I have some unusual habits. For instance, I’m not a fan of a rug outside of the shower. Few people have good ones and others tend to smell odd. I’d rather clean the floor. Since the only product I use in the shower is a bar of soap, I don’t have the usual array of issues most people have in their bathrooms.
A few years ago, however, I spent a good deal of time making a personalized rug with dozens of pictures of people I know on it. It did cost a bit, but I wanted something personal and colorful. Once it arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to place it outside the shower, so I put in front of my bathroom sink.
A couple of people seemed unhappy that their faces were on a rug. I promptly ignored them. If they couldn’t see the honor in having their faces emblazoned on a bathroom rug, I had nothing to say to them.
After years of faithful service, the rug has succumbed to hazy, indistinct detail. For that reason, I’m going to discard it.
I considered leaving it someplace, perhaps on a neighbor’s porch. It would be a great story if said neighbor recognized someone featured on the rug.
The above picture is the one I designed to be my shower curtain. It’s huge. I paid a bit for it to get it correctly sized. I still wonder what the tech who made it wondered as it was fabricated. I forget how odd it looks to be people who’ve never seen it. As with most of my other decorations, a lot of people think I’m joking about how I have things decorated.
The above chalkboard is outside my bathroom. As you can see, it currently holds a drawing of my cat Güino my wife made. I added a Trump fart to the cat. That seems to be the only relevant news lately.
I was driving on Crossover, on my way to Lowes to purchase completely pointless items, not too far from the marijuana farm. Some people call it “The Botanical Gardens,” but that is EXACTLY the type of fake name a weed farm would use, isn’t it?
I suddenly had to brake harshly to avoid hitting someone who failed to stop while approaching the main road. Because I was unsure I wouldn’t hit them as they entered the road without stopping, I veered to the left slightly. I don’t always do the ‘veer’ thing if I’m in my Ford Focus. It’s led to meeting some interesting people. It’s hard to say “Hello” when the air is filled with screeching brakes and shouting drivers.
A honk startled me. A white van had swerved to the further left to avoid hitting me from behind. I slowed and pulled over for a second. The white van with an interesting business logo on the side pulled ahead in front of me on the shoulder. I was expecting a giant, angry redneck to emerge. Instead, a woman about my age exited the van and stood about ten feet away from the front of my car. People don’t exit their vehicles unless they are very angry, have bees chasing them, or are in the vehicle with more than one teenager.
“What’s wrong with you?” She asked.
Given that she probably didn’t connect the car running through a stop sign and entering the road in front of me to my swerve, I knew it was pointless. I assumed she was crazy, anyway.
“I have a medical condition! You should be ashamed of yourself” I shouted at her.
“Oh! I’m sorry. What’s wrong with you?”
“Stupidity!” I yelled back at her.
Expecting a tirade or curse, I was surprised when she turned and went back to her van, got in, and drove away. She didn’t even give me a laugh.
I was proud of my impromptu answer.
It is possible to live 20 years without coming up with a rapid-fire quip that both delights and defuses the situation.
After a dehumanizing day at work today, I made my escape. I’d delve into the niceties of what made this day of work particularly dehumanizing but not only would it fail to help me even as a catharsis, but would probably rekindle the rebuke that formed in my mind earlier. Covid-19 has amplified some of the worst tendencies of some employers – and enabled cracks along fault lines of equality to grow larger.
It was slightly before 11 when I decided to stop and pick up a couple of things.
I stopped at a little store, one common to most communities. Outside, a gentleman was using twine to re-affix a mattress to the roof of his beaten-up car. I was going to offer to help him but noted that he had double-tucked the twine like he was a master of the Mattress Haul. It was quite the work of art. I would be terrified to attempt it but I could tell the mattress was not going to fly off into the sunset after being tied down so efficiently, even if twine was all that was available.
As I entered, I saw a phalanx of men about twenty feet inside the door. With one of the men was a boy about 10 years old. One of the men was an employee of the store; the other was a vendor with a couple of shallow inventory bins.
This story is entirely true, even if I get the words a bit wrong. The quotes are from the men who stood there.
“I’m not a violent person, but when I saw that (offensive word for Latino) waving that flag, I would have ripped it out of his hands and killed him with it. I was going to literally hit him but my wife was with me. Anyone with a flag that isn’t American should be shot. We literally should be able to kill them.” The other gentlemen agreed. “I don’t want to hear no Mexican talk when I’m in public. A fist in the mouth will cut their ability to talk that nonsense around me and my family. We might need them to do our dirty work but they should know their place.”
“I’m proud we have a president who can speak the truth. We don’t need any blacks, fa%S, or sp@cs here. I don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled. We don’t want them and we don’t need them. Trump needs to have the Supreme Court shot, as well as every BLM member. Those cops? The only thing they did wrong was not kill a bunch more of them.” A hearty round of approval. “He (Trump) needs to shut down all media except Fox. People who aren’t guilty of crimes don’t get hurt by the police.”
“Yeah, I’m going to see Trump in Tulsa next week. The tickets? They are free. I want to shake his hand and tell him that we’ll help him kick anyone that isn’t one of us out of this country. Those p@ssy liberals are going to get lynched like the rest of them. We are not going to put up with it anymore.” The man took out his phone and read a couple of lines of propaganda from the event notification. Whatever he was saying, I can state with certainty that none of his words were going to make America great again. His words certainly weren’t helping improve the store any.
