Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ESTATE SALE! Today 10am-3pm



Little old ladies wonder the vast street shuttling floor lamps, empty picture frames, and souvenir tchochkes to their cars lining the road.  There’s a man bartering unnecessarily over a $2 pan in the garage.  The sleeves on his flannel shirt are at least three inches too short.  In the living room, a professional-looking couple evaluate an end table.  I’d love to tell them what my cousin did on that piece of furniture about ten years ago, but I don’t.  I wave to my uncle.  He’s eating a half-wrapped fast food burger.  “Hey, here’s da paperwork.  That should be ‘bout it.”  I hand over the documents and he scrutinizes them.

After Grandpa died, relatives swarmed and started to bicker.  I’ve been couch surfing since my uncle moved in “to take care of things.”  When I moved out, he oversaw my packing to make sure I didn’t take anything of value.  The whole bunch of them act like Grandpa was a noble member of the ancient landed gentry or something.  I’ve seen the finances and no one seems to believe me when I tell them “there’s nothin’ ta fight over.”  That just leads to my aunts accusing me of stealing some mythical treasure chest secretly buried under one of the rose bushes.  So, when everyone moved in, I moved out.

“Where ya off ta now?”  My uncle crams the last quarter of the burger in his mouth.  The grease on his fingers notarize each document in his filthy hands.

“Uh, not sure yet.  But, I’ll give ya my contact info when I know.”

“Why?”

“Mmm…” Good question.  “Just in case, I guess.”  No longer interested in our conversation, he starts harassing some woman who is apparently touching the cheap flatware too much.

I take one last look around the house.  How many nights did I fall asleep on the floor gorging on popcorn drenched in butter?  We’d watch old Westerns where “good” always triumphs.  A grizzled man lugs up a toolbox that’s been in our family for five generations.  It’s labeled “$3.”  Most of the rooms are bare and echo with the slightest sound.  The vultures circle around the last bits of the estate.  They tear and gnaw at anything of perceived value.  It is what it is.

Exiting the propped open front door, I park my ass on the stoop.  I’m not quite ready to leave.  The intensity of the sun beats down with a blistering heat.  It’s been a long, dry summer that has scorched this once beloved lawn.  “1…  2…  3…  Rrr!”  Down the street, a couple of scrawny kids heave my old amp into the back of their pick-up.  I stand up almost in protest.  They toss my guitar into the back and take off.  I’m done.  The golden grass of the subdivision crunches under my feet as I lazily drag my shoes to Main Street.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m meant for something if only I knew what.  The speed limit is only 35 mph, but I watch as almost every vehicle does at least 50 on this country highway converted into a sprawl collector road.  What are they in a hurry to get to?  I have no place to go.  I take a seat on the curb at the gas station on the corner of Brown Boulevard.  A grey box covered in beer and cigarette ads.  Again, I’m asking, “what should I do?”

“Nice shirt,” says a young man in a hoodie and punk band t-shirt.  He packs his cigarettes as he rests against his rented moving truck.  “Didja make it yerself?”

“Yeah.  Thanks!”  He doesn’t seem eager to get back on the road.  “Where ya movin’ ta?”

“Ta Portland.  My friends say they can get me a job out there.  Had nothin’ else goin’ on, so I boxed up everythin’ ‘nd took off.  Whadda ‘bout you?  Goin’ somewhere?”

“Umm…  Yeah.”

“Cool.”  He reaches through the moving truck window and grabs an energy drink.  “Where ya headin’?”

“Haven’t figured that out yet.”

“Really?  Well, if ya wanna ride with me, ya can.  I could use da company ‘nd ya can get out at any time.  Gonna warn ya: this piece of shit doesn’t have a/c or a radio.”  He kicks the tire in contempt.

“Thanks, but I can’t afford da gas ‘nd all.”

“No worries.  I got that covered awready.”

“Are ya sure?”  He nods.  “Okay…” I brush myself off and climb into the passenger seat littered with all kinds of junk food.

“Let’s go!” and he peels out (as much as he can in this clunker) onto Main Street.  He cuts off a couple of cars.  “Don’t worry, I got da insurance on it.”  Black smoke billows out of the exhaust pipe as the engine trembles.  I keep my eyes on the endless prairie ahead.




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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hospice



All of this is meant to calm me.  To trick my senses into thinking I’m in someone’s living room.  There’s a fake leather couch facing a fireplace with silk flowers lining the mantle.  A half dozen easy-to-clean pleather chairs are scattered throughout the room along with charming lamps, plastic floor plants, and strangely useless tables.  The wall art seems expensive and devoid of any meaning.  The only object on the far wall is a sliding window.  On the other side of the glass isn’t an ideal aristocratically manicured lawn, but a middle-aged woman under the crush of paperwork.  It’s an obvious ruse hidden under the smell of lavender.

