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Although I generally eschew the “writer” tag (when it is applied to me) I must accept it and its baggage while I am actually writing because technically I am a writer while I am writing.
Although I generally cringe at the idea of a writer working on his “craft” I sometimes aspire to being somebody who has a craft to work on.
It is said, by writers and people who talk about writers, that a writer only has one or two stories to tell and it is those one or two stories that he will tell over and over, banging his head against the wall of self-deprecation because he can imagine the story much better than he can tell it.
So I have this story I have told several times now over the last week, mostly verbal recitation but also written once to a friend in Oakland, and it is about my life as a catbox fabricator. I sit down to write about something else, or while standing up, or sleeping, or eating, or walking, or talking and thinking about sitting down to write, and I cannot think of anything to say because I cannot get past this one story, the story of my decline; or is it an ascension? that has me falling off the high horse of idealism.
My previous lifestyle, in New Orleans, although undeniably too cloistered, too “all by myself”, perhaps not rich enough, and needing some improvement, was at least simpler (and therefore better)? in the sense that I didn’t have to tell too many lies to maintain it. I was what I was and that’s all that I was. And Shorty accepted that.
Now by “lies” I am not talking about the stuff of Peyton Place but more the stuff that just might fall under the category of mis-communication or lies of omission, or lies of convenience. I have slung the meaner, more accusatory word “duplicity” around while talking about this idea, mainly because it’s hard not to consider the global situation right now and how that lying we grownups all accept as somewhat necessary has gotten us, as a country, into, I’m sorry but it’s time to complete that “high horse” metaphor above–a heap of shit. At one point I was putting myself on the other side of the fence from it, duplicity that is, implying that my ideals protected me from such weak behaviour.
All that though was before I became a catbox fabricator. Before I took that paint stick and made cat prints in the fine, deodorized sand of expensive cat litter to hide the fact that I had been keeping Herman outside all night, providing him, although against the wishes of his owners, with an autonomy I thought he might like.
That feeling, brief though it was, of satisfaction, at the realism of my fake cat prints and the added sense of job well done at the authenticity I created by flicking some litter onto the floor, was the beginning of my remaking from whoever the hell it was I brought here. Slim, are you still with me?
Anyway, it could be said that I am happy, much as I am capable of it, and Herman, who now spends his nights up on Christine’s bed, seems really happy too.
Bill’s brother is a big time New York City advertising executive so imagine my surprise when he calls up the other day and tries to sell me a replacement flue for my fireplace. He had me going for awhile. I blushed in embarrassment behind the safety of 250 miles of separation when I realized who it was. I called him a bastard and vowed to get even. So...this is it...Bill’s brother is a lousy fireplace flue salesman. Other than that though, he’s a pretty ok guy. Okay dammit, actually, he was a pretty good fireplace flue salesman, the bastard.
Mr. BC asked me the other day how it was for me in Rappahannock. He may have been referring to the fact that I seem pretty well adjusted to my environment given that the environment here could be said to be diametrically opposed to the one I left in New Orleans.
“It’s good. It’s easy to forget,” I said.
F’s new friend, B, who with F broke into the Dumaine house several weeks ago and stole a registered handgun from E, was jailed last week for two counts of aggravated rape.
S, who me and a friend tried to help for awhile and then succeeded only in helping to put him in jail, may be out of jail now, a legal adult, which is the thing he always wanted to be. With no guidance and no proper education beyond that rich but possibly fatal future doled out on the New Orleans streets.
I was sitting on the back porch gazing out beyond the swimming pool and the acres of soft, green, manicured grass, at the solid, peaceful, non-threatening Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s easy to forget.
Mr. BC’s wife, over broiled Tilapia in lemon sauce, with asparagus and salad, asked me have any of the boys I know in New Orleans committed murder. The answer is yes. As to her question how do I feel about that and her sister’s question why have I stayed there so long, all the words that try to answer those questions ultimately succumb to the indecision of I don’t know.
X kill A at St. Philip and Dorgenios.
E2, in jail on drug charges, is charged with one count of murder, and two counts of attempted murder.
