He stopped listening to the radio, too; the obvious assault. Though he figured it probably wasn’t any better than riding out a stage-four smog alert indoors. They were still out there, thick in the air, brooding around antennae: The Dow, the death tolls, the Doppler delusions…Dylan. Bad vibes, carcinogens; burn off from exhausted days—Soul cancer; guaranteed.
I think it sucks that I... or men like me... can't tell a young lady or a woman... that she is absolutely adorable or beautiful without having to worry that she's thinking I/we are hitting on her... or worse.
Let me state for the court that I have spent so many hours in school, in front of nude figures... male and female... drawing, that long before any libido kicks in, I am either sketching you, or converting you into poetry or prose. I'm funny that way. Funny ha ha.
So, since I can't tell girls (by girls, I mean women in their twenties) that they're adorable, I'm going to say, that if I were in kindergarten, this is the girl I would want for my teacher...
This is Chess.
Many of you here already know her.
Many of you already know that Chess is an angel,
and a newly graduated Lit. Chick.
I've 'known' Chess a year or so.
She has the very first blog that I followed...
'Chester the Best-er'.
If you're new to blogging, and looking for a first blog to follow...
I recommend that you follow Chess's.
Besides wanting to tell Chess how adorable (oops) she is in her new blog pictures,
I wanted to tell you that Chess has given her blog a face lift.
You see her smile?
That's what her whole blog looks like now.
And the font...
Chess has the happiest font ever.
You know how big-voice radio guys like to talk,
just to hear their own voice...
I want to go over to Chess's new blog and comment all the time,
I have always loathed DIY self-improvement books. Not saying that some of their nauseatingly flowery or over-zealous rhetoric hasn’t done some people, some good. But, I think the flood of neighborly advice in the past three decades has pulled so many people in so many different directions, that the greater bulk of society has lost sight of who and what they are as humans, and what we are and can, and should be as humane beings.
Needless to say, it would take one hell of a speaker to convince me that it wouldn’t be a waste of twenty dollars and a weekend, buying and reading their life-bettering tome.
Karen Armstrong had what it took, and were she to ask, I wouldn't hesitate to lay down my nets and follow her. She is that rare.
If you haven’t already, let me recommend that you read her latest book, ‘Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life’. It will add tenfold to your creed, whatever it may be... and hopefully, in due time, erase the word loathe from my vocabulary.
A I wasn’t supposed to hear. Father’s voice though, came through their bedroom wall, clear as if he never left the breakfast table. He wasn’t shouting or anything. My Father just didn’t know walls. Not like my Mother did. He knew how to build them—he built that one. But he didn’t know how to keep his voice on one side, or leave his eyes and his ears on the other. Not like my Mother did.
“He’ll be more trouble than he’s worth,” my Father said.
Up till that morning, I thought that all seven year olds were worth about twelve hundred dollars. That’s what it cost to bury Patrick Hammond, after he drowned last summer in the flood. Runts must be cheaper, ‘cause I don’t figure it cost a whole lot to let a kid walk along beside a hay wagon.
The door opened and Mother came out. “Fine then,” she said. She was looking at me, but I knew she was talking to Father. Father was behind her, gathering his pocket things off the bureau.
“You can ride along with me, Honey,” Mother said. She was driving to Davenport, to look in on a lady there whose daughter was sick. “We’ll take the Electra,” Mother said, and smiled.
Father looked up. I’d only ever seen him drive the Electra, and only on Sundays. He didn’t say anything though. I guess I wasn’t worth any more arguing.
“You behave why your Mother’s drivin’ now,” Father told me, when he came through the kitchen. “I don’t want to hear about any monkey business in that car. You hear me?”
My runt skeleton must have been made of wood and plaster, too, ‘cause Father’s voice always went right through it. Right down into my belly.
At dusk, the shop door—left cracked for Dog’s return—pushes open. The Hammond boy, from up in the curve, backs his way in. “I brought you some food,” he says, with a glance as he turns, extending the foiled service. “There’s mixed beans in the bowl,” he explains, placing them on the bench opposite me. “Meat, taters, greens and cornbread on the plate.” I thank him. “You’re welcome,” he replies, already moving toward the door, as if instructed not to disrupt my work: the feasts I've made for you, spoiling in wait.
