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Email From NOLA II
I have spent my first few days back in New Orleans getting my ducks in a row.
The first duck was getting over the excitement of returning to a city that would offer exhilarating new perspectives to a person overly enamored by such and the getting over this took very little time. The hundreds and hundreds of snapped in two spindly Mississipi pine trees along I-59 150 miles out had me going for awhile, oh boy, what fun is this going to be. Then crossing the I-10 twin span between Slidell and New Orleans over Lake Ponchartrain and seeing the missing sections of highway, boy oh boy, how cool is this. One section of highway was flipped upside down, resting on an adjoining section. A section of concrete and steel 75 yards long by 45 yards wide and maybe two feet thick, flipped like a playing card. That was only cool enough to make me start thinking about the reality of what was coming. New Orleans East as seen from I-10 is just as I had heard it would be. It looks like the city was bombed. Like Europe after the big one only without the amazing architecture. Most of NO East is comprised of housing stock 50 years old or newer. A few miles later I exited onto Orleans St. and down the ramp and headed right so the Lafitte projects were on my left. No people, anywhere, in an area where being out and about is the norm, day and night. A few trucks and passenger cars on the road, no stoplights, temporary stop signs at every formerly lighted intersection. I wasn't exactly prepared for how vacant the area was. I went by the Dumaine St. house and while the house next door, which had been thoroughly burnt several years ago and which I frequently referred to as Esnard Villa, looks to be near the end of a extensive, historically respectful renovation, the Dumaine house, 1897 Victorian, looked pretty beat up. Some shingles missing and a couple of trees lightly touching the roof. The front door was open, some ceiling sheetrock in the front room crashed in from post Katrina rains coming through the missing shingles. M's computer gone. I stole a rake and a broom and headed over to Rocheblave. I had already received pictures from a nephew and knew the damage was not that extensive. Many people have already been back to do what was referred to by city officials as a "look and leave" visit. Soggy interior home and business contents are stacked along the curb on every block. Refrigerators, stoves, washer/dryers, are asked to be kept separate from furniture, etc., are called "white goods" and many of the refrigerators are duct taped shut and spray painted with messages like "Tom Benson Inside," or "Tom Benson Liar." He is the owner of the New Orleans Saints football team and is considering the necessity of keeping his business solvent by moving the team permanently to San Antonio. I sat on my front porch determined to follow proper protocol and wait for a meet the next day with the property manager, with whom I had left a voicemail message. While sitting on a five gallon bucket on the porch the tenants showed up and apparently were coming to get the last of their stuff out, and this is what I had suggested would be necessary (in an email to the PM) if I were to complete a post flood renovation on the house. We exchanged numbers. I drove around, Uptown to Audubon park where except for the easy parking everything appeared normal. The impressive tower of Tulane University across the street, pretty blond white children on the jungle gym, fit joggers and cyclists on the path, a frat boy here, sorority girl there, and me, slumped against a tree, headphones on, Mp3 player in my pocket, pretending to read Donna Tartt and bumping on the one-hitter. I drove to the French Quarter after that, Sunday night, but it appeared as hateful with tourists and out of town worker-tourists as it ever did, and I became depressed and drove the 12 blocks home. I slept in the truck in the driveway that night but about midnight the mosquitoes were so bad I found the right key and entered the house and lay my pallet on the floor. Cold front came through sometime in the night and I was cold, woke up aching like I ached almost every day of the ten years I lived here. The property manager never called me so I have just moved back in my house, with no electricity or gas but running water and toilet. A huge improvement over my former extended stay of illegal lodging at this address. It is a fact that I have been an illegal resident of my own property much longer than I ever legally resided in it. Previously it was during a very drawn out gut renovation, from 2000 to 2004 ( some of that time with no electricity, gas, or water/toilet and the rest with only electricity), and now it is because the area has been hurricane ravaged. Also because I live in the dreaded 70119 area code, one of the most blighted (pre and post Katrina) per square inch of any of the city's area codes, and the one the city mothers and fathers are most reluctant to open up again. But I'm a good little camper and I got my property cleaned up nice except for the piles of debris and the belongings of the tenants piled high on the curb. I had a similar pile in the middle of the driveway when I first took possession of this property because neighbors had been using it as dump site. And then there was the ongoing Pentecostal debris debacle over a several year period. I'm typing this in my truck (the Pentecostal lot is to my right), bought one of those nifty little converters that allows me to plug my laptop or any pluggable device into a cigarette lighter device and as the sun sets on my fourth night back in New Orleans it becomes increasingly evident that I am one of the few human beings living inside their own house, for many surrounding blocks. There are no street lights up around here so its getting darker and darker, and quick. I can see the lights on sparingly in some of the Downtown skyscrapers, looking straight ahead, as I am backed into my driveway. If somebody drives by right now, and people do drive by occasionally, my face will have that eerie computer glow, and we don't want that, so I'm going inside now.
