My grandfather’s wake was an unexpected event, coming quickly after a hospital stay ‘round Christmas of 2000 suddenly turned bad, in spite of what seemed to be an improvement in his condition. He was only running on a partial lung and that part was growing smaller and smaller with time, but tests indicated he was doing well. Until his scattered family was summoned to California.
"You’d better get going now," my Uncle Joe insisted.
We wouldn’t know it until we got to Camarillo, but he’d passed just about the time we’d made it to Bakersfield. My Aunt Kathy knew by the tone in my Uncle Terry’s voice that Grandpa Sandy had gone, but he didn’t say it and wouldn’t until we all met in the parking lot of some motel off the freeway.
I broke down like a little boy. Under the clear California January’s night sky and its stars, recalling where the stars found me in the summer of 1975, when Grandma Gwen had died.
There was no way he could bring up my sister Amy and I by himself. I don’t think he was of the mind to, then, anyway. I’ve always thought he’d needed to lose himself in the world for awhile, to rediscover himself in some new form in order to get by. Gwen wasn’t the first wife he’d lost. His life was full of loss. But, when he’d turned Amy and I over to Kathy after having taken us down to San Diego from Nevada at the end of that summer, I think that hurt him in a way he couldn’t mend, living the life of an unintended bachelor and pushed from us for our own good above his own. It had been pre-arranged as Gwen lie dying in the hospital in Lovelock, ridden with cancer. It would be the best life for us. When the time came, and he couldn’t know it until it did, he would roam Southern California in search of work and peace, moving back to Nevada after awhile when he couldn’t find what he was looking for, and even then failing until he returned to California in ‘77, soon to meet another lady — Carol — who’d remain with him until his death.
The family gathered with Carol in her kitchen table, sucking down coffee and smoking cigarettes until late. I don’t smoke, so I’d have to hang back a little in a pocket of fresh air or I’d let myself out into the backyard, where Sandy maintained a garden of herbs and vegetables and fruit trees. A chef by trade, he enjoyed growing his own stuff. There was a hybrid citrus tree in which grafted branches of lemons joined those of oranges, and at the side of the house stood a big avocado tree, its fruit only obtainable with a picking tool that consisted of a small metal basket at the end of a long wooden pole. I’m sure there’s a proper name for the tool, but I don’t know it. You maneuver the basket onto the targeted avocado, twist to clip it from the tree, and bring it down. There’s something of a game to it, easily-won.
I stood outside among the fruit trees, looking upward to the stars, then, wondering why Sandy hadn’t let me talk to him deeply before he’d died. I’d wanted to get to him before he passed, just to speak with him for a little while. I don’t even know if he knew I was coming. My Aunt Ria assured me he had, but I’m not so sure I believe her, thinking she’d just told me that to spare me grief.
Sandy and I had spoken a few times throughout my advancing youth and adulthood, but we’d drawn apart because of distance and time, because of situation — whatever excuse you might suggest I offer. Mine was mostly that I’d wanted to hang back until I could return to his life in a way that would make him proud of me. I was never there. Nor am I now. Going back the other way, I suspect he was always feeling guilty that he’d had to walk away from us. He needn’t have. I understood at an early age — as early as a year after Gwen’s death. That summer — 1976 — he’d found a nice lady friend and I liked her, too. One night after dinner at her house, the kids had all fallen asleep (she had some of her own, though I can’t recall how many). I’d fallen asleep, too, but had awaken and sneaked to the kitchen, to where I heard smacking noises and found Sandy and his lady friend kissing.
They didn’t see me. I went back to where I’d fallen asleep previously, lied down, and started weeping in anger. I mean, how could he do that to my grandma?
That attitude lasted for all of a few minutes. After which I’d reasoned with myself that the man was lonely, that he needed someone to love, someone to love him. He wasn’t doing anything to hurt Gwen. I did the best to calm myself and return to sleep.
Among Sandy’s fruit trees, beneath the stars that night, I cursed myself for not having been able to speak to him until then. He’d tried to avoid me, too, I know. I’d tried to talk to him when he’d been in town, but he wiggled out of it. I know he had to have thought I was gonna jump at him about the years he was away, about abandonment or some shit. But I’ve never considered those things to be true. I’d just wanted to tell him that I loved him. And still did.
I picked up the fruit-picking pole and stuck it into the avocado tree, twisting it around a good-sized fruit, but I managed to drop it.
My sister Trish came outside, then, searching for me.
"How are you doing?" she asked, offering a hug.
I pointed toward the hybrid citrus tree. “That’s amazing. To have both fruits on the one tree.”
"Everybody’s wondering where you’re at," she told me.
"Just looking at the stars," I replied — then followed her to the backdoor and inside.
A Winnemucca city cop had stopped to roust me out of the parking lot of the bus depot. It was particular cold in Nevada, that winter — so much so that it seemed to have stripped the oxygen from the air. Few were outside; the neon shone, casinos’ marquees blinked. But no onewas out, nor was there much traffic. Anything above the subzero temperature around it produced a haze or vapor and it felt like ice was forming on my upper lip below the nostrils with each exhalation that plumed from my face like a locomotive’s steam stack.
"You can’t stay here," the officer had told me, standing above me in silhouette against the beams of his patrol car, it’s radio crackling within with voices in short phrases and police code. "You’ll freeze to death," he warned.
I’d told him I was waiting for the bus. He asked me where I was going.
"East," I replied.
"But where to?" the loudmouth on the bus from Ft. Knox to Louisville insisted asking me, insisting on an answer, that I answer him. He and another guy were in the seats in front of mine, all of us near the back of the bus, Toward the front, increasingly so, were men in army uniform. Now and then (frequently, that is), the loudmouth would say something that would raise the ire of at least somebody in the front. He and his seatmate especially, though it was a general theme for the rear section, which was filled with young men being sent home from training for one reason or another.
The loudmouth had obviously been burned severely upon the face and head at some point in his young life. He bragged that he’d got them to send him home because wearing a helmet was killing him when it pressed against his scarred tissue.
"But it never really did!" he bragged.