“Are you the grandson?” A stocky woman with broad shoulders and puffy blonde hair asks.  Her blouse is a field of cartoon flowers.  I nod.  “Follow me, please.”  She kindly speaks to me, but I’m not listening.  I’m just worried about what I’ll see behind one of these faux wood doors.  Behind this door.  “Would you like me to come in with you, sir?”  I shake my head.

I try to slow my breathing so air flows silently through my nose.  For some reason, it makes my heart beat faster.  My clammy hand clasps the steel door handle.  As I patiently push the door open, there’s a distinct repetitive beep and an odor that can’t be covered by synthetic lavender.  I peek into the pseudo-bedroom as quietly as possible.  The curtains, veneered headboard, and plain couch don’t comfort or distract me.  Under a mound of domestic quilts is my grandpa.

I wipe the tears from my eyes as I take a seat.  His face is even gaunter than when I last saw him this morning.  A machine appears to be doing the breathing for him.  He makes a strained gargling sound with every expansion and contraction of his chest.  There’s a continuous infusion of morphine into his veins.

Grandpa’s arm sluggishly rises under the blankets.  I feign a smile and my eyes are rubbed raw.  “Granpa, it’s awright.  Whatcha need?”  His vision is glassy and the eyelids barely open.  He can’t speak.  “Is yer arm uncomfortable?  Lemme help ya get it outta yer blanket.”  His arm is so fragile and unrecognizable from the workingman he once was.  I gently massage his forearm.  “I don’t know if ya can hear me or understand, but it’s gonna be awright.  I’m just gonna talk with ya fer a bit.”

Grandpa was in-and-out for the next few hours.  I’d sit quietly holding his hand while he slept.  When his eyes opened I’d chat about funny memories, the weather, and just anything that came to mind.  The nurses would check-in and I’d use that time for a bathroom break.  I’d avoid other patient’s families because I had enough sadness of my own.  After some quiet time, I’d return to his bedside. 

I carefully place my hand on his cheek.  “Granpa, I want ya ta know I love ya.”  His eyes can’t seem to focus as his head rolls around.  “Yer da best person I’ve ever met ‘nd I’m proud ta call ya my ‘granpa’.  I waited too long ta tell ya this, I guess.  But, I wanna thank ya fer everythin’ ya did fer me.  I know it wasn’t easy.  It’s hard ta sum up a lifetime of gratitude.  No matter what, ya were there fer me.  Fer that, ya’ll always be special ‘nd I’ll do whatever it takes ta justify da faith ya had in me.”  I lightly caress his arm in silence.  The sensation appears to soothe him.

I didn’t notice it was after 3am until the nurse suggested I sleep on the pull-out couch.  “Oh, thanks but I’ll go home ‘nd come back in da mornin’.  I ‘preciate all yer doin’ fer him.”  I put on my hat, thanked the other nurses on duty, and hit the street.  Grandpa’s my all-consuming thought.  I don’t care about anything else.  The front door was left unlocked and I pick up some of the mess that was made moving Grandpa into the ambulance.  It’s exceptionally quiet in the house as I brush my teeth.  I climb into bed and wonder if I should pray.  Couldn’t hurt.  The darkness in the room amplifies as I plead on his behalf to the unknown.  To myself.  The phone shatters my concentration and I know what they are going to tell me.  “Thank you,” I reply, “Go ‘head with da arrangements as planned ‘nd I’ll stop by ta sign da papers tamorrow.”  I didn’t sleep from the rest of the night.




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Monday, April 7, 2014

Does It Matter?


“Does it matter?” Anabelle grabs a handful of gravel from the railroad bridge deck and launches them into the tributary below.  Hundreds of small stones make little splashes that are quickly absorbed into the waters of the mainstream with indifference.

“I dunno.” I reply trying to balance on a rail and think at the same time.  “Just be nice ta know what I’m gonna do.”

“Ferget ‘bout da future.  It doesn’t matter.  Ya just gotta think ‘bout whatcha doin’ now.”  She lights a cigarette as we head east.  “Now’s all that matters.”

“That a Zen thing?”  I ask as we cross over Kennedy Drive.

“Nah.”  She takes a long drag and exhales in seeming ecstasy.  “It’s a survival thing.”

“What’s that s’pose ta mean?”

“Tell me, whatcha plan ta be doin’ in five years?”  Anabelle demands an answer.

“Mmm…  Well, I guess I’ll be workin’ somewhere ‘nd maybe find some girl ta be with.  Get some stability so I can ‘grow up’ like everyone else.”

“Okay, where were ya five years ago?”

“Let’s see.”  That seems so long ago now.  “I was back in Milwaukee workin’ da loadin’ dock ‘nd goin’ ta school.”

“When ya were in Milwaukee, is this where ya thought ya’d be now?”  She smiles mischievously, but with sympathetic eyes.