J is recovering nicely from the seven gunshot wounds he received last year. The three wounds to his face have altered his appearance somewhat.
There were three young New Orleans girls I was privileged to know for a few years, who I watched grow up in American squalor, who had so much human spirit about them, who made me laugh, and now thinking about, not knowing about, make me cry.
J2, now 17, and early on perceived as the brightest of a bunch, can’t pass the mandated state tests and has stalled out in 9th grade. He will enter a job training/GED program this coming school year.
L, who was doing Algebra in 8th grade, a thing which set him far apart from his peers, dropped out in 10th grade, became a corporal in a 6th Ward army, and most recently upset an aunt enough to have her put out a peace bond on him. Which means she wants him to stay the fuck away, and is asking the police to help her realize that.
And G didn’t ask for any of this. He wanted something happier, safer, cleaner, less threatening day after day after day.
The thing is, about forgetting, you have to start over every day.
A Day Not Clicking
I got off to a slow start today. Everybody at the diner was having a slow start too.
I was trying to look forward to the Home Depot shopping chore but it’s a thirty mile drive and the farther you get from this little (five square mile) world out here the more you realize you didn’t really want to leave it at all, why not just try to get what you need at the Rappahannock Farmers Co-Op. But they didn’t have the six foot aluminum step ladder last time I was there and Home Depot has that one stop shopping thing going on which is what you need if there are more than two things on your list. I had three.
So this morning I got 25 miles into the trip and came to a rise in the road which allowed me to see about 200 cars in front of me, waiting I guess to turn onto 66. There’s a fifteen mile stretch of the trip where I’m unlikely to see 10 cars total on the road and now I was looking at what seemed like madness. I gave it 15 seconds of thought and made the easy U-turn.
If I headed back to Warrenton I might find that Walmart which has eluded me so. I can’t begin to describe what a disappointment that was. Except for the enjoyment of the female form in aisles 16, 18, 13, 11, and 8b. Some of the women were with their kids and husbands and I thought good job everyone. I felt a little panicky at one point, a thing which afflicts me briefly but with force and has been triggered more often at Walmarts than any other place. Still, I remain a faithful Walmart shopper. I got the feeling people would soon start pointing and hissing at me, their eyes glowing red, their overbites transformed into bloody fangs, if I didn’t act immediately so that’s what I did–bought a coffee maker and some baby powder. Also I didn’t know there were still extreme punk rock looking, black leather clad, half shaved head, half long dyed black hair wearing dudes but in the Warrenton Walmart I saw three.
I kept driving, on to Culpeper, where I came upon another Walmart and just pulled in like that’s all I know how to do, shop at Walmart. This one pretended to be a SuperStore but I’ve seen the latest editions in the New Orleans area and this was a step down. After fighting off the onset of a parking lot panic attack I set out through the sultry heat into discount shopper’s paradise. I found a six foot step ladder and an 18 foot extension ladder, which I’ll have to have if I am instructed to paint the stair wells or clean the gutters. The woman at the check out said, referring to the 18 foot fiberglass extension ladder, I know the price of that one because people keep saying can you put that in a bag for me. I don’t think I actually laughed but let her know that I thought she was the perkiest, funniest, most helpful Walmart checkout person in the history of retail shopping. I was supposed to get some of that black flexible gutter pipe extension but that was all about the Manassas Home Depot and I was miles from that now. I also found a replica pair of the cheap sunglasses I had stepped on ten minutes after imagining that I would step on them, that first day I arrived on the Rappahannock property. Maybe this whole day was about those sunglasses.
I headed back down that road from Culpeper to Sperryville, 522 I think, and it’s a doozy, nice and peaceful, easy to drive if you remember to dodge the oncoming gooseneck trailers pulled by big dualie farm trucks which tend to weave into your lane at 55 miles per hour. Some nice green mountain scenery though, which means you’re back in that bubble you realized too late you didn’t mean to leave.
