Category Archives: Jimmy

Addiction Road (A Very Personal Story)

Hi. It’s me, X, the guy who learned the hard lesson of discovering that I’m as stupid as anyone else. We’re all stupid; we take turns wearing the dunce cap. Mine fits a little too well. It opened my eyes to blind corners in my periphery, ones I was responsible for and failed to illuminate.

That’s my teddy bear in the picture. My friend Leigh gave it to me as a surprise when I was in the hospital. I named it Azon, short for “corazon” in Spanish. (It has a heart on its chest.) Because I didn’t want to breach her privacy, I didn’t say before that my ex-wife Dawn came to the ER and stayed there until 1 a.m. when the surgeons cut me open. She got to experience the joy of watching me throw up countless times, roll around on the cement floor, and semi-scream/groan at least five hundred times. Not many ex-wives would do that, especially with the rawness of the divorce so close. I won’t forget the kindness. Neither of us will forget the spectacle. It’s important to note that such kindness is the most difficult when we’re hurt. I’m not a Christian, but it’s as close to the ideal of “do unto others” as you’ll likely find. If she needed to see me suffer to get over the stupidity I put her through, this should adequately fill the need.

Life looks different when you’re older, after making mistakes and watching people around you mystify you with their decisions. When I was younger, I had an anger that has dissolved into recognition that I, too, contained slivers of the demons that possessed them. I’m grateful that I’ve avoided most of the dreck that worsened their lives. As a bystander, though, I paid the price.

I’m writing to a specific subset of friends and family, ones who might not otherwise see something like this and realize they have someone in their lives who needs attention.

There can be no preambulation or proverbial beating around the bushes. Time is short, even if you don’t realize it.

I wrote this with love in my heart; I’ve learned that my imperfectionism often jabs people unexpectedly, no matter my intentions. I’ve crossed the line a little by sharing parts of my experience that overlap with other people. It’s risky, but it’s also the most rewarding. Someone is going to read this and have a light bulb go off in their head.

Because of my history, I have a lot of experience around addiction. An inherent danger of such exposure is to fall into the hole, believing oneself incapable of succumbing to something that always originates with free will and repeated choices. Every addict started with no intention of losing themselves in the abyss and misery of addiction. Addiction is a byproduct, not a goal. I also hated to SEE that though I’ve acquired significant experience with addiction, my ability to pivot and behave differently in response to those in the throes of addiction hasn’t necessarily improved. I’m as helpless and stupid as the next guy when confronted with someone in my sphere who won’t “snap out of it.” When friends or family members ask for advice, you’d think I would be one of the most qualified people to answer.

Why should we shake our heads so violently at addicts? Most of us become obese, smoke, or routinely engage in detrimental behavior. We say, “It hasn’t killed me yet!” That’s true. Just as in the case of addiction, we don’t address our misbehavior until we are forced to. Addiction becomes unmanageable due to money, exposed behavior, or a decline in physical health. Addiction to things like heroin brings consequences more quickly than our national pastime of alcoholism.

In case you didn’t know, I drink. I love a good beer (and many bad ones, which many people claim tastes like dog urine), whiskey over ice, or vodka and sweet & sour. Oh, and wine, champagne, port, and several other things. Luckily for me, my like didn’t devolve into an unquenching thirst for it. I recognize how few punches it might take to drag me toward danger. I’ve experienced risk factors such as loneliness or uncertainty.

I’ll tell you a secret: no matter who you are, someone in your sphere has a secret addiction. Some take years to escalate to a point where the secrecy can no longer be maintained. Missing work, a DUI, increased self-isolation, loss of health, financial issues; these are but a few of the symptoms. By the time you note the signs, it’s challenging to pull someone away from it. In reality, you almost can’t. All such changes must start with the person in question. The harder you attempt to use logic and appeals, the more defensive the addiction becomes. They’ll appreciate the love and concern WHEN and IF they overcome their addiction. Until then, you’re just another person pointing a finger and drawing attention to their secret; disloyalty is always grounds for rejection. The agony of it is that if you love them, you’re powerless to resist the urge to try. That’s the bittersweet tendrils of love at work. It’s why I wrote the Bystander’s Prayer. All answers are unworkable. Until they’re not. Those who escape addiction look back and feel so much regret for what they’ve done to themselves and the agony of pushing away loved ones in preference to something they couldn’t escape. If the addict fails to survive, the friends and family always suffer regret.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m susceptible to addiction. Part of it stems from my childhood. Studies have shown that abuse and exposure to neglect or addiction hugely impact the likelihood of someone being an addict. My full siblings, parents, cousins, several aunts and uncles, at least two grandparents all suffer(ed) from addiction. For instance, I don’t have a single family member I know of who successfully stopped being an alcoholic. A few of them vilified me for my rejection of being around those who used alcohol to justify destroying their lives and those around them. It was a difficult road when I was younger. Addicts despise perceived disloyalty most of all. I was loudly disloyal and judgmental as hell. Part of that responsibility is on me. In my defense, the very environment that almost killed me taught me the lesson of escape, one I only partially implemented.

Paradoxically, I understand the addicts in my family much better than I did when I was young. As I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed such a vast spectrum of people fail to “pull up” as their addictions wrapped themselves into their lives. It’s not about being intelligent, rich, having a family, or a good job. Addiction cuts a blind swath. I see many people doubt that their loved one or friend is addicted. They focus on the superficiality of there having been no crash. Yet. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I can see the allure of yielding to something that gives dangerous comfort.

