Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Just Don't See It



I slowly turn the handle of the back door and give it a gentle push.  It’s unlocked and it painfully creaks open.  The dark kitchen of this bungalow is wallpapered in flowers with the counter covered in fancy beer bottles.  It smells like marinara sauce and potatoes.  I see the dining room table is layered with dirty laundry and the TV is on mute.  There are a lot of consumer electronics.  I hear the tapping of plastic.  As I round the corner, there’s a large man built like a defensive end.  He’s in pleated khaki pants and a short-sleeved plaid shirt.  So focused on combing his short hair that he doesn’t notice me.  “Hey Paul, just droppin’ off yer car.”

“Oh, hey man.  Thanks!”  Paul maintains eye contact with himself in the mirror.  “Everythin’ go awright?”

Thank you fer loanin’ me yer car!” I reply.  He loves his car and I’m honored just to be trusted enough to drive it.  “It went as well as it could of.  Whatcha doin’?”

“Getting’ ready fer a date.”

“A date?!?  Good thin’ I returned yer car.  Anyone I know?”

“Jonathan from church.”

“Short, skinny guy with dark hair?”

“Yeah.”  He elongates his reply with a sense of victorious joy.

“First date?” 

“Yep.  ‘Nd we’re goin’ ta da Riverside fer dinner.”

“Then I’ll take off since yer busy.”

“Nah, I’ve gotta coupla hours.  Grab somethin’ from da fridge.”  So, I get some microbrews and crash on the couch.  Last night’s hockey game is replaying on the screen.  I can’t even tell you how many hours I’ve filled playing video games and shooting the shit with Paul over the years.   We met in high school not long after his dad died and was figuring out who he was.  I was an outsider for the reason my parents couldn’t afford brand name clothes.  With a little conditioning, both of us gained mean dispositions.  Our mutual angst brought us together and “safety in numbers” made us inseparable.  Paul fell into the recliner and asked, “Are ya happy ta be back home?”

“Well…  I didn’t really plan on it.  So, I really haven’t thought ‘bout it.” I said.  My sole goal as a kid was to get out of this town and here I am.

“Oh, you’ll like it.  So much has changed.”  Paul talks about this redneck town as if it were Paris.  “Lots of great new places.”

“Yeah, saw they bulldozed much of da main drag when I got inta town.”

“See!  This place is completely dif’rent than it useta be.  Do ya see it?  Most people ‘round here don’t.  Act like nothin’ changed.  That it’s da same town.  But, it’s not.  All da old stores are in new places.  ‘Nd we have coffee shops ‘stead of just old people diners.  Everythin’ that was old is gone.  But, people just don’t see it.”

“Maybe they just don’t see it as ‘change’ or better than before.”

“Whadya mean?”

“I dunno.  I mean, maybe things haven’t improved fer people here.  Ya go ta school ‘nd learn ta be obedient, loyal, ‘nd unquestionin.’  Ya follow da rules, do as yer told; yer suppose ta get ahead.  So, ya start yer life ‘nd da ugly ol’ factory is gone.  So are da good payin’ jobs yer parents ‘nd grandparents had.  What’s on the ol’ factory site?  Just a cell phone store ‘nd a coupla chain restaurants with less-than-minimum wage jobs and no benefits.  ‘Nd who profits from that?  So, ta just get a mediocre job where all ya do is push papers, ya hafta go ta college.  That means student loans ‘nd who profits from that?  So, ya graduate with tons of debt ‘nd are lucky if ya get a job yer overqualified fer.  Most likely underpaid ‘nd work like a dog ta make ends meet.  Who profits from that?  Ya need ta get a home ‘cause da landlord keeps jackin’ up da rent fer a tiny rundown apartment.  So, ya getta mortgage ‘nd who profits from that?  So, da company ya work fer wants better highways, airports, schools, ‘nd so on.  But, they don’t wanna pay fer it.  In fact, they threaten ta leave if we don’t giv’em tax breaks and subsidies just ta stay.  None of this is free.  So, how do they pay fer it?  By raisin’ taxes and fees on regular people that hafta pay from their shitty jobs.  ‘Nd who profits from that?  At da end of da month, ya have no money ‘nd ya hafta put groceries onna credit card payin’ 17% interest.  ‘Nd who profits from that?  ‘Nd that’s if it all goes well.  If ya have a car accident or health issue, well yer more valuable dead than alive.  ‘Nd we all know da only reason ya could be poor is yer stupid, right?  ‘Nd who profits from that?  In yer “golden years,” ya’d like ta retire.  But, yer pension was eliminated ‘nd Social Security keeps gettin’ cut.  So, just ta stay in yer home ‘nd not burden yer family, ya end up as a store greeter until yer body gives out.  ‘Nd who profits from that.  At least all yer hard work will better yer kids’ lives, right?  Well, hold on.  All them loans and credit card debts need ta be paid first.  If ya end up inna nursin’ home, how much of yer nest egg will be left after paying $6,500+ a month?  Certainly nothin’ fer da children ta inherit.  So, I can see why people don’t understand things are gettin’ better ‘cause da question really is: better fer who?”