I stood less than 10 feet away, albeit with a tall shelf of cookies and snacks towering between us. I simply stood where I was, listening, wondering how far they’d go.
The store employee bragged that he had his Glock on him as he tapped his hip. He bragged about having a 50-round clip if the gun clip was out. He added that he didn’t believe in a reload. If he was going to kill someone, he wasn’t going to stop with a bullet. The vendor jumped in and gave a list of his guns, clips, and ammo, legal and otherwise.
“We’re going to need them. If they steal the election in November, I’m going to shoot some people. Trump is the best president this country’s ever had. If that monkey before him hadn’t stolen an election, we wouldn’t be in this mess with this hoax virus.” I bit my tongue to avoid reminding him that Obama had somehow stolen 2 elections, not just 1.
Note: none of the gentlemen talking had masks on, including the store employee. The 10-year-old with them didn’t either.
I walked around the next shelf the long way and walked within a foot of the men. None seemed perturbed by me being there. I winked at the 10-year-old and made eye contact. “How are you,” I asked, ignoring the people engaged in the ignorant and hateful talk. “Good,” he said. The men stopped talking long enough to make eye contact with me. I kept walking and went another shelf over. A female employee was stocking. She could hear them talking but didn’t intervene. I pretended to look at the salsas while I listened a bit longer to the talk going on.
As hard as it is to believe, the talk continued on from one hateful topic to another. I won’t recount more of it here.
The tone and content reminded me of many conversations I overheard when I was growing up in a family with racists in every rafter.
When I neared the register, the employee who’d actively participated in the hate speech walked around to ring up my purchases.
As he finished and I pulled my debit card from the kiosk, I told him, “You know I’m white right?”
He looked at me confusedly. “Yes, I’d say you’re white.”
“There’s no such thing as white. It’s all in your head. Our day is over. You should be careful who you voice your opinion around. Liberals are everywhere.” I shrugged. I left him, confused. He couldn’t tell whether I was a liberal or someone who agreed with his hate.
I smiled and went outside. I looked at the mattress on the old car by the door, then up to the blue sky.
I don’t know what my point is.
I can’t wrap this one up neatly in a bow.
This is America.
That 10-year-old boy in the store is going to grow up with a choice: echo his ancestors or recognize hate and ignorance as live animals, ones which must be starved into extinction.
P.S. This post isn’t anti-Trump, even though I can’t think of anything redeeming to say about him as a person or President. It’s telling that those who tend toward the most violent viewpoints tend to be his most ardent supporters. Those stuck in the middle get painted with the same brush, though, fair or otherwise.
As I neared the last corner on the way home, I saw my Marshallese neighbor in the lateral sideyard playing ball with his son. They were using a tennis ball and running across the yard, laughing. Unlike some of the neighbors, they were careful. It was a great late morning for such games, with a temperature in the upper 70s, a light breeze washing over them, and a sun uncharacteristically cool.
Seeing them frolic made me realize that I found a home for another of my keepsakes.
I drove past the few remaining houses to mine and parked in the driveway. I backed my wife’s car out of the garage and then used the drop-down attic staircase to go up. I shifted the bins around until I found the one with my two baseball gloves and a special baseball. A few years ago, I reconditioned both gloves and sealed them. It surprised me that I had not found a good home for the gloves before today.
When I was younger, I learned to catch using whatever glove was available. For most lefties like me, especially poor ones, I either used my bare hands or learned to rapidly remove my glove and throw the ball. The positive result of this was that I could catch perfectly well with either hand and bat right-handed.
Until today, I’ve waited to find a new home for my gloves. I didn’t want to give them to someone who wouldn’t appreciate them. Having them unused in the attic bothered me a bit, though. I’m violently opposed to owning such things without using them. Gloves are meant to be used. As terrible as a sports fan that I am, the simplicity of playing catch, hotbox, or hitting balls in the summer sun is something that I loved doing when I was young. Like most boys, I participated in versions of baseball anywhere that we could manage, from dormant municipal baseball fields to cow patches where large apartments now tower above the land.
I walked down to the corner. Rosen, the younger Marshallese owner of the house, walked up to meet me. His young son stood on the lawn, wondering what I was up to. Another smaller boy sat on the chair under the small covered porch on the front of the house.
“Hey, do you remember me? I’m the one who gave you the weedeater and spoke Spanish to you?”
Rosen nodded yes, and then said, “I know you have a strange name, but I can’t remember what it is.”
I showed him my work badge and told him, “X.” Seeing it written out sometimes gives people the right context to understand what I’m saying.
“Rosen, I want you to have my gloves. One if for lefties, and the other is for those who use the wrong hand to catch. And the baseball is a special one I’ve kept for many years. I want you to keep them and enjoy them.” The look on Rosen’s face told me that I had once again surprised him. When I moved to the new house a few years ago, I walked down and gave him a new weedeater. He was shocked then and surprised now.
“Wow, thanks X. We’ll definitely go to a ball field and play. We’ll use the tennis ball right now.”
I laughed. “Okay, but if you really want to repay me, you’ll break out a couple of windows of that neighbor’s house.” I turned and pointed to a house across the street, a house that is well on its way to becoming a version of Boo Radley’s house.
The residents of that infamous house are using every page of the ‘Asshole Neighbor’s Playbook.’ If the human underarm could become a house, it would be that one.
Rosen laughed, too.