For years, I’ve known that addiction would be an easy road for me. As much as I got angry at my sister for her more outlandish behavior with the rougher end of the drug spectrum, I watched in horror and regret as my brother chose the traditional and cleverly hidden method to reach his addiction. He chose the slow way of drinking excessively for years. He lost his job, his health, and he died much too soon. I lost him as a brother more than once on his journey. He was as intelligent as any human I’ve ever known. Truthfully, his intelligence made any attempt to address his alcoholism dangerous and impossible. Like so many others, he had a massive wall of rationalizations to explain why he did what he did. That people fiercely loved him had little impact on his behavior. He used it to create an anger shield. I could have been him with just the wrong push. I see the arc of his progression differently now. I have a lot of regrets. Equally valid is that his addiction and intelligence outmatched me. Every course of action I chose to deal with him was turned into a fantasy of aggression.

My cousin Jimmy, who I loved, struggled with alcoholism his entire adult life. Both of his parents ultimately died from it. Cancer got Jimmy; had he lived longer, I would have loved seeing him beat his love of alcohol. I think he would have. It’s no irony that the job he loved best was for a beer distributor. He loved that job.

Recently, I posted my Bystander’s Prayer, one which outlines the grief of those around someone suffering from addiction. No matter how intelligent you are, no one owns a playbook that effectively helps us reach out to someone at the bottom of the well. I wrote it for my brother but finished it for others who were peering down into their own well, helpless, afraid, but possessed by a love that compelled them to try. Thank god for love, even as it stings as mightily as any emotion can.

Most of us approach the issue of addiction as if it is a logical one. It’s not. It’s not genuinely emotional, either. It’s a strange, impossible alchemy of pain that resists easy confrontation. Most of us walk toward the battle with underserved confidence and a lack of appreciation for how powerful addiction is. Words will not work. Love will not work. Love compels us, though. The addict can’t see our intrusion as love. It’s one of our most significant errors when we try to encourage someone to change.

People suffering from addiction loathe attention. Secrecy and omissions govern their lives. So much of a person’s life begins to tighten in on itself like a series of perverse and elliptical constrictions. Sunlight itself serves as a living metaphor for how reduced a person can become. The next black buzz or unrestrained and unseen high becomes its own reward, excluding more and more as it tightens. People, friends and loved ones alike, get flung off the carousel.

Addicts need time alone with the thing that gives them the most comfort. As the addiction grows, time and energy directed to friends, work, and loved ones diminish. Addiction is a zero-sum game; its presence removes vibrancy and connection from lives. It reduces the possibility of a full life. This results in loved ones feeling an increasing emptiness and drives them to greater heights to “get through” to the addict.

For those who don’t suffer from addiction, it’s hard for us to imagine it. We foolishly believe that it is a question of willpower or intelligence. It’s not. Addiction is the parasite that wills its victim to the next high. It is the worst of diseases: it is both physical and mental.

Alcohol is a painkiller, just like other drugs. It grants oblivion from the shortfalls or pain that the addict experiences. All addictions are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Even addicts know this. But the pursuit ensues, no matter how dark of a road it leads someone. If anyone has trauma in their past, it’s that much harder for them to give up the relief of the high to face a drug-free existence. Drugs and alcohol allow us to shortcut our way to temporary oblivion. I viscerally understand the temptation. I’ve been on guard about it most of my adult life.

Prescription painkillers are so popular because they inexplicably don’t carry the same stigma as using street drugs or liquor. There’s no distinction in terms of the effects, though. Usage of prescription drugs continues to rise. I don’t see it abating.

Most people don’t become addicts, even if they try drugs or alcohol. This fact confuses many people who’ve done drugs or drink lightly without falling into addiction. They fail to see that their brain chemistry, environment, or circumstances are not the same as that of an addict. Willpower and motivation do affect people’s tendency to fall into addiction. They are bit players in the drama, though. I won’t go into the complicated realm of brain chemistry or trauma. Science clouds the essential truth of why some are prone to addiction while others are not.

An addiction is ANYthing that grants temporary relief or pleasure yet causes later harm. And even if you’re aware of the effects, you can’t stop. It can be shopping, work, sex, food, and several other things. I’m just addressing the common usage of the word.

I learned from experience that addicts resist connections and thoughtful concern. Even mundane expressions of affection, much less pointed inquiries about someone’s well-being, can be catalysts to rejection. There is no subtle way to ask how an addict is doing without significant risk of being flung away.

With addicts, a straightforward thing you can and should do is learn the habit of lifelining. If you’re not familiar with lifelining, it’s just a word to encompass letting people know that you are, at a minimum, still alive – or available if you have an addict in your periphery.

Addicts who survive the ordeal also face the backlash of loved ones who endured anger and pain due to the addiction. It takes a long time for people to forgive such damage. Many families are forever torn. Forgiveness is a personal choice.

The pandemic accelerated drug use and alcoholism. Isolation is a precursor to more people succumbing to addiction. We had a record number of people overdose last year. We don’t have the statistics yet to know how many more chose to drink to quench the loneliness and hurt of their lives. People are social creatures, and addiction thrives on secrecy. Depression is also on the rise. It’s often a close cousin to addictive behaviors.