“Uh.  Ya know that answer.”

“Yeah, but I wanna hear ya say it.”

“Well…” I look at Anabelle’s pudgy face to determine how serious she is.  Very serious.  I quickly pretend I see something interesting in the vacant lots nearby.  “I thought I’d be a musician.  Tourin’ in our van ‘nd recordin’ an album somewhere fun.  Ya know, be a rock star ‘nd all.”  I smirk at my youthful naivety.

“Whadda ‘bout da girl?”

“We’re not talkin’ ‘bout her.” I bark.

“Okay…” She backs off the question, which is rare for her.  I throw a rock at an abandoned warehouse.  “How ‘bout livin’ here?”

“C’mon Anabelle.  I get it.  No, I didn’t think I’d be back in this town ‘nd sleepin’ in my granpa’s spare room, okay?”

“Whoa, calm down.”  She discards unwanted shoplifted goods from her jacket onto the tracks.  “Just tryin’ ta prove a point.”

“’Nd what point is that?”

“It’s point-less ta plan fer da future.  I don’t know what I’m gonna do in five years or even next week.  So much can happen that it’s impossible ta predict.  I get what I want now.  Why should I hafta sacrifice taday?  Da future is unknowable.  I could be dead tamorrow.”

“If we all lived like we’re gonna die tamorrow, we’d be screwed.  Everyone would be hungover ‘nd useless when we wake up with empty wallets.  No one would trust us.”

“TRUST!?!”  Anabelle laughs with her own twist of evil.  “Ya can’t trust anyone.  Life’s ‘bout survival of da fittest.  It’s all a big game of ‘winners’ ‘nd ‘losers’.  We live inna society that considers ‘greed’ ta be a ‘good’ thing.  Someone is always willin’ ta take all ya have if they can get ‘way with it.  Ya hafta watch yer back ‘nd commit ta nothin’.  Ya survive this world alone.”

“Whadda ‘bout you?” I ask to her cynicism.

“Whadda ‘bout me?”

“I trust you.”

“Ya shouldn’t.”  She’s bored again, like usual.  “I don’t know where I’ll end up but I’m gonna do what it takes ta survive.  Ya’ll never know what I’ll do.”

“Ohhhhh.  What crazy thing wouldja do?” Anabelle gives me the stink eye and looks around.  Her back is suddenly upright with confidence.

“How do I look?”

“Like a femme fatale.” Anabelle ignores my snarky remark.  She skips though a patch of overgrown grass to the cheap hotel/bus station on Schuyler Avenue.  I watch her talk to a bus driver and she motions toward me.  The driver’s sleeves are rolled up on his grey uniform shirt.  His matching company baseball cap sits lazily askew on his large head.  After a few moments looking in my direction, he starts writing on a pad of paper.  Anabelle climbs aboard the filthy bus.  The doors close and they head north to god knows where.




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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Funny Little Box



Under my arm is a funny little box.  It’s carefully wrapped in black and white comics sealed with clear tape.  I’d rather recycle than immediately put wrapping paper in the landfill.  Inside is a broken clock in the shape of a golden horse.  My grandpa mentioned Monica liked it last time she was over and that I should give it to her.  He’s been giving things away as if he’s holding a liquidation sale.

It’s an unusually chilly day.  Nothing a hoodie can’t fix.  Even the sparrows are puffed up while they search for food.  At least the sun is out to keep the plains dry.  Only contrails in a perfectly blue sky.

Monica’s apartment complex is old, but kept in decent condition.  It may not be constructed with high quality materials, but at least it has a pleasant appearance.  Her place is up the stairs and the first door on the left.  Mismatched mailbox stickers let me know the units number: 2A.  I knock on the door.

There’s a sound of dishes rattling.  The distinct smell of burnt toast.  A few heavy footsteps.

“Oh…  Um…  Is a Monica home?”  I’m startled that the door is answered by a guy about the same age and build as myself.  Doesn’t help that he’s only wearing a band t-shirt and bright boxers either. 

“Uh…  Who are ya?”  He scrutinizes everything about me in an instant and doesn’t like what he sees.  Most of his attention is on my gift.

“Oh…  Just a friend, I guess.”

“Well…  She’s still sleepin’.”  It’s barely perceivable that he’s slowly closing the door.  “Wanna leave a message or somethin’?”

“Um…  Sure.”  I hold out the gift toward him.  “Just give this ta her ‘nd tell her I said ‘thank you’.”

“Okay.”  He takes the present in one hand.  “Who do I say it’s from?”

“She’ll know who it’s from.”  An answer that just makes him a bit more suspicious.  Can’t blame him.  “It’s just a broken clock.”  This doesn’t help.

“Okay…”

“So, thanks.”

“Yeah man, see ya.”  The door closes and I hear the clock clang on the floor.  Can’t hurt it since it’s already broken, I guess. 




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