“Nah, that ain’t it.  People just like ta complain.  This place is great ‘nd they just don’t see it.”  Who knows?  Maybe he’s right.

“Hey Paul, I’m gonna take off since yer date’s ‘bout ta arrive.  Good luck!”

“Okay man.  Thanks fer comin’ over ‘nd droppin’ off da car.”  I wondered down Hume Avenue heading toward the river.  Just a shadow on the street with nothing to do and nowhere to go.


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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Ramblin' Man



It took 20 minutes of sitting in an abandoned store to decide to come to this crummy town.  The only remarkable thing about this place is that people still live here.  Nothing but dollar stores and cookie cutter sprawl.  I turned down a road that is a labyrinth of identical houses on cul-de-sacs.  The only way to reach your destination is to remember to take the second street on the left and count four houses on the right.  A real residential “House of Mirrors.”  I pulled into a driveway and eventually knocked on the plastic door.  A disheveled, thin, old man answered the door in a tattered baby blue bathrobe.  He’s sickly and held onto everything for balance.  I tried to appear positive and failed when I said, “Hey Gran’pa.”

He’s alone.  Grandma been dead for quite a while.  A child of the Depression, he grinded himself into the ground at the factory to put his children through college.  It was that hard labor that exposed him to the carcinogens that gave him the kidney cancer he was diagnosed with two months ago.  He raised me and always seemed to know what he was doing.  It’s why I’m here.  It’s why it’s so difficult to realize there is no cure.

“How ya doin,’ pa?”  He stubbornly pushed me away when I tried to help him to his recliner. 

“Not bad.  Just threw up.  You?”  And, he honestly meant that he was doing alright.  “Find any work yet?”

“Eh.  I’ve had some leads, but nothin’ that’s panned out yet.”

“Ya need ta pound the pavement ‘nd knock on some doors.”

“It doesn’t work that way.  Ya hafta submit yer resume online ‘nd hope that yers gets selected instead of da hundreds of other chumps that apply.  ‘Nd, ya gotta hope that no one gets special treatment ‘cause they’re da bosses’ kid or friend too.”

“That’s why ya gotta get in their face.  Make ‘em tellya ‘no’ in person.”

“Alright.  Anyway, how are yer treatments?”  I changed the subject since he hasn’t applied for a job in over a half century.

“All dem goddamn pills make me sicker than a dog.  Can’t hold nothin’ down.  Not even soup.”  I looked over at the coffee table and it’s been transformed into a pharmacy. 

“Anythin’ I can help ya with?”

“Na.  Just havin’ company is good.  How’s that girl of yers doin?”

“Ah…  Alright, I guess.”  His head tilted forward with an inquisitive stare.

“Alright?  It’s never good when ya say it’s ‘alright.’”

“It’s fine.  Nothin’ ta bother ya with.”

“Bother?  What da hell else am I doin’?  What, ya got inta a fight?  Do somethin’ dumb?”

“Uh…  Yeah…  We kinda just broke up.”  Grandpa’s head leaned back in the chair.

“Sorry ‘bout that.  Sure ya don’t wanta go inta details.”  He always gets the same look in his eyes when something doesn’t work out for me.  It’s sympathy; not disappointment (which may be worse).  “So, where ya livin’ then?”

“I can probably stay on a friends couch ‘til I get a place.  Call in some favors.”

“So, ya don’t have anywhere ta go?  Where’s yer stuff?  Take one of my extra rooms.”

“Oh, I can’t do that?”

“Why not?  I ain’t usin’ ‘em.  ‘Nd it’s not gonna be pleasant with me fumblin’ ‘round the place.”

“Are ya sure?  How much doya want fer rent?”

“Be quiet.  I’m no landlord.”

“Well, I’ll do all da chores ‘nd all then.”

“No worries.  I gotta nurse fer that.”

“Then she can focus on taking care of ya instead of doin’ da dishes.”

“Ah…”  He dismissively waves his right hand at me.  “So, where’s yer junk?”

“In da car.”

“Go get it ‘nd bring it in while I go take my medicine.”  He got up, again refused assistance, and headed to the kitchen with pockets full of drugs.

In-and-out of the house.  Box after box stacked into the spare room until it looked like a storage unit.  I took a seat on the twin bed with its old plaid comforter.  It’s been a while since I’ve stayed in this room.  The dresser top is still full of knickknacks that span several decades.  The desk is dusty with a few reference books neatly aligned in the right corner.  There’s nothing on the crème colored walls.  The room would look like a set of an old movie if it weren’t for all my crap.

As I glanced out the window, a doe and two fawn emerged from the bushes.  The doe chewed on some flowers while the spotted fawn chased each other around.  I blankly stared at them darting around.  Where do they live?  There aren’t any woods or anything else natural for miles.  Ostracized by speeding traffic, barking dogs, and high fences.  How do they survive in this hostile environment?  They don’t belong here, but where else can they go?  And, as quickly as they appeared, they vanished.

Anyway, everything was unloaded and I was finished daydreaming.  I had to drop off the car.  As I passed the living room, I saw my grandpa sleeping in his chair.  I left him a note that said, “Thanks for letting me stay.  Dropping off the car.  Back in a while.  –Luke.”



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