Again, you have a person in your life, closer than you’d imagine, who needs a little extra love and attention. There is time to attempt to reach them. Don’t be surprised if your hand gets bitten. It’s the first step.

Even as addiction rises, we don’t provide people treatment. We stigmatize them. Even with excellent health insurance, many plans will only pay for 10% of the cost, if at all. Everyone else? They have to destroy their health and lives to get help.

We all wish love would prevail.

Love, X

Along, Into…

Today, I walked more than I have in a few years.

Because it was chilly and the sky was overcast, the atmosphere didn’t feel like May at all. It was glorious. My walk to get there was indeed long, but my feet floated on the grass and pavement as I made my way across town. As I walked, I witnessed several hundred drivers nervously hit their brakes as the increased holiday traffic police presence caught their attention. I passed a massive grove of honeysuckle, whose scent was unique and vibrant; the odd observation is that the same patch also contained more trash than any other single stretch I passed today. I noted that Magnolia Gardens is now Natural State Rock & Republic, a haven for cyclists. (Their website is top-notch, by the way.) The grounds at Magnolia are still beautiful, just like a few of my memories made there. A woman stood on her long, covered porch. As I passed, she offered me a cup of coffee. “Next time,” I told her, and she nodded. I found a picture of a young woman stuck in the criss-cross pattern of a chainlink fence – and couldn’t stop myself from conjecturing what led someone to place it there. (I’ve done the same thing countless times in my life.) I left the picture artfully placed there, hopefully for the next passerby to ponder. I wrote several index cards of messages myself, using a pack of multicolor ones I had forgotten that I had. Some of these I placed on fences, while others I left in cracks on the sidewalk, across tables in open spaces, and a couple in the branches of trees. Some were humorous, some serious. All of them contained hints of me.

On a last-minute whim, I decided to skip a usual walk and instead take a longer one to one of the main cemeteries in Springdale. I visited a couple of graves, including my cousin Jimmy’s. I spent a few moments spouting off one-liners to roast his absence. It’s not something that many people would understand if they overhead me doing so. Jimmy, though? He would howl with appreciation. I imagined his Mom, my Aunt Ardith, rolling her eyes and muttering, “Oh brother!” as I did so. Jimmy’s grave is the closest to the meandering creek on that end, and because of the recent rains, the stream echoed and combined with the birds squawking and announcing their presence.

As I walked along one of the main horizontal streets in the cemetery, I passed a group of men. They were smoking pot and drinking from tallboy cans. I could see them circumspectly look up at me. I’d already decided that my presence might make them nervous. So, I nodded and told them in Spanish to carry on and that no one would disrespect their moment at whomever’s grave they stood. They all nodded, and I left them in peace.

It’s a moment Jimmy would have appreciated. No matter how his life ended up, he was a devout admirer of marijuana when he was younger. For anyone who would mind me saying so, Jimmy wouldn’t. Now that eight years have elapsed since his death, I am sure that all truths, both small and large, bear him no harm. Whether he lies in eternal silence or walks in his idea of heaven, I know that he’d laugh and say, “F’em.”

I left the cemetery, trying to decide whether I should walk further. I walked quite a way in the opposite direction before opting to walk back to downtown. Emma was closed off, and people were setting up tables and chairs along the main street. Vendors were scattered along the same path, extending up to Shiloh Square and Turnbow Park.

I ate at Mr. Taco Loco (because life is too damn short to miss a chance to do so). I spent a few minutes waiting for my food and inadvertently listening to several tables full of people gossipping and saying things louder than they probably intended to. Though I had headphones on, I wasn’t listening to music, though they probably assumed I was tuned out to them. In honor of this, I’d like to give a shout-out to Nathan, who is never returning to the job he hates and is using the excuse of the holiday to miss all next week: his employer thinks he had a death in the family. Rock on, Nathan.

To my surprise, I convinced myself to forego an Uber back to my house. I’m glad I did, although my legs are complaining a bit already about my choice. I tried to focus on walking to the next traffic light and no further. Usually, as I make these small commitments, the walk doesn’t seem as daunting. I feel like there’s a metaphor or analogy for life in this somewhere.

By the time I made it back several hours later, the sun was out, and making my choice of wearing a light jacket a regret. I still carried the shadows from along the creek in my head, though. No one can see them, nor the smell of dozens of honeysuckle plants in my nose. I’m not sure why I know I’ll remember this walk for years to come. In part, it will be the length, yes. The other facet is that each of us is a work in progress, often unaware that we’ve shifted in ways both insignificant and transformational.

Love, X

Humor’s Acolate

“As sorry as I was to hear of my brother’s passing, I’ll bet the news bothered him a LOT more.” – X

There’s a considerable risk in people misunderstanding you on a good day. Many of us tend to judge others with the worst possible filter. I’ve found that good people can understand and appreciate contradictory and sublime behavior. Those who don’t just aren’t my people. Old age and experience, if we’re lucky, gives us more latitude in recognizing this.

The greater danger is people hearing what you actually said, and you having no defensible context to mitigate it. So much of life is context, and much of that isn’t immediately explainable. “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” is a cliché for a reason.