He might not know the significance of that ball or what it meant to me, but if he uses it even for a single shared afternoon with his son, the honor will have been paid in equal measure.
I walked away and heard one of the boys say, “Dad, who was that nice man?”
I smiled, wondering what ripple effects I had unknowingly set in motion by my gift.
I’ve always had my DNA set to ‘share’ on the sites I use. Recently, because of renewed interest because of the show “Genetic Detective,” I ensured that it was uploaded to GEDmatch for law enforcement use. I’d been a victim of my own procrastination, even after watching a season of “The Innocence Files” on Netflix.
Are there cons to this? For some people, yes. No pun intended with the use of the word “con.”
Are there advantages? Definitely yes.
I can understand why some people have objections to DNA sharing. I’m not entirely comfortable with it. There are legitimate reasons. There are also many unfounded reasons. The good thing about DNA is that only a portion of the populace needs to participate to map out everyone else – so even if you withhold your genetic map, it is likely another relative will divulge theirs and make your decision moot.
I’m that guy. I have to be. It would be immensely hypocritical for me to constantly tell everyone that privacy is both a leprechaun and unicorn while foolishly attempting to protect my invisible genetic blueprint.
Despite being a liberal, I’m in favor of never having another unidentified soldier, as well as ensuring that crimes involving DNA are solved. It would be ironic for me to be charged with a crime based on voluntarily-submitted DNA results. Mistakes do happen. If humans are involved in the process, things are going to go wrong. If the government can force me to sign up for the Selective Service, I don’t see much of a problem with us collectively expecting a genetic database to protect us all. Again, I recognize that this sort of thing can (and sometimes will) be abused. Using the potential abuse of a few to justify doing nothing different doesn’t appeal to me. No system is going to be perfect.
However, I’ve always believed that DNA (and other advances) are going to strip away generations of mistruths and ignorance about our ancestors. If this information assists law enforcement with doing their jobs, I’m for it. I have the same argument for fingerprints. As long as scientists have review power over the application of such evidence, I’m at no greater risk by others having it.
If I don’t trust the government, I’m already screwed.
Believe me, I have some problems with the government, especially under our current President.
As for the police? If you know me, you know I have a sideways opinion about several of them and systemic objections to the way they are operated. Focusing on these concerns, however, as an excuse to fail to help in the way I can, that would be a greater sin of omission.
The interesting thing about the show is that it beats the drum that even remote ancestors allow for research and triangulation toward suspects in crimes involving DNA. This means that my DNA could potentially come up in a criminal investigation. It’s possible that someone will knock on my door as a result.
I have relatives who I believe are capable of committing crimes, even crimes a generation ago. Many currently living certainly committed such crimes already. It’s not a question of debate. It’s true.
Though I have no proof per se, I also know it’s likely that family members might have fathered children during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I have only whispers to base my suspicion on. However, my other suspicions have been proven correct, too, even though I waited years for some of them to find confirmation.
For much of my life, I endured ridicule and hostility for some of the views about my Dad. Just a year ago, I found out that my suspicions were correct and that he’d fathered a child with a very young woman in the early 70s.
Such revelations, in combination with a checkered past for many of my relatives, paints a realistic picture that other shenanigans may have gone undetected, too.
I’d like to part of the solution to the problem.
For those thousands of people who’ll be reachable because of my participation, please accept my apologies.
It is my DNA, after all, freely given.
In the same way that some of my ancestors kept their foot on the closet door, gun in hand, in order to protect the skeletons in the family closet, I now stand on the other side, with the door wide open.
This post is a wild mix of fun facts, commentary, and anecdotes about my life. If you’ve ever ridden a rollercoaster while stitching up a hole in your own abdomen, this post is for you. I give you my word that at least one thing will make you ponder.
“I knew my instincts were right about how stupid the guy was. Blondes kept telling jokes about him.” – X
People look at me like I’m crazy when I mention déjà rêvé. It’s a cousin of déjà vu, except it’s the sensation you’ve dreamed the moment instead of experiencing it.
“Yes, he listens carefully. The problem is that he’s the only one talking.” – X
I was born in Brinkley, Arkansas, inside Monroe County. My Mom’s maiden name was “Winston,” we lived on “Easy Street,” and my first pet’s name was “Grandpa.” Some of that’s true if you’re guessing passwords.
While I’m not going to cite the amount of beer supposedly lost in beards in the U.K., I am mentioning it only because it means someone has studied and calculated the amount. It reminds me of when I was younger and read “Innumeracy,” and discovered that hair growth rate can be expressed in MPH. (It’s also partially responsible for why I love the measurement “furlongs per fortnight.”)
Related to the above, it’s also why I cringe a little when I hear someone say, “it is a fraction of the amount” or something similar. 7/6 is a fraction – and it’s more than 100%.
If you don’t have two-factor authentication turned on for everything important, you’re in trouble. If you don’t know what that is, please comment below and provide the last 4 digits of your social security number and a photocopy of your Blockbuster card.
Bela Lugosi, Jr., noted vampire actor, was buried in his cape. That’s not the part I find amusing. He was married five times. Are they SURE they know how his wives died?
I spent most of my life saying “I have two siblings.” It’s hard adjusting to saying a different number. I’m fascinated by the idea that my long-lost sister is more well-educated, nicer, and honest than all the rest of us combined.
I think Edward Cullen of “Twilight” would have been more interesting had he suffered from Arithmomania like Count Von Count (from Sesame Street) did, and as most vampires did in traditional vampire stories.
