babylon. and on.

Monday, October 26, 2009

stain, Part I

autumn  n.  1  the season that comes between summer and winter; fall
2  any period of maturity or of beginning decline

     It’s dark as hell.  Pitch black.  I’m back in the leaf fort with Don, sitting and waiting.  It’s fall again, in here anyway, and cold.  I know where we are, even if I can’t see where we are, because we’re always here on nights like this.  There’s been a lot of nights like this lately.  Ever since—  Well, since last fall.  That’s when it is now, but it’ll be spring again in the morning.
     I can smell the leaves.  All dry and damp at the same time.  They’d crumble easy as hell if you could grab ’em, but they’d still be wet enough that the pieces would stick to your hand.  But that smell.  It gets in your nose so strong you can taste it.  Kind of like dirt.  Just about thick enough to choke you.
     My brother’s usually a few years older than me, but not when we’re in here.  Don’s a kid again.  Maybe eight or nine.  I’m still seventeen.  Even though I can’t see him yet, I know he’s sitting on the other side of the fort, facing me.  I can’t hear him either.  I can’t hear anything.  Pure silence.  A quiet so loud it makes your ears want to pop.  It’s like you’re deaf.  Deaf and blind.  Plus, you can’t move.  Like you’re dead, but know that you’re dead too.  All except for the smell.
     The light comes on behind Don.  Bright white.  Makes me squint.  A dome of light cut out of the dark.  It turns his head and the far wall of the fort into a silhouette, like the ones you made when you were a kid, when the teacher would shine the overhead projector at the side of your head and trace your shadow on a piece of black construction paper she’d taped up to the board, and then you’d have to cut it out.  Like that, but with a little more detail.  I start to hear now, but only my heart.  It thumps in my ears, slow and quiet at first, getting louder and faster.  Don stands up, turns around and faces the light.  He’s almost as tall as the dome now, with just enough left over his head to make a halo.  I’m yelling at him.  Move, goddamn it!  Run!  But that’s only in your head.  You know by now all you can do is watch.  Watch and wait for the thuds.  Those goddamn thuds.
     Wait.  It’s different this time.  I hear something else.  Like . . . chirping.  What is that?  A cricket?  Where’d a cricket come from?  There’s never been a cricket before.
     Nah, that’s not a cricket.  It’s the alarm clock.  Turn that thing off.  Oh, god, my head.  Don’t move, man.  Don’t even open your eyes.  Just reach for it.  What the—  Bedpost.  More left.  Where the hell are ya?  There.  Whap.  Take that, you piece of shit.
     Peace.  Oh, peace is good.  Good peace.  Man, what the hell’d you do last night?  Jesus.  Pool?  I remember pool.  What the fuck?  I can’t shoot pool.
     Oh, right.  Tobien’s.  Dime drafts.  Me and Grant.  And pool.  Man, you can’t shoot pool.
     Wonder what time—  Oh yeah.  The alarm.  Must be seven.  Now, what day?  Please be Saturday.  God, let it be Saturday.  What the hell’d you set the alarm for if it was gonna be Saturday?  Shit, it ain’t Saturday.
     Vocabulary test.  Yesterday.  Those come on . . . Tuesday.  Can you spell ‘hangover’ boys and girls?  Sure.  I thought you could.  Mister Rogers?  That ain’t good, especially this early.  And it’s only Wednesday.  You got school.  Wednesday?  Shit.  You gotta go see Doc today.
     p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-f-f-f-f-f-f-t.  Goddamn, Don!  Nice out, man!  Bet you’re proud of that one, huh?  Had to be a good seven, eight seconds lo—  Whoa!  Jesus H. Christ!  What crawled up inside you and died?  Aww, man!  Don’t breathe that shit in!  I think I’m gonna puke!  Mayday!  Mayday!  Abandon ship!
     Aaahhh, tile’s cool.  Just sit.  Piss like a bitch.  Oh yeah, that’s it.  Aaaaahhhhh.  Golden Streams, by I. P. Freely.  Golden rivers today, Mr. Freely.  Golden rapids running into golden waterfalls running into a golden ocean.  Ocean.  Ocean.  Zeppelin.  Physical Graffiti?  Nah, Houses of the Holy.  Last song on the B side.  “The Ocean.”  Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean’s roar.  Cool.  Ocean.  Oh shun.  Ocean.  That’s a weird fuckin’ word.
     Get out of your head, man.  Too much going on in there.  God, I ain’t gonna make it.  Don’t wanna move.  Maybe just lean back against the tank for a minute.

Bam bam bam!  What the—  “Jim!”  The old lady.  “What’re you doin’ in there?  Contemplatin’ your navel again?  You’re gonna be late for school!”
     “Out in a minute!”  Geez, no shower today.  Shower.  Fuckin’ rubber hose stuck on the faucet with a little attachment that spits out some spray.  Woolworth special.  Hose isn’t even long enough for you to stand up.  Gotta kneel.  Still, better than a bath.  Ooh, my head.  Not so fast on the standing up there, moron.  Aspirin.  Aspirin.  Medicine cabinet.  Damn draft beer.  That shit’ll kill ya.  Whoa, try pulling up the boxers first, dick cheese.  Don’t need to break your neck getting there.  Damn!  Not so fast on the bending over either.
     Who is that in the mirror?  Didn’t think you could look as bad as you feel.  Fuck it.  Just get your pills.  Aspirin, aspirin.  Should’ve known.  WD brand.  The bitch gets Winn-Dixie everything.  That or Woolworth’s.  Maybe five or si—  Hang on, how ’bout this?  The old man’s box of Goody’s.  And his cup.  Maybe take a powder.  If this ain’t a Goody’s headache, nothing is.
     Man, shit looks like coke.  Maybe you should snort it, get it there faster.  Fuck that.  First time you did whiff, you just did a line.  Second time was lines all night.  Really got off on that shit then.  Never even made it to bed.  Drank and smoked a lot more than you would’ve if you hadn’t done the bump.  But you got to come down after, slept the whole next day and still had a hellacious hangover.  This one ranks right up there.

White Hell

White hell
Powder your nose
You’re killing yourself
And you can’t tell
The destruction is clear
To those you hold dear
White hell
Hear what they say
It’s for your own good
They want to help
But you’re wading in lines
Just wasting your life
White hell

It’s taken control
Suck it into your face
Shoot it into your arm
Do a little freebase
White hell

White line fever
When you’re out
It’s great white hope
Not gonna get any easier
Snowbound, snow-blind
Burnt out on your dope
White hell
It’s the big white lie

Wonder do you mix this shit with water first?  Nah, just dump it in your mouth, chase it.  Man, 
that’s rank.  Fuck.  Should’ve filled the cup up first.  Hnyaah—  Jesus!  If you had to inhale, why didn’t you just do it through your nose?  Gahk!  Put that cup down, man!  Turn around quick, she’s gonna blow!  Damn!  Didn’t flush that piss!  Gonna be a golden splash, Freely!  Hyuuuuck!  Hyuuuuuuck!  Hyuuuuuuuuck!
     Man, I see spots.  Sure hope that’s puke on my chin.  God, you got your face down here in the thunder mug where your ass is supposed to be and one kind of nasty shit or another dripping off of it.  And it’s Wednesday.
     Bam bam bam!  “Jim!  What’re you doin’ in there?  I gotta get ready for work.  You need to get out.  Now!”
     “Comin’!”  Get a washcloth, man.  Wet it, wipe your face.  Flush that shit.  Put the old man’s cup back.  No, get some water first.  Oh, that’s good.  More.  Wait, take some real aspirin.  Four, five.  That’ll do.  Oh yeah.  A lot better.
     Damn.  You look even worse.  Fuck it.  Back to the room, get dressed, get your books, head out.  Wait for the old lady to go to work, come back, get some sleep.  Just hope she ain’t in the hall now.  Thank god.
     Don’s still in bed.  Wonder when he goes to work?  Probably not ’til afternoon.  Hell, I don’t care if he is home when I get back.  God, it still stinks in here.
     There’s the bathroom door.  The old lady’s in.  There goes Don getting up.  Better run before he starts talking out his ass again.  The hell with your books.  Shove ’em under the bed, man.  Damn it!  Quit bending over so fast!
     Alright.  Made it out.  Now, where to?  Around back to the basement?  That’s stupid.  Too risky.  Door’s locked anyway.  Even if it wasn’t, the fuckin’ thing sticks too much.  Everybody’d hear you open it.  What about the treehouse?  Why not?  Better walk around the block though, come at it from the other side.  Never know who might be watching.

