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Chuck Chonson: American Cipher


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CHUCK CHONSON: AMERICAN CIPHER By ERIC NOLAN A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2003

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Copyright 2003 by Eric Nolan

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To my parents, and to Nicky

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iv ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank my parents, my teachers, and my colleagues. Special thanks go to Dominique Wilkins and Don Mattingly.

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS A C K N O W LE DG M EN T S . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. i v A B S T R AC T . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . v ii CHAPTER 1 L I V E IN G I R L F R IE N D, SHER R Y CR A VENS . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 1 2 DEPAR T ME N T C H A I R F UR R Y L U I S S O N .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. 8 3 TR A I N COND U CTOR, BISH O P P R OBE R T .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 1 2 4 T W IN B R OTH E R, M A R T Y CH O N S ON .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 1 5 5 DE A LER, W I LLIE BA R T ON .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 2 3 6 L A DY ON B U S M A R IA W O E S S N E R .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 3 3 7 CHIL D HOOD P L A Y M AT E W H E L PS R E MI E N .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 3 6 8 GUY I N TRU C K JOE MUR H PY . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . 4 6 9 EX W I F E NO R L I T T A F U E GOS. .. .. .. .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 4 9 1 0 ABANDON E D S ON, P H UC CHONS O N. . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 5 2

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vi 11 HOM E LESS B U M DE VO N.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 5 8 1 2 EXG I R L F R IEN D R E GINA. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 6 1 1 3 MIME, SQ U IG G L E S .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 7 2 1 4 E XG I R L F R IEN D EVA G A L E T. .. .. .. .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 7 7 1 5 P R OS T I T UT E V I N E GAR .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 8 3 1 6 P R OS T I T UT E C I MMA N I M .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 8 9 1 7 B L U E S M U SI C I A N TROT V E RS I O N .. .. . . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 9 3 1 8 E XG I R L F R I E N D S F A TH E R P A YNE C A V E .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 1 0 0 1 9 EXG I R L F R IEN D TA M M Y C A V E .. .. .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 10 8 2 0 F OR M ER AQU A IN T ANC E K R I L L C R I M P .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . . .. .. .. .. .. .. 1 1 5 2 1 F R I E ND, R O L P H .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 1 2 2 BIOGR A P H I C A L S K E T CH .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... 13 1

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vii Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts CHUCK CHONSON: AMERICAN CIPHER By Eric Nolan May 2003 Chair: Padgett Powell Major Department: English This is the beginning of an unfinished work of fiction. The story is not found yet, and the plot is not found yet, and the reason for writing it is still unknown to the author. There is no driving force behind the story, and the main story is abandoned on almost every page and a tangential story hogs the stage. Don't think that the author doesn't know this. He was trying to do something. The opening moment in the second book of Gogol's Dead Souls --the exact place where Nabokov believed the book began to be unworthy of being read--the narrator informs us that Chichikov, the hero of the book, is gone and that we are left alone once again in a remote corner of the country. Instead of ending the story, the narrator says, "Ah, but what a corner!" and the story continues for another hundred or so pages. I would like this thesis to begin in that same frame of mind.

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1 CHAPTER 1 LIVE-IN GIRLFRIEND, SHERRY CRAVENS Pascagoula, Mississippi I know you're Mister Seniority over at the Sociology Department Lounge, but in this house your tenure just got revoked. I told myself repeatedly that you weren't going to remember my birthday, and that you wouldn't remember that my birthday is the same day as our anniversary. And that this year it fell on Easter. I hadn't seen you in a few days and over and over I tried to prepare myself for the doped-up Chuck Chonson who appears like an oncoming truck through a bad morning fog. Who, wearing a dirty American-flag bandana and hauling a case of peppermint schnapps, doesn't seem to recognize me or the children. As I heard the door struggling to open this morning, I knew who it was on the other side and I believed in my heart that you'd have a present for me. I believed that you'd have your hair combed like you used to and that maybe you'd be wearing the same tweed jacket that only a few months ago was your favorite. "I was just on a business trip," you were going to say. "I left a note on the fridge. You must've just overlooked it, darling. I'm sorry about that tiny drinking spree--it's simply a defect of a good, hardworking man, and I wish you didn't have to witness it. Here is a new silverware set I brought back from New York." Even though I knew better, I rushed to

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2 unlock the door, then heard you puke, then re-locked it and double-locked it, then doubled over and began to cry. "Mariee! Mariee!" you were screaming and then Shamus and Lowey rushed downstairs in their pajamas, and you know how impressionable they are. They saw me crouched in the corner and then they started crying too. I whispered to them: "Daddy's been drinking. Don't move." You were screaming, "Mary! Mary!" and banging on the door and then Shamus got up enough nerve to yell at you to go away and you screamed back, "Shut up!" Then to me, "Sherry, Sherry, I love you, I love you, I love you, I want to fuck you, I'm sorry!" I could hear you crying and puffing and I knew you were in a blackout and I started to feel sorry for you and I looked over at Lowey hiding behind the vase and Shamus trying to pull him out and I started to feel sorry for all of us, as a family, and my mind shut off to the chaos around me and, because I was looking at the wall, I began to think that we could use a paint job. Maybe green, like a forest green. Or maybe just a nice forest-landscape wallpaper. With birds in it. I thought of how much you like wallpaper, and how much you like the forest. It seemed like the perfect combination, but then I remembered back when we lived in the Ozarks and I remembered the time that you dragged me along camping with you up Magazine Mountain and all we did was munch on cactus you brought and throw up and talk with God and those loser friends of yours. So then I said fudge the paint job and the wallpaper, then I started thinking about my job, and how much I like it. I started thinking about how I like putting on the uniform, slowly and respectfully. The mask, then the tank, then how Howie would pick me up in the bug van, and how we'd go all over the county spraying at the little creatures that didn't belong where they were. Then I had a deep thought--Who am I to judge bugs? What if I am not

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3 where I belong? And why is it that Shamus and Lowey hardly know their dad anymore? They have so many problems already that you can see pain in everything they do--they eat spaghetti politely and they play in their sandbox without making noise. Then bang, bang, you tried again on the door and my thoughts got shaken out like sand from a shoe. I stood up to unlock the door with a clear head and let you in and tell you that I'm sorry, but then I heard another beer can open and I knew that you weren't going to remember a damn thing. After a session of studying my insect text books, which seems now to be my only escape, I told myself that I'd give Chuck Chonson another chance. I told myself that this Chuck Chonson who is banging up my flower garden is not the one that I know, and is not the real Chuck Chonson, either. These last three months have been so distorted. I mean, you had it. Five years without drinking a drop. I had nothing to do with that either--I am so confused--why would you just throw it away? You think you can keep preaching to those confused students while you act like this? You should just see how the cashier looks at me when I go to the bank. She knows, Chuck. How the hell can she know? And if she knows, this whole town probably knows as well. You think I liked it when the country-club lady called me up telling me that you stalled out the car in a sand trap? You remember that one? Don't even think that I'm going to put up with this any longer. We got this house with our own washing machine and dryer, and Shamus and Lowey get pretty much all the video games that they want, and we're a good family. Those squash lessons with Shamus, and those times you used to get your ukulele from the attic and make up songs using Lowey's name--didn't they mean anything to you?

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4 So I sat down on my mother's treasure chest and actually made a list of every bad thing you did to me since you drank again, just to see them in front of me, instead of swimming with them up in my brain. The first thing I wrote down was that you turned me on to peyote. That was a bad thing. For some reason I didn't associate the words hallucinogens with drugs. I can still see the colors. The first handful didn't seem to be working for me, so I sneaked another bunch into my mouth, then you were mumbling about the weather in the desert being pliable. Your face melted and my skin boiled. I kept hearing an eagle behind me then looking back quickly and everything took twice as long to move as usual. You locked yourself in the attic, leaving me alone with the twisting tables and the kids who'd scream in my face. The outdoors were seeping into the kitchen and I was trying to clean it up with a wet rag. The next morning you called it freedom. I said that I didn't like freedom. You said that I was just scared of infinite possibility. You probably don't remember saying that, do you? Do you remember telling me to comb my hair, "for God's sake, you look like a tramp?" Is that freedom, too? It was definitely not the answer to our problems, like you said it would be. When I was done with that first peyote memory, I found myself full of hate and anger. There are things about this new you which I just can't stand. But as I wrote, it felt like you were seeping out of my skin, released into the atmosphere. And I'd just like to share a few things with you now that you seem to be plastered to immobility--lying in your puke, trying to roll a cigarette--and I have your attention: You're always complaining now about how much the real world sucks and how all your students don't even know who Benny Hill is. I hate that. I like the real world.

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5 When you said that to me that night at the dinner table I nodded and shook my head like "those fucking idiots," but I wasn't sure if Benny Hill was a comedian or a golf course until you called him "the greatest jokester this side of the Styx"--whatever that means. And how you sneak around all the time. Dont think I don't see you now, Chuck Chonson, with your blue-tinted sunglasses, and the way you slap five with the neighbor's kid, and when I'm gearing up for a bug-killing gig I watch you try different smiles in the mirror and practice a different laugh. I liked your old laugh. The way you laughed when Lowey came up to us while we were reading on the porch and said, "Mommy, Daddy, I have two butts." That day when you said that your book was just a bunch of filthy torts, it became obvious to me that something is going on, but I don't think I have it in me to help you anymore. Chuck, you seem to know everything, but if only you knew how easy you are to read. Why are you gnawing on the door handle? Back in my early days of exterminator school--back when I was proud to be affiliated with The University of the Ozarks--I'd daydream in class about the tenderness of life, the sunny white beaches and I'd pray to God that He'd get me a man that was honest and grateful for having a family. When I saw you pull up after class in your dented Porsche I felt some kind of tickling sensation under my skin. I knew that you'd understand me and when you replied offhand that there were twelve hundred species of butterflies in the rainforests of Peru I nearly collapsed. On our first date I told you how I follow little brown insects walking zigzag all day and every night with a spray nozzle. You told me you read Su Tung-p'o, traveled, and tried to make the world conscious. Where did that person go?

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6 Last week at the supermarket where I was spraying for mites in the backroom, I was searching in my backpack during break when I found your book of Su Tung-p'o's poems. Back a few months ago, I would've found this touching. But now it just seems empty. Your gestures are strung out. But I read them. I read for a full thirty minutes. I read "To a Traveler," and "On the Birth of His Son." They were okay, I guess, but when I read "Thoughts in Exile," I started to feel for Su. It's a beautiful poem. I guess I understand it a little. He did something bad and now he can't go to the Western Lake and that is the only place he wants to be. And even though he's in exile, no one can stop him from writing poems. That's a nice way to look at a bad situation and it's true that people can't control other people completely or at least it's a nice thought. I identified because it applies to me as an exterminator. My job's all about control and there were a few minutes left on break so I read it again trying to visualize the phoenix and the snowy swan crossing the heavens and reading closely when one of the words began to move. My first impulse was, I have to admit, to curse your name for causing me these hallucinogenic flashbacks. But then I noticed that it was just another one of these mites that I'd been killing off all day. I don't know why, but I didn't mash him into the browning paper. I watched him. I watched him crawl from letter to letter, word to word. But soon he was reaching the end of the page, and my heart started to race because I can't just lift up the book and blow, you know? The room is dripping with chemicals. So what do I do? Why am I even telling you this? Chuck, if I was a better woman, I'd never have met you--I closed the book on him gently and put the book into my backpack.

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7 I know I'm stalling and beating around the bush, but Chuck, I'm asking you to leave. I can't have a druggie in my house anymore. I'm not sure if you'll remember this conversation at all--you might show up here on these stoops tomorrow--but I'll just have to tell you again. Last night finishing off the rest of the stash you left, I had a revelation as the bugs crawled up my skin and I was able to name them aphid, bedbug, mole cricket, kissing bug: I kill for a living and my body is covered with insecticide, but still these creatures crawl and crawl up my arms and legs, always up, up to my brain and my eyes are two little pinholes and all they care about is a sociology teacher lost in the rainforest without rain and without forest. Chuck Chonson, I blow you into the dazzling void.

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8 CHAPTER 2 DEPARTMENT CHAIR, FURRY LUISSON Bay Minette, Alabama I could go ahead and give you a leave of absence, but are you sure you want to do that? You know that you're not going to get paid. Maybe you already have something worked out with your publisher or with some left-over grant money--I don't know too much about that world, and you never really communicate that side of your profession with us. There's absolutely no grudge there. What we care about from a business standpoint is that you are giving our students a first-rate education. Beyond that, if you'd like to keep your writing life private, then that's your choice. It's just that this leave of absence puts me in a bind because Merriweather is gone to Ontario for two years, and Jacobs is over in Bali. I could work something out, but just keep in mind that I'm going to have to explain something to the dean. Of course, it's because of you and your work as a teacher and researcher that these extended absences are possible, so maybe the dean won't mind--but remember, he's a tricky one. It would've been fine to give you a sabbatical, but you already took one last year. Let's just say that you're taking an extended sick-leave. How about that? I'm not implying that you look sick, or that you are sick, because that's none of my business, but it'll be better for me. But I mean, if there is anything you'd like to talk about, we can talk. I just received, as a matter of fact, an official complaint from a student of yours, saying that you were

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9 drinking in your office when she was getting help on her final project. I was under the impression that you had quit a few years back. Is that not true? She said that it wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact that you were smoking cigarettes and that she was allergic to cigarette smoke. She writes that you were unwilling to put the cigarette out and that you were unwilling to even blow the smoke in another direction than her face. You know, I'm not saying anything, and I'm certainly not implying anything. It's just that I've got a few of these this last semester from you, and no, I doubt that you're the only teacher in the world who's in this position, and I know that with these complaints comes several letters of praise from other students, so what I really mean is keep up the good work, but I understand that you need to get out of town for a while. Now, about the University of Hawaii. I appreciate your notification that you're submitting your c.v. to their search for a professor of sociology, but I looked on their web site and in the job lists, and I don't think they're hiring. Now, if this is something you worked out with the school or with their department, great. But, just in general, the job market's not too hot. Also, I'd just like to put out on the table that if you just want to take some time off to collect your thoughts, you can tell me. If this UH job is just a cover up for your desire to lay low for a few months, I'd just like to let you know that you don't need a reason. Merriweather needs a reason. Jacobs needs a reason. But you? No way. You're our man. Again, one more thing, just to cover the bases: we can put you somewhere that'll get you cleaned up--not that you need it. I just wanted to inform you of that option that's available. I know that I've had the urge to get out of southern Alabama several times myself, but the pay's more than enough to live comfortably here and there is actually a decent

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10 luncheonette in town. We've got the nice convention center over in Mobile and the seafood's good. Down here you can go out to Dauphin Island. You can't do that in Hawaii. Maybe think this through is all I'm saying, even though I think that your thinking process is great, admirable, even, and I get jealous of your syllabi at times upon review. I mean, look at this--I've got it right here. "Don't listen to what I have to say. It is unimportant. Don't study your text book. It is meaningless. Come to class, and be open to the possibility of learning. If you have this ingrained in your bones, you have already begun learning." That's something. There is no way that I, as a teacher, would have ever tried that on community-college students. All I would have expected would to have been trampled on. But I've seen portions of your class. Sometimes I'll just peek in because I'm curious. And they listen to you. I've actually never seen classes so involved in what was being lectured to them than in your classes. One day you were talking about the break dancers of New York City and the fight dances of the Brazilian slaves, and how the styles are similar but the connection was only established by others. That break dancing, or b-boy, I think was your term, was just a natural tendency. It seemed like I was there for about fifteen minutes listening, but then you finished up the lecture by saying that the Brazilian slaves were not allowed to fight so they created this dance, but the b-boy of the Bronx chose not to fight and so created the dance, and that this was something that the students should think about, and then my watch said that I was standing there for forty-five minutes. It was brilliant. It's obvious that a man of your talent should be at a more respectable institution than a community college, but you seem to be thriving here. You've turned our

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11 department into the leader of all the community colleges in the state. We're appreciative of that. But as a friend, you should get out of here, and go do what you have to do, professionally. I'm just trying to let you know that you'll run into obstacles. You're in your late forties, you're white, and you haven't published a book in a handful of years. I'm not saying that's bad, it's great in fact, but from what I've heard about UH, which isn't much, mind you, they are a school dedicated to a diverse workforce. But I'm not going to stop you from attempting to realize your dreams. Who am I, anyway? I'm just the guy who reviews your syllabi, and passes on complaints to the dean. Go. Get out of here. Seize the world. Oh, but Chuck--am I going to see you again? Maybe this would be a good opportunity for you to sign your book for me.

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12 CHAPTER 3 TRAIN CONDUCTOR, BISHOP PROBERT (passing through) Waldo, Arkansas When we say no liquor on the train, that is supposed to mean that this train is reserved for sober passengers, not that you are supposed to get high beforehand. That ticket in your hairy palm is expensive and I'm sure you would be disappointed if you don't make it all the way to Wyoming, now wouldn't you? I know your whole whiny story that you been pestering everyone about and I'm as sick of it as you are. In fact, I don't believe it. I think you is just a stinky old bum. I think it's impossible that you ever wrote a book in your life. It would just be a bunch of lies anyway, and if people wanted to buy a book about that, then they might as well, because they is stupid, and I know it. You don't have a brother, and you don't have a mother. It is so obvious that you didn't grow up in Wyoming, because your accent sounds like it came out of the Middle East. Yemen or something. I spent some time up in Lovell, as a matter of fact, and I can prove your story wrong because there is no sugar factory in that town, so there is no way that your brother can live there and be a sugar manager. I just don't like liars, is what I'm saying. You didn't get kicked out of your girlfriend's house yesterday and there is no way that she's an exterminator. You know why I know? Because if she was an exterminator she would've killed you long ago. Or at least poisoned you a bit in the mouth. I cannot believe that you are so dumb that you think that we care about your life and that you had

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13 a harder life than any of us. In fact, I bet you don't know that I cross this nation twice a week. Twice a week! I get two days off every two weeks, and sometimes I don't even have a chance to see my wife. And it's because of this job that she doesn't want to have a baby. How can she have a baby when I'm never home. We had a talk the other day and she wanted to ride the train with me whenever I was gone. That's her reasoning on how we can make things work. Have a family that lives its whole life on a train. See what I have to put up with? That's what it's like, having a wife that is afraid of the outdoors. That's right, you heard me correctly. She is afraid of the outdoors. So when I'm gone, which is ninety-nine point nine-nine percent of the time, she don't leave the house. She thinks a burglar or a robber or something is gonna attack her. Like if that happened when I was there with her and a burglar came up to me, you don't think I'd just hand that baby over to that man? I would. Because that's the only way that these creatures can be satisfied. So if she don't go outside at all, what ends up happening is that on my two days off every two weeks, or four days off every month, if you're a mathematician, I'm over at the K-Mart, not the Wal-Mart, mind you, because even though my wife hasn't stepped foot outside in I don't know how many decades, she got opinions on super huge stores. Can you believe that? When she yelled at me once when she saw the Wal-Mart bags in my hand, full of the stuff that she ordered me to get her, full of the stuff that gonna clog up the basement, and full of the stuff that gonna make her fatter than a bulbous pizza delivery boy, I didn't know what the hell was going on. She says from then on she wants me to shop at K-Mart. Okay, I says to her, because honestly, I don't care about none of that, but I was curious and she said that she liked their commercials better. So when she said that she made up her mind that she was going to go ride the train with me, can you

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14 blame me for saying nothing? But she wants the baby, but not a baby without a father. It's a old-fashioned dilemma. What kind of child will grow up from a fatherless home? Someone like you probably. If this keeps up, you're not even going to make it to Kansas. You won't even make it out of Oklahoma City.

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15 CHAPTER 4 TWIN BROTHER, MARTY CHONSON Lovell, Wyoming Dear Chuck, I am sitting here in front of this telegram you sent me and I have to admit, Chuck, that you've caught me off guard. Forty years lacking an identical twin can do wonders for the imagination and the self-esteem. You write, "Hey, Holmes, it's time for me to crash at the twin's bin. Sabbatical is just another word for nothing left to lose. Shake a leg, scramble eggs, and make my bed. Peace, brother. Chuck." I had to read it a few times to fully understand. Tell me if I'm wrong: You're on sabbatical and you're coming over to my house to spend some time, and you want me to cook breakfast? Looking through this old photograph book I've pulled out of the closet, because of your telegram, I see pictures of you as a baby in Momma's lap, you holding the trout I caught at the age of six. Me at my eighth birthday party. I say my birthday party because the picture is of just me sitting in front of the cake. You and all our friends were outside smoking cigarettes or something. As you know, or probably don't know, actually, I'm prone to drama. In elementary school, my talent for acting became apparent to Mrs. Kinety, when we auditioned for the fourth-grade talent show and I pretended that I was drunk, and I've been greasing the stage ever since. But my point is, I'm sitting here in my recliner,

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16 smoking a cigarette, thinking about you, and it is hard for me to separate the Chuck Chonson that I invented from the Chuck Chonson that is based on the facts. Even still, I know that you are forty-eight years old now, the same as me, but all I see is the face of an eight-year-old boy, dazed with experience and broken bones. This is an image which I have augmented and distorted and erased for years and years, on and off, but now that I have a piece of paper with your handwriting on the back, everything is becoming more clear. Always the tough guy, as far as I can remember, by seven you were drinking whiskey at night before you went to bed. By eight you were smoking cigarettes regularly. By some twist of magical twin connection, I was the one who'd wake up with the hangover and my throat would get all scratched up. It was a little miracle of being a twin that I overlooked back then. I'd curse you under my breath, but, looking back, at the same time I'd feel connected, and complete. Later on, after you left, I'd feel a pain in a section of my body and wonder if that was you, thousands of miles away, scorching yourself, or getting knifed. You know, Chuck, we never had a secret language. You know, like other twins? How do you think that made me feel? That day out by the road when you told me you were leaving will forever be burned in my mind, the way a tree remembers a lightning bolt that struck it. I had a feeling that something was in the air, maybe it was the smell of a storm, but I just didn't think that you'd actually jump on a train at the age of eight, and leave Wyoming for good. You had your bag and your raccoon hat. I was picking grass stalks and looking down the road, knowing that no one ever used the road except for us--that you weren't ever going to hitch a ride. Later on, up in my room, I was reading a comic when I heard the

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17 airbrakes of an eighteen-wheeler, probably lost on some route. By the time I got to the side of my room facing the road, you were gone. Looking out my window now, I can still see the road, but now it is a little busier. The way you said "freight"--you sounded so cool and broken! I remember trying to imitate you, repeating it in the mirror, all day long. I even got scared once when I said it really well and unconsciously cocked my left eyebrow, like you'd always raise your right eyebrow. I thought for a second that it was you in the mirror. I didn't look in a mirror again for days. Remember our mirror, Chuck? The one dad stole from the bar? Coors. It was a Coors mirror. But that night during the storm we had no electricity and it was unusually warm. Momma was all over the house, those days, cleaning and scrubbing, but that night she didn't move. The windows were open a crack and all you could see of her was the bottom of her white skirt flapping occasionally. She had the rocking chair facing out the living-room window and when lightning struck, you'd see her figure flash once. I was underneath the table, not hiding, just being comfortable, and I knew that she felt one of her twins missing, just watching her. I felt bad for her then, possibly for the first time in my life, and I imagined what would become of her, with the loss of one of her children. Then she said something about "that wishy-washy child" getting home before the whip cracks, her voice sprawling out of the darkness like a fish with no eyes. I got out from under the table and tried to make my way over to her through the dark without breaking anything. I told her that you took the freight out to Pittsburgh. I remember you said that's where all the trains end up anyway. I imitated you because I was imitating you all day and I said the word just like I'd practiced it--deep and without pronouncing the "t." Fray. She just said, "Pittsburgh? Why is Marty going to

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18 Pittsburgh?" I didn't tell her that it was you, Chuck, and not me, and I don't think she realized it for a couple of days. I kept up the routine the whole time, horrified, and I went a long time without stumbling. When I did, over breakfast with her asking me for the salt, I saw something in her eyes break when I said I didn't know where the salt was. It wasn't exactly what I said, but how I said it--I let my true self through. Looking back, I think it was the moment when I started to regard myself as the wrong one. O, Chuck, some nights I'd stay up late fabricating the life of my long-lost twin brother, combining stories of you that I'd heard or overheard, with scenes from the movies to help out with the background. The days I spent in that theatre, escaping to the worlds of Texas, California, and New York City, wondering if I'd see you among the extras or if you'd been to Philadelphia in person. It was just my confused way of trying to complete myself. Looking back, I think that acting was just a natural progression of my reactions to pain and fear. My first play was Oklahoma! in seventh grade and when the lights went on I felt God watching me and before I'd know it the play would be over and people would clap for me. The feeling that I was good at something that I didn't even have to remember actually doing was so unbelievable that I decided that acting was my calling and that I would do it for the rest of my life. Up in Missoula, when I was almost finished with some undergrad work in child psychology, I saw a poster calling for auditions for Waiting for Godot I realized I hadn't acted since the seventh grade and that if I didn't do something now, then I might never get another chance again. And there was something in the clowns' faces on the poster that gave me a strong desire to audition.

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19 I was going to take it lightly, knowing that if I was rejected I would take it very badly. But then my roommate said to me, "Why don't you read it?" Well, I did. And Chuck, if it didn't hit me like a ton of bricks, then it hit me like one brick right to the temple. I remembered us sitting on the side of that pathetic road and next to that pathetic tree with me crying don't go and you saying I must, but the characters in that story don't go anywhere. When I realized that no one was leaving I was furious. So furious that I threw the book down on the ground and started muttering to myself about the twin who was out there afraid of nothing and who doesn't care about anything or anybody including me. I would get up and go over to the window, look out as if searching for you suddenly, then return to the chair and pick up the book, only to read another exchange and become more enraged. Then I would get up and go to the window again. My roommate, when I cooled down, called it a play of humanity. Maybe that's something that you don't have, or that you think only sort of exists. You know, I would've waited on that road with you until we died. Of course, I didn't, I went to my room, but Chuck, if I had known that you were really leaving, I wouldn't've. Where have you been all this time? Do I even have to say that I made the cut and that people after the first show came up to me crying wanting to introduce me to their mothers and fathers and that I got a standing ovation and had a favorable review in the press? Do I have to tell you that Mary, the girl that I secretly loved and whose views in class I admired, told me that she could live with no other man after seeing my performance but I was too overwhelmed with clarity and closed the door on her face? Do I have to tell you that I performed that

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20 piece only the first night and quit because I never thought that I'd be able to live up to my own reputation that I didn't even deserve? I cried for four days straight because that plot was way too close for me to deal with it rationally. Two weeks later, roaming around town after getting a haircut, a beautiful woman approached me and said, "You asshole, Chuck Chonson. Where the hell have you been?" That was the last thing possible that I wanted to hear, but she was too beautiful to yell at. Her eyes were sad and I don't know if it was because haircuts were on my mind, but I noticed hers, and because of her poor posture I wondered if she chose her haircut because it covered most of her face. She looked depressed. I was too tired to pretend, so I told her that I wasn't Chuck but she didn't go away. She stood still for a moment, then cried. Of course I felt bad for her, but I reasoned that if she thought it possible that she could see you in Missoula, then I thought that possibly you were in Missoula, and I comforted her. This was around when I was thirty-two, I think, so that would've been 1988--just for your information. I guess now you can figure out how long she was roaming the streets looking for you after you had left. I told her that you were my twin, but that I hadn't seen you since I was eight. That's when she told me her story. How could you desert her and your son after two and a half years to go find yourself in the Smokey Mountains? And how could you name a kid Phuc? I mean, if he was a little Vietnamese, then it would be fine. Or if he wasn't Vietnamese, but lived in Vietnam, then that would be fine, too. But Italian and in Nebraska? Standing there, she seemed like she was going to fall apart and I was afraid to ask how old she was. She could have been anywhere from twenty-eight to forty-five. Her coat was thin and as she was talking, half the time I was wishing that she had seen me

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21 perform, so that she could have fallen in love with me. A man with a newspaper passed us and I'll always remember his face when he looked at us. He could have thought that we'd known each other for decades. I was in love with her already, and she was the estranged lover of my lost twin brother. Phuc and Regina moved in with me. Pretty much right after I met her. They had nowhere else to go and the house was too big for me to live in by myself. I grew accustomed to them. Phuc got private tutoring, from me and Regina alternately, because of the verbal abuse he received in middle school. Those kids are so rough. They were calling him Phuchead and then they'd call to him from across the room saying, "Hey, Phuc--you!" It was nice to have Phuc here, but then he ran away from home, right after we tried to get him back into public high school. Regina sells kitchen utensils over the phone. Some nights, next to the fireplace, Regina will tell me stories about you and her. Wild, amazing stories in exotic, faraway locations. Were you really in a Chips episode? But I am wondering what to do. Now that I've told you this, do you still want to "crash at the twin's bin"? Do you hate me? I understand that you are determined to come to Lovell to bang on my door with your suitcase of books and your knapsack of drugs. I will send this reply, as instructed, to the Thunderbird Motel in Oklahoma City--money included--but am hoping to see you either way. I am breathing heavily and thinking about everything and anything, except the cat, which I realize has been clawing at the door for some time now. [This section scratched out] Okay, I'm back and I let the cat in. I gave it some food. Do you know what the cat's name is, Chuck? Beer. That's it's name. That's what Regina forced me to name it.

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22 She says it's her turn to add cruelty to the world. She says she likes me because I look like you but I act like a forgotten appliance. We will be getting married in June of 2002. Yr. Brother, Marty

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23 CHAPTER 5 DEALER, WILLIE BARTON Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Monday, 12:34 a.m. Where you calling from? I heard cars in the background. You on the highway? This must be your cell. Oh, okay. Contact me and let me know where you're staying and we'll work some things out. Monday, 1:51 a.m. The Thunderbird Motel! You staying there? Oh, Chuck, you sure are a nostalgic son of a bitch. That day with Norlitta was a pisser. Monday, 11:53 a.m. We finally connected. So was it just coincidence that brought you back to the Thunderbird Motel? Or do you not remember that night out in the parking lot with me, you, Norlitta, and that scary dude with a broken arm? As I'm recalling, right at this moment, I can remember you being awfully messed-up that night. You was up and down and doing all kinds of trash that people were putting in your face. Now I can see it. We made it into a game after a while, lining people up and putting junk down in front of your face and watching you gobble it up. This was in the motel room. Does any of this sound

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24 familiar? The big bunny rabbit? That Jamaican Rasta who was all kinds of spaced-out? Man, you sure are something, Chuck Chonson. Here it is, what, fifteen years later and I can remember it all and you can't remember nothing. And you the fellow who went off to college up north and me just some scheming local rascal. Wait, Chuck, I got to go. I'll contact you. Wednesday, 12:15 p.m. What's happening, man? How's Oke City treating you? You been holed up in that little room all this time? Who else you been in contact with? I'll make sure that I get over to you soon enough. You know me, I got quality stuff. I'm sorry, I just was remembering that guy with the sling on his arm. That was a sight. Like I think I told you earlier, you was getting awfully messed-up awfully quick. We met up at some dusty bar by the empty parking-lot section of town and you were hitting the Wild Turkey. You were pontificating with a young fat white girl, who wasn't that bad looking, if I remember correctly, but she was so fat. Fatter than anyone I know likes it. But you were telling her about this space shuttle launch and how you were in charge of the file coverage of the event and how you thought the whole experience so non-human and so dry and you mentioned the voice that counts down. You even went through it one full time counting down from twenty real slow. Boy, that fat chick was on your Jim just waiting for it to say something intelligent. So you went on about how you wanted to use light filters and make it real psychedelic and maybe have some multiple

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25 camera angles, superimposed, and some modern-jazz dancers and maybe get Chuck Mangione to play some soundtrack music. I'm not lying, this is what you were saying. I have a memory like a cat. By this time you were beyond what I would refer to as the line of necessary functionability, but you seemed to be functioning alright, as long as you sat on that stool. Then you saw me and burped out some jive and walked over to me by the door and saying things like blacks are one of the top five races in the world on some sort of scale you invented and that the only race that was definitely better were the Incas. And this whole time we was walking toward the bathroom and I saw that fat girl up close and that's when I realized how pretty she was, and I noticed that she wasn't white but Hispanic, and that she was drinking Cokes. I knew there was nothing in it because right then she finished her drink and the bartender fixed her another, and there was no liquor put in. That's the first thing that made me think something was up. Then we entered the bathroom and you gave me a fifty and I gave you what you wanted. You insisted that I drink with you, so I sat down, planning on staying for maybe two seconds, and got a Coke, making eye contact with the fat one while I ordered to let her know I knew something that I didn't know, and you was bobbing and weaving like you was a pugilist. Then you went to the bathroom and did what you had to do, and left the two of us. "You his friend?" she asked, in a voice that sounded injured. "No," I said, and don't think I was lying to find anything out, Chuck. "Are you?" She drank her fresh coke all the way to the bottom, sucking through a straw, the whole time staring into my eyes. Then you walked back in, straight as a beaver.

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26 Your eyes were so huge and your tongue was sticking out and your chest bulging sideways, I didn't know what to expect and if that fat girl didn't intrigue me so much, I would've gotten out of there because I would've placed money down that you would die within twenty minutes. But then I noticed someone else in the bar. Back in the corner was this fat guy, hiding in some sort of shadows. Two fat people in a bar, one male, the other female, out of a total of five, including the bartender? Coincidence? Chuck, what do you think? Then the roaring started like a hurricane in reverse. I turned my head and saw this mass of rolling blubber held in place by a white tank top and all I heard was a drilling sound in the wood like you was getting a tooth drilled while wearing headphones. This guy barrels over everybody (me, you, and the girl) and slaps the drink in your hand (a Coke, somehow you were drinking her drink) right over the bar, saving your life from some sort of poison, I was guessing. This all took a matter of two seconds combined to form one. I was trying to figure something out, like, is this guy a cop, or was Norlitta, whose face I was studying briefly right then, all bunched up like a punctured rotten apple, out to get you, switching drinks and all? Was this all a mistake? Did you just pick up a glass on the bar, thinking that it was yours? I was thinking all of this through in a matter of about one two seconds, which was exactly the same amount of time it took for you to realize and understand the events that took place. You looked around you, seemingly growing more and more disgusted by your surroundings, seeing now the guy going after the fat girl, who was trying to get off the barstool but was having trouble because her legs were too small, and you just let out this roar that came from the bottom of your soul, that I think emerged from the dishonor

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27 of some guy flipping your drink (you must've thought it was your Wild Turkey) out of your hands, and this roar filled up the entire area, pressing air out in all directions. We all stopped (I was now turning to head out the door, along with the bartender) and looked at you, who (and I can still see it in slow motion) whacked this fat guy so hard in the ear that it sounded as if somewhere close wood cracked, and you both fell down on the floor, him screaming, you crying, then passing out. Oh, Chuck. That was some night. He was a cop. I got his wallet. I had no idea how he was where he was or why, but that Norlitta was up to no good in your life. Which Norlitta? How many do you know? The one that you proposed to later that night. I was about to leave the scene, after I got the wallet, but something just come over me. I just felt a deep sadness for you. I thought you were so pathetic. Seeing a grown man, with a premature gut, and a slight bald spot--that I knew--cry on the floor, completely out of touch with what was happening, then go to sleep, is a confusing sight. Still, I was going to leave. Then Norlitta motioned with her hand at the door. This caught my attention. So I got up and left you there with the fat cop (who I wasn't eager to hang out with anyway), and she followed me. Outside, around the corner in an alley, I interrogated her. "So, you drinking Cokes, right?" "What about it?" "I don't trust people who don't drink." "That's your problem." "No, that's Chuck's problem, and a problem of Chuck's is a problem of mine [Don't think I'm really your friend], and now it's a problem of yours."

