#18 To Wal-Mart and beyond
I really won't go into why I ended up at Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Some things are best left unsaid. Instead, I'll just describe the moment: I was sitting outside, Saturday afternoon. Dad was with me. He was shirtless, and already burned by the sun, and the wind kept blowing the patio umbrella around so that it was sucking at keeping me in the shade. I'd had Waffles for a while, then Dad and Marilyn had kept him while I visited an aunt and a few friends, then I'd returned the dog to Greg, staying at his mom's house.
"Heard from Alex?" I asked Dad.
"He called. He's still alive," Dad replied without opening his eyes.
"You've got a sunburn," I told Dad.
"I burn easy," he responded.
Somewhere, an old man spit tobacco into a spittoon, I'm sure. Lazy wind. Shifting umbrella, spinning lazily in the lazy wind. Clear sky. Typical Alabama day.
"Nice day," I said.
"Enjoying it," Dad replied. "Just... Enjoying it."
The house was empty. Marilyn--my step-mom--was out doing whatever it is people named Marilyn do, and my brother was in Florida. It's been a long time since I've heard Dad's house be so quiet, and longer still that I've been forced to deal with an aggressive sun (the umbrella rolled to the left, and I tried to use my finger to roll it right again).
"Got any plans?" Dad asked.
"Not right now. Gonna go see the grandparents later. Try to see [my uncle who just lost my aunt to mortality]. Right now, just gonna be here."
"Here's good," Dad said.
My phone rang.
"That's not good," Dad said.
I fished my phone out of my pocket, saw it was Greg, was slightly annoyed for the intrusion (not every day I get to sit on a deck in Alabama and small-talk with my father), and answered. "What?"
Greg was agitated too. We both sounded pissed off. "Come get me. Now. I'm never coming back here again."
"Now, Marc. I will never come back here. Don't ask questions. Just come pick me up. I'm spending the night with your dad and Marilyn tonight."
"I. Uhm. No, I was going over to Mom and Ronnie's tonight. To sleep."
"I don't care if you're sleeping under a bridge. Just--fine, whatever, I'm sleeping at Rhonda and Ronnie's house tonight. Pick. Me. Up."
After I got off the phone with Greg, I told Dad, who was still in the sun, still burning, and still keeping his eyes closed, "Ok, gotta go. Greg's controlling the pain medication dosage. He can make it look like an accident, I'm sure."
"Don't tell me anything," Dad said. "If the cops ask, I don't know nothing."
#19 Amanda Hugandkiss continued
At the turn of the century, I was a wreck. My personal life was anything but personal--was in fact not even my personal life, but someone else's--and I'd recently dumped my final girlfriend but hadn't yet met Greg. I was living in a terrible house across from the local university, had nothing going for me, and refused to pretend I was content. I'd recently gotten my belly button pierced. 1999. Horrible year.
For some reason, after 5 or so years, I'd reconnected with Amanda. At the turn of the century, Amanda and her then-husband came to my crappy house to ring in the new year. 10 years later, I was with Amanda again, sitting on a park bench, discussing Salinger.
"I can't read Catcher in the Rye anymore," I told Amanda. "It feels like I'm intruding."
In front of us was a large fountain, its jets of water shooting up into the brown/blue spotless sky, tiny sprays capturing the relentless sun. Beyond the fountain, on a grassy knoll, several people were seated, flopping across one another like narcoleptic puppies. Cars circled the park.
"I taught Salinger in one of my freshman comp classes," Amanda said. "It's painful to teach things you love to kids who don't give a shit."
"That's why it feels intrusive."
"There was this one kid. God. He was.... He worked in the research library, you know, paying his way thru school. One Christmas, he gave me a collection of Salinger's short stories. You know. Everything Salinger had done for the New Yorker. Stuff that hasn't been collected in books yet." Amanda stared at the fountain. Once, many years back, I'd gone with Amanda to Strawberry Fields in Central Park--Amanda was a huge fan of John Lennon--and she'd asked me to take her picture. She stood next to the Imagine mosaic. Because I was an asshole, I framed the picture badly, framed the picture so that you could neither see Amanda nor Imagine (or even the Dakota apartment building). I did this intentionally. To this day, I can't tell you why.
"He copied all the stories?" I asked.
"Every one. When he gave me the stack of papers, this student, right, I kept thinking how much time it must've taken for him to Xerox each page. Track each story down. The effort to not write all of it, but to accumulate all of it, you know? It's my favorite present."
"Writing is a lot like accumulating. But accumulation takes a lot more effort."
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