“I had a brush with death, followed by a comb with injury.” -X
Using physiological comparison software, I realized on Tuesday that my paternal grandmother is more of a man than I’ll ever be. I’m not sure which of us I’m insulting by saying so.
Infrequently, someone will mock me for choosing my first name based on a coin flip. They look at me confusedly when I told them that Portland, Oregon got its name the same way. Had the coin landed on its obverse side, it would be “Boston, Oregon.” (“Obverse” side is a clever way to call the coin toss when it’s thrown. Most people will say, “What the hell side is an obverse?” You, therefore, win on the vocabulary high ground.)
I’m anticipating the next wood-cutting season. I’ve found someone who’ll cut me a few ricks of manchineel wood for a few people. You’ll have to google this to figure out the joke. Who knew such a tree existed?
I took one of those courses in Intense Conversations. After meeting my first practice partner and to break the ice, I said, “Yes, I do have a collection. I now own 347 different skull fragments.”
The term “buttload” is actually a legitimate measurement. I could explain it to you, but you wouldn’t believe me. Look it up for yourself.
Regardless of what the McDonald’s window worker intended, what she said was: “Pull forward to #1.” I should have done exactly that, even though I was next to the highway. Next time, I dare her to tell me to pull forward and #2. It’s gonna get ugly.
While I’m no arborist, there’s such a thing as a “fruit salad tree.” I like to mention it from time to time just to see who’s following the conversation.
“Kill them with kindness,” the woman obsessed with optimism told me. Thanks for the felony conviction, lady.
The first time I almost entered the U.S. Army, I was going to be in the U.S. Army Band. People with musical ability should consider it to be more realistic of an option than becoming a professional athlete. Also, it’s rare for a trumpet-player or guitarist to get shot. Unless they play “Freebird” in the wrong chord.
Beth’s grandfather used to say, “She went to Muskogee!” Beth now uses it as a veiled threat to imply that bad kids go there. Few people know that Muskogee is the only dictatorship in the United States. Okay, I made that last bit up, but you did kind of wonder for a second, didn’t you?
“Quotation marks are the devil’s hemorrhoids.” – After reading a blowhard grammarian say that everything about grammar that needs to be said has already been said, I coined this new phrase.
Of all the things that I cite for keeping me alive in my youth, I credit these: Grandpa, Grandma, band, books, Barbara, and an ongoing belief that somehow life couldn’t be the sum of what I experienced.
“The Consequences Of My Own Actions” is a book I definitely don’t want to read. Ironically, this will be another consequence of my own inaction.
I have officially petitioned to become the next Secretary of Defense. (Preferably of the United States.) In my first act, I will order that all bombs be replaced with glitter bombs. Not only will a fifty-five thousand pound bag of glitter exploding a mile over a city send a clear message, but it will keep everyone cleaning for an eternity. Additionally, pretty much everyone will look fabulous.
They told me to put on “big boy pants.” Now, I look ridiculous with my legs stuck in really tight pants. Even though the effect is ridiculously slimming.
“I talk to my brother twice a day. Luckily, I limit each call to three words per call.” – X
(Hallmark card in the making?)
A lot more people would be vegetarians if they had an official hat.
I think we can all agree: anyone asking someone to sing a high school alma mater song or fight song should be charged with a felony. If elected President, I will abolish these immediately, or that they all be sung in Gibberish – since that’s what it sounds like anyway. My sincere apologies to the three people in the country who like them, along with the five Bologna Ice Cream aficionados.
“People put us in some strange positions. Monday, the mechanic put me into the lotus position and it took me an hour to extricate myself.” – X
“Let there be delight…” is a phrase we can all get behind. – X
I often say, “I look forward to serving you” while doing customer service because it’s a Hannibal-inspired statement more than one of service.
Many people know the word “schadenfreude.” It’s not a German word anymore. It’s English – because we stole it. It’s okay to say it started as a German word, but not to insist that it still is. It’s a subtle difference, but one that purists and the grammar police should note. A few people know that there’s an English-language equivalent: “epicaricacy.” But if you hear someone use it instead of “schadenfreude,” you can be sure they should NEVER be invited to a party.
My wife Dawn was actually born in Springfield, Illinois. Her mom Julia got kicked out of the state for illegally boxing without a license. Part of that statement is true.
One thing you don’t see a lot of historical shows are squirrels. That’s weird because squirrels were one of the most common pets in early United States history. They were easy to acquire, keep, and replace. Also, people often mention their scratchy claws when objecting to their domestication. Those same people often have toenails that resemble the fingers of Nosferatu.
The once ubiquitous breakfast cereal of corn flakes was invented by a desire to prevent masturbation. And not just at the breakfast table, I presume?
I didn’t put this story on social media. I don’t even like this story. It gave me no satisfaction in writing it.
This story has been idling in my folder of unsavory family lore for a long time. Recently, a person close to me was dealing with someone infected with the inability to see the damage their behavior had scattered across their family’s landscape. This story came to mind and wouldn’t relent. Some of us contain the seeds of our undoing. Barring a miracle from stopping growth, these seeds blossom and choke the beauty out of our lives.
This story, in some ways, is a biographical sequel to my Tontitown post a few weeks ago. The truth is that in the last few weeks, I’ve endured the ignorance, anger, and consequences of another life being snuffed out due to alcoholism. Anger, of course, is its sidekick all too often.