“Kyle spread peanut butter on a mouse trap yesterday with one of Mom’s butter knives,” Karl said.
Marley looked into the jar of Jif Extra-Crunchy, then at the dollop of peanut butter on the blade of the butter knife in her hand, then at Karl.
Karl Kincaid was Marley’s cousin. He and Marley were both eight years old. Karl however, was born in June, the month before Marley. When Kyle wasn't trying to gross Marley out, a task he seemed to live for, he was reminding her of this one month difference, as if it were five whole years.
Marley spent weekends during summer vacation at her aunt and uncle’s Dairy farm in Bridgeport. Marley loved the Kincaid’s farm, even with Karl on it: the huge barns stuffed with hay and hidden nest of eggs and kittens, the wobbly-legged calves, the garden as big as her whole yard in town, peaches and raspberries and the fishing pond with its frog-lined banks and lazy turtles.
When she grew up, Marley wanted a farm just like the Kincaid’s, everything exactly the same. Except maybe, Karl.
Kyle was Karl’s older brother. Kyle was in the eighth-grade, and certainly not beyond spreading peanut butter onto a mouse trap with a butter knife. Worse, Marley thought, Kyle was not beyond wiping the knife clean on his pant leg and placing it back in the drawer with the others.
But there were a dozen miss-matched butter knives in the silverware drawer. Marley weighed the odds. Only one out of twelve knives was contaminated, if there actually was a contaminated knife, and Karl hadn't made the whole thing up. She liked her chances.
"So," she said, spreading the peanut butter on her saltine.
A The piano is gone; delivered. I’m going to take a break from the shop to clean house. The dust, you know.
Y. O. U.
I wonder if YOU was the first word that I learned to spell. It feels like the first when I spell it out loud: old and worn and comfortable in my mouth; older than D.O.G. or C.A.T. or even A.N.D. or T.H.E.
Why didn't I cherish the first word that I learned to spell more? Like I did the memory of Cecilia, who became so dear in one summer and then was gone, or my best Christmas ever, or mastering time and shoe laces.
I want my first word; to set on a shelf, among my other curios and photographs and bits of memorabilia. I feel like I should go back and thank it, like I should have done that teacher who taught it to me, had I the chance when the thought occurred.
Perhaps if I clean I’ll find it: That first word. There’s so much dust you know.
“Whoa! Wait! Did you hear that shit?” Crowe said, turning up the radio. He was listening to NPR again.
“What shit?” Sophie asked.
“That fucking seven second pause!”
“Quit shouting. And quit cussing.”
“Sorry. It’s just bullshit,” Crowe said. His left hand was on the wheel, his right gesturing at the radio. “This chick is loosing her life, and Ashbrook throws in a fucking pause. Like her terminality just isn’t heavy enough for his show.”
‘This chick’ was a blues singer, of all things: Jessie Stephens, a white girl out of Missouri. Jessie Stephens was talented, not mind blowing, not average, just good. She'd put out four CD’s, all on her own tab, before they found the tumor in her liver. They gave her six months with treatment, three without.
“Is terminality even a word?” Sophie asked.
“I don’t know. But you got to admit it’s sickening. I mean, the pause is so fucking obvious…”
“At least the F word Crowe. Please.”
Crowe didn’t acknowledge Sophie’s request. He was on a roll.
Tom asked Jessie how she was coping.
“What Ashbrook?" Crowe shouted at the radio. "You got to cruise hospices for your human interest stories now? Diagnosed terminal? Which one of you clowns coined that one? Because that’s some arrogant shit there. I’m tellin’ ya. We've all been diagnosed terminal, dumbass. You immortal now, too, Tom? You pompous prick.”
Crowe flipped the radio the bird.
“Why do you even listen to the radio, Crowe?” Sophie asked.
Sophie didn’t know what it was that had turned Crowe so militant. Lately, he could find something wrong with everything, and it always pissed him off. He used to be all about opening eyes to empathy and honesty. He was quite, peaceful. Now it was like he’d got religion or something: Onward Christian soldiers. It was always 'them' and 'us'. Though Sophie wasn't exactly sure who 'us' was. There was Crowe and there was her, and that didn't seem like an 'us' to Sophie. She wondered how long it would be before Crowe ran out of histrionic pauses to bitch about, and turned to her for fuel. She was suddenly glad they had kept it friends.
