neutral and fresh as opposed to what it is going to be.”
Now I licked my lips and asked, “What do you mean?”
“Some day all the people around you are not going to seem like people any more. They will all be like bad characters from television. Completely predictable and so boring to listen to that you will always be angry just being in their presence. You’ll actually miss people like Miles! You really will! And all those red neck sailors on your ship. You’ll miss them too! And you’ll miss me!”
“I know I would miss you!” I said. “But maybe I won’t miss you.” I added, thinking that perhaps she’d be with me in the future.
“You will never believe what is going to happen. How all this simple rich life is going to be replaced with something else.”
She was right. I didn’t believe it. All I could see was right here right now and that was all I cared about. The future was for dead people. Even though it was sunny out we both heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. My future with Petunia was a little shroud around the moment. It was light and easily shed whereas the moment was solid and tactile. I put my hand on her foot.
“Someday people will be so obsessed with goodness and justice in an effort to mask their shitty personal lives that you’ll want to become a criminal or an animal just to remove yourself from being associated with the species.”
“I want to be an animal.” I said.
“You will be an animal.” She replied.