If you don’t like Hillary then you should absolutely abhor Trump, but that isn’t exactly the case. Many people find Trump off-putting, to put it kindly, but not near enough to make me comfortable with the upcoming election. Far too many people have told me that they’re not going to vote or that they’re not voting for Hillary. Why not? What possible thing could Donald Trump Drumpf possibly have that makes him more qualified than Hillary Clinton? One could cite Clinton’s various scandals, the e-mails, or that Bill Clinton passed legislation that filled prisons with black people. Obviously, many unsavory sorts fuel her campaign and fill her wallet. Yet Trump still trumps anything questionable about Clinton at every level and in most cases goes far beyond and makes it a point to be the worst kind of human imaginable. But he’s got one thing that Hillary does not—a dick.
Endless miles of crumbling car-clogged veins weave around farms, sprawling cities, quaint towns, rest stops, and state lines—always vanishing in the rear-view mirrors like a mist, a final breath.
Camping is now formally referred to as Eco-therapy, and we needed plenty of it. But we were worried that the cool forest air and desert mountain switchbacks wouldn’t be all the medicine so we brought our own: aspirin, acetaminophen, Benadryl, Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, ibuprofen, Lysergic acid diethylamide 25, Xanax, and DayQuil.
We escaped Portland, OR an hour after lunch and vastly underestimated how long it would take to buy groceries, fuel up, and eat C & D’s famous Bozo burger. Massacre Rock welcomed us at midnight. We had just enough energy to build a fire and eat before dosing off to the low rumble of cars chasing the moon.
With only an hour of overtime at the wheel, we arrived in Zion National Park. We had two days before continuing to Las Vegas. The fillet of salmon I’d smashed in the cooler two days ago was finally thawed and begging me to decorate it in dill, dress it in foil, and throw it on the fire.
The day started with a brief thunderstorm that evaporated as fast as it fell. We drove to Springdale for breakfast and firewood. Wildcat Willies has an edible albeit chewy chicken fried streak and the local tap tastes like Pine Sol—not Willies fault, just something that sucks for those who haven’t acquired the taste.
After spoiling the gods of tourism we returned to our site and pulled tabs off our respective pieces of dancing bear decorated blotter paper. After an hour or so of anxious chit-chat, the world ended, and we began.
Up, up, up, and over the highest crest, cruising the velvet roller coaster of elation. I drank a beer and giggled under the passing clouds, constantly rent asunder, fiber by fiber, and then reborn again as the mountains inhaled the gold desert air in every manner of Monet’s brush.
We planted ourselves by a little stream for most of the day. Home to tiny fish, children, screaming adolescents, tadpoles, the oily film of sunscreen, and drunk middle-aged divorcees seeking engorged mucous membrane tissues that haven’t been 86ed from the cardiovascular system from years of work related stress and cheeseburger consumption.
Use caution when playing with stones or bugs or bits of plants around other adults. The combination of dilated pupils and neural crossfire makes every dull thing fatally compelling, and you won’t give two fucks who’s watching.
Our aquatic playground was eventually overrun so we returned to our site and waited for dinner. I was deeply immersed in the ceaseless black hole expanding between my ears. I couldn’t help but think that all my thoughts, purpose, and possessions were all quite pointless.
We made our way back to the river and it was, as we had hoped, empty, save one mother trying to hide her nervousness as she searched for her daughter. By sunset my chakras, chi, flesh, and frequency had come out on the musical end of the cosmic flute and brought to the faint low hum that calls us to dream.
I woke covered in nylon from my decaying sleeping bag, mildly sweaty, mainly thirsty, but cozy atop the dark blue air mattress I shared with Jamie. Our tent only has one door which means I wake her up every time I leave to pee, so I try, fully aware of the pointlessness of putting off the inevitable, but that’s how I define love.
Bat country was drier than ever and still retained some ominous feeling, but that was probably the patrol drones. Jamie blazed down I-15 and up the loose ass of Vegas while Maya and I shared a joint. Despite its spaghetti roads, steaming from the marinara of distraction, the city isn’t impossible to navigate.
We booked a room on the top floor of Treasure Island and wafted along the neon maze in a cautious twirl with the cigarette smoke in constant pour from the veiny kettle noses of buzzed old women as they leaned closer and closer toward the whirling reel of fortune.
None of us had bathed since we’d left Portland. We took a vote and decided Jamie should bath first, then Maya, and lastly myself. I passed time by jumping on the bed. If you ever happen to be in the last room on the right, reaching for the ceiling, look towards the overhang and you’ll find the crackly brittle remains of someone’s spliff.
Tobacco is terrible. It’s a slow suicide, a genuine sin, so we bought a pack of Nat Shermans—the classy way to die. Oddly enough, the smoke store at the Paris is located right beside a seemingly posh bar. We ordered martinis made with egg and various worldly ingredients I normally wouldn’t drink save this particular fantastic occasion. Beside me, leathery men met their escorts, our waitress admitted she was at the end of a l-o-n-g 12 hour day, and more men joined the pool around us like ants at a sugar pile. Midwest dressed, graying hair, and calloused stubby hands pinching Marlboros, chafed, from thumbing through Gideon’s bible after furiously masturbating in the shower.
Birds substantially outnumber people at the TI pool and will peck at your breakfast if you leave it unattended. We spent the day chasing cash through casinos and getting to know cab drivers. Eventually, we settled in about half way up the Stratosphere where we watched reruns of Full House while I measured out MDMA on a scale that shut off every eight seconds.
We took a brass paneled double-deck elevator up to the overlook. I noticed my planet-sized pupils in the foggy reflection gazing back at my bright gelatin face. The wind outside was searing. I lasted seconds before I turned around and joined Jamie, who’d decided to make a complete 360 in the rotating door. We drifted to ground level and searched the labyrinth for our moneyed minotaur. I bled 86 dollars out of its triple cherry heart.
Our second day began with brunch at Roxy’s Diner. An ode to the golden days when a man could simply come home drunk, beat his wife, and go to bed, only to wake the next day to bacon, eggs, hash browns, and microscopic gluten-free pancakes for Maya. She consumed them happily and booked our tickets to Love (it was the only Cirque du Soleil available).
I ordered a strawberry margarita and dipped my feet in the rooftop pool. I would have gone swimming but Jamie was the only one who remembered to bring a bathing suit, so I relished the view of sandstone kingdom, eroding behind every shade of sunbather.
All it took was one confident exhibitionist ditching her top and women all around the pool thought wonderful idea. Breasts cluster at the strip like bees on artichoke blossoms. They’re on cups, cozies, and the business cards immigrants distribute for on-call love-makers. They’re surgically enhanced, photoshopped, and packed into tens of thousands of poorly sized pushup bras.
We had thirty minutes to stuff ourselves with as much buffet and unlimited drink as reasonably possible without any of us puking in route to Love. After the performance we headed to Fremont street, old Vegas. Paved the same year The Great Gatsby was published, and John Scopes was arrested for teaching science. It has the same overhead light show and bands, but with modern upgrades such as zip lines, topless-tourist-spanking nuns, and a man who insists you kick his balls.
The flesh cloud of intoxicated people quickly engulfed us. I watched a man drink beer out of his shoe and considered taking the next cab out. But we pressed onward, to a strip club where a man, who better resembled a Redwood, politely explained that we’d each have to spend a substantial minimum amount of money upon entering. A lot of pressure considering our home is peppered in full nude clubs that far outnumber America’s capital for letting loose.
I’d always imagined myself speeding out of that doomed oasis in some glazed over brain-damaged stupor, screaming like someone’s ungodly two-year-old at an uncaring existence, but we were statues. Marble faces fixed on the continuing expanse of narrow state roads.
Some of the towns surrounding Lake Tahoe have nearly every luxury of Vegas, minus the enourmous portion of prostitutes, but with the bonus of being much cooler and next to a pristine pine-wrapped lake. We set up our tents just after sundown and watched the trees glare at us as we tossed their mangled brothers and sisters into the burn pit.
Railroad tracks disappear into the great lake and I expected Pecos Bill to come blasting out on a screaming ghost train, whipping his lasso, and roping us into some watery tourist trap. I planted myself in my dingy red camp chair and skipped stones until I looked like tomato bisque holding a beer. There were only five hours of pavement between us and our final stop at Klamath Falls.
I tried to build a fire for nearly two hours, somewhat capable of staving off the unexpected near freezing temperature, but the logs and kindling were too damp. None of us brought a coat or even a spare blanket. When morning came I felt like I’d been cracked out of God’s ice-tray and puréed into a Forest Frappuccino.
We made it back safely to the heart that pumped us out. Ego reduction and Eco-therapy dulled the timeless scythe, and we were ready for the next beat.
Should we support cops or black people? Many agree that we can do justice to both groups and that’s sensible, but it’s not sitting very well in the stomach of my mind. The idea of keeping social order through policing is akin to repairing a crumbling building with Silly Putty. Police are a weapon of the state (who aren’t obligated to help or protect you), and the state is largely a product of the mythos handed down from rich landowners: whiteness and wealth are good and godly and everything else is evil and deserving of exploitation and punishment. That philosophy has poisoned nearly every aspect of society, and police ensure it remains fatally toxic by quelling the masses that inevitably gather to cast off the invisible chains of systemic oppression. We don’t need police, we need equality. We need laws and economics that elevate everyone, not just white men. Universal income and drug legalization would empty prisons (end modern slavery) and eradicate any need of force through violence.
Every day, people whose social lubricant has long run dry, roam through grocery stores, poised to drag down my day with questions that should have been answered during their childhood, absurd demands, or barely coherent sentence fragments. This is a modest attempt at addressing the relatively common inquiries so they’re never asked again.
When will this ripen? It’s organic matter in a state of decay that’s rather unpredictable. Some people say two to three days, others think it’s four or five. I’m a fan of the three to four range.
What’s the best one? I’m always surprised when anyone over 12 asks me this because by that age you should have developed a taste for a variety of things from cigarette brands to porn magazines, and most certainly food.
When will you get more? You might as well ask me to pick your lottery numbers. Your food passes through a hundred hands before it gets to mine. Crop failure, a depleted warehouse, or a blown tire on a delivery truck, can keep your special product off our shelves.
Do you have any in back? Since you were polite enough to extend some empathy and say excuse me (guaranteed to get a kinder response) before asking my face and not my side, or back, or from across the store. And what luck, it’s in stock.
What do you do with this? You eat it or pair it with something you intend to eat. Really, though, you don’t want to try it, it’s a sub-par stab at exercising whatever minuscule free will we think we possess. I haven’t’ put this in my mouth yet, perhaps it will provide some distraction from my loneliness and inevitable outsourcing of my body to worms.
How do I cook this? Everything comes with specific cooking instructions. Ask for those if they’re not on the package, not some clerk’s vague idea of how to cook a partially thawed stuffed chicken breast. But if you’re in a jam and need a no-fail option, wrap it in foil and microwave it.
Why is this on sale? The only people with that information work in air-conditioned offices and get to visit their families during the holidays. It’s on sale because of an over-complicated network of capital zipping around under the all-seeing eyes of our oligarchical lords. Just enjoy that the thing is only slightly overpriced because after the sale it goes right back to completely un-fucking-affordable.
There’s no price, is it free? Yes, it is, compliments of the store on account of your brilliance and originality.
We walk into a store and forget that it’s more than a place we shop. It’s somebody’s shitty, overworking, underpaying place of work. I don’t go to your job and demand answers and speak only in nouns, because until you prove otherwise I assume you’re deserving of basic respect, and would like to be treated the same.
John, my biological father, wasn’t there much when I was little. I remember just one visit he made years before I would move north to Niles, Michigan to live with him and my sister. He was standing on my grandmother’s porch, with his arm against her brick wall, beaming in his blue jeans, sunglasses, and leather jacket, in a hundred degree heat.
I didn’t rush up north overnight or out of nowhere. I spent a previous summer with them, and out of that summer, two memories are the most vivid: when I crashed my cousin’s scooter into their neighbor’s shrubs and the last night before I returned home to Texas. I couldn’t sleep, so I did what anyone does when they think everyone’s asleep—I masturbated. A few minutes after I turned over to go to sleep I heard John, just a few feet away, get off the couch and walk to his room.
The night after I moved back for a more permanent stay, John told me going to church and youth group were mandatory. On the positive side, I also made extra allowance by memorizing passages of scripture.
When I inquired about my bouts of teenage sleep paralysis, John told me it was a demonic attack, and that I simply needed to pray more.
On occasion, John’s brothers and various others with no job or money would stay with us for a while. One uncle stayed in our basement almost an entire summer, which John had remodeled into a decent bedroom—he’s always been good at things like that. My uncle stayed in the room and painted. To avoid walking across the basement and up ten steps, he’d urinate in old water jugs and let them collect along his bed.
John and I were sitting at a small table in at a mall, sipping our respective coffee’s across from one another—we drank a lot of coffee together. He was trying desperately to get to know me and asked if I could skateboard. I told him I could “pop an ollie,” and he said, “I still pop ollies.” And laughed too, like he’d really done the world a favor with another dick joke. I just sat there and stared at him.
John told me Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Anti-Christ Jesus spoke of to his disciples.
One day after school Nicole pulled me into the bathroom and pointed at the shit-streak on the toilet seat John had left. She crumbled like a crushed soda can in laughter. It was a decent line too, there’s no way he could have missed that while flushing.
One of John’s big goals for a week was to rid himself of his license plate. A friend of his told him that if he bought a car with gold, and filed the proper paperwork, he was no longer obligated to have one on his car.
I was rollerblading home from school when I took the usual steep hill beside to a tiny grocer on a typically quiet road. It was too late to stop when I saw the beat-up orange Charger coming at me from the right. I tucked in hoping I could beat the car, but I lost. The corner clipped me and sent me rolling into the jagged cement curb. The force flung my backpack to the other side of the road and sent my glasses in the opposite direction. I pulled myself off the street and collected my things when a guy came running out the adjacent office building, shouting. He’d called an ambulance, so I just sat there till they came and loaded me up and drove me to the hospital. Besides the splashes of road rash across my limbs, the curb wrecked my upper right lateral. The doctor grabbed my nuts, stitched me up, prescribed pills, and gave me back to John, who’d brought his camera to take pictures of me covered in blood and smelly orange germ killer. He didn’t enjoy paying the deductible, but he relished the photo opportunity.
I went with John and his buddy Steve to Little Rock to see an elusive member of the family known as Greg. He was a beach-bum and made odd psychedelic 3-D paintings which he sold with cheap paper 3-D glasses. He was staying with Their mother in a messy shack outside of her house. He gave us a tour while explaining how he had gotten into glass blowing and was developing unbreakable glass pipes. Greg then grabbed one and hurled it across the room, shattering it into pieces. “Well, it still needs a little work,” he shrugged.
John’s sex advice consisted of three words, “Don’t have sex.” He said that hours before my first date with a short dirty-blond, with braces and big round blue eyes. She often wore tight khakis. We went on one date which wasn’t memorable in the least and very quickly lost interest after. I saw her years later at a music festival, she walked right up to me and kissed me on lips. I don’t remember how it came up in conversation, but she disclosed to me that she shot bottle rockets out of her ass on breaks between making Blizzards at DQ.
Sometimes I’d burn incense to make my musty basement dwelling smell tolerable. One of those days John stormed down and accused me of smoking weed. “I know what that stuff’s for!” I told him if he was that worried he could check my room, but he declined.
He paid another visit when he heard “Come Together” through a vent and told me not to play anything by the Beatles in his house ever again. Something about the band being demonic. Decent movies at Blockbuster were also evil.
I made the mistake of whistling at a girl (I was very young) down the street. I went home and put my rollerblades on and headed to the park. As I passed her house I found myself surrounded by six people, one of which was her boyfriend, and he wanted to knock my teeth out. As the taunts began, John came cruising by on his motorcycle with a look on his face that said you’re fucked. He never asked about it, but to be fair, I wasn’t the one who got hurt.
My sister and I bailed on school but didn’t bother telling each other. I spent all morning running around, screaming and making strange noises, banging shit together, repeating strange sounds—shit you do when you think you’re all alone. She burst out of her room and screamed, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” To this day, I wonder what horrible secrets I revealed while chatting with the furniture.
I was in an old Kung Fu movie phase. One morning when I was unusually caffeinated, my dad sleepily carried himself into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. I started waving my arms around, imitating the ancient masters, then I drew my arm back and thrust two fingers right into the spot under the sternum that knocks all the air out of the lungs. He spat out his coffee and coughed, “I’m gonna beat the shit out you.” He didn’t, but the ride to school was incredibly awkward.
I wasn’t home much during my last two years of high school. By the time I graduated John saved a grand for me—possibly the nicest thing he’s done for me. I bought a car for $200 and moved to Las Vegas, we haven’t talked much since.
I walked home after a day of glazing, weighing, and packaging holiday hams and other meats, with my usual sixer of over-priced import beer, drinking a bottle on the way. I drank two more, lit a cigarette and called my mom, who was overdue for our quarterly conversation, and told her I was an atheist.
I spent many childhood nights exploring the computer in my stepdad’s office, cramped with his tarnished trophies and dusty deer heads. One evening my mother joined me by the computer. The monitor’s scattered glow electrified the streams that raced due to her brother’s recent passing. “You must believe.” She cried, clutching her blue paperback bible—40 days she cried.
My stepdad, Craig didn’t go to church much. He typically skipped the holiday services too, but one Sunday he drug me along. His arm held the door as I passed the chalky brick mouth, down the throat past pamphlets of church retreats and prayer groups, then swimming amid clusters of long oak pews, dissolving in the copper-colored carpet, held back by a humble pulpit planted before an old bronzed Texan with the Lord’s Prayer trickling from his mouth.
After years of TGIF evenings, Saturday morning cartoons, and Sunday’s newspaper comics at my grandmother’s my parents finally split. After attempting to share an apartment with my mom, we did too. I moved north to live with my biological father John, who informed me that church attendance was mandatory during our first supper.
It wasn’t a specific pastor, the Bible, or divine consideration from the celestial that brought me to Christ. It happened as I was walking through a nearby park when I stopped and surveyed the waves of cold brittle grass as the day waned and the cold stuck its chest out under the concrete sky, and filled my 14-year-old brain with sparks.
John’s antediluvian views were always in conflict with those of public school. He didn’t understand biology, so he played fake science videos for my sister and I. My biology teacher addressed these kinds of issues simply to our class: if we had questions about science, ask. If it was about Adam and Eve, don’t.
Eve being fashioned out of a man’s rib makes it clear that women were an afterthought of the men who wrote the Bible, which should have started with her giving birth to Adam. It’s miraculous women believe at all considering Eve, mother of creation, is made to live a life birth pains and servicing her husband.
High school was hiding boners on the crest of a hormonal hell-wave, forced to wake before sun-up and made to suffer with others just as awkward, smelly, and confused about the point of learning Algebra. Christianity was my escape. What else could I do? Rebel against a religious nut I’d only meet twice? Buy a ticket back to Texas on my $10 allowance?
I left the Midwest after high school graduation and attended a five-month program called Discipleship Training School (DTS) in Las Vegas. The unaccredited program is part of a bigger machine, the University of the Nations, a callback to the days when a person could travel far for very little. Since the initial volt to the head in the 60s, its stressed belts, and loose bolts have turned out a base of operations known as Youth With A Mission in about 140 countries.
“Y-WAM,” Scott called it, as he endlessly romanticized his experiences to our Wednesday Bible study group. I met Scott at a side-church I was seeing as I grew distant toward my first. Its congregation had people around my age, one of whom was a young woman with a white opal face and spiked toxic-black hair. My engorged passion never amounted to more than long showers. But the gravity between our flirting eyes coaxed me toward youth ministries and drumming with the church worship band of which Scott played bass—until the worship leader saw me smoking in the parking lot next to my red rickety impression of a car.
Scott moved to Vegas to be a part of Y-WAM’s full-time staff after he returned from riding camels between the pyramids of Egypt. I showed up soon after with $900 cash and an old orange suitcase of clothes. I raised another $3000 over the following three months required for food, housing, the trip abroad, and the people who taught Bible class every week.
They weren’t professional teachers. There was no accredited degree required, only prior completion of a DTS and a lesson that could fill a week. You could teach any bullshit you wanted and if it was exceptionally well-received you could visit almost every country in the world at little to no cost.
I spent two months strengthening churches throughout Myanmar’s remote villages to Thailand’s swelling city sprawls, ready to burst like the Buddha’s bubblegum. I returned to America and reported on the proselytizing, poverty, and mass-market prostitution to the churches that kept my bank account in the black. I returned to the Nevada desert a month later to work on staff as a full-time missionary.
The issues we dealt with in Vegas or anywhere else had a link to poverty. Homeless camps covered Vegas in pockmarks that shown through the city’s incandescent foundation. The camps provided the fuel for an emerging trend: Bum-fights. While the mayor was busy tearing out the benches drifters used as bed frames, other scuzzier men were shuffling them into lots and bribing them with food and money to fight. We helped various organizations push back with lukewarm flavorless meals, melting salads, and clothing nobody else would wear.
Scott, myself, and other sprouts carried out the most tedious labor. The old stalks usually couldn’t stick around. Fund-raising, meetings, e-mails, prayer and other things that involved indirect sunlight and reclining chairs inevitably pulled them away.
Believers from all over the world would come to attend our two major schools, the one that brought Scott and I and another that mainly drew privileged teens from local churches to our organization for an overpriced week of prayer-walks in casinos (it’s was more like a tour), quiet biblical contemplation, and any other Christ-centric thing we could concoct called Mission Adventures.
Trending staff members usurped Scott’s long-held after-school program, and he eventually grew tired of thankless undertakings and flew back to middle-America. I did the same a few months later for similar reasons. John explained my forfeiture of human rights before I could unpack my luggage. I moved in with Scott three days later. He was sharing a dilapidated two-story igloo with blossoming alcoholics who’d party until 4 AM and let their teen girlfriends puke in our pots and pans.
We relocated the summer after to an elementary school near downtown that had been converted to spacious apartments. It had high windows and ginkgo trees in a line by the curb, and a pub a short walk down the street. Those things were all quite grand considering where we’d been but equally lackluster, stuck in the shadow of my long-distance partner, Jamie. She was living in Sweet Onion, Washington, and we talked on the phone every day (I hate talking on the phone).
I was laid off just as soon as the sofa seat formed to my ass. Macy’s bought our store and couldn’t afford to keep me on staff. My massive $200 weekly check bottle-necked to $70 after I found a job doing the same thing, in a much smaller space, on the other side of the mall. But it wasn’t enough to pay for rent, Taco Bell, cigarettes, and carcinogenic butt plugs, so two months later Jamie bought me a plane ticket to Washington. We kissed two weeks after I stepped off the plane, we married two months after that.
There was only one mall, its weathered halls serving only as a reminder to the locals that a rich man, living far away, can devastate the local economy by using his failing business as a tax write-off. My mother quickly offered us a room in Texas after I explained that the small town wasn’t exactly swelling with economic activity. Two weeks later we moved to Tyler, Texas.
Jamie and I both got jobs at each end of the JC Penney in the Tyler’s mall. Jamie sold shoes, and I stocked Housewares. Our stay was a brief nine months. Our presence was requested from Tierney Freeman, my long-time Y-WAM friend, now deceased, to help pioneer a new base in Portland, OR—I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
It didn’t take a year of fanatical demon hunting, go-nowhere arguments at board meetings, constant clots in the fiscal arteries, and an overflowing tax-form fountain before our ambitious collective dissolved. After an unusually snowy and directionless winter, I called Scott and told him we should start a church.
He and his wife Lindzy drove their possessions across the country to live with us. Our ideas tumbled around like puzzle pieces across the floor as summer burned on, but we’d only finish the edges. We couldn’t establish a home for ourselves, much less a house for God, so they moved to Chicago to finish college.
I gave up God on a Greyhound bus headed for my Washington in-laws. No sparks, chills or enlightening perspective, nothing but the sharp grind of Earth against space.
“Don’t tell your father.” My mom told me in the way one attempts (and fails) to conceal utter disappointment that they ever took the effort to shove you out of their vagina. In the hierarchy of things important to Craig, God is throned high above beef, the Bush family, Texas, farming, family, hunting, and Elk’s Lodge friends. This was the first time I regretted telling the truth.
A spindle-cell sarcoma inflated over my mom’s ankle a few months later. Twice did Death hold its scythe to her throat while she endured two years of specialized chemo, radiation, chronic pain, and muscle-melters. She’d call, crying, terrified she’d either burn in Hell or that I wouldn’t be around if God was feeling merciful. And it was difficult for me to find fluffy words because I’m fine with my ultimate passing into the timeless tectonic churn, my atoms negotiating whether it’s better to converge as crowds of Dandelions, or a pixel of a politician’s dick-pic.
I spent two weeks in Texas with my parents and my sister, who’d moved in to help out with food, dishes, sweeping, cooking, dusting, dog feeding, and the drudgery of driving to Wal-Mart every other day. I’d just quit smoking. I hated my job. Eczema was crawling out from underneath my wedding band and taking over the palm of my hand. Jamie and I spent two weeks in Texas playing cards and crying. The chemo made my mother’s hair turn thick and gray. I lived on cheap beer and high protein suppers. Before we flew back to Portland my mom’s pastor dipped her in a jumbo-sized bathtub of sanctified tap-water. Her hopes were renewed, her cancer eventually removed, with the surrounding low leg.
Craig was waddling under a cluster of semis when he had his first heart attack. After his second, a few hours later, he drove his truck home and went to the hospital. The doctor was both horrified and amazed at the soft grease-can attached to his pacemaker. A team tore his chest open the next morning and ran a pipe snake down his main valve, but the clog was too much and the plumbing was almost 60 years old, so they attached four of his backup arteries to his slow-pumping heart and zipped him up.
My parents visited recently, inspired by the muse that is Death, but they couldn’t shake off a uniquely bold anxiety. Craig would always motion for my mother to lock the doors when she stayed in the car, even if myself and Jamie were with her. They stared off in bewilderment after I told them about my routine walks from work and around the neighborhood as if Portland were being chewed away in the rotting teeth of the most sinister, child cannibalizing, women-peddling criminals of all time, ever. It’s tempting to blame the paranoia it on the weed, Craig hadn’t smoked for at least ten years. Given Texas’s over-critical stance on the substance, legal pot is a good reason to pack up a car and drive to the Northwest.
People die every other day holding out for a miracle, many die not even knowing they were ever ill, but my parents got the gift of life and they believe God gave it. What kind of person would I be if took that from them? I still tell Craig I’m praying for him, and God bless. There just different words for I’m thinking of you, good luck.
“Do you remember that time I came into your room when you were a kid and started pulling all the clothes out of your drawers,” my mom asked me. I didn’t remember. I actually hadn’t thought about it since it happened. “You always wanted to hang out with your friend, next door. And it just bothered me so much that you didn’t want to be home, and I stormed into your room told you were moving in with them.” Classified reels of me crying as my angry mother piled my clothes on the floor began to spin. “I’m sorry,” she urged, “I’m sorry I did those things. I have to tell you: I don’t just love you because you’re my son—I like you as a person.”
In a society that puts atheists on the same shelf as rapists, being liked is more than enough for me. When I blossomed into a pimply sweaty Christian I wanted everyone to join in my escape, and when I converted I wanted everyone to share my freedom. I think it’s best now to mind my own path, pulling the weeds that grow around it already occupy enough time. Despite the difficulties we had living together and our different takes on life, Scott and I Skype occasionally, not quarterly, but enough to know we believe in much more than God.
We learned to kiss in your yard,
I moved away, you stayed
you phoned me once
I called back twice,
we never spoke
after that day
I saw you,
I was planted firmly on a cold toilet seat, browsing dusty American classics stacked on a pressed wood shelf underneath a small stack of tissue and a large clam shell filled with neon condoms, when I heard:
“What, goddamnnit? What is it now?” Tom bull-horned from the plastic-wrapped living room sofa.
“They’re not coming.”
“The caterers, Tom.”
“Why don’t you tell me, Tom? Did you call them, Tom, after I placed the order? Did you tell them this is a ‘sex party’, Tom?”
Their arguing and my hand-washing can’t conceal the low horny howls from several souls being worked on the other side of the wall. Or the wailing from the floor above, the Palmers’ locally very famous “rubber room”, a glorified closet large enough to accommodate a California king fitted in latex and an impressive collection of items one doesn’t typically bring up in casual conversation—unless, of course, you’re at the Palmers’.
“What? No. No, come on,” Tom said. “What I told him was ‘bring your sunglasses, there’s a lot of folks here fuckin’.”
“It’s a courtesy.”
I met Tom Palmer when I was fresh out of high school. I was wearing the world’s rattiest fungus-green sweater, playing Chess at the Barnes & Nobles down the street from his signature mid-century home. He was an emerging engineer, getting patents on almost everything crucial to every plane you’ve flown on. One day he got “bored of life,” hopped a train north, got a job maintaining airline engines, and met Linda while waiting in line for a port-a-potty at an R.E.M concert.
“’A courtesy?’ Tom?”
“Linda, what’s gonna happen when some kid rings the bell, and I open the door, half-naked with a bunch of people fucking behind me, Linda? There go the cold-cut sandwiches, all over our porch.”
“Well, they’re not coming, Tom.”
“But we paid.”
“They’re refunding us.”
“Tom,” I said.
“What’s up, Sean?”
“In the spirit of courtesy, you shouldn’t argue on top of Clare,” I said, plopping my ass down on the thin cushion of a rocking chair.
“Yeah, Tom,” Clare said, swimming in sweat, “You’re soft, you deflated. Does talking to Linda always do that to you?” Clare laughed.
Clare was a longtime partner of Linda’s. They met at a Vespa rally after divorcing their first husbands—they’d always go on together about it over Clare’s homemade biscotti and coffee every other Wednesday. Clare was working at a morgue, and Linda found her sense of humor irresistible: “Sucicycling,” Clare poked at anything on two wheels. Their continued relationship was a non-negotiable stipulation of Linda and Tom’s marriage.
Tom peeled himself off Clare and inquired, “Subby’s?”
“What about a pot-luck?”
“Jesus, Tom, what’s wrong with you? People are already here. They’re probably getting hungry.”
“More are gonna come, right?”
“Tom, what the Christ do you want me to do, call them and tell them to start their crock-pots?”
Tom paused and stared at the ceiling.
“It’s not gonna happen, Tom.”
“We’ve been over this already, Tom.” Linda’s chestnut curls bounced as she stomped around the kitchen, looking to ease her own hunger, “Dammit, Tom, I told you to get some groceries.” She mumbled to the fridge. “Tom, you can’t eat that shit anymore.”
“It’s just once!”
Tom has been warned by every doctor since his first artery blockage to avoid anything that tastes good. He’s had a difficult time of it. “I’ll pick up food,” I offered.
“No, no, no.” Tom shot back. “Take over here.” He stood up and started to wander around the living room, “Where’s the phone book, Linda?”
Phone book? “Get a cell phone already, Tom.” I said.
“Sean, how many times do I have to say it?”
“Cancer,” Clare said, lighting a cigarette.
“It’s all over the internet, I got an e-mail about it,” Tom said.
“Tom, if cell phones gave people cancer, then everyone would be dead except you,” I explained, as he shuffled through a line of books underneath his worn oak coffee table.
“Clare, go open a window,” Linda yelled. “Sean, can you Google someone to feed us?”
“You guys, just give me a second,” Tom said before I could respond. He pulled the yellow brick from underneath a stack of Hustler magazines and a yellowed cigar box, home to old pictures and foreign money. “Found it,” he announced, “Sandwiches are on their way.”
“Would you just get over here, Sean,” Clare demanded, bringing her knees apart and smashing her American Spirit against the emerald tinted ashtray. I heard Tom and Linda’s muffled voices continue to argue over every facet of food until Clare couldn’t stand it anymore and blurted out, “Just order a few fucking pizzas.”
Linda? Tom asked with his eyes.
“Fine, Jesus,” Linda sighed.
There was a knock on the door 50 minutes later. Tom answered, rum in hand, wearing a worn blue button-up and off-white briefs.
“Hi, uh,” the delivery man, further up in age, laboriously breathed against the fleshy white noise, “Ten pizzas here for, uh, Tom.”
“Yep,” Tom said, taking hold of the stack and passing it to Linda.
The man thrust the receipt at Tom and said, “Just need you to sign this for me.”
Tom scribbled “Scooby-Doo” on the line and handed it back as the pizza guy suddenly became flushed and distraught, “You alright?” Tom asked. The man stared past Tom into the pool of bare bodies, dumbfounded, he clutched at his chest and collapsed on the threshold.
“Jesus Christ.” Tom launched at the man, searching for a sign of life. “LINDA!”
“Call an ambulance.”
“CALL AN AMBULANCE!” Echoed through the suddenly silent home.
“Oh, Christ, Tom, not again!”
“It’s not me, Linda. The pizza guy…”
You swerved down the sidewalk
a sine, red-faced, pathetic
I pulled your skateboard
out of the street,
you were drunk
but you said