The joke that started this post? I’m sure people can and will get angry if they choose to. They’ll claim I wrote it as an insult to Mike. It’s not. He would laugh his ass off reading that joke. About one hundred times over the years, I threw one of Woody Allen’s jokes at him: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Years later, I threw in another one: “My relationship with death remains the same,” he said. “I’m strongly against it.” When Mike and I were young, we both read “Death Knocks,” a story (turned play) by Woody Allen. It was a sometimes topic of hilarity, even though Mike did not like Woody Allen as he grew older. Mike and I both made many bargains with imaginary devils and deities when we were young.

Only those who can imagine hiding in the space between the bed and the wall in the dark and waiting for a parent to come for them in a drunken rage might be able to understand the connection between bargaining and gallows humor. I have a list of stories about these incidents, and some of them surprise me by being funny. If you’ve read my blog, you can see that I’ve largely refrained from identifying some of my family by name. Despite this, I still infrequently find myself at the receiving end of hateful criticism.

When we lived at City View Trailer Park in Springdale, Mike swallowed an incredible amount of tobacco juice. Several of us had played and fought down at the retched pond that once stood at the end of City View. Mike spent much of his time between punches proudly with a mouthful of tobacco. He puked violently on the floor for what seemed like a full minute. That black juice stained the purple carpet deeply. No amount of cleaning could remove it. We’ll talk later about how someone thought purple carpet in a tinderbox trailer might look attractive. When the trailer burned, the stain obstinately remained. The carpet was dark, of course, but the underlying stain plainly stood out. Years later, when Mike and I spent the night at Mom and Dad’s house on Highway 49, Mike compared that stain to dealing with being helpless all those years, or nearly so. That was the same night we discovered that a nest of yellow jackets inhabited the other bedroom’s west-facing window. That’s a story for another day. As for the tobacco, despite attempts to make Mike stop, he dipped most of his adult life. I have at least three dozen pictures of him spitting into a bottle, cup, or a family member’s potted plant to prove it.

After Dad died, my cousin jimmy recommended that I watch a particular Billy Bob Thorton movie. Most people have never heard of “Daddy And Them.” You’ll be shocked if you take a look at how many stars joined this movie. Because it was set in Arkansas, it accurately grabs the absurdity of white trash living and wraps it in comedy. (A difficult feat.) After Jimmy twisted my arm and made me watch it, I did the same to Mike. In it was one of the jokes my brother and I shared as hilarious. Here’s the joke:

“Hey! Do you know what Dad would say if he were alive today?” One of us would reply, “No, what?” Dramatic pause. “Let me out!” With the last line, we scratch the air in front of us with both hands as if we were clawing our way out of the coffin. Last year, an Irish veteran stole the joke and shocked funeral attendees by having a pre-recorded tape of his voice shouting to be let out played during his service. Mike thought it was hilarious and an excellent way to separate the humorless from the good people in a crowd. “Can you imagine how tightly wound up Aunt Elsie’s panties would get if someone did that?” was part of his reply.

I have to say, though, that despite the immense teeth-gnashing my brother and I often shared, our deplorable and macabre sense of humor was unrivaled. Marines and serial killers alike cringed if they accidentally overheard our nonsense.

No matter what you’ve read and heard on sitcoms or dramas about the impossibility of confining an involuntary laugh at a funeral, my brother and I separately were a disaster; in combination, we probably deserved the death penalty. Some of the fault lies with my Dad. Even when he wasn’t drinking, he could say some of the most outrageous things devised by a human being. He once called the preacher a “co$$su$$er” in front of about 50 people just to get a leg up on him. In a twist of fate I’ve written about before, Dad and the preacher somehow became friends.

My brother Mike once unknowingly used an open mic at a funeral home in Brinkley to improvise a bit of comedy regarding our Grandma’s teeth. The funeral director sheepishly ran into the outer area to grab the mic from my brother and tell him that it was a ‘hot mic.’ It’s essential that you know that my Grandma was one of the two closest people I ever loved. Despite that, I laughed. I cannot think about that incident without losing a little bit of my soul to laughter. I’m convinced each chuckle puts me a foot further into purgatory.

There’s no greater or sublime pleasure having someone who is both smart and willing to go the extra mile for a laugh, joke, or smile – even if it burns down a few villages on the way there. I give Mike the win, though, because he could tell jokes that I wouldn’t. That’s saying a lot.

Not too many months ago, I sent my brother a collection of hand-written postcards, each with a joke from comedians we both loved. As with index cards in my back pocket, I’m also a fan of prestamped postcards for quick notes. Even while we were uneasily bickering, I wanted him to know that humor was still a big part of my life. (Even if I’m old, boring, wear a lot of black socks as leisurewear, and get too excited by an early buffet.)

Mike would see these words as a compliment.

Because of our relationship, I tend to expect someone to emerge with poison in their hearts to attempt to silence me for joking. Those who know me also know I’ve written multiple times about the fact that they have my permission to mock me to the end of the world when I’m gone, especially if it is funny or creative. Mike was not someone to pull back from a bastardly comment. The same quick and violent tongue he sometimes used to wound me also created some world-class humor. For everyone who knew Mike and watched him in action on solemn occasions, the Bobby Dean in him could not be confined or controlled. Trying to do so was just catnip for his enthusiasm to up the ante.