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28 "What are you talking about?" "Slipping poison, bitch!" "I didn't do that. He was poisoned already." "I saw you slip him your drink." "No you didn't, because I didn't do it." Then I wondered if this was the case. I didn't actually see her do anything--only you drinking her drink. "But then why would that cop tackle him before he sipped your drink?" She grabbed at her purse and said, "I want to show you these." She pulled out a few Polaroids, and although the light was pretty bad, I saw that these were of you, maybe ten years earlier. In one you were standing next to Norlitta, who was wearing a really pretty dress, and she was unbelievable-looking. You were as ugly as I ever saw you, and I couldn't understand how you could have even known her. Beside that, now I realized that either, in the bar, you had no idea of who she was, and that she was trying to get her revenge, or that you were just meeting up, and then you got too hammered, and forgot who you were with. The next picture was of you, her, and this other scrawny guy. I asked her who it was. "That's Manny, my brother. He hated Chuck. He thought I was crazy falling in love with Chuck." "You were in love with Chuck? How that happened?" She didn't answer, so I looked at the next photo. "Who's that?" The three in the other picture were now with another guy. "That's Whelps. He's my husband."

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29 "He ain't a cop, is he?" "Sometimes he is, sometimes he's not." "Is he as fat as you?" "Shut up." "Why you showing me these pictures?" "So that my husband has time to beat up Chuck." I thought about what I should do, and I went back to the bar, my knife in my hand, only because that fat girl was a bitch. Inside, that fat guy was pounding on your face with his forearms. You didn't even know what was going on because you were out cold. I wasn't too excited about knifing someone who was maybe a cop, but I didn't have anything on me, and I had never seen him before, so he probably didn't know who I was. "Get your fat ass up and get ready to get cut." The fat guy rose up and he looked at me and then he looked at you. He started giggling. "He your friend?" "No." "Then what's the matter?" "Your wife's a bitch." "No way." I looked at you scratching at the floor, then had to look away. "I did what I had to do. Maybe my wife can leave me alone about it now. Let's go to the Thunderbird Motel. Some craziness happens there. You into craziness?" "What." "Bitches dancing naked, angel dust, and darts."

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30 I thought about it. "I can't leave him," I said, pointing to you. "I just can't. He comes." "Oh, that was already decided." Does any of this sound familiar to you yet? We dragged your ass out on the sidewalk, watched you throw up a few times, and I asked that guy if he was a cop. He said yes. His left arm was hanging down limp and looked a little swollen around the wrist. "That hurt?" "It's starting to." Then we threw you in the back of his pickup truck, with Norlitta, and when we got to the Thunderbird Motel, man, I felt bad for you because I knew that you wouldn't have been able to hang there even if you were just a little high. I was ready to have some fun, myself. When I was about to walk through the door, this big bunny rabbit comes out. It must have been as big as a small dog. With big ears. And it wasn't hopping, it was walking. I don't know how long that rabbit was in that room, and I don't know if anyone was fucking with him, but he was going where no other rabbit had gone before. I went inside, then looked back and saw you petting that huge thing. You were whispering something in its ear, then listening. You said, "He needs help!" I called your name and motioned with my hand to play it cool, but then I gave up hope when you said, "He can't stop growing." The room was packed with some pretty bad cats. Two girls were dancing, like the guy said, without their tops on. One was pretty, but the other one was this really old lady wearing earrings, and her gray hair was in a perm. The radio was playing some f.m. country stuff. This tall black man came out of the bathroom, and he was all dreaded out.

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31 He had this paperback in his hand that he was squeezing with his fist. I think since I was the only other black guy in the room, he wanted to be my buddy. He pulled me aside and started talking in this Jamaican accent that was really strange because he also had a lisp, and he was talking like this retarded kid I knew in elementary school that disappeared after the third grade Then he pulled out this joint and was saying, "Dutht. Thmoke this dutht wit me an' everth-ting be oppy." We went out to the parking lot and smoked that crazy dust and this guy had a tattoo on his arm that I saw at that moment, saying, "5th Ward Posse." Some crazy shit going to happen. Back inside, the walls were painted on the floor and everyone was staring at me. And you were now on the couch eating some pills that were on the table in front of you. You wouldn't let go of the rabbit. It was trying to escape and once it clawed your face. Norlitta was making out with the old girl and the cop was watching those two, then looking back at you. He had made a sling out of the bed sheets and he was eating a few of those pills too. Except that you were eating them about three times as fast. I thought you were going to die, but nothing mattered really. The Rasta was showing me something in this book that I couldn't read, saying, "The fire. The fire." After a while, the scene calmed down. The music was off and the two ladies had their tops back on. They were giving a massage to the cop on one of the beds and the owners of the motel were in the room now, smoking some weed. The Rasta guy was reading his book and you were confessing out loud, although your only visible audience was Norlitta and the bunny rabbit, but you were shouting, and I was listening too. "The

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32 pain," you said, "is what gets me out of bed. The drugs get me to sleep." You were petting the rabbit. "I need a rabbit--bad." You had your head over the table then, and when the Rasta started saying "Fire, fire" again, you shot up and said, "The only fire in this room is you, you flamer." That's when I left. I heard what happened later on through the local news. So that's it. You gonna buy this or what?

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33 CHAPTER 6 LADY ON BUS, MARIA WOESSNER (passing through) Hazelton, Indiana If I have to listen to you weep all the way to Pittsburgh I'm going to go mad. That book that you're ripping apart there is not meant for that purpose. You're supposed to read it. And if you don't want to read it, then give it to me because some people are not blessed with the monetary casualness that you might have. And I just happen to know a lot of little orphans who would love to get their hands on a book to read. Little Rwanda has been waiting all year for a book to read. And here you are ripping up a nice book by--who is that? Thomas Mann? I should slap you. I can't believe that I always have to sit next to people like you on the bus. All I'm trying to do is go up to Pittsburgh real quick, grab a baby, and bring it to his new home in South Carolina. And I get stuck next to someone who can't even sleep without drooling on the person next to him, which just happens to be me. All this nice scenery and you're just drooling and complaining. You weren't the bit interested in seeing Mt. Meridan. I missed it myself, but at least I wanted to see it. I never heard of it before I looked it up on this map, which I bought for this trip, with the understanding that I'd be able to enjoy the scenery, which is obviously not the case as far as your concerned. All you care about is if you finish what's in your flask before the next transfer station. Don't think I don't know what you have in that flask. Alcohol, mister. It's only going to add to your problems. Not going to solve a thing.

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34 Now, I understand that you needed to get out of Oklahoma quick. Don't think that I'm a stranger to running from the law. I might just look like a little old lady, but I used to speed on the highways and never return books to the library. So I know how you're feeling. I can't ever go back to Georgia again, because I owe the Madison library about a quarter-million dollars. So I understand. But let me tell you, there's a way out. You must find Jesus. Jesus will do for you what you can't do for yourself. Take my brother Arnie, for example. He used to just sit on the couch all day, with a Nerf basketball and dribble and watch TV. Then one day I dragged him out of the house and brought him to church and it worked for him. Now he owns three video stores that are about to go out of business. But he's not feeling down. He says that if these stores get shut down, then, by God, he'll just have to mortgage the house and open up a few more. Six, in fact. Right? Can't you see? Jesus is with us right here on the bus. All you have to do is open your heart to Jesus. Arnie is different from most of us, because he actually talks to Jesus, and Jesus talks back to him. One day I stopped by his house and he was planting peas in late February. I told him, what are you doing wasting all those seeds. Don't you know the frost is gonna come? He told me that it was Jesus' idea and that he said there was nothing to worry about. The love of God would always defeat the frost of Satan. And you know what turned out to be true? Jesus. There was no frost, and that spring there was a terrible disease going around, every little child in the fourth grade absent because they were all sick to their stomachs. Then all their little brothers and sisters got sick, then the parents, and eventually the whole town. Some big shot scientist came in and said that it was related to the imported fruit and vegetables. What were we going to do? Everyone who worked at the market was sick and so no one could even buy frozen vegetables to eat. It

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35 was bad. People started eating the fruit and vegetables on purpose, Lord, just to get the inevitable over with. There was this small faction that would congregate in the town square and give these long winded speeches on life and death and they all agreed to eat some strawberries and die off. The police were going to get involved, but then they thought it would all save us a breath or two, with no more arguments from these people. Well, they died off. Meanwhile I kept asking Arnie if Jesus was telling him to not share the peas with everyone, and he said he hadn't heard from him. Then he did hear from him and Jesus said that he should've shared the peas before most of the people died, but better late than never, so the rest of the town ate Arnie's peas for a few months, saving us all. Can't you do something like that? You're not as bad as Arnie, and he changed everything. You just cry and drool too much. It's a good thing that you're going to see your childhood friend. Maybe he's changed and found the Lord too. You never know. I wouldn't worry about how he'll treat you either. Because the past is the past and you don't know anything about his world and the way that he perceives it. That's right. Fall asleep. You look like you need a nap.

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36 CHAPTER 7 CHILDHOOD PLAYMATE, WHELPS REMIEN Houston, Pennsylvania I'm getting flashbacks just looking at the scars on your face. They're not from that bunny are they? When was the last time I saw you? Oklahoma? Rolph? You've changed so much since the last time I've seen you. And I've got to say you don't look better. When that bunny clawed you, it didn't look as bad as it does now. You'd think they'd heal or something. Did you gain weight or lose weight? Something about you looks shabby, no offense. Your face is fuller--have you been working out? Well, you're drunk, that's obvious. That's stayed the same. I cut down myself. Have a toke here and there if I'm at a party and a circle's forming. I was living strict for a while, but now I think I just gotta be a little easier on myself. Take in the view. You know, I can remember seeing you for the first time, as a little kid--thirteen years old. Isn't that amazing? I can see your face right now. Almost forty years ago I saw you, and you were so different and I was so different, and the times were so, so much different. It's shocking, is what it is. That first day we met, I remember banging on pans--my only hobby--prancing around my house in my underwear like a hopeless orphan trying to get my parents to come out of their collective comatose. Of course, back then I didn't realize what I was doing, but I just needed a little affection and my parents were too busy in their own worlds to notice a little kid who would still dirty his underwear now

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37 and then and piss in the corner here and there if it was late at night and the bathroom was all the way down a dark and scary hallway. I can see where they were coming from now, but back then all I could do was bang on pans and play hockey in the kitchen with my ice skates. That morning I had found a dead bird in the driveway, and I wanted to show somebody. I didn't care who, but it was obvious that I'd have to look pretty far to find someone. I didn't have any friends, so I decided to show my parents. Back then I thought that this would have been precisely what would have interested the both of them--a jazz drummer of a father and a Shakespearean actress of a mom. I broke a few glasses on the floor--on accident, I thought--but mom was still chanting, "How like a winter hath my absence been from thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!" and dad was pounding on his kit, "A-boom, chic-chic." So I ended up watching TV and tried to laugh as loud as I could to get their attention. That was a moment I'll never forget for some reason, laughing really loud at some dumb cartoon that had something to do with signing an amendment. Because when I was older, about seventeen or something, I was on this really bad date at the movie theatre and the movie was so bad, but I just kept on laughing, until it got to the point where people were turning their heads toward me and my date and my date told me that I was embarrassing her. I had asked myself, Why am I laughing like this? It wasn't abundantly clear yet, but I got a quick flashback to laughing on the couch watching that stupid piece of paper with legs. Then you. Just like that. I turned my head to look out the window and there you were looking back through the window, watching TV over my shoulder. I couldn't believe it. I watched your face, uncaring of my presence, stare at the screen in total happiness. I thought, A friend? I went up to the window and waved. You waved and then turned back to the TV. You were by far the

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38 coolest kid I had ever seen. No one in Houston looked like you. You were wearing some dead animal on your head, and I was so turned on by that. I wished then that I had brought in the dead bird and made it into a pair of shorts or something that I could wear on my body, maybe more like a glove. And you had this look in your face like you didn't care one way or the other about anything, which I admired. I wanted that. I went outside and invited you in. That would turn out to be the turning point of my life. It was already pretty late, I think, and we watched TV until my parents went to sleep and then you slept over. The next morning I wasn't sure if I was supposed to feel embarrassed or not about my dad and my mom because at that point I hadn't really seen anyone else's parents, but I had a strange feeling that mine were different from others. Maybe it was all the TV that I was watching then. My dad was asleep all morning and then one by one his friends showed up drinking beers and smoking cigarettes in the living room and they got loud enough to wake my dad up and they loaded up the Chevy and piled in and mom was waving goodbye and I was looking out the window seeing them drive off past the fire field and knew they were off to the city. When I sneaked some brandy of some sort into my room and rolled a joint of my dad's pot I wondered what you'd think. I was relieved when you looked excited, because I didn't think and I still don't think that a lot of thirteen-year-olds do that stuff. But you had a bag of pills that you scrounged up from your foster parents' bedroom, and when you said foster parents I felt like this friendship was perfect--I was convinced that I was adopted. I remember looking out my bedroom window, at nothing in particular, stoned off my ass, smiling, thinking, nothing is better. But I was wrong. I found a bag of dope

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39 laying around my living room and we snorted that up and played horseshoes and pro kadema in my backyard for a week straight. Nothing is better than that. My parents named me Welts and you pronounced it Whelps. That is basically the history of my life. You know, sometimes I still have bouts over what happened at the school, which, now that I think of it, I don't even think you know about. You were so messed up. That playground is still there. And all the little high-schoolers are still causing panic in the park. We sat under the log swing, the three of us, me, Norlitta, and you, sharing a bottle of my mother's rum, or, mostly watching you drink it. I recited, to no one in particular, without even thinking, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments; love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove." And you replied, "Oh, no, it's shaped like a patch of seaweed swimming in alcohol, and a turtle's head reaching out for the breeze smelling in the stank scents of fall." Norlitta thought this so clever and true that she laughed and unbuttoned the top button of her sweater. That in itself was enough to swarm up the bees in my knickers, but plus it was cold out and the shape of her breasts in the wind cutting through the wood, combining with the agitation of her nipples was enough to drive a milk addict insane. Then she said, "Do another." You looked at me and winked and said, "Poet, another rhyme, if you know it."

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40 Of course I did. I hated the garbage just as much as I hated Cannonball Adderly, but you were always in charge of me and I did it again. I wanted to see Norlitta topless if I could, but I knew that if it was between you and me it would be you. "No more be grieved at that which thou hast done: roses have thorns, and silver fountain mud. Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, and loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud." You went, "Canker is what canker does, roses have thorns and so does mine, unbuckle my pants and sweetest bud you'll find." She laughed and looked at me and unbuttoned another. Now, cleavage was showing, and I knew I was in over my head. My erection was over my head, by this point, and my head on my erection seemed almost angry. "Another," she said. "Do what the woman says," you said. I pulled out the surest one. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Norlitta said, I love this one," and adjusted her seating, in the meanwhile showing a little bit more. "Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May and summer's lease hath all too short a date." And you, you little prick, continued it, "Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines and often is his gold complexion dimmed; and every fair from fair sometimes declines, by chance or nature's changing course untrimmed." Here, I thought Norlitta was going to have a baby, she was breathing so hard. Who knew that the whole time I knew her all I had to do was recite some of my mom's stupid Shakespeare? Now I was doing it in your presence and I lost out. She unbuttoned

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41 another, and this one was below her bra. It was my first time seeing a girl like that and I didn't know what to do. You said, "Go home, Whelps." And I did. Or at least, I started to. On the walk back, already with my hand in my pants, I heard her cry out and I knew she was in trouble. I rushed back and grabbed you, then blushed when I saw that you were sticking it to her. I was so embarrassed, but shocked at what you did. You took a monstrous swig of the rum and buckled up your pants, unfinished. You took your shirt off the ground and covered Norlitta's body with it. You were playing it cool. Then you punched me in the face. When I came to, Norlitta was gone, and I was naked, and you were jerking off in my face. Needless to say, I grabbed your dick and twisted, then listened to you limp back into the woods, down the path that led to home. Alone, under the wooden swing, slimly escaping the salt of your earth, I thought of the meaning in life. How could this night ever happen in the history of humans? I thought to myself, there. The next day you called me up and asked if I wanted to shoot pool. You said, "Last night was pretty crazy, right?" I said, "Right, Chuck." You said, "So, what exactly happened?" I made up something about getting into an argument with Norlitta and then I mentioned the rum. "Rum?" you said. "We were drinking rum?"

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42 I found it in my heart to forgive you, I thought, but really I just took it out on myself. It affected me thoroughly up until I was about twenty-four. Each time I had become friends with another person, I had asked myself, "Do you think he'll try to cum in my face?" The impact was staggering. Eventually I was asking myself that question about strangers in the street. I was hopeless. I quit going to church. I stopped praying. I was late all the time because I refused to ask anybody the time, because the question would emerge. My sex life was all screwed up. I stopped dating and I'd rent pornos. I would get the ones with one-hundred cum scenes. I'd watch cum shot after cum shot, sometimes two or three movies in a row, then go to a therapist. But I never opened up to him completely, and I guess by now you can figure out why. I became a cop. Which was weird at first, busting drug dealers that I knew on a first name basis. They'd usually just look at me crookedly, afraid to say anything. My partner knew what was going on, this guy named Franklin. He was really cool. He had a brother who got hit by a drunk driver and died, so he knew everything that was involved with substance abuse. He'd leave me these pamphlets and it was real cute for a while, and even a bit endearing--someone cared about me. I never pictured him cumming in my face, which I was aware of, and it was a good feeling. It was nice teaming up with this guy but then I got sick of the job, sick of his pamphlets, and really, all I wanted to do was get fucked up. By twenty-five I was already in touch with Rolph, Tone, I knew Willie a bit, and I think I had met Eva by then, but I could be wrong. Hanging out with that crowd and all, going to parties, selling some coke, you know, enjoying my twenties. It wasn't until that whole crowd started disbanding that Norlitta re-entered my life and I had become good friends with her, about ten years ago. I just saw her over at the

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43 Laundromat and we started talking. We would go on walks through the neighborhood late at night, stopping for some coffee sometimes. But usually we just walked and talked and sometimes we held hands. I think I still had some feelings for her, but the feelings were clouded, along with everything else in my mind. She was very impressed with my knowledge of Shakespeare and be-bop. I didn't like talking about the subjects much--I thought it a bore (I always liked hockey)--but with her I didn't mind. The way she'd ask, "Did your father ever play with Lee Konitz?" was so surprisingly fresh. It caused me to re-evaluate my parents role in my life. My counselors told me they tried their best, but I knew better. They were bad parents, but I was able to forgive them a little then. I asked Norlitta to marry me, and she said yes. She was the one who encouraged me to see a therapist again. I still don't know if she knew what happened that night on the playground, but she must've not liked the fact that I hadn't had sex since then. In fact, I've never slept with her. What happened was that I went to this therapist, even though I felt like I was over the whole ordeal, just that I didn't have any desires for sex anymore. It worked--I wanted to have sex again --but I was very hungry. I started snacking on greasy foods, and pretty soon I was fifty pounds overweight. So now I wanted to have sex, but Norlitta didn't want to have sex with me because I was a fat hog. Norlitta and I were still together, but the marriage was struggling. By the way, Norlitta was getting pretty heavy too. Before long, I was back drinking and drugging. Our lives went to shit, then she left. After I bumped into you in Oklahoma City with Rolph, back in '94, and I told her about it, she wanted me to beat you up. I thought I'd win her back, but things were too far gone for that--I lost contact with her. I'm not blaming you for everything, but I'm doing okay now.

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44 I almost decided to like you again, late that night (early that morning) in Oklahoma City. I never thought you had it in you. Messing around with that old lady was something I didn't mind if she was just the old lady. Once I found out she was somebody's mother, and that her daughter was the one dancing with her, I had to put on the brakes. When her daughter's daughter showed up, knocking on the door, crying about not being able to sleep, I had a hard time not freaking out. I felt so bad for all of them, and once I saw this side of the situation, the old lady didn't look attractive to me anymore. I was sobering up quick, and I got the feeling most people did too when that little girl came in with her pajamas. The bad scene had been given a cold shower, and at the same time, it was making everything the more freakish. The mother ignored the child. I can still see it. The little girl was wandering around, examining everyone. People started back with the getting-high, but I have a theory that this scene was too painful and they had to shove it down inside in order to make it. Then the girl saw the rabbit in your lap. You were feeding it some pills--the same batch that the little girl swallowed moments later. I think she thought she was eating rabbit food. She wanted to be like the rabbit. I don't blame you for that, Chuck--you were completely detached from reality. In fact, you were the only one to not seem to notice this girl's presence. Which is why I found how you saved her so mind-blowing. I wish I could've seen it (I had finally blacked out after having one more beer). I don't remember how or why I got out of there, only reading about you saving her in the local newspaper later on that week. Do you remember that? I think Norlitta does, but she never talked about it with me.

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45 CHAPTER 8 GUY IN TRUCK, JOE MURPHY (passing through) Brilliant, Ohio Let this stretch of road in front of us symbolize the beginning of silence, and the stretch of road behind us the end of your conversation with me. Because, I've picked up a number of hitchhikers along the roads that I've traveled, and not saying that you're story isn't interesting, it's just that your story is quite long. I don't know how much I trust a man who within five minutes is telling a complete stranger that he's running from the law, that he's got two ex-wives, many girlfriends, a pocket full of drugs, and is hoping to land a teaching job at the U of Hawaii. Because what that means to me is two things. The first one is that you have something to prove. Now that shouldn't be a big deal, but when there's hours of trucking ahead of someone in the same cab as the person with something to prove, then that means that he'll be trying to prove it until it is proven. That's why you need to stop talking. Because I don't care about no proving. The second thing is that you might be trying to suck me into something. Now what it could be, I don't know. I already agreed to drive you to Aloha, Michigan, so why you got to go and tell me that you're gonna see your ex-wife who is Latin-blooded and from what you've been hearing from other ex-husbands of hers is that she had grown fat. But fat and beautiful. You think I really care about that? It just makes a man nervous. Because I'm thinking, what is he trying to say to me by letting me in on all these secrets? If I was you,

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46 I wouldn't go see her, because I have a feeling that when she sees you like this with your eyes all bugged out that she's not going to be in a talky-talk mood. Just get a job, save your money for a plane ticket and fly out to Hawaii without talking to no one else.

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47 CHAPTER 8 GUY IN TRUCK, JOE MURPHY (passing through) Brilliant, Ohio Let this stretch of road in front of us symbolize the beginning of silence, and the stretch of road behind us the end of your conversation with me. Because, I've picked up a number of hitchhikers along the roads that I've traveled, and not saying that you're story isn't interesting, it's just that your story is quite long. I don't know how much I trust a man who within five minutes is telling a complete stranger that he's running from the law, that he's got two ex-wives, many girlfriends, a pocket full of drugs, and is hoping to land a teaching job at the U of Hawaii. Because what that means to me is two things. The first one is that you have something to prove. Now that shouldn't be a big deal, but when there's hours of trucking ahead of someone in the same cab as the person with something to prove, then that means that he'll be trying to prove it until it is proven. That's why you need to stop talking. Because I don't care about no proving. The second thing is that you might be trying to suck me into something. Now what it could be, I don't know. I already agreed to drive you to Aloha, Michigan, so why you got to go and tell me that you're gonna see your ex-wife who is Latin-blooded and from what you've been hearing from other ex-husbands of hers is that she had grown fat. But fat and beautiful. You think I really care about that? It just makes a man nervous. Because I'm thinking, what is he trying to say to me by letting me in on all these secrets? If I was you,

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48 I wouldn't go see her, because I have a feeling that when she sees you like this with your eyes all bugged out that she's not going to be in a talky-talk mood. Just get a job, save your money for a plane ticket and fly out to Hawaii without talking to no one else.

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49 CHAPTER 9 EX-WIFE, NORLITTA FUEGOS Aloha, Michigan Can you leave me alone? Please. I don't want to look at your face. It is ugly, I'm afraid. I don't know why I ever loved you. Probably the poems. That is why I loved you. The poems. Shakespeare. I was a fool. I should never fall in love with my ears. Words are just sounds one makes with his mouth. Now, I think, love exists in mind, soul, and heart. I am happy in love, I tell you, Chuck, and it is not with you, or with your buddy, Whelps. It is with my new boyfriend, Franz. People think he's crazy, so be careful. They say, "Crazy Franz, you are so crazy." So make it quick, Chuck Chonson. What do you want? I can't stand here all day, you know. I only have a ten-minute break. Do you think you left me a rich woman? Ha. Oh my god, I cannot believe I married you. When you proposed to me I thought you were joking. How could I take you seriously? You had a brown paper bag glued to your face. Your sunglasses were upside down, and you said, "Marry me, baby, before I die." So many years of struggling through the mess you created made me confused. What did I want? I said yes only because I was tired of Whelps. Whelps was a mess. He was on the couch day-in and day-out, smoking grass, wearing his sunglasses, and peeping out the living-room window. "What are you peeping at?" I'd always ask him. "Neighborhood crime watch," was what he'd say. He'd wear

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50 those Bermuda shorts he loved so much and in that little dinky town of Houston, I'd say that every person there knew what he was doing on that couch. People stopped walking down our street because they knew someone was watching them, while smoking weed. Who wants that in the neighborhood? I'd get worried. When I'd go to the supermarket, I'd wear my sunglasses and be really nice to anyone I saw. I was so nervous all the time I started drinking Coca-colas and eating chocolate. I gained forty pounds in a year of nervous times. He started going out late at night with this friend of his named Rolph. Do you remember the German? I was scared of him. Whenever he came over, I'd hide in the bedroom, doing crossword puzzles to try to get my mind off Rolph. They never bother me, until one night Whelps came into my room and said he's going to Oklahoma City with Rolph. "Oklahoma City," I said. "Where's that?" "In Oklahoma, Baby. Down south." "When are you leaving?" "Now." "Three a.m.? Why?" "Business." He was gone a week and a half, and I was surprised to see him back. He was now driving a Lincoln Towncar, and I got excited, except he told me it wasn't ours. Rolph stayed in our house a few weeks, laying low, I figured, since he was so bad. He was tall and thin, his hair slicked back, and always a cigarette in his hand. He spent most of the time on our back porch, talking on the phone in German. I'd go out to feed the squirrels, and he'd stop talking until I left the porch. As if I could understand anything he was saying anyway!

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51 Well, this nice lady from church pulled me aside in the grocery store, next to the cereals, and said, "How are things at home, Norlitter?" "Fab," I said. "Now, seriously, honey. Can I help you out at all?" The look in her eye was unfamiliar to me. She really wanted to help me. So I said, "Okay, you can help with the feeding of the squirrels." She looked at me real strange, but said okay, and I believed she was going to save me, because she was one in church who always sat in front. I never knew how I could sit in front, maybe pay a million dollars, or something. If she had much money, then she could definitely help me out. And if God was helping her, maybe I'd have a million dollars if she fed my squirrels. Rolph was on the phone in the back porch again, but we didn't see him or anything because he was not visible, but his voice. She looked at me (I think her name was Betsy) and looked horrible and said, "I had no idea you were German, Norlighter. Is that a German name, Norlighter?" "That's Rolph," I said. "Come this way." I was glad at first Whelps wasn't on the couch, smoking grass, but I wondered where he could be. "Let me meet your husband," Betsy said. "I've heard so much about him." She went over to porch door and unlocked it. I was too terrified to do anything. "Hello, there," she said to him. Rolph stopped talking on phone. He was wearing his sunglasses and smoking a cigarette. Even from where I was I could tell that he needed some rest. "Long night, rough morning, huh? You know my daddy used to tell me that the best cure for a hangover was a good prayer."

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52 I thought it was the end of Betsy. So long, million dollars. Rolph hung up the phone saying goodbye in German and then he looked to Betsy and took off his sunglasses. He put his cigarette out and I was glad he did it in the ashtray. He said, "What type of prayer?" "It doesn't have to be a prayer. It could just be a nice Jesus song." "I'm interested in the prayer." "Oh goodie." Betsy turned to me. "Norey, why don't you come out here and join us? A lot of healing is about to happen." I was so petrified, I went out there without any objection. "The prayer. What is it about?" "It's about our Lord and Savior." "And who might that be?" I was starting to shake. "Jesus Christ." "Jesus?" But the way he said it sounded like this, "Zeezus?" "Je-eesus." "Zee-" "No. 'J.' Like 'job.'" "Shob? Like 'blow shob'?" I got up and ran away screaming. I ran into the woods and waited three hours. Betsy was good-looking for a girl, I remembered thinking in that bush. I hadn't even considered it before that. Rolph was a big man in height and maybe Betsy and him had sex and maybe not, but my husband had been having sex with other women in Oklahoma

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53 City I had found out and then I found out he was having sex with Rolph. Then I was having sex with Rolph and always looking for drug money. Things were crazy, Charles. Half the day I was naked, and I had no idea where our income was coming from. I'd have sex with Rolph and his fantastic dick and it was so long that I'd have to be on cocaine to handle it. He'd walk around naked and Whelps would be wearing some of my panties and I'd watch them go at it even though I didn't like it and I'd smoke weed or drink beers and do cocaine and sometimes we'd have mushrooms and heroin, so things were really bad. I'm surprised I never told you this. Actually, do you remember our marriage at all? Worst six weeks of my life. Always smashed with you out on duty. I don't remember you staying at my house at all. I do remember one time though, which is almost enough for me to still like you, even though you called me a stupid bitch when you left, is that time when we were out in the country, flying a kite and you were not drinking that day, I don't think, and you were in a good mood somehow, and you let me fly the kite and then you watched me fly the kite and taught me how to do it and then said I was good. That was nice. But I can't help you out because I don't have any money myself. I can only give you some fries at half-off, which I'll do for you, but then you have to leave.

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54 CHAPTER 10 ABANDONED SON, PHUC CHONSON Belvidere, Nebraska Dad, I found these notes I wrote to you in a box and thought you might want to see them. Just a bunch of stuff I've written over the years. I just read about half of them. I think I need more time before we meet. --P.C. As I clean chimneys--how I survive-sometimes I want only to get high. On my knuckles, there is inscribed, LEFT and RIGHT so as to remind me of my and my father's life. You left me, when I was a little lad, and I must do right, to not go mad. And when I'm in this filthy state of mind, I inhale deeply, but I myself must remind, to not do this inside a chimney next time.

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55 History of Phuc: My earliest memory is when I was three years old and I needed more milk in my bottle. Mother was down the hall and I was in my crib--who would keep a four-year-old child in a crib? I peeked out the door and down the hallway from my crib and saw mother on the couch nodding out with the TV on. At first I made noises from my bedroom, trying to be louder than the TV set, but then I just threw my milk bottle toward her to get her attention--because at this point, I'd been in this situation before--and hit her by accident, right on her forehead. I felt sorry, then when she didn't respond, not even moving a little, I got scared. I knew something wasn't right. I knew on a gut level that it would be pointless to look for you, so I sat down, and thought, "I may never get to have milk again--ever." And you know what, dad? I never have. I boycotted even before I knew what the word meant. Later on, or something, I don't know, mother would try to make it up to me by heating up my milk or dropping an Oreo cookie in the glass, and I'd always tell her, "Mother, you know my decision. Will you please stop patronizing me?" She'd bring me to the ice-cream parlor and I'd ask her if it is a dairy product on the car ride over and she'd tell me it wasn't. She'd also say that it was really good. We'd go there and when the old lady behind the counter would ask me what flavor I wanted, I'd say something like "One made without the fervor of cows, please." I'd pick these worlds up somewhere, I don't know where, but I was still a little child. Elementary school, definitely. So as I grew up, I learned of cows and how they are mistreated, even in my home state. It was something that I had a feeling about. Deep down I felt the pain of

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5 6 those cows. I decided that I would stop eating meat and that I would live off nuts, beans, and raw vegetables. That didn't last too long though. I accidentally ate a Dorito during lunch in the sixth grade. After that I just said forget it, and I just stayed away from the milk stuff, because I really didn't like it anyway. All the sixth-graders who came from the other elementary school make fun of my name. First it was only Oliver, but he just happens to be the most popular boy and so now everyone does it. Mrs. Whiteburg has told me that I must come up with a nickname and a nickname fast because it's driving her nuts. And she said that we're not going to allow the use of my name anymore in class. I wanted to tell her that it is my right to answer to my name and my name only, and that there are probably many proud Phuc's out there, but what was happening was that all the kids in class kept cursing and then when the teacher was about to yell at them, say that they just wanted to ask me something. Why me? See, all my old friends new me since kindergarten and they knew my name before the curse word, so no one ever made fun of me for it. But looking back, I wish that I was more grateful for it. Because now I want to drop out of school. Now all my old friends decided that being popular is more important than being friends with me because they make fun of my name too. And Marty is not nice to me. I just wanted you to know. Maybe eventually you will read this note and see what I have been going through. I don't consider him part of the family, and I hope that you are not like him. I think you will be different. You have

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5 7 to be though. I just thought of this. Mother doesn't like Marty, but obviously she liked you. So there. He thinks I am a freak for not drinking milk and I swear that he held a grudge against me from the moment I turned down that first glass. Stayed in that town of Lovell for two months while fat Marty worked at the sugar factory like a slave and mom cleaned up her act and was able to squeeze Marty for a few thou to hold us up for a while. Then when we were ready to split, mother told me it was time for me to go our separate ways. She went her way, and I went mine. If Marty wants to call that running away--that's fine with me. I didn't know where else to go, so I'm off to Nebraska. Got a job flipping burgers and I'm going to school. I thought about lying about my name, but I didn't. Luckily, I've found that high school kids respond more favorably to the name Phuc than do sixth graders. My large-breasted English teacher handed out a poem on the first day, "The Chimney Sweep," by William Blake. She told us about him and how he would be visited by angels and eat dinner with them. This cracked me up. I laughed, expecting reprimand, but she smiled. This caught me off guard, but I think perked my ears up a little. She continued her lecture with the process in which he had physically written his poems and how he'd dip them in acid and I dug it. Man, I dug it. I dug it so much and combined with me digging the teacher and her perfectly firm breasts, I couldn't take it. I

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5 8 ran out after that class to the bar on the corner that is covered in wood planks, had a few--for the first time in my life--then asked which way the bus station was and yelled out if anyone knows who William Blake is then they can come with me. I was really drunk. I think I had three beers. Then I told them that he was the greatest example of a human being living or dead. The guy down at the end of the bar with the slick hair mumbled something about Jesus, but then I told them of the acid bath. I wanted to be someone like William Blake, who saw angels and drew pictures of them. Honestly, I didn't even remember the poem. I figured that I'd go out and become a traveling chimney sweep. I never went back to that school, and later I got my G.E.D., but at that time I just moved a few towns over and kept calling all the chimney cleaners in the area until someone offered me a job. It was rough work, but I met this lovely girl named Karen who I fell in love with and we went on a few dates and it was perfect. I finally felt that my life was gaining meaning. But when I found out her last name was King, we talked about last names and marriage, and she said that she'd be unwilling to change her last name. I told her that I'd be unwilling to live with a wife who had a different last name than me, and she said that there was a simple solution--that I'd take up her name. It was the last thing I wanted to hear, and I had to let her go, for the obvious reason. I was walking down the street this morning when I saw a father and son walking down the road. They stopped at the corner. The father lit a cigarette. He blew the smoke out and, because of the wind, the smoke went around the boy, then smack in the boy's face. The boy breathed in deeply, pleasurably. He must have been about seven. I remember smelling cigarette smoke like that as a child from another one of my mother's

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59 boyfriends. It was a fond memory. As I approached I could smell the smoke and it smelled like plastic and I realized that it was angel dust and not a cigarette but a joint. The father winked as I passed and the son looked at me without really seeing me, I think, his eyes so blank. Welcome to the real world, Phuc.