Cat On My Back
It was a period of time consisting of mere minutes. One minute I was performing one of my duties which, don’t begrudge me my good fortune, consists of swimming around the pool testing various properties ( alkalinity and ph bromide reactivities to human skin, floatability, shallow end rope divider tensile strength, temperature, pine needle irritability, and other multi-syllabic obfuscations meant to put in shadow the fact that I am floating around the pool at midday) and the next minute I am kneeling on the rough ass pool deck, attending to the sometimes malfunctioning pool sweeper device with a 20 pound former Brooklynite feline, claws fully working, attached to my shirtless back. I screamed. And then Herman just sittin’ there lookin’ at me like, what. I have read Pet Semetary, probably saw the movie, and recently listened to it as a book on tape, so don’t tell me I don’t know about cats that have returned from the dead to bring moderate levels of discomfort to those around them.
My employer, Mr. BC, says he saw a large bone in the grass just alongside the driveway while he was jogging the other morning. He said it appeared to have been chewed on one end. Which is a thing all goblins learn on their first day of school. Retrieve bones from cemetery, bite off end, suck out marrow.
I forgot to mention there is a small family cemetery on the property. And one of the graves has a bit of a, uh, subsidence problem.
I could make a short, ridiculous, Halloween movie out here if I had a camera and a handful of kids who would do and say more or less exactly what I told them and would work for popsicles.
Mr. BC held my hand yesterday and we got that letter of verification for the right to dump trash in Rappahannock County. At the treasurers office I also got a green cap, and a Rappahannock decal for my windshield. I was so happy about that decal.
I paused leaving out of the dump, right by the office, like I has a rat snake in my boot or something, just in case the dump attendant wanted to admire my new decal. He didn’t.
M is looking after the Rocheblave house for me and every so often calls or emails to tell me about important mail. So far:
The IRS wanted me to know they are not kidding around and are pissed off that I have not contacted them about the remaining 13 hundred dollars I owed them. They said they are going to start seizing bank accounts, putting liens on properties, f-ing me in the bunghole because I'm bad, bad, bad to the bone. Bitches. In the 11th hour I hooked up with one of their payment services and for 33 dollars was allowed to settle my bill over the phone by credit card.
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety is mad at me because I was a couple of weeks tardy in turning in my license plates for the the two vehicles I uninsured when I bought the Mazda. M seemed to think they were asking me for 250 dollars. Oh, so I'm the bitch now. Everbody think I the bitch.
The City of New Orleans is pleased to inform me that they have accepted my petition for homestead exemption of property taxes on my primary residence but that they wanted me to be a street address number that ends in 13 instead of the 15 that all my other accounts know me as. I'm not sure how I'm going to resolve that but the letter writing and phone calling that would probably take care of it don't seem to be happening.
At the diner yesterday my waitress, using no words whatsoever, seemed to think I was turning a little sissy on her because I ordered waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, and a fruit cup for breakfast, instead of my usual manly breakfast which includes a small rib-eye.
And that letter of verification. I still haven't gotten over to the courthouse to get that letter which will allow me to haul trash to the dump. And I need to mail some money to my bank in New Orleans. I need to throw out that rotten peach. I should swim today. I'm going to breakfast now, then I'll paint some woodwork at the big house.
Fruit And Vegetables
After breakfast at the hippie deli in Sperryville where I spent five dollars for a homemade egg mcmuffin type sandwich and coffee (the sandwich really is very delicious) I went across the parking lot to the organic fruit and vegetable stand and the woman there made fun of me because I thought the apples I picked up were asian pears. I really see less and less well without my glasses. I did not disclose this imperfection of mine to the woman.
I said she should pickle some peppers because who wants to buy peppers pickled in Ft. Worth at a Sperryville, VA. roadside stand? She said she pickled all sorts of stuff and went on to tell me about dilly beans. I said, hey do you pickle string beans? and she said that's what dilly beans are.
I think the reason she didn't laugh at me again is because she was seriously considering that I might have some sort of mental disability. And who's to say she is wrong.
So I said, what, you gonna bring me some dilly beans? and she admitted with some reluctance that she had some old ones. I said, old is good, bring those, I'll see you next Sunday.
The Letter Of Verification
Today is my sister Sarah’s birthday, although that fact has for many years been obscured by something about Elvis.
The other day I asked my favorite waitress down at the diner where it is locals haul their trash, since there is no trash pickup here. She said oh down by the highschool there on 211. Easy enough. I will look for the sign.
I’ve been storing household garbage from the two houses on this property in this here guest house garage. In heavy construction grade trash bags.
I got scared late one night from the imaginary snort of a black bear. I had been on my way up to the big house for a snack, as I can’t seem to keep any food in this house. From the pitch blackness of that small area of woods surrounding two sides of this house came a snort which may have been from a black angus heifer across the road. But why be reasonable?
I ran back into the house like the girl that I am and decided I could wait until the morning for food. Two eggs, a small ribeye, home fries, toast, coffee and juice is my default 5.99 breakfast.
The next morning I decided that if heifers were going to start imitating bears I really should take action and haul that garbage to the uh refuse station over by the highschool.
I Took a right out of the driveway, past the Chevron station and up to 211. Took the right towards Sperryville. Passed the sign signifying Rappahannock refuse and made the first U-turn, then the first right past the sign. Down a road to the elementary school. Came out, rechecked the sign and drove down two different private drives before I realized the sign was not to being taken literally.
I eventually overcame my spacial confusion, pulled in and started flinging bags. After the second one rang out the fact that I was not recycling my beer and wine bottles I placed the bags in the bin more carefully. Who knew I drank that much wine and beer?
I was anticipating what happened next so as I was driving away and a guy came out of the booth and asked me was I a Rappahannock resident I said to him well that’s what I wanted to talk to you about, acting as if I had been on my way to see him instead of the more likely scenario of me as refuse dumping criminal.
He gave me a card with the name of a person down at the courthouse and on the back of the card were the three words denoting the thing I would need in order to dump my trash in the future: letter of verification.
Now that’s all I can’t think about, that damn letter of verification. I’m wondering if there is a strip search involved? Speaking of strip searches I know I should be thinking about sex instead of letters of verification but who can think about sex at a time like this?
So, what I’m telling you? There’s all manner of work to be done here.
Where The Ghetto?
Ima get a complex if this keeps up. Another friendly (nosey) neighbor come up to the house last night with a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift, a damn plant, and look at me with that same incredulity I got from that other neighbor last weekend. I told both these people the same thing, more or less, I’m the new caretaker, or, Ima looking after the place is what I told them and the one guy actually said–Are you REALLY the new caretaker?, and the other guy, well, he just looked scared at first, probably on account of I just come out of the pool looking, I don’t know, maybe too much a long hair or something, but goddamn it, this is the way it is out here now, you know, for however long, and (I’m not saying I opened the gift card and am taking this quote directly but so what if this is “the premier property in all of Rappahannock”) so don’t sweat it there’s a new fool on the hill, freak in the big house, johnny come lately. I might let you come swimming sometime. I mean I said come anytime didn’t I? Even though you and I know I was just being polite and that you can’t take anything that caretaker says to the bank. That guy’s probably searching the Internet as we speak, looking for a good hippie manual.
But I’ll chill for a minute because people sure seem to have a sense for that out here. And I don’t want to get people talking about that hippie on the hill having self-esteem issues. Even though, let’s face it, a person with a full head of self-esteem is just someone who doesn’t ask very good questions.
I’m adaptable though. Ghetto dweller, King of the Hill, same thing, different view.
Several of us in town like that first table for two. This morning one of the waitresses was sitting there so I headed for the other “two,” over in the corner under the vent. It was cold. I turned around to orient myself to the crowd, it was just one other couple. The man nodded to me and I nodded back. It was Boss Hogg’s deputy, Cletus (actually it was roscoe p coltrane.) Later, the General Lee was seen circling the block. When I left it was out front, parked next to my truck. That’s a bitchin’ automobile, there is no denying it.
Brother, Can You Spare Five Dollars?
In my over zealous attempt to pay off the exorbitant fees owed the IRS I have over drafted my checking account for the first in twenty-five years. Coincidentally, the overdraft unbeknownst to me at the time, I made a substantial deposit the same day the bank was sending me the letter informing me of my carelessness, so I hope that substantiates the bank’s good judgement to pay the item instead of returning it.
I’m trying not to fall asleep because an old, um, hmm, uh, buddy, uh, from Dumaine, said he would come back with something that would make me glad I lent him six dollars. I showed him my overdraft notice but it didn’t really impress him. He was spinning all manner of tales to confuse the six dollars out of me and although at no time was I hopelessly confused, he did get his six dollars. There were these change cups with fifty or sixty dollars of coins right in front of the guy from Dumaine so the negative 644 dollars on the overdraft notice didn’t make him feel sorry for me in the least. He’s lost a lot of weight since I’ve seen him last and although I can’t be sure his story of kidney problems is not the reason for it I equally suspect crack cocaine abuse.
The neighbor lady across the street had come over to borrow five dollars just an hour before the guy came over to borrow six dollars. Or something like five dollars. I was working, putting up lattice underpinning around the vulnerable side of the house, and so hastily collected a handful of quarters that could have been five but might have been seven dollars.
I quit my job on Friday. That’s always fun.
I might go to Austin on Tuesday. From there I’ll go visit my mom in Dallas for a couple of days. Then I’ll come back to New Orleans so a few days later I can leave again, drive east, live in Virginia for awhile.
I saw BigHead today for the first time in ages. He looked good, clean, and free of bodily abrasions. He ignored my cooing solicitations and walked on by. It didn’t hurt my feelings. We were never exactly pals. It was good to see him though because I thought he was dead.
I’ve been watching tons of movies lately. The three best from last week, go figure how I went this long without seeing these, were: Bulworth, Pushing Tin, and holy cow what great fun–Trainspotting. I saw a pretty good Tracy/Hepburn flick on PBS this morning after Meet the Press. I can’t remember the title but the screenplay was tight. It was, you know, a love story. I took notes.
I don’t think that guy’s coming back. There are some who like me for just that reason, my gullibility.
Two Lists, An Update
I waited as long as I could today before popping the top on my first Red Stripe. Twelve forty-six for the record. I went out to the front porch to watch the tow truck manage that car with no wheels onto its’ flatbed. It was anti-climatic, as most things are.
Things that haven’t been anti-climatic:
1. The Redwoods of Northern California.
2. Coney Island.
My desk is one of those six foot long cafeteria tables with the imitation wood-grain top. It is full of stuff: a cell phone, some cashews, a box of checks, some hand lotion, some baby powder, a couple of antique bottles, an Y Tu Mama Tambien DVD, three empty Red Stripes from yesterday and today’s one, half full. Okay make that four empty Red Stripes, a checkbook, a computer game called Alone in the Dark, floppy disks, chapstick, stamps, an extra mouse, an MP3 player, two sets of headphones, a letter opener, a PlayBortz, some packets of hot sauce from Taco Bell, a Steve Earle CD, a Lucinda Williams CD, and a pile of uncashed payroll checks which sit glaring at that last bill from the IRS, and a full Red Stripe.
This is my last week of work in New Orleans before I depart, probably via Austin and Dallas, for three months in the Virginia countryside. I’m out at English Turn doing call-back work on homes we’ve painted over the last several years. Most of these days won’t last until noon.
Kids steal cars and bring them out to the road that leads to the English Turn construction entrance and then they set them on fire. There’s still a crispy Volvo out there, been there for months, finally someone pushed it off into the weeds. Last week there was a Firebird up on the Intracoastal Canal Bridge, burnt as well as a car can be burnt.
There was a good bit of press over the beautiful teenage girl who last week got stabbed to death by two other teenage girls who thought maybe she too pretty, and popular. But there’s been six or eight murders here since that happened, one of them in the Iberville projects the guy ended up on his knees, shot to death, that’s how they found him, and onlookers speculated that maybe he was praying before he died.
Another murder yesterday (one of two in the city) on Banks Street, this time at Galvez, the Banks Street toll rises to several in a six block stretch for the year. One man emptied the 30 round clip of his AK-47, piercing the windows and doors of cars parked on the street as he chased down the victim, eventually putting at least one round in the young man’s head. A .45 handgun was found on the victim. The Banks Street area church people who planted crosses in the neutral ground, thereby claiming the turf between Broad and Dorgenois, and Dorgenois and Rocheblave, apparently succeeding in squeegeeing the crime to an area three blocks away. You can do that here, claim turf, and with some success I might add, but always, always, at the expense of some other adjoining, less civic-minded neighborhood. The other murder on Sunday was from a stab wound. The victim was a paraplegic as a result of previous gunshot wounds to his body.
Just Plain Wrong
I don’t always listen to Louise on the radio, 90.7, Wednesdays between two and four p.m. on WWOZ (.org), New Orleans, LA., but I do when I remember its Wednesday, which is a hard day to remember. For example I thought tomorrow was Friday, is what I told my nephew who called to offer free tickets to the Soul Rebels brass band at Dragons Den tonite, and borrow my truck for Friday to haul some stuff to the dump on Elysian Fields. “I’ll call you Friday,” he said. “Okay, that’s tomorrow then,” I said. He should have said, “no it’s not you stupid moron,” but instead he said, “today is Wednesday.” I might have responded, “who you callin’ a stupid moron, bastard?” But instead, over the din of WWOZ, hosted on Wednesdays by Louise, I said, “all right then, see you Friday.”
Some days here in New Orleans, Louisiana are more humid than others and this is one of those days, but I’m inside with conditioned air now, not outside on a construction site, so what do I care how humid it is, quit your whining all you sissies.
My nephew and his wife gave me a bed, which is a thing I haven’t had for several years, so I sleep in a bed now, which is a new thing for me. It’s not that much better than sleeping on a couch, or the floor, but it is some better. I don’t have it in the bedroom yet but I’m working on it.
I don’t know what I’m looking for inside these words, or inside the Red Stripe, but that doesn’t keep me from looking.
I’m not going to go on and on like Lenny Bruce obsessed with obscenity hearings but the IRS wiped me out this year, brutally. I thought it was over and then just a few days ago I got some more correspondence from them and they wanted more money. Bless their heart. I just wrote two more checks. I still owe them some more for this year so later they can get more penalty money if they want, all they have to do is ask. I’m a bitch for the IRS. Anyway, anyone says jimlouis doesn’t support his government is a goddamn liar. I support my governments. Monetarily, I live around the poverty line, but I own a couple of low rent properties too, and pay property taxes in three different states. I paid out over fifty percent of my total earnings in various taxes this year. But I’m not complaining. If you think I’m complaining, you’re just plain wrong. I’m not. I’m just saying.
A Thousand Singing Chi-Os
Shortly before midnight in Evangeline parish, Louisiana, I started dozing so I exited the interstate onto a farm to market road and drove about a mile until I came to a church parking lot. I backed up to a magnificent live oak tree, reclined my seat back, and tried to forget the last time, more than twenty years previous, when sleeping in a different truck in a San Jose, CA. church parking lot had led to my narrowly escaping a prison sentence in Huntsville, TX. I slept badly, with restless abandon, and when I did awake after two hours I was covered in a film of cold, thick, heavy sweat. And I was still way too tired. I drove back to the I-49, found a proper rest stop a few miles up the road and pulled in under the mercury vapor lamps across from the big boys with their diesel engines offering sweet lullaby. I slept until five a.m. when the muffled alarm on my cell phone packed away in my bag went off.
I put back on the too-small black dress shoes and although I did not fasten my too-small charcoal suit pants I made sure the sufficiently long tail of my white dress shirt covered the fact that my pants and belt were undone. I hobbled to the brick building which offered his/hers restrooms, did my thing, came back out and for five minutes tried to get a moist, flimsy dollar bill into the slot of the Coke machine. Patience was ultimately rewarded and after the fortieth attempt the machine took my money–and immediately spit back four quarters. The machine though would not accept it’s own quarters in payment so I took them to an adjacent machine and used them to buy a damn Coke. Squinting in the darkness I also hoped that E-9 was in fact E-9, which is was, glory be to God, the spiral mechanism released an Almond Joy candy bar.
I was checking out a false dawn to my left as I drove through Opelousas into Lafayette, where I would burn a doobie in anticipation of a spectacular sunrise, and could catch the I-10, elevated over swamp, into New Orleans.
At the wedding in Shreveport I was buzzing on only my second glass of wine so it was then I decided to go, before I found myself staggering to the dance floor and breaking through the interlocked arms of what seemed to be a thousand singing Chi-Omegas. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Chi-Omega, am in fact myself a former neighbor and honorary member of the Chi-Omega sorority, but don’t get me started.
On the way out I tried one last time to get a lovely fifty-year-old Tri-Delt to show me the secret handshake but she was adamant–“No! In thirty years I haven’t even showed my husband that.” So that’s the way that goes. There are things some of us will never know.
You can get gas at a number of different places in this New Orleans neighborhood but the closest to this house is the Chevron station at the corner of Canal and Broad.
I understand the rules of disengagement as they relate to panhandlers on the streets of New York–don’t make eye contact, don’t give away anything, don’t be friendly; kindness is weakness.
Things in the South are different though and it is just plain rude not to make eye contact, and it is my opinion that in some cases the making of eye contact can actually save your life or personal property–like in the sense that it shows that you are aware, not afraid, and not disrespectful. Of course, making eye contact does not infer any of those things but we can all hope for the best out on the streets with panhandlers and armed robbers.
I have a couple of overflowing change cups over on the windowsill to my left so if I’m going out to the corner for gas I will palm a few coins because I can see the future and the future calls for loose coin.
I’m getting out of the truck the other day to slide my plastic through the pay-at-the-pump slot and am forced to ignore the approaching taxman because there is a pile of not fresh vomit on the pavement between myself and the pump. “Ah, disgusting...”
I’m having to step over it now and my expression is one of total unhappiness. “Ah mane,” I grumbled.
“Excuse me,” the taxman said, “but could you help me out with a little change.”
“Maybe in a sec, brah, let me take care of my business,” I sneered.
“Why you lookin’ at me like that?” taxman said.
“Like what?” I said.
“Like all disgusted,” he said.
“I ain’t even lookin’ at you mane. I’m looking at this pile of almost dried up vomit on the ground here. Shit mane, it’s disgusting.”
“You want me to get somebody to clean it up?” taxman said.
“Nah, I couldn’t handle seeing it all smeared around,” I said.
“I hear ya,” he smiled.
I finished pumping gas, gave the taxman 78 cents, and started walking around the truck towards the little glass fronted booth where one can pay for gas if one hasn’t done it at the pump, or buy cigarettes, beer, candy, and other essentials by putting your money in a stainless steel drawer that gets pushed and pulled in and out of the building. Taxman was at my side.
“You my best friend now?” I asked him.
“No, uh uh, I’m just walkin’ with you,” he chuckled.
We were standing in front of the booth/mini-store, looking inside, and there was nobody there.
“Clarissa!” taxman yelled, “get out here, there somebody needin’ you!”
“Chill mane, let the woman do whatever she’s doing.”
“What are you lookin’ to get?” Taxman said.
“Man, you all up inside my business now ain’t you?” I smiled.
He smiled back. “Aw mane, you all right, I like you.”
“That’s good,” I said. “I’m not going to wait though, I’m going across the street.”
“Well all right then,” taxman said.
But the Rite-Aid is like the 7-11 and they don’t sell the item I was looking for. So, I went back to the Chevron. Clarissa was in her booth.
“So you come back,” taxman said.
“Yeah, Rite-Aid can’t help me,” I said. I got Clarissa’s attention. “I can get a pack of the orange ZZs?” Clarissa nodded and I put a small pile of cash in the drawer because those ZZs aren’t cheap. I waited for taxman to say something about my purchase but my wait was in vain. There was a good bit of change in the drawer though and the taxman’s eyes were glued to it, almost watering like he’s starving hungry and that change is really a bacon and egg sandwich.
“You lookin’ pretty hard at my money,” I said.
“He gonna get that money from you,” Clarissa said.
“Naw, I already took care of him. He’s not the greedy kind.”
Taxman smiled the smile of defeat.
“See ya around,” I said.
“See ya,” taxman said.
Ok dammit, I can’t go on living this lie. I didn’t accidentally fall down and hit my face on a bedpost. That’s what you wanted to hear, right? You’ve broken me. Happy? Your unbelieving eyes, your smirk, your questioning was I drunk or stoned, your constantly asserting that I needed to come up with a better story--have all contributed to my shattered, nerve racked state. I can’t go on fighting you. You are right, I am wrong. I am a liar, you are a truth seeker.
What really happened?
Can you handle the truth, the absolute truth? It’s like this:
I got into DC late. I interrupted a dinner party. Everyone stood up (would you please f-ing sit down.) I was served first wine, then salmon, some veggie lasagna, some fried spinach balls or something, more wine, and then inexplicably I got all dry throated and I almost hacked up a hairball right in front of everyone. I excused myself not quite gracefully and got a glass of water. Everything was cool. All the people at the table were professional heavyweights, and interesting, and likeable. In the end they made me feel one step closer to meeting Maureen Dowd.
The party broke up, one couple hung around. We drained all the partial wine bottles, nibbled on cheese and grapes, and talked. Politically, the division of all of us drunk (there was some experimental shooting of Grey Goose with raspberry sorbet) stragglers would not be accurately summed up as half Republican, half Democrat, but we’ll go with that just to make things more interesting. There was talk of America as the most successful republic in the history of civilization, there was the suggestion of a currently shameless, disingenuous leadership, there was talk of Ghandi, and then I had to make fun of Gw/junior for that implausible bullshit story about the time he choked on a pretzel, nearly lost consciousness (how would one know the difference?), and scraped up his left cheekbone.
I smugly asserted that is was more likely George Sr., or junior’s wife, Laura, had punched him for being a pompous prick.
The next night someone I cannot and will not identify as George Cheney, snuck into the basement guestroom in which I was staying, dipped my fingers in warm water while I slept, and waited in the shadows as I staggered to the bathroom. When I returned the bedroom was darker, and colder, than it had ever been before. Perhaps it wasn’t Cheney, and I can’t say it was Rumsfeld, or Ashcroft, and I doubt Tom DeLay would stoop so low, but someone from the opposing team sucker punched me twice, in the leg, just above the knee. I went down, hit my face on the bedpost, stitches, so on and so forth, you know the rest. The weird thing is, and I don’t know if this happened before or after I suffered the mild concussion of face smashing against metal but someone hissed in the darkness–“We’re listening, don’t diss the chief.” And that’s the whole truth.
So, I feel a little better, unless I’m lying, in which case the truth is still out there, somewhere, waiting for me to come get it.
Three a.m. seems to be the magic hour these days; it’s when I wake up and need to pee or just wake up to realize I’m awake, dogs are barking, or not, or hey I still have that crick in my neck from days ago at 3 a.m. when I crashed into a bedpost. I’m even in a different time zone from when that happened and it’s still 3 a.m. when I wake up.
This morning the chained up neighbor’s dogs are barking in that way they do when the free and feral canines are about. I heard a free one clamber up and off my porch like they like to do. I don’t want to get up though. I don’t want to throw my misguided superiority around. I don’t want to get the BB gun.
I’m patient but not without limits. I get up and get the BB gun, go out the side door (because in New Orleans going out your front door with something that vaguely looks like a real gun can become what would later be called bad judgement), and I hunker down looking for targets. I see a couple of dark shadows and shoot wildly, at least hitting my neighbors chain-link fence across the way. I shoot some more, scare dogs away.
This morning, at sunrise, I’m up for good (or worse) and see another dead cat over near where I was shooting at the dogs. Some blood and abrasions around the neck but not as savage as I’ve seen it before. With the vacant lot all graded and smooth there’s really nowhere to just toss a carcass, as has been my custom with all the other dead cats. I know the longer I wait the stiffer and more unpleasant the former cat’s shell will be to maneuver but I wait just the same. About 7:30, before going out for breakfast, I get a shovel, dig a shallow trench next to the former feline, and push the stiff black and white shape into it. The tail doesn’t want to fit so I dig a little under it and cover it up separately.