He showed the kid next to him something from his carry-on bag that had come with him from home: a jacket one dons when a threat of a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack occurs. An “NBC” jacket. He’d only partially pulled it from his bag, as he should’ve turned it in with the rest of his issued gear when processing out.
"Why do you have that?" the kid at his elbow asked him.
"I like it," was the loudmouth’s simple reply.
With every word that came out of that guy’s mouth, more angry looks came from the front. Especially when conversation was loudly struck from the rear about how the army had been “tricked” by letting whomever go.
I stood up, grabbed the carry-on duffel I’d brought from home, and began to move foreward.
"Where are you going?" the loudmouth asked.
I didn’t answer. I just moved as far ahead as I could, as far ahead as I thought those ahead of me wouldn’t be offended, to a pair of empty seats opposite the side on which I’d been sitting, and slid myself down and in, my face to the window, while the drone of the loudmouth and his camerades droned and the men ahead rode on in silence and the Kentucky countryside rushed past. And I wept.
Tears almost froze my eyelids shut, kept them from freezing shut. In spite of the cold, in spite of the haze of the streetlamp nearby, a patch of clear sky was visible above, face upward to it, back of my head propped against my army duffel as it was. Stars shone down upon me. I wondered which one represented my grandmother.
My grandfather had taken me into the backyard the night she’d died. He held me tightly and gently urged me to look upward. “She’s there, now,” he assured me. “She’ll always be with you, always be there to look over you, always be there for you to go to when you’re in pain, when you’re happy — anytime you need her, to talk to her. She’ll always be among the stars, now.”
I asked him where, exactly.
He let go of me with one arm and pointed to one star. “Maybe that one.” Then to another, then another. It could be any one of them, he explained. “That’s where Heaven is.”
I stared upward into that pocket of clear sky, that night, the back of my head rested against my army duffel. I still wondered which star was hers. But I’d stopped going to her. I realized that, then. It was a heart-sinking realization. I’d thought that when I was a little boy, I’d always need her. But now, it was as if I’d all but forgotten her.
I’d tried to make myself as comfortable as I could in the bed of that old pickup, my head propped against my army duffel as a pillow. I’d wrapped a ragged blanket the elderly woman in the cab had given me to warm myself against the still-falling snow. Her husband drove carefully through the flurries over the icy road that ran straight through frozen plains and farmland. I’d assumed I was in Nebraska because that was where I’d left the bus and began to walk deep into the countryside along farm lanes and fences and drainage ditches. I’d left the bus because I’d wanted to leave the bus. I’d left the bus because I was thrown off. Either was true, both were true. Perhaps neither. I barely remembered it at all, the bus, anyway. I’m not even sure it had happened, that it was happening. Spirit braves, leading me across the wastes toward some silent vision quest. My brave had approached me as a dog, leading me to a culvert for shelter, where I’d slept and dreamt of straddling the past and future, throwing stones into the faces of each, deciding instead to seek the present, at which point I woke up and discovered the weather had cleared and I was beneath a pristine moonlit sky holding countless twinkling stars above a sparkling blue-white landscape, cut in two by a line of utility poles and, a few yards past and above the culvert, a bullet-ridden highway sign that showed the image of a tractor’s sillhouette on it.
The spirit brave motioned for me to wait at that spot and I did.
I leaned against the signpost and when I opened my eyes again, the old couple’s pickup truck was idling next to me, its occupants gawking through the passenger’s side window — icy-foggy, that window — at me.
"Are you okay?" the old woman had called from it, having rolled it down when I’d not moved since they’d come along and stopped.
"Do you need help, son?" her husband, leaning over his wife’s lap from his place behind the wheel, queried as well, a more concerned tone in his question.
I didn’t know if I believed in the Native American spirituality or ideas based on it that filled my head, then, but I didn’t not believe in it. There was something to it that kept me going, that made me think of things, consider things, to allow them to give me hope, maybe. When I’d given up. I hadn’t remembered why I’d left the bus nor when. I don’t recall exactly when the spirit guide came along. I didn’t know what to think even as I thought back upon it.
Penny Lane snored at my side, my sister’s dog Roxy did the same across the room, dug into a chair. Outside, the snow had resumed after having turned to freezing rain, earlier. The ground in the backyard was wet with a snowy slush over it, the ground underneath muddy. The snow all those years ago, all those miles ago, the snow I’d trudged through the Breadbasket over was dry, it was wet, it was dry over wet, wet over dry, with no hint of the ground beneath it. An icy cloud through the Spirit World, through which those passing from one state of existence into another travel, symbolic of death.
"Are you alright, son?" asked the old man, leaning over his wife’s lap to speak through her opened window.
I struggled to my feet, using the signpost for balance.
"You can’t stay out here," the old man called.
"Get into the back of the truck," his wife urged me. "You’ll freeze if you stay out here!"
I turned to consult the spirit brave who silently nodded. I then made my way toward the pickup.
"Take this blanket," the old woman offered, pushing a worn quilt through her window.
I took it with me to the back of the pickup, almost getting in before I remembered my duffel. I went back for it and returned, climbing over the tailgate after I’d tossed my duffel in first. I then bundled myself up with the quilt and lied down.
On the small hilltop just beyond the road, I spotted the spirit brave as he changed into a dog and disappeared over the crest of the hill. That’s when I fell asleep, my head rested against the duffel as the flurries swirled around us.
My “target”, as I call him only for reference purposes, was a human being and seeing him hunched upon the bench opposite mine in the back of that army truck, separated and self-isolated from the rest of us, hurt — in spite of what the experience of the detail’s punishment had done to him. He had been punished with his attacker — me. He most likely hadn’t been brought to an understanding as to why he’d been attacked; he’d merely pointed out to me that I was making a helluva racket, roaming through those snowy woods with all those empty ammunition magazines in my pants pockets, clanking into each other like a pantsload of cowbells through the Kentucky countryside in the night.
"You," his platoon’s drill sergeant had loudly explained to him, "just couldn’t keep yourself from sneaking up on that private to let him know he was wrong!"