Man, you haven’t been up there in years.  Think them steps’ll hold you?  Some slats we cut in half and nailed up after we pulled them off of one of the pallets the old man brought home from work.  One holds, two’s missing, three holds, four, five, six, through the hole in the floor.  Damn, that’s tight.  The ribs of the pallets were made out of a lot heavier stuff.  Used them to hold the floor up.  Two pallets nailed end-to-end, braced up with a bunch of ribs, a piece of plywood nailed on top for a floor.  The walls are slats left over after prying the ribs loose.  Another piece of plywood nailed on top for a roof.  Stretch out, kill some time ’til the old lady leaves.
     Me and Don built this piece of shit years ago.  About the last thing I remember us doing together.  Hell, about the only thing.  Except maybe splitting a birthday cake.  You’re exactly three years and five days younger, so the old lady only makes one cake—she calls it a pound cake, but it seems a lot heavier than that—then frosts it and writes both our names with the icing.  “Happy Birthday” across the top, “Don & Jim” across the bottom.  Usually get the same thing for a gift too.  Clothes mostly.  Got bikes that one year.  Orange as hell.  Kmart.  Black banana seats.  Those split in no time.  Had to duct tape ’em.
     The old lady made us ask Mr. Campbell for permission to build this thing since the tree’s on his property.  Hell, it’s not like it’s right in his yard or anything.  Across the field from his house in the middle of a line of bushes.  Just a fuckin’ piece of shit tree in the middle of some scraggly-ass bushes.  Not like it’s some real neat hedge or anything, and we were gonna make it an eyesore.  Just some scraggly bushes, about chest high, with a bunch of gaps you can climb right through.  You must’ve been eight or nine, so Don would’ve been eleven or twelve.  When we finished, he started acting like it was his place, like I couldn’t use it.  Turned into a real asshole.  Hell, he’s always been an asshole.
     Stinks in here.  Damp.  Spider webs.  Never did cut any windows.  Left a couple gaps on each wall, where the boards don’t go all the way up.
     Teri Shanahan.  God, you used to have a thing for her.  She was a couple years younger.  We’d come up here and play doctor.  I’d be the doctor and she’d be the patient.  Or she’d be a nurse and you’d be the patient.  That was better.  Take your shirt off, pretend to be wounded, let her dig a bullet out of your bellybutton.  Accidentally leave your fly open on purpose.  You’d have a boner, work it around so it was running up your fly, pushing your underwear through.  She’d say, “XYZ.  Examine your zipper.”  You’d say you were unconscious and that she’d have to pull it up.  She never would though.  When she was the patient, she’d never let you take her top off.  Said her old man had told her not to let anybody see her things.  Hell, she didn’t even have things yet.  She’d just pull her shirt up far enough to see her bellybutton, then keep a hand across the front of her pants so you wouldn’t fuck around with her zipper.  There was a couple years there we quit hanging out.  Then you saw her in the field here, right under the treehouse.  You walking one way and her coming from the other.  Started joking around, picked her up, laid her across your shoulders, started spinning her like Ric Flair or something.  She was screaming and laughing and trying to hold on.  She goddamn reached down, grabbed my dick right through my shorts.  Man, if I had a dime for every time I wished she’d done that . . . .  And you just froze, put her down, said you had to go.  Pussy.  Should’ve asked if she wanted to climb up and play doctor.
     Didn’t see her again ’til the funeral.  Fuckin’ cancer.  She was twelve.
     Why can’t I quit remembering shit?  That’s all the hell I do anymore.  Like my life is a mixed-up movie playing in my head, a little piece here, a little piece there.  I just show myself to my seat in this little theater in my brain, where I’m the usher and the audience and the projectionist and the narrator, and the rest of the world—time even—just about stands still while all this shit starts flashing through.  I can cover a whole lot in just a few seconds.  Years in a matter of minutes.  But it’s not like there’s anything worth looking at.  Just a bunch of bullshit.  Just a bunch of shit I’d rather forget.  Roll the credits already.  Call me the manager and have me throw me the fuck out of here.  I don’t remember selling me a ticket.  Besides, don’t we all know we’ve seen this piece of shit before?
     There’s a place in my mind . . . .   Great, there I go with that again.  Don’t know what to call it.  Lyrics, I guess.  It’s not poetry or anything.  I’m not a fag.  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with writing lyrics.  A lot of cool guys write ’em.  Any band’s got to have somebody writing lyrics.  Lyrics are half of what rock-n-roll is.



I Wanna Rock!!



Baby came over
She was dressed to kill
Said, man, let’s paint the town
She was ready to go
Staring at the clock
I cut on the stereo
And said, “I wanna rock!!”

(Chorus)
That’s all I wanna do
I wanna rock
With or without you
I wanna rock
Ain’t nothin’ better for the soul
Than a shot of rock-n-roll
And baby, you know, I wanna rock

Maybe I’m rude
To put it so blunt
Said, babe, I don’t wanna go out
She was ready to go
Staring at the door
I cut on the stereo
And pulled her to the floor

(Chorus; Break 1)
Now she sees it my way
She comes over to stay
Ain’t no way we can stop
Me and baby, we wanna rock

Tables done turned
Now I got cabin fever
I was just achin’ for some room
I was ready to go
You know, my feet were gettin’ hot
She cut on the stereo
Well, I almost forgot

(Chorus; Break 2)
Won’t slip my mind again
Rock-n-roll’s my best friend
With my baby lookin’ right
Gonna rock-n-roll all night

It’d help if you could play a guitar or sing or something, instead of just getting a beat in your head, maybe some guitar licks or bass, then making up words to fit.  Wish I could write a whole song, play it and sing it and everything, but all I can do is write down the words when they come.  If I don’t do it right off, they’ll just bounce around ’til I do.  Let’s see.  There’s a place in the corners of my mind . . . .  That fuckin’ sucks.  God, I feel like shit.  Wish Teri was here.  Maybe she’d just curl up with me, let me hold her.

Wha—  Man, what were you just thinking?  You dreaming?  Crocker?  Who the hell’s Crocker?  Right, we were watching him pitch last night.  At Tobien’s.  That place is out in the fuckin’ sticks.  The guy lets us in.  I don’t know if he knows we’re not eighteen.  Probably doesn’t care.  But something about Crocker.  Grant picked you up in the Vega.  Forget where we were supposed to be going.  The old man was at work, so you had to ask the old lady.  They’ll let you out on a school night if it’s got something to do with school, like a ballgame, and you get home by ten.  She wouldn’t know what season it is, so you might’ve just told her we were going to a game without bothering to say what kind.  That one time you had to ask the old man, was gonna tell him you were going to a wrestling match, but before you could get it out, he’s like, “Where is it tonight, the sky hockey match?” and turned up his beer.  But you must’ve got home on time, and got to the room OK.  We left around six-thirty.