People sometimes point out that I seem to be uncluttered by my youth’s insanity. I often reply, “It comes and goes, depending on what I’m dealing with.” Writing about it is a catharsis for me. It helps me clarify and unmix things that most people think are better off unsaid.
“Don’t live in the past,” some say. “Talking about it won’t change it.” All of which is true in its way. It’s also true, though, that because some of my family members never processed the damage they carried, the demon of alcoholism found a comfortable home in them. They’ve damaged their families. Like dragons, they lie upon their accumulated secrets and scorch anyone who tries to venture close.
On a recent Sunday morning, I found myself finally confronting someone in my family with a plea for them to get help again. They responded in a way that is almost a trademark: with righteous anger, denial, misdirection, and lies. Reasonable people simply don’t lash out in uncontrolled anger, especially when their alleged accuser is being painted as nuts. It’s amazing that angry addicts don’t recognize this; they can’t help themselves.
I don’t know how much longer they might live. I know, however, that they have lost any chance of a meaningful legacy. No matter what else they’ve accomplished, their addiction will stain everything. I cannot reconcile the sheer stupidity of such a wasted life. Though my life might be outwardly devoid of accomplishments and honorific merit, I know that I’ve mostly succeeded in keeping the infection of my family legacy in check. The fact that I can even say this infuriates those in my family who can’t say the same.
And so, now that we are past the preamble…
My family fled the outer fringe of Tontitown after my mother discovered that Dad had been having an affair with his cousin’s widow. We lived with her at the time, following a fire that burned our trailer in Springdale. We moved from Tontitown to a half-length trailer on what is now Don Tyson Parkway. It was a backwater little forgotten and desolate place with several small trailers on it back in the early 80s. Before Don Tyson, it was a narrow dirt road. I drive by the remnants of the place almost daily. The trailer was tiny, much smaller than an average trailer. It was an ugly place but one which served its function of crowding poor people with no great alternatives together. At the time, no one could believe that my parents had decided to stay together. They fought constantly, and the little trailer served as a ring in which to contain their anger.
The evening had started with Mom bitterly screaming at Dad about sleeping around and not working enough. I can no longer recall the name Mom mentioned, but Dad had slept with a barfly since we’d moved. I do remember that it was at a place on 71 and Highland Avenue. Weirdly, Dad had briefly bartended there when we lived at City View before our trailer burned. Dad rarely remained faithful.
Dad was already drinking. Mom was committing the cardinal sin of pressing his buttons. I don’t remember who broke the first glass or dish, but soon a succession of objects was being hurled and shattered. I went into my tiny room but realized that I could be trapped there. I spent a great deal of my youth shoeless and tried to avoid shards in the soles of my feet.
I went back into the living room and saw that Dad had dragged Mom into the bedroom at the far end of the trailer. I watched as my Dad lifted a pistol and slammed it against my Mom’s face. Blood splattered across the edge of the bed, across my dad’s shirt, and my Mom. Mom had probably grabbed one of the many guns in the house. Dad often kept one under the mattress and the bed. She fell face-first onto the cheap floor.
Dad continued to use the gun to bludgeon her. I stood near the narrow hallway of the half-sized trailer. After the second bloody smashing sound, I ran through the front door, across the driveway, and toward Butterfield Coach Road. As had happened so many times previously, I assumed that this would be the night when someone would be murdered. While I can’t always be sure of my memory, my brother was with the Thibodeaux family not too far away and my sister was undoubtedly concocting some sinister plan in parts unknown. I stayed gone for hours. When I returned, the front door was open and neither vehicle was outside. I cautiously went inside and saw that nothing had been cleaned. Furniture was overturned and glass shards greeted me. Upon entering, the two tiny bedrooms for the kids were to the right, while the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and master bedroom followed to the end. I walked the length of the trailer, certain that I’d find someone dead there.
I can’t remember the next day. A few days later, I was at my Uncle Buck’s house with my cousin Jimmy. Uncle Buck and Dad were drinking, and my uncle told Dad he had to go back home and work it out. Dad just lit a Camel cigarette and said nothing. Later, my Mom and Aunt Ardith arrived. After Mom spent a few minutes screaming at dad, he said it wouldn’t happen again. Mom promised to kill dad if he laid a finger on her again. It was an oft-repeated threat. Dad insisted that he wasn’t going to drink for a while and certainly not to get drunk. Left unsaid was the idea that alcohol was to blame for the dark violence. My cousin Jimmy said what I was thinking: “One of them should kill the other one and get it over with.”
A few days later, Dad came home at a reasonable hour and ate his pan-prepared slab of meat. Mom often spent a great portion of her paycheck buying horrid pieces of meat for Dad to eat. She’d cook them in a cast-iron skillet or pan. I sat at the table, waiting for the coda of the other night’s savagery. Mom had bruises and cuts on her head, neck, shoulders, arms, and places unseen. I knew that her ribs were either broken or cracked. How Mom worked as a telephone operator all day without being able to take a full breath was a mystery. Given that she averaged six packs a day, maybe it wasn’t a surprise.
Dad kept looking at my mom, trying to make a connection. “I’m sorry,” he said, over and over. “You shouldn’t mouth off like that. My drinking isn’t hurting anyone.” Dad kept murmuring to mom. “You know I’m sorry, don’t you, son,” he asked me. “Yes sir,” I told him, unconcerned with the lie in the face of unknown consequences. I would have shot him in the face at that moment if I had a gun in my hand. I knew that he would respond with righteous anger soon enough. It was apparent he was not sorry and that he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong. His entire life stretched behind him; regret for his acts of violence and alcoholism seldom seemed genuine. He had killed someone and not altered his behavior. He’d beaten all of us with fists, bottles, and boots. Like most alcoholics, he also expected us to forgive him simply because he demanded it.
Friday, I came home and played my French Horn for an hour and read “The Lion, Witch, and The Wardrobe,” one of the C.S. Lewis books that kept me company. I don’t remember where my brother and sister were. Around 8, I heard screaming outside, followed by the familiar sound of car doors slamming. I jumped up and hit the on/off button of the small t.v. we had. As the front door opened, I heard another scream, this one no longer a test. Mom was screaming murder. Dad grabbed her by her hair and slammed her face into the metal door jamb. Blood squirted across the room. Dad kicked mom into the living room and then kept kicking her in the face, side, and legs.
“Don’t ever make me apologize again, you #$%$^ing @#$%! You’re the reason my life is shit!” Dad continued to scream similar obscenities as mom laid on the floor, covering her head and sobbing. “Help me,” mom yelled at me as if I could pull the gun from under the couch and shoot my Dad. The thought had crossed my mind several times. There were at least five loaded weapons under the sofa where I was.
He turned to me. “As for you, you fat fucking piece of shit, don’t you move.”
I sat on the couch. Dad opened the lower cabinet and pulled out a bottle of some lesser brand of whiskey. He opened it and drank at least 1/5 of the bottle without stopping.
Dad came back the short distance to the horrid living room and sat on mom’s back. He pulled her hair and lifted her head backward and continued punching her head. I was no more than three feet away. “I’m not sorry, you ^&*$%. I don’t have a drinking problem.”
He let her head hit the floor with a thud. Blood was on the floor, my Dad, and across the tops of my cheap K-Mart shoes. Dad got up and grabbed my French Horn in its case and walked over to the front door and threw it out into the night. He took my school library book and tore it in half and threw the pieces on me. As he threw the book on me, I peed myself. He went to take another drink of whiskey, and as he did so, I stood up and tried to gauge how to get outside. I knew that I was going to get a beating. Dad walked over, and instead of punching me, he kicked me with the bottom of his boot, knocking the air out of me and propelling me through the front door. I missed the steps entirely and hit the ground. Without hesitation, I ignored the pain and stumbled off into the dark. Dad stood in the doorway, holding his bottle of whiskey, calling out an obscenity toward me in the night.
Mom left him for a few days. She returned, of course.
A few weeks after that, Dad came home and found me playing my French Horn. It infuriated him that Mom wasn’t there. He wasn’t even drinking that night, not until after. Though I stopped playing as soon as I heard the rumble of the truck outside, Dad came inside the trailer and grabbed my instrument. Thankfully, he didn’t bend it. Instead, he held my hand on the top of the kitchen table and told me to keep it there. I thought he was going to get a knife and do the infamous fingertip jump trick with a knife. Surprising me, he swung a bottle of whiskey down on my middle and second finger. The only reason my fingers didn’t get broken was that his aim was off enough not to hit me directly. It was terrifying and painful. “I don’t want to hear you playing this faggot shit in my house! You hear me, boy?” The next time I was at Uncle Buck’s, I told him that Dad had tried to break my hand. He often asked me how band was going and if I was learning music. He was an accomplished musician himself and often tried to get me to switch to bass and guitar. Uncle Buck was livid. “Bobby Dean, if you ever do that again, I’ll see to it that the same gets done to you.” Dad just laughed. I wasn’t allowed to spend the night there that night. Even though Dad was drunk, he drove back home. He stopped near Tyson Elementary and grabbed me out of the bed of the truck and hit me until my head was ringing. “Don’t ever tell Buck anything again,” he shouted as he beat me. As I tried to climb into the back of the bed of the pickup truck, Dad punched me as hard as he could in the back. I felt that punch for weeks.
(The demand for secrecy is one of the surest and sickest signs of pathology when dealing with violent addicts.)
While Dad’s beatings were violent while he was drinking, I suffered worse during those times when he wasn’t drinking. I think those times more truly reflected the bottomlessness of his anger toward me and regarding his own life. Much of his adult life was preoccupied with his next drink. His drinking resulted in someone’s death, a death for which he was never held accountable.
Violence and anger are not the results of addiction; they are precursors that accompany its growth. They are symbiotic. They require that those around the person with the addiction be partners in the aggression.
Looking at this post in my draft folder, I forgot that I had named it “Third Grade Marijuana.” That name paints an entirely different impression than the story underneath it.
I’m going to tell a truncated version of this story. The full version contained a couple of names and where I think the barn was located. I spent quite a bit of time going through property records and digging through the lists of people with influence and authority in the area.
I was in 3rd grade. My family lived in the Brinkley area again, for a year, so that my Dad could run the gas station on Highway 49 a few miles from Brinkley. I was in the bed of Dad’s truck with Duke, one of a long line of German Shepherds with the same name. We drove for miles. Dad turned off the main highway and then drove a series of increasingly narrow dirt roads. The last one was long and straight and ended in front of an unusually bright barn. As we neared, the large doors opened and Dad drove directly inside, which surprised me. Around the perimeter were large bags of hay. It smelled like silage or something pungent. I had been given orders to stay in the bed of the pickup truck. It wasn’t until later than I realized that Dad took me to a way station of sorts for marijuana. The barn was accessible only by one road. Deep irrigation ditches rimmed the entire arc of the farmland.
I didn’t stay in the bed of the truck. Someone offererd me a bottle of Pepsi from a machine along the wall.
Despite what people might say, this is a true story. Because the gas station in Rich is Monroe County, but close to a couple of other counties, I can’t be certain we stayed in Monroe County. I don’t know why we went to the holding barn in the middle of nowhere. I don’t remember if Dad took anything. I mainly remember him to talking to several people. All of them were laughing and talking loudly. It wasn’t menacing at all. Dad told me many years later that no one was worried because things have always been done that way.
Years later, it surprised me to know that Mom and Dad had marijuana in the house. (Or trailer, I should say.) I was oblivious to it before. They were lucky I was addicted to grape Bubble Yum and didn’t have an interest in pot. I would have had the entire school baked otherwise.
I started with the best of intentions: I stopped at Aldi to buy my mother-in-law another loaf of Apple Strudel Breakfast Bread. I first bought it for her as a whim. As such things go, the bread is pretty fabulous. It is with a begrudging spirit that I give any compliments to Aldi. I’m still very cautious about what I buy there. I will admit, however, that they offer a few things that aren’t available in other places. (Other than typhoid and a persistent rash, I mean.) I blame my friend Marjay for reminding me of Aldi. She shared a social media post yesterday about the dynamics of returning one’s cart.
Given that my job has a work limit allegedly due to the COVID crisis, I ran from my job with glee a little while ago. I should have paid more attention to the forecast. If not the forecast, I should have looked behind me as I drove across Springdale. There was a massive dark cell approaching. Had I noticed it, I would have driven directly home. I definitely would not have parked at the furthest part of the lot, either, something I almost always do when the executive committee chairwoman isn’t with me. (That would be my wife.)
I entered Aldi’s to buy three or four things besides the aforementioned delicious Apple Strudel bread. I ended up with a couple of dozen items and had to retrieve a shopping cart to carry them. It was at that point I noted the massive black wall almost on top of the store. Ignoring my instincts, I put my items in the cart and finished shopping. By the time the helpful cashier was throwing my items in my cart like it was an Olympic qualifying event, we could see the sheets of rain, as well as hear them strike the store’s roof.
I bought some bags, piled my stuff in them, and waited by the long window at the front of the store. My three or four items had blossomed into three large bags of food. Anyone looking at me would have thought I might be a huge fan of Aldi. It was a strange coincidence that today was my biggest Aldi haul in years.
There were several customers congregated along the bank of windows, all staring at the massive storm that greeted us. One woman with a full cart didn’t hesitate. She walked into the rain without wincing, unloaded her cart, and walked back to the front to return it to the corral. She resembled an otter that had just emerged from an overflowing creek. I’m assuming she is the mother of several children; only such unavoidable training could result in that kind of resigned demeanor. Additionally, she owned a minivan. It’s common knowledge that driving a minivan is tantamount to tacit approval to get drenched while doing the weekly shopping.
We watched one brave soul exit Aldi with a bag of groceries. In horror, we watched as he ran across 412. Anyone familiar with the danger would understand. Running across through rain so thick we could barely see across the street was an added element of lunacy.
After several minutes, I decided that the storm wasn’t going to abate. Pushing my cart ahead of me, I exited. As I crossed the main door, an unattended cart rolled by at a very fast speed, heading across the lot and destined to crush someone’s car. An employee cursed and then darted to get it. He was drenched by the time he came back. I half-ran, knowing it was futile. The sheets of rain hit me and surprised me by how cold it was.
At this point, I’d like to mention I hadn’t done my work laundry in a few days. As a result, I wore a pair of my old pants, ones with a much larger stretchy waste. I used my belt to tighten it drastically while I worked. Even so, my pants threatened to drop once or twice.
Because of the heavy rain, my pants drooped as I shuffled across the parking lot. As I half-ran, my pants, belt and all, slipped down past my gray underwear. I didn’t hear a round of applause from any of those employees or customers hiding from the rain at the front of the store. I stopped and got my pants to stay more or less and up and continued on to the car.
I crossed a river between the last rows of cars. The water reached my ankles as I crossed. As I opened the rear door of my car, I realized at the last second that the paper bags had become ornamental at that point. By sheer luck, I didn’t drop any of my groceries. I picked the other bags up like cannonballs and dropped them in the back.
Because why not, I walked my cart back up to the store. I told the employee, “My pants fell off on the way. My apologies for the unsolicited reminder to always wear underwear.”
Driving across Springdale on 412 was another adventure. Several vehicles decided to avoid the overflowing storm drains along the edge by driving in both lanes. I didn’t witness any accidents. While driving, I could feel the water puddling in my seat and on the floor.
When I arrived home, my wife had opened the garage door for me. I don’t park in the garage. I had to carry each of the three soaked bags to the inside of the garage one at a time, placing them on the concrete near the inner door. The rain was cascading across the roof of the car and hitting me in the face each time I opened the car door. Afterward, I wasn’t sure the garage door would close against the wind gusts and blowing rain. I had to strip out of my clothes while standing in the garage, surrounded by my valuable groceries.
Note: despite what you’d think, it is not romantic or sexy to watch your drenched husband bring in the groceries. I base this knowledge on the rapidity with which my wife exited the scene.