"I’ll tell you this," his drill sergeant continued. "If I was out in the night and some motherfucker come up on me like that, I’d have maybe done the same thing — or worse!"
I shuddered. Because the act — me swinging at him with the butt of my rifle — wasn’t a primary reaction. My first had been to shoot him. Had we been issued live ammunition for guard duty-
The dogs lumbered happily into the living room ahead of me, each choosing places to lie down upon or into, one plopping onto the sofa, the other burying herself into the space between a chair and its back cushion. Mine was the dog on the sofa — Penny Lane, a yellow Lab/pit bull cross, copper-colored with a brown snout and eye mask, her chest white. She’d curled herself into a ball and looked sadly toward the TV.
I sat down next to her, reaching over to stroke the fur beneath her chin.
When I was in Kindergarten, a dog had gotten into my school’s playground area against the rules. As if dogs are aware of such things.
Several children chased after the dog, trying to shoo it off the playground, through the opening of the playground’s perimeter fence.
Some of the boys had picked up rocks and were throwing them at the dog.
I picked up a rock, too.
There was a white-haired kid with rotten teeth who liked to hide behind certain bushes on my way home after school. Upon my approach, he’d leap out to torment me.
He had just let loose a rock at the dog.
He’d turned ‘round just then, facing me. I froze — but just for a moment. Then I threw the rock at him. The boy. Hitting him in the forehead.
I felt my finger on the trigger of my M16, staring into the illuminated face of that private. And I remember the squeeze. Then the desire to thrust a nonexistent bayonnet. Then came the swing of the butt. All in the timeframe of a moment.
The school had sent us both home —R.J. for his wound, me for my behavior. The next morning, we were summoned to the principal’s office, where we were seated in front of his desk.
The man was huge to us. Intimidating. Wielding a wooden paddle. R.J.’s forhead was bandaged.
He asked us why we were throwing rocks. We both mumbled answers. Which, for little kids, begin with “I dunno”. It didn’t matter to him about the dog and I hadn’t divulged R.J.’s tormenting.
He showed us his paddle. “If there’s any more rock-throwing, there’ll be this,” he assured is. Then we were dismissed.
The army truck pulled into the Disney Barracks and made its way through the area’s streets to the 6th Cavalry Squadron’s billets, turning into the asphalt lot behind its troops’ offices and supply rooms, behind which were loading docks for each troop.
It stopped. Then a pair of specialists came ‘round to the rear to order us to dismount.
The target was first. He trundled ahead of us after we’d followed him out of the truck, Thomas, Dieter, and myself.
R.J. stopped ahead of me on our way to class, pausing to scowl threateningly at me before turning ‘round and continuing. I’d halted when he’d turned. But, when he turned and resumed walking, I did, too.
The target never turned himself ‘round to face me, never looked over his shoulder. He just kept walking. Toward our troop’s building’s double doors. Into which he disappeared. I don’t recall seeing him after that. Nor can I remember his name.
"Jesus Christ!" the staff sergeant gleefully bellowed at us as we shoveled wet sawdust into the backs of army two-and-a-half-ton trucks with snowshovels. "I love it when they send me scouts! They get shit done! Don’t they get shit done?"
He nudged his buddy, an E5-grade sergeant, who seemed unimpressed by anything about the detail.
"Yeah," the staff sergeant resumed. "Scouts know how to get shit done! Unlike tankers. I hate it when they send me a gad-damned tanker."
He turned to his other side, scowling downward at the malingering recruit who’d elected to prostrate himself across a log.
"You are the saddest sonofabitch I’ve ever come across, private," he informed the tanker recruit who seemed insouciant to anything the cadre on the detail offered him — all of it harsh.
The staff sergeant pointed a flattened hand toward me and the recruit I’d swung my rifle butt at during bivouac, well-connecting with the side of his head — his jaw, certainly — sending him into the snow.
"Truthfully," our troop’s commanding officer had told us as we stood before him in his office after we’d returned to the billets from the field, "it was a flat-out battery case. You could be in the stockade in a hot minute, Camack!"
He turned to the other guy, a recruit belonging to another platoon who was notorious for trying to catch the mistakes of his camerades so he could correct them before lecturing them on the importance of-
"But I’ll tell you something, private: if you’d have been sneaking ‘round the woods at night, hell-bent on sneaking up on me, I might’ve done the same thing. So. What is it? What should we do, here?"
I’d slipped backward in the snow as I’d swung my rifle at the guy, so he’d not been hurt seriously. The air to the CO’s question seemed to remind the kid of this while insinuating the kid’s own culpability. I’d not swung more than the once, and the other private was a documented turd, as talk around the troop spread with tales of his creeping and correcting. It hadn’t won him many friends. And the training cadre themselves were never too keen of a splitter.
The following day, he and I were assigned the excruciating detail of being loaded into a deuce-and-a-half and taken to an area lumber mill, where we lifted sopping sawdust above our heads over the tailgates of trucks in the melting snow that revealed its red Kentucky mud with every bootstep, mud that turned into a quagmire as the day progressed.
"Gad-damn, I love me some scouts!" the staff sergeant marveled. "You outta be thankful one of them doesn’t stomp through that mud from over there to kick your ass into it, Parker!" he barked downward at the tanker recruit, still malingering upon his log at the staff sergeant’s side.
"I don’t care," Parker defiantly answered, shifting his body into a new position.
Another truck had showed up; my target had gone over to painfully snowshovel sawdust into the back of it while I and Thomas remained.
Thomas was a photonegative to our surroundings, a black kid from Jamaica by way of New York City. I never knew how long he’d been in the U.S. before immigrating, but his accent was still heavy with its native tune and wonderful and I’d not ever come across him without a smile on his face which showed like an arc light, along with his bright eyes, through the darkest of skin I hve ever known on a person. He always stood ramrod straight, with his head cocked a bit to the rear, his chin up.
"Heh, heh, heh," he would boldly chuckle with that Jamaican voice of his, the joy pouring from his face into all who faced it. I loved the man and have always wondered what had happened to him after I’d left the army.
"Gad-dammit, look at those scouts load that sawdust, Parker, you sorry ass…" bellowed the staff sergeant of Thomas and I.
Thomas leaned over to me, his characteristic glow missing from his face. “I wil never get used to this cold-“
"Quiet, shitballs!" the staff sergeant shouted. "Or you’ll be shoveling sawdust until your wives are collecting your gad-damned pensions!"
He singled me out. “You got a wife, private? You’re too ugly to have a wife.”
"No, sergeant," I replied.
“‘No’ what? That you don’t have a wife or that you’re not ugly? Because I’ve got some news for you if you think otherwise.”
"When do we get to eat?" Parker whined fom his log.
"Shut up, you!" the staff sergeant barked, having turned with a finger jabbed toward the malingerer.
"What’s all this sawdust for, anyway?" my target asked the staff sergeant, from behind the other truck.
"The colonel wants a new exercise pit. You wanna discuss it with him, private?"
My target did not.
My buddy Dieter, just behind Thomas and I, quietly chuckled.
It had started to rain, melting the snow and wettening the red mud around our boots worse than it already was, which was bad-enough. The sawdust had become almost impossible to lift with those big-ass shovels, and daylight was getting shorter.
"Okay, troops," the E5 called out. "Sling those shovels and mount up!"
Parker immediately shot upward from his log and darted for one of the trucks, followed by the rest of us, muttering under our breath to each other at what a shitty time it would soon be, cleaning our boots.
"I think I need new ones," Thomas chuckled deeply.
We helped each other up the back of the truck and over the tailgate, taking seats on the sidebenches.
Dieter leaned forward to me. “By the way, I forgot to thank you for this opportunity.” Our drill sergeant had decided that a couple of my buddies should join me in my punishment. Dieter was my closest buddy, my battle buddy; we’d become pretty tight. Our racks were in the same bay of our squad’s room in the building in which we were billetted. Thomas, though, was in a room or two over. Yet it was Thomas who somehow got picked whenever I did for some vile thing. Dieter usually escaped the crappy details. Or that’s how I remember it. I’ve tried to analyze the hows of why any of us may have been selected for shitty details aside from bad behavior. I just seemed to stick out like a little goof. In hindsight, some of the cadre actually liked having me around because I busted my ass. But that was- It was a show. That was after I’d gotten told I was going home. I hadn’t wanted to appear like a sad malingerer like that Parker, out there at that muddy sawmill. Otherwise, I was pretty good at getting out of having to do as much work as I could. I’d even paid others to go to details in my place — often for just a few bucks. Money was tight at times; a buck or two was a lot between pay draws.
As the truck rode up out of the holler on the logging road back to Ft. Knox, Thomas assured me that I wasn’t ugly, but he hadn’t found me attractive-enough to turn over from women to men. Which may have been one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever said to me in the back of an army truck.
My target from bivouac sat down the opposite bench, away from us 3rd Platoon boys.
He seemed so isolated. So lonely. Alone. I felt bad for him. I truly did. Not said in that condescending way people say that when they want to isolate someone from themselves. I just don’t think anyone should have to live like that. Maybe that’s why he tries to flip shit all the time. To flip himself onto the what he imagines to be the pop from what he believes is the bottom. I know others like that. We all do, probably. Anyway, he disappeared into my past after I’d left the army, along with Thomas and Dieter, though Dieter tried to maintain contact. I couldn’t do it. Though I imagine the Parkers of the world have little problem with such things. Sometimes, anyway. Until conscience forces their faces backward and their eyes onto what they’d passed on or neglected.
"I’ve got my orders for West Germany," Dieter wrote. "Send some Copenhagen!" he pled, desperately.
I folded the letter neatly and returned it to its envelope, pushing it into my jacket’s left breast pocket before adjusting my scarf and knit cap, leaning back onto my old army-issue duffel on that bus station parking lot’s asphalt, looking upward into the clear winter sky, the cold air around me crisply stinging my cheeks.
The fog that seemed to have been hanging over northern Nevada had lifted and there were those stars above me, twinkling. Watching over me as I fell asleep on that cold ground. Having hit the bottom, come to rest upon it.
In spite of the freeze outside, in spite of the snow, the inside of the joined shelter halves was warm, the inside of the sleeping bag was comfortably so, even though I was stripped to my underwear up to then — as was commanded — so that we’d not sweat in our fatigues and catch a cold and die or some shit. Little glowing worms crawled about in the red Kentuky ground at the foot of my bag where I sat, pulling my pants on and stuffing my feet into my boots for guard duty, due shortly. At 2 a.m. Or, more-appropriately, 0200. But I’m a civilian, now, so I exclusively use civilian timekeeping.
I emerged from the shelter halves after having finished dressing, placing my steel pot helmet atop my head. The army still used them, then — at least in training units. Mine weighed heavily on my neck, pushing on my shoulders. I pulled my M16 out of the shelter before fastening it shut, took to my feet, and looked for the sentry I was supposed to relieve, my boots crunching through the snow as I trudged into the treeline.
2 a.m. I snatched my phone and took it outside without a jacket, taking care not to slip across the the ice and fall into the driveway, thanks be to my elderly loafers, whose soles had been worn slick. I’d wanted a photo of the snowfall on the street running through our neighborhood. To post to Twitter. For the hell of it. I’m a quasi-photographer. I specialize in cell phone photography. Dressed-up snapshots filtered through digital trickery.
The photo came out dark and ghostly, dimly lit by a couple of streetlamps and the odd porchlight, all minimally reflected upon the snow.
I shone my penlight through the trees, trudging between them.
"You’re making a lot of noise," a disembodied head alerted me, having appeared instantly a yard in front of me, lit up by its own penlight.
My pants pockets were full of empty rifle magazines, two each to a pocket, clanking together as I moved somewhat difficultly along through the wood.
"I could hear you for-" the head began.
I swung my rifle butt ‘round into the side of it, knocking it and the man it belonged to into the ground.