I've seen two cats on Rocheblave, since Sunday. Both of them from the black and white clan. One looks very much like the original cat I called Kitten, and the other looks like a pretty damn reasonable facsimile of K-2. I'm luring them over with a little food at night. There are mice in the house looking suspiciously like baby rats and they are curious enough to make rustling noises in the night, close up to my head, only four inches off the ground on my air mattress. I wish I had brought some of my new really effective mouse traps. I've seen a few of my neighbors and they are doing a little of this or that, throwing stuff out into the street and then going somewhere else as night falls. I washed my hair today because it was a thing overdue. I've been washing all my other parts in what I call the "cycle of need method of washing." The shower is a little cold for full immersion. A lot of us around here have circles under our eyes (so I don't feel so alone with it) is a thing I've been noticing. I wish they wouldn't say weather permitting but Saturday, weather permitting, the Rebirth Brass Band gonna play for free, outside, in front of the Cabildo, which is that building to the left of the St. Louis Cathedral and if you were looking at it front on, Jackson Square would be only a maximum of a 150 feet behind you. Something to look forward to is something to look forward to. Lorina and I broke up on Sept. 11, which is a shame, was in fact a crying shame, but seemed necessary at the time. Even without our respective issues our fate was summed up by the trite reality of a sign in the local VA. ice cream shoppe, which advocated buying and eating local food stuffs, and said something like "long distance relationships like long distance foods, are doomed to failure." Me, I lacked the courage to defy such an assertion. That Lorina though, she something else, I don't mind saying it.
Arrived Sunday Night, slept in truck, eaten by mosquitoes, finally found reliable wireless at Cooter Browns, a little farther than I would like to drive from mid-city but better than nothing. Probably find someplace in the quarter if I ask around. I'll let you know what its like according to me, soon. This is a test. Looks bombed out here. Went to a town hall meeting yesterday. The mayor was late. The crowd was exciting. Many good questions asked. Few answers.
Long Live Rocheblave
I just received the first picture of my house in New Orleans, post Katrina. Looks pretty good. The windows did not explode, my roof is still on. The sycamore out front topped itself. Long live Rocheblave.
From my nephew--"The door's wide open to the crack house next to [across street] -- don't know if that's normal -- also saw the only sign of animal life on Bienville -- white dog that ran down alley and under a house when we drove past -- no cats . . . hmmm . . .
Weird, weird city right now -- like it's caught between breaths -- in some areas, clearly a construction site -- but never fully -- a power crew here, a sewage crew there (one at your corner Rocheblave/xxxx) -- a few independent contractors -- but mostly not much of anything."
Another Day In The Ninth
Refugees from the Lower Ninth Ward were housed at the Progressive Baptist church in Lafayette. They were watching the TV news as the canal levee was breached again, flooding their neighborhood anew.
"It's like looking at a murder," Quentrell Jefferson said. "The first time is bad. After that, you numb up."
On The Beach
On the beach this morning my footprints in the sand bear testimony to the fact that I don't walk a very straight line, and so probably won't arrive at any of my destinations by their shortest distance.
So it looks like I'm going to get my long held wish that a military presence be maintained in New Orleans. I bet I get battered with the be careful what you wish for stick. And no bad people are going to be allowed back according to Ray. I hope I make the cut.
Unflooded portions of New Orleans may be opened to residents, perhaps as early as Monday, Mayor Ray Nagin said in an upbeat and wide-ranging news conference Tuesday afternoon.
"I think the president is really focused on the job at hand, and they are really starting to move," Nagin said. "On almost anything that I want to do now, I get a nearly instantaneous response."-- mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans.