It’s not reasonable to accuse me of glossing over or attempting to sugarcoat Mike’s life. Equally so, I have to tip my hat when it is merited. Both of us emerged from childhood with a scorched-earth comedic streak. It probably saved us as many times as it caused us grief.

As it turns out, Mike was indeed there when death came for him. His birthday would have been November 1st, the day after Halloween. For some, it is All Souls Day. When I sat to finish Mike’s ancestry record, I noticed that his two children are the same age I was when our Dad died. Mike was 20,062 days old, the mentioning of which would irritate him due to my occasional reminder that I still keep a tab of how many days old I am.

My job is to remember the Mike who put a fish under the driver’s seat of my 1984 Oldsmobile in the middle of summer during a visit to Aunt Barbara’s. (Without telling me.) Or the Mike who read “Lord of The Rings” in almost one sitting back in the early 80s.

Please don’t fault me for taking refuge in contradictory stories about Mike. But if you do, I’ll accept that charge. Given the arc of my origins, I find this potential sin to be minuscule.

P.S. The word “acolate” is mine, one devised to denote eulogic remembrance, perhaps a day too late.

They Could Have Called Me “The Streak”

Jimmy isn’t the one in the long dress. He’s the one wearing a white jacket, wondering what he’d got himself into.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t streak naked around Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs during my cousin Jimmy’s first wedding. His first wedding was in August of 1995 to a woman named Lona Heckle. In 1995, I still had the body to allow me to run fast – and, if caught, not feel too badly about my picture being on the nightly news after my arrest for streaking. Camcorders were common but it was still possible to just be a blur on such cameras. Regular cameras were unwieldy and snapping flash pictures inside a giant glass rectangle tended to yield less-than-stellar photos.

Coincidentally, one of my other regrets is that I did not get to perform Jimmy’s other marriage shortly before his death. I overcame my inertia to become ordained due to the possibility of this marriage. I understand the particulars of why someone else was chosen but still remain a bit uneasy about it. Personally, I can’t understand why more families don’t have someone ordained so that the family member doing the ceremony will forever be part of the memory, too. After all, standing with the two people in love is the best seat in the house, so to speak.

Were Jimmy still alive, he’d join me in laughter if I told him, “Yes, I was going to perform your second marriage naked, Jimmy. No need to streak if I’m standing in front of everyone.”

He’s been dead for more than 7 1/2 years now, which itself seems alien to write.

I wrote much of this post a few days ago, before the other shoe fell and my brother died. I don’t recall why Mike wasn’t at Jimmy’s wedding. Fittingly enough, Jimmy and I didn’t make the trip up to the Chicago Metro area to attend my brother’s wedding. Our excuse wasn’t personal; we were both just young, poor, and unaware that we could reach out and find a way to get there.

My cousin was a bit crazy himself. He was prone to get whiskey courage and do some outrageous things. We inherited the tendency from our ancestors.

For whatever reason, Jimmy was very nervous about the wedding itself. All the family he’d ever known was attending. When I first started teasing Jimmy about potentially streaking during his wedding, he laughed and said, “You’ll never do it. You’ll say you will but you don’t have your dad’s crazy streak.” So I told him, “Exactly. NOT having it gives me the courage to do it precisely because no one will expect it.” As the days passed, I could tell I had got into his head.

For those unfamiliar with the Thorncrown Chapel, it’s made of glass and steel and sits in the middle of an expanse of trees and forest. I’ve witnessed people become overwhelmed by emotion while sitting inside. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being inside during heavy snow or while the sun is beaming through at an oblique angle, you undoubtedly can imagine it again.

Now add the idea of me running around the place naked with dozens of horrified onlookers trapped on the inside watching me do it.

I made the short video cut of Jimmy standing at the altar. It captures his unease at being the center of attention and spectacle. I took it from a VHS tape I had digitized several years ago. It was one of my few chances to be able to see videos and images from lives overlapping mine. Much of the bulk of such photography was lost to me due to the odd lack of sharing many of the family members seemed to inherit.

And because it’s one of the few relics of me on video, here’s a short one of me the day of Jimmy’s wedding. We were milling around outside the motel waiting for the hurry-and-wait part of the afternoon to commence.

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I wanted to post this picture of Jimmy and Lona a couple of years after they were married. I mean no disrespect but I always remember wrong how long they were married.

Two Gloves For Rosen

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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.

A Dart In The Foot

Capture

Years before the interstate crossed western Springdale, my cousin owned a big chunk of land where the Springdale Convention Center, Denny’s, and La Quinta now stand. (Little did he know how valuable his land would one day become.) He had one of the region’s largest machine shops there. (If such things matter for the story, he technically was ‘the husband of a 1st cousin 1x removed.’)

Along the road, his parents, Goldie and Ellis, owned a house, followed by a trailer and another little house further down. Pasture framed the property in a large “L.” Like much of the area, it was rural and Highway 412 was a slender ribbon known as 68. 48th Street cut across the highway, uninterrupted by the interstate like it is now. It’s interesting that Springdale is now reconnecting across that area with Gene George Blvd. On our side of the highway, 48th Street was a narrow road to almost nowhere. Close to the road stood several massive oak trees, a couple of them towering high about the landscape. There were pear and apple trees dotted all over the property, as well as a couple of walnut and pecan trees, one of which almost literally killed me, but not for the reason you might imagine. That’s a story for another day. My cousin Jimmy and I both narrowly avoided being blinded near there, which is also a story for another day. My family lived in two trailers and a very small house on the property.