“Hey, man.”  Grant had on his gray sweatshirt with the green UNC Charlotte logo.  He’s planning on going there after we graduate.  That’s way too far off for me to be making plans, but if I’m still around, I guess I’ll get a job.  “Dime drafts at Tobien’s tonight.  I emptied my change jar.”  His pocket was bulging.  He tapped a weed out of a fresh pack of Merit Lights and stuck ’em up under the visor.  Those things suck.  Just don’t have enough kick.  But I have to bum ’em sometimes, so I don’t talk shit.  “I’m buyin’ if you tell me what I wanna hear.”
     “You’re one good-lookin’ son of a bitch.”
     “Cute, man.”
     “OK.  You’re one cute son of a bitch.”
     “Ha ha.  C’mon, ya holdin’ or not?”
     “Yeah, I’m holdin’.”
     “Cool.  We’re ready to roll then.  Pack us one up.”
     We caught a pretty good buzz on the way out, cruising down 70, toward Whitsett.  I don’t know where they got that name.  Tobien’s.  The guy behind the bar owns the place.  Grant knows him.  Calls him Tom.  Maybe Tobien is his last name.  Tobien.  Toe bee inn.  Tobien.  My toe be in the water.
     “Get us a beer, man, pick us a table.”  Grant handed me a couple dimes, stuck his lighter and his smokes halfway down in his pocket, headed toward the back.  “I gotta take a piss.”  His hair’s so dark it’s almost black, and straight as fuck.  Sits there like a batting helmet.  He’s shortstop at school.  The bangs run most of the way down his forehead, the sides barely cover his ears, the back just touches the collar of his sweatshirt.  His whole face has kind of an edge, ’cause his nose and chin both come to a point.  His lips cut a thin line straight between ’em.  Frank fuckin’ Burns lips.
     I got two drafts and a table.  It wasn’t hard.  Tom was the only one there except for us.  It was 
against a wall, had a good view of the TV hanging up in the corner, and was close to all the necessities—bar, bathroom, jukebox—but not too close.  I waved to get Grant’s attention when he came out of the john.  Like he couldn’t have spotted me in that big empty.  He gave me a nod, went and got two more beers.  The cups there aren’t big to start with, and then you gotta take off for the thick head Tom puts on.  Grant carried his beers over, put ’em on the table, then his cigarettes.  He fished his Bic out before he sat down.  We both chugged our first one.  Like three swallows.
     I looked over at Grant.  “Hey, I’m gonna need to smoke outta your pack tonight.”  He raised his eyebrows and dropped his jaw like, ‘The hell you are,’ but he must’ve remembered who was holding and slid the Merits over.  “Middle of the week, man.  I’ll get ya back Friday when I get my allowance.”  I pulled a smoke out of the pack, reached over and grabbed his lighter.
     “You want me to smoke it for ya too?  Or just give ya a kick in the ass to get it started?”  He was grinning, so it was cool.
     “This music sucks.”  Tom had some country station on.  “How ’bout some juke?”
     Grant stood up, emptied his pocket on the table.  I had to stop some of the change from rolling off the edge.  We raked it into a big fuckin’ pile of quarters, nickels, and dimes.  “Grab what ya need, man.”  He picked out some quarters.  “I’m gonna shoot some pool.  You up for it?”
     “Nah.  You know I don’t shoot.”
     “Hell, there ain’t nobody here to see how bad ya suck.”
     “Maybe not, but I’d still haf’ta listen to you raggin’ on me.”
     “I’ll take it easy, man.  Swear.  I’ll even let ya break.”
     “Fuck.  What the hell.”  He’d have kept bugging me ’til I gave in, so I took off my jacket, covered the change with it, left it on the table with the empties to let people know the table was taken.  We took our second beers with us.
     “Hang on, I forgot the juke.”  I went back and grabbed some quarters, looked over the jukebox, punched in a few tunes.  I think the first was Nazareth.  “Hair of the Dog.”  Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch.  Don’s got that album, and that song rocks.  I don’t know why they wanted to put that wimpy-ass “Love Hurts” right after it.  ‘Oooh, my poor wittle heart is bwoken.’  It’s like that Derek and the Dominoes tune, “Layla.”  Clapton jams like hell for the first half, but then it gets real mellow, even has some bird chirping in it at the end.  But “Hair” rocks.  When it came on, ol’ Tom just rolled his eyes, shook his head, took his own sweet time turning off that twangy country shit he was listening to.
     I wouldn’t say Grant’s short—I mean, I’m six foot, but I’m not no skyscraper—but when he was standing beside the pool table, his waist barely cleared the edge of it.  He’s stocky though, damn near as heavy as me.  He chalked up his cue.  “Man, these sticks are about as straight as my dick.”
     I was picking one out, couldn’t help but laugh.  “What?
    “No shit, man.  Look.”  He laid his on the table, rolled it back and forth with his palm.  “It should have a Chiquita label on it.”
     “The stick or your dick?”
     “Either one, man.  I got a left-hand curve ya know.”
     “No, I don’t know.  And I don’t wanna.  A little too much information, man.  Besides, don’t blame the stick if ya can’t shoot straight, big boy.  Just rack ’em up.”
     Grant fed the machine a quarter, racked up the balls, alternated stripes and solids, held the sides of the frame with his fingers while he pressed the balls toward the front with his thumbs, rolled the whole thing back and forth a few times to tighten the pack, centered it at his end of the table, and lifted the frame.  While I was chalking up my cue, I saw Tom looking over at us.  I tried to ignore ’em, but I could feel him and Grant both watching me aim.  When I finally broke, the cue ball just glanced off the yellow one ball in front, barely knocked anything loose.  Tom shook his head again, turned around and started watching TV.  I looked over at Grant.  He was grinning like hell.  I could feel my fuckin’ face burning.  “Guess you were right about these sticks.”
     “Ha!  Don’t blame the stick, big boy.”
     Grant had to raise a leg to get a good shot at the cue ball.  He ran the table on me, then I had to rack.
     We must’ve played for a couple hours, me losing and racking, then watching Grant shoot.  I might’ve won once, when he scratched the eight ball on the break.  He sure as hell didn’t miss much, but when he did, he always let out a “Goddamn it.”  Those kept getting louder.  We took turns getting the rounds, and I kept punching songs in on the jukebox.  I know Aerosmith had “Walk This Way” and “Toys In The Attic,” and Kansas had “Carry On Wayward Son” and “What’s On My Mind,” so there was some good jam on there along with the bullshit.  Three or four times we stepped out back and burned a bowl.  Tom caught us the second time.  I’d left the bowl with Grant and went around the corner to take a piss.  I heard the door open and somebody say, “Hey, boy, what the hell’re you doin’?” loud as hell, and then Grant say, “Nothin’, man,” and then saw it was Tom when I looked around the corner.  I got scared he was gonna throw us out, but he just took a couple hits and went back in.
     I got tired of getting my ass beat, or maybe Grant got tired of beating it, so we went and sat down.  There was a baseball game on TV, and Tom told us he was gonna turn it up.  We’d heard all the songs we paid for, and we were getting kind of low on change anyway, so it was no big deal.  Grant’d had to spring for a pack of smokes, and I talked him into getting Marlboros since they didn’t have Merits.  It was that or Winstons, which suck, or those god-awful Vantage things, or else menthols, and neither one of us was gonna smoke a goddamn Kool.  There was a couple packs of Virginia Slims too, but we’d sooner smoke Kools than Vagina Slimes.  They’re high-dollar smokes out there too.  Damn dollar a pack.  Ten drafts we’d never see.  But Tom gave us a couple freebies for turning him on, so we were doing pretty good.
     Grant leaned his chair against the wall, put his feet up on the table.  “The Braves.  Hot-lanta on the road.  Shit, man, they’re playin’ the Padres.  I hope that fuckin’ Crocker ain’t on the mound.”
     “Who?”
     “Crocker.  He pitched for us in Legion ball.  Well, before I was on the team.  It’s usually just juniors ’n seniors, but they’ll take a sophomore once in a while, if they’re good.  Like me last year.  Crocker played year before that.  Son of a bitch cost us eight goddamn games.”
     “How’s that?”
     “He was too old to play.  By two months.  You can only play up to eighteen.  He tried to put one over on the league.  They found out halfway through the season.  We had’ta forfeit our wins.  Knocked us from first place to last,” he snapped his fingers, “just like that.”
     “Didn’t he know he was too old?”
     “Goddamn right he knew!  What the fuck’d he care?  His father-in-law’s the goddamn manager for San Diego.  Crock just wanted to get some work for his arm ’fore he went off to Triple A, and now he’s pitchin’ for the goddamn Padres.  He didn’t give a fuck about us.”
     Grant was getting hot, and Tom was starting to keep an eye on us, so I tried to change the subject.  “Ready for another round?”
     “Huh?  Oh.  Sure, what the fuck.”
     I counted out twenty cents from what change was left, went to get two more.  Tom was 
already drawing ’em by the time I got there.  He set ’em on the bar, looked right at me, then nodded over at Grant.  “What’s the problem with your boy?”
     “Nothin’.”  I laid the money down.
     “Well, tell him to keep it quiet.  He’s gettin’ loud.”
     “Yeah, all right.  I’ll tell him.”  I grabbed our beers, walked back to the table.
     Grant was sitting on the edge of his chair, elbows on his knees, staring up at the game.  “Shit, man, there he is.”  Number thirty-five, Burlington’s own Bobby Crocker, was standing on the mound.  “The fucker really made it, man.  He really made it.”  Grant sat back, shook his head.  “He won’t last long though.  All he’s got’s a fastball, and even I could hit it.  These boys are gonna eat him for lunch.”  He sat back on the edge of his chair again.  “C’mon, Braves!  Knock his shit back!”
     “Hey, man.  Tom told us to keep it down.”
     “What?  There ain’t even nobody else—”  We both looked around.  There was maybe four or five other guys who’d come in.  A couple of ’em were looking at us.  “There ain’t hardly nobody else here.”
     “Well, still, he told us to keep it quiet.”
     “Shit!”  Grant was louder than ever.  I looked up at the game instead of over at the bar.  Crocker had gone up a strike on the first batter.  The announcer said it was a fastball.
     I cut my eyes at Tom, saw him looking at Grant.  “C’mon, man.  Cool it.  I don’t wanna get tossed.”
     “Ah, fuck this place.  If he wants to throw us out, let ’im.”  Grant lit another cigarette, hit it like it was a Merit, blew it out hard and fast, coughed like it was a Marlboro.  “Jesus.  How d’ya smoke these cowboy killers?”
     “Practice, man.”
     “Fuck!”  The pop of the catcher’s mitt was loud as hell.  The announcer called strike two.  The ex-jock sidekick said the kid could really throw the heat.  Grant slapped the table, sorted out the last quarter from what change was left.  “Let’s play some pinball.  I don’t wanna watch this asshole anyway.”
     “Get the machine, man.”  I got up, headed for the bathroom.  “I gotta hit the john first.”
     “Yeah, I gotta go myself.”
     I kind of stopped, broke for the back door instead.
     “Where the fuck ya goin’?  I thought ya had’ta piss.”
     “Uh, yeah, well, I thought I’d just piss outside.”
     “Wha’ the fuck for?”
     “Well, ya know, I was gonna hit the bowl.”
     “Well, ya could piss first.”
     “You go ahead.  I’ll meet ya out back.”
     “Wha’ the fuck ever.”
     Grant staggered a little as he walked off.  I went outside, hurried around the corner, got a piss started before he could get out there.  When I finished, I packed a bowl and started hitting it.  Grant never did come out, so I just took a few tokes, tapped the loose ash off the top, shoved the bowl and matches in my pocket, went back in.
     Grant was standing in front of the pinball machine.  He was holding his beer to his chest with one hand and trying to put the quarter in the slot with the other, but he dropped it.  It bounced on the floor, rolled behind him.  He must’ve heard where it went, jerked around, bent over to pick it up instead of just squatting down to get it, and poured his beer on the floor.  He jerked back up when he saw what was happening, but he was too late to save the draft.
     “Shit a brick!”  He threw the cup on the floor, tried to pick the quarter up again, still not so much as bending his knees.  I just stood there inside the back door and watched, trying not to bust out laughing.  He kept leaning forward, real slow, reaching out for that quarter shining up at him from the floor.  He went too far though, and fell right on his goddamn head.  I thought I was gonna die.  He dropped over on his side, rolled onto his belly, right in the puddle of beer.  “Shit!”  He finally picked the quarter off the floor, pushed himself up as I was walking over.  He gave me a real eat-shit look.  “Let’s get the fuck outta here!”

We must’ve got home all right.  I guess we finished off that last bowl on the way, ’cause it’s empty now.  So’s my bag.  Gonna have to dip into Don’s stash again.  Hope him and the old lady both are gone.  Time to climb down and find out.

No station wagon.  That’s good.  Let’s just go in and see about ol’ Donny boy.  “Hey!  Don!”  Nothing.  Cool.  Don’t hear the water running, so he’s not in the shower.  Nope, door’s open.  “Hey, Don!”  Well all right.  Guess he’s gone.  Let’s us just go see what he’s holding.  Fuck.  You can’t just have room for the headache, you got to squeeze in the Mission Impossible theme too.  Dunt dunt duntdunt dunt dunt duntdunt dunt dunt duntdunt dunt dunt duntdunt DUN-UH-LUHHH  DUN-UH-LUHHH  DUN-UH-LUHHH  DU-NUH  dunt dunt—  Damn, shut the fuck up in there!
     Ease the drawer open, lift up that old T-shirt he never wears.  Well, well, what’s this?  A brown paper bag.  Imagine that.  Open it up and what do we find?  Oooh.  Fresh stash.  Four big ol’ bags.  Quick, just a few buds out of each.  Maybe a little shake to sprinkle over the top.  Can’t be greedy.  Lick ’em, seal ’em, back in the bag, under the T-shirt, ease the drawer closed.  Yes!  He’ll never know.
     There’s a place in the shadows of my mind . . . .  Great.  Now that’s back.  I’m gonna have to write it down soon.  Not now though.  Gotta get some sleep.  Oh, bed.  Good bed.  Bed good.

Whasit?  Wherethe? . . . .  Phone!  Get to the kitchen, man!  What if it’s the old lady?  Why’d she be calling?  Who would be?  Just answer the damn thing!  “Hello?”
     “Hello.  This is the principal’s office calling from Williams High School.  We were wondering why Jim isn’t in school today.”
     “He’s sick.”
     “Oh.  Do you think he’ll be in class tomorrow?”
     “Yeah.”
     “Well . . . all right then.  Thank you very much.”
     “Sure.”
     Geez.  That’s it?  That was fuckin’ easy.  Sounded like Meredith.  Wonder if it was?  Wonder if she knew it was me?  Meredith.  Rich bitch.  She used to like Grant.  She’s how we started hanging out in the first place.  She wanted to make him jealous, so she started paying attention to me.  You were in the same homeroom with him last year.  Mr. Foster made us sit in alphabetical order.  You were in the back seat, second row in from the door, Grant’s desk was in the next row over, one seat up.  Meredith works in the principal’s office in the mornings, so she can pretty much do whatever she wants.  Getting people out of class by saying the principal wants to see ’em, or just walking the halls if she feels like it.  She’d come by our room, stop outside the back door, call my name just loud enough so that Grant’d hear it too, then wave at me.  I knew what she was up to, but it was kind of nice anyway.  Must’ve worked too, ’cause Grant called her up and she quit messing around with me.  I don’t know, they might’ve gone out once, but I don’t think Grant really ever liked her, ’cause we’d always rag on her every morning after she left.  She didn’t have any tits or anything, and her ass was flat as hell.
     Ten-fifteen.  Back to bed.

What a day.  Slept through most of it.  Still feel like shit.  That “shower” sucks, but I’m clean.  Brushed my teeth forever.  Could’ve shaved my tongue.  Bowl of corn flakes should help settle the gut.  Couple teaspoons of sugar.  Man, it’s after three.  You’re missing Andy.  They show a couple back-to-back on channel two.  I’ll only get to watch about half of the second one, ’cause I gotta be at Dr. Braxton’s by four.  The old lady’ll be here to pick me up around ten ’til.  Turn on the tube, click the dial around to CBS, kick back on the couch.  Huh.  Don’t remember this one.  Looks like Barney’s trying to straighten Otis out again.  Fuck!  He just said they’re gonna look at his id and his ego, and while they’re at it, they’re gonna check out his superego.  No!  Ol’ Barn just whipped out an inkblot!  Don’t spit out that cereal, man!  Otis says it looks like a bat, Barney tells him he’s crazy ’cause it’s a butterfly.  I didn’t know those things had been around that long.  Uh oh, there’s Ange coming in.  What’s he gonna do?  He takes a look at it, says it looks like a bat.
     Good ol’ Andy.  They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.  The world was better back then, when it was still in black and white.  Even old World War II film looks good that way, with those deep-voiced announcers calling the shots, sounding like that guy who does the slow-motion football clips.  Things started going bad when they went color.  Vietnam.  Evening news at supper, with good ol’ Walter Cronkite.  “And that’s the way it is.”  John Laurence and Dan Rather and Richard Threlkeld and the rest of them guys over in ’Nam calling the war.  Red bandages, green body bags.
     I guess it was a little earlier than that.  Some of the Kennedy stuff was in color.  I don’t remember him getting shot—hell, you were only a couple years old—but we saw that Zapruder film in history.  That was color.  His head, man.  That was some shit.  And Jackie with blood all over her pink dress and legs.  I don’t know how she did it, but she never did cry.  I do remember seeing the train with Bobby’s body on it while that was happening, and seeing him all laid out on the floor with his arms spread out like Jesus Christ before that.  All those people lining the tracks, I think that was in color.  Him bleeding on the floor might’ve been black and white.  Like little John-John saluting was.  I wonder if people still call him that.  Bet he hates it.
     Man, I wonder if Junior’ll make president someday.  That’d be cool.  His old man and Bobby both seemed like good guys.  Chappaquiddick Ted ain’t much, but that’s how it goes.  And where’d the hell’d they get all those nicknames anyway?  They called John “Jack,” Robert was “Bobby,” and ol’ Edward is “Ted.”  Why not Johnny, Robby, and Eddie?  I guess they don’t sound very professional.  But Jack and Bobby both seemed like guys you could believe in.  Not like today.  What do we got?  Some peanut fahma fum Jawjuh?  And if we didn’t have him, we might have ol’ Governor Moonbeam.  I admit it would’ve been cool to have Linda Ronstadt as 
First Lady.  And even Carter is better than what we had.  Jerry fuckin’ Ford?  Couldn’t even walk and chew gum.  And Nixon before him.  Damn crook, I don’t care what he says.  Tricky Dick.  And ugly?  Got a dick for a nose.  The head of a dick anyway.  A normal one, that is.  One that’s circumcised.
   It sucked when all the Watergate shit was on TV.  Trial coverage.  You’d come home in the afternoon and there’d be nothing else on.  Senator Sam running the show.  Let’s us come to ordah, y’all.  About all there was to watch was PBS, and they had Sesame Street or Mister Rogers or something.  Maybe Zoom or The Electric Company.  “Hey you guys!”  “We’re gonna turn it on, we’re gonna bring you the power.”  Hey, you can turn me on, Rita.  Then, after all that trial, ol’ Ford just pardons him.  Lets him the fuck off.  I don’t care who you are, man, you break the law, you got to pay.  Like that rich bitch Patty Hearst.  She was guilty, she had to pay.  If you’re guilty, you got to pay.  You’ve got to pay.  Ya got to.
     I need another bowl.  Glad we don’t still get those big bags of wheat puffs and shit.  That unsweetened, cheap-as-hell shit you find on the bottom shelf at the store, down under the real shit.  You got to pour a ton of sugar on it just to eat it.  We still don’t get the good shit, but at least we moved up to buying boxes, even if it is store brand.  The old lady says there’s no difference other than the box, but that’s bullshit.

stain, Part II

     I don’t know why she doesn’t buy name brands.  Her and the old man both got jobs.  He’s in plastics.  Blow molding.  Making milk jugs.  She works a register at Woolworth’s, over at the mall, usually ’til five.  She’s been doing that since I started school.  She wanted me to go to Catholic school, Blessed Sacrament, same as Don.  That place was small as hell.  A hundred and twenty-five students total, from kindergarten through eighth grade, the year I graduated.  A lot of times there’d be two classes in one room with one teacher.  It must’ve cost some, so the old lady got a job.  But after eighth, we both had to go to public school.  Seems like that’d be cheaper, but she kept right on working.  And Don graduated last year, so she must be doing it just to pay for me.  Hell, it’s not like we’re poor.  It’s not like we’re niggers.  They’ll have a fuckin’ Cadillac parked in front of some shithole.  At least some big ol’ Pontiac or something.  Pontiac.  P O N T I A C.  Poor Ol’ Nigger Thinks It’s A Cadillac.  They’ll live in fuckin’ squalor, but have a clean ride out front.  What the hell?  I’m glad the old lady still works.  Keeps her out of the house.  And since Don started working at the Sizzler, I got the place to myself a lot in the afternoon.
     Most days, I’ll be kicking back on the couch when the old lady gets home, and she’ll start bitchin’ at me, tell me how lazy I am, say I’m watching shows that are bad for me and shit.  She was in the kitchen one time heating up supper, and she heard Trapper tell some guy he was gonna prescribe him a twenty-four hour enema.  I’m sure she’s heard ’em telling bedpan jokes too, so now M*A*S*H is “too concerned with the bowels.”  It used to be that Hogan’s Heroes was a bad influence ’cause it was “makin’ light of a terrible time.”  She said the Germans weren’t stupid like Sergeant Schultz and Colonel Klink.  They were pure evil, and so was I if I was just gonna sit there and laugh about the Holocaust.  It doesn’t do any good to tell her they’re just comedies.  According to her, “they just ought not to make shows like that.”  Maybe.  But then again, they wouldn’t have made the shows if people her age hadn’t had the wars.  I mean, too many people die as it is, whether it’s ’cause of disease, or starving to death, or traffic acciden—  Shit.  There I go again.
     Besides, there’s nothing else to do but watch TV anyway.  I got a couple friends at school, but they don’t live around here, so it’s not like I can just go see ’em.  I got no wheels to get anywhere.  They either got a car or can use their parents’, but I wouldn’t want ’em coming over to this dump anyway, unless it was just to pick me up, and then I’d be out front waiting.
     And I don’t always do nothing.  I was working on a little project last week—I guess it was Monday or Tuesday, ’cause it was before I went to see Doc—but I ran into a little snag.  I found our old bicycle pump in the basement.  It’s about a foot-and-a-half tall, got two little footrests at the bottom, one on either side, so it’ll stand up and you can hold it steady while you pump it.  I thought it’d make a good bong.  That’s the only way to get puffed up if you can do it.  I didn’t even know what a bong was ’til last year.  Me and Grant used to just smoke joints or hit my bowl.  I found that in the old man’s drawer.  He must’ve took it off Don, ’cause he sure as hell isn’t cool.  I know a guy who says he gets high with his old man, but I don’t know if he’s full of shit or not.
     Grant’s parents made him start hanging out with this new kid at school last year, all because him and his family go to the same church as Grant and his folks.  I think they’re all Methodist, whatever the hell that is.  This guy was kind of dorky looking, short hair, parted on the side.  Wade.  We called him Swade ’cause he thought he was smooth as hell.  All of a sudden, he’d be in the car when Grant’d pick me up, and I’d have to sit in the back.  After Swade and his family bought their house, I’d get picked up first, but when they were living in the apartment, after they’d just moved here and were still building their place, Swade lived closer to Grant, so he’d get picked up first.
     Grant started dating a lot, so I didn’t get to see him so much.  Usually Friday would be his night out, and Saturday he’d hang with the boys.  “The boys are back in town, the boys are back in town.”  Thin Lizzy’s awesome, man, but the radio pretty much plays only that one song.  I don’t get it.  What about “Fightin’ My Way Back”?  Or “Suicide”?  And who the hell gave the DJs on KZL permission to start talking while a song is still playing?  They’ll talk right over the intro, right up until the singing starts, and then they’ll start back talking again before the song is even over.  Shut the fuck up already.  I don’t listen to hear you.  I listen for the music.  QDR’s DJs never did that.  They’d play three or four songs, then maybe come on and tell you the names of ’em—or not—then they’d jam some more.  When they did have a commercial, it was usually just the guy telling you to shop at Solomon-Grundy’s or something.  I still can’t believe they went country.  Who the hell listens to country?
     Me and Swade would go it alone Friday night while Grant was out gettin’ some.  Swade’s folks would usually go out together and let him use his old lady’s car.  His old man’s a smoker, so if we went back over to their place we could get high, then burn some weeds to cover up the smell.  My folks aren’t that cool.  His old man kept some liquor in the cabinet under the sink too.  His old lady’d mark the level on the labels to keep us out of it, but Swade knew that and added water to replace what we took.  We’d just slug a little out of each so it didn’t get cut too thin.
     This one night over there, we turned out all the lights, stood a flashlight up on its end on the coffee table so that the light was pointing at the ceiling, put on Dark Side of the Moon.  We blew our smoke—Swade was blowing exhales from hits he couldn’t kill, but I just blew cigarette smoke—at the beam.  When that hit, the shit lit up big as hell, like in a tube.  You couldn’t see the smoke at all until it hit the light, then it was all swirly and shit.  That was cool.
     Swade knew a guy named Monk who lived at the apartments.  The guy stayed with just his mother—I think her and her husband split up—and he didn’t even let her come into his room.  Him and his friends could sit in there and get high whether she was home or not.  Some people, man.  Got it made.  Monk was a couple years older, a senior, but he liked Swade for some reason, and he let us borrow one of his bongs whenever we wanted.  I guess he didn’t use it anymore, ’cause he got a new one, with a dry chamber on the bottom that’d catch all the ash and shit that didn’t burn.  It had a plug you could take out, then scrape all that shit loose and smoke it again.  There were two tubes running out of that dry chamber that carried the smoke up to the water.  I didn’t like it ’cause it got clogged too easy, needed a lot of cleaning.  But Monk had his own bathroom right there, so it wasn’t too much of a hassle.  The bong he let us use was just straight up and down, about two feet tall, made out of yellow plastic, but still real see-through.  The bowl was a little brass one, mounted in a wood sleeve that slipped over the stem.  The carburetor was on the back, right where it should be, so you used your thumb on it.  I’ve seen some that got the hole on the front and you have to pop it with your finger.  Monk’s new one is like that.
     First time I hit Old Yeller, it was like I’d never got high before.  You’d pack that bowl with some good bud you’d cleaned—so there weren’t any seeds or stems or clumps that’d clog the hole, so it’d burn all the way and the ashes’d pull through the stem—put a lighter to it, toke nice and slow.  The water’d bubble while the smoke filtered through, then the smoke’d start creeping up the tube.  If you did it right, the chamber’d be full just as the ashes pulled through, and you’d lift your thumb off the carburetor, toke real hard, and BAM, get the whole hit all at once.  Hold it in ’til you killed it, so there’d be no smoke left.  Man, that was sweet.  Shit went right to your head.  You could go from being all pissed off about something to not having a care in the world with one pop of your thumb.  Two was even better.  Three and you couldn’t stop smiling.  We’d usually go for ten, but Swade didn’t always make it that far.
     We couldn’t always hook up with Monk to get Old Yeller, and then Swade moved and we never saw that guy again, so I’d always wanted a bong of my own.  Not like I could buy one though.  Swade’d bring a tennis ball can over—he didn’t play, he just smacked balls against a garage door; he was always breaking a glass out of one of those too—and I’d rig that thing up with a stem that was just a Bic pen without the ink cartridge, and use some foil to make a bowl.  They’d work, but they sucked.  You’d have to stick your whole chin in ’em, and the bowl would fall off or get crushed or the stem would melt.  Then I found the bike pump.  I took the guts out, which wasn’t easy, ’cause the old man keeps most of his tools at work.  I did find an old toolbox on a shelf under the stairs, but it’s got one of those little Master locks on it, so I couldn’t get into it.  When I stole that bowl out of the old man’s drawer, there was a key ring in there that had two little Master keys.  Bet they go to that toolbox.  Have to check that.  But all I had to work with was a hammer and a screwdriver.  That and a bunch of old nails and screws and shit in a coffee can.  Prying the top off that pump was a bitch.
     I got the thing apart, emptied it out.  After I pulled the hose off, there was just a little nipple thing sticking out near the bottom, with a hole through it, so I pounded a nail in there, one a little bigger than the hole, then poured some water in.  It leaked a little, so I worked the nail back out, found a screw a little bit bigger than the nail hole, and forced that in.  I about sprained a wrist twisting it, but got it in, and it didn’t leak anymore, so I cleaned the whole thing up, wiped some of the grease and rust out, drove a nail through the back to make a carburetor, used a bigger nail on the front for the stem hole, widened that up with the screwdriver.  I found a roll of copper tubing on top of the water heater that’d work for the stem, bent it where I wanted it to break, worked it back and forth ’til it gave.  Stuck the screwdriver through and worked it around to straighten the thing out, then used an old hacksaw blade—I couldn’t find the hacksaw—to get the ends flush, stuck the stem in the pump and sealed it with three strips of duct tape, pushed on there real neat like a capital A.  Ace.  An Ace bong.  You'd be an ace if you could take ten hits in one session.  Surprised the hell out of me, but the whole thing turned out pretty good.  I won’t be able to see the smoke climbing up, or the sparks getting pulled through the stem, but it’s airtight.  It tastes rank, but that won’t take long to fix once I start hitting it.  Just needs a little seasoning.  The snag I ran into was that I couldn’t find anything to use for a bowl.  It’s a red pump—well, bong now—so I call it Big Red.  Like that new gum, with the commercial with that guy with the deep voice.  “Big Red.”  I got it stashed behind the furnace.
     Damn.  Don’t even know what’s going on with Andy.  Been out of Catholic school a couple years now.  It’s weird, I lived in Burlington all my life, but when I started public school, everybody thought I’d just moved here.  Most of them had been going to school together all their lives, and I came out of Blessed Sacrament and dropped in like a fuckin’ moon rock.  The guys I knew at good ol’ B.S.S. ended up across town, at Cummings.  That’s where the rednecks live.  Burlington’s cut in half by the railroad tracks, and everybody on that side goes to Cummings.  They’re the ones you’d see dragging Main Street at night in their jacked-up cars if you wanted a laugh.  I only live three blocks from Williams, so I go there.  The rich kids’ school.  But not all of us got money.  There’s a bunch of pricks, like the jocks, and there’s a lot of bitches, like the cheerleaders, but there’s cool people too.  Some of us definitely know how to party.
     Not all of the jocks are assholes.  Grant’s cool.  And not all of the guys from Blessed Sacrament ended up at Cummings.  My best friend there, Tony Griggs, went to Graham.  He lived in Graham, so that’s where he went.  He was always better than me at everything.  I wasn’t a complete dumbass, I usually got the second highest grades out of all the boys—there were only six of us, but still—and only Carolyn Hardy ever did better out of the four girls, but Tony was always number one.  He’d win the damn spelling bee most every year, but only ’cause he’d actually study for it.  The top two or three kids in each grade were in it, so I’d usually be there too.  They’d give us a little booklet with all the words in it, maybe a month in advance, and I’d just try to look ’em over real fast right before going up on the stage in the auditorium in front of the whole fuckin’ school.  I forgot the ‘d’ in handkerchief one year.  Idiot.  And Tony could outrun me, outjump me, outdo me at whatever else we might do at recess too.  Nobody else, just him.  I was never any better than second at anything.  I always lost.
     Except that one time, when Peter, the fat kid, had a graduation party at his house after eighth grade.  A sleepover in a big tent in his backyard.  He was lucky, ’cause his mother was dead and his dad would let him do whatever he wanted.  A couple guys from his neighborhood came to the party too, and they brought some beer and pot.  I’d drunk beer before—hell, I was fourteen—and I’d puffed a few cigarettes in my time, but I’d never really smoked any dope.  That one time a couple years before when I found a pack of Don’s rolling papers, and I was gonna show ’em to the old lady, even though I didn’t know what they were.  I just figured he wasn’t supposed to have ’em, and I liked to get him in trouble.  He caught me before I had a chance to rat him out, took me to the old Sullivan house, the ragged-out piece of shit on the other side of Mr. Campbell’s field, next to the treehouse, and rolled up a joint, made me light it and take a couple tokes.  I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but he could twist a number in the air pretty damn good.  I still have to roll on a table or a book or something to get a joint good and tight.  I guess Don figured I wouldn’t tell on him if I’d done the same thing.  But at Peter’s graduation party, ol’ Tony pussed out, said he wasn’t gonna smoke any reefer.  I jumped right on that shit.  I don’t know how many joints we burned that night, but I expected more to happen.  I don’t think I got off on it at all, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  Tony wouldn’t even drink one damn beer.
     You live in Burlington all your life and everybody thought you just moved here.  The new kid in town.  Everybody staring.  Kind of late to be making friends.  I sure as hell didn’t fit in with the jocks—except for Grant, since we both got high—’cause Catholic school really didn’t have sports.  They started the basketball teams when I was in sixth grade, but they don’t count.  The school could only afford one set of uniforms, so the jayvees would play their game, then us guys on the varsity would have to get the sweaty uniforms from them so we could play.  I always tried to find somebody who rode the bench.  Hell, we didn’t even get those ’til I was in seventh grade, so that first year we just wore dark blue gym shorts and a gold T-shirt with a number sewn on the back.  The old lady didn’t sew mine on, she got some iron-on patches and cut the numbers out of that.  I felt kind of proud before that first game, when I was in the bathroom putting my uniform on.  The numbers hadn’t started to peel off yet, so it looked pretty good.  The shorts were some of Don’s old ones, and kind of faded, but the shirt was brand fuckin’ new.  It was on a hanger on the towel bar, with the ol’ number 12 staring at me.  I liked that number ’cause it was like a quarterback’s.  Probably Joe Namath back then.  Terry Bradshaw now.  The Steelers rule.  The shorts were folded up and hanging over the bar beside the shirt.  I reached up, grabbed the hanger, and a goddamn roach ran out of the sleeve.  Fuckin’ thing scared the shit out of me, and I dropped the shirt on the floor.  It got kind of dirty on the front.
     Man, we had roaches bad back then.  Always did, up until a year or so ago when the old man put some blue powder around the baseboards and killed ’em.  I guess they crawled through, it stuck to their nasty asses, then they carried it back to the nest and killed more.  Before that, if the old man’d see one, he’d just grab it up with his bare hand and throw it outside.  Not me, man.  I didn’t want to get near those things, much less touch one.  I used to hate having to take a piss at night ’cause I couldn’t turn a light on ’til I got to the bathroom.  I’d have to get out of bed and walk across the room, out into the hall—on bare floors too, not traipsing across some plush carpet or anything—then on to the tile in the bathroom in the dark.  Those things would bite your damn feet the whole way.  Either that or you’d step on ’em and feel ’em crunch.  I was safe when I got the light on and they ran for cover.  There must’ve been hundreds.  Big black things, a couple inches long, some of ’em.  After I pissed, I’d just stand there for fuckin’ ever with my hand on the switch.
     We used to come in from school and make a glass of chocolate milk with a can of that Hershey’s syrup shit.  You opened it with a church-key can opener, punch a couple of triangle holes in the top, one on either side.  Then you’d cover it with the yellow plastic lid when you were done.  This one afternoon, I pulled the syrup out of the fridge, but Don grabbed it from me, said he was gonna make his first.  The stuff was barely dribbling out even though the can had felt pretty full.  He finally got enough to make his glass, stirred it up, chugged it down.  I couldn’t wait that long.  I got out the other can opener, clamped it on the side, twisted it around and took the whole lid off.  The shit was full of roaches.  I guess the can had been left out open on the table overnight, and the old lady’d covered it up and put it back in the fridge in the morning.  I showed that shit to Don.  He barely made it to the bathroom sink to puke his guts up.  Neither one of us would drink chocolate milk after that, at least not until the old lady started buying that powdered NestlĂ©’s Quik shit.  Hell, I don’t think Don’ll even drink that.
     We lost that first basketball game, and every other game that year, and every game the year after.  We finally did win one my last year there, but it still wasn’t much of a season.  We lost eleven.  We got beat a hundred and four to ten once by St. Paul’s in Greensboro.  That school’s a hell of a lot bigger than we were though.  They even had black guys.  Coach took us out to McDonald’s after, so it wasn’t a total loss.  I got Tony to swap me the bottom bun on his hamburger—the clean one—for my top bun with all that nasty-ass ketchup and pickles and shit.
     First year in public school, ninth grade, everybody in Burlington who was going to Williams or Cummings the following year had to take a bus over to Sellars-Gunn in niggertown.  It was kind of cool that we were all the same age, with no older class to fuck with you and no younger class to look down on.  We were equals for a year.  Except for us Catholic school misfits.  We were just kind of sprinkled in.  I didn’t have any classes with any of ’em, except for one.  Good ol’ Tina Alstead was in my Algebra I class.  She was still wearing her silver POW bracelet—I guess maybe Colonel McAbee turned out to be more MIA since he hadn’t come home with the rest of the POWs—but after what she wrote in my notebook at the end of our last year at B.S.S., I didn’t talk to her anymore.  I barely ever said two words to her anyway.  I told her I loved her once.  Tony dared me to, and I did.  Tina just looked over at Carolyn and said, “Isn’t that sweet?”  Then, at the end of the year, she wrote, “A ring is round and has no end, that’s how long I’ll be your friend.”  Friend.  What a crock of shit.
     I went out for wrestling at Sellars-Gunn, so it’s not like I’ve always had my afternoons free.  I had to go to practice every day.  I tried out ’cause a guy I used to know when we were kids was on the team, and he said I should.  He didn’t go to school with me back then, but went to our church, and we met in Sunday School.  Bob Lane.  I used to spend the night at his house once in a while.  His dad would come downstairs and kiss us all good night on the cheek.  Bob—I guess he was Bobby then—his brother Mark, and even me.  I remember his chin scratching me ’cause he needed a shave.  Their three sisters had a room upstairs.  Mr. Lane was always getting them to sit in his lap, tickling ’em half to death.  Not so much Pam, the middle girl.  You could tell she really didn’t like it.  The other two, they’d get to laughing so hard they’d scream.  He was a good one for kissing on them too, and not just good night, but all the damn time.  Only they’d get it right on the mouth.  Hell, we never so much as shook hands at our house.  On the rare occasion when the old lady would give me a hug, like if she had to when I was a kid ’cause I was going somewhere and there was somebody there to pick me up who was waiting for me out in their car and watching us up on the porch, she give me the ol’ praying mantis.  Hold her arms up like one of those things, kind of lay her hands on top of my shoulders with her elbows pushing on my chest.  She’d turn her cheek, touch it to my forehead for a second.  We’re just not touchy-feely types.  But the Lanes seemed real close.
     One time, Mr. Lane took me to his workshop in the basement, let me drill a hole in a board.  He ducked into the storage closet like he was scared I was gonna hurt him with the damn thing, closed the door, but left it cracked a little.  I could tell he was looking through at me, even though I couldn’t see him.  I made the hole, let go of the trigger, but the drill kept running.  You had to pull it all the way down first and then let it go to get the thing to go off, but I didn’t know that.  I just stood there holding the drill away from me with both hands, looking at the crack in the door for help.  But he didn’t come, at least not right off.  The drill kept getting heavier, and I got kind of scared.  Pussy.  When he finally did come out, he’d gotten his zipper stuck somehow, ’cause I remember him trying to pull it up.  He just shook his head at me, took the drill, clicked it off easy as hell, set it on the workbench, told me to go on out and play.
     Bob was a pretty good wrestler.  I got to be a starter, even though I went out for the team late, ’cause I pinned the other two guys in my weight class.  They had to be real pussies, ’cause it didn’t take me a minute to beat either one of ’em, and I sure as hell didn’t know what I was doing.  But then I only ended up winning two out of eleven matches, which was the same record the team had.  We lost the first match seventy-six to three.  Bob won a decision.  Everybody else lost.  I got pinned.  Bad.  The ref told the guy to take it easy after the fucker picked me up and body-slammed me.  That mat’s a lot harder than the ones they use on TV.  They didn’t bother mentioning the match over the intercom during the morning announcements.
     One of the times I did win, the old man was home when I came in.  It was the only time he ever said anything about a match.  He asked if you lost again.  You said yeah.
     We got this certificate at the end of the season, for our “achievement.”  They were these fill-in-the-blank things, where Coach wrote our name on ’em with a pen.  They had a line for that printed up near the top.  Somewhere near the middle, they had “Football” and “Basketball” and “Baseball” printed on there, where I guess you were supposed to circle or underline the sport the thing was being given out for.  It didn’t say “Wrestling,” so Coach wrote that in too.  He just kind of squeezed it in.
     I used to practice in a pair of long johns with gym shorts over them ’cause we didn’t have any tights other than the ones we wore for matches.  Coach Martin thought he was cool ’cause he’d call us pussies in practice, maybe say “goddamn” once in a while.  I remember we were doing tripod pushups—you keep your legs and arms straight, but bend at the waist ’til you kind of form a triangle with the mat, and you put the tips of your index fingers and the tips of your thumbs together to make a diamond with your hands, then bend your elbows and lower yourself down and stick your nose in the diamond, then push back up.  Fuckin’ murder.  This heavyweight named Ronald Greene was up front and all of us behind him were laughing ’cause one of his nuts was hanging out of his shorts.  Coach yelled, “What are you pussies laughin’ at?”  That just made us laugh harder.  We had to run extra laps up and down the stairs after practice.
     I quit wrestling this year ’cause I had trouble making weight.  I’d eat a hard-boiled egg for breakfast during the week and nothing else all day, and I still couldn’t make 136.  Coach Ferguson said it probably had something to do with all the beer I was drinking, but that’s bullshit.  I’d drink whatever I could get, but that’s still just a couple of beers here and there—once in a while more than that, like last night—but usually just a couple or three beers maybe a couple of nights during the week, and then only if somebody else is buying.  But it’s not hard to get somebody to buy a six if you’ve got a little herb, and Don’s been keeping in the green pretty regular since he started working.  Yeah, I’d get drunk as shit on the weekends back then, same as I do now, but that had nothing to do with my weight either.  You just piss that out.  And this senior from the football team decided to join up, in my weight class.  He was pretty much shorter than me, but his legs were like fuckin’ tree trunks.  I couldn’t beat him.  I wasn’t gonna be a starter anymore.

Athletic Supporter

Aw, aw, aw, can’t play no basketball
Mama told me, said son you ain’t that tall
Gotta do what mama say
Gotta do it every day
Aw, aw, aw, can’t play no basketball

Aw, aw, aw, can’t play no football
You gotta be tough, yeah, you know you got to be rough
Gotta do what mama say
She say I can’t play
Aw, aw, aw, can’t play no football

Aw, aw, aw, can’t play no baseball
Can’t swing a stick, you know my glasses too thick
Might fall if you run
Don’t want you hurt, my son
Aw, aw, aw, can’t play no baseball

The Lanes moved away years ago.  They moved back in time time for ninth grade, only without their dad.  The old lady didn’t like Mrs. Lane anymore ’cause she was divorced.  She’d always sit as far away from her as she could at church.  She had a dream one night about a snake—I guess she called it a serpent—that had a lamb’s head.  The face opened up like a flower and then turned into Mrs. Lane.
     The jocks aren’t the only crowd I don’t fit in with at Williams.  There wasn’t anything like music class or art class or anything at Catholic school either, so I don’t hang out with anybody into that shit.  Not that I’d want to hang out with anybody in the marching band or anything.  I’m not talking about those losers.  But I’d kind of like to be a real musician, play in a real band.  Rock-n-roll, man.  But all I can do is to try and write down those lyrics or whatever when they come into my head.  It’s not no goddamn poetry.