May I suggest that you remove the dead bodies, now, Ray.
Find Katrina Victims
(Update: 9-6-05, Mandy Vincent has been rescued along with thirty others she had taken into her house on Dumaine St. and is now on her way to Oregon. She has a couple of teenage boys with her. I do not know how many people on this list were with her (although I can safely say a good few would not have been) and of these, and also the thirty with her at the house--airlifted to various cities--I have no word.) These are people I would like to know about from the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. What they would have in common is some connection to the 2600 block of Dumaine, possibly related to the deceased Dolores Santiago (Mama D, formerly of 2641 Dumaine), and almost certainly they would not have evacuated the city prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. They would all also know Mandy Vincent at 2646 Dumaine, who has been caring for,assisting, and tutoring neighborhood children and teens for the last ten years, at that address. She also has not been heard from. Listed ages are approximate. There are this many more that I could list but hopefully one or two of these people would know about the others:
Shelton Ray Jackson, 20
Fermin Santiago, 19
Evelyn Santiago, 35
Julia Santiago, 17 (and children)
Glynn McCormick, 19
Lance Price, 21
KaKa McCormick, 21
Eric McCormick, 29
Jacque Lewis, 19
Shentrell Lewis, 13
Nettie Lewis, 17 (and child)
Marqin Lewis, 16
Kenosha Lewis, 20
Keshonika Lewis, 26
Erica Lewis, 13
Lulu & and son Greg
Phillis Santiago, 30
Joe Nixon, 35
Billy Nixon, 33
Van Casmere, 45
Beulah Green, 45
Eddie Green, 23
Yolanda Alexander, 30
Chris Alexander, 13
Bryan Henry & cousin Irvin
Bebe Lewis, 27
Jermaine Lee, 32
Michael Lewis, 20
Barbara Granpre, 48
Kizzie, 23, and kids:
Twins, Jonanthan and Joshua Short, and Mario, 20 from:
Dorgenois and Dumaine.
Yesterday, after a christening near the West Virginia line, Lorina's girlfriend, with the glow of her 24-hour baby delivering labor not only lighting the room but also being like a hundred shiny nickels in a sock (its a weapon now), swung that sap-sock with an innocent and sincere querying strength and hit Lorina right upside her head, which had already been lately reeling from the shattering numerical force of her girlfriends now with babies. She took the hit like a middle-weight contender while I looked on sucking all the juice out of a Heinekin bottle, and guarding my flank from the roving guest of honor, the projectile-vomiting newborn.
On the way home through Front Royal we finally found the elusive parking lot for that Bookstore and two years past my initial introduction to the store, entered. Of note on a shelf was an Anthony Burgess sandwiched by a Bukowski on one side and a Burroughs on the other. I picked up a used Russo, Risk Pool, for a buck, and a Straub/King collaboration, Black House, hardback, for two-fifty. Lorina got a couple for herself and I took the four books to a counter in the back and laid them down and was told to pay up front. Coming in I had not noticed a place nor a person to pay. I said to the woman, "there is an actual human-being up there?" She assured me there was and that that person would answer to the name, Susie.
As I walked to the front of the store with the itchy heat of embarrassment in my armpits, I thought, how nimrodic of me, is there an actual human...? What, may I ask, is up with that phrasing? What the hell did I mean by that? I get to the front and I see the L-shaped counter right near the door and how damn lucky for me, there is a cat lazed on the counter like is requisite for the independent bookstore but which I must have walked right on by upon entering. That, the cat, is what I could have meant by that, if only, I had in fact, been aware of the cat. I put my face into the cat's flank and said, Susie, hellooo, Susie? until the presumable Susie showed up from behind a curtain, told me the cat's name is Willa, and took my money in exchange for the books.
I found something in the back of a drawer this morning and I'm wondering if you can find lost memories the same way, just rooting around. I lived in Austin more or less for 8 years and when I run into old mates from those days they will often tell me stories about myself that I have completely forgotten, so I guess the Austin drawer would be a good place to look for something I've forgotten I had. And the added bonus to this exercise is that it gives purpose to staring in space. I'm not just staring into space, I'm looking for something that might be important. Is it that...I had to postpone that last sentence in favor of getting up to clean the thing I found, buffing it up, removing old smells. I then put it away in another drawer.
I was out of Austin for months at a time over a year and a half period, living in small East Texas towns as a doodlebugger during the early eighties oil boom. I swung machetes, carried cables, detonated explosives, and drove tractor-like vehicles with giant tires and brush guards across pasture and through the woods, knocking down small trees in the path of our purposeful search for oil. I slung pipe, too. I befriended rednecks and bikers and college graduates, and dropped acid with them in the woods at work and fell asleep behind the wheel of their personal vehicles. When they fell asleep with their faces in their beers I helped them to their cars parked in the mud lot behind the honky tonk and hoped they didn't wake up when the car slid and slung wildly back and forth, narrowly missing other parked cars as the drunken good ole boy in the 4 wheel drive dragged us much longer than necessary at recklessly high speed out of the mud hole we were stuck in. The next day I offered to pay for the bumper repair. I swam in stagnant bogs of brown water, water teaming with moccasins as thick as my skinny wrist and alligators everywhere. I scratched tick and mosquito and red bug and banana spider bites until they bled. I rubbed them down with Lysol when it seemed like the accepted treatment. In motel rooms I watched guys lay down coke or crystal meth or blotter acid or crushed up pills into spoons with water over flame, and then suck that heated liquid up through cotton balls into hypodermics and inject it into their veins. I drank beer and shot pool at eight in the morning when that was what came up and once, that I know of, I swallowed a pill that made me forget a whole day and even though I had the day replayed to me by others, it is that day I wonder about most because it examples a break in my personal time/space continuum and I have to wonder did I survive that loss of time or am I still experiencing it or does time interrupted continue along the same path once its been interrupted. I listened with smiling sympathy when my Vietnam Vet roommate told me of being discovered as a youngster with a needle in his arm by his steelworker father and how his father had dealt with it by grabbing the wrist of the arm with the needle in it, and without removing the needle, putting his other calloused hand on my roommate's upper forearm and then slamming that log of bone and flesh against his knee so that forearm broke in a fashion known as compound fracture. That's when the bone sticks out of the flesh. A kid too young to be working with us (although only 3 years younger than my 19 years), a son of one of the bosses, drowned in a snaky, vine-ridden, pond after getting tangled in the vine. This was what I did for awhile after dropping out of the University of Texas. Three different times, three or four months at a time. I would come back to Austin feeling strong and virile and clear-headed with what at the time seemed like lots of cash and I would luxuriate with my slacker friends until I felt myself getting stuck in the boring repetition of aimless slackerdom and I then I would go back to the oil fields. But by the third stint I had used up all the magic available and knew my days on the seismograph crew were over. So, considering the relatively short period of this time I guess I'm not forgetting all that much about the period, although technically the oilfield drawer and the Austin drawer are separate. I can only get the Austin drawer so far open and it may be that what I can see in the partially opened drawer is all there is to see. I spent a lot of time in my Dallas youth in Sunday school or youth group activities and I can't seem to access all that much of that either. I wonder am I tired of my memories or am I just impatient for new ones? What? Oh yeah, be here now, for sure. The experience creating memories takes care of itself.
Think Brown And Flaky
I was born at the Methodist hospital in South Oak Cliff way ahead of the cool curve, just a few years before Oswald shot the President and officer Tippet and tried to hide out in the dark of a theater somewhere near the house I was in coloring a snowman on fire while listening on the combo radio/45 record player to the news of an assassinated President. Its not that scenic where I grew up, then or now, an area just barely fighting off the blight pressed upon it by the nearby snaking Interstate 35, which constricts the hopefulness out of the neighborhoods into which it carries the hopeful.
A year after the assassination we packed up and I'm not saying we rode that snake out of there because that sounds nasty. We jumped in the station wagon and relocated to the edge of farmland that is now the middle of North Dallas. If you left from that house today looking for the edge of farmland you better gas up first.
On the construction sites that were my playground I fell in infrastructure ditches full of chocolate rainwater and floated on discarded lumber in my heavy winter coat while waiting to be rescued. I traveled for miles underground in storm sewers during the Vietnam War only I was doing it in North Dallas, finally exiting onto the brown hillside that overlooked the earth movers creating the LBJ freeway.
