Archive for the 'Stuff' Category

Dusk

Sunday afternoon, the neighborhood next to ours catches fire. We sit with our neighbors, Cord and Jamie, on their deck and stare at smoke and fire engines and helicopters dropping water on orange flames a mile away. We’re safe where we are, the blaze the other side of the lake, the wind blowing it to the east. So we sit. We stare. That’s all we can do.

“We should probably take a shot now,” Cord says after a few minutes.

“We probably should,” I say while Eli and Slade race around the deck and propane tanks explode across the lake and black clouds rise like mean skyscrapers.

We eat fish tacos and take a tequila shot there on Cord and Jamie’s deck, the smoke sometimes black, sometimes white, the children oblivious to the trees and cars and houses burning so close by.

“What would you grab if you had to evacuate?” Cord or maybe Jamie asks. Kids and pets, I say. A laptop, possibly. Important documents, if there was time.

But everything else, the furniture, Eli’s and Slade’s drawings, the flat screen TVs, the china we’ve never used, would be left to burn. Some of that stuff matters; most of it doesn’t.

***

The next afternoon, which is Labor Day, the phone rings.

“Your dogs are down at the lake,” a neighbor tells Sally.

“At the lake?” Sally says. “That’s just wonderful. We’ll be right there.”

From the waterfront park, smoke still snakes above the trees from the neighborhood just across the narrow lake. 24 houses have been destroyed, we’ve heard on the news. 30 more damaged. 4000 people evacuated. We swim at our waterfront park and laugh about our dogs escaping and watch Eli and Slade bound off the boat dock into green water.

“Helicopter, Mommy! Daddy! Helicopter!” Slade exclaims each time a helicopter buzzes us with a giant sack of water sloshing underneath it like a saggy boob.

By that afternoon, a wildfire is igniting houses 15 miles to the north of us, and another, this one to the west, has grown to over 6000 acres, and another, east of town, has roared to over 25,000 acres. In our front yard, the air is the color of copper, and flakes of white ash drizzle on the grass. From which fire, we can’t tell.

As hazy dusk settles, someone pounds on the front door just after we put the boys to bed. Sally and I look at each other.

“Fire at Running Deer and Jack’s Pass,” a woman we’ve never seen yells and runs up the driveway. Running Deer and Jack’s Pass. That’s a block away.

Horns honk outside and Sally gets the boys up and I push Snurp in the cat carrier and we grab the laptop and leash the dogs and locate birth certificates and find car keys.

“Fire at Running Deer and Jack’s Pass,” I hear again somewhere as I open the front door and step into purple twilight.

At Jack’s Pass and Running Deer, the spot of the fire, I see a jeep, a car, and a motorcycle stopped in the road, but nothing burning. A dozen or so people stand on the edge of the street, looking down a steep hill. Cord is among them. He’s holding a shovel.

“Where’s the fire?” I ask.

“We just put it out,” Cord says.

“How’d it start?”

“Some dude threw a bottle rocket out of his truck and then drove off.”

“You’re kidding me,” I say. “Some prick shot off fireworks? That’s not dumb; it’s deliberate.”

***

All this week, lying in bed, washing dishes, parking my car, I’ve been thinking this: What if the wind hadn’t died down just a few minutes before? What if nobody had been there to see the smoke in time at Jack’s Pass and Running Deer? What if that asshole in the truck had started a fire that swallowed Slade or Eli or Sally?

It didn’t happen, I tell myself. We’re all fine, I remind myself.

And I feel better then. But not much.

***

When I was in middle school, my father told me the story of Beowulf as we drove home from Des Moines on a black February night. My old man, an English professor, explained the notion of fate in that poem and how, in many ways, the story was existential. Existentialism didn’t mean much to the 13-year-old me.

But this did: “In Beowulf, it’s not if the monster comes but when,” my dad said that evening. “The monster always comes. King Hrothgar. The other characters in the epic. They all accept that in the middle of the night, the monster comes.”

And I think that’s what I’ve really been thinking about this week. The monster in the truck shooting the bottle rocket. The monster smoking in the woods. Smirking. Biding. Coming for you. Coming for them. Coming for me.