“I don’t know Sophie,” Crowe said, looking out the side window at Salem’s old-town. “I mean, most of the time I think Ashbrook is one of the best. He is. But the pause... that’s just so fucking Grub Street, you know … cheap. I bet right now he’s praying to the gods of journalism that this chick starts bawling her eyes out.”
“Jessie. Her name is Jessie, Crowe.”
Jessie Stephens did start crying. When she composed herself, she apologized. ‘I’m sorry,’ Jessie said. ‘It’s just hard sometimes, you know. I still have things I want to do.’
“God damn!” Crowe said. “I bet Ashbrook just came.”
Sophie shook her head. She wanted a cigarette. Not that she smoked or anything. It just seemed like the time and place to light one up and stare out of the window apathetically with thin white wisps curling around the rear-view. She looked over at Crowe, at his long face, his beard. She was really tired of the whole beard thing—Crowe’s, everybody’s. The world needed a good, close shave.
The music was coming up. Jessie Stephens was a wrap.
That’s crazy, Sophie thought. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t imagine herself dying. She knew she would, she just couldn’t imagine it. She wondered if Jessie Stephens could imagine dying now, with that big red X right there on the calendar. A cigarette.
“Hey. Pull over here, please Crowe, just for a second.”
“Just pull over. I want a cigarette.”
Sophie looked at the radio, looked at Crowe. “Yeah.” She got out of the car.
“I’ll wait here,” Crowe said as she shut the door.
Sophie didn’t have any money, no cash, no cards. She hadn’t carried any in a month now. It was an experiment. Not in manipulation. She called it intuitive generosity.
Elements of Style was a used book store, whose sandwich board claimed they served hot coffee and poetry on weekends now. Sophie pulled the door open. Crowe drew the car up close to the curb and twirled his finger, to say he'd be circling the block. For a moment, looking at him, his beard and sock hat, Sophie couldn’t recall Crowe’s name. She smiled and stepped into Elements.
There was a guy behind the counter who appeared to be Sophie’s age: twenty-six, twenty-seven. Arms crossed. No beard. No look. Attractive, but not pushing anything that Sophie could see. Not even a hint of agenda. The store was empty otherwise.
Sophie approached the counter. She opened her mouth to speak.
Smiling, the guy held up his forefinger to stop her. He moved the finger to his lips, studied Sophie a minute, then bent beneath the counter. Sophie could hear him rummaging.
He came up with a folded, near-empty pack of Marlboro 100’s.
Sophie cocked her head and raised her eyebrows, both amused and impressed.
“Three left,” the guy said. “They’ve been here since I bought the shop, five years ago, so their freshness date might have expired.”
“Thanks,” Sophie said, “but I don’t really smoke.”
“I though not. You strike me as more of an ice cream kind of gal.”
The guy popped the register and removed a twenty. He was coming around the counter and asked, “Join me?”
He pointed at the front window. Across the street there was a parlor: Mike’s Hand-Made Ice Cream & Soda Fountain. Sophie saw Crowe drive by, adjusting the radio.
It’s dark yet, so I can’t say for sure how deep the snow is now; two or three inches maybe, on the ground. They say it will continue into tomorrow. I’ve seen one record snowfall in my twelve years here in Tennessee. I’d like to see another. One, I can enjoy from my porch and don’t have to drive through to get home.
I was in second-grade when I first experienced snow. It is an experience, after all; especially the first time. We lived in Southern California then. I’d seen pictures of snow, in the Peanut’s comic books I read incessantly; seen Charlie Brown and Linus wading, waste deep through it and dimpling snow balls for the perfect pitch, seen it piled high on Snoopy’s sleeping belly. Maybe I’d been begging, but my folks had decided to take us kids—I have a younger brother and sister—up to the mountains, were we could witness snow, first hand.
Snow wasn’t actually falling when we arrived. There were some wind-swept patches at the lower elevations—hints. I stared in awe. I wanted to get out then and there, to mold the two or three handfuls of crystalline white into tiny, pebble-eyed snowmen. But my father drove on. “That’s not snow,” he said. My parents are native Iowan’s. They know all about snow; deep snow.
We climbed. Plowed mounds of oil stained snow began to pile up along side the winding highway, Pines bows began to bend under the white frosting and soon only the largest crags of granite could be seen under the blanketed mountainside. But it still wasn’t enough snow for my father.
A chain was drawn across the highway, where it became impassable to native Southern Californians, who apparently lacked the snow-driving skills my father had. We parked in a cleared turnout along with the other twenty some odd vehicles, filled with families, up to see the snow.
We didn’t have any winter clothes: galoshes and mittens and downy jackets and the like. It was Southern California. I didn’t even know they made such things. And even if I had, my father was not about to run out to the nearest sporting-goods and pay to outfit three children with the proper gear for, maybe, an hour’s worth of snow play.
So, Mom layered us. She stuffed our hands into socks and our shoes into bread bags, which she secured with rubber bands. Prompted, no doubt, by my father, I assumed that this was how you prepared for snow.
In hindsight, it was very resourceful of my mother. But when mixing and mingling with other children, out in the snow, who are wearing proper galoshes and mittens and downy jackets, one’s bread-bagged feet and sock covered hands quickly become the subject of jest. After five minutes of playing in my glorious and long-anticipated snow, I wanted to go home. My father wouldn’t hear of it. He hadn’t driven all that way for five minutes.
Mother, who is prone to seeing the bigger picture, stayed with me in the van. She’d seen plenty of snow like this, when she was a kid.
A Today I’ve been wondering if the energy that fuels happiness doesn’t create some sort of waste, something toxic, something anti-happy. I’ve been wondering, too, if all this anti-happy doesn’t get stored temporarily in the body somewhere—maybe in the appendix.
Because, today I’ve felt like a big chunk of anti-happy dislodged from some organ inside of me and is poisoning me with crankiness, and that I should maybe go out in the field and yell at dirt until I pass it, like a gall stone.
I’ve been right on the edge of getting mad at something all day today, and I don’t even know what or why. It’s retarded. Toxins are my only explanation: I had a whole month of nothing but happy, happy, happy and now I need to flush the system. Bear with me, if you can. Dog is.
She said that she misses home, and that she may be back soon.
I didn’t know how to reply then, so, I didn’t.
I still don’t. What… some twelve… sixteen hours, later?
Assuming that she even wanted me to. Like I’m the father of advice, or the only shoulder in the universe. Assuming she even wants advice or a confirming shoulder. It seemed that way, though. It was said sort of out-of-the-blue. I hadn’t asked anyway.
I’ve always thought, when someone mentioned something at random, say like, “I think I’ll shave my head,” while running their fingers through their perfect and lovely hair, that they either want you to concur, and tell them they could use a rash change in their life, or adamantly disagree, and extol their beautiful locks, because, day after day, even beautiful or seemingly perfect things can become mundane. Humans have such a difficult time reminding themselves how wonderful what they already have is. We need outside confirmation.
But I’m not sure that’s what she wants to hear right now, or even, “Oh god, I’m so sorry that didn’t work out…” “It’s probably for the best…” “Home is where the heart is…” or “At least you gave it a try…” all of that mother-hen nonsense.
Maybe it’s just that simple: She misses family and friends and pets and school and work… home. Familiar is hard to let go of. I can understand that. Maybe that’s all she was doing… saying it… getting the words out of her mouth... putting one foot on the road back.
Yesterday was warm and beautiful and I was out in short sleeves, working the saw-mill.
I enjoy the mill: The physical labor, the weight of the wood and the brilliant colors in a fresh-open log. She’s noisy, but I love the language of the machine: the sounds of strain against knots and twisted, wet, wood; the bogging down against the teeth of a dull blade and the perfect hiss of a fresh set. I love the calculating, the guessing, the attempts to have every cut count and waste nothing of the tree.
It’s base work mostly, even primal at times. The tools have changed little over the years: steel and wood, saw and axe, pole and muscle. Mine have worn to my hands. They feel reliable there. I know I will break under the stresses, long before they do and if cared for, they will go on feeling reliable in the hands of generations to come.
I’m sure there’s something of the conquered giant stirring there, too, in my pleasure; though I hate admitting this bit of machismo. A sawyer knows a strange mix of death and love and struggle and beauty and respect. The things, I suppose, that make life seem ‘full’.
Anyway, yesterday was warm and beautiful and I was out in short sleeves, working the saw-mill.