My friend and I dug a hole in his backyard and I could think of nothing else during the Sunday sermon at the Methodist church than getting back to the digging of that hole. The preacher would later divorce his wife and his son was rumored to be gay and as long as it could last we all felt fortunate to know about such things without having the stain of similar impropriety on our own happy days. My friend had been on the grassy knoll that day the bullets whizzed by but we never talked about it. We were old enough to know better but we fantasized about maybe actually getting to China if we dug long enough. We hit a gas pipe many days into the project and I can only guess his parents were relieved because the hole was considerably deeper than was necessary for the tree they had intended to plant there, which now couldn't be planted there at all because of the gas pipe.
Before everybody fenced in their properties I pedaled between houses at full speed on my purple Schwinn Stingray with banana seat and slick rear tire, crossing blindly the paved alleyways that ran behind our houses, only once getting hit by a car.
Footballs soared and I reached up casually during full stride and pulled them to my chest, never slowing down until crossing somebody's driveway marking the end zone of our imaginary greatness. I had a Leroy Kelly jersey and I just loved it because while wearing it I not only looked super cool, I was possibly in possession of supernatural talent. The day it ripped during a tackle was like days that would follow, only harder, for the lack of the cumulative experience which becomes our perspective.
This morning things have gotten to the point where all I'm thinking about is food and each successive check proves true the same reality, that I have very little to eat here. I could but won't eat the garbanzo beans, the black beans, the chunk light tuna, the refried beans, or the can of soup, for breakfast. I did have a bowl of cereal and could have another one but I feel saddened by the prospect of that. What I will eat apparently, is the microwave spaghetti and meatballs. Last night I had a can of soup from the bighouse cupboard and then went out to the 211 Quickee Mart and got me a pint of Ben and Jerry's NY Super Chunk Fudge chocolate ice cream. I felt so good when I first dug in that I decided to just eat the whole pint and see what happens. And let me tell you something--what happens is near death, so be careful with that, you ice cream addicts.
Well, that was like a snack, the spaghetti and meatballs. Hey, let me tell you something useful, finally. If where you shop offers a sale on Stouffer's frozen dinners, like 5 for ten dollars or something, go easy on the spaghetti and meatballs and instead try the chicken pot pies (the lasagna is an ok value too). You are thinking oh my stove doesn't work or oh I don't want to heat up the kitchen for one little pot pie and the microwave browning technology offered by that silver cardboard stuff in frozen dinners is whack, hey, no, no, they finally got it down, at least with the Stouffer's frozen pot pies. Trust me, think, brown and flaky. Think brown and flaky. And now, having improved your life just that little bit, I bid you adieu.
Like a warrior come from the battlefield here I sit contemplating the stain of death all around me. From an inside connection at the compound of a local radical feminist octogenarian playwright I have procured a better mousetrap and the kill rate of my only remaining pets, the cute, furry, heretofore skittering farm mouse, is astounding.
I started in earnest on this nascent campaign of death after various failed attempts using the standard wooden based spring catapult/guillotine-type mousetrap that you would be familiar with if you ever came out from under that rock.
While failing, I considered the various rationalizations for living in harmony with bubonic plague carrying rodents. Life is sacred. They only come out at night while you sleep. The dimensions of the doo-doo they leave behind on your counter tops is small. Their urine trails can only be seen in the dark under ultraviolet light. As a kid you used to keep one as a pet (until the one Mr. BC kept eviscerated yours and you came down the stairs crying, Willie is dead, Willie is dead, while your brothers snickered over their cereal bowls). The plastic spatulas they gnaw grooves into can be replaced.
While I ruminated for days and days over these things I met other locals who would look at you like you the devil's little brother if you mentioned killing a snake. Life is sacred, life is sacred, life is sacred. A mouse is less threatening than a snake so I kept the mouse-killing campaign secret from those I suspected would ostracize my efforts.
Over time the poop piled up in corners and the urine trails got smear-wiped with Windex now and again and I stopped killing snakes and I looked on benevolently while deer decimated my garden and groundhogs dug tunnels under the 40 acres because you need a permit to fire a gun on the half of this property that is in town limits, and, while I say I don't need no stinking permit I am at least casually interested and observant of the laws of our land.
That groundhog, there's not just one but, that groundhog, the biggest rodent out here, stands erect on its haunches eating the only Cherokee Purple tomato that grew from the plants eaten to near death by the deer, and, juice and flesh bits matting his fur, shoots me the finger, before running off to hide under the barn, its fleshy haunches undulating from side to side reminding of that fat cat Herman who used to keep me company out here, before he died a horrible death at the veterinarians office.
I would earnestly ignore the fruitlessness of my attempts to kill mice with the aforementioned wooden traps and convince myself if I just smeared the peanut butter better (you have to be a veritable word craftsman, a damn word smith, to get the words "peanut butter better" together) or lubricated the parts or located the traps differently that I would achieve the success that eluded me.
Because I believe strongly in education continuation I would read books about Rats and watch strangely compelling made for TV type B movies, like the one called The Rats, which features in one movie the same swimming pool, once with rats swimming in it and once with all the water let out, the rats just coming from the NY sewer system to fill it up with all their horrific rat-writhing potential and then...I ain't gonna ruin it for you. Like Joe Bob says, check it out.
You poor desperate soul who has read this far to find out what is the new improved mouse trap I'm talking about, and I'm not shittin' you, these traps are stupendous killing machines, affordable, and reusable, and the only down side of these traps is how they throw in your face, before you even know it, your propensity for killing. Of course, given the right conditions, propensity for killing is something even the most ardent pacifist will come to, or so I think.
Oh hell, I'll give you a hint. I still use peanut butter to bait the new improved traps. That should get you there. Now, get out there, and kill some rodents.
The laptop freezes infrequently but enough to make me save a document before I start it, which is good, sound practice in any case and I save it with a temporary name, whatever my fingers dictate, and today that is brugl.
And brugl reminds me of the 16th century Flemish painter, or family of painters, although "the Elder" is whom I would normally think of.
Which reminds me of the poster of a Brueghel print formerly over the desk of my childhood room in Dallas which reminds me of the balcony off that room which reminds me of sneaking out which reminds me of underage driving which reminds me of caution as a secondary aspect which reminds me of at least three 360s which reminds me of near death which reminds me of life which reminds me of the exact time and space when I heard one pedant correct another for saying broogul instead of broygal.
I just now got up to put the cereal bowl in the sink and when I came back I was nearly attacked by a piece of lint approximately the size of a tree frog, which turned out to be--a lint covered tree frog. I let out a yelp and did a jig on one foot. Then I scooped it up and put it outside which reminds me of the slug crawling across the kitchen floor this morning which I also scooped up, only with a spatula instead of the more common frog transporting drinking glass. I think you are getting an idea of the richness of my life. How full of interesting events does fill up even the more mundane moments of my day.
There is a potato-washing-runoff lake on the smooth finished concrete floor of the garage and I can see no way around the rearranging of all the crap I have let pile up in there followed by some ardent squeegeeing.
What do you have lined up for today? is apparently not a question to be asked of me this morning but if it were I could easily pair two unlikely words as answer.
Dropping Acid With Alligators
I have deleted this the first sentence, now five times, each time bringing up the possibility for new subject matter. You can't really let the lack of focus get in your way.
I have found a couple of thrift stores in the area from which I furnish my home, in the fashion of Americana crapola, which is not to say there is a lacking of inimitability hearabouts.
Mediocrity, and how I love it, that was my original theme, even though my sincerity towards the premise might vacillate.
Like with old cars being classified as antiques, there is probably a minimum of years for the idea of a book being first edition to mean anything. But I got this first edition hardback of James Clavell's, King Rat, yesterday, for a buck, and though yellowed somewhat over the 43 years of its life, it is still like pristine, maybe never read, or only once perhaps, and I am happy about it in a way that defies logic.
I'll go stare at the same old tired thrift store book shelves over time, even if they don't appear to restock them but once a year, just in case something has slipped in. When I was a kid I started out to be a bibliomaniac and then when I started vagabonding I off-loaded and became bookless, a frequenter of libraries in whichever town I landed. In New Orleans, the last year or so of my stay, I spent some money on fifty cent paperbacks but when I left I gave them to that nice lady running the crackhouse around the corner.
And so my default for the last many years has been to go bookless, even though lately I've noticed my shelves getting kind of heavy with books ( I did bring a handful of books from New Orleans, the Hemingway and Fitzgerald hardbacks, and the Algren, a Bellow, a Brautigan or two, and a box set of philosophic thought sampling the entirety of man's recording of such) and now it almost seems as if I am heading towards that former addiction I enjoyed which required not just the reading of books but the possessing of them.