All that quality programming on TV is to blame. Honest.

I haven’t wanted to blog this summer. I’m not sure why. Maybe the drought here has dried out my brain. Or maybe it’s all the quality programming on TV. Or maybe I’ve just grown soft.

Whichever. Whatever.

I have been writing, though. I can’t help myself. Stories are a flooded river inside my head, and they pour out, in invitations to fictitious birthday parties that only I find funny, in stupid lists, in secret tales I type in the strong current of the night.

Here’s a sample of some of what’s seeped out. As with everything else here, some of this is very personal and most of it is very silly.

***

Some several days ago, I inquired of Sally, my wife, my delicate flower, my forever mate, which she might prefer for her birthday.

“An evening at the ballet?” I suggested. “Or, if you feel particularly adventurous, perhaps we might attend the opera? They’re performing Le nozze di Figaro in German at the Performing Arts Center. Yes! In German! Can you even imagine!”

Sally stared at me, slowly chewing a piece of gum. She sighed.

“Listen,” my beautiful daisy replied. “I want to get shit faced on my birthday. You understand me? I want to get polluted, loaded, plowed, pickled, fucked all the way up. Can you get that through that stone skull of yours?”

She exhaled noisily.

I replied, yes, that I quite well understood her intentions and that I could indeed arrange such festivities, adding that I was acquainted with just the respectable, responsible, upstanding citizens who would very much enjoy conversing with her and raising a glass of well-aged pinot in her honor.

“Whatever,” the love of my life said, scratching her arm pit and sniffing her hand. “I sure as shit don’t mind getting blitzed alone, but I guess it’s okay to have someone there to hold my hair if I puke.”

(Someone to hold her hair! My sweet thinks of the minutest of details!)

Thus, in honor of Sally’s forthcoming birthday, I would like to formally invite you—kindly neighbors, well-regarded friends, custodians of the greater good—to bless us with your presence at the waterfront park commencing at 5:00 this very Saturday. At my darling Sally’s insistence, we will provide an ample portion of an alcoholic beverage she’s dubbed “jungle juice.”

“Pray tell, what is jungle juice?” I inquired when she mentioned the libation. “Is that the vernacular for a martini?”

“Sure. Fine,” said my lovely lady. “Call it a martini. Call it a dingus. Call it whatever faggot name you want.”

(That gentle girl of mine! Inventing such colorful language! Such a card!)

We do so hope that you will be available on Saturday.

***

Slade’s new thing? Licking the floor. Sure. I know. The floor. The good news is that he only does this at day care and he only licks the bathroom floor.

Wait. That isn’t exactly good news, is it?

***

I wonder if I’ll catch that night flicker in your face again. I suspect I will. Some booze-blurry evening you’ll turn just so or giggle until you glow or sink a little, and I’ll glimpse it, electric as a full moon, that night, that kitchen, that pretty girl crying inaudibly on her birthday.

***

Slade’s favorite things:

  • The golf cart. “Golf cart, daddy! Golf cart!” he exclaims over and over and over, which was sweet at first but isn’t now.
  • Taco Bell.
  • His three blankets. He lugs them up and down the stairs and into the kitchen and bathrooms and garage and sometimes out into the front yard.
  • Doodle bugs.
  • School buses.
  • Rocks.
  • Balloons.
  • Grammy and Papoo.
  • Bubbles.

***

I’m trying to get Eli down for the night when he tells me he’s seen a monster.

“Really, Dad. It was standing there.” He points out the bedroom window.

“I see. What’d it look like?”

“Like a monster.”

“You mean purple and breathing fire and tall as a tree?”

“Daaad.”

“What? Oh. That’s right. Monsters aren’t purple. They’re black and they smell like shellfish and they look like enormous poop lumps.”

“Daaaad, monsters don’t look like poop.”

“They don’t?”

“No,” Eli sighs. “Monsters look like monsters.”

Monsters look like monsters. I get that, I think, and I suppose he’s right. Monsters do look like monsters, even if most of the time they appear like you and me.

This is your brain on drugs

My periodontist is a friendly, manicured man who mistakenly calls me by my last name and asks if I have children.

“Yes, Dr. Dan, I still have two boys,” I’ll tell him.

“Oh, that’s right, Lesley,” he’ll say, his hair gelled and immaculate, his teeth straight and very white. “I keep forgetting.”

Wednesday, I ended up in Dr. Dan’s office with an IV dripping narcotics into my veins. I was there for a dental implant to replace a tooth that had become infected at the bone and had to be extracted.

“How are you today, Lesley?” Dr. Dan asked, the IV already starting to make the room shine and hum.

“Fine,” I said and then blacked out.

When I came to, I was being rolled through a parking lot in a wheelchair and the sun was very bright.

Where? Wait? What? Ooooh, the sun. Will you look at the sun! Have you ever seen anything so pretty and powerful and magical? Oh, hey, I see cars! They’re like everywhere, dudes! Awesome! Cars are totally awesome!

The world had become fuzzy and was spasming on and off like a shorted electrical device, but I felt especially good in this hazy, sunny, new world.

As the day floated and flickered by, my head sharpened, and my gums no longer bled, and my mouth began to ache, and I stopped drooling over automobiles. The power outages in my short-term memory continued, though.

I remember, for instance, telling Sally that I was going to mow the lawn, and her telling me that I really shouldn’t, and me telling her that she shouldn’t worry so much, that I was perfectly capable of doing a little yard work.

When I awoke the next day, I didn’t think I’d mowed the lawn till I walked Eli to the bus stop and noticed that the yard had been cut and edged.

“Did I do that?” I later asked Sally.

“You really don’t remember?”

“Well, I recall unrolling the extension cord for the weed eater and blasting a dead caterpillar off the patio with the leaf blower, so I’m guessing I might have.”

Sally looked at me with her mouth open and sighed and patted me on the head. I’m pretty sure this means that, yes, I mowed the lawn stoned all the way out of my noodle.

After the surgery, I was on five different medications. That’s right. Five.

And I felt stellar.

At least, I think I did.

Four pills were to help me recover from the implant, and the other was for heartburn. The heartburn medication, I know, I was supposed to take on an empty stomach. One of the others I was to take after I ate. And there was one, the anti-inflamatory perhaps?, that I wasn’t to mix with something. Ibuprofen maybe? Caffeine perhaps? Pink peeps? LSD? I’m not sure.

I also have a foggy recollection of somebody warning me that if my stool turned green and became thick like peanut butter, that I was to contact the doctor. I wonder if I made that one up in my head. I mean, green peanut butter turds just doesn’t sound like a deadly side effect.

And, yes, I’ve inspected, and so far, five days later, no green dookie.

So I really can’t complain.

***

Saturday, Eli pedaled his two wheeler in his first mountain bike race. He got tangled up in a crash right out of the gate and came around the first corner in last place. Trying to pass a kid at the next corner, he bounced off the trail, which pushed him farther back.

“Keep your head up,” I remember thinking. “Don’t get frustrated. Don’t give up.”

And he didn’t. After going off the trail, Eli passed one boy after another and crossed the finish line somewhere in the middle of the pack. With another lap, I bet he would have contended for the win.

I asked him how it was when it was over.

“Cool,” he said. “Can I ride some more?”

I’m guessing that means he had a good time. I’m guessing that also means we’ll have to find another race for six-year-old to do.

How suicide songs saved my life

I fell in love with suicide music the fall I was 15. I was lonely, shy, and bone skinny that autumn, and my mom had just moved the two of us to a dumpy two-bedroom apartment in El Paso while my dad remained in Iowa to finish out his teaching term and sell the house.

To me, El Paso was concrete and heat and thugs with guns and pretty girls walking right by me. I detested that city. It was my very own scorched hell.

One Sunday, my mom, who realized I was depressed and homesick and wanted to help me make friends, took me to Trinity First United Methodist church. After the service, which lasted an hour but felt like a season, I was pointed to Sunday school in the basement in a building behind the church. I found the room, slipped in, and saw a teenager wearing a black cape.

Sure. I know. A cape. Like Zorro.

The boy in the cape was talking to a balloon-shaped girl with acne and a guy about my age with horse teeth who looked like Hoho the clown.