I punched the latch of the back screen door; the dogs burst through it past my leg and out into the snow. I followed, popping my black jacket’s collar up and zipping it to just below the chin, covering my neck in the cold, my breath misting in front of my face. The motion-sensing light went on, illuminating the iced-over cement patio. The dogs were already deep into the backyard, taking shits and siffing about and pissing in spots they’d found suitably fragrant for them to and shitting some more after more sniffing. I looked after them, hands in jacket pockets, the cold winter air upon my face, thinking about how my glasses would fog up when we returned indoors.
The winter air — the cold winter air — always reminds me of a particular two or three winters of the past, of my youth, variously pleasurable or not. A Basque girl with a long, curly mane, the cold asphalt of a bus station parking lot. I dunno about the other winter. The remaining one. A mixed bag, I guess. Filled with parties and let-downs, warm things and disappointment. Which sounds a lot like youth in its reality to me, now. On the outside, looking in; on the inside, looking out. And neither set of eyes real. Nor are the objects of their attention.
"Come on, dogs!" I called.
They were alternately chasing each other and sniffing about, just in case they weren’t quite done — and they weren’t, at least one of them, usually, stopping to take one more leak or dump. Or to chew on grass, even, if they’d gotten into something that’d given them upset stomachs.
They’re always in the garbage — sometimes dragging bones or discarded food containers into my bed to lick and nibble at leisurely, leaving the aftermath there to surprise me at the moment I’d chosen to dive into bed, gad-dammit.
I loved her. That Basque girl. I still do. We’d left home for our colleges at the end of our Christmas breaks in separate cars, that morning or afternoon (I can’t remember which; it was so long ago), but met at some little gas station in Oregon. I pretended to- I dunno. Be mad at her? Ignore her? I guess I was mad; she was dating a roomate of mine.
She followed me — or tried — as I tried to avoid her by moving around our car. Until she switched directions and somehow caught me. I’d probably let her. I hadn’t really wanted her not to catch me. I’d wanted her to catch me and hold me and hang on to me forever.
I thought of her, too, after boarding that bus eastbound, a winter before, after the army had sent me home and I was in my wandering period, government money in my pocket. Everything I owned was on my back, almost, stuffed in my old army duffel. I thought of her for miles and miles and hundreds of miles without her ever knowing, she back home and me off to some kind of vision quest upon the Nebraskan plain, lying in the snows, there, half freezing to death until a kindly old couple in an ancient pickup truck pulled up to me where I lie in the icy road, offering a ride to safety.
A ghostly Indian brave on horseback gestured to them for me to heed their offer. Which I did.
After I’d slung my duffel into the back of that old pickup, I looked back for the brave; he was gone. You think up such images, anyway. When you want to think them up. When they need thinking up. Perhaps as I had the dog who’d led me there. It’d stood over me in the snows that blew over us. At one moment he was there, then he was a brave.
"What did he say to you?" I imagine someone asking me. I don’t think he said a word. Either of them. The spirit. Whatever it was. What I got was a feeling. A revelation. Which was simply not to die. It made it a choice for me. And led me to that road and later that old couple in their truck. Who’d give me a bed and a meal and a bag of sandwiches and a bus ticket home.
I’d hit the bottom.
I watched the dogs frolic in the snow until they’d had enough, galloping like a pair of wild horses toward me, their tongues out the sides of their open mouths.
I opened the screen door, waiting for the dogs to bound up the step aside me, which they did. Then I opened the back door and we went inside.
Marley The Boy is a handsome, fat cat, white with blotches of dark khakis and greys. He is part Siamese, so he has beautiful crossed blue eyes. He likes me — perhaps too much, pushing his way into the bathroom through the door with the fucked-up latch/knob (however you want to term it), bebopping in and around the corner of the tub to where I’m sitting on the toilet to see what’s going on, to check out my balls, or whatever he’s after. He’s a watcher. Creepy, dude.
He shrugs. Cat in there dont care.
His fur is incredibly soft. It’s- It’s like rabbit fur or something. It’s a joy to pet him. Which only encourages him. As other members of the household say, Marley is in love with me. “He does NOT prefer the ladies.”
"It’s not just YOU," my sister Lara points out. Marley enjoys peeping at her boyfriend Ty when he’s doing his bathroom thing, too. "Marley’s into the dudes." Which is alright. Any kind of lovin’ is good lovin’. Which, now that I read that back to myself in the spirit of this post, it sounds kinda freaky.
Marley likes gazing out the front window. As most cats will. He sits motionless in front of it for ours — much like I do when I’m lounging on the sofa, in front of the TV. Windows ARE like television for cats, and Marley is no exception.
Lara got him from a neighbor when the woman moved out of the house next door. “I’m SO glad she gave him to me,” Lara’s said frequently. To which I’ve replied:
"Ever notice his ballsack? It’s GORGEOUS!"
It is. Unlike the rest of his fur, it’s almost a complete deep black, it’s hue- Ugh. I can’t think of the word I want to use, here. What’s the word for when a color goes well with or- Whatever. It looks GREAT with his fur get-up. All you can see when he walks away from you is his good-lookin’ black scrotum, there, dangling between his hind legs, swinging from side to side. It brings a tear to my eye each time I think about it.
The product of my attempts at cooking isn’t usually inedible. It is, however, most-frequently ugly and could’ve been done in a better way that might’ve not only produced a more appetizing-looking presentation, but one that might taste like something you might actually want to continue eating.
I rarely learn from my culinary mistakes. I claim to have learned something after each one, but I never really seem to. In fact, though I may recall past errors, I forge ahead horribly, anyhow, doing shit that would make the least-experienced chefs want to smack me upside the head.
Last night’s meal was full of a lot of that.
It began as “fried rice”. It turned out to be something that the family claimed to like. They’d have liked it more had I done it correctly. But there’s little chance of that happening. I cut too many corners during preparation. I don’t have everything ready during preparation. I overcook. I undercook. I burn, I get measurements wrong, I use too much salt, not enough salt. I use too much pepper. Black pepper, crushed red pepper. Everything I make absolutely must have too much black pepper in it, too much crushed red pepper in it. Everything I make has to make you cry, it’s so spicy. It makes you sweat. It must, or I’m not happy with myself.