In my last two hauls I've done well, from two different thrift stores in the same town, and I'm not blurting out which town, because growth is coming, and with it, the savvy entrepreneurship which causes inexorable sadness and the end of 5 for a dollar paperbacks, and dollar hard backs. I've gotten over twenty books for less than 20 dollars, half of them hardbacks, and off the top my head, authors such as Bellow, Cheever, Barth, Plath, Marquez, Clavell, Oates, Heinlein, Auchincloss, Percy, Doctorow, Stevenson, Parker, Coupland, and that's all there is to happiness--simple tricks, and your willingness to give in to them. I also added to my thrift wardrobe, a two buck shirt, Izod's contribution to the paisley theme, and you know how I love my paisley. Somehow, while my attentions were directed elsewhere, the alligator dropped acid.
When Carl Fell Down
There was this kid named Carl in my junior high school in Dallas and this other kid named Keith. Carl was extremely fat and people made fun of him. Keith was an outsider, from a single parent home (said he had sex with a friend of his mother's), but was popular, as an athlete, and also had popular hair, thin and blond and straight, it hung down in his face when he dribbled the basketball downcourt. After he would cross the mid-court line he would slow down, turn his whole body sideways, raise a finger or two in signal to his teammates, and then he would crack-snap that head on his shoulders like a whip and the hair would fly in centrifugal fashion until it stuck momentarily to his sweaty skull, before coming loose again, one sweat-clumped strand at a time.
Carl went out of his way to be neither nice nor mean and was just there, tall, and slightly dull, with bad skin, and dirty hair, and fatter than you could ignore.
One day out of sheer mean-spiritedness Keith decided to beat up Carl. He said, I'm going to beat up that fat fuck today. I remember being among a group of people to whom he was bragging this and not a one of us asked, why are you going to beat up Carl? It was junior high school in the early seventies and integration had finally made its way to North Dallas and a fight between two white kids was perhaps for us a pleasant break from the occasional small scale race riots occurring in the hallways, outside the viewing range of the security cameras the school system had installed as preparation for racial tension.
It was after lunch and we were all milling around outside the lunchroom on that little patch of grass surrounded by chain link. Keith was amazing us with his ability to jump over the four foot fence without touching it, but when he got tired of amazing us he decided to beat up Carl.
Those were tense moments of unrealized potential those moments between Keith saying he was going to do it, and the doing of it. I liked Keith but I think I was looking forward to him getting his ass whooped by Carl, who was four inches taller, and 170 pounds heavier.
What happened though was that Keith, apparently having thought out the disadvantage of his size, and knowing that he would need to stay away from a potential bear hug, or being sat on, kept his distance and after one very typical school yard shove, just began punching Carl in his face, with all he had, while his thin, straight, blond hair flapped wildly.
What I was thinking of this morning, 32 years and 1,200 miles away, was the look of shock and hurt on Carl's face when he took the first fist to his chubby jowls, and the plaintiveness of his questioning between the blows, when he would ask Keith to explain the reasoning behind the brutality. But Keith was talking with his fists and kept on punching until Carl fell down.
Some of the posts I haven't been making have been letters to the alzheimer flavored curvature of my mother's spine and the other posts have been deposited into the bottomless wastebasket of my intentional disregard for achievement.
I can't go to Kansas for my nephew's wedding happening only a few months before his National Guard commitment sends him for the second time to the land of pissed off, shell-shocked Muslims. Last time was Iraq for a year. This time Afghanistan. Used to be, back in the days of the draft, the National Guard was where you went to escape the draft and crazy military deployments, but not anymore.
I told my brother I can't make it but what did he know about family gatherings in Dallas, back at the old homestead? He said no definite plans were being worked out but that it seemed like there would be a gathering sometime, especially since it was being observed by another Dallas area brother that our mother's "quality was diminishing."
I can't get a handle on that so I'm going to call my mother now and ask her what the hell is diminishing. Perhaps I will be able to hear quality lost.
My brother also said we were waiting for a critical mass. I'm going to have to study up on that, too. There is too much I'm not getting.