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60 CHAPTER 11 HOMELESS BUM, DEVON Knolls, Utah I am Captain Bonzo, and I come from the planet Mars. Where marijuana's legal, and they never close the bars. I'm really not a bad guy, I'm just a little strange. Can you please find it in your heart to help me with some change? Thank you, sir, and yes, I do believe I'd like a toke of that too. I've had a bad week. I remember one time I was in the woods smoking some marijuana like this by myself and it was early in the morning. The sun had just risen, and I dont know if it was attracted to the scent of the burning herb, but a doe comes right up to me, and is standing right out in front of me before I know it. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life. But the instant I thought of reaching out and touching it, it fled. There was some type of connection there, as if the doe was saying, yes, I know that you're one of us, but don't touch me. It was a very spiritual moment for me, and from then on, I would try to spend most of my time in the woods. That's funny that you should mention that you're a writer. I don't write, but when I was in junior high school, I wasn't a good student at all. I was always late to my English class, and my teacher was real nice. Mrs. Terry. She was really good looking too, but I

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6 1 could never get to class and one day she told me that I had to do some extra credit just to pass the class and I said that I'd think about it. But really I had a trick up my sleeve because I knew Richard Brautigan from the neighborhood, and I was going to bring him into that seventh grade class for show and tell. The only thing was that the class was at eight in the morning, and I had to wake Richard up. So I go to his house with a cup of coffee and a three pack of beers that I stole from my mom and I go to his apartment, and literally there is just beer cans and coffee cans all over this guy's floor, and he's passed out and he made this snow angle with the beer cans and he was sleeping on the floor. I got him up and sat him down at the kitchen table and gave him the coffee and gave him the beers and brought him into the class. We were late again, but you should have seen my teacher's face when I brought in Richard Brautigan. I was the most popular kid that day. All my friends are dead now. Consider yourself lucky that you can see your old girlfriend. And you just saw your son? I had a son, but I don't know where he is anymore. And my wife is gone too. I heard that she committed suicide, but I think that's not accurate. I don't know too many people that are alive anymore. All my friends from school might be alive, but I don't think so. I haven't seen them in so long. And the friends I meet in the street are here for a while, but they usually go. Don't tell anyone this, but most of the bums that stick around are not my type of people. Oh, yeah. I been to Orick before. Yep. Redwood country. You can buy these nice clocks made out of wood from those big trees. Have fun there. Go in the woods. Those

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6 2 woods will bring something out of you that you don't know you have. I mean, I'll admit it--I cry. Get me into that Redwood forest and I'll shed a tear. I'm not afraid to admit it. Sometimes I go down to the river, wade in, and have a beer, and just cry. It really helps me out sometimes.

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63 CHAPTER 12 EX-GIRLFRIEND, REGINA Orick, California Marty! Good to see you, old sap. Perfect timing. I was just about to run out of-oh my god. You're not Marty, you're Chuck. Who told you where I live? Did Phuc give you my address? Did you apologize to him, Chuck? Even though he hates you, and has hated you his whole life, I think he really wants to love you. You two used to always play Frisbee when he was a baby. Did you guys play any Frisbee? I don't know if he's still into that. Is he? I don't really talk with him that much anymore. Or did you guys just get wasted in the church parking lot, like we used to do. Is that where we met? Man, I can't remember anything. How did I get hooked up with you? How old were you, twenty-eight? I was so young. I never thought much, besides the fantasies I'd write down in my notebook, mostly stories, but I stopped doing that. All I remember is your leather jacket and that bike helmet you'd bring everywhere. And although I don't remember much else, I do remember the blackouts I had. I was just a schoolgirl back then doodling all these fantasies in my notebook, unsure if I really believed in any of them. But my teacher was so boring! What was she talking about anyway? It was so sad. All these classmates around me, and I couldn't

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64 look any of them in their eyes. I remember once I looked out of the window onto the front lawn of the school and saw a squirrel and a cat playing. Why would I remember that now? Why did I find it so sad? Looking back, I don't understand how I got through those years without any substances. One day I walked out of class, eighth period, the last of the day, with only ten minutes left to go. I sat there, looking at the clock, and thought, How can I wait ten minutes? And then the logical second thought: not only will I have to wait these ten minutes, but I'm going to have to wait for all the ten minutes for the rest of my life until I die. So I left and no one stopped me, no one said anything, and I never went back. That was in eleventh grade and I walked to the soda fountain and got a vanilla Coke. The lady behind the counter was so nice, maybe the nicest person I'd ever met. After that, I'd go there every so often, sometimes at eleven in the morning, and she never asked why I wasn't at school or nothing, even though I knew she knew. She probably didn't understand I was drowning, but that's not her fault, because I didn't either. Later, when I went back to her shop once--with her looking the same age and me looking like a filthy dog--she cried, even though we had hardly known each other. We never talked at the counter much at all, but we'd see each other, and I'd like seeing her and she'd see something in me, I guess, because you wouldn't cry at seeing a random customer turn into a drug addict, would you? Maybe she was just a very good human being and maybe that was the case, I don't know. But the fact was I liked seeing her, she seemed like she'd be a good mother. Then, that first day, I looked out the window, and saw my classmates, crossing the street, making their way to where I was, so I paid, and left.

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65 You left so suddenly in my life, going to the store to buy cigarettes. That was our code, remember? When one of us had to leave? I would have been sad, had I not been so messed up on cocaine. Taking swigs of vodka right after you left, baby Phuc watching television from his crib. I wanted to go buy cigarettes, too. Why couldn't I? Why'd you get to leave, and not me? So I did leave. With all intentions of leaving Phuc there in the crib, watching the TV shows until they'd be reruns. But I made the mistake of being nostalgic and going to that sappy fountain. And there was that lady, my best friend! I sat down at the counter and smiled big at her, and she remembered me, like I told you before. She frowned and didn't really bawl, just cried a little, and went into the back. Did she cry all day or did she take five minutes and collect herself--I don't know because I left and stole a pocketbook at the ladies store next door and then went home and called up Tone and asked him if he needed a pocketbook worth sixty bucks. He said he'd take a look at it and be right over. Phuc was jumping up and down when he saw me and that thought that I had that day in English class came back to me: I'm going to wait a few minutes for Tone to come by, then I'm going to continue to wait until I grow old. I went into the kitchen and drank a bit and waited for Tone. Tone came over and was a little freaked out about Phuc. He was always leery of babies, because he knew that what he was doing was wrong and that he was maybe influencing babies in the wrong way each time he'd see one--that always freaked me out for him too. He looked at the pocketbook and said that it would be good enough and I knew what he really wanted, but he didn't ask for it, thank god, or even take it. He asked where you were, and I told him, somewhere. He wanted to take me to Fire Island. Leave

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66 the baby with grandma. I said okay, figuring that this guy would take care of me. We were going to leave in two weeks and stay for nine days. Those two weeks waiting for the trip were hard on me. Each noise I heard I thought was you coming around a corner, and every tire screeching I thought was your taxi. I thought I saw you one day fishing down by the river with a group of people, but it wasn't you. I asked around town at the bars and barbershops and it seemed as if you really split town. At the Shining City, the bartender pointed to this girl in the back, Reefer, and said that he'd always seen her with you. That didn't make sense to me because you were with me. But I tried not to think about it and I followed her around for a while and found out she was dealing drugs. She had to be. I went up to her a few times and tried to talk to her, but she brushed me off each time until finally she let me speak. She was really nice and all and we ran up a huge tab at the diner drinking vodka and then ran out on the bill. I didn't really remember what we talked about anyway. All I remember was that she said that you went fishing with her. It helped talking to her, knowing that at least you were alive and fishing. She didn't tell me if you caught anything or not, but from what I hear, that's not the point anyway. Fire Island, where was that place? New York, off of Long Island. We had to take a plane, then a train, then a ferry, then we got picked up in a truck by Tone's friend, Pocket. Harmonica man. He had no radio in his truck, but he wouldn't really talk either, just practiced harmonica. Country stuff. It was strange, I wasn't expecting to hear country music at all on Long Island, I thought it would just be rich-people music.

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67 We drove on the beach for a few miles, first passing families scattered about with little tents next to some trucks, then we started seeing gay couples, then one by one they started being naked. I wasn't sure how I felt about nudist beaches, and I wasn't sure how I felt being taken secretly to a nudist beach thousands of miles away from home by my drug dealer. Once everyone on the beach was naked, I looked over at Pocket, who was just wearing a bathing suit, and wondered if I'd see him naked in a few minutes. I was overwhelmed, and luckily Tone just lit up a joint, and I was instantaneously relieved before I took my first toke. They brought me to a bungalow, and there were a few people there. I didn't care about the possibility of nudity now that I was stoned. I would've shed no tears shedding my clothes. It seemed like paradise then, actually. No clothes, sunshine, booze, endless drugs, no kids, no worries. I didn't get the orgy-vibe, which made me feel a bit comfortable. The other people there were teamed off in couples it seemed. Krill had his boyfriend there. He was foreign, a German guy, Rolph. He was a gourmet cook and when I entered the house he was making some type of seafood stew that just knocked me off my feet the moment I smelled it. Tone wasn't putting his hands all over me, and these people seemed educated and I was a little nervous about keeping up with them, but they all seemed rather nice. After we put all our stuff away, Tone introduced me to Rolph, then let us be. He went out back with Rocket and Pocket, to go walking on the boardwalk or something. "Do you like seafood?" Rolph asked me. "I think I'll like anything you ever cook. This smells so good." "I have a restaurant in Brussels. Have some."

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68 He handed me a small vile of pills. I took some. "Any beer?" "There is some Paulaner in the refrigerator." Rolph poured me some, and it was so good. I wasn't used to living like this, and thinking of the entire week in front of me was a joy. I talked with Rolph, but really I was thinking about Tone and how nice he was. He treated me so nice, and this lifestyle was something that I could get used to. Tone and Pocket and Krill came back and we all sat around the living room, eating the food Rolph made, and we were joined by two other ladies that were there, a German and an American, and I supposed they were friends of Rolph. Eva and Sherry. To tell you the truth, I was scared of Eva. Just the way she walked into the kitchen from the deck out back, wearing a black tank top and a bikini bottom, scratching her pulled-back black hair. Mumbling something about the seagulls. I bet that she was popular in high school. She just had that air about her: long nose, tired eyes, slender fingers. She was holding a cigarette, then kissed Rolph on the cheek. Sherry, on the other hand, could've been a crushed seashell. I hardly noticed her slumping to the dinner table, wearing sunglasses indoors. She made herself a plate from the pot in the center of the table and took a seat on the couch. Rolph and Eva began talking in German, and Tone seemed to be able to follow along, which worried me. Then Eva turned to me and, without introducing herself or anything, said, "So, you know Chuck Chonson." Tone said, "Not only does she know him, she lives with him." Krill chuckled a bit, then Eva said, "Has he left you yet?"

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69 I felt my face turning red. How would she know anything about that? Not only was it none of her business, I thought, but why would she start out a conversation with someone she didn't yet know, someone who'd be sharing the same space for a week, with a question like that? Then I wondered if it was her business, whether or not you had ever slept with her. Why would you sleep with me after you were sleeping with a beauty like that who had a long nose and spoke different languages? Was it because you were depressed or was it simply to get laid. I thought myself a fool, and my buzz was starting to wear off and I was coming down and it wasn't a good feeling to be feeling these things in a strange room in a strange place with strange people. And what if an orgy broke out? What if I'd be licking her clit in a few minutes? I said, "He hasn't left me." Eva looked at Tone, and smirked. I watched Tone for any reason to hate his guts, but his face didn't change at all. I was glad. He was my only link to the outside world. What if Pocket and Krill started making out. How weird would that be? "You don't remember me," Eva said. "Don't you remember crying to me in Missoula?" Right then I remembered her. "You're Reefer." "What?" It took a few moments to figure out--that I had thought her name was Reefer, but it was Eva all along. She said, "You are so wacked out. That was like last week and you don't remember me." "I remember you. You were nice then."

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70 "Well, I just wanted to remind you that Chuck is an idiot." Rolph slapped her. No one said anything, but I heard a little chirp from behind me. Sherry. Eva didn't say anything else at all during dinner. For a few minutes, no one else said anything either, and all I heard was slurping of seafood stew. Rolph said, "Chuck is not an idiot." I didn't know why anyone was talking about you. I didn't know that you guys were some sort of gang or something. How you knew Tone and everything. I was supposed to be on vacation away from you, and all I was hearing was your name. Didn't Tone at least know what I didn't want to talk about? Pocket said to me, "I don't know who Chuck is, so you don't have to worry about me saying anything." He must have noticed that I wasn't having fun. He took the wine bottle and filled up my glass to the brim. He winked at me. Tone said, "Sorry about all this Chuck talk, Regina." Then to everyone, "Let's drink up." Sherry cleared off the table and went into the kitchen to do the dishes with a huge glass of wine in her hand. My buzz had turned on me after another drink and I was trying not to talk, but couldn't help it. I told them all the misery that you put me through. They seemed to eat it up, except for Rolph, who at times just shook his head, and at others said something like, "That's probably not the whole story." "What do you mean it's not the whole story," I said to him. "You think I'm lying to you people?" Rolph said, "No. I know that you are not lying. It's just that I know that Chuck has been going through a lot the last few months."

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71 "Oh really," I said. "Like what?" "Now, now," Krill said. "There's no reason for us to be talking behind anyone's back." "I want to know," I said. "I know you do, sweet one, but at least out of respect for me, please, can we cut this conversation out?" "Someone should cut the cards is what we should do," Pocket said. "Go get 'em," Tone said. Pocket got up and left. He was still only wearing his bathing suit. But when he came back with the cards, about five minutes later, he was fully dressed. I couldn't figure out why at the time, but this seemed rather odd. Krill put his hand on mine. "Can you play poker?" "Yes." "Little tradition here. We play strip poker." "I thought that was going to happen." Pocket was shuffling the cards. "Listen, honey. Don't worry about it. It's fun. We're at the beach. We've got great food and great wine and great drugs. Why not?" I said I was in and the game started slow, but soon all the girls, including me, had their tops off and Pocket was completely naked, except for a cowboy hat that I hadn't noticed laying around or anything. Rolph was down to his underwear, and tone still had a wife-beater and his pants on. Krill was in his briefs. The game became informal at this point and there were several conversations going around at once. Eva seemed to be

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72 interested in talking to me now. She said at one point that she went to a palm reader in Cote d'Azur when she was just a young girl and the palm reader said that she would grow up to have many lovers. "For so long I didn't believe it, because I had the same boyfriend in high school for three years. Then when we broke up I noticed other boys looking at me, so I just went for it." The game was still going on, and I'd throw some cards down on the table, not giving it much thought. I knew we'd all end up naked, it was just a matter of time. Rolph seemed to be playing to win, and he did win. He was the last one with anything on. "Winner has to take his clothes off," he said, then took his clothes off. I didn't think it was that bad, because we just sat around and talked without any clothes on, and some of the men had gorgeous bodies. And not that I'm into it or anything, but did you ever sneak a peak at Rolph's penis? Wow. So we sat around saying things like, "Look at us, all naked," and, "How did we end up all naked anyway?" or "Well, I guess we're all naked." And then the orgy started. Rolph and Krill were at it, Pocket and Tone and Eva doing it, and Sherry and me just sitting, watching. There was no music going and no one was screaming out anything like in those movies we'd used to see. At first I was curious, then when Eva had two dicks in her mouth, I wanted to leave. I turned to Sherry and said, "Do you do this a lot?" "It always seems to just happen." She was sitting next to me on the couch with her legs crossed, smoking a cigarette as if nothing spectacular was going on. "Someone usually pulls me in eventually." "Let's go for a walk." I sneaked a peak at Krill sucking off Rolph. "Can't we go for a walk?"

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73 "I'm tired." "Please? Can we get out of here?" "Okay," she said, while gathering her clothes. "We can walk on the beach. Where are my sandals?" "In the bedroom," Pocket said, in the middle of pumping Eva. Well, I didn't really feel like talking to anyone at that moment, because all I kept thinking about was all the sex you probably had with these people, but I didn't really feel like being alone either. I grabbed a bag of pot and a pipe off the kitchen counter on the way out, and waited with the sounds of the waves for Sherry to waltz out. We just walked for a while with me asking questions about this whole setup. She said that she only met Eva a month ago so she was new to the group and didnt know everything. But she did tell me about the drug smuggling and that she wasn't really used to people like this, that she was just a little girl from Arkansas. She seemed smart, but unfazed by anything. We sat down on a slab of drift wood and she was asking me all these questions about you, saying that all they did was talk about you and that she hadn't met you yet but was dying to. She asked me if you were really as mean as I said you were inside. All that night we talked and I found out so much about you. The rest of the week I stepped up my drug game and my blow-job game. I said I didn't care anymore. Just give me a dick and a pipe. I sucked away trying to fill that void within me. Now you're here again. Which is great. What do you want?

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7 4 CHAPTER 13 MIME, SQUIGGLES Madrid, New Mexico I've been waiting a long time to open up my trap and make some noise in your direction. Chuck Chonson. For days and months and years your name rung in my mind like an out-of-reach telephone in a leper's home. So long and hard I pondered the possibility of oratory involvement. Now, today, before you, I am amazed at my ability to speak. This is my first in ten years. The last time I spoke was with you, here in this town, just up the road at the Mineshaft Tavern roughly ten years ago. Now, seeing your ugly skin in front of me, the urge to talk is overwhelming. You were drunk then, and you are drunk now. This makes a person wonder. Were you ever sober? Chuck, when one doesn't speak for long, certain things happen. You lose your friends. Your parents stop calling. Women think nothing of you. And when one starts wearing makeup and jester clothes, other things happen. You get beat up. You get your wallet stolen. You stop having normal human interaction. But my makeup was just something I did so as to not have to explain in writing why I didn't talk. People know. They say to their husband, "Honey, he's a mime. Mimes don't talk." And they walk away with a smile.

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7 5 Chuck, that last night with you made me never want to interact with another human being ever again. And now, seeing you again before me like a dead man looking at his murderer, I want to speak to everyone at once. But first, is you. I bet you don't remember. I can tell by the translucent look in your cockamamie eyes that you don't even know who I am. Why are you still wavering there then, listening to a mime speak? Does that turn you on, Chuck? That you can see a person at his weakest? What's more weak than a mime talking? Well, you might think this here is funny, but only because you cannot remember. A wise man told me once that a man without memory is a divine entity. A wiser man told me that without memory we are nothing but a sack of bones. You were dragging around this blowup doll down a dirt road, pants not completely undone, yelling, "Versos de fuegos! Versos de fuegos!" and mumbling, cursing the sky, pointing your fingers at passerby and going, "Meow!" This was after midnight. I was sitting down at the general store lighting a cigarette, wondering where my next paycheck would come from, and I saw this shaky silhouette dancing, heckling the night. I was turned on. I waited till you stumbled up to the stairs where I was sitting and I called out, "Hey sailor, where's the cool city tonight?" You turned around several times, dizzying yourself, then locked eyes with me like a hawk does when it dives on its prey. "The cool cit-ay tonight, boss-man, is smack in the middle of your wife's hair pie." I laughed it off and thought you a funny joker because I didn't have a wife, and was about to tell you, then you hoisted up the blowup doll and started licking the hole between its legs. There was a family of tourists out too late who saw you, turned around,

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7 6 got in their car and left. Then you turned to me, still licking, and repeated what you said about my wife. I was in a good mood that night. Although I wasn't working regularly, I was still young and able to name a partier when I saw one. "Funny shit, hombre. Let me buy you a drink at the Mineshaft." "A drink, humper, is the source of confusion in this tiny noggin of mine. But buy us some Coronas, and I'll buy the limes." At the time I tried so hard to remember that line and I did. I wanted it to either be a tattoo wrapped around my arm, or the engraving on my tomb. We walked over to the Mineshaft and I convinced you to stash your blowup doll in the bushes by one of those jewelry stores. I knew you would get pounced at the Mineshaft with that thing, and I really wanted to enjoy at least one drink. See, I knew that you'd get into some trouble. That's part of the reason I took you there. Not necessarily to see you get beat up, but how you would handle the situation of that spot. I knew you were from out of town, but I couldn't place your accent. It sounded Arabic or Irish. But to not get into trouble at the Mineshaft, you'd have had to be part ghost. Boom. You slammed open the door and announced, "Oh, I didn't know this is a fag bar. I'm leaving. After one drink, I mean." And you walked over to the bar and sat down on a stool. Man, that place was bumping, but everyone heard you. I was scared shitless and wanted to leave, but some of the meanest cowboys in that joint saw me come in with you, and if they would've caught up to me later I'd have been dead. So I walked over to the juke box and tried to distance myself and observe from afar.

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7 7 Are you enjoying this? Here, let me light that broken cigarette of yours. You are truly pathetic. You must be close to fifty years old, now. You looked then like a laid-off truck driver, and now you look like a laid-off truck driver trying to be a shoe salesman. Then Carrie punched you in the face and you went down. No reaction from the crowd. No reaction from Carrie. He just walked over to you and slapped you on your jaw. You stayed down on the ground long enough for Carrie to light a cigarette and mosey over to you to kick you, before you started to get up and said, "But I haven't had my drink yet. Buy me a drink and I get easy." Carrie bought you a drink. I don't know how you managed that. You insisted on Corona and he bought you one. Then you announced, "I'll buy the limes!" And the crowd around you thought this was the funniest thing ever. At this point, I was beating myself up, not standing next to you like a man. I thought, while looking at you at the bar surrounded by new friends, this here is a man. Only a man can walk into the Mineshaft Inn, and do what you do and come off clean. I started philosophizing in my head about what the possibilities of manhood were and thinking about doing something like you just did, but I just stood next to the jukebox for a while. Then a goat came in. You kicked it in its skull and the goat fell down and died. The look in your eyes was concerned only with having fun. It was disgusting. The others at the bar didn't know how to react. At this point they were kind of looking up to you. They were so confused that they didn't really react at all. You noticed this, and must have realized that they were all waiting for your next action, or what you had to say. I knew that you didn't know what to do. It was obvious. Then you blurted out, "Don't let

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7 8 it get away." But it wasn't enough. It wasn't funny. You failed on a tangential experiment of yours, trying to see if you could do no wrong while doing an extreme wrong. Why did you come back, Chuck Chonson? What's left to spoil in this town? How come you don't speak? You look green around the mouth, now. Unfortunately, you had a knife. You were aiming to stab that dead meat, when someone knocked you down. You tried to split, but someone grabbed you. I don't remember much, but there was so much pouncing in your direction. Afterward, I met you outside, and you begged me to show you where you left your blowup doll. I thought long and hard about what had happened, and I decided to not reach out my hand. You said, "Huh, can you hear me?" I didn't want to talk to you. I was overcome with the urge to not speak to anyone again. The persistence of your self-drive was amazing enough for me to question everything. You started confessing. The river by my house flows slower than the words of your tormented soul. You look alarmed now. Do you know what I know? I cannot repeat the things that came out of your mouth. You kept apologizing and crying, I kept listening, not able to tell you to shut up. And now, how can I pass up the opportunity to call you a joke? Words exist without voices, but they are sharp only on one side, and the thinker is the one who gets stabbed. Words exist with voices and they are double-edged. I never wanted to hurt anyone, but you. I spit on your shoes and call you a lost vagabond.

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79 CHAPTER 14 EX-GIRLFRIEND, EVA GALET Ashland, Oregon So you've given up. Lost the belt, lost the comb, lost the book of ancient South American poetry. Lost the hat, the car, the keys, the gurgling smile, the sophistication, the friends, the boots, the cigarette-holder, the insight, the foresight, the privileges, the memberships, the tenure, the scholarships, the tickets, the boarding-passes, the coupons, the gift certificates, the discounts, the perks, the shortcuts, the manipulations, the stuffed birds. Now it's just me and you, face to ugly face, and I've got to say, I still have feelings for you. Did you think that I could ever forget about Missoula? I know that you're not one for nostalgia, but still, wasn't that the most perfect night in the history of Earth? The stars, the fights, the onlookers, the mountains, the flowers, the homeless derelicts, the river, and all the sex? You cut your hair for me. What was I supposed to do besides faint? Now look at this hole. It's alright, but it's nothing special. The last night that I was with you I decided that from then on I would attempt to live the most creative, enviously interesting life that was possible to live. Spend some time in Buenos Aires, build canoes, collect old race records, buy antique furniture, live in a house with unique windows. Now I'm down to living in a condo by myself, working in a high school, and

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80 watching TV. I think I was fine with it all, but now, in your presence, I feel like I've dropped out. The landscape crew comes once a week and I find myself peeking out my window and hoping that some of the cute ones take off their shirts. Sometimes they do, sometimes they wear tank-tops. I'm pathetic, Chuck. Do you still spray-paint poems on sidewalks and brick walls? Do you still sell watermelons from the back of your truck? What about teaching toddlers how to meditate? I miss all that. None of it's in my life now. I'm a boring nobody. What are you doing? Let's go take a drive out to Madrid again. The New Mexico air does wonders to my skin. The rusty cars, the dusty arroyos, the rattlesnakes and baby scorpions, the scenic highways, the roasted chilies! I bet some of those old hippie cowboys will still be in that same bar. Whoa, that was some crazy stuff happening under all those stars. They looked so heavy. What was that bitch's name? Vinegar? That lousy hooch, I forgot all about that stinky broad. You're not still living with her are you? Look at this soulless condo. How could an ex-beauty queen from Brussels end up in a place like this? Please take me back, Chuck. I'll be so good to you. I'll buy your drugs. I'll get the phony memberships at the libraries. Please. Don't leave. You must need something and I'll give it to you. Money? I've got a bank account filled with the stuff. Let's go to Alaska. We'll take my car. Make a trip out of it. We can sell my condo and get one of those huge mobile homes. We could even hire some migrant workers to migrate with us. Oh, a shirtless hunk and a bikini-wearing ethnic slut. Wouldn't that be great? Have you tried this new drug I found? It's called herring hog. You shove a glob of it up your nose

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81 and breathe freely. The world collapses and it lasts twenty hours. Let's try some! I have an ounce in my bathroom. It's really cheap too. We can get five pounds for three dollars. We can load up the mobile home and go touring the west, selling wind chimes and wooden flutes to the Amish and the Mennonites. We could walk slowly to the coffee shop and then prance home deftly. Gaze at the stars for six months straight, right? Isn't that how it works up there in killer-bear land? Shoot free throws for the next six months? Oh, I long so much for that Missoula twinkle. The coldness so crisp that your dollar bills never crease. Tell me you love me again, in a diner, with the jukebox playing Ten Years After. Tell me to shush when I ramble on to the waitress about how my back aches with caffeine. I want to stay up for a week straight again. Don't you miss that? Let's get married. We're still engaged, right? You never said that you broke it off. We just got into a small squirmish. Who was that girl? You never explained that to me and I never got a chance to ask. I knew Vinegar, and I knew Body, and of course I knew Cimmanim, but who was the other one? No, not Sherry, that squeaky clarinet. The one with the crooked bangs. The one with the baggy pants. The one with the dark eyes. Who was she? Maybe I'm mixing things up. It was me, you, Vinegar, and Krill down by the river fishing, and that was it. Oh, I'm thinking of this stupid girl who kept badgering me about where you were after you left. I don't know who told her that I knew you or had just seen you, but she wouldn't quit. She caught me when I was on campus, checking out the track team and selling dope to some twerp, who was probably trying to look down my shirt. All those boys were always staring at me and no one except one really ever said anything to me or tried to make a move. Which is stupid because who knows what I

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82 would've done. I'd have probably done anything with them or to them or to their girlfriends if I was fucked-up enough, which most of the time I was. But this girl who was buying stuff off me, I think, I can't remember if she was a student or not. For some reason, I'm thinking grad school, but now that it's coming back to me, I think she only pretended to be a student. Regina--that's her name. She wouldn't quit asking me all these questions about you, and crying. It was depressing and I told her to leave and she did, but the whole scene really twisted up my nerves. She was good-looking enough, but why would you be with her if you could be with me? I was a sex symbol of a European country. She was a skinny whore with uneven shoulders. Was she smart? She couldn't have been too smart, because she was doing drugs. Well, I went back to the same diner, to think things over, and to feel sorry for myself. I ordered some fruit, even though I knew that it would taste like stale pancakes. But then she walked in because it's a small town and there was only two places to eat. I don't know if I secretly wanted to see her, and intentionally went to the diner to possibly meet her, but there she was, and there I was, inviting her over to my table and asking her questions about you. I found out that the two of you were living here in Ashland on some grant money that you received, and that you left her a few days before you met up with me and Vinegar and Krill to go fishing. That was the last time I saw you, by the way. Ridiculous. I hated fishing. And I found out that you and she had a baby. No wonder she felt so bad. Originally I thought she was a cheap romantic, crying her eyes out over a man, but then I knew that she was crying over a baby, which is justifiable.

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8 3 I patted her on the back, whatever, you know, and said some kind words to her for practice, in case I ever had to be tender in the future. She was gabbing on about how she really didn't love you, but that she needed you and your money. I said don't worry about it, that there are a bunch of drug dealers in this town. She acted like she didn't even know about you dealing drugs. That was too much for me. She was so pathetic. I gave her a tiny hug and said bye. But then she shows up, out of all the places, on Fire Island. Tone dragged her up there a day or two after I showed up. I think he was sleeping with her. But anyway, he pulled me aside and said that he brought her to find out if she knew anything about your whereabouts that we didn't know yet. He said that he already told everyone else. After thanking him for letting me know last, I said that I already talked to her and that she didn't know shit. Be careful if you're in a nostalgic mood and go looking for these people, because probably they're still hot over that money you took. She only stayed for about a week, if I remember correctly, and in fact she did tip us off on some things. Like how you were always talking of going to Hawaii and that if you got enough money that you guys were going to move there and start a business. Nothing really came out of it though, and Tone made the arrangements to ship her back west. That was a stressful summer, everyone pondering over where you were. Rolph was the only one sticking up for you. You guys must have had something real tight, because other people whose names I'm not going to mention wanted to take you out. Be careful. Don't go near them. Come with me to Nova Scotia. We'll set up a junk shop and live in the woods. We'll fish, right?

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8 4 That Vinegar whore is still in my mind. See what you've done by showing up here? Just the way she'd talk with that lisp was so disgusting. And how she'd catch all those fish was disgusting too. I don't know, anything she did was gross. She was always staring in my eyes for too long. Like when I told her I was from Brussels. "Cool," she said, nodding her head and staring in my eyes. It made me want to take a bath. But when I look back at that night with us fishing, I should have seen your disappearance coming. Was Krill in on it too? He seemed to know what was going on. You were so quiet, and only drinking whiskey. Passing up on the drugs. When we started talking about spending the summer on Fire Island, you didn't really say anything at all. Krill and I had both heard about what happened in Oklahoma City the year before, but I was sure as hell not going to ask, and I thought Krill was scared too, but maybe he knew everything already or had talked to you about it. I cut ties with that crowd after that summer, because things seemed spoiled without you. There was no connection and some of them started upping up their drug use. Cocaine was big and I had already had a close call with it, so I retired from that life and got a stupid job. But we don't need cocaine anymore. Let's go for a drive. Everything on me. Just for old-times sake. I'll even buy you some clothes.

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85 CHAPTER 15 PROSTITUTE, VINEGAR Teec Nos Pos, Arizona What in the world could you possibly want from me? Um, let me guess . could it be the most stankiest bufferin' that you could afford? You know, the more I think about it, the more I think that that's what it is. You want to get your little pink gymnast to do some backflips and summersaults? Oh, that sounds so good, doesn't it? First one's on me. Alright, so what's the matter? Why you so fussy all of a sudden? You don't like mussy hussies anymore? Fine. You still see Krill? I always liked him. He was so cute and he was alert in the way that you and me ain't. He was always noticing things. Whenever I'd be a bit blue, I'd always see him give me a wink if he caught my eye, or he'd always change the subject if the conversation was going somewhere I didn't want it to go, or he'd never stay a moment too long, and he'd find a reason to drag everyone else out of the room too if he could tell I wanted to be alone. Which was nice to have in someone. I wouldn't call him a friend necessarily, because I didn't exactly trust him--I always had a notion that he'd eventually ask me for something that I couldn't comfortably afford and would feel obliged to give. But I didn't have any friends really, not because I didn't want any in

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86 theory, but really because I didn't see the point in getting to know anyone. But I always wanted Krill around because there was always the option of getting rid of him without being rude. I don't necessarily like being alone, just being able to have that option guaranteed at any moment--that's what I like. Krill was the one who taught me how to fish, too. Caught my first fish with him, which was special--I felt like I was finally normal. Then when we brought you and that hot girl you were toting, then I couldn't catch anything. I wanted so bad to catch a keeper so that I could win you back from that Eva girl. But I was the only one to catch nothing. Everyone was being so nice to me, but I wanted to be alone. You know I had a thing for you, and you were being nice too and it was driving me insane. Krill picked up on it quickly enough, and was hinting and hinting but you and Eva were so coked out that you didn't notice anything. You know, I don't think Krill's like us, you know. I think he might be gay. I wonder if that has anything to do with it. Just to let you know, in case you bump into him. Eva is so beautiful it made me so jealous. You guys looked like such a nice couple. I just want to let you know now that I'm sorry about the whole thing. I just thought that putting your fish down my pants would have been funny. How would I have known that Eva would have freaked out? She acted like she'd never seen such a thing before. Think for a minute about how I must've felt. I stuck a live fish down my pants, which is not exactly the funniest thing in the world, and I was honestly trying to be funny, and then Eva gets physically grossed out by me, and then the person that I have a thing for is running after her. I turned to Krill and said, "Why'd I do that?"