When I cook, it usually takes more time thaan it should. I was surprised when I finished as soon as I did, last night. But I burned half of it. Made too much rice for the pot to handle. The dish was too savory, not sweet-enough. I added eggs — but did so lazily so that what I got out of the effort was gross-looking. I used canned Mandarin oranges that didn’t do anything positive for the overall flavor of the dish, and- SPAM. Yes. Yes, I did. Well, fuck you — we like SPAM in this house. That was actually one of the good points of the meal. Needed more of it, though.
I tend to use items scattered about the pantry and refrigerator/freezer for meal preparation; this is mandatory for any true bachelor chef. Canned or frozen vegetables, boxed macaroni and cheese, hamburger, American cheese slicees, salt, pepper, and ketchup. Lots and lots of ketchup. Bachelor meals are often consumed directly from the pot with a big wooden spoon while leaning over the stove or kitchen counter, chased down with cheap domestic beer or Kool-Aid. Hot dogs figure prominently in bachelor cuisine. As do potatoes. And the microwave. We really don’t enjoy cooking for ourselves. When it’s just us, we’d much rather be able to go over to the wall and speak into a box and have a panel slide open with a ready-to-eat meal like on “Star Trek”. Anyone who argues with me about any of this is full of shit. Bachelors like nothing better to live next door to a Dominoes, a McDonald’s, a Chinese restaurant, and a Taco Bell. We only cook when we’re out of money and are forced to have to open that last can of condensed tomato soup. Bachelor cooking is not an adventure, it’s a necessary evil.
Tonight’s necessary evil has yet to be determined. It’ll probably be fried egg sandwiches. Or ramen noodles. or booth. I don’t wanna think of it until I actually have to do it. Another requirement of bachelor cooking. Pre-planning is for pussies. Like spaghetti sauce made from scratch, the idea of it is pointless.
I’m not too ashamed. I’m a pig. But I do admit that when watching “American Idol”, I root for the hot chicks. Are they talented? Maybe. My ears all but stop working; the blood in my body has begun flowing to the part of my brain that causes me to drool over attractive women. Unavailable women. I mean, I’m- I- It’s not like they’ll appreciate my drool. They’re on the TV. In it. They’re thousands of miles away. Pre-recorded. Perhaps recorded years or decades before. It’s like with Tina Louise on “Gilligan’s Island”. She’s nearly eighty in reality, you know. I don’t care. In my head, she’s occupying the mid-1960s. Oh, Ginger; I love you so.
"I’M NOT ‘GINGER’!"
No. She’s not. Nor are any of the other performers we see before us on any show. That is, they’re not who we perceive them to be. The pretty woman singing her heart out on some television competion is just that to us in reality. In that same reality, her life is invisible to the rest of us, except for what may be filtered out through self-initiated social media and other accounts — and even then, it’s filtered through the person’s own ideas of herself, who and what she is and is about. She’s not our eyecandy. She’s not a possible upcoming girlfriend. She’s a performer, there to perform her heart out, hoping catch a break. Still, I often fall a little “in love” with one of these ladies. Or a couple. Is that so wrong?
"I guess not. As long as you keep your distance. Don’t make me have to get a restraining order…"
Deal. I suppose.
I’ve had more time to sit around, oogling gals through the TV set since I left work, two-and-a-half years ago. Gals on “Bonanza”, gals on any show. Being ill has seen to that. But- I’m- Though still not “there”… A “hundred-percent”… I want to return to the workforce. I need it. Having liquid finances does a life good. Since moving to the Boise area immediately after resigning my last job, I’ve fallen in love with the place. I like it a lot, anyway. It’s a great place. Being stuck at home in front of the tube dulls sensations such as love of a place. I’ve been hoping for re-employment for a long time, hoping to get back onto me feet, so that I could properly take advantage of what the area has to offer.
Yesterday, that chance may have begun to come.
I may have a job coming.
I won’t know until next week, when interviews are called. I had to go in for testing, yesterday afternoon, following an application the week before. The crew, there, are fantastic people and couldn’t have done more to make me feel at ease. There’s a great positive vibration about the the place; I’m-
I’m keeping positive myself. Though there’s no guarantee I’ll get the job, nor even be called in to interview.
I hate interviews. I get so nervous. Tongue-tied. My brain decides to take a holiday. I’ve torpedoed myself in the past with interview-related anxiety.
Be cool, I’m telling myself. Everything’ll turn out alright.
I’m watching old “Perry Mason” episodes. In “black-and-white”. That era. That early ’60s era. I love that style. I love “black-and-white”. The design of the cars. The style men and women espoused, back then. Those women.
They’re elderly, now. If even still among us. Children of that era — those television children — are old-enough to be my parents. And I’m old-enough to be a grand-dad.
How did I get to be this old? I thought I’d be- I didn’t think I’d be here — in this situation — when I was a kid. When I was a young adult. I thought I’d have it all figured out, all settled and in play. I had dreams. Like those women I mentioned, earlier, performing on the TV singing competition. I had a dream: to create. To perform. As a writer. A writer, a singer — it’s all art, it’s all creation. It’s purpose is to enrich the minds and lives of others. Of ourselves.
If I can get back to work… If I can earn enough to live and fund myself, once again… I can get back to writing. Living. Rather than just surviving. Although there’s a lot to being that, a survivor. Surviving to compete, to perhaps win, another day.
It’s sad. I know some of those beautiful women I’ve been watching on “American Idol” won’t make it. On the show. But they’ll go back to wherever they’d come from and continue performing. One has done that, performing on another show, failing to progress into further rounds, going on to do her thing elsewhere, and she’s back this year to play and sing for us on “American Idol”.
I adore her. I’m also inspired by her. I think she’ll make it, even if she doesn’t make it through the show.
The show’s not the dream; the dream is what’s applied to the show. The dream lives in spite of the show, goes on when the show’s over, when the performer leaves the show or the show leaves the performer. That’s survival. And success. Though that prize — the prize at the end — sure would come in handy.