I could feel the loaf of Apple Strudel bread chuckling at me while I did. “Was I worth all that,” I’m sure it was asking me.
The cat’s been staring at the dryer strangely ever since I put my soaked shoes in there. He was so startled earlier when the shoes knocked the dryer door open that he bolted across the narrow entrance hallway at supersonic speed, smashing directly into the wall. His only comment was a strange, “Meowwwwwww,” even as he weirdly plopped down on the floor.
I can identify with the cat. Whether my greater error was in going to Aldi or doing so during a monsoon is up to you to decide.
Around me, the world continued, its billions of inhabitants each contributing their parts to the melee of the planet.
In the passenger seat sat an unusual amount of Mexican food I’d picked up from Acambaro, certainly more than two people should safely eat. In the bag, among other things, were five full orders of pico de gallo. Anyone who dislikes the smell of onions should assume my breath to be worse than normal after lunch. For anyone who doesn’t know: an order of pico de gallo at Acambaro is not your typical meager serving. Five such orders contain and order of magnitude of onions, cilantro, and chopped tomatoes. While you may challenge me to do ten pushups, I challenge you to eat five servings of this with a full meal without questioning your own sanity.
The car smelled like a restaurant as I drove east on Huntsville. Around me, several drivers seemed intent on reaching warp speed. For several, it was obvious they needed to be more concerned about the condition of their vehicles, their personal hygiene, and their ability to confine themselves to at least two lanes. Were in not before noon, I would have assumed several had attended a “Drink-All-You-Want” wine tasting.
As I slowly stopped at the intersection of 265 near the packed Kum & Go, I lowered my driver’s window. All the cars who’d been training for the Indy 500 for the half-mile were in the left lane. I turned my car volume to “19,” a volume that could potentially launch a satellite into orbit. My USB was playing “Automatica” by Nigel Stanford. If you’ve never heard it, you’re in for a treat. (And not the kind of treat that’s covered in lint in the bottom of the candy jar at your Grandma’s, either.)
As the young Latino in the first car looked over at me, I smiled like a lunatic, showing him all my teeth. I put the window up, even as I looked at him. I like to imagine how weird it must have looked to him to see me continue to smile like a hyena while the window went up in front of my face. “Inspired By Hannibal Lecter” probably approximates his discomfort. I had to laugh.
The light changed, and the left lane’s performance drivers rocketed off – but not before a small dark Honda vehicle sitting on 265 turned right and went across into their lane. As you would expect, the dark Honda immediately slowed to 25 mph. The fast drivers all hit their brakes as I went past them. I was amused.
As Huntsville curves south lazily, the throng of traffic began jockeying for position as the drivers neared Emma. At that point, Huntsville magically transforms into Butterfield Coach Road, a name so ridiculously preposterous that no one willingly wants to call it that. When Latinos ask me what it means or what the translation for “Butterfield” might be, I sometimes tell them that it is a medical condition characterized by high volume diarrhea. Sometimes I let them continue to think it’s true.
To the south and east, the sky was darkening rapidly.
The City of Springdale changed the roads a few years back to make them safer. I assume that was the reasoning. The stretch of road from Emma to the next huge curve has been beautiful for walking since the road deviated. Now, however, a spur is being built on the inside of the curve on the right side. Frequently, cones suddenly appear from the proverbial mist and force the right lane to suddenly merge with the left. That’s the theory, anyway. What it actually does is weed out those who are under the influence of marijuana and/or using their phones as they drive.
Because I drive it frequently, I tend to assume that someone’s going to do something stupid. Today, as the music blared, I watched a black Grand Cherokee Laredo approach from the rear going at least 70 mph. (Contrary to popular belief, and even though there are a lot of people who want to get out of Springdale as quickly as possible, we don’t have 70 mph zones. Note: the police allow you to drive 90 on 412 if you’ve eaten at Taco Bell – and do so for obvious gastrointestinal reasons.) As the Laredo neared me on the right and then passed, I noticed that their tag was a paper one. I had a sudden insight that it was their turn to be an idiot. There was no sign on their car to indicate this. I just knew. As they came into the cones pushing them left, I saw the Laredo eat one under the bumper. I assume the driver woke up at that point because the brake lights lit up vividly. I could almost feel the driver’s butt clench up from inside my own car. The Laredo lurched left, like a drunk who’d hit his head on the chandelier. The Laredo then went back and forth quickly. I was convinced I was going to see the driver go off into the large dirt valley that had been recently excavated for what appears to be a new access road. It’s right on the inside of the curve, too, where it will probably inspire more accidents.
Luckily, the Laredo didn’t do a Dukes of Hazzard. We stopped at the next light at Parsons Road. I noticed a black Escalade in front. On each side of the vehicle was a group of yellow balloons. On the rear, there was a sign wishing someone a happy 2020 graduation. The “O” of 2020 was a roll of toilet paper. I didn’t catch the name on the vehicle. The emergency lights were flashing. I couldn’t see inside the vehicle due to the near-total tint on the windows.
In 2020, maybe it’s a good thing to not see where one might be going.
103 seconds had elapsed since I noticed the time on the usb device on my car stereo.
In a way that you might understand, those 103 seconds felt almost accordion-like in my mind.
When I had time a little later, after writing this, I visited Google Maps and went back in time to 2008 to travel these same roads virtually. What a strange thing memory is, wrapping itself in blankets of time in an unending crescendo.