Sunday school lasted another season, but the kids were welcoming, and balloon girl kept checking me out, and Hoho the clown never stopped grinning, and I have to admit that I liked being with fellow teenagers, even if they rocked out to Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, even if their preferred adjectives were “nifty,” “swell,” and “super.”

That same night, I went to my first Methodist Youth Fellowship or MYF as the smiling misfits in Sunday school had glowingly referred to it.

As you might suspect, I didn’t go to MYF to commune with Jesus, not that I had anything against the dude or his omnipotent old man or the holy ghost, whatever that was.

No.

I showed up in the hopes that I might meet a cute girl who’d be charmed by an underweight newcomer who believed that the El Paso sun was his one true enemy. The girl, as I envisioned her, would be snarky and smart and maybe a Christian but not too devout. I didn’t want to have to marry the girl to see her boobs, after all.

I didn’t meet the girl of my dreams that night, but I did make a friend. His name was Andy and he’d just moved to El Paso from Arizona. Like me, he was a first timer at MYF.

Three things stood out about Andy:

1. He wore a Free Nelson Mandela tee-shirt, and it wasn’t even tucked in.

2. He was either laughing loudly or smirking every time I noticed at him.

3. He won a burping contest, one of the activities the youth minister dreamed up to show us that worshipping Jesus was cooler than drinking candy-colored cocktails with beautiful co-eds at any of probably a hundred bars less than 10 minutes away in Juarez.

Toward the end of MYF that evening, I walked up to Andy.

“Cool shirt,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling or maybe smirking. “You know, I bet none of these fucking idiots even knows who Nelson Mandela is.” He pointed to the lopsided lot of teenagers who had started to form a circle a few feet away to pray or sing Kumbaya or play another game that would demonstrate God’s great love for us all.

Hoho the clown, turned around and smiled, a questioning look in his eyes. The poor bastard had heard Andy. I suspected they all had, and no doubt, they weren’t much impressed with the smirking new addition.

But I was. I liked Andy from the get go.

Andy and I soon became friends because we loathed El Paso, hated high school, disregarded most of the rules, read good books, and adored melancholy music.

Music, especially, cemented our friendship. Andy introduced me to the blackest bands I’d ever heard that fall—The Sisters of Mercy, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, early Cocteau Twins—and I loved them all.

It was the Cocteau Twins, in particular, a group that would later make ethereal and soothing records, that blossomed inside me like a tumor. I heard them for the first time one afternoon at an MYF retreat in which Andy and I skipped bible study to smoke cigarettes and talk music in the trees outside our bunk house.

“Listen to this,” he said and lobbed me a copied tape of the Cocteau Twins’ first album Garlands as we sat under a tall ponderosa and smoked More 120’s. I slipped it in my Walkman and pushed the play button.

A thin drum machine and a wall of guitars that sounded a lot like cats dying backed up a female vocalist who screeched or sang or maybe yodeled. I didn’t know what to make of it. The only lyrics I could understand were, “Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary.”

And then again. “Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary.” Was this music or noise or something evil? I wondered.

But the more I listened to that tape, the more it seeped inside and became melodic and pulsed in time with the hurt in my heart. By the time I got to the song “Blood Bitch,” I was hooked.

“This might be my new favorite band,” I told Andy.

“I knew you’d get it,” he said like I’d cracked a code.

Looking back on all those recordings from the Smiths and Diamanda Galas and Christian Death and The The and the Dead Kennedy’s, I realize Andy and I had collected the perfect music to off ourselves to, but for me at least, the tapes I kept in a box and grocery bag served the opposite purpose. The music whispered that I wasn’t alone. It reminded me I was part of a community. It manufactured a space for me to express myself and be different and grow into my own strange mind.

And it probably saved my life.

Andy probably saved my life as well. He was sometimes an asshole and we’d bicker like brothers on a cross-country road trip, but he was as loyal a friend as I’ve ever had.

And he was my only friend those first few months in that burning city when I hated everything and suicide music was the soundtrack that accompanied my every step.

Letting go day 7: North American Hootenanny

You remember our dog Chuck, right? Friendly. Drooly. Barky. Enormous.

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The night before last, he dropped a massive load on the living room rug. Then last night, in the garage, he made another plus-sized deposit.