This entry is sorely in need of an editor. I’ve just been sitting here, freely writing for the past hour-and-a-half, taking from what’s on my mind.
It all started with my attraction to a New England Patriots cheerleader.
She reminds me of someone who was once dear to me. I can’t even remember what she sang or how well she did, except for that Harry Connick, Jr., wasn’t as keen on her as I was.
I didn’t recognize him. He’s changed, somehow. He’s still a good-looking guy… He just looks- Different, somehow.
He’s gotten older. But aged well. Sigh. If only I could say the same of myself.
This year’s primary goal: to not be such a bitch. Second: to run my first 5K. Third: to forgo (“forego”? Ugh) running a 5K for the Chinese buffet. Fourth: to locate my dictionary in all my packed boxes so I can look up the correct spelling of shit I’m too lazy to google. Sigh. I’m old-enough to be able to look up words in a dictionary faster than I can by using Google. That’s old. Meh. Get off my lawn.
I’m having a hard time seeing straight, tonight. Eyestrain. I went from a 24-inch screen to three, a couple of months ago (a little more than that, maybe), and from the top lines of the eye chart to near the bottom and it’s making my head swim. I’ve gotta take an eye break.
I’m on a roll with my bachelor cuisine. For lunch/dinner, yesterday, I made a huge pot of crud I like to call “Cheap-Ass Asian Soup”. Its main ingredient is that cheap-ass ramen that costs about three cents a package at the grocery. You take about four packages of it — the flavor isn’t important — and add them to a big pot of boiling water. Get that fucker rolling. To that, you add the flavor packs that came with the ramen noodles. Be sure to lick the insides of the emptied packs before you throw them away because that MSG is delicious. Next comes a teaspoon of black pepper, a teaspoon of crushed red pepper, and half a teaspoon of curry powder. Hell — toss in a full teaspoon. Mix that shit up.
The noodles should be getting tender. Slice a medium- or large-sized onion coarsely as if you’re not putting much care into the job; dump what you get into the pot. Now, grab a head of cabbage. Slice about a third of it off the sonofabitch and chop it up and toss it in, too.
That leaves bell pepper.
Get a large bell pepper and attack it like a maniac, making sure to cut that gross-ass stuff from it and the cap as well; slide all that into the pot.
I lied. That’s not all that’s left.
Go back in time. After you’ve put the seasoning into the pot, pour a good amount of soy sauce into rolling boil and- I don’t know. “A good amount” is a guess. Whatever you think is good. Let’s say “half a bottle”. You might want to use less. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
What else did I forget…
I dunno. Taste the mixture. Take a huge mouthful. Especially since that liquid’s boiling-
Shit — that’s it! TURN THE FUCKING HEAT DOWN! You’re splattering half the pot all over the stove! Turn the heat down by about a third. I’d say right after you put the noodles in. It’s a guess. If you’re still splattering shit all over your kitchen, you’ll know I’m wrong. Maybe try turning it down just before you add the ramen. I’m no chef; what do I know?
So. That leaves the last thing. I promise this is the last thing, the final ingredient before the soup’s ready — and it will be ready soon after you add this: that good-ass Asian sweet pepper sauce. Comes from Thailand, I think. Known for tasty food and boy-girls. Mmm. Pour in about- As much as you want. As long as it’s at least a cupful. No less than two-thirds of a cup.
Soup’s on. And, yes — it’s spicy. I was sweating an hour-and-a-half after I was done eating — even after I showered. I had to shower. And you’ll cry. My beilef is that if you aren’t bawling your eyes out like a little bitch, you’re not eatin’.
Again, gad-dammit, I forgot something. An important ingredient.
Your supermarket probably has a bag of frozen potstickers in its frozen appetizer section. WinCo — where I shop, these days — carries them for about five bones. There are just under twenty of them to a bag, I think. Maybe it’s eighteen. Anyway, I put fifteen in mine, yesterday, and it wasn’t enough. Don’t skimp.
Put the potstickers into the pot frozen, just after you put the onions in. By the time everything else is in, they’ll be done. If you’re one of those cunts who insists on cutting and chopping and slicing all your shit beforehand, putting all your seasonings in seperate little bowls like they do on the cooking shows, all “dress right dress”, ready to be dumped in at the snap of a finger, you suck. That ain’t how the bachelor do.
"What about the gay ones?"
Many people think I’m a gay one. Just shut up and read, could ya?
So there’s tonight. I haven’t started dinner, yet, but it’s gonna be a classic: Grilled Cheese Dogs.
This is another easy-to-prepare hideous-though-delicious treat. It’s obviously a sandwhich. Think cross between a hot dog and a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s an idea I’ve swiped from a little drive-through burger joint in La Grande, Oregon, when I went to college, there. It’s not quite their creation. I do mine a little differently, though I’ll copy theirs on occasion.
I’ll explain the difference, here, in a bit.
Get two hot dogs. Slice them lengthwise. Splay them; put them down onto a gril or frying pan. Blacken slightly. Flip.
Gah. I go through everything ass backwards.
You need two slices of white bread. Butter one side of each.
Okay. Now that you’ve got the buttered slices of bread and the grilled dogs, remove the dogs from the pan or grill or whatever and place a slice of bread buttered side down onto- Well, it only really works with a frying pan or griddle or- You know. Just do it.
You’ll need two slices of American cheese. The kind that’s not really cheese. Slap one of ‘em down onto that bread, bitch. Now, place your hot dogs — splayed — onto the cheese slice.
No. I forgot a step.
Before you put the dog down, squeeze or brush (or however you want to do it) enough mustard across the cheese to cover it. Spooning it’ll work. Now put the hot dogs down. Splayed.
After you’ve done that, spoon some sweet pickle relish atop the hot dogs, then cover all that with the remaining slice of cheeseless cheese, followed by the other slice of bread, buttered side up. Grill until bread on bottom is toasted golden brown, then flip.
It’ll be messy. Ignore that.
That’s all there is to it, really. You can slice ‘em diagnally once removed from the heat if you want-
Ugh. Onion. I forgot the onion.