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87 "We could've been eating that thing later." "It's still good, I just dropped it in my pants a bit." "Why did you do that?" "You know how I feel about Chuck. I wanted to get his mind off that Brussels lady." "We'll catch more." Krill dug his feet deeper into the sand and jigged his rod. He could tell that I didn't want to be alone just yet. When you came back I was ready to fight Eva but she wasn't with you anymore. She went back to town, you said. "Gimme some of that conch. I want to conk out for a bit." I gave you a bit of my dope. You passed out like a little baby. You were drooling on the dirt. I noticed that Eva made her way back, and I was glad. She was sitting off to the side just watching. She was so beautiful and a drug dealer. That's a one-two knockout combo if I ever knew of any, but she was weak I guess. It seemed like her heart was broken, which was a bummer. I don't like it when people bring emotions into the ring. It's like a punch below the belt--and then it hit me that this pond was public property and I looked around and thank god no one was there, was what I was telling myself, because I knew what we looked like. I wasn't dumb. You were taking a nap about twelve inches away from the edge of the water. And we were all crowded around you wearing inside-out sweatshirts and we had a plastic bag full of fish. I was starting to feel vulnerable, thinking thoughts like that and it all started with Eva. No good. I found the coke in your pocket and took a bit and that was that. Moving on.

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88 There was a flash of a clear thought, and I grabbed onto that comet and hung on for dear life. The clear thought was that we should move into the woods so as to hide out. So Krill brought you into the wooded area and it was about evening I guess, and Krill and I rounded up some fire wood and built a fire. Eva was watching you and when I had left I gave her a look that took all my courage to muster up. It was like telling her, see, you're a whore too. For crying over someone like Chuck. So Krill and I collected a bunch of wood without talking, just working, which was strange that we were even doing it because we just went out for a few hours of fishing, but then I put the fish in my pants and now we got to cook all the fish we caught right now and who knows? Maybe I would've been about to do something that'd make us have to camp there for the night, then I'd do something else and we'd have to live there for six months, just catching and eating fish and having sex and doing drugs. I wonder what that would have to be. We get back with all these wood pieces and you're still passed out and I'm thinking, man, I hate taking care of people who can't even pee themselves. Then Eva gets up and says, "He's dead, I think." Krill goes and checks you out and says, "He's got a heartbeat. It's beating about once every second, but it's still good. Let's put some blankets on him." "Where we gonna get these blankets," I said. "We gonna make them out of pine needles and flowers?" "Well then let's get a pile of leaves." We were a bit nervous about you. I could feel the tension in the air about wondering what would be the best thing to do, wondering if this would be the time of the "big fuck-up" that would sober us all up, and wondering if we were completely over-

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8 9 reacting. We were all being very non-committal about the care of you, and it was freaking me out. Like when Krill said that your heartbeat was super-slow and we should get you warmed up, I heard myself try to tell a joke--and I think that was what shoved the whole thing into motion. Because we were getting leaves, and I was taking my time, looking for the best leaves, and Eva was frantically throwing everything she could grab onto you, and Krill was the one who was shaping the leaves into a coherent blanket, and I remember thinking to myself, this is insane. My participation shrank until I was just watching Eva and Krill, who didn't seem to mind the less help. I bent down and felt your forehead. It was pretty cold. Eva got a pile with her arms and dropped them on you. There were big clumps of dirt too. It seemed like we were burying you in a compost heap. After we got you all buried deep so that you're body could stay warm, we started to make a fire. Krill knew how to do it, said he learned it in the boy scouts as a kid. I was trying to make up with Eva a bit, now that she wasn't much of a threat. In fact, it seemed like she was this pretty young thing that was just a bit confused and a big bit lost. "I think he's going to make it," I said. "Oh, he better make it," Eva said. Krill was lighting up a pile of crushed newspaper that he found and blowing on it. "He'll be fine." "Right," I said. There was still a tiny voice in me that was telling me that no, he's going to die, and he might be dead right now, and it is your fault because you're just sitting here on your rump and he's buried in a stupid pile of leaves over there, and you're

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90 too embarrassed to go over to him because you'd look like an idiot if you're wrong and. . . . That voice can just drive me insane. So I took more drugs. We were snorting heroin and I chipped in a little of mine, but most of it was hers. Krill got the fire going and she got some coke out and we were doing that too and then it looked like you were on fire, I swear to god. I don't know if I was hallucinating or what, but you were burning. It was a vision. I felt like Moses, who looked at a bush, then all of a sudden it's on fire. I was looking at you and all those leaves on you and then boom, huge flames all over you. It was a beautiful sight, don't get me wrong, I was terrified and finally got up off my ass to do something about it, but what a vision it was to watch something burst into flames when you weren't expecting it to, and then when that thing is a person who you want to be your friend. I was jumping on you and kicking the leaves off and brushing your face and saying, "He's on fire," even though at this point I could see that you weren't. "No he's not," Krill said. I shook my head and stopped, acting as if I had just noticed. "But he is kind of close to that fire," Krill said. "Let's move him." Eva said, "What's that? I think I hear footsteps." I listened and I swear on my mother's grave I heard them too. "Run for it." See, the thing was, that me and Eva were doing so much drugs at that point. I don't know about Krill--we were looking at him to sort of check with reality from time to time, but who knows what he was on. He might've been more gone than us. Nothing was agreed upon that Krill would be the designated dad.

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91 I took off, and they took off, and I'm sorry that we left you there. We were so messed up and you were easily forgettable, buried under all those leaves. I guess you didn't burn up because you're here now. So I guess an apology is besides the point.

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9 2 CHAPTER 16 PROSTITUTE, CIMMANIM Towaoc, Colorado Me and Tone were just going for a little hike, working off a little steam and such, and looking for birds that Tone always liked to look for and me just wondering what the hell I was doing and then next thing we know it smells like someone cooking up fish and we follow that trail until we see your face on the ground and Krill smoking a cigarette and blown out of his mind making a meal. That was an odd time if I can say that. You never even woke up and we just sat down with Krill and started talking and then he said, "I can't eat all this fish by myself, and I don't think the three of us can eat it ourselves, either, but we might as well give it a try." Tone said, "What's going on with Chuck--he gonna wake up?" Krill said, "I don't think so. He's pretty far gone." Tone sat down on a piece of wood and so I figured that I would be staying there for a bit. He said, "You got any beers hidden around here?" "Nope. You?" "No." I couldn't stop looking at your face. It was like a angel. A angel that is buried under the earth. It was real white and shiny, and the flames of the fire was throwing light on it. Plus it was real dark out, so it looked like it was only your face resting by itself.

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9 3 You looked like a moon actually. Because we couldn't see the ground--obviously it was there, but I'm just painting a picture. Krill and Tone were sitting down but they were further from the fire, and I could hardly see them. I'd see Krill when he'd get up and walk over to the fire to check on his fish that was propped up there. There were long moments of silence, when none of us talked and only listened to the creatures moving around in the bush. We started eating the fish as each one was cooked and still didn't talk much. I was trying to stay away from you, but the only place to sit on a piece of wood was near you. It was a moment when you realize that this was not what you expected to happen tonight, and you just waiting for the next thing to happen. I was waiting pretty hard, because your face was starting to get me paranoid. "Can he breathe?" I said. "Um, let me check." Krill put down his stick with a piece of fish on it and put his finger under your nose. "Yeah, he can breathe." Tone and Krill started talking, but all I could think about was bringing you somewhere where someone could help you out. "Let's take him somewhere." "He ain't going nowhere," Krill said. His face was glossy and I'd seen him like that once or twice before, and it wasn't too nice. Once was before this big drug deal that I found myself caught up in, and another time was when he thought someone was spying on him from the woods, and we went out searching with a gun. I looked at Tone, whose face was now visible to me because my eyes adjusted, but he seemed to not care or whatever, because his face didn't move one way or the other. "I always thought his face would look good in the middle of a wreath," Tone said.

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9 4 "I never thought that," Krill said. "C'mon," Tone said. "Didn't you ever wonder what it would look like to hang his head up outside your door?" "What the fuck are you talking about?" Tone shut up and I was ready to leave. I was wishing that we never went on a walk and stumbled upon you and Krill--I hate to say it now to your face, but it was true--I wished Krill did whatever he was or wasn't going to do and that I had nothing to do with it. Now I had no choice, and I was either going to watch something happen and possibly have something done to me as well, or run away and have it happen on its own and living with that thought in my head forever. You ever really like Tone? I always felt creepy with him. Krill was okay most of the time. He was a sweet guy but I don't know if you ever saw it when you were conscious, but he can get pretty evil. Tone was--what were we doing that night?--he made me dinner and was acting like we were friends. Pasta and wine and the lights were low but not too low, and he had a little bit of cocaine. All he really wanted was you-know-what-for-free, but that didn't happen. He had these qualities that could have been good and make him a interesting person--like the bird-looking--but they were hampered or something, by hanging out with you guys. You were like him too. I could tell that there was something there, but whatever it was was dying from lack of sunlight, to be poetic. That's one thing that I made clear to myself when I started doing business. Never let drugs or sex take over who I was or am. Save at least one thing that you refuse to be taken away from you. Mine was painting and drawing. I know that I'm not the best in

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9 5 the world, but I still have the stuff my momma saved from when I was a little girl and I still spend some money on pens and paper. That's the personal reason why I went out walking that evening with Tone--looking for something to draw. I hadn't done much lately, so that's what I told myself. I knew I was lying, that I shouldn't really go walking in the woods with that man when it's getting dark, but if I drew something up later, then it wouldn't be a lie. But I was looking for something like a crooked tree, not like someone buried in leaves. But then your face woke up screamed and I was running away faster than those other two. I went to my motel room and watched Happy Days and then took a bath.

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9 6 CHAPTER 17 BLUES MUSICIAN, TROT VERSION Whitesburo, Georgia Honest to the good lord I didn't think that you'd come back. I think I made a failure thinking that you'd a thought that I'd be deader than a box of shoes about now. And I know the question that is in your mind, and the answer to that question, sir, is that currently I'm ninety-nine-point-nine-nine years old. Tomorrow or some day soon is my birthday and I'll be one hundred years old. That's probably twice your age and you know what I have to thank you for? Nothing. I didn't do nothing wrong, and that's a fact. You coming down here again--what if my wife was still alive--do you know what she would do to you? All those messes you got me in. If I was any stronger, I'd get up and shoot you, but that would take me about several hours I think. I don't really move around any more, you see. That room over there? I forget what room that is. I don't even remember what was in it. There's this little kid from the neighborhood who brings me my food and helps move me around in this chair and he does what he needs to do, then he disappears, looking through this whole house just trying to find things to steal I'd imagine. I mean I can't even ask him what he's doing because he don't speak. He's mute. This town thinks that they're so grateful and peaceful going to church all the time and then to help some old blind-guy out like me, what do they send but the mute child who steal things.

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9 7 I don't want to give you any money, but what can I do? Honestly, now. I can't stop you from doing a thing. All you have to do is disappear into one of those rooms over there and I'll have no idea what you'd be doing or taking. Jesus Christ you can even live in those rooms, I'd have no idea. Won't you help me out and go get some whiskey for me? Or give me some if you got any? I know you got some because I can smell it on your breath. You know, if I was you, I'd stop drinking. I don't even know you much and I know you can't drink like you supposed to. That drive from here to Minnesota was such a waste. Man oh man. At least I got to spend some time up north with Mr. Cave. That was a nice man. Me and him got quite a bit in common. We was raking up the whole town, they didn't know what hit them. We was just raking and raking, and piling up leaves until the pile was so high that people were living in it! We got our pictures in the paper and we kept on raking. I remember saying to him, "Mr. Cave, this is the life," and he said something like, "You're a good man, Trot." When he told me about the newspaper with the picture in it, I asked him if I looked any good. He said, "You look like you always look." "I mean, do I have any leafs in my hair?" "Nope. You look like a hard worker. But they spelled your name wrong. Trent Version is what it says." "Trent?" "You know, there's always something. The way I see it is that now you just got to work harder so that you get your picture in the paper again and make sure they spell your name right."

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9 8 That got me going. He should've been a coach of some high-school team because he was a motivator. After we'd be up real late talking, I'd say I'd might want to sleep in the next morning, and he's say, "If you want to stay up with the men, you gotta wake up with the men." So we'd stay up real late and wake up about forty minutes later and get to work doing something. Painting the garage door or fixing a screen and I'd feel bad at some moments because my ability to help was limited. I was taking these naps all the time, and I'm not ashamed to say now that I was a drug addict. I had to sneak it around Mr. Cave because he was not a fan of that behavior. He knew though, because sometimes I'd find myself taking a nap in a pile of leaves and he'd be there pretending to not notice. I wish it could've been different. I don't know why I ever did those drugs. Looking back on who I was even only a few years ago, it seems like the only thing I can do is shake my head. There's all these moments in life, but they had just passed, is what it seems. He brought me to Burger King. That was a big thing for him. He liked to go there and he liked to go there alone. It was kind of a ritual to him I guess. He'd go once a week, and he'd leave me at home, and it was kind of nice how he'd take care of me. He'd spend about thirty minutes going over what I needed to do in case there was some type of emergency, telling me how I can figure out what numbers I'm pushing on the phone, as if I never used a phone before. And he'd tell me that he'd bring some food for me if I'd like and I think he was just sorry for leaving me alone. It didn't bother me none, but when he asked finally if I wanted to go with him, I said yes, only because I didn't want to let him down. I wasn't in any condition to go to a Burger King, though, and it was one of them moments that I was telling you about before.

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99 After I pushed you out of the van in Oklahoma City--I gotta tell you, it was the only thing I could do, you were driving me absolutely crazy--I did feel bad. I don't like when I act like that but from time to time, it's as if I have no say in the matter. I get so heated that something clicks and I just got to push somebody out of a van. I hope nothing got broken on your body, because that would make me feel bad once more, like relive it. There was something mentally wrong with you. You were an absolute nut. I never met anyone more crazy than you. I'm glad that you seem to be a bit more mellow, because I'd keel over and die right now if you was like that now. After you left the van, I mean, after I pushed you out, I just jumped behind the wheel and stepped on that pedal. Who knows where I was going? I just wanted to get away from you. If I drove right through the middle of a store I wouldn't care because anything be better than being with you--you know, back then. It was just me and your Tammy in the van, and boy she was yelling at me. I remember I was pushing her away from me with one hand and scratching my head with my other because I was clueless about what was going on. Every few moments I heard her trying to unlatch the door so I had to unbuckle my seatbelt and go tackle her from running out after you. She didn't know why I did push you, and, lurching over her holding her hands down, I didn't know what I was doing either. Rape I thought. Or it was about to be rape. Right now it was just kindling. Or kidnapping. I always get those two words mixed up. Which one is which? Which one means you steal somebody. Kidnapping is such a incorrect word because there is no kid that is napping. And kindling is a incorrect word too because kind means to be nice but ling don't mean a thing. But I remember that Tammy, your girl, was crying and I had her pinned down to

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10 0 the back of the van. And I had a moment, and nothing happened because in that moment where I was starting to see clearly or something, the car behind us honked it's horn. So I got off her and said, "Now just calm down missy. You sit down before I break your legs." And you know what? That was all it took. I was in control then, and I asked her, "How much money we got?" "I have only a few dollars left. And that was all that Chuck and I had. I don't think you have any." "Baby, I'm your boyfriend now. And if you have a few dollars left, then so do I. And about your old boyfriend. Fuck him. He was no good." "You're no good. You shouldn't be driving." "Are you gonna help me or what?" At first it was all about the feel of it, but something smacked up against the car and shook me good. The way the car felt I figured I was driving on a dragon's back. Then I could smell Tammy leaning over me and steering the wheel. "What's going on?" I said. "Slow down a bit," she said. "Where are we? On a dragon?" "A dirt road. You're lucky there was no fence or drop-off." "What was I thinking?" "Speed up a bit. Let me sit there." "Just steer and shut up. I'm thinking," I said. If I let her drive, then who knows where she would drive to? Go back and pick you up off the street is what. "Where are we going?" I asked her.

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10 1 "We're going to my dad's house. Let me sit in the driver's seat. This is ridiculous." "I don't trust you. You're going to go back and get Chuck." She didn't say nothing to that, so we kept driving in that position, me in the driver's seat using the brake and the gas, and her kneeling next to me with one hand on the wheel and telling me what to do. It wasn't that bad. The sun was setting to my left and I could feel it on my face, so I knew I was driving north, and Minnesota was north of my home in Mississippi and north of Oklahoma City, so I was fine. I rolled a cigarette and smoked that thing. We were cruising along that bumpy road at about what seemed like forty from the wind in my hair. Toward the end of that first day, Tammy was getting pretty tired, if I remember, and I convinced her somehow to take a nap. She wasn't too alright in the head neither, and maybe she didn't have enough brain power to see anything wrong with that. So she took a nap and I drove us straight into a ditch within a few moments. Then Tammy drove the rest of the way because I was tired and old--not the best combination to drive a truck while your blind. I'm a gonna tell you what. Tammy went on and on wherever we were about you being awful, except that she didn't realize it herself. She was trying to compliment you but with each new thing she said, I'd cringe. You didn't do nothing good for her but that's none of my business. Eventually we went fishing sometime on that trip but that's only because we didn't have any money. And she talked about you and not in a positive way. That's all I'm saying.

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10 2 I still don't understand why you'd come all this way just to look at me and cause me grief. Listen, you want to know about that girl Tammy? She's a good girl. I could tell that there was something wrong with her, but she never admitted it or looked for pity. She kept repeating the same thing over and over and when I'd ask her about it she'd say that she didn't know what I was talking about. I knew it was something in her brain gone bad, but I liked it because sometimes I find myself not wanting to admit that I'm blind. She kept going, "Grow fins and swim. Grow fins and swim." And I'd say, "Why'n't you shut up?" And she'd say, "Because your momma." That's what I liked about her, and I'd smile because she was a tough one. After the whole thing got settled up in Minnesota and nothing came out of nothing from you, she went over to the crazy house and I was still hanging around town, except that Mr. Cave didn't know that. I was too embarrassed to face up to him again after that whole Burger King thing. But I'd go and see Tammy sometimes, she was playing guitar for a few years and she'd get real good at it. Sometimes she'd get all caught up in this one vamp or something, and that would be the end of that. She'd go on and on and I'd have to get up slowly and try to escape. I miss that girl. And I miss her pappy too. I shouldn't ever have gone away.

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10 3 CHAPTER 18 EX-GIRLFRIEND'S FATHER, PAYNE CAVE Houston, Missouri You never learned how to deal with suffering like I did. I scrub my kitchen floor six days a week at five a.m. After that I feed the chickens and cut the grass. Every day. When I'm done with the grass, I go back inside and read An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. It's the only book I've read since I turned forty. I've finished it twenty-three times. Jesus Christ is it a horrible book. My friend, Walter, told me that he read it forty-nine times and hated every one of 'em. So I'm not going to stop until I finish it fifty times. Do you see me complaining? You don't even know what the word suffer means, and all you do is moan. You've had it made with your books and your cars and your women and your clothes. Now you run into a smidgen of trouble and the first thing you do is go looking for help. A man doesn't ask for any help. You know Tammy had to be put in the nut ward for all that crying she did when you left. She started crying out of the blue: at the supper table, in the shower, even behind the wheel of her car. One time she and I were at the bar playing darts, and she collapsed and threw a dart out the window! A perfectly good dart was lost in the weeds of the run-down parking lot of Sammy's Bar and Package. I spent fourteen days and nights looking for that dart, and you know what I found? Suffering!

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10 4 I grew to love that stuff over the years though. I remember my dear old daddy waking us up in the morning. "Time to wake up and start suffering." I was only a little child back then, and I remember saying, "But daddy, I've been suffering all night." After all, my brothers and I had to sleep four to a bunk bed. But you know what he'd say? "Consider yourself having a head start." I thought that was cruel punishment back then, but that's because I didn't know any better. In fact, the only time my father was nice to me was once when we were out by the cow pasture. It was early in the morning, about six a.m., and it was the time of year when the grass was wet in the morning instead of frozen. I hadn't seen much of my father around that time--he was always out on an odd job--and I felt good, walking in his boot prints. It was only me and him; all my other brothers were off somewhere else. There wasn't much talking. I could think of about fifty thousand things to say, but I chose not to say anything because I could tell that's how he wanted it. For example, I could've told him that I saw a cardinal fly over his shoulder. I could have asked him if he wanted help fixing the post and rail fence that spring. I could've told him about the exposed dolomite that I'd found down at Root River, after learning about it in Hank's textbook. We could've talked about the trout, or about the deer, or I could've asked him what a bluff was and why Houston was the capital of Bluff Country. We came up on the newborn calf who was fumbling around its mother. He asked what I wanted to name it. This was a big deal. I said, "Roebucks," because I was just humming their jingle, and so that cow was named Roebucks. I'll admit that I messed that situation up, which happened to be the only chance I had to talk to my dad one-on-one. But that's what life is: missing and meeting

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10 5 opportunities, and I have a history of missing. The whole situation with you and my daughter--that was a miss. Even those early days, when you'd just walk her home from work in your jean jumpsuit--what you two talked about I have no clue, but back then, as I would watch you from the living-room window, I would worry myself thinking about what was happening. Tammy and I used to go in the woods every December looking for a Christmas tree. She'd climb in my truck on her own as a kid, and she'd be all dressed up in whatever winter gear she'd find in the closet. I remember one time she wore my hunting cap, and it was eight times the size of her head. She was cute. Sometimes she was so cute that I couldn't help but give her a tiny sip from my whiskey thermos. She liked it because it was warm. She'd be in charge of the radio and she didn't listen to any of that pop radio, and she didn't listen to the church music. She'd listen to the old country music. I was so proud of her. Listening to Jimmy Rogers, with my little daughter next to me, bundled up in my winter wear, sipping from a thing of whiskey, about to cut down a tree for the holiday, god damn! it was bliss. When she was older, like fourteen, fifteen, we'd be a bit hammered in the morning before we even got dressed! She'd make these great egg sandwiches, which were basically grilled cheese on sourdough bread with a ton of eggs and bacon and ketchup in between. Then we'd fill up a thermos with coffee and another with egg nog. Off we went, bouncing over the potholes and into the woods. Grab my axe that was just polished and fling it over my shoulder. Talking about nothing. Not even saying anything looked good. Just me and my daughter walking in the woods, chopping down a tree. Then one year she didn't want to go. She was at the kitchen table and I was already a bit mad at her for messing up all the time, every other day getting a

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10 6 phone call from the principal or some math teacher, saying how she messed up again and that it was a shame because they'd seen the good that she was capable of applying. "What do you mean you don't want to go?" I said. "I got a date. Chuck's coming over." "A date?" Needless to say, it was a heavy drinking day for me. So you can understand why I wasn't please to meet you and have you take my daughter off to explore the south country, looking for undiscovered blues artists. If you're looking for her, she's not here. It's just me. So if you want to visit me, grab a hoe and start hoeing the garden. If not, hit the road. And if this mailman don't deliver my Newsweek today I'm going to bust some balls over at the old P.O., you know what I mean? This mailman, whatever his name is, is the fattest mailman I've ever seen. He sweats and sweats and he's got his radio going to a baseball game all the time. I never understood that, did you? Why fat people follow sports. It's like ugly ladies knowing all the fashion trends. One day I asked this mailman what his name was. "Gerald," he said. "Gerald," I said, "how do you live like this?" He looked down at the ground, I thought, but really he was reading the name on the letter in his hand. "Payne Cave? That's your name?" "Shut up and give me my mail. What you're doing is a federal offense." "Old man . ," he said. "If you don't give me that letter in one second, I'm going to go and get my baseball bat and we're going to play a little baseball."

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107 "Take it," he said, and gave me the letter. Then I'm all pissed off and the letter I get is all greasy in fat-person sweat--not really, but really I wanted it to be so that I could beat that big fat guy up. I open the letter and all it says is that it's from you. I read it and threw it out, then took it out of the garbage and crumpled it, and then put it in my mailbox to send back. If I'd have known you'd come in person, I'd have written you a novel of a letter telling you whatever you wanted. Now you want to know my daughter's address. Look it up in the phonebook under nut ward. Cause that's where she still is. I don't know why or how she fell in love with you, but that day that she and a blind black man came up to my house was a day that I'll never forget. "Daddy, meet Trot Version. The great, the almighty, the indisputable king of the blues music," she said. "It's so unfair that he's so poor because he could have been and should have been real famous." "So?" I said. "Chuck's going to finance the recording of his first album." "Okay, so why is he here? He's not living in this house." "Daddy, it should be an honor for you to have him here." "Let me see his guitar." "He's right here in front of you, you can ask him yourself." "Show me your guitar." Without saying anything, the black guy put his case down on my wood floor and fumbled with the locks. He opened it up. It was a steel guitar, fancy looking, and although I don't know anything about guitars, I was a bit curious, but I was also furious at

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10 8 my daughter being a hippie and hanging out with an obvious drug-addict who happened also to be blind. "Play me something, please." The guy sang a short tune that was real simple but it was good. This guy knew how to play and he knew suffering. "That's nice," I said when he finished. "Thank you, sir." "You seem to know a lot about suffering." "I sure do." "Good. Can you hoe a garden?" "Dad! This guy's like eighty years old." "I can hoe a garden." "Then you can stay here." I don't know why you two were so upset with me. I let the fucking guy stay. It was a great arrangement too. We stayed up late singing songs and drinking whiskey, then we woke up early and I polished the floors and he hoed the garden and cut the grass. He didn't do that great of a job, honestly, being blind, but he was a great worker. I'd paint the fence and he'd kind of sweep the driveway. He'd play me some songs and I'd make some breakfast. He'd talk about Vicksburg and the way they'd play music down there and it was great. I asked him about you and he said, "He's gonna help me get money." "Man, you're good. You don't need him." "He's a sweet-talker."

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109 "He hasn't been around much lately," I said, knowing that you wasn't around at all--I mean, Trot spent all his time with me, and I hadn't seen you since Trot showed up. Where were you? "He'll come soon and take me to the recording studio." "I could take you to one of those places. I have a little money." "No offense, Payne, but I think I'll stick with Chuck." He was a nice man, that Trot. He believed in you. I wanted to take him to Burger King. It was something that I'd always do by myself, on Thursdays, and it was nice to share Burger King with someone else. Tammy would always refuse to go because at that time she was a vegetarian. I was a little skeptical at first about taking Trot there. I was starting to notice signs of the drugs really affecting him. I don't know what he did, and I never really wanted to know, and at first I was mad at him, but then I was sorry for him. I realized that it wasn't something that he necessarily wanted to do, but it was just something that he did. He would get real interested in something that I was talking about, and it was always something that wasn't that important. I told him once that the mail came early, and he said, "Really? How often does that happen?" And he asked all these questions about mail, his eyes lighting up while he asked about the history of the US Postal Service, and then when I started talking, he just faded away until he was hunched in his chair, breathing heavily. He fell on the linoleum of my kitchen floor, and I had to pick him up and put him down on the couch. He must've weighed ninety-eight pounds. It was sad, and I just sat there with him, staring out the window, watching the piles of leaves I made earlier blow down the street. I wasn't sure if someone in his condition should be allowed out to a Burger King.

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11 0 We went, and it just wasn't right. It took a long time just to get to a table, and everyone was looking at this blind black guy, and I did not feel good. I thought about turning around just then, because these people in here were not trying to hide the fact that they were staring at all, and I felt really bad for Trot, but then what I realized was that I'd have to explain the whole thing to him because he wasn't seeing these people stare at him and he wouldn't know why I wanted to leave. Then I thought that we could just sit through the whole thing, eat our food, and go, with Trot not knowing a thing about it. The whole thing got worse because Trot started fading out again, while he was taking his pickles off of his hamburger. I saw him taking a pickle off, then putting it back on, then taking it back off again. When he was about to put the pickle back on, I said, "Enough with the pickles, Trot." "Oh," he said, sinking further down in the chair. The way those people watched him fumbling with the pickles--it was awful. I wanted to grab the bun and go up to them and say, "See?! These are pickles! Can you see them?!" But Trot was on the floor and I just picked him up and we left. Back on the couch, when he was fine again, he told me that he knew everyone was watching him with the pickles. I couldn't say anything, so I just sat there with him, and we didn't say anything else. When you showed up to take him to the studio, and to take him off my hands, there was no way that you could have known about the pickles, or about everything else that we went through. You just showed up, then about a half-hour later, you and Trot were gone. It would be nice to see him again, if he's still alive. He must be pretty old now.

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11 1 CHAPTER 19 EX-GIRLFRIEND, TAMMY CAVE Luxemburg, Wisconsin Hi. Did you get the can opener? I need that can opener. How am I supposed to open the can without a can opener? With my teeth? I don't think so. Next time you go out all night, can you just leave a message? Like write a note on my wrist, or tie a yellow flag to the tree outside so that I'll know not to expect you until tomorrow. I don't want to be a dictator, believe me that's the last thing that I want. I just get worried and when I get worried the people here think that I'm going to smash the flowers and hide the cakes in the crawlspaces. Okay? Did I say this already to you? Am I repeating myself? Why don't you shave? If I was you I'd shave every hour on the hour. Only you can grow a full beard in a day's time. Unbelievable. The hormones that you were born with. Your parents must have been French. I made up the contract for Trot and it's all ready to sign. It must have taken me twenty drafts to type it up typo-free. And it's only two paragraphs. I'll paraphrase it for you. Okay, so he has to record three albums a year for us for the rest of his life, and he'll get paid in whiskey and food and lodging, plus some pocket money, and he'll have to go on tour once every summer. This way we'll get to go on tour with him too. Doesn't that sound okay? But we just have to make sure that the tour never goes through Mississippi

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11 2 again, because I'm worried about his family seeing him again. What if they see him and ask for money and he can only give them half his lunch? What then? Okay, so you don't like it. I wish you'd just tell me instead of looking at me like that. And I got a call today from the video store. We owe five thousand dollars in late fees. That's too expensive if you ask me. When did we rent those movies, on Tuesday? They can't be more than a few days overdue. Sometimes I just feel that the world is out to get us, Chuck. Me and you. Oh, I wanted to tell you. I started taking guitar lessons. Just hearing Trot play his little songs, I wanted to be able to jam with him one day. I started a few days ago and I'm already on book five. Isn't that great? Just the way my teacher looks at me I know that he's never seen anyone learn as quickly as me. I know half of the songs on that Mississippi John Hurt album that you gave me. Trot came over yesterday, and my friend, Shaky, who lives here with me, joined us on harmonica. It was great. Trot would just start up on something and I'd be playing some licks that I learned and Shaky would be on accompaniment. Trot's voice gets better with the more whiskey he drinks and although no one's allowed to drink here, he sneaked some in under his jacket and we were all having a blast. Shaky drank too much and started weeping in the corner. I knew what that meant, so although I knew I'd get in trouble for drinking too, I called the head nurse and she dragged him back up to his room and put him down to bed to sleep it off. Trot got kicked out, but he said he'd be by today to take off were we left it. You don't look so good, Chuck. We got to get you cleaned up before we meet up with the record execs. Dont you know that appearance is a great factor in being taken seriously? Lucky for us, though, the blues revival is making people like Trot hotter than

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11 3 anything, even if they are completely untalented. I'm not saying that Trot has no talent, though. Man, his songs are so quick but they get right to the point. Sometimes he plays a song and I only get to play one note before he has to yell at me to stop playing because the song's over. Have you talked with my dad? What's he up to? He said he'd come by today, with the truck, and we were going to go out fishing or fencing, I can't remember what he was saying. I made lunch either way, because you gotta eat for either of those things. I made sandwiches but I'm not allowed to use a knife so I put on the jelly with a spoon and then cut the bread with the same spoon. I hope he doesn't mind, because they're the ugliest sandwiches I've ever seen. Do you want one? I made three, and when I cut them in half they're seven. Jesus! How many fire engines pass through this neighborhood in a day? They're always coming and going and I never smell any smoke. By my calculations, every person who lives in this town had their houses burn down twelve times each. Either that or I live in a neighborhood where cats commit mass suicide. How depressing. So you want to go fishing or dancing or ransacking or whatever me and dad are doing? I could be mistaken, but he might be in a bad mood when he comes here and sees me with my hair wet. How many times did I hear him yell at me back in grade school for not drying my hair? But all the pretty girls in school always came to school with their hair wet. It was a status thing. The wetter your hair, the more popular you were. If it was February, and it was snowing, or if it was too cold to snow, you'd be so popular that you wouldn't have to do any homework. I remember this one girl, you don't know her, her name was Heather du Frimousse, and one day her hair was so wet and the day was so

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11 4 cold that she had icicles in her hair, and it was sticking up straight in the air. She was so popular I didn't know what to do. Even the older girls, like seventeen and eighteen, thought she was something else. One of them gave her lipstick and a condom. Of course, dad would yell at me and he'd dry my hair right on the spot, before anyone would get to see it. I'd go in and my hair would be dry and tangled and no one would talk to me. What am I talking about? Jeez, Chuck, stop me when I get like that. Call the nurse, or something. Her name is Susan. She's nice and sometimes we talk on the porch and go out for a walk around the lake. She's a bit quiet, but that's okay, because I get to talk more. Which I like to do but sometimes I can't stop. But dad's coming over and you should come with us. He's nothing to be scared about. He's just tough-minded. Just don't let him get the best of you or don't mess up or stutter or anything and then he won't pick on you or slap you or nothing. We could go out to the ice cream parlor and get some ice cream cones. And sneak some booze. And set off firecrackers in the principal's yard. Like old times. Man, do you remember how fat Trot's wife was! She was so huge, and she wobbled so slow from the back room down the hallway to the living room. Did you see her? You were in the bathroom for so long and I was so mad at you because it was one of the first times that I'd spoke to a black man and one of the first times that I spoke business, so those combined with being in a black house for the first time made me so nervous. I doubled up on the alcohol that Trot had with him, and I think I was lucky because I was a white girl, but then I got unlucky when his wife came in because I was a white girl. "Now, what you want, hussy?" that fat lady said to me. Can you believe it? I told her we were going to make Trot famous and rich. She liked that, but said, "Don't

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11 5 think I don't know what you like to do with money once you get your scrawny fingers on it." I didn't know what she was talking about. "All you little white girls are the same. All that disco music and fast cars and high heels. Cocaine." I told her I didn't do that, and that I wouldn't touch Trot's money. I looked over at him, and all his charisma had vanished now that his wife was in the room. "What do you think your boyfriend is in there doing? You think I don't know?" I looked down the hall and it was like looking down a roped-off hallway of some dead famous man's house that had been turned into a museum. There was no way I'd ever go to that bathroom, even if I was going to pee all over my ankles. I felt funny even sitting on the ugly couch. It smelled like a church basement. Moldy, food-y, and Jesus-y. I said, "We don't do drugs. We drink like normal people." "Normal people don't drink, honey. Trot over here's going to hell." Trot didn't even look up or move a muscle. "He ain't going nowhere to record no records, because that is not why he was put on this earth. Making records for white people, Lord." That's when you came back in and you had no idea what had just happened. I tried giving you the eye, but you didn't notice. You never noticed anything. You went on this rambling monologue about whatever you were talking about. You must've been so high. Your Miller Life tallboy was warm just sitting on that coffee table in the summer heat. They only had one fan going, and it was aimed at the floor. I didn't know how they could survive. We were all looking at you like, what the hell is he saying? Then you said, "I don't know, forget it. The flapping wings of a pigeon, the heartbeat of

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11 6 the South. I guess it all makes sense if you think about it, or not think about it, actually." You finished off your beer and then went back to the bathroom. "What kind of boyfriend you got yourself mixed up with?" "He's very smart. And he's a good businessman." "If he can convince anyone about anything, I'd like to be there myself so that I could see what type of idiot he's talking to." "He's very stream-of-conscious." I was sticking up for you. "Why don't we ask Trot what he wants?" "He don't have anything to say because it ain't none of his business." "It's his life." "No it ain't." This comment pierced my conscious like an earring through the brain. I thought I was stumbling into the understanding of black home life. What I understood was that I had been wrong--the life of black America was a world that I had known nothing about. Now I understood that ultimately, the home life was matriarchal, and that the emphasis was on the family, not on the individual. It didn't matter how talented one was, but what mattered was how the family could survive. Then she said, "How much money you got on yourself?" I told her we got fifty bucks to get us back up to Minnesota. "Give it here. Trot can do whatever he wants to do. Then he better come back here every two months and support his family." I took it that she meant herself. I gave her the money, and then you came back out, straightening out each picture frame as you came back down the hallway. You said, "Shall we hit it?"

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11 7 Trot got up and his wife hobbled back down the same hallway, out to the kitchen, put on the radio and never said goodbye. Trot didn't say anything either and got his guitar and we left. I'm so glad we made it, though. We're going to be making money left and right with him and then when he dries up we'll go on another trip and find somebody else. I can't wait.

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118 CHAPTER 20 FORMER ACQUAINTANCE, KRILL CRIMP Houston, New Hampshire We's was all heart-broken when you stopped hanging around with us covortin'. Word through the grapevine was saying that Mr. Chuck Chonson was a reformed man. Religious, spiritual, and church-going. No one in our crowd questioned it. We all knew that you were a bit different, and those times that I saw you crying on the porch in the middle of winter late at night didn't break my heart, but it sure did get my attention. I kept an eye on you for quite a while. I didn't trust you and I never really did talk to you that much. There was no reason, as far as I could tell, that someone like me should be telling my secrets to someone like you, sketching thoughts down in a journal under the glow of the full moon. What if you'd turn out to be one of those reporters on 20/20 ? Doing a hour-long piece on the drug dealers and their beach houses? The first time I saw you out there I was staring from the kitchen, out the glass doors. Kept the lights out inside so that you couldn't see me, and I kept quiet so that you couldn't hear me either. Everyone else was sleeping and I never told nobody that I didn't trust you because no one would've believed me. Rolph, Pocket, Eva, Whelps, they all admired you, and always listened to your stories, no matter how long they were. I was a bit worried about Rolph, and I would've been more worried if he was someone he wasn't, because there were times that I wondered if he had a crush on you. He looked up to you a lot, and a lot of times he

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1 19 hurt my feelings, calling you the good type of American, and never saying anything of the sort to me. When your book came out he'd always be reading it before he'd go to sleep and I'd be smoking a joint lying next to him, wondering what he was reading. He'd never say, but then in conversations with you he'd always ask questions. You see what I mean? When you left, Rolph didn't say anything, but he was in this mood. Cooking all these elaborate dishes, and they were the best food that I ever tasted. I loved Rolph, and it hurt me a lot to see him like that, but I didn't say anything ever because he seemed to be taking care of himself, which was never really an issue at all. Even when his sister died, he was sad, but he didn't collapse, or ask for extra help, like I wished that he would. I was always there for him, but he didn't ever seem to need it. He was reading your book, I don't remember if it was one, two, or three books you wrote, but he was reading one of yours, and I finished my joint, and he was still reading. I asked him what it was about, and he said, "He's really trying to put everything he knows about life into this book. There's so much life in it." I asked him, like what, but he said, "Everything," without getting specific. So I went downstairs to pound a beer real quick and there you were out on the deck crying. I didn't understand what someone who wrote a book would be crying about, because, I mean, you dealt with your demons, and now they were out of your head. Then I noticed you were taking notes, or writing poetry, or something, and I didn't want anyone knowing what we did here, or who I was. I stood there for a while, wondering if I should go out there with you, bringing a beer, and discuss the whole situation of my dilemma with you right there on the spot. I decided to not do it.

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12 0 Maybe I was prejudiced against you and all your success, not having to work much and not really seeming to have problems with people respecting you or with people taking care of you. But I decided right there that I wouldn't talk to you about anything important again. So all the times that I was having doubts about this lifestyle, and doubts about being with people (who I loved nonetheless) who weren't good for me, and all the times that I just needed to talk to somebody about the meaning of things, and the question of God and whether or not I matter, I didn't talk to you, which was funny because that was what you were crying about that night, I think after all. And that strange call I got years later--I had no choice but to not say a word. Luckily, you were in the mood for talking and I wasnt required to say anything anyway. Give somebody in pain a microphone and you got yourself unlimited entertainment. You talked and talked about drugs and saving lives and rescuing souls and the continuous consciousness of the human race. How you were through with it and how everything in life makes sense, but you. You didn't understand why you were never able to put the drugs and the beer down, even though you wanted nothing to do with them and that you didn't even want to do them anymore and that you knew you had a problem. I don't know if you remember that, but that's what you said. I'm too tired now to go playing pranks on a stranger. Talking about this little girl who was saved in the name of the Lord, the true savior. You went on talking about how you wanted to stop writing because it was pointless, that language was a false tool that doesn't fix, but breaks. Saying words were nothing but petty hopes and a continuous reminder that we're fragmented, only a part, that the world was now separated after the first grunt became meaningful in a specific

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12 1 way. I don't pretend like I know anything about language or words, or high thoughts on the subject, but I spoke up then and called you selfish and said that you were full of self-pity, which you were. Poor you, not able to communicate with the world and feeling sorry for everyone out there living a lie, speaking just for the sake of remembering that you're alive. You think people don't know that? But words have to mean something, I have to tell you, because everything does. Living with you guys for most of the year, year on top of year did a lot of good for me. For example, I was taken care of in terms of food and lodge, and in terms of cocaine and alcohol. Also in terms of beaches. But when you left, I got the sense that something wasn't right. To tell the truth, actually, I think I did know that something wasn't right. I would see normal civilians on the beach with their families and their coolers filled with sandwiches and juices and I would think, there's something going on over there, and I'm not sure what it is. Just the way that two brothers would play Frisbee, or the way that a mother would put suntan lotion on her daughter's back. There was something that I was clueless about. Like all of a sudden realizing that most people in life do drugs, and that most people in life tell lies, or that most people in life steal or have sex with prostitutes. That's really not true, but just realizing when you're young or however old you are that there are people doing things out there that you thought were things that people didn't do. I can't explain it well, I guess, but I mean that there seemed to be a whole life out there that was wholesome and that could be mine someday, if things were different. I felt like I was watching the world go by through a living-room window. You see? Of course I didn't realize that then, but now I can see it clearly.

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12 2 So when you took off, I still remember that day. You left early in the morning, before I woke up. Actually, only Rolph was up, making his famous breakfast dish with the eggs and the ham and the bacon and the salsa and I got the feeling that he'd been up most of the night and that you were gone and that you two had a long conversation about something. I just walked right up to the counter, sat down and poured myself some coffee, and said, "Chuck's not here?" Rolph said, "He left. He won't be here any more." "I knew he'd leave." "How did you know." Rolph stopped cooking, and he looked at me and his eyes were so red and I didn't know if he was crying or if he'd just been up really late. "He's just the type. He's different from us. I mean, think about it." Rolph seemed to think about it, but not in the way that I wanted him to. He didn't seem to question what he thought of you, but rather simply remembering the good times. "He always seemed like there was something going on around us and in us that he was aware of and none of us felt that." Rolph stirred the eggs quicker. "We're just mortal. He's mortal too, but he hasn't accepted it yet," I said. "We've talked on the subject. He has accepted it." "Why is he always writing? Why is he always reading?" "For reason's that you'll never understand," Rolph said. "I'm not saying he's a bad person, I'm just saying that he just goes about it a different way than we do." "You have no idea what he has done for this world."

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12 3 "You talk as if he's dead." "We're all dead. That's what he said. I think it's brilliant." "I think it's true, too, if that's what you mean, but he's brilliant, and that's why he's different from us. He thinks too much." Then Eva came down, then Pocket, and Whelps. Whelps knew you the longest, so he wasn't sad to see you go. He tried calming everyone down after we started talking about it and people got sad. He said, "He's like that. He'll disappear for a few months or a few years or for many years, but he always shows up again. What he does in between me seeing him, I have no idea. He probably goes roaming around. That's all." I didn't believe him at the time, but between that phone call I got and this little visit, I guess I should have believed him. If all you want is money I can give that to you no problem. The way I figure it out, I owe someone a lot of money for all that free pot I smoked and for all those beaches that I blacked out on. So, I might as well give it to you. I wouldn't feel right giving you less than two thousand dollars. I'll write you a check. That can support you for how long, Chuck? Or what will you do with that money? I don't really care, I mean, I'm going to give you the money, but I'm just curious. Have you changed? Are you going to spend it over the course of the weekend? Or will this be enough to get those people off your back? I hope that that's the case because that's what I intend the money to be used for. If I could, I'd give you more. I have no idea why I'm feeling so generous now, but if I were you, I wouldn't leave my porch here, until you get yourself a bundle of cash. I really don't need money. All I'm doing here is just living off the money that Rolph gave me. I don't work. He gave me two hundred gee's two years ago. To go

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12 4 away. And to shut up. Things got nasty. But at first this was great because I didn't have to do nothing, but then it got bad because all I did was nothing. I didn't have any hobbies for the longest time. Now I make soda and I collect soda cans.

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12 5 CHAPTER 21 FRIEND, ROLPH Portland, Maine I lost touch with everyone on purpose. When Willie called me a few weeks back to say that he saw you, I almost hung up on him, which had been my usual practice. But the only person I stayed in contact with would have to have been Krill. It wasn't too long ago that we parted ways. Right at the end of that summer--it must have been the last day before heading back to New Hampshire--Krill and I had a talk. It turned out that Krill didn't like how we were living. He liked the money, but the risk involved and the drug use bothered him. He was changing; I remember not liking him as much during that time--I don't know, he was so picky about the food he ate. But we had a really good talk about how our lives were becoming lifestyles. I don't know if I'm making myself clear. At the time the talk seemed so important and so relevant to why we were alive--which it was--but it was uncanny how you were writing about the same thing in the essay that I had just finished writing. Actually, you said it best when you wrote, "When the pursuit of drugs, higher education, sexual relations, etc, become excitable to the point of obsessive tendency, it may be time to focus on your breathing and prepare a good meal." I actually engraved that into a piece of wood, stained it, painted in the lettering, and hanged it up in my kitchen. It's wise words. But Krill was in pain, and we were talking honestly, and for the first time in a while, I had a moment of clarity. I cared about Krill

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12 6 deeply, although that was the last thing on my mind during those months, but I remembered the idea of caring. I can't express it. I remember a passage that you wrote about this feeling, maybe you remember. "Sometimes we are so detached from our bodies that emotions become abstract objects. This is a paradox in itself, but when our worlds become cluttered with these paradoxes, we begin to feel claustrophobic, and utterly confused." That's how I felt. I wouldn't say at that moment I felt love for Krill, just that I remembered that I loved him. I didn't know what to do or if my feelings had changed or if they'd ever come back. But that quote was in my head, so as I listened to Krill speak, I focused on his words and began to associate them with my breathing. It was an interesting exercise, and I just invented it on the spot, not knowing much about breathing rituals, and it didn't really work. It didnt change my mind about Krill, but I kept at it. And my revelation at that moment was strange because it wasn't a drastic change in perception and emotional and spiritual capability, but rather a change in perception in the attempt to change my perception and emotional and spiritual capability. So I kept on breathing and listening, and nothing really changed except for the fact that I knew that now I was putting forth an effort to attempt to listen and understand a person's feelings whom I knew that I cared about. I didn't say much to him, just nodding here and there, told him that I cared about him, and that maybe it was time to change some parts of our lives, and maybe not, but let's not try to figure this one out tonight. So I asked him if he was hungry and he said yes, and I asked him if he wanted to help me make something for a late dinner. He was surprised because I never really wanted any help from anyone while I was in the kitchen because it always took longer with someone else chopping onions or I'd have to re-chop them and I was always nervous about someone critiquing

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12 7 me over my shoulder, saying, "Oh, you're caramelizing the onions? How interesting," or when the setting was informal and I might have an urge to add an extra dollop of butter, or just have a desire to cut out an ingredient or two to save time. But he really wanted to help, so I checked the fridge and he checked the cabinets and we made a salad nicoise with some of the bass that we were going to eat the next day. It was a nice experience--that's all--both of us preparing a meal in silence, except for the small chatter of cooks. Do you remember this one, "Life begins at every moment; this is the reason why we must only be good at attempting ." I don't know why I remembered that one right now. If I was to follow it, I'd realize that right now life is beginning again, and that you and I are on a clean slate. That everything that happened in the past is unrelated. So, am I to follow the words of your writing? One thing that I wondered about often was that Chuck Chonson on the page and Chuck Chonson in person are two separate beings. I wondered how much of your writing you practiced, or attempted to practice, which was always a major theme in your writing. The attempts of civilizations, the attempts of subcultures, the attempts of the individual. I never really noticed you attempting, but is that something that I can notice? I mean, you might just be attempting to attempt something, and never get to the actual attempt. Would I then be correct in saying that you never attempt? That's something I remember questioning once when I was really goofed up. I'm not sure how much sense it makes now. But that would be a serious thing, if you couldn't follow your own writing. It would be sad in the sense that for some reason you probably felt unworthy of your own

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12 8 justifications. What should we do? I think we should go for a walk. I don't know why, but that might be the right thing to do. Are you still doing drugs? I had a hard time stopping. But I did. It was all in the attempting, like you wrote about. All these little slogans that we picked up in rehab were all related to your writings. One day at a time. First things first. Easy does it. This was nine years ago. Now I'm out of rehab and I am able to live my life like I always wanted to. It was strange when I look back at why I started doing drugs and why I continued. Two totally different reasons. The reason I started was because I was unsatisfied with something. I had an urge to live differently from how I was living. I was always talented in cooking, but besides that, I was clueless about how to live my life. I found myself flunking entrance exams at several culinary institutes, and afterwards, not knowing why I had sabotaged such a sure in. I was deeply in love with this older woman, and for her birthday, I burned a duck, knowing that I was doing it in the process? Why? I cared so much for her, and that was only one tiny example of how I drove her out of my life. I never had any substantial relationships with people, and I'd always retreat to my kitchen, where I could be the ruler of my world. I was in complete control, and I was good at it. Unfortunately, the only person who would experience the dishes I concocted was me. It tore me apart--creating these exquisite meals, and experiencing them alone. The drugs came into my life because I was bored and it worked for a while. I was interested in never thinking the same way that I used to. Get a job, save money, buy a house, live as long as I could. The excitement of finding drugs, getting drugs and doing drugs was what I wanted.

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1 29 The reason I continued to do drugs was that I was scared of change. They didn't work anymore, and not only was I doing drugs, they weren't relieving anything inside me, so I was the arrogant jerk that I used to be combined with being a drug addict. Plus, I was frustrated continuously. Not a very nice combination. All those times I yelled at you--I knew that that wasn't really what I wanted to do, but I did it anyway. I remember one time yelling at you on the beach, for walking right through someone's abandoned sandcastle, a beautiful rendition of the Vatican, and afterwards, I couldn't remember why I was yelling. I didn't really care about that particular sandcastle, or sandcastles in general. Or about the Vatican. Or even, necessarily with beauty. I wasn't empathizing with the child who had built the thing, and I wasn't disappointed with your actions. I was just yelling at you for no reason, and I think I felt remorseful afterwards, but couldn't define it at the time. Is the walk helping? The air here is incredible. I forget about it sometimes-imagine that. Beautiful air all around me and I can forget it. When I was walking down the street in Oklahoma City, and I saw you fall out of the moving van, something told me to keep an eye on you. That I would be amazed or could be inspired by this person. You got up, hobbled over to the curb, where the pedestrians formed a crowd watching you, and you squeezed past them, and into a grocery store. I followed you, watching for clues. You got an orange juice and started to drink it in the store. I stood back by the bags of pretzels, pretending to read closely the ingredients to a bag of Utz. The person behind the counter was eyeing you, wondering probably if you were going to pay after drinking the bottle. The store was empty when you came in, but now there were several potential customers, also curious about you. I

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13 0 was getting pretty jealous. A lady in a trench coat came up to you and asked if you were okay. You nodded your head while drinking the juice. She went on and on about how lucky you are to be unhurt. Not many people, she was saying, are able to jump out of a van while it's still moving and come out of it alive. A cousin of hers, blah, blah, blah. I wanted to slap the lady. There were others there that I would have slapped too. Looking at you as if you were a freak. This freak, I remember thinking, was going to be my close companion and fellow wanderer. I tried to think of the perfect gesture to make, but I came up empty. I took the bag of pretzels, brought it to the counter, and said, "The pretzels and the juice." I nodded to you, and you nodded back. I could tell that you were a coke head, and you seemed to know that I was one too. Would I be lying if I told you that I knew that we were going to be close drugbuddies and that we'd become partners in a productive business? Would I be lying if I said that I knew that the way that I looked upon the world was already changing, at the instant we nodded at each other? No. I knew then--I can't really explain the feeling--that this was planned. Getting high and reading your manuscript and notebooks was a joy. Being able to talk with you at the beach house about a certain passage I just read, on the American ideology of giving thanks, or the history of handshaking, or even the art of eating--it was a blessing. I don't think I ever told you that; in fact, I know I didn't, for one reason: I didn't think you'd leave. The way you just took off. We talked briefly about it, but I couldn't even put a sentence together. You had to go. I remember hearing that in my head for a long time. Had to be somewhere else. Where? You didn't know. On one hand I was disappointed, then on the other hand, I thought that you were doing a noble

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13 1 thing. Sacrificing your friends and your contentment to question the world. I was confused, and told myself that I still had your books, I still had your books. But I couldn't read them. After you left, all I really did was cook. I couldn't read those passages that I had highlighted, but they kept popping up in my head. I remember how you touched on proper knife use in slicing different vegetables in your chapter on the effects of hand-to-hand contact. How did you do that? I'm still amazed at the writing. It was so necessary to my life. I tried to get Krill to read it and he never would. Eventually that's what drove us apart. He just couldn't wrap his head around the idea of reading affecting your life. So I stood there chopping onions, for example, to get my mind off you, but like I said, I couldn't. Krill, Whelps, Eva--they ate so well those weeks after you left. I wasn't looking for attention, and when they complimented me and said that I was going beyond anything ever done before, it didnt mean anything to me. Eva was sad, too, and we had some talks about it on the porch I remember. Krill couldn't care less about you, and he was good about taking care of me because he really loved me, but I didn't want anything from him because he didn't understand you. Whelps had known you for so long, and I was amazed and startled that his reaction was so flip. He said, "Well, he'll come back." I didn't really talk to him after that--which I regret now, and if I see him again, I think I might let him know. It was pretty much the end of our group. We waited out the summer, with the intent on using up everything we had left and the atmosphere of the place really went down hill. Tone was hanging out and so was Pocket. These were people that I didn't enjoy, and I thought that they should not have been there. They were untrustworthy,

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13 2 nave, and below us, frankly. Tone even brought Regina late in the summer, with the intent of trying to figure out where you were. I didn't like the idea and I really didn't want anything to do with it. I didn't participate in the events, but I didn't shut it down, like I could've. At that time I was telling myself that you were gone and that was that. But maybe I really was willing to put some effort into finding you. I had heard reports from people that you were here or there, supposedly not too long ago you were living with Sherry, which I thought was a big mistake. I had met her only a few times, but I could tell that she would be quick to call the police. Because they're still looking for you. All that shit in Oklahoma City will catch up to you one day. They got a thing for you, is what I heard. Willie got busted recently for possession and lucky for us he didn't mouth one word. But he was telling me that there was this one guy who was getting livid because he knew that Willie knew you, and that Willie wasn't speaking. The man cried. Willie didn't think he was acting, either. So Willie didn't say anything, but after he was let go, he called me up because he said that he didn't know who to tell, but that he should tell somebody. I told him I didn't know where you were or anything, but thanks for the tip. Then Willie calls me up a few weeks ago, right, and says that you called him up looking for some pot. That you were back in Oklahoma City. I almost screamed at him. What were you thinking? Then Willie called me back and said that you didn't remember a thing. I didn't think that was possible. How could that be? I mean, even if you were in a black out, you'd remember after the black out. Or you would've heard something on the news, or someone would've mentioned it to you. We never talked about it because I thought it was just a bad memory that you didn't need to

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13 3 be dealing with. All this time you had no idea? Why did you think that we cut off Oke City? But you know now right? You were eating pills with a rabbit and the little girl next to you wanted to imitate the rabbit so she was eating these pills next to you. When she passed out you noticed what happened and you took her and hot wired a car and drove her to a hospital. I don't know how you did it, because Whelps told me that was the most fucked up he'd ever seen you. So on one hand you were trying to save this girls life, and on the other hand you were driving under major influences, with a five year old girl in the car. You brought her in to the waiting room and told the secretary that she was eating pills because she wanted to be a rabbit. That was all over the news. She said that she knew that you were lying to her and she called a doctor and security. The doctor took the girl away, later saving her life, and you were talking with the security guard while the police were on their way. You got in a fight with the security guard, another man who was waiting in the waiting room who was bleeding all over the chair and floor, and when the cops came you assaulted one or two of them before you got away. It turned out that when you were talking with the security guard you mentioned that you were a part of this interstate drug ring and that you had some important friends and some friends that were willing to do whatever it took to save you. It was all over the news. They read our names off on TV in Oklahoma, and there was this major thing going on. Honestly, I don't even want to talk about it. You're lucky. This trail leads to the back of my restaurant. It's not much, just a place to eat for the people staying at the motel. But I have the keys, and I can make you a nice meal. A breakfast.

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13 4 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Eric Nolan was born and raised in Medford, Long Island. He received his B.A. in E n g lish f r om S o u t h a m p ton Coll e g e in 2 0 00.


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Title: Chuck Chonson: American Cipher
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Source Institution: University of Florida
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Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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CHUCK CHONSON: AMERICAN CIPHER


By

ERIC NOLAN












A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2003





































Copyright 2003

by

Eric Nolan
































To my parents, and to Nicky

















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I thank my parents, my teachers, and my colleagues. Special thanks go to

Dominique Wilkins and Don Mattingly.




















TABLE OF CONTENTS


A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S....................................................................... ..................... iv


A B S T R A C T ...................................... .................................. ................ v ii

CHAPTER
1 LIVE-IN GIRLFRIEND, SHERRY CRAVENS ................................................ 1


2 DEPARTMENT CHAIR, FURRY LUISSON......................................................8


3 TRAIN CONDUCTOR, BISHOP PROBERT ........... ........................ 12


4 TWIN BROTHER, MARTY CHONSON ...................................................... 15


5 DEALER, W ILLIE BARTON ..................................... ..................... 23


6 LADY ON BUS, MARIA WOESSNER..................................... 33


7 CHILDHOOD PLAYMATE, WHELPS REMIEN.............................................. 36


8 GUY IN TRUCK, JOE M URHPY .............................................. ............... 46


9 EX-WIFE, NORLITTA FUEGOS........................ ...........................49


10 ABANDONED SON, PHUC CHONSON................................. ...............52













11 H OM ELESS BUM DEV ON ......................................................... ............... 58


12 EX-GIRLFRIEND REGINA ......................................................... ............... 61


13 M IM E SQ U IG G L E S..................................................................... ................... 72


14 EX-GIRLFRIEND, EVA GALET.................................................... .................77


15 PROSTITUTE, VINEGAR............... .... ......... ............................ 83


16 PROSTITUTE, CIM M ANIM ....................................... ............................... 89


17 BLUES MUSICIAN, TROT VERSION...... ........................ ..........93


18 EX-GIRLFRIEND'S FATHER, PAYNE CAVE..................................................100


19 EX-GIRLFRIEND, TAMMY CAVE ................ .....................................108


20 FORMER AQUAINTANCE, KRILL CRIMP................ ............... ...............115


2 1 F R IE N D R O L P H ............................................. .............................................. 122


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............. .................................... ........ 131




















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts

CHUCK CHONSON: AMERICAN CIPHER

By

Eric Nolan

May 2003

Chair: Padgett Powell
Major Department: English

This is the beginning of an unfinished work of fiction. The story is not found yet,

and the plot is not found yet, and the reason for writing it is still unknown to the author.

There is no driving force behind the story, and the main story is abandoned on almost

every page and a tangential story hogs the stage. Don't think that the author doesn't know

this. He was trying to do something.

The opening moment in the second book of Gogol's Dead Souls--the exact place

where Nabokov believed the book began to be unworthy of being read--the narrator

informs us that Chichikov, the hero of the book, is gone and that we are left alone once

again in a remote corner of the country. Instead of ending the story, the narrator says,

"Ah, but what a corner!" and the story continues for another hundred or so pages. I

would like this thesis to begin in that same frame of mind.

















CHAPTER 1
LIVE-IN GIRLFRIEND, SHERRY CRAVENS



Pascagoula, Mississippi

I know you're Mister Seniority over at the Sociology Department Lounge, but in

this house your tenure just got revoked. I told myself repeatedly that you weren't going

to remember my birthday, and that you wouldn't remember that my birthday is the same

day as our anniversary. And that this year it fell on Easter. I hadn't seen you in a few

days and over and over I tried to prepare myself for the doped-up Chuck Chonson who

appears like an oncoming truck through a bad morning fog. Who, wearing a dirty

American-flag bandana and hauling a case of peppermint schnapps, doesn't seem to

recognize me or the children. As I heard the door struggling to open this morning, I

knew who it was on the other side and I believed in my heart that you'd have a present for

me. I believed that you'd have your hair combed like you used to and that maybe you'd

be wearing the same tweed jacket that only a few months ago was your favorite. "I was

just on a business trip," you were going to say. "I left a note on the fridge. You must've

just overlooked it, darling. I'm sorry about that tiny drinking spree--it's simply a defect of

a good, hardworking man, and I wish you didn't have to witness it. Here is a new

silverware set I brought back from New York." Even though I knew better, I rushed to












unlock the door, then heard you puke, then re-locked it and double-locked it, then

doubled over and began to cry.

"Mariee! Mariee!" you were screaming and then Shamus and Lowey rushed

downstairs in their pajamas, and you know how impressionable they are. They saw me

crouched in the corner and then they started crying too. I whispered to them: "Daddy's

been drinking. Don't move." You were screaming, "Mary! Mary!" and banging on the

door and then Shamus got up enough nerve to yell at you to go away and you screamed

back, "Shut up!" Then to me, "Sherry, Sherry, I love you, I love you, I love you, I want

to fuck you, I'm sorry!" I could hear you crying and puffing and I knew you were in a

blackout and I started to feel sorry for you and I looked over at Lowey hiding behind the

vase and Shamus trying to pull him out and I started to feel sorry for all of us, as a family,

and my mind shut off to the chaos around me and, because I was looking at the wall, I

began to think that we could use a paint job. Maybe green, like a forest green. Or maybe

just a nice forest-landscape wallpaper. With birds in it. I thought of how much you like

wallpaper, and how much you like the forest. It seemed like the perfect combination, but

then I remembered back when we lived in the Ozarks and I remembered the time that you

dragged me along camping with you up Magazine Mountain and all we did was munch

on cactus you brought and throw up and talk with God and those loser friends of yours.

So then I said fudge the paint job and the wallpaper, then I started thinking about my job,

and how much I like it. I started thinking about how I like putting on the uniform, slowly

and respectfully. The mask, then the tank, then how Howie would pick me up in the bug

van, and how we'd go all over the county spraying at the little creatures that didn't belong

where they were. Then I had a deep thought--Who am I to judge bugs? What if I am not












where I belong? And why is it that Shamus and Lowey hardly know their dad

anymore? They have so many problems already that you can see pain in everything they

do--they eat spaghetti politely and they play in their sandbox without making noise.

Then bang, bang, you tried again on the door and my thoughts got shaken out like sand

from a shoe. I stood up to unlock the door with a clear head and let you in and tell you

that I'm sorry, but then I heard another beer can open and I knew that you weren't going

to remember a damn thing.

After a session of studying my insect text books, which seems now to be my only

escape, I told myself that I'd give Chuck Chonson another chance. I told myself that this

Chuck Chonson who is banging up my flower garden is not the one that I know, and is

not the real Chuck Chonson, either. These last three months have been so distorted. I

mean, you had it. Five years without drinking a drop. I had nothing to do with that

either--I am so confused--why would you just throw it away? You think you can keep

preaching to those confused students while you act like this? You should just see how

the cashier looks at me when I go to the bank. She knows, Chuck. How the hell can she

know? And if she knows, this whole town probably knows as well. You think I liked it

when the country-club lady called me up telling me that you stalled out the car in a sand

trap? You remember that one? Don't even think that I'm going to put up with this any

longer. We got this house with our own washing machine and dryer, and Shamus and

Lowey get pretty much all the video games that they want, and we're a good family.

Those squash lessons with Shamus, and those times you used to get your ukulele from the

attic and make up songs using Lowey's name--didn't they mean anything to you?












So I sat down on my mother's treasure chest and actually made a list of every bad

thing you did to me since you drank again, just to see them in front of me, instead of

swimming with them up in my brain.

The first thing I wrote down was that you turned me on to peyote. That was a bad

thing. For some reason I didn't associate the words hallucinogens with drugs. I can still

see the colors. The first handful didn't seem to be working for me, so I sneaked another

bunch into my mouth, then you were mumbling about the weather in the desert being

pliable. Your face melted and my skin boiled. I kept hearing an eagle behind me then

looking back quickly and everything took twice as long to move as usual. You locked

yourself in the attic, leaving me alone with the twisting tables and the kids who'd scream

in my face. The outdoors were seeping into the kitchen and I was trying to clean it up

with a wet rag. The next morning you called it freedom. I said that I didn't like freedom.

You said that I was just scared of infinite possibility. You probably don't remember

saying that, do you? Do you remember telling me to comb my hair, "for God's sake, you

look like a tramp?" Is that freedom, too? It was definitely not the answer to our

problems, like you said it would be.

When I was done with that first peyote memory, I found myself full of hate and

anger. There are things about this new you which I just can't stand. But as I wrote, it felt

like you were seeping out of my skin, released into the atmosphere. And I'd just like to

share a few things with you now that you seem to be plastered to immobility--lying in

your puke, trying to roll a cigarette--and I have your attention:

You're always complaining now about how much the real world sucks and how

all your students don't even know who Benny Hill is. I hate that. I like the real world.












When you said that to me that night at the dinner table I nodded and shook my head

like "those fucking idiots," but I wasn't sure if Benny Hill was a comedian or a golf

course until you called him "the greatest jokester this side of the Styx"--whatever that

means. And how you sneak around all the time. Don't think I don't see you now, Chuck

Chonson, with your blue-tinted sunglasses, and the way you slap five with the neighbor's

kid, and when I'm gearing up for a bug-killing gig I watch you try different smiles in the

mirror and practice a different laugh. I liked your old laugh. The way you laughed when

Lowey came up to us while we were reading on the porch and said, "Mommy, Daddy, I

have two butts." That day when you said that your book was just a bunch of filthy torts,

it became obvious to me that something is going on, but I don't think I have it in me to

help you anymore. Chuck, you seem to know everything, but if only you knew how easy

you are to read.

Why are you gnawing on the door handle?

Back in my early days of exterminator school--back when I was proud to be

affiliated with The University of the Ozarks--I'd daydream in class about the tenderness

of life, the sunny white beaches and I'd pray to God that He'd get me a man that was

honest and grateful for having a family. When I saw you pull up after class in your

dented Porsche I felt some kind of tickling sensation under my skin. I knew that you'd

understand me and when you replied offhand that there were twelve hundred species of

butterflies in the rainforests of Peru I nearly collapsed. On our first date I told you how I

follow little brown insects walking zigzag all day and every night with a spray nozzle.

You told me you read Su Tung-p'o, traveled, and tried to make the world conscious.

Where did that person go?












Last week at the supermarket where I was spraying for mites in the backroom, I

was searching in my backpack during break when I found your book of Su Tung-p'o's

poems. Back a few months ago, I would've found this touching. But now it just seems

empty. Your gestures are strung out.

But I read them. I read for a full thirty minutes. I read "To a Traveler," and "On

the Birth of His Son." They were okay, I guess, but when I read "Thoughts in Exile," I

started to feel for Su. It's a beautiful poem. I guess I understand it a little. He did

something bad and now he can't go to the Western Lake and that is the only place he

wants to be. And even though he's in exile, no one can stop him from writing poems.

That's a nice way to look at a bad situation and it's true that people can't control other

people completely or at least it's a nice thought. I identified because it applies to me as

an exterminator. My job's all about control and there were a few minutes left on break so

I read it again trying to visualize the phoenix and the snowy swan crossing the heavens

and reading closely when one of the words began to move. My first impulse was, I have

to admit, to curse your name for causing me these hallucinogenic flashbacks. But then I

noticed that it was just another one of these mites that I'd been killing off all day. I don't

know why, but I didn't mash him into the browning paper. I watched him. I watched him

crawl from letter to letter, word to word. But soon he was reaching the end of the page,

and my heart started to race because I can't just lift up the book and blow, you know?

The room is dripping with chemicals. So what do I do? Why am I even telling you this?

Chuck, if I was a better woman, I'd never have met you--I closed the book on him gently

and put the book into my backpack.