Because the weather is warm now, we’ve considered leaving him out, but Chuck will bark most of the night, which robs us of sleep and leads the neighbors to mutter and put nasty notes in our mailbox. I don’t know what to do.

Maybe we try canine diapers. Or maybe we try Imodium. Or maybe we buy a shock collar and let him stay outside all night.

(I sense your disapproval from here. No, we won’t jolt old Chuck with electricity, even if sometimes, when he’s staring at a wall and barking and barking and barking, we kind of want to. )

Otherwise:

1. This is the final day of my daily blogging experiment. Hal. Lay. Freakin. Loo. Ya. Okay, not really. It’s been fine, but I’m growing weary of writing about my days in the life, which are marginally interesting, even to me.

*. I’m going to the North American Hootenanny on the rooftop of the One-2-One bar tomorrow night. You should come. It’s free, and I’m pretty sure you like free.

trois. Slade climbed into bed this morning before sunrise and accidentally kicked me in the eye. I hope it was an accident, anyway.

Until next time, dudes and dudettes.

Be good. Try not to kick your father in the eye.

Letting go day 6: The neighborhood circus

Piddly stuff has set me off lately. The dogs taking a dump in the living room, Slade throwing pebbles on the sidewalk I just swept, the toll road company sending us a bill that we’ve already paid. I clench and curse quietly about all this minor drama that doesn’t matter.

I tell myself exactly that, that it doesn’t matter, but I’m still pissed off. My insides are still a fist.

How do I let it go? How do I laugh and breathe deeply and enjoy the strange scenery of a life off the rails? I need to figure that out.

A party erupted at our house Saturday night. I invited a few people from the neighborhood over, and they showed up as did others, one of whom I only sort of know, another of whom I didn’t know at all.

Shots were downed and schemes were hatched and beer bottles were broken and baskets were shot on Eli’s new hoop. I had an especially fine time.

Then Phil backed his truck into a steep ditch. Why Phil, who lives a maybe two-minute walk away, had driven to our house in the first place is a head scratcher. Why he’d decided to cruise home with a belly full of booze is another.

A tree prevented his truck from flipping over, and the front half of his truck, including a wheel that was off the ground, poked out into the road. We tried to push his truck and then tried to tow it, but we couldn’t budge the heavy machine.

It’s been a brutal year for Phil. His wife cheated on him and left him. He’s working several jobs, but money is always tight. He gets to see his son very little.

You’d think that a truck in the ditch would be enough to break him. But Phil remained upbeat and relaxed as we failed to get his truck unstuck and called wrecker services and hoped that a sheriff wouldn’t roll down the street.

I told Phil that if it we were me, I’d be angry and freaked out. I told him I might just put my head through a window.

He smiled at me. “What are they going to do to me? I mean, really. I’m already broken. They can’t hurt you when you don’t care any more.”

He patted me on the shoulder.

“Come on, bro,” he said. “Let’s get some cold beers and enjoy the circus.”

He yanked two Lone Stars from the garage fridge, and we walked up the driveway to the road to await the tow truck, and I drank deeply from the bottle, and I have to admit that I felt calm and pretty good.

***

I’m sure I’m over my 20-minute limit. I didn’t intend to tell this story, but then I started typing, and I didn’t want to stop. So I didn’t.

Letting Go Day 5: If you find my brain, could you please return it? Thanks.

“Ride bike down the stairs,” says Slade, who is sitting on his tricycle, at the top of a long flight of stairs.

“Absolutely not,” Sally tells him.

“Ride. Bike. Down. Stairs,” he demands, and I say no this time and Slade yells and yells. The 2-year-old is fearless, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Otherwise:

a. I seem to have misplaced my brain sometime yesterday evening. If you find it, please return it.

II. I went for my first open water swim in the lake yesterday. Even with a wet suit on, it was cold. Fun, too.

trois. A nap sure sounds swell.

14. My parents left yesterday, and Slade has been waddling around the house going, “Grammy, where are you?” and “Papoo, where are you?”

Okay, I’m off to wash dishes and bathe boys and change a diaper and read a story about a goose or the moon and continue living this rock star life.