Put the onion on after the hot dogs. That’s two hot dogs across that first mess of stuff, by the way — splayed.
Also a part of dinner, tonight, will be the Potatoes O’Brien.
I cannot take credit for Potatoes O’Brien. I had Potatoes O’Brien for the first time as a child. My mother poured it frozen, from a bag. Probably Birdseye or something; I don’t remember. It was obviously created by a culinary genius who thought up potatoes, onions, and bell peppers in one dish — the “Holy Trinity” of ingredients for a side dish, in my opinion — and thought further, “What do we call this?” And another culinary genius in the room thought for a half hour or so before leaping out of his or her seat with finger in the air, announcing, “POTATOES O’BRIEN!” It sounds “Irish”, right? They must eat this stuff all the time! I never thought to ask my Irish friends — the McGuinness twins — about the history of Pototoes O’Brien. I have a feeling they’d shrug and say, “I dunno, but that shit sounds good!” It is. Still, I suspect it’s an American invention, like Mexican food and Chinese restaurants. Invented by the same guy who’d later be fired for the racist controversy surrounding having come up with the popular “African” side dish, Sweet Potatoes LeRoy.
Potatoes O’Brien is very smiple. Get a bunch of fucking potatoes and dice ‘em. Imagine me speaking in a stereotypical “Irish” accent. Something like the leprechuan out of the Lucky Charms breakfast cereal commercials. Dice the potatoes. About ten of ‘em. Put the things in a large skilletful of hot cooking oil. Dice a medium-sized onion; put the fucking thing in there, too. Because the Irish curse a lot, you see. Pour a shot of whiskey, down it, and dice a large bell pepper and toss the gad-damned thing into the skillet, ya git. Sprinkle the mixture with about four or five tablespoons of seasoned salt, one tablespoon of black papper, and let it simmer until it’s nearly liquified and wait for an Irishperson to come along to punch you in the face.
I could search Google for the history of Potatoes O’Brien, but who hasw that kind of time?
Seriously, though… If done right, the dish is wonderful. One of my favorite things in the whole world. But, as I’m a bachelor chef, I don’t know what I’m doing and put out this lot of gop that’s okay, but not great. A good Potatoes O’Brien consists of perfectly cubed and browned potatoes of firm consistency on the outside but tender outside, together with relatively crisp onions and peppers. It should be savory but not too salty nor spicy. These are things the bachelor chef know nothing about. “Too salty” or “too spicy”, that is. The bachelor chef is either one, the other, or both.
"Bullshit!" some of you will certainly challenge. The foodies. The cultured. Those of you who do not stock canned creamed corn in your pantries nor Hungry Man TV dinners in your freezers.
I agree. It is bullshit. Of me to say, that is. With a little practice, with a little education, maybe a couple of cooking clases, you can improve your culinary skills. You, too, can become a foodie. But it’s so much work. Better to just toss a can of Chicken Of The Sea tuna into a pot of Kraft macaroni and cheese, cover it with crushed potato chips, and eat it directly out of that pot with a big wooden spoon, cradled in your lap while you’re reclined in front of the TV. “Maury“‘s on, motherfuckers!
Capricorn: You’re often seen as an irresistible force and an immovable object. People put you in charge because you’re decisive — you’re famous for having a great sense of realism. When others need a rational head in a crisis, they call on you. In personal relationships,…
I will never get the hang of blogging. Tumblogging, anyway. It’s not that I don’t get it; I just- I fail to apply myself properly to it. It can be done. But I’m not about the- Wait. Lemme take a breathe. I need to submit more original material. I need to take the time for that. After which I need to think about what I’m about and transfer the result to my Tumblog. Everything needs a subject. Especially if it indicates a greater purpose toward some given thing. Technology. Science. Literature. Humor. Whatever you got. You can’t just barf shit out onto the Internet. You can… Thousands do it everyday. More. But there’s nothing precise to anything they offer. After awhile — like immediately — their readers will get bored and jet.
Stay true to yourself. Keep within that niche. Those interested in your mind will stick around for more. That’s what I keep trying to tell myself. And don’t destroy everything you’ve done thus far if you don’t think it adheres to whatever! Struggling to find your voice is part of your story. You’ll get there. If you keep at it. And not force it.
I regret it all the time that I’d gone back and deleted everything up to a certain point, to start over. It all winds up in a similar place, anyway. It’ won’t get to where I want it to be until- Until it does.
Don’t worry about it. And reblogs? They’re good. Stick with what interests you, though. Because ultimately, the subject of your blog is you.
I’m sweating like a pig. I’d written on my Facebook page, last night, that I’d awaken that morning feeling like someone had tried to tear my cranium off from the base of the neck upward. Tender spot, there. On the left-hand side, with pain along the left side of my head across the ear and to the back of my head to the top. There’s a weird rash just under my left ear; I wonder if I’d been bitten by something. Couldn’t turn my head. Went to bed at like 5 p.m. and slept for around four hours, after which I felt somewhat better. This afternoon, I’m in about the same spot. Slept weirdly — which has been the norm, lately — with weird-ass dreams, couldn’t get comfortable. That’s how a neck gets crooked-up. This rash hasn’t gotten better or worse. It’s just sitting there below my ear, itching. On top of that I’m worried about resuming college in January, getting all that shit together. I haven’t been back since June 1990. In many ways, I feel like the same person who’d left campus, then — in spite of the fact that I’m now 45. I feel like I’d bee the odd old man going back. Though I know that there will be plenty of souls older than me in attendance.
Worry breeds more worry, I guess. That’s all it does. Whether it’s for going back to school or some wacky rash on your neck or how to maintain a blog. You just do or shrug it off and go on to the thing that needs doing. Somehow, I’m not wired for simple activity like that. I wonder if I wasn’t born chewing at my fingernails. But I know I wasn’t so worried about everything when I was young. It just happened, one day. Something just snapped apart and there I was, quivering like an autumn leaf about to fall onto the ground. Worrying about something I’m meant to do like that. Worrying about nature.
“Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.”—V.S. Naipaul, Collected Short Fiction