I know I'm stalling and beating around the bush, but Chuck, I'm asking you to

leave. I can't have a druggie in my house anymore. I'm not sure if you'll remember this

conversation at all--you might show up here on these stoops tomorrow--but I'll just have

to tell you again. Last night finishing off the rest of the stash you left, I had a revelation

as the bugs crawled up my skin and I was able to name them aphid, bedbug, mole cricket,

kissing bug: I kill for a living and my body is covered with insecticide, but still these

creatures crawl and crawl up my arms and legs, always up, up to my brain and my eyes

are two little pinholes and all they care about is a sociology teacher lost in the rainforest

without rain and without forest. Chuck Chonson, I blow you into the dazzling void.


















CHAPTER 2
DEPARTMENT CHAIR, FURRY LUISSON



Bay Minette, Alabama

I could go ahead and give you a leave of absence, but are you sure you want to do

that? You know that you're not going to get paid. Maybe you already have something

worked out with your publisher or with some left-over grant money--I don't know too

much about that world, and you never really communicate that side of your profession

with us. There's absolutely no grudge there. What we care about from a business

standpoint is that you are giving our students a first-rate education. Beyond that, if you'd

like to keep your writing life private, then that's your choice.

It's just that this leave of absence puts me in a bind because Merriweather is gone to

Ontario for two years, and Jacobs is over in Bali. I could work something out, but just

keep in mind that I'm going to have to explain something to the dean. Of course, it's

because of you and your work as a teacher and researcher that these extended absences

are possible, so maybe the dean won't mind--but remember, he's a tricky one. It would've

been fine to give you a sabbatical, but you already took one last year. Let's just say that

you're taking an extended sick-leave. How about that? I'm not implying that you look

sick, or that you are sick, because that's none of my business, but it'll be better for me.

But I mean, if there is anything you'd like to talk about, we can talk. I just received, as a

matter of fact, an official complaint from a student of yours, saying that you were












drinking in your office when she was getting help on her final project. I was under the

impression that you had quit a few years back. Is that not true? She said that it wouldn't

have been so bad, except for the fact that you were smoking cigarettes and that she was

allergic to cigarette smoke. She writes that you were unwilling to put the cigarette out

and that you were unwilling to even blow the smoke in another direction than her face.

You know, I'm not saying anything, and I'm certainly not implying anything. It's just that

I've got a few of these this last semester from you, and no, I doubt that you're the only

teacher in the world who's in this position, and I know that with these complaints comes

several letters of praise from other students, so what I really mean is keep up the good

work, but I understand that you need to get out of town for a while.

Now, about the University of Hawaii. I appreciate your notification that you're

submitting your c.v. to their search for a professor of sociology, but I looked on their web

site and in the job lists, and I don't think they're hiring. Now, if this is something you

worked out with the school or with their department, great. But, just in general, the job

market's not too hot. Also, I'd just like to put out on the table that if you just want to take

some time off to collect your thoughts, you can tell me. If this UH job is just a cover up

for your desire to lay low for a few months, I'd just like to let you know that you don't

need a reason. Merriweather needs a reason. Jacobs needs a reason. But you? No way.

You're our man. Again, one more thing, just to cover the bases: we can put you

somewhere that'll get you cleaned up--not that you need it. I just wanted to inform you of

that option that's available.

I know that I've had the urge to get out of southern Alabama several times myself,

but the pay's more than enough to live comfortably here and there is actually a decent












luncheonette in town. We've got the nice convention center over in Mobile and the

seafood's good. Down here you can go out to Dauphin Island. You can't do that in

Hawaii. Maybe think this through is all I'm saying, even though I think that your

thinking process is great, admirable, even, and I get jealous of your syllabi at times upon

review.

I mean, look at this--I've got it right here. "Don't listen to what I have to say. It is

unimportant. Don't study your text book. It is meaningless. Come to class, and be open

to the possibility of learning. If you have this ingrained in your bones, you have already

begun learning." That's something. There is no way that I, as a teacher, would have ever

tried that on community-college students. All I would have expected would to have been

trampled on. But I've seen portions of your class. Sometimes I'll just peek in because I'm

curious. And they listen to you. I've actually never seen classes so involved in what was

being lectured to them than in your classes. One day you were talking about the break

dancers of New York City and the fight dances of the Brazilian slaves, and how the styles

are similar but the connection was only established by others. That break dancing, or b-

boy, I think was your term, was just a natural tendency. It seemed like I was there for

about fifteen minutes listening, but then you finished up the lecture by saying that the

Brazilian slaves were not allowed to fight so they created this dance, but the b-boy of the

Bronx chose not to fight and so created the dance, and that this was something that the

students should think about, and then my watch said that I was standing there for forty-

five minutes. It was brilliant.

It's obvious that a man of your talent should be at a more respectable institution

than a community college, but you seem to be thriving here. You've turned our












department into the leader of all the community colleges in the state. We're appreciative

of that. But as a friend, you should get out of here, and go do what you have to do,

professionally. I'm just trying to let you know that you'll run into obstacles. You're in

your late forties, you're white, and you haven't published a book in a handful of years.

I'm not saying that's bad, it's great in fact, but from what I've heard about UH, which isn't

much, mind you, they are a school dedicated to a diverse workforce. But I'm not going to

stop you from attempting to realize your dreams. Who am I, anyway? I'm just the guy

who reviews your syllabi, and passes on complaints to the dean. Go. Get out of here.

Seize the world.

Oh, but Chuck--am I going to see you again? Maybe this would be a good

opportunity for you to sign your book for me.


















CHAPTER 3
TRAIN CONDUCTOR, BISHOP PROBERT



(passing through) Waldo, Arkansas

When we say no liquor on the train, that is supposed to mean that this train is

reserved for sober passengers, not that you are supposed to get high beforehand. That

ticket in your hairy palm is expensive and I'm sure you would be disappointed if you

don't make it all the way to Wyoming, now wouldn't you? I know your whole whiny

story that you been pestering everyone about and I'm as sick of it as you are. In fact, I

don't believe it. I think you is just a stinky old bum. I think it's impossible that you ever

wrote a book in your life. It would just be a bunch of lies anyway, and if people wanted

to buy a book about that, then they might as well, because they is stupid, and I know it.

You don't have a brother, and you don't have a mother. It is so obvious that you didn't

grow up in Wyoming, because your accent sounds like it came out of the Middle East.

Yemen or something. I spent some time up in Lovell, as a matter of fact, and I can prove

your story wrong because there is no sugar factory in that town, so there is no way that

your brother can live there and be a sugar manager. I just don't like liars, is what I'm

saying. You didn't get kicked out of your girlfriend's house yesterday and there is no way

that she's an exterminator. You know why I know? Because if she was an exterminator

she would've killed you long ago. Or at least poisoned you a bit in the mouth. I cannot

believe that you are so dumb that you think that we care about your life and that you had












a harder life than any of us. In fact, I bet you don't know that I cross this nation twice a

week. Twice a week! I get two days off every two weeks, and sometimes I don't even

have a chance to see my wife. And it's because of this job that she doesn't want to have a

baby. How can she have a baby when I'm never home. We had a talk the other day and

she wanted to ride the train with me whenever I was gone. That's her reasoning on how

we can make things work. Have a family that lives its whole life on a train. See what I

have to put up with? That's what it's like, having a wife that is afraid of the outdoors.

That's right, you heard me correctly. She is afraid of the outdoors. So when I'm gone,

which is ninety-nine point nine-nine percent of the time, she don't leave the house. She

thinks a burglar or a robber or something is gonna attack her. Like if that happened when

I was there with her and a burglar came up to me, you don't think I'd just hand that baby

over to that man? I would. Because that's the only way that these creatures can be

satisfied. So if she don't go outside at all, what ends up happening is that on my two days

off every two weeks, or four days off every month, if you're a mathematician, I'm over at

the K-Mart, not the Wal-Mart, mind you, because even though my wife hasn't stepped

foot outside in I don't know how many decades, she got opinions on super huge stores.

Can you believe that? When she yelled at me once when she saw the Wal-Mart bags in

my hand, full of the stuff that she ordered me to get her, full of the stuff that gonna clog

up the basement, and full of the stuff that gonna make her fatter than a bulbous pizza

delivery boy, I didn't know what the hell was going on. She says from then on she wants

me to shop at K-Mart. Okay, I says to her, because honestly, I don't care about none of

that, but I was curious and she said that she liked their commercials better. So when she

said that she made up her mind that she was going to go ride the train with me, can you









14


blame me for saying nothing? But she wants the baby, but not a baby without a father.

It's a old-fashioned dilemma. What kind of child will grow up from a fatherless home?

Someone like you probably. If this keeps up, you're not even going to make it to Kansas.

You won't even make it out of Oklahoma City.



















CHAPTER 4
TWIN BROTHER, MARTY CHONSON




Lovell, Wyoming

Dear Chuck,

I am sitting here in front of this telegram you sent me and I have to admit, Chuck,

that you've caught me off guard. Forty years lacking an identical twin can do wonders

for the imagination and the self-esteem. You write, "Hey, Holmes, it's time for me to

crash at the twin's bin. Sabbatical is just another word for nothing left to lose. Shake a

leg, scramble eggs, and make my bed. Peace, brother. Chuck." I had to read it a few

times to fully understand. Tell me if I'm wrong: You're on sabbatical and you're coming

over to my house to spend some time, and you want me to cook breakfast?

Looking through this old photograph book I've pulled out of the closet, because of

your telegram, I see pictures of you as a baby in Momma's lap, you holding the trout I

caught at the age of six. Me at my eighth birthday party. I say my birthday party because

the picture is of just me sitting in front of the cake. You and all our friends were outside

smoking cigarettes or something.

As you know, or probably don't know, actually, I'm prone to drama. In

elementary school, my talent for acting became apparent to Mrs. Kinety, when we

auditioned for the fourth-grade talent show and I pretended that I was drunk, and I've

been greasing the stage ever since. But my point is, I'm sitting here in my recliner,












smoking a cigarette, thinking about you, and it is hard for me to separate the Chuck

Chonson that I invented from the Chuck Chonson that is based on the facts. Even still, I

know that you are forty-eight years old now, the same as me, but all I see is the face of an

eight-year-old boy, dazed with experience and broken bones. This is an image which I

have augmented and distorted and erased for years and years, on and off, but now that I

have a piece of paper with your handwriting on the back, everything is becoming more

clear. Always the tough guy, as far as I can remember, by seven you were drinking

whiskey at night before you went to bed. By eight you were smoking cigarettes

regularly. By some twist of magical twin connection, I was the one who'd wake up with

the hangover and my throat would get all scratched up. It was a little miracle of being a

twin that I overlooked back then. I'd curse you under my breath, but, looking back, at the

same time I'd feel connected, and complete. Later on, after you left, I'd feel a pain in a

section of my body and wonder if that was you, thousands of miles away, scorching

yourself, or getting knifed. You know, Chuck, we never had a secret language. You

know, like other twins? How do you think that made me feel?

That day out by the road when you told me you were leaving will forever be

burned in my mind, the way a tree remembers a lightning bolt that struck it. I had a

feeling that something was in the air, maybe it was the smell of a storm, but I just didn't

think that you'd actually jump on a train at the age of eight, and leave Wyoming for good.

You had your bag and your raccoon hat. I was picking grass stalks and looking down the

road, knowing that no one ever used the road except for us--that you weren't ever going

to hitch a ride. Later on, up in my room, I was reading a comic when I heard the












airbrakes of an eighteen-wheeler, probably lost on some route. By the time I got to the

side of my room facing the road, you were gone.

Looking out my window now, I can still see the road, but now it is a little busier.

The way you said "freight"--you sounded so cool and broken! I remember trying

to imitate you, repeating it in the mirror, all day long. I even got scared once when I said

it really well and unconsciously cocked my left eyebrow, like you'd always raise your

right eyebrow. I thought for a second that it was you in the mirror. I didn't look in a

mirror again for days. Remember our mirror, Chuck? The one dad stole from the bar?

Coors. It was a Coors mirror. But that night during the storm we had no electricity and it

was unusually warm. Momma was all over the house, those days, cleaning and

scrubbing, but that night she didn't move. The windows were open a crack and all you

could see of her was the bottom of her white skirt flapping occasionally. She had the

rocking chair facing out the living-room window and when lightning struck, you'd see her

figure flash once. I was underneath the table, not hiding, just being comfortable, and I

knew that she felt one of her twins missing, just watching her. I felt bad for her then,

possibly for the first time in my life, and I imagined what would become of her, with the

loss of one of her children. Then she said something about "that wishy-washy child"

getting home before the whip cracks, her voice sprawling out of the darkness like a fish

with no eyes. I got out from under the table and tried to make my way over to her

through the dark without breaking anything. I told her that you took the freight out to

Pittsburgh. I remember you said that's where all the trains end up anyway. I imitated you

because I was imitating you all day and I said the word just like I'd practiced it--deep and

without pronouncing the "t." Fray. She just said, "Pittsburgh? Why is Marty going to












Pittsburgh?" I didn't tell her that it was you, Chuck, and not me, and I don't think she

realized it for a couple of days. I kept up the routine the whole time, horrified, and I went

a long time without stumbling. When I did, over breakfast with her asking me for the

salt, I saw something in her eyes break when I said I didn't know where the salt was. It

wasn't exactly what I said, but how I said it--I let my true self through. Looking back, I

think it was the moment when I started to regard myself as the wrong one.

O, Chuck, some nights I'd stay up late fabricating the life of my long-lost twin

brother, combining stories of you that I'd heard or overheard, with scenes from the

movies to help out with the background. The days I spent in that theatre, escaping to the

worlds of Texas, California, and New York City, wondering if I'd see you among the

extras or if you'd been to Philadelphia in person. It was just my confused way of trying

to complete myself.

Looking back, I think that acting was just a natural progression of my reactions to

pain and fear. My first play was Oklahoma! in seventh grade and when the lights went

on I felt God watching me and before I'd know it the play would be over and people

would clap for me. The feeling that I was good at something that I didn't even have to

remember actually doing was so unbelievable that I decided that acting was my calling

and that I would do it for the rest of my life.

Up in Missoula, when I was almost finished with some undergrad work in child

psychology, I saw a poster calling for auditions for Waiting for Godot. I realized I hadn't

acted since the seventh grade and that if I didn't do something now, then I might never

get another chance again. And there was something in the clowns' faces on the poster

that gave me a strong desire to audition.












I was going to take it lightly, knowing that if I was rejected I would take it very

badly. But then my roommate said to me, "Why don't you read it?"

Well, I did. And Chuck, if it didn't hit me like a ton of bricks, then it hit me like

one brick right to the temple. I remembered us sitting on the side of that pathetic road

and next to that pathetic tree with me crying don't go and you saying I must, but the

characters in that story don't go anywhere. When I realized that no one was leaving I was

furious. So furious that I threw the book down on the ground and started muttering to

myself about the twin who was out there afraid of nothing and who doesn't care about

anything or anybody including me. I would get up and go over to the window, look out

as if searching for you suddenly, then return to the chair and pick up the book, only to

read another exchange and become more enraged. Then I would get up and go to the

window again.

My roommate, when I cooled down, called it a play of humanity. Maybe that's

something that you don't have, or that you think only sort of exists. You know, I

would've waited on that road with you until we died. Of course, I didn't, I went to my

room, but Chuck, if I had known that you were really leaving, I wouldn't've. Where have

you been all this time?

Do I even have to say that I made the cut and that people after the first show came

up to me crying wanting to introduce me to their mothers and fathers and that I got a

standing ovation and had a favorable review in the press? Do I have to tell you that

Mary, the girl that I secretly loved and whose views in class I admired, told me that she

could live with no other man after seeing my performance but I was too overwhelmed

with clarity and closed the door on her face? Do I have to tell you that I performed that












piece only the first night and quit because I never thought that I'd be able to live up to my

own reputation that I didn't even deserve? I cried for four days straight because that plot

was way too close for me to deal with it rationally.

Two weeks later, roaming around town after getting a haircut, a beautiful woman

approached me and said, "You asshole, Chuck Chonson. Where the hell have you been?"

That was the last thing possible that I wanted to hear, but she was too beautiful to yell at.

Her eyes were sad and I don't know if it was because haircuts were on my mind, but I

noticed hers, and because of her poor posture I wondered if she chose her haircut because

it covered most of her face. She looked depressed. I was too tired to pretend, so I told

her that I wasn't Chuck but she didn't go away. She stood still for a moment, then cried.

Of course I felt bad for her, but I reasoned that if she thought it possible that she could

see you in Missoula, then I thought that possibly you were in Missoula, and I comforted

her. This was around when I was thirty-two, I think, so that would've been 1988--just for

your information. I guess now you can figure out how long she was roaming the streets

looking for you after you had left. I told her that you were my twin, but that I hadn't seen

you since I was eight. That's when she told me her story.

How could you desert her and your son after two and a half years to go find

yourself in the Smokey Mountains? And how could you name a kid Phuc? I mean, if he

was a little Vietnamese, then it would be fine. Or if he wasn't Vietnamese, but lived in

Vietnam, then that would be fine, too. But Italian and in Nebraska?

Standing there, she seemed like she was going to fall apart and I was afraid to ask

how old she was. She could have been anywhere from twenty-eight to forty-five. Her

coat was thin and as she was talking, half the time I was wishing that she had seen me












perform, so that she could have fallen in love with me. A man with a newspaper passed

us and I'll always remember his face when he looked at us. He could have thought that

we'd known each other for decades. I was in love with her already, and she was the

estranged lover of my lost twin brother.

Phuc and Regina moved in with me. Pretty much right after I met her. They had

nowhere else to go and the house was too big for me to live in by myself. I grew

accustomed to them. Phuc got private tutoring, from me and Regina alternately, because

of the verbal abuse he received in middle school. Those kids are so rough. They were

calling him Phuchead and then they'd call to him from across the room saying, "Hey,

Phuc--you!" It was nice to have Phuc here, but then he ran away from home, right after

we tried to get him back into public high school. Regina sells kitchen utensils over the

phone. Some nights, next to the fireplace, Regina will tell me stories about you and her.

Wild, amazing stories in exotic, faraway locations. Were you really in a Chips episode?

But I am wondering what to do. Now that I've told you this, do you still want to

"crash at the twin's bin"? Do you hate me? I understand that you are determined to come

to Lovell to bang on my door with your suitcase of books and your knapsack of drugs. I

will send this reply, as instructed, to the Thunderbird Motel in Oklahoma City--money

included--but am hoping to see you either way. I am breathing heavily and thinking

about everything and anything, except the cat, which I realize has been clawing at the

door for some time now.

[This section scratched out]

Okay, I'm back and I let the cat in. I gave it some food. Do you know what the

cat's name is, Chuck? Beer. That's it's name. That's what Regina forced me to name it.









22


She says it's her turn to add cruelty to the world. She says she likes me because I look

like you but I act like a forgotten appliance. We will be getting married in June of 2002.



Yr. Brother,

Marty



















CHAPTER 5
DEALER, WILLIE BARTON



Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Monday, 12:34 a.m.

Where you calling from? I heard cars in the background. You on the highway?

This must be your cell. Oh, okay. Contact me and let me know where you're staying and

we'll work some things out.



Monday, 1:51 a.m.

The Thunderbird Motel! You staying there? Oh, Chuck, you sure are a nostalgic

son of a bitch. That day with Norlitta was a pisser.



Monday, 11:53 a.m.

We finally connected. So was it just coincidence that brought you back to the

Thunderbird Motel? Or do you not remember that night out in the parking lot with me,

you, Norlitta, and that scary dude with a broken arm? As I'm recalling, right at this

moment, I can remember you being awfully messed-up that night. You was up and down

and doing all kinds of trash that people were putting in your face. Now I can see it. We

made it into a game after a while, lining people up and putting junk down in front of your

face and watching you gobble it up. This was in the motel room. Does any of this sound












familiar? The big bunny rabbit? That Jamaican Rasta who was all kinds of spaced-out?

Man, you sure are something, Chuck Chonson. Here it is, what, fifteen years later and I

can remember it all and you can't remember nothing. And you the fellow who went off

to college up north and me just some scheming local rascal.

Wait, Chuck, I got to go. I'll contact you.



Wednesday, 12:15 p.m.

What's happening, man? How's Oke City treating you? You been holed up in

that little room all this time? Who else you been in contact with? I'll make sure that I get

over to you soon enough. You know me, I got quality stuff

I'm sorry, I just was remembering that guy with the sling on his arm. That was a

sight.

Like I think I told you earlier, you was getting awfully messed-up awfully quick.

We met up at some dusty bar by the empty parking-lot section of town and you were

hitting the Wild Turkey. You were pontificating with a young fat white girl, who wasn't

that bad looking, if I remember correctly, but she was so fat. Fatter than anyone I know

likes it. But you were telling her about this space shuttle launch and how you were in

charge of the file coverage of the event and how you thought the whole experience so

non-human and so dry and you mentioned the voice that counts down. You even went

through it one full time counting down from twenty real slow. Boy, that fat chick was on

your Jim just waiting for it to say something intelligent. So you went on about how you

wanted to use light filters and make it real psychedelic and maybe have some multiple












camera angles, superimposed, and some modern-jazz dancers and maybe get Chuck

Mangione to play some soundtrack music.

I'm not lying, this is what you were saying. I have a memory like a cat.

By this time you were beyond what I would refer to as the line of necessary

functionability, but you seemed to be functioning alright, as long as you sat on that stool.

Then you saw me and burped out some jive and walked over to me by the door and

saying things like blacks are one of the top five races in the world on some sort of scale

you invented and that the only race that was definitely better were the Incas. And this

whole time we was walking toward the bathroom and I saw that fat girl up close and

that's when I realized how pretty she was, and I noticed that she wasn't white but

Hispanic, and that she was drinking Cokes. I knew there was nothing in it because right

then she finished her drink and the bartender fixed her another, and there was no liquor

put in. That's the first thing that made me think something was up. Then we entered the

bathroom and you gave me a fifty and I gave you what you wanted.

You insisted that I drink with you, so I sat down, planning on staying for maybe

two seconds, and got a Coke, making eye contact with the fat one while I ordered to let

her know I knew something that I didn't know, and you was bobbing and weaving like

you was a pugilist. Then you went to the bathroom and did what you had to do, and left

the two of us. "You his friend?" she asked, in a voice that sounded injured.

"No," I said, and don't think I was lying to find anything out, Chuck. "Are you?"

She drank her fresh coke all the way to the bottom, sucking through a straw, the

whole time staring into my eyes. Then you walked back in, straight as a beaver.












Your eyes were so huge and your tongue was sticking out and your chest bulging

sideways, I didn't know what to expect and if that fat girl didn't intrigue me so much, I

would've gotten out of there because I would've placed money down that you would die

within twenty minutes.

But then I noticed someone else in the bar. Back in the corner was this fat guy,

hiding in some sort of shadows. Two fat people in a bar, one male, the other female, out

of a total of five, including the bartender? Coincidence? Chuck, what do you think?

Then the roaring started like a hurricane in reverse. I turned my head and saw this

mass of rolling blubber held in place by a white tank top and all I heard was a drilling

sound in the wood like you was getting a tooth drilled while wearing headphones. This

guy barrels over everybody (me, you, and the girl) and slaps the drink in your hand (a

Coke, somehow you were drinking her drink) right over the bar, saving your life from

some sort of poison, I was guessing. This all took a matter of two seconds combined to

form one. I was trying to figure something out, like, is this guy a cop, or was Norlitta,

whose face I was studying briefly right then, all bunched up like a punctured rotten apple,

out to get you, switching drinks and all? Was this all a mistake? Did you just pick up a

glass on the bar, thinking that it was yours?

I was thinking all of this through in a matter of about one two seconds, which was

exactly the same amount of time it took for you to realize and understand the events that

took place. You looked around you, seemingly growing more and more disgusted by

your surroundings, seeing now the guy going after the fat girl, who was trying to get off

the barstool but was having trouble because her legs were too small, and you just let out

this roar that came from the bottom of your soul, that I think emerged from the dishonor












of some guy flipping your drink (you must've thought it was your Wild Turkey) out of

your hands, and this roar filled up the entire area, pressing air out in all directions. We all

stopped (I was now turning to head out the door, along with the bartender) and looked at

you, who (and I can still see it in slow motion) whacked this fat guy so hard in the ear

that it sounded as if somewhere close wood cracked, and you both fell down on the floor,

him screaming, you crying, then passing out.

Oh, Chuck. That was some night. He was a cop. I got his wallet. I had no idea

how he was where he was or why, but that Norlitta was up to no good in your life.

Which Norlitta? How many do you know? The one that you proposed to later

that night. I was about to leave the scene, after I got the wallet, but something just come

over me. I just felt a deep sadness for you. I thought you were so pathetic. Seeing a

grown man, with a premature gut, and a slight bald spot--that I knew--cry on the floor,

completely out of touch with what was happening, then go to sleep, is a confusing sight.

Still, I was going to leave. Then Norlitta motioned with her hand at the door. This

caught my attention. So I got up and left you there with the fat cop (who I wasn't eager to

hang out with anyway), and she followed me.

Outside, around the corner in an alley, I interrogated her. "So, you drinking

Cokes, right?"

"What about it?"

"I don't trust people who don't drink."

"That's your problem."

"No, that's Chuck's problem, and a problem of Chuck's is a problem of mine

[Don't think I'm really your friend], and now it's a problem of yours."












"What are you talking about?"

"Slipping poison, bitch!"

"I didn't do that. He was poisoned already."

"I saw you slip him your drink."

"No you didn't, because I didn't do it."

Then I wondered if this was the case. I didn't actually see her do anything--only

you drinking her drink. "But then why would that cop tackle him before he sipped your

drink?"

She grabbed at her purse and said, "I want to show you these." She pulled out a

few Polaroids, and although the light was pretty bad, I saw that these were of you, maybe

ten years earlier. In one you were standing next to Norlitta, who was wearing a really

pretty dress, and she was unbelievable-looking. You were as ugly as I ever saw you, and

I couldn't understand how you could have even known her. Beside that, now I realized

that either, in the bar, you had no idea of who she was, and that she was trying to get her

revenge, or that you were just meeting up, and then you got too hammered, and forgot

who you were with. The next picture was of you, her, and this other scrawny guy. I

asked her who it was.

"That's Manny, my brother. He hated Chuck. He thought I was crazy falling in

love with Chuck."

"You were in love with Chuck? How that happened?"

She didn't answer, so I looked at the next photo. "Who's that?" The three in the

other picture were now with another guy.

"That's Whelps. He's my husband."












"He ain't a cop, is he?"

"Sometimes he is, sometimes he's not."

"Is he as fat as you?"

"Shut up."

"Why you showing me these pictures?"

"So that my husband has time to beat up Chuck."

I thought about what I should do, and I went back to the bar, my knife in my

hand, only because that fat girl was a bitch. Inside, that fat guy was pounding on your

face with his forearms. You didn't even know what was going on because you were out

cold. I wasn't too excited about knifing someone who was maybe a cop, but I didn't have

anything on me, and I had never seen him before, so he probably didn't know who I was.

"Get your fat ass up and get ready to get cut."

The fat guy rose up and he looked at me and then he looked at you. He started

giggling. "He your friend?"

"No."

"Then what's the matter?"

"Your wife's a bitch."

"No way."

I looked at you scratching at the floor, then had to look away.

"I did what I had to do. Maybe my wife can leave me alone about it now. Let's

go to the Thunderbird Motel. Some craziness happens there. You into craziness?"

"What."

"Bitches dancing naked, angel dust, and darts."












I thought about it. "I can't leave him," I said, pointing to you. "I just can't. He

comes."

"Oh, that was already decided."

Does any of this sound familiar to you yet? We dragged your ass out on the

sidewalk, watched you throw up a few times, and I asked that guy if he was a cop. He

said yes. His left arm was hanging down limp and looked a little swollen around the

wrist. "That hurt?"

"It's starting to." Then we threw you in the back of his pickup truck, with Norlitta,

and when we got to the Thunderbird Motel, man, I felt bad for you because I knew that

you wouldn't have been able to hang there even if you were just a little high. I was ready

to have some fun, myself.

When I was about to walk through the door, this big bunny rabbit comes out. It

must have been as big as a small dog. With big ears. And it wasn't hopping, it was

walking. I don't know how long that rabbit was in that room, and I don't know if anyone

was fucking with him, but he was going where no other rabbit had gone before. I went

inside, then looked back and saw you petting that huge thing. You were whispering

something in its ear, then listening. You said, "He needs help!" I called your name and

motioned with my hand to play it cool, but then I gave up hope when you said, "He can't

stop growing."

The room was packed with some pretty bad cats. Two girls were dancing, like the

guy said, without their tops on. One was pretty, but the other one was this really old lady

wearing earrings, and her gray hair was in a perm. The radio was playing some f.m.

country stuff. This tall black man came out of the bathroom, and he was all dreaded out.












He had this paperback in his hand that he was squeezing with his fist. I think since I was

the only other black guy in the room, he wanted to be my buddy. He pulled me aside and

started talking in this Jamaican accent that was really strange because he also had a lisp,

and he was talking like this retarded kid I knew in elementary school that disappeared

after the third grade Then he pulled out this joint and was saying, "Dutht. Thmoke this

dutht wit me an' everth-ting be oppy."

We went out to the parking lot and smoked that crazy dust and this guy had a

tattoo on his arm that I saw at that moment, saying, "5th Ward Posse." Some crazy shit

going to happen.

Back inside, the walls were painted on the floor and everyone was staring at me.

And you were now on the couch eating some pills that were on the table in front of you.

You wouldn't let go of the rabbit. It was trying to escape and once it clawed your face.

Norlitta was making out with the old girl and the cop was watching those two, then

looking back at you. He had made a sling out of the bed sheets and he was eating a few

of those pills too. Except that you were eating them about three times as fast. I thought

you were going to die, but nothing mattered really. The Rasta was showing me

something in this book that I couldn't read, saying, "The fire. The fire."

After a while, the scene calmed down. The music was off and the two ladies had

their tops back on. They were giving a massage to the cop on one of the beds and the

owners of the motel were in the room now, smoking some weed. The Rasta guy was

reading his book and you were confessing out loud, although your only visible audience

was Norlitta and the bunny rabbit, but you were shouting, and I was listening too. "The









32


pain," you said, "is what gets me out of bed. The drugs get me to sleep." You were

petting the rabbit. "I need a rabbit--bad."

You had your head over the table then, and when the Rasta started saying "Fire,

fire" again, you shot up and said, "The only fire in this room is you, you flamer."

That's when I left. I heard what happened later on through the local news.

So that's it. You gonna buy this or what?


















CHAPTER 6
LADY ON BUS, MARIA WOESSNER



(passing through) Hazelton, Indiana

If I have to listen to you weep all the way to Pittsburgh I'm going to go mad. That

book that you're ripping apart there is not meant for that purpose. You're supposed to

read it. And if you don't want to read it, then give it to me because some people are not

blessed with the monetary casualness that you might have. And I just happen to know a

lot of little orphans who would love to get their hands on a book to read. Little Rwanda

has been waiting all year for a book to read. And here you are ripping up a nice book by-

-who is that? Thomas Mann? I should slap you. I can't believe that I always have to sit

next to people like you on the bus. All I'm trying to do is go up to Pittsburgh real quick,

grab a baby, and bring it to his new home in South Carolina. And I get stuck next to

someone who can't even sleep without drooling on the person next to him, which just

happens to be me. All this nice scenery and you're just drooling and complaining. You

weren't the bit interested in seeing Mt. Meridan. I missed it myself, but at least I wanted

to see it. I never heard of it before I looked it up on this map, which I bought for this trip,

with the understanding that I'd be able to enjoy the scenery, which is obviously not the

case as far as your concerned. All you care about is if you finish what's in your flask

before the next transfer station. Don't think I don't know what you have in that flask.

Alcohol, mister. It's only going to add to your problems. Not going to solve a thing.












Now, I understand that you needed to get out of Oklahoma quick. Don't think that I'm a

stranger to running from the law. I might just look like a little old lady, but I used to

speed on the highways and never return books to the library. So I know how you're

feeling. I can't ever go back to Georgia again, because I owe the Madison library about a

quarter-million dollars. So I understand. But let me tell you, there's a way out. You

must find Jesus. Jesus will do for you what you can't do for yourself. Take my brother

Arnie, for example. He used to just sit on the couch all day, with a Nerf basketball and

dribble and watch TV. Then one day I dragged him out of the house and brought him to

church and it worked for him. Now he owns three video stores that are about to go out of

business. But he's not feeling down. He says that if these stores get shut down, then, by

God, he'll just have to mortgage the house and open up a few more. Six, in fact. Right?

Can't you see? Jesus is with us right here on the bus. All you have to do is open your

heart to Jesus. Arnie is different from most of us, because he actually talks to Jesus, and

Jesus talks back to him. One day I stopped by his house and he was planting peas in late

February. I told him, what are you doing wasting all those seeds. Don't you know the

frost is gonna come? He told me that it was Jesus' idea and that he said there was nothing

to worry about. The love of God would always defeat the frost of Satan. And you know

what turned out to be true? Jesus. There was no frost, and that spring there was a terrible

disease going around, every little child in the fourth grade absent because they were all

sick to their stomachs. Then all their little brothers and sisters got sick, then the parents,

and eventually the whole town. Some big shot scientist came in and said that it was

related to the imported fruit and vegetables. What were we going to do? Everyone who

worked at the market was sick and so no one could even buy frozen vegetables to eat. It












was bad. People started eating the fruit and vegetables on purpose, Lord, just to get the

inevitable over with. There was this small faction that would congregate in the town

square and give these long winded speeches on life and death and they all agreed to eat

some strawberries and die off. The police were going to get involved, but then they

thought it would all save us a breath or two, with no more arguments from these people.

Well, they died off. Meanwhile I kept asking Arnie if Jesus was telling him to not share

the peas with everyone, and he said he hadn't heard from him. Then he did hear from

him and Jesus said that he should've shared the peas before most of the people died, but

better late than never, so the rest of the town ate Arnie's peas for a few months, saving us

all. Can't you do something like that? You're not as bad as Arnie, and he changed

everything. You just cry and drool too much. It's a good thing that you're going to see

your childhood friend. Maybe he's changed and found the Lord too. You never know. I

wouldn't worry about how he'll treat you either. Because the past is the past and you

don't know anything about his world and the way that he perceives it. That's right. Fall

asleep. You look like you need a nap.



















CHAPTER 7
CHILDHOOD PLAYMATE, WHELPS REMIEN



Houston, Pennsylvania

I'm getting flashbacks just looking at the scars on your face. They're not from that

bunny are they? When was the last time I saw you? Oklahoma? Rolph?

You've changed so much since the last time I've seen you. And I've got to say

you don't look better. When that bunny clawed you, it didn't look as bad as it does now.

You'd think they'd heal or something. Did you gain weight or lose weight? Something

about you looks shabby, no offense. Your face is fuller--have you been working out?

Well, you're drunk, that's obvious. That's stayed the same. I cut down myself. Have a

toke here and there if I'm at a party and a circle's forming. I was living strict for a while,

but now I think I just gotta be a little easier on myself. Take in the view.