I don’t remember how we ended up in the jon boat sitting in the grass near the trees in front of Goldie’s garage building. It was there for a while, so you had to careful about jumping into it without inspection. Otherwise, you might find yourself jumping right back out with a snake or other critter attached to you.

My cousin Jimmy found a few large darts somewhere. Time has stolen the details about where they originated. While they weren’t the infamous lawn darts that came later, they were larger than standard throwing darts that we’ve all tossed and hit the wall accidentally with, even as we tried to conceal our errant misses.

More than once, I said, “Watch out with those darts, Jimmy!” He was younger than me. He was also was protected by a strange force field of superiority. He was almost Kevin Costner untouchable. Jimmy laughed and threw another one with even more recklessness. It thudded into the wood bottom of the boat. “Darn it, Jimmy, you better not hit me!”

Jimmy stepped several steps further back and, without pausing, launched the heavy dart high into the air, in a long parabola of unknown destination. Naturally, I did the only thing possible: I covered my head and winced. I doubt Jimmy expected me to duck.

It turns out I didn’t need to concern myself with being hit in the head with the dart.

It landed directly on the top of my foot, impaling my left foot almost all the way through. I had a Jim Carrey moment, one in which I stared at the heavy dart impaled in my foot. My brain was taking a bit of a break to process this.

Suddenly, my foot cramped.

Jimmy’s face made an absurdly round “O” as his mouth fell open, as I writed a little bit in agony.

For once, I believed he didn’t intentionally do the thing that just happened. That is what happens when you indiscriminately toss heavy darts above people’s heads, though. That’s a helpful note if you find yourself indiscriminately tossing darts high into the air around other people.

All at once, the pain of the large dart being stuck through my foot reached my brain and I screamed like someone put a firecracker in my open mouth.

Jimmy ran away, already hollering that I was beating him, when in reality I was sitting in the boat with a dart stuck in my foot. I pulled it out without thinking very long about it. It took several seconds for the hole to begin oozing blood. I did not run after him. For the time being, I didn’t care if he had season passes to Dogpatch and free ice cream for me.

After several minutes, I hobbled around the trailer on the backside and tried to go inside. “You better not get blood in here, you little sh!t,” Mom told me between puffs on her cigarette. I went back outside and around to the front of the trailer. Dad was sitting there with Uncle Buck.

My Dad, often the comedian, yelled “Bullseye!” at me. I assumed Jimmy finally admitted he threw a dart into my foot. I still didn’t see Jimmy.

Uncle Buck, in the role of a caring human being, told me to wash the wound out.

“Nonsense,” Dad opined. “Put some ash on it.” Dad unsteadily stood up and with his drunken swagger approached me. He grabbed charcoal out of the burn pile and motioned for me to approach. He smashed it in his fist and rubbed it on top of my foot. I stood perfectly still, hoping his attention would shift so that I could get away. I knew better than to flinch or cry. “Bullseye,” Dad repeated and laughed.

I hobbled away. I found Jimmy a few minutes later sitting on a low branch of one of the apple trees between Goldie’s house and the rear of the machine shop. I didn’t hit him. He was Jimmy – and Jimmy did only what Jimmy did best. I think he found it difficult to relax if I had a dart in my hand, though.

The Gift Of Memories

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My Aunt Ardith and cousin Jimmy, standing in the front yard of their house on Ann Street.

Once again, I opened my email to discover a message telling me exactly what I needed to hear. A sister of one of my paternal aunts wrote me, telling me she’d noticed I added another 100+ pictures of her sister on Ancestry. These are archived in original resolution. My aunt’s sister told me she’d cried a bit, something she hadn’t expected. I wrote her back and told her I put every usable picture I owned of my aunt on there, in the hopes they might last forever, for anyone to see. I also told her I did the same for my uncle and my cousin Jimmy, both of whom now have hundreds of pictures on their respective pages. If you didn’t guess, putting so many pictures on accounts is a rarity.

It was a labor of love and honor. It’s the least I could do. These pictures are in my possession, but I don’t think I own them. They belong to us all – anyone who shared moments, laughter, or time with those in the pictures.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about high school pictures. I used a horrible picture of myself from many years ago. It was a bit satirical, but the message was one I’ve written about a few dozen times: vanity and hoarding regarding pictures is sinful. I’ve never owned a picture that I haven’t offered to everyone who might have an interest. I don’t get the urge to hoard pictures in a box, under a bed, or in a seldom-used closet.

More than one person got irritated at me for preaching the gospel of sharing. Some people righteously guard their past appearance, as if history isn’t going to kick that door open with time anyway. Others play the role of Gollum and greedily keep their pictures hidden in the crook of their unapproachable arms. The last tendency lessens everyone’s ability to remember and cherish people in our past who’ve passed on to the next life.

When my aunt’s sister reached out yesterday, she didn’t know that it was what I needed to hear. My actions months ago opened her heart again, even if for only for a while yesterday. In those moments, she could see that I had paid homage to her sister, to life, and to people we love.

All those pictures? Some of them have been downloaded dozens of times, each time by someone who discovered my treasure, one freely given. I am merely the guardian.

Love, X

A Gargle of Lemon Juice, A Poof of Tang

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My cousin Jimmy had everything good to eat. No matter what he wanted to eat, his mom bought it for him. His cereal cabinet might as well have been made of gold. At home, I was lucky to avoid eating a can of hominy instead of cereal. He had Pop-Tarts, Fruity Pebbles, Count Chocula, Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms, and anything else he requested. While I loved corn flakes, I’ll admit the exotic flavors of Jimmy’s cereal cabinet were a sight to behold. He also had really good milk, the kind I’ve despised most of my life since. I’d rather drink the urine of an infected goat than finish a glass of milk – especially whole milk. When I worked in a dairy in high school, my distaste intensified.

Jimmy was three years younger than me. He loved challenging me to exotic dares. I had two things working in my favor: I didn’t expect to live long and I was an idiot. Jimmy maximized his arguments to appeal to those attributes. He seldom had to fear any repercussions for his antics, even if arson or dismemberment were involved. For my Aunt and Uncle, they were mainly only interested if it was their son’s arm or leg which had been detached; beyond that, they growled and barked but otherwise gave him carte blanche to do as he wished.

As was the case with cereal, Jimmy also had the awesome drinks of childhood: clean water devoid of sewage residue, unlimited whole milk, orange juice, chocolate milk, hot cocoa with real marshmallows, and the entire range of available sodas. He also had Tang.

Because of my aberrant taste in food, I loved stealing or a spoonful of Tang powder and eating it. It was luxurious and overwhelming. At times, I’d up-end the jar and pour it into my mouth directly. I had been unknowingly training for years to ingest a large amount of Tang on a dare.

One Sunday morning, Jimmy ate two different kinds of sugary cereal. Afterward, he jokingly challenged me to drink a big spoon of lemon juice. My Aunt Ardith always had a large jar of it in her cabinet near the stove. I don’t remember what we bet. Jimmy went first. He poured the spoonful in his mouth. Immediately, he spewed it back out. It splattered across the counter and in the direction of the sink. “Yuk!” His eyes turned red. I took a spoonful of lemon juice and poured it into my mouth. Just to rub it in, I gargled it and then swallowed it. It was beyond sour, of course, but tasted good to me. Lemon juice was an exotic food in my house. Mom would no more buy lemon juice than cut off an ear lobe with a steak knife. I took another spoonful and swallowed it. “Yum!” I said, just to irritate Jimmy.

“You bastard! How’d you do that,” he demanded. I laughed at him as he got a glass of water and swished his mouth out.

I said, “How about a REAL challenge, Jimmy?” I turned and took out the bottle of Tang powder.

“Yeah, okay, but you’re going to go first. NO tricks.” Jimmy watched me carefully as I got out the biggest spoon that would fit into the jar.

I dumped it into my mouth and held it, letting it dissolve and mix in my mouth. As I mentioned, it was sublime and delicious. After a moment, I showed Jimmy the inside of my mouth.

Keep in mind, this was in the 70s, long before the cinnamon challenge. We were just two idiots trying to outdo each other.

Jimmy took another spoon out and took a smaller lump of powder from the jar. Luckily, he put the jar back on the counter next to the stove.

He put the spoon into his mouth between his teeth and spilled it into his mouth.

While I’m not sure, I think he must have inhaled a good portion of the Tang dust as it dispersed into his mouth – and throat.

He gagged. A big plume of orange dust billowed out of his mouth as he turned to gag and retch into the sink. He used one hand to cup water into his mouth, even as he tried to get the powder out of his mouth and lungs. This continued for at least a minute.

“What in the hell are you two doing in here?” Aunt Ardith had walked up to the counter between the table and the kitchen, one hand holding her Tareyton cigarette and the other pointing at us. She looked at us like we’d been setting her curtains on fire with a cigarette lighter.

Jimmy and I froze like statues momentarily.

Even though Jimmy was stuttering and coughing, he managed to say, “Having breakfast, what does it look like?”
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*P.S. The picture is of my cousin Jimmy. I loved this picture because I used it to tease him that he was too dumb to use his grill outdoors. In reality, he had just bought a house and was assembling the grill. Whether he actually used it in the living room depends on whether he overcame our genetic predisposition to outright stupidity that day.

 

On The Tip Of Your Tongue, You Said?

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Although modern vehicles still retain the round 12-v holes in which to plug in adapters for power, people of a certain age all recall the magic of the spring-loaded cigarette lighters of yesteryear. Back in the day, everyone smoked, even people using oxygen, priests, the doctor who delivered you (while delivering you, no less), and the irritated waitress bringing you overcooked hash browns at the Waffle Hut. (There were no food returns, only “Get the hell out!” requests if you complained about your food, or ashes in your grits.)

Adults, however, could not be without a cigarette lighter for over ten minutes. Before we removed the clause from the Declaration of Independence, all adults were required to smoke at least a pack of cigarettes a day. My mom, for example, showed her patriotism by sometimes smoking a literal carton a day. It seems impossible. She often rose from the bed with a lit cigarette, bathed with a cigarette, and smoked all day as she sat in the operator’s chair for Southwestern Bell. There were times when our house on wheels looked like the polluted skies over an industrial factory. If we were in the car, the windshield seemed opaque from all the smoke. Having the windows down was a bit of a relief, but we all remember the clotted gasp of discovering that a butt thrown out the window had reentered to find itself in our mouths and throats. My mom didn’t believe that throwing a lit cigarette out of the car was a problem. If Smokey The Bear had been standing beside the road, she would have flicked it directly into the pocket of his shirt in an attempt to catch him on fire.

Adults who smoked treated the car cigarette lighter as if it were a religious relic, one to be admired, worshipped, and never touched by the undeserving hands of a child. (Unless we were told to light the cigarette for the adult, who undoubtedly was struggling already to pop the beer can open, the one cradled in the cheap koozie used to hold it.)

Unrelated to the story: the word ‘koozie’ is one of the ugliest words in the English language.

I don’t know how old I was for certain. My cousin Jimmy and I were in one of my dad’s and his cousin Tom’s jalopies for sale. Jimmy was spoiled, but sometimes lit up with mischief and humor. We sat in the front seat of some aged old car, honking the horn and ducking below the dash to avoid being seen. I’d get a beating if caught. Jimmy would have received a smile. Jimmy kept pressing the cigarette lighter in, waiting for it to startle him as it popped out, its insides glowing red. He acted like he was going to touch it with the tip of one of his fingers. “Don’t!” I yelled, despite my extensive Shakespearean training in the vocal arts. Jimmy laughed.

“Oh, it won’t hurt so bad.” He seemed sure. I was 100% certain he was wrong, having been stupid enough to do it myself. More than once and probably fifty times up to that point. I noted that my burned fingertips didn’t smell like pepperoni, either.

“I’ll give you 5 bucks if you touch it to the tip of your tongue,” he told me, smiling. 5 bucks was the equivalent of a fortune for me.

I considered it. I pulled the lighter from the sheath and watched it as it glowed red and hot. When I got it closer to my mouth, I could of course feel the heat radiating off it it.

“Get it hot again,” Jimmy insisted, so I popped it back in the ashtray that contained the plug in.

In a few moments, it popped back out. Jimmy grabbed it and handed it to me.

I unwisely brought it up to my face and stuck out the tip of my tongue. The heat was too much. At that precise moment, Jimmy slapped my left hand unexpectedly and the hot coil hit the tip of my tongue. Luckily, it came away immediately as I reacted and pulled it away. A bit of my skin came away with it. I could smell it burn and hear a slight hiss and sizzle as it cooked my disconnected skin.

I didn’t scream, but I did whimper as I coiled my tongue into my cheek. I could feel it burning. I think it was saying “Idiot” to me in the only way it knew how. Jimmy was doubled over and laughing. His eyes were teary as he peeked to look at the horrified expression on my face.

Because I was poor and my mom refused to let us use the excellent insurance she had through her work, my concern was the possibility of needing medical care. Dad would have opted to slice off the tip of my tongue with one of his hunting knives, or push me into an open septic tank.

Sidenote: the house I lived in, one off of Powell and near Hatfield Street, and opposite the old City View trailer park, had a secret. There was a round garage on the property that Dad used for his mechanic business. The property had a well and a septic tank instead of city water and sewer. We had been bathing in – and drinking – water contaminated with sewer waste from a faulty septic tank for over a year. We kept complaining that everything tasted like sh*t. We weren’t wrong.

This is a true story.

Without going into the details, it’s why to this day I have to concentrate to take the first bite of ramen noodles.

Jimmy finally stopped laughing. My eyes cleared up enough for me to tell Jimmy I was going to sneak up on him while he was sleeping in his waterbed and put a snake under the covers with him. The idea of snakes on him while sleeping terrified him. He begged and pleaded for forgiveness.

My tongue hurt for several days. I had to play the French Horn. Each time my tongue punctuated a note against my lips or the mouthpiece, I’d cringe a little. I felt like a little poodle on the verge of wetting myself.

I never put a snake in the bed with Jimmy. But I thought about it. A million times.

Forgotten Days in Tontitown

 

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This picture is of my brother, me, mom, and dad. I’ve written before how ambivalent I am about this picture. On the one hand, I’m glad that the picture exists. On the other, it is horribly misleading because it might convince bystanders that we were a happy family.

Before highway 412 modernized us, we intimately knew highway 68. Before its expansion and encroachment all along the yards lining it, it was a typical narrow road passing through NWA. It was a vital artery connecting the small towns that dominated our corner of the state. It’s “Old 68” now, truncated and lost to failed bridges that isolate it from its replacement. I once knew parts of the old 68 with precision. There were many times I would ride back to our home with my drunken dad, praying to the silent god who presumably watched over idiots like him. On the other hand, I knew such hopes were truly childish because Dad had killed a cousin of mine in a DWI accident. This knowledge invalidated the whispers of hope I had. Sometimes I’d pray for a horrible crash to engulf us and put an end to the uncertainty; other times I’d wish to just get home in one piece.

The land over on the far side of Tontitown was simply beautiful. I find myself forgetting this at times. Rolling hills, thick trees, creeks crisscrossing where the land permitted, and open expanses of fields filled the area. For the most part, property owners weren’t aware of kids traversing their land. As long as we respected their property, those that were aware simply chose to ignore us as we did what kids do best. There were times where we’d set off walking and have no idea where we were heading. Chiggers, mosquitoes, and snakