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.
Powder your nose
You’re killing yourself
And you can’t tell
The destruction is clear
To those you hold dear
Hear what they say
It’s for your own good
They want to help
But you’re wading in lines
Just wasting your life
It’s taken control
Suck it into your face
Shoot it into your arm
Do a little freebase
White line fever
When you’re out
It’s great white hope
Not gonna get any easier
Burnt out on your dope
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!!”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“Oh. Do you think he’ll be in class tomorrow?”
“Well . . . all right then. Thank you very much.”
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.