You know, I can remember seeing you for the first time, as a little kid--thirteen

years old. Isn't that amazing? I can see your face right now. Almost forty years ago I

saw you, and you were so different and I was so different, and the times were so, so much

different. It's shocking, is what it is. That first day we met, I remember banging on pans-

-my only hobby--prancing around my house in my underwear like a hopeless orphan

trying to get my parents to come out of their collective comatose. Of course, back then I

didn't realize what I was doing, but I just needed a little affection and my parents were

too busy in their own worlds to notice a little kid who would still dirty his underwear now












and then and piss in the corner here and there if it was late at night and the bathroom was

all the way down a dark and scary hallway. I can see where they were coming from now,

but back then all I could do was bang on pans and play hockey in the kitchen with my ice

skates. That morning I had found a dead bird in the driveway, and I wanted to show

somebody. I didn't care who, but it was obvious that I'd have to look pretty far to find

someone. I didn't have any friends, so I decided to show my parents. Back then I

thought that this would have been precisely what would have interested the both of them-

-a jazz drummer of a father and a Shakespearean actress of a mom. I broke a few glasses

on the floor--on accident, I thought--but mom was still chanting, "How like a winter hath

my absence been from thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!" and dad was pounding on

his kit, "A-boom, chic-chic." So I ended up watching TV and tried to laugh as loud as I

could to get their attention. That was a moment I'll never forget for some reason,

laughing really loud at some dumb cartoon that had something to do with signing an

amendment. Because when I was older, about seventeen or something, I was on this

really bad date at the movie theatre and the movie was so bad, but I just kept on laughing,

until it got to the point where people were turning their heads toward me and my date and

my date told me that I was embarrassing her. I had asked myself, Why am I laughing like

this? It wasn't abundantly clear yet, but I got a quick flashback to laughing on the couch

watching that stupid piece of paper with legs. Then you. Just like that. I turned my head

to look out the window and there you were looking back through the window, watching

TV over my shoulder. I couldn't believe it. I watched your face, uncaring of my

presence, stare at the screen in total happiness. I thought, A friend? I went up to the

window and waved. You waved and then turned back to the TV. You were by far the












coolest kid I had ever seen. No one in Houston looked like you. You were wearing some

dead animal on your head, and I was so turned on by that. I wished then that I had

brought in the dead bird and made it into a pair of shorts or something that I could wear

on my body, maybe more like a glove. And you had this look in your face like you didn't

care one way or the other about anything, which I admired. I wanted that. I went outside

and invited you in. That would turn out to be the turning point of my life.

It was already pretty late, I think, and we watched TV until my parents went to

sleep and then you slept over. The next morning I wasn't sure if I was supposed to feel

embarrassed or not about my dad and my mom because at that point I hadn't really seen

anyone else's parents, but I had a strange feeling that mine were different from others.

Maybe it was all the TV that I was watching then.

My dad was asleep all morning and then one by one his friends showed up

drinking beers and smoking cigarettes in the living room and they got loud enough to

wake my dad up and they loaded up the Chevy and piled in and mom was waving

goodbye and I was looking out the window seeing them drive off past the fire field and

knew they were off to the city. When I sneaked some brandy of some sort into my room

and rolled a joint of my dad's pot I wondered what you'd think. I was relieved when you

looked excited, because I didn't think and I still don't think that a lot of thirteen-year-olds

do that stuff But you had a bag of pills that you scrounged up from your foster parents'

bedroom, and when you said foster parents I felt like this friendship was perfect--I was

convinced that I was adopted.

I remember looking out my bedroom window, at nothing in particular, stoned off

my ass, smiling, thinking, nothing is better. But I was wrong. I found a bag of dope












laying around my living room and we snorted that up and played horseshoes and pro

kadema in my backyard for a week straight. Nothing is better than that.

My parents named me Welts and you pronounced it Whelps. That is basically the

history of my life. You know, sometimes I still have bouts over what happened at the

school, which, now that I think of it, I don't even think you know about. You were so

messed up.

That playground is still there. And all the little high-schoolers are still causing

panic in the park.

We sat under the log swing, the three of us, me, Norlitta, and you, sharing a bottle

of my mother's rum, or, mostly watching you drink it. I recited, to no one in particular,

without even thinking, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments;

love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to

remove."

And you replied, "Oh, no, it's shaped like a patch of seaweed swimming in

alcohol, and a turtle's head reaching out for the breeze smelling in the stank scents of

fall."

Norlitta thought this so clever and true that she laughed and unbuttoned the top

button of her sweater. That in itself was enough to swarm up the bees in my knickers, but

plus it was cold out and the shape of her breasts in the wind cutting through the wood,

combining with the agitation of her nipples was enough to drive a milk addict insane.

Then she said, "Do another."

You looked at me and winked and said, "Poet, another rhyme, if you know it."












Of course I did. I hated the garbage just as much as I hated Cannonball Adderly,

but you were always in charge of me and I did it again. I wanted to see Norlitta topless if

I could, but I knew that if it was between you and me it would be you.

"No more be grieved at that which thou hast done: roses have thorns, and silver

fountain mud. Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, and loathsome canker lives

in sweetest bud."

You went, "Canker is what canker does, roses have thorns and so does mine,

unbuckle my pants and sweetest bud you'll find."

She laughed and looked at me and unbuttoned another. Now, cleavage was

showing, and I knew I was in over my head. My erection was over my head, by this

point, and my head on my erection seemed almost angry. "Another," she said.

"Do what the woman says," you said.

I pulled out the surest one. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

Norlitta said, I love this one," and adjusted her seating, in the meanwhile

showing a little bit more.

"Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling

buds of May and summer's lease hath all too short a date."

And you, you little prick, continued it, "Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven

shines and often is his gold complexion dimmed; and every fair from fair sometimes

declines, by chance or nature's changing course untrimmed."

Here, I thought Norlitta was going to have a baby, she was breathing so hard.

Who knew that the whole time I knew her all I had to do was recite some of my mom's

stupid Shakespeare? Now I was doing it in your presence and I lost out. She unbuttoned












another, and this one was below her bra. It was my first time seeing a girl like that and I

didn't know what to do. You said, "Go home, Whelps." And I did. Or at least, I started

to.

On the walk back, already with my hand in my pants, I heard her cry out and I

knew she was in trouble. I rushed back and grabbed you, then blushed when I saw that

you were sticking it to her. I was so embarrassed, but shocked at what you did. You took

a monstrous swig of the rum and buckled up your pants, unfinished. You took your shirt

off the ground and covered Norlitta's body with it. You were playing it cool.

Then you punched me in the face.

When I came to, Norlitta was gone, and I was naked, and you were jerking off in

my face. Needless to say, I grabbed your dick and twisted, then listened to you limp back

into the woods, down the path that led to home.

Alone, under the wooden swing, slimly escaping the salt of your earth, I thought

of the meaning in life. How could this night ever happen in the history of humans? I

thought to myself, there.

The next day you called me up and asked if I wanted to shoot pool. You said,

"Last night was pretty crazy, right?"

I said, "Right, Chuck."

You said, "So, what exactly happened?"

I made up something about getting into an argument with Norlitta and then I

mentioned the rum.

"Rum?" you said. "We were drinking rum?"












I found it in my heart to forgive you, I thought, but really I just took it out on

myself. It affected me thoroughly up until I was about twenty-four. Each time I had

become friends with another person, I had asked myself, "Do you think he'll try to cum in

my face?" The impact was staggering. Eventually I was asking myself that question

about strangers in the street. I was hopeless. I quit going to church.

I stopped praying. I was late all the time because I refused to ask anybody the

time, because the question would emerge. My sex life was all screwed up. I stopped

dating and I'd rent pornos. I would get the ones with one-hundred cum scenes. I'd watch

cum shot after cum shot, sometimes two or three movies in a row, then go to a therapist.

But I never opened up to him completely, and I guess by now you can figure out why.

I became a cop. Which was weird at first, busting drug dealers that I knew on a

first name basis. They'd usually just look at me crookedly, afraid to say anything. My

partner knew what was going on, this guy named Franklin. He was really cool. He had a

brother who got hit by a drunk driver and died, so he knew everything that was involved

with substance abuse. He'd leave me these pamphlets and it was real cute for a while,

and even a bit endearing--someone cared about me. I never pictured him cumming in my

face, which I was aware of, and it was a good feeling. It was nice teaming up with this

guy but then I got sick of the job, sick of his pamphlets, and really, all I wanted to do was

get fucked up. By twenty-five I was already in touch with Rolph, Tone, I knew Willie a

bit, and I think I had met Eva by then, but I could be wrong. Hanging out with that

crowd and all, going to parties, selling some coke, you know, enjoying my twenties.

It wasn't until that whole crowd started disbanding that Norlitta re-entered my life

and I had become good friends with her, about ten years ago. I just saw her over at the












Laundromat and we started talking. We would go on walks through the neighborhood

late at night, stopping for some coffee sometimes. But usually we just walked and talked

and sometimes we held hands. I think I still had some feelings for her, but the feelings

were clouded, along with everything else in my mind. She was very impressed with my

knowledge of Shakespeare and be-bop. I didn't like talking about the subjects much--I

thought it a bore (I always liked hockey)--but with her I didn't mind. The way she'd ask,

"Did your father ever play with Lee Konitz?" was so surprisingly fresh. It caused me to

re-evaluate my parents role in my life. My counselors told me they tried their best, but I

knew better. They were bad parents, but I was able to forgive them a little then. I asked

Norlitta to marry me, and she said yes.

She was the one who encouraged me to see a therapist again. I still don't know if

she knew what happened that night on the playground, but she must've not liked the fact

that I hadn't had sex since then. In fact, I've never slept with her. What happened was

that I went to this therapist, even though I felt like I was over the whole ordeal, just that I

didn't have any desires for sex anymore. It worked--I wanted to have sex again --but I

was very hungry. I started snacking on greasy foods, and pretty soon I was fifty pounds

overweight. So now I wanted to have sex, but Norlitta didn't want to have sex with me

because I was a fat hog. Norlitta and I were still together, but the marriage was

struggling. By the way, Norlitta was getting pretty heavy too. Before long, I was back

drinking and drugging. Our lives went to shit, then she left. After I bumped into you in

Oklahoma City with Rolph, back in '94, and I told her about it, she wanted me to beat you

up. I thought I'd win her back, but things were too far gone for that--I lost contact with

her. I'm not blaming you for everything, but I'm doing okay now.












I almost decided to like you again, late that night (early that morning) in

Oklahoma City. I never thought you had it in you. Messing around with that old lady

was something I didn't mind if she was just the old lady. Once I found out she was

somebody's mother, and that her daughter was the one dancing with her, I had to put on

the brakes. When her daughter's daughter showed up, knocking on the door, crying about

not being able to sleep, I had a hard time not freaking out. I felt so bad for all of them,

and once I saw this side of the situation, the old lady didn't look attractive to me anymore.

I was sobering up quick, and I got the feeling most people did too when that little girl

came in with her pajamas. The bad scene had been given a cold shower, and at the same

time, it was making everything the more freakish. The mother ignored the child. I can

still see it. The little girl was wandering around, examining everyone. People started

back with the getting-high, but I have a theory that this scene was too painful and they

had to shove it down inside in order to make it. Then the girl saw the rabbit in your lap.

You were feeding it some pills--the same batch that the little girl swallowed moments

later. I think she thought she was eating rabbit food. She wanted to be like the rabbit. I

don't blame you for that, Chuck--you were completely detached from reality. In fact, you

were the only one to not seem to notice this girl's presence. Which is why I found how

you saved her so mind-blowing. I wish I could've seen it (I had finally blacked out after

having one more beer). I don't remember how or why I got out of there, only reading

about you saving her in the local newspaper later on that week. Do you remember that?

I think Norlitta does, but she never talked about it with me.


















CHAPTER 8
GUY IN TRUCK, JOE MURPHY



(passing through) Brilliant, Ohio

Let this stretch of road in front of us symbolize the beginning of silence, and the

stretch of road behind us the end of your conversation with me. Because, I've picked up a

number of hitchhikers along the roads that I've traveled, and not saying that you're story

isn't interesting, it's just that your story is quite long. I don't know how much I trust a

man who within five minutes is telling a complete stranger that he's running from the

law, that he's got two ex-wives, many girlfriends, a pocket full of drugs, and is hoping to

land a teaching job at the U of Hawaii. Because what that means to me is two things.

The first one is that you have something to prove. Now that shouldn't be a big deal, but

when there's hours of trucking ahead of someone in the same cab as the person with

something to prove, then that means that he'll be trying to prove it until it is proven.

That's why you need to stop talking. Because I don't care about no proving. The second

thing is that you might be trying to suck me into something. Now what it could be, I

don't know. I already agreed to drive you to Aloha, Michigan, so why you got to go and

tell me that you're gonna see your ex-wife who is Latin-blooded and from what you've

been hearing from other ex-husbands of hers is that she had grown fat. But fat and

beautiful. You think I really care about that? It just makes a man nervous. Because I'm

thinking, what is he trying to say to me by letting me in on all these secrets? If I was you,









46


I wouldn't go see her, because I have a feeling that when she sees you like this with your

eyes all bugged out that she's not going to be in a talky-talk mood. Just get a job, save

your money for a plane ticket and fly out to Hawaii without talking to no one else.


















CHAPTER 8
GUY IN TRUCK, JOE MURPHY



(passing through) Brilliant, Ohio

Let this stretch of road in front of us symbolize the beginning of silence, and the

stretch of road behind us the end of your conversation with me. Because, I've picked up a

number of hitchhikers along the roads that I've traveled, and not saying that you're story

isn't interesting, it's just that your story is quite long. I don't know how much I trust a

man who within five minutes is telling a complete stranger that he's running from the

law, that he's got two ex-wives, many girlfriends, a pocket full of drugs, and is hoping to

land a teaching job at the U of Hawaii. Because what that means to me is two things.

The first one is that you have something to prove. Now that shouldn't be a big deal, but

when there's hours of trucking ahead of someone in the same cab as the person with

something to prove, then that means that he'll be trying to prove it until it is proven.

That's why you need to stop talking. Because I don't care about no proving. The second

thing is that you might be trying to suck me into something. Now what it could be, I

don't know. I already agreed to drive you to Aloha, Michigan, so why you got to go and

tell me that you're gonna see your ex-wife who is Latin-blooded and from what you've

been hearing from other ex-husbands of hers is that she had grown fat. But fat and

beautiful. You think I really care about that? It just makes a man nervous. Because I'm

thinking, what is he trying to say to me by letting me in on all these secrets? If I was you,









48


I wouldn't go see her, because I have a feeling that when she sees you like this with your

eyes all bugged out that she's not going to be in a talky-talk mood. Just get a job, save

your money for a plane ticket and fly out to Hawaii without talking to no one else.



















CHAPTER 9
EX-WIFE, NORLITTA FUEGOS



Aloha, Michigan

Can you leave me alone? Please. I don't want to look at your face. It is ugly, I'm

afraid. I don't know why I ever loved you. Probably the poems. That is why I loved

you. The poems. Shakespeare. I was a fool. I should never fall in love with my ears.

Words are just sounds one makes with his mouth. Now, I think, love exists in mind, soul,

and heart. I am happy in love, I tell you, Chuck, and it is not with you, or with your

buddy, Whelps. It is with my new boyfriend, Franz. People think he's crazy, so be

careful. They say, "Crazy Franz, you are so crazy." So make it quick, Chuck Chonson.

What do you want?

I can't stand here all day, you know. I only have a ten-minute break. Do you

think you left me a rich woman? Ha. Oh my god, I cannot believe I married you. When

you proposed to me I thought you were joking. How could I take you seriously? You

had a brown paper bag glued to your face. Your sunglasses were upside down, and you

said, "Marry me, baby, before I die." So many years of struggling through the mess you

created made me confused. What did I want? I said yes only because I was tired of

Whelps. Whelps was a mess. He was on the couch day-in and day-out, smoking grass,

wearing his sunglasses, and peeping out the living-room window. "What are you peeping

at?" I'd always ask him. "Neighborhood crime watch," was what he'd say. He'd wear












those Bermuda shorts he loved so much and in that little dinky town of Houston, I'd say

that every person there knew what he was doing on that couch. People stopped walking

down our street because they knew someone was watching them, while smoking weed.

Who wants that in the neighborhood? I'd get worried. When I'd go to the supermarket,

I'd wear my sunglasses and be really nice to anyone I saw. I was so nervous all the time I

started drinking Coca-colas and eating chocolate. I gained forty pounds in a year of

nervous times. He started going out late at night with this friend of his named Rolph. Do

you remember the German? I was scared of him. Whenever he came over, I'd hide in the

bedroom, doing crossword puzzles to try to get my mind off Rolph. They never bother

me, until one night Whelps came into my room and said he's going to Oklahoma City

with Rolph. "Oklahoma City," I said. "Where's that?"

"In Oklahoma, Baby. Down south."

"When are you leaving?"

"Now."

"Three a.m.? Why?"

"Business."

He was gone a week and a half, and I was surprised to see him back. He was now

driving a Lincoln Towncar, and I got excited, except he told me it wasn't ours. Rolph

stayed in our house a few weeks, laying low, I figured, since he was so bad. He was tall

and thin, his hair slicked back, and always a cigarette in his hand. He spent most of the

time on our back porch, talking on the phone in German. I'd go out to feed the squirrels,

and he'd stop talking until I left the porch. As if I could understand anything he was

saying anyway!












Well, this nice lady from church pulled me aside in the grocery store, next to the

cereals, and said, "How are things at home, Norlitter?"

"Fab," I said.

"Now, seriously, honey. Can I help you out at all?"

The look in her eye was unfamiliar to me. She really wanted to help me. So I

said, "Okay, you can help with the feeding of the squirrels."

She looked at me real strange, but said okay, and I believed she was going to save

me, because she was one in church who always sat in front. I never knew how I could sit

in front, maybe pay a million dollars, or something. If she had much money, then she

could definitely help me out. And if God was helping her, maybe I'd have a million

dollars if she fed my squirrels.

Rolph was on the phone in the back porch again, but we didn't see him or

anything because he was not visible, but his voice. She looked at me (I think her name

was Betsy) and looked horrible and said, "I had no idea you were German, Norlighter. Is

that a German name, Norlighter?"

"That's Rolph," I said. "Come this way." I was glad at first Whelps wasn't on the

couch, smoking grass, but I wondered where he could be.

"Let me meet your husband," Betsy said. "I've heard so much about him." She

went over to porch door and unlocked it. I was too terrified to do anything. "Hello,

there," she said to him. Rolph stopped talking on phone. He was wearing his sunglasses

and smoking a cigarette. Even from where I was I could tell that he needed some rest.

"Long night, rough morning, huh? You know my daddy used to tell me that the best cure

for a hangover was a good prayer."












I thought it was the end of Betsy. So long, million dollars. Rolph hung up the

phone saying goodbye in German and then he looked to Betsy and took off his

sunglasses. He put his cigarette out and I was glad he did it in the ashtray. He said,

"What type of prayer?"

"It doesn't have to be a prayer. It could just be a nice Jesus song."

"I'm interested in the prayer."

"Oh goodie." Betsy turned to me. "Norey, why don't you come out here and join

us? A lot of healing is about to happen."

I was so petrified, I went out there without any objection.

"The prayer. What is it about?"

"It's about our Lord and Savior."

"And who might that be?"

I was starting to shake.

"Jesus Christ."

"Jesus?" But the way he said it sounded like this, "Zeezus?"

"Je-eesus."

"Zee-"

"No. 'J.' Like'job.'"

"Shob? Like 'blow shob'?"

I got up and ran away screaming. I ran into the woods and waited three hours.

Betsy was good-looking for a girl, I remembered thinking in that bush. I hadn't even

considered it before that. Rolph was a big man in height and maybe Betsy and him had

sex and maybe not, but my husband had been having sex with other women in Oklahoma












City I had found out and then I found out he was having sex with Rolph. Then I was

having sex with Rolph and always looking for drug money. Things were crazy, Charles.

Half the day I was naked, and I had no idea where our income was coming from. I'd have

sex with Rolph and his fantastic dick and it was so long that I'd have to be on cocaine to

handle it. He'd walk around naked and Whelps would be wearing some of my panties

and I'd watch them go at it even though I didn't like it and I'd smoke weed or drink beers

and do cocaine and sometimes we'd have mushrooms and heroin, so things were really

bad. I'm surprised I never told you this. Actually, do you remember our marriage at all?

Worst six weeks of my life. Always smashed with you out on duty. I don't remember

you staying at my house at all. I do remember one time though, which is almost enough

for me to still like you, even though you called me a stupid bitch when you left, is that

time when we were out in the country, flying a kite and you were not drinking that day, I

don't think, and you were in a good mood somehow, and you let me fly the kite and then

you watched me fly the kite and taught me how to do it and then said I was good. That

was nice. But I can't help you out because I don't have any money myself. I can only

give you some fries at half-off, which I'll do for you, but then you have to leave.



















CHAPTER 10
ABANDONED SON, PHUC CHONSON



Belvidere, Nebraska

Dad,

I found these notes I wrote to you in a box and thought you might want to see

them. Just a bunch of stuff I've written over the years. I just read about half of them. I

think I need more time before we meet. --P.C.

*

As I clean chimneys--how I survive--

sometimes I want only to get high.

On my knuckles, there is inscribed,

LEFT and RIGHT so as to remind

me of my and my father's life.

You left me, when I was a little lad,

and I must do right, to not go mad.



And when I'm in this filthy state of mind,

I inhale deeply, but I myself must remind,

to not do this inside a chimney next time.














History of Phuc:

My earliest memory is when I was three years old and I needed more milk in my

bottle. Mother was down the hall and I was in my crib--who would keep a four-year-old

child in a crib? I peeked out the door and down the hallway from my crib and saw

mother on the couch nodding out with the TV on. At first I made noises from my

bedroom, trying to be louder than the TV set, but then I just threw my milk bottle toward

her to get her attention--because at this point, I'd been in this situation before--and hit her

by accident, right on her forehead. I felt sorry, then when she didn't respond, not even

moving a little, I got scared. I knew something wasn't right. I knew on a gut level that it

would be pointless to look for you, so I sat down, and thought, "I may never get to have

milk again--ever." And you know what, dad? I never have. I boycotted even before I

knew what the word meant. Later on, or something, I don't know, mother would try to

make it up to me by heating up my milk or dropping an Oreo cookie in the glass, and I'd

always tell her, "Mother, you know my decision. Will you please stop patronizing me?"

She'd bring me to the ice-cream parlor and I'd ask her if it is a dairy product on the car

ride over and she'd tell me it wasn't. She'd also say that it was really good. We'd go there

and when the old lady behind the counter would ask me what flavor I wanted, I'd say

something like "One made without the fervor of cows, please." I'd pick these worlds up

somewhere, I don't know where, but I was still a little child. Elementary school,

definitely. So as I grew up, I learned of cows and how they are mistreated, even in my

home state. It was something that I had a feeling about. Deep down I felt the pain of












those cows. I decided that I would stop eating meat and that I would live off nuts, beans,

and raw vegetables.

That didn't last too long though. I accidentally ate a Dorito during lunch in the

sixth grade. After that I just said forget it, and I just stayed away from the milk stuff,

because I really didn't like it anyway.

*

All the sixth-graders who came from the other elementary school make fun of my

name. First it was only Oliver, but he just happens to be the most popular boy and so

now everyone does it. Mrs. Whiteburg has told me that I must come up with a nickname

and a nickname fast because it's driving her nuts. And she said that we're not going to

allow the use of my name anymore in class. I wanted to tell her that it is my right to

answer to my name and my name only, and that there are probably many proud Phuc's

out there, but what was happening was that all the kids in class kept cursing and then

when the teacher was about to yell at them, say that they just wanted to ask me

something. Why me?

See, all my old friends new me since kindergarten and they knew my name before

the curse word, so no one ever made fun of me for it. But looking back, I wish that I was

more grateful for it. Because now I want to drop out of school. Now all my old friends

decided that being popular is more important than being friends with me because they

make fun of my name too.

And Marty is not nice to me. I just wanted you to know. Maybe eventually you

will read this note and see what I have been going through. I don't consider him part of

the family, and I hope that you are not like him. I think you will be different. You have












to be though. I just thought of this. Mother doesn't like Marty, but obviously she liked

you. So there.

He thinks I am a freak for not drinking milk and I swear that he held a grudge

against me from the moment I turned down that first glass.






Stayed in that town of Lovell for two months while fat Marty worked at the sugar

factory like a slave and mom cleaned up her act and was able to squeeze Marty for a few

thou to hold us up for a while. Then when we were ready to split, mother told me it was

time for me to go our separate ways. She went her way, and I went mine. If Marty wants

to call that running away--that's fine with me. I didn't know where else to go, so I'm off

to Nebraska.

Got a job flipping burgers and I'm going to school.

I thought about lying about my name, but I didn't. Luckily, I've found that high

school kids respond more favorably to the name Phuc than do sixth graders.

*

My large-breasted English teacher handed out a poem on the first day, "The

Chimney Sweep," by William Blake. She told us about him and how he would be visited

by angels and eat dinner with them. This cracked me up. I laughed, expecting

reprimand, but she smiled. This caught me off guard, but I think perked my ears up a

little. She continued her lecture with the process in which he had physically written his

poems and how he'd dip them in acid and I dug it. Man, I dug it. I dug it so much and

combined with me digging the teacher and her perfectly firm breasts, I couldn't take it. I












ran out after that class to the bar on the corner that is covered in wood planks, had a few--

for the first time in my life--then asked which way the bus station was and yelled out if

anyone knows who William Blake is then they can come with me. I was really drunk. I

think I had three beers. Then I told them that he was the greatest example of a human

being living or dead. The guy down at the end of the bar with the slick hair mumbled

something about Jesus, but then I told them of the acid bath. I wanted to be someone like

William Blake, who saw angels and drew pictures of them. Honestly, I didn't even

remember the poem. I figured that I'd go out and become a traveling chimney sweep.

I never went back to that school, and later I got my G.E.D., but at that time I just

moved a few towns over and kept calling all the chimney cleaners in the area until

someone offered me a job. It was rough work, but I met this lovely girl named Karen

who I fell in love with and we went on a few dates and it was perfect. I finally felt that

my life was gaining meaning. But when I found out her last name was King, we talked

about last names and marriage, and she said that she'd be unwilling to change her last

name. I told her that I'd be unwilling to live with a wife who had a different last name

than me, and she said that there was a simple solution--that I'd take up her name. It was

the last thing I wanted to hear, and I had to let her go, for the obvious reason.

*

I was walking down the street this morning when I saw a father and son walking

down the road. They stopped at the corner. The father lit a cigarette. He blew the smoke

out and, because of the wind, the smoke went around the boy, then smack in the boy's

face. The boy breathed in deeply, pleasurably. He must have been about seven. I

remember smelling cigarette smoke like that as a child from another one of my mother's









59


boyfriends. It was a fond memory. As I approached I could smell the smoke and it

smelled like plastic and I realized that it was angel dust and not a cigarette but a joint.

The father winked as I passed and the son looked at me without really seeing me, I think,

his eyes so blank. Welcome to the real world, Phuc.



















CHAPTER 11
HOMELESS BUM, DEVON



Knolls, Utah

I am Captain Bonzo, and I come from the planet Mars. Where marijuana's legal,

and they never close the bars. I'm really not a bad guy, I'm just a little strange. Can you

please find it in your heart to help me with some change?

Thank you, sir, and yes, I do believe I'd like a toke of that too. I've had a bad week.

*

I remember one time I was in the woods smoking some marijuana like this by

myself and it was early in the morning. The sun had just risen, and I don't know if it was

attracted to the scent of the burning herb, but a doe comes right up to me, and is standing

right out in front of me before I know it. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in

my life. But the instant I thought of reaching out and touching it, it fled. There was some

type of connection there, as if the doe was saying, yes, I know that you're one of us, but

don't touch me. It was a very spiritual moment for me, and from then on, I would try to

spend most of my time in the woods.

*

That's funny that you should mention that you're a writer. I don't write, but when I

was in junior high school, I wasn't a good student at all. I was always late to my English

class, and my teacher was real nice. Mrs. Terry. She was really good looking too, but I












could never get to class and one day she told me that I had to do some extra credit just to

pass the class and I said that I'd think about it. But really I had a trick up my sleeve

because I knew Richard Brautigan from the neighborhood, and I was going to bring him

into that seventh grade class for show and tell. The only thing was that the class was at

eight in the morning, and I had to wake Richard up. So I go to his house with a cup of

coffee and a three pack of beers that I stole from my mom and I go to his apartment, and

literally there is just beer cans and coffee cans all over this guy's floor, and he's passed

out and he made this snow angle with the beer cans and he was sleeping on the floor. I

got him up and sat him down at the kitchen table and gave him the coffee and gave him

the beers and brought him into the class. We were late again, but you should have seen

my teacher's face when I brought in Richard Brautigan. I was the most popular kid that

day.



All my friends are dead now. Consider yourself lucky that you can see your old

girlfriend. And you just saw your son? I had a son, but I don't know where he is

anymore. And my wife is gone too. I heard that she committed suicide, but I think that's

not accurate. I don't know too many people that are alive anymore. All my friends from

school might be alive, but I don't think so. I haven't seen them in so long. And the

friends I meet in the street are here for a while, but they usually go. Don't tell anyone

this, but most of the bums that stick around are not my type of people.

*

Oh, yeah. I been to Orick before. Yep. Redwood country. You can buy these nice

clocks made out of wood from those big trees. Have fun there. Go in the woods. Those










62


woods will bring something out of you that you don't know you have. I mean, I'll admit

it--I cry. Get me into that Redwood forest and I'll shed a tear. I'm not afraid to admit it.

Sometimes I go down to the river, wade in, and have a beer, and just cry. It really helps

me out sometimes.


















CHAPTER 12
EX-GIRLFRIEND, REGINA



Orick, California

Marty! Good to see you, old sap. Perfect timing. I was just about to run out of--

oh my god. You're not Marty, you're Chuck. Who told you where I live? Did Phuc give

you my address?

Did you apologize to him, Chuck? Even though he hates you, and has hated you

his whole life, I think he really wants to love you. You two used to always play Frisbee

when he was a baby. Did you guys play any Frisbee? I don't know if he's still into that.

Is he? I don't really talk with him that much anymore. Or did you guys just get wasted in

the church parking lot, like we used to do. Is that where we met? Man, I can't remember

anything.

How did I get hooked up with you? How old were you, twenty-eight? I was so

young. I never thought much, besides the fantasies I'd write down in my notebook,

mostly stories, but I stopped doing that. All I remember is your leather jacket and that

bike helmet you'd bring everywhere. And although I don't remember much else, I do

remember the blackouts I had.

I was just a schoolgirl back then doodling all these fantasies in my notebook,

unsure if I really believed in any of them. But my teacher was so boring! What was she

talking about anyway? It was so sad. All these classmates around me, and I couldn't












look any of them in their eyes. I remember once I looked out of the window onto the

front lawn of the school and saw a squirrel and a cat playing. Why would I remember

that now? Why did I find it so sad? Looking back, I don't understand how I got through

those years without any substances.

One day I walked out of class, eighth period, the last of the day, with only ten

minutes left to go. I sat there, looking at the clock, and thought, How can I wait ten

minutes? And then the logical second thought: not only will I have to wait these ten

minutes, but I'm going to have to wait for all the ten minutes for the rest of my life until I

die. So I left and no one stopped me, no one said anything, and I never went back. That

was in eleventh grade and I walked to the soda fountain and got a vanilla Coke. The lady

behind the counter was so nice, maybe the nicest person I'd ever met. After that, I'd go

there every so often, sometimes at eleven in the morning, and she never asked why I

wasn't at school or nothing, even though I knew she knew. She probably didn't

understand I was drowning, but that's not her fault, because I didn't either. Later, when I

went back to her shop once--with her looking the same age and me looking like a filthy

dog--she cried, even though we had hardly known each other. We never talked at the

counter much at all, but we'd see each other, and I'd like seeing her and she'd see

something in me, I guess, because you wouldn't cry at seeing a random customer turn into

a drug addict, would you? Maybe she was just a very good human being and maybe that

was the case, I don't know. But the fact was I liked seeing her, she seemed like she'd be a

good mother. Then, that first day, I looked out the window, and saw my classmates,

crossing the street, making their way to where I was, so I paid, and left.












You left so suddenly in my life, going to the store to buy cigarettes. That was our

code, remember? When one of us had to leave?

I would have been sad, had I not been so messed up on cocaine. Taking swigs of

vodka right after you left, baby Phuc watching television from his crib. I wanted to go

buy cigarettes, too. Why couldn't I? Why'd you get to leave, and not me?

So I did leave. With all intentions of leaving Phuc there in the crib, watching the

TV shows until they'd be reruns. But I made the mistake of being nostalgic and going to

that sappy fountain. And there was that lady, my best friend! I sat down at the counter

and smiled big at her, and she remembered me, like I told you before. She frowned and

didn't really bawl, just cried a little, and went into the back. Did she cry all day or did she

take five minutes and collect herself--I don't know because I left and stole a pocketbook

at the ladies store next door and then went home and called up Tone and asked him if he

needed a pocketbook worth sixty bucks. He said he'd take a look at it and be right over.

Phuc was jumping up and down when he saw me and that thought that I had that day in

English class came back to me: I'm going to wait a few minutes for Tone to come by,

then I'm going to continue to wait until I grow old. I went into the kitchen and drank a bit

and waited for Tone.

Tone came over and was a little freaked out about Phuc. He was always leery of

babies, because he knew that what he was doing was wrong and that he was maybe

influencing babies in the wrong way each time he'd see one--that always freaked me out

for him too. He looked at the pocketbook and said that it would be good enough and I

knew what he really wanted, but he didn't ask for it, thank god, or even take it. He asked

where you were, and I told him, somewhere. He wanted to take me to Fire Island. Leave












the baby with grandma. I said okay, figuring that this guy would take care of me. We

were going to leave in two weeks and stay for nine days.

Those two weeks waiting for the trip were hard on me. Each noise I heard I

thought was you coming around a corner, and every tire screeching I thought was your

taxi. I thought I saw you one day fishing down by the river with a group of people, but it

wasn't you. I asked around town at the bars and barbershops and it seemed as if you

really split town. At the Shining City, the bartender pointed to this girl in the back,

Reefer, and said that he'd always seen her with you. That didn't make sense to me

because you were with me. But I tried not to think about it and I followed her around for

a while and found out she was dealing drugs. She had to be. I went up to her a few times

and tried to talk to her, but she brushed me off each time until finally she let me speak.

She was really nice and all and we ran up a huge tab at the diner drinking vodka

and then ran out on the bill. I didn't really remember what we talked about anyway. All I

remember was that she said that you went fishing with her. It helped talking to her,

knowing that at least you were alive and fishing. She didn't tell me if you caught

anything or not, but from what I hear, that's not the point anyway.

Fire Island, where was that place?

New York, off of Long Island. We had to take a plane, then a train, then a ferry,

then we got picked up in a truck by Tone's friend, Pocket. Harmonica man. He had no

radio in his truck, but he wouldn't really talk either, just practiced harmonica. Country

stuff. It was strange, I wasn't expecting to hear country music at all on Long Island, I

thought it would just be rich-people music.












We drove on the beach for a few miles, first passing families scattered about with

little tents next to some trucks, then we started seeing gay couples, then one by one they

started being naked. I wasn't sure how I felt about nudist beaches, and I wasn't sure how

I felt being taken secretly to a nudist beach thousands of miles away from home by my

drug dealer. Once everyone on the beach was naked, I looked over at Pocket, who was

just wearing a bathing suit, and wondered if I'd see him naked in a few minutes. I was

overwhelmed, and luckily Tone just lit up a joint, and I was instantaneously relieved

before I took my first toke.

They brought me to a bungalow, and there were a few people there. I didn't care

about the possibility of nudity now that I was stoned. I would've shed no tears shedding

my clothes. It seemed like paradise then, actually. No clothes, sunshine, booze, endless

drugs, no kids, no worries. I didn't get the orgy-vibe, which made me feel a bit

comfortable. The other people there were teamed off in couples it seemed. Krill had his

boyfriend there. He was foreign, a German guy, Rolph. He was a gourmet cook and

when I entered the house he was making some type of seafood stew that just knocked me

off my feet the moment I smelled it. Tone wasn't putting his hands all over me, and these

people seemed educated and I was a little nervous about keeping up with them, but they

all seemed rather nice.

After we put all our stuff away, Tone introduced me to Rolph, then let us be. He

went out back with Rocket and Pocket, to go walking on the boardwalk or something.

"Do you like seafood?" Rolph asked me.

"I think I'll like anything you ever cook. This smells so good."

"I have a restaurant in Brussels. Have some."












He handed me a small vile of pills. I took some. "Any beer?"

"There is some Paulaner in the refrigerator."

Rolph poured me some, and it was so good. I wasn't used to living like this, and

thinking of the entire week in front of me was a joy. I talked with Rolph, but really I was

thinking about Tone and how nice he was. He treated me so nice, and this lifestyle was

something that I could get used to.

Tone and Pocket and Krill came back and we all sat around the living room, eating

the food Rolph made, and we were joined by two other ladies that were there, a German

and an American, and I supposed they were friends of Rolph. Eva and Sherry. To tell

you the truth, I was scared of Eva. Just the way she walked into the kitchen from the

deck out back, wearing a black tank top and a bikini bottom, scratching her pulled-back

black hair. Mumbling something about the seagulls. I bet that she was popular in high

school. She just had that air about her: long nose, tired eyes, slender fingers. She was

holding a cigarette, then kissed Rolph on the cheek.

Sherry, on the other hand, could've been a crushed seashell. I hardly noticed her

slumping to the dinner table, wearing sunglasses indoors. She made herself a plate from

the pot in the center of the table and took a seat on the couch.

Rolph and Eva began talking in German, and Tone seemed to be able to follow

along, which worried me. Then Eva turned to me and, without introducing herself or

anything, said, "So, you know Chuck Chonson."

Tone said, "Not only does she know him, she lives with him."

Krill chuckled a bit, then Eva said, "Has he left you yet?"












I felt my face turning red. How would she know anything about that? Not only

was it none of her business, I thought, but why would she start out a conversation with

someone she didn't yet know, someone who'd be sharing the same space for a week, with

a question like that? Then I wondered if it was her business, whether or not you had ever

slept with her. Why would you sleep with me after you were sleeping with a beauty like

that who had a long nose and spoke different languages? Was it because you were

depressed or was it simply to get laid. I thought myself a fool, and my buzz was starting

to wear off and I was coming down and it wasn't a good feeling to be feeling these things

in a strange room in a strange place with strange people. And what if an orgy broke out?

What if I'd be licking her clit in a few minutes?

I said, "He hasn't left me."

Eva looked at Tone, and smirked. I watched Tone for any reason to hate his guts,

but his face didn't change at all. I was glad. He was my only link to the outside world.

What if Pocket and Krill started making out. How weird would that be?

"You don't remember me," Eva said. "Don't you remember crying to me in

Missoula?"

Right then I remembered her. "You're Reefer."

"What?"

It took a few moments to figure out--that I had thought her name was Reefer, but it

was Eva all along.

She said, "You are so wacked out. That was like last week and you don't remember

me."


"I remember you. You were nice then."












"Well, I just wanted to remind you that Chuck is an idiot."

Rolph slapped her. No one said anything, but I heard a little chirp from behind me.

Sherry. Eva didn't say anything else at all during dinner. For a few minutes, no one else

said anything either, and all I heard was slurping of seafood stew.

Rolph said, "Chuck is not an idiot."

I didn't know why anyone was talking about you. I didn't know that you guys were

some sort of gang or something. How you knew Tone and everything. I was supposed to

be on vacation away from you, and all I was hearing was your name. Didn't Tone at least

know what I didn't want to talk about?

Pocket said to me, "I don't know who Chuck is, so you don't have to worry about

me saying anything." He must have noticed that I wasn't having fun. He took the wine

bottle and filled up my glass to the brim. He winked at me.

Tone said, "Sorry about all this Chuck talk, Regina." Then to everyone, "Let's

drink up."

Sherry cleared off the table and went into the kitchen to do the dishes with a huge

glass of wine in her hand. My buzz had turned on me after another drink and I was trying

not to talk, but couldn't help it. I told them all the misery that you put me through. They

seemed to eat it up, except for Rolph, who at times just shook his head, and at others said

something like, "That's probably not the whole story."

"What do you mean it's not the whole story," I said to him. "You think I'm lying to

you people?"

Rolph said, "No. I know that you are not lying. It's just that I know that Chuck has

been going through a lot the last few months."












"Oh really," I said. "Like what?"

"Now, now," Krill said. "There's no reason for us to be talking behind anyone's

back."

"I want to know," I said.

"I know you do, sweet one, but at least out of respect for me, please, can we cut this

conversation out?"

"Someone should cut the cards is what we should do," Pocket said.

"Go get 'em," Tone said.

Pocket got up and left. He was still only wearing his bathing suit. But when he

came back with the cards, about five minutes later, he was fully dressed. I couldn't figure

out why at the time, but this seemed rather odd.

Krill put his hand on mine. "Can you play poker?"

"Yes."

"Little tradition here. We play strip poker."

"I thought that was going to happen."

Pocket was shuffling the cards.

"Listen, honey. Don't worry about it. It's fun. We're at the beach. We've got great

food and great wine and great drugs. Why not?"

I said I was in and the game started slow, but soon all the girls, including me, had

their tops off and Pocket was completely naked, except for a cowboy hat that I hadn't

noticed laying around or anything. Rolph was down to his underwear, and tone still had a

wife-beater and his pants on. Krill was in his briefs. The game became informal at this

point and there were several conversations going around at once. Eva seemed to be












interested in talking to me now. She said at one point that she went to a palm reader in

Cote d'Azur when she was just a young girl and the palm reader said that she would grow

up to have many lovers. "For so long I didn't believe it, because I had the same boyfriend

in high school for three years. Then when we broke up I noticed other boys looking at

me, so I just went for it."

The game was still going on, and I'd throw some cards down on the table, not

giving it much thought. I knew we'd all end up naked, it was just a matter of time. Rolph

seemed to be playing to win, and he did win. He was the last one with anything on.

"Winner has to take his clothes off," he said, then took his clothes off.

I didn't think it was that bad, because we just sat around and talked without any

clothes on, and some of the men had gorgeous bodies. And not that I'm into it or

anything, but did you ever sneak a peak at Rolph's penis? Wow.

So we sat around saying things like, "Look at us, all naked," and, "How did we end

up all naked anyway?" or "Well, I guess we're all naked." And then the orgy started.

Rolph and Krill were at it, Pocket and Tone and Eva doing it, and Sherry and me

just sitting, watching. There was no music going and no one was screaming out anything

like in those movies we'd used to see. At first I was curious, then when Eva had two

dicks in her mouth, I wanted to leave. I turned to Sherry and said, "Do you do this a lot?"

"It always seems to just happen." She was sitting next to me on the couch with her

legs crossed, smoking a cigarette as if nothing spectacular was going on. "Someone

usually pulls me in eventually."

"Let's go for a walk." I sneaked a peak at Krill sucking off Rolph. "Can't we go for

a walk?"












"I'm tired."

"Please? Can we get out of here?"

"Okay," she said, while gathering her clothes. "We can walk on the beach. Where

are my sandals?"

"In the bedroom," Pocket said, in the middle of pumping Eva.

Well, I didn't really feel like talking to anyone at that moment, because all I kept

thinking about was all the sex you probably had with these people, but I didn't really feel

like being alone either. I grabbed a bag of pot and a pipe off the kitchen counter on the

way out, and waited with the sounds of the waves for Sherry to waltz out.

We just walked for a while with me asking questions about this whole setup. She

said that she only met Eva a month ago so she was new to the group and didn't know

everything. But she did tell me about the drug smuggling and that she wasn't really used

to people like this, that she was just a little girl from Arkansas. She seemed smart, but

unfazed by anything. We sat down on a slab of drift wood and she was asking me all

these questions about you, saying that all they did was talk about you and that she hadn't

met you yet but was dying to. She asked me if you were really as mean as I said you

were inside.

All that night we talked and I found out so much about you. The rest of the week I

stepped up my drug game and my blow-job game. I said I didn't care anymore. Just give

me a dick and a pipe. I sucked away trying to fill that void within me. Now you're here

again. Which is great. What do you want?



















CHAPTER 13
MIME, SQUIGGLES



Madrid, New Mexico

I've been waiting a long time to open up my trap and make some noise in your

direction. Chuck Chonson. For days and months and years your name rung in my mind

like an out-of-reach telephone in a leper's home. So long and hard I pondered the

possibility of oratory involvement. Now, today, before you, I am amazed at my ability to

speak. This is my first in ten years. The last time I spoke was with you, here in this

town, just up the road at the Mineshaft Tavern roughly ten years ago. Now, seeing your

ugly skin in front of me, the urge to talk is overwhelming. You were drunk then, and you

are drunk now. This makes a person wonder. Were you ever sober?

Chuck, when one doesn't speak for long, certain things happen. You lose your

friends. Your parents stop calling. Women think nothing of you. And when one starts

wearing makeup and jester clothes, other things happen. You get beat up. You get your

wallet stolen. You stop having normal human interaction.

But my makeup was just something I did so as to not have to explain in writing

why I didn't talk. People know. They say to their husband, "Honey, he's a mime. Mimes

don't talk." And they walk away with a smile.












Chuck, that last night with you made me never want to interact with another

human being ever again. And now, seeing you again before me like a dead man looking

at his murderer, I want to speak to everyone at once. But first, is you.

I bet you don't remember. I can tell by the translucent look in your cockamamie

eyes that you don't even know who I am. Why are you still wavering there then, listening

to a mime speak? Does that turn you on, Chuck? That you can see a person at his

weakest? What's more weak than a mime talking?

Well, you might think this here is funny, but only because you cannot remember.

A wise man told me once that a man without memory is a divine entity. A wiser man

told me that without memory we are nothing but a sack of bones.

You were dragging around this blowup doll down a dirt road, pants not completely

undone, yelling, "Versos de fuegos! Versos de fuegos!" and mumbling, cursing the sky,

pointing your fingers at passerby and going, "Meow!" This was after midnight. I was

sitting down at the general store lighting a cigarette, wondering where my next paycheck

would come from, and I saw this shaky silhouette dancing, heckling the night. I was

turned on. I waited till you stumbled up to the stairs where I was sitting and I called out,

"Hey sailor, where's the cool city tonight?"

You turned around several times, dizzying yourself, then locked eyes with me like

a hawk does when it dives on its prey. "The cool cit-ay tonight, boss-man, is smack in

the middle of your wife's hair pie."

I laughed it off and thought you a funny joker because I didn't have a wife, and

was about to tell you, then you hoisted up the blowup doll and started licking the hole

between its legs. There was a family of tourists out too late who saw you, turned around,












got in their car and left. Then you turned to me, still licking, and repeated what you said

about my wife.

I was in a good mood that night. Although I wasn't working regularly, I was still

young and able to name a partier when I saw one. "Funny shit, hombre. Let me buy you

a drink at the Mineshaft."

"A drink, humper, is the source of confusion in this tiny noggin of mine. But buy

us some Coronas, and I'll buy the limes."

At the time I tried so hard to remember that line and I did. I wanted it to either be

a tattoo wrapped around my arm, or the engraving on my tomb.

We walked over to the Mineshaft and I convinced you to stash your blowup doll

in the bushes by one of those jewelry stores. I knew you would get pounced at the

Mineshaft with that thing, and I really wanted to enjoy at least one drink. See, I knew

that you'd get into some trouble. That's part of the reason I took you there. Not

necessarily to see you get beat up, but how you would handle the situation of that spot. I

knew you were from out of town, but I couldn't place your accent. It sounded Arabic or

Irish. But to not get into trouble at the Mineshaft, you'd have had to be part ghost.

Boom. You slammed open the door and announced, "Oh, I didn't know this is a

fag bar. I'm leaving. After one drink, I mean." And you walked over to the bar and sat

down on a stool. Man, that place was bumping, but everyone heard you. I was scared

shitless and wanted to leave, but some of the meanest cowboys in that joint saw me come

in with you, and if they would've caught up to me later I'd have been dead. So I walked

over to the juke box and tried to distance myself and observe from afar.












Are you enjoying this? Here, let me light that broken cigarette of yours. You are

truly pathetic. You must be close to fifty years old, now. You looked then like a laid-off

truck driver, and now you look like a laid-off truck driver trying to be a shoe salesman.

Then Carrie punched you in the face and you went down. No reaction from the

crowd. No reaction from Carrie. He just walked over to you and slapped you on your

jaw. You stayed down on the ground long enough for Carrie to light a cigarette and

mosey over to you to kick you, before you started to get up and said, "But I haven't had

my drink yet. Buy me a drink and I get easy."

Carrie bought you a drink. I don't know how you managed that. You insisted on

Corona and he bought you one. Then you announced, "I'll buy the limes!" And the

crowd around you thought this was the funniest thing ever.

At this point, I was beating myself up, not standing next to you like a man. I

thought, while looking at you at the bar surrounded by new friends, this here is a man.

Only a man can walk into the Mineshaft Inn, and do what you do and come off clean. I

started philosophizing in my head about what the possibilities of manhood were and

thinking about doing something like you just did, but I just stood next to the jukebox for a

while.

Then a goat came in. You kicked it in its skull and the goat fell down and died.

The look in your eyes was concerned only with having fun. It was disgusting. The

others at the bar didn't know how to react. At this point they were kind of looking up to

you. They were so confused that they didn't really react at all. You noticed this, and

must have realized that they were all waiting for your next action, or what you had to say.

I knew that you didn't know what to do. It was obvious. Then you blurted out, "Don't let












it get away." But it wasn't enough. It wasn't funny. You failed on a tangential

experiment of yours, trying to see if you could do no wrong while doing an extreme

wrong.

Why did you come back, Chuck Chonson? What's left to spoil in this town?

How come you don't speak? You look green around the mouth, now.

Unfortunately, you had a knife. You were aiming to stab that dead meat, when

someone knocked you down. You tried to split, but someone grabbed you. I don't

remember much, but there was so much pouncing in your direction.

Afterward, I met you outside, and you begged me to show you where you left

your blowup doll.

I thought long and hard about what had happened, and I decided to not reach out

my hand. You said, "Huh, can you hear me?"

I didn't want to talk to you. I was overcome with the urge to not speak to anyone

again. The persistence of your self-drive was amazing enough for me to question

everything.

You started confessing. The river by my house flows slower than the words of

your tormented soul. You look alarmed now. Do you know what I know? I cannot

repeat the things that came out of your mouth. You kept apologizing and crying, I kept

listening, not able to tell you to shut up.

And now, how can I pass up the opportunity to call you a joke? Words exist

without voices, but they are sharp only on one side, and the thinker is the one who gets

stabbed. Words exist with voices and they are double-edged. I never wanted to hurt

anyone, but you. I spit on your shoes and call you a lost vagabond.


















CHAPTER 14
EX-GIRLFRIEND, EVA GALET



Ashland, Oregon

So you've given up. Lost the belt, lost the comb, lost the book of ancient South

American poetry. Lost the hat, the car, the keys, the gurgling smile, the sophistication,

the friends, the boots, the cigarette-holder, the insight, the foresight, the privileges, the

memberships, the tenure, the scholarships, the tickets, the boarding-passes, the coupons,

the gift certificates, the discounts, the perks, the shortcuts, the manipulations, the stuffed

birds. Now it's just me and you, face to ugly face, and I've got to say, I still have feelings

for you.

Did you think that I could ever forget about Missoula? I know that you're not one

for nostalgia, but still, wasn't that the most perfect night in the history of Earth? The

stars, the fights, the onlookers, the mountains, the flowers, the homeless derelicts, the

river, and all the sex? You cut your hair for me. What was I supposed to do besides

faint?

Now look at this hole. It's alright, but it's nothing special. The last night that I

was with you I decided that from then on I would attempt to live the most creative,

enviously interesting life that was possible to live. Spend some time in Buenos Aires,

build canoes, collect old race records, buy antique furniture, live in a house with unique

windows. Now I'm down to living in a condo by myself, working in a high school, and












watching TV. I think I was fine with it all, but now, in your presence, I feel like I've

dropped out.

The landscape crew comes once a week and I find myself peeking out my window

and hoping that some of the cute ones take off their shirts. Sometimes they do,

sometimes they wear tank-tops. I'm pathetic, Chuck.

Do you still spray-paint poems on sidewalks and brick walls? Do you still sell

watermelons from the back of your truck? What about teaching toddlers how to

meditate? I miss all that. None of it's in my life now. I'm a boring nobody.

What are you doing? Let's go take a drive out to Madrid again. The New Mexico

air does wonders to my skin. The rusty cars, the dusty arroyos, the rattlesnakes and baby

scorpions, the scenic highways, the roasted chilies! I bet some of those old hippie

cowboys will still be in that same bar. Whoa, that was some crazy stuff happening under

all those stars. They looked so heavy. What was that bitch's name? Vinegar? That

lousy hooch, I forgot all about that stinky broad. You're not still living with her are you?

Look at this soulless condo. How could an ex-beauty queen from Brussels end up

in a place like this?

Please take me back, Chuck. I'll be so good to you. I'll buy your drugs. I'll get

the phony memberships at the libraries. Please. Don't leave. You must need something

and I'll give it to you. Money? I've got a bank account filled with the stuff. Let's go to

Alaska. We'll take my car. Make a trip out of it. We can sell my condo and get one of

those huge mobile homes. We could even hire some migrant workers to migrate with us.

Oh, a shirtless hunk and a bikini-wearing ethnic slut. Wouldn't that be great? Have you

tried this new drug I found? It's called herring hog. You shove a glob of it up your nose












and breathe freely. The world collapses and it lasts twenty hours. Let's try some! I have

an ounce in my bathroom. It's really cheap too. We can get five pounds for three dollars.

We can load up the mobile home and go touring the west, selling wind chimes and

wooden flutes to the Amish and the Mennonites. We could walk slowly to the coffee

shop and then prance home deftly. Gaze at the stars for six months straight, right? Isn't

that how it works up there in killer-bear land? Shoot free throws for the next six months?

Oh, I long so much for that Missoula twinkle. The coldness so crisp that your

dollar bills never crease. Tell me you love me again, in a diner, with the jukebox playing

Ten Years After. Tell me to shush when I ramble on to the waitress about how my back

aches with caffeine. I want to stay up for a week straight again. Don't you miss that?

Let's get married. We're still engaged, right? You never said that you broke it

off. We just got into a small squirmish. Who was that girl? You never explained that to

me and I never got a chance to ask. I knew Vinegar, and I knew Body, and of course I

knew Cimmanim, but who was the other one? No, not Sherry, that squeaky clarinet. The

one with the crooked bangs. The one with the baggy pants. The one with the dark eyes.

Who was she?

Maybe I'm mixing things up. It was me, you, Vinegar, and Krill down by the

river fishing, and that was it. Oh, I'm thinking of this stupid girl who kept badgering me

about where you were after you left. I don't know who told her that I knew you or had

just seen you, but she wouldn't quit. She caught me when I was on campus, checking out

the track team and selling dope to some twerp, who was probably trying to look down my

shirt. All those boys were always staring at me and no one except one really ever said

anything to me or tried to make a move. Which is stupid because who knows what I












would've done. I'd have probably done anything with them or to them or to their

girlfriends if I was fucked-up enough, which most of the time I was. But this girl who

was buying stuff off me, I think, I can't remember if she was a student or not. For some

reason, I'm thinking grad school, but now that it's coming back to me, I think she only

pretended to be a student. Regina--that's her name.

She wouldn't quit asking me all these questions about you, and crying. It was

depressing and I told her to leave and she did, but the whole scene really twisted up my

nerves. She was good-looking enough, but why would you be with her if you could be

with me? I was a sex symbol of a European country. She was a skinny whore with

uneven shoulders. Was she smart? She couldn't have been too smart, because she was

doing drugs. Well, I went back to the same diner, to think things over, and to feel sorry

for myself. I ordered some fruit, even though I knew that it would taste like stale

pancakes. But then she walked in because it's a small town and there was only two

places to eat. I don't know if I secretly wanted to see her, and intentionally went to the

diner to possibly meet her, but there she was, and there I was, inviting her over to my

table and asking her questions about you.

I found out that the two of you were living here in Ashland on some grant money

that you received, and that you left her a few days before you met up with me and

Vinegar and Krill to go fishing. That was the last time I saw you, by the way.

Ridiculous. I hated fishing. And I found out that you and she had a baby. No wonder

she felt so bad. Originally I thought she was a cheap romantic, crying her eyes out over a

man, but then I knew that she was crying over a baby, which is justifiable.












I patted her on the back, whatever, you know, and said some kind words to her for

practice, in case I ever had to be tender in the future. She was gabbing on about how she

really didn't love you, but that she needed you and your money. I said don't worry about

it, that there are a bunch of drug dealers in this town. She acted like she didn't even know

about you dealing drugs. That was too much for me. She was so pathetic. I gave her a

tiny hug and said bye.

But then she shows up, out of all the places, on Fire Island. Tone dragged her up

there a day or two after I showed up. I think he was sleeping with her. But anyway, he

pulled me aside and said that he brought her to find out if she knew anything about your

whereabouts that we didn't know yet. He said that he already told everyone else. After

thanking him for letting me know last, I said that I already talked to her and that she

didn't know shit. Be careful if you're in a nostalgic mood and go looking for these

people, because probably they're still hot over that money you took.

She only stayed for about a week, if I remember correctly, and in fact she did tip

us off on some things. Like how you were always talking of going to Hawaii and that if

you got enough money that you guys were going to move there and start a business.

Nothing really came out of it though, and Tone made the arrangements to ship her back

west.

That was a stressful summer, everyone pondering over where you were. Rolph

was the only one sticking up for you. You guys must have had something real tight,

because other people whose names I'm not going to mention wanted to take you out. Be

careful. Don't go near them. Come with me to Nova Scotia. We'll set up a junk shop

and live in the woods. We'll fish, right?












That Vinegar whore is still in my mind. See what you've done by showing up

here? Just the way she'd talk with that lisp was so disgusting. And how she'd catch all

those fish was disgusting too. I don't know, anything she did was gross. She was always

staring in my eyes for too long. Like when I told her I was from Brussels. "Cool," she

said, nodding her head and staring in my eyes. It made me want to take a bath.

But when I look back at that night with us fishing, I should have seen your

disappearance coming. Was Krill in on it too? He seemed to know what was going on.

You were so quiet, and only drinking whiskey. Passing up on the drugs. When we

started talking about spending the summer on Fire Island, you didn't really say anything

at all. Krill and I had both heard about what happened in Oklahoma City the year before,

but I was sure as hell not going to ask, and I thought Krill was scared too, but maybe he

knew everything already or had talked to you about it.

I cut ties with that crowd after that summer, because things seemed spoiled

without you. There was no connection and some of them started upping up their drug

use. Cocaine was big and I had already had a close call with it, so I retired from that life

and got a stupid job.

But we don't need cocaine anymore. Let's go for a drive. Everything on me. Just

for old-times sake. I'll even buy you some clothes.



















CHAPTER 15
PROSTITUTE, VINEGAR



Teec Nos Pos, Arizona

What in the world could you possibly want from me? Um, let me guess ... could

it be the most stankiest bufferin' that you could afford? You know, the more I think

about it, the more I think that that's what it is. You want to get your little pink gymnast to

do some backflips and summersaults? Oh, that sounds so good, doesn't it? First one's on

me.

*

Alright, so what's the matter? Why you so fussy all of a sudden? You don't like

mussy hussies anymore? Fine.

You still see Krill? I always liked him. He was so cute and he was alert in the

way that you and me ain't. He was always noticing things. Whenever I'd be a bit blue,

I'd always see him give me a wink if he caught my eye, or he'd always change the subject

if the conversation was going somewhere I didn't want it to go, or he'd never stay a

moment too long, and he'd find a reason to drag everyone else out of the room too if he

could tell I wanted to be alone. Which was nice to have in someone. I wouldn't call him

a friend necessarily, because I didn't exactly trust him--I always had a notion that he'd

eventually ask me for something that I couldn't comfortably afford and would feel

obliged to give. But I didn't have any friends really, not because I didn't want any in












theory, but really because I didn't see the point in getting to know anyone. But I always

wanted Krill around because there was always the option of getting rid of him without

being rude. I don't necessarily like being alone, just being able to have that option

guaranteed at any moment--that's what I like.

Krill was the one who taught me how to fish, too. Caught my first fish with him,

which was special--I felt like I was finally normal. Then when we brought you and that

hot girl you were toting, then I couldn't catch anything. I wanted so bad to catch a keeper

so that I could win you back from that Eva girl. But I was the only one to catch nothing.

Everyone was being so nice to me, but I wanted to be alone. You know I had a thing for

you, and you were being nice too and it was driving me insane. Krill picked up on it

quickly enough, and was hinting and hinting but you and Eva were so coked out that you

didn't notice anything. You know, I don't think Krill's like us, you know. I think he

might be gay. I wonder if that has anything to do with it. Just to let you know, in case

you bump into him.

Eva is so beautiful it made me so jealous. You guys looked like such a nice

couple. I just want to let you know now that I'm sorry about the whole thing. I just

thought that putting your fish down my pants would have been funny. How would I

have known that Eva would have freaked out? She acted like she'd never seen such a

thing before. Think for a minute about how I must've felt. I stuck a live fish down my

pants, which is not exactly the funniest thing in the world, and I was honestly trying to be

funny, and then Eva gets physically grossed out by me, and then the person that I have a

thing for is running after her.

I turned to Krill and said, "Why'd I do that?"












"We could've been eating that thing later."

"It's still good, Ijust dropped it in my pants a bit."

"Why did you do that?"

"You know how I feel about Chuck. I wanted to get his mind off that Brussels

lady."

"We'll catch more." Krill dug his feet deeper into the sand and jigged his rod. He

could tell that I didn't want to be alone just yet.

When you came back I was ready to fight Eva but she wasn't with you anymore.

She went back to town, you said. "Gimme some of that conch. I want to conk out for a

bit."

I gave you a bit of my dope. You passed out like a little baby. You were drooling

on the dirt. I noticed that Eva made her way back, and I was glad. She was sitting off to

the side just watching. She was so beautiful and a drug dealer. That's a one-two

knockout combo if I ever knew of any, but she was weak I guess. It seemed like her

heart was broken, which was a bummer. I don't like it when people bring emotions into

the ring. It's like a punch below the belt--and then it hit me that this pond was public

property and I looked around and thank god no one was there, was what I was telling

myself, because I knew what we looked like. I wasn't dumb. You were taking a nap

about twelve inches away from the edge of the water. And we were all crowded around

you wearing inside-out sweatshirts and we had a plastic bag full of fish. I was starting to

feel vulnerable, thinking thoughts like that and it all started with Eva. No good. I found

the coke in your pocket and took a bit and that was that. Moving on.









There was a flash of a clear thought, and I grabbed onto that comet and hung on for

dear life. The clear thought was that we should move into the woods so as to hide out.

So Krill brought you into the wooded area and it was about evening I guess, and Krill and

I rounded up some fire wood and built a fire. Eva was watching you and when I had left

I gave her a look that took all my courage to muster up. It was like telling her, see, you're

a whore too. For crying over someone like Chuck. So Krill and I collected a bunch of

wood without talking, just working, which was strange that we were even doing it

because we just went out for a few hours of fishing, but then I put the fish in my pants

and now we got to cook all the fish we caught right now and who knows? Maybe I

would've been about to do something that'd make us have to camp there for the night,

then I'd do something else and we'd have to live there for six months, just catching and

eating fish and having sex and doing drugs. I wonder what that would have to be.

We get back with all these wood pieces and you're still passed out and I'm

thinking, man, I hate taking care of people who can't even pee themselves. Then Eva gets

up and says, "He's dead, I think."

Krill goes and checks you out and says, "He's got a heartbeat. It's beating about

once every second, but it's still good. Let's put some blankets on him."

"Where we gonna get these blankets," I said. "We gonna make them out of pine

needles and flowers?"

"Well then let's get a pile of leaves."

We were a bit nervous about you. I could feel the tension in the air about

wondering what would be the best thing to do, wondering if this would be the time of the

"big fuck-up" that would sober us all up, and wondering if we were completely over-









reacting. We were all being very non-committal about the care of you, and it was

freaking me out. Like when Krill said that your heartbeat was super-slow and we should

get you warmed up, I heard myself try to tell a joke--and I think that was what shoved the

whole thing into motion. Because we were getting leaves, and I was taking my time,

looking for the best leaves, and Eva was frantically throwing everything she could grab

onto you, and Krill was the one who was shaping the leaves into a coherent blanket, and I

remember thinking to myself, this is insane. My participation shrank until I was just

watching Eva and Krill, who didn't seem to mind the less help. I bent down and felt your

forehead. It was pretty cold.

Eva got a pile with her arms and dropped them on you. There were big clumps of

dirt too. It seemed like we were burying you in a compost heap.

After we got you all buried deep so that you're body could stay warm, we started

to make a fire. Krill knew how to do it, said he learned it in the boy scouts as a kid. I

was trying to make up with Eva a bit, now that she wasn't much of a threat. In fact, it

seemed like she was this pretty young thing that was just a bit confused and a big bit lost.

"I think he's going to make it," I said.

"Oh, he better make it," Eva said.

Krill was lighting up a pile of crushed newspaper that he found and blowing on it.

"He'll be fine."

"Right," I said. There was still a tiny voice in me that was telling me that no, he's

going to die, and he might be dead right now, and it is your fault because you're just

sitting here on your rump and he's buried in a stupid pile of leaves over there, and you're









too embarrassed to go over to him because you'd look like an idiot if you're wrong and..



... That voice can just drive me insane. So I took more drugs. We were snorting

heroin and I chipped in a little of mine, but most of it was hers. Krill got the fire going

and she got some coke out and we were doing that too and then it looked like you were

on fire, I swear to god. I don't know if I was hallucinating or what, but you were burning.

It was a vision. I felt like Moses, who looked at a bush, then all of a sudden it's on fire. I

was looking at you and all those leaves on you and then boom, huge flames all over you.

It was a beautiful sight, don't get me wrong, I was terrified and finally got up off my ass

to do something about it, but what a vision it was to watch something burst into flames

when you weren't expecting it to, and then when that thing is a person who you want to

be your friend.

I was jumping on you and kicking the leaves off and brushing your face and

saying, "He's on fire," even though at this point I could see that you weren't.

"No he's not," Krill said.

I shook my head and stopped, acting as if I had just noticed.

"But he is kind of close to that fire," Krill said. "Let's move him."

Eva said, "What's that? I think I hear footsteps."

I listened and I swear on my mother's grave I heard them too. "Run for it."

See, the thing was, that me and Eva were doing so much drugs at that point. I

don't know about Krill--we were looking at him to sort of check with reality from time to

time, but who knows what he was on. He might've been more gone than us. Nothing

was agreed upon that Krill would be the designated dad.






91


I took off, and they took off, and I'm sorry that we left you there. We were so

messed up and you were easily forgettable, buried under all those leaves. I guess you

didn't bum up because you're here now. So I guess an apology is besides the point.



















CHAPTER 16
PROSTITUTE, CIMMANIM



Towaoc, Colorado

Me and Tone were just going for a little hike, working off a little steam and such,

and looking for birds that Tone always liked to look for and me just wondering what the

hell I was doing and then next thing we know it smells like someone cooking up fish and

we follow that trail until we see your face on the ground and Krill smoking a cigarette

and blown out of his mind making a meal. That was an odd time if I can say that. You

never even woke up and we just sat down with Krill and started talking and then he said,

"I can't eat all this fish by myself, and I don't think the three of us can eat it ourselves,

either, but we might as well give it a try."

Tone said, "What's going on with Chuck--he gonna wake up?"

Krill said, "I don't think so. He's pretty far gone."

Tone sat down on a piece of wood and so I figured that I would be staying there

for a bit. He said, "You got any beers hidden around here?"

"Nope. You?"

"No."

I couldn't stop looking at your face. It was like a angel. A angel that is buried

under the earth. It was real white and shiny, and the flames of the fire was throwing light

on it. Plus it was real dark out, so it looked like it was only your face resting by itself.












You looked like a moon actually. Because we couldn't see the ground--obviously it was

there, but I'm just painting a picture. Krill and Tone were sitting down but they were

further from the fire, and I could hardly see them. I'd see Krill when he'd get up and walk

over to the fire to check on his fish that was propped up there. There were long moments

of silence, when none of us talked and only listened to the creatures moving around in the

bush.

We started eating the fish as each one was cooked and still didn't talk much. I

was trying to stay away from you, but the only place to sit on a piece of wood was near

you. It was a moment when you realize that this was not what you expected to happen

tonight, and you just waiting for the next thing to happen. I was waiting pretty hard,

because your face was starting to get me paranoid.

"Can he breathe?" I said.

"Um, let me check." Krill put down his stick with a piece of fish on it and put his

finger under your nose. "Yeah, he can breathe."

Tone and Krill started talking, but all I could think about was bringing you

somewhere where someone could help you out. "Let's take him somewhere."

"He ain't going nowhere," Krill said. His face was glossy and I'd seen him like

that once or twice before, and it wasn't too nice. Once was before this big drug deal that I

found myself caught up in, and another time was when he thought someone was spying

on him from the woods, and we went out searching with a gun. I looked at Tone, whose

face was now visible to me because my eyes adjusted, but he seemed to not care or

whatever, because his face didn't move one way or the other.

"I always thought his face would look good in the middle of a wreath," Tone said.