Man For Hire

Well, I’m a hired man
In a hired band
We travel down the road
In a hired van
Where we’re going to
Where we’re coming from
A town without a name
Where we know no one
When you’re on the road
There ain’t much you can do
The stops are far between
And numbered few

But I’m your man for hire
(Man for hire)
I’ll fill your heart’s desire
(Heart’s desire)
Stand in the line of fire
(Line of fire)
’cause I’m your man for hire
(Man for hire)
I’m just a hired man


Rollercoaster

There’s a shadow
Standing over me
It’s gettin’ dark, babe
Too dark to see
Climb in the back seat
Of the car
And let me hold you
Embrace your heart

You ask me where I been and all I can say
Every time I see you, girl, there’s no new news
And I ask you why you never walk away
You’re my sanctuary, girl, against the blues
Come on let me hear that you wanna stay
Come on, babe, and tell me what you wanna do
There’s no use in going ’less it’s all the way
And I wanna go all of the way with you

We hit the road, yeah
And hit the bars
It’s hard to focus
You wonder who you are
Smoke cigarettes, yeah
And cheap cigars
Beat out the rhythm
And play guitars

Sometimes you tell yourself that it’s gotta end
Your straight and narrow thoughts tend to go astray
You know now all too well you’re not Superman
And you wonder just how long you’ll keep up the pace
But then the lights go down and you start the show
You give it what you’ve got and you walk away
You loosen up your mind and you let it go
And then do it all again on another day

Life’s a gamble
You lose and win
No sooner up and you find
You’re down again
You’re on a rollercoaster
They cut loose the car
It’s feast or famine
Pauper or czar

You never seem to be where you wanna be
You never find the words you intended to
Your eyes they only see what they wanna see
And you’re always lookin’ back, not ahead of you
Can’t you see it doesn’t have to be this way
Don’t you know your line of thought ain’t gonna do
If you think that you can win, might win today
When you think you’re gonna fail, that’s what you do

It’s a rollercoaster
Rollin’ on
It’s a rollercoaster, baby
Rollin’ down
It’s a rollercoaster
Rollin’ on
Rollercoaster

Catholic school.  Religion.  Rules.  Sit up straight, don’t slump.  God, if those nuns could see me now, melting into this couch in front of the tube . . . .  Don’t talk unless you’re told to.  Don’t chew gum ever.  Not that I ever had gum.  This cheerleader sits in front of me in Biology.  Becky.  She always pops in a fresh piece of Bubble Yum right when she sits down, smacks on that wad the whole period.  Annoying as hell.  Probably pretty damn good though.  Don’t come to class without your homework.  You pulled that once.  Not on purpose.  I wrote a story about these two monsters or giants or something who were fighting.  I got the idea from the Saturday matinee at the Gallery Theater downtown.  They were showing Gargantua, where these two hairy Godzilla-sized monsters were going at it.  One was a brown gargantua who lived on the land—the good guy—and he skinned his leg on a rock in the ocean and then a green gargantua who lived in the water—the bad guy—grew from that piece of skin.  It took six bottle caps, maybe one Saturday a month or something, if they were from Dr. Pepper bottles or whatever it was that week, to get in and see a movie.  The guys at the Esso—OK, fine, Exxon—around the corner would let us dig through the cap catcher hanging on the front of their drink machine.  I was actually kind of proud of my story I guess, and after we ate supper I asked the old lady to read it.  She set it down on the ironing board, said she’d look at it later.  I eventually had to go to bed, then forgot about it in the morning, went to school without it.  We all had to stand up, kind of line up against the walls, and read our story out loud.  I was one of the last.  Just stood there with a blank sheet of paper and tried to remember how it went.  Didn’t get far.  You were like, “And they kept fightin’ and fightin’ and fightin’” when Sister Laura Ann walked up, looked at the paper, told you to sit down.  I think you were crying.  Or trying not to.  Pussy.
     Still probably second or third grade—it had to be, ’cause it was one of those years you had Sister Laura Ann—you couldn’t get that long multiplication shit.  Like, a three-digit number times another three-digit number.  You’d take the smallest number on the bottom and multiply it times the smallest number on the top ’cause that was easiest.  Then you’d go to the next two easiest numbers, and save the hardest for last.  Got every answer wrong, and was dumb enough to be surprised about it.  Sister Laura Ann though, she was pissed.  Called you up to the front of the class, pulled your pants down, gave you a whipping.  Right there in front of everybody.  She just used her hand, not a belt like you’d get at home, but at home you wouldn’t have had your pants pulled down either.  At least she left your underwear up.  It worked.  I learned how to multiply.  Man, I hate math.
     What if you had to do that shit with Roman numerals?  X V I times X I V equals . . . whatever.  Or long division, for Christ’s sake?  M C M L X V I goes into . . . .  Man.  I’d go crazy.


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     Everything was done by the clock.  Starting outside in the morning with the raising of the flag, then the Pledge of Allegiance.  We’d say it indoors if it was raining.  Then we’d go to our room and pray an Our Father.  Later, the teacher would walk the whole class down to the bathroom.  Pardon me, the “lavatory.”  They’d do that once in the morning and once in the afternoon, at whatever time they had set aside for their class to make the trip.  Forget asking to go any other time, ’cause they wouldn’t let you.  Angie Thacker was good for pissing in her seat at least once a month.  Probably not after fourth grade or something, but before then.  We’d line up to go, and she’d be sitting there crying and there’d be a puddle under her desk.  That wasn’t as bad as what Donald Sinkey pulled one time in first grade.  He shit in his pants, right there in class.  We called him Donald Stinkey after that.  But the teacher would walk us down the hall to the bathrooms, and we’d go in three at a time ’cause that was how many urinals there were.  One time when you were using the middle one, that fat fucker Peter was watching you piss, and he started pointing at your dick and laughing.  I didn’t know what the hell was so funny, so I looked over at his, then over to the other side at Tony’s.  Neither one of theirs had skin on the head.  It was I don’t know how many years later before I ever heard anything about circumcision.  Up until then, I just figured mine was fucked up somehow.  And even after that, I wondered why the hell mine was different than everybody else’s.  We had to take showers after gym class last year—you have to take gym sophomore year—and we had to take showers after wrestling practice too, and I never saw anybody else who wasn’t circumcised.  Not that I was really looking.  And it’s not like that’s something you could ask the old lady about, or the old man, or even Don.  Like, “Hey, Don, your dick got a turtleneck?”  Yeah, that’s gonna happen.  I had a hard time pissing in the lavatory after that.  I’d have to go in one of the stalls.  Either that or wait ’til I got home.
     We had to do chin-ups in gym class.  Not just to do them, but to see how many we could do.  They had a guy counting ’em off for us, writing down how many we did.  I did twenty-five, figured that was plenty, stopped.  He said only seventeen of ’em were good though, wrote that down.  That was still the best in our class.  It wasn’t the best in the school, there were a few other guys in other gym classes who did more, but they still put my name down on this sheet they had taped up on the side of the lockers.  That shit sucked.  Like I could only do seventeen chin-ups.
     There was that one black guy in the shower whose dick wasn’t cut.  Rocky.  He was standing at the exit holding it.  Man, that thing was huge.  He had his hand wrapped around it at the bottom, and there was that much and more—a lot more—hanging out.  I’d heard a couple guys squealing, looked over and saw him smacking ’em on the ass with that monster as they ran out of the shower.  Fuck that.  I walked out, looked him right in the eye, nodded.  He just nodded back, waited for the next guy.
     I used to wonder why the nuns never did go in the bathroom.  Hell, I used to wonder if they even went to the bathroom, if they even had a toilet in their convent, if they were built like regular people under their habits.  What a dumb little shit.
     We had to wear a dark tie and dark pants, dark socks, dark shoes, a white shirt.  Every day.  You always got Don’s old clothes when he got new ones.  We kept a pair of sneakers in our locker for recess.  Those lockers didn’t have a lock on ’em like the ones at Sellars-Gunn or Williams do.  I still forget my combination once in a while, like on a Monday morning maybe, and have to think about it, try different numbers ’til I get the damn thing opened.  Back then we’d always play soccer.  It wasn’t real soccer, ’cause we just had a regular kickball, and maybe five or six guys to a side.  The eighth grade against the seventh grade, or whatever.  Like when 
the classes were so small that there were two to a teacher, with fifth and sixth grade in one room, seventh and eighth in another.  The teacher would give one class their assignment, then go to the other side of the room and give the other class theirs.  You’d be sitting on your side of the room, trying to concentrate, not being able to help but listen to what was going on with the other class.  One of ’em was reading a book about a kid named Pip.  What kind of name is that to hang on somebody?
     You couldn’t go to recess until you finished your lunch.  The teacher would sit in the room with us, check your lunch box when you finished, then let you go outside.  Well, I just had a paper bag, not a lunch box.  Lots of times I’d have a cold hamburger.  Well, a Winn-Dixie patty, whatever the hell that is.  They come frozen in a box of twelve.  It’d be stuck between two pieces of bread with nothing on it, not even cheese.  I never have liked anything other than cheese on my food anyway, but I never even got cheese on those things, and cold definitely ain’t the way to be eating ’em.  If it wasn’t one of those pieces of shit, you’d get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which was a lot better, even though the jelly’d be all winey and soaked into the bread.  I missed a lot of recesses.



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About Me

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my pen name, tj jude, is spelled EXACTLY like that. All lower-case letters, no punctuation. I write. Here you will find my novel, stain, also spelled in lower case. I post poetry on myspace and facebook. I also do artwork occasionally, mainly oil paintings. I have done some cartoons, a number of which are supposed to appear in this novel, but I have yet to figure out how to post them so that they will remain posted any longer than I am on this blogsite. As soon as I log out and log back in, they are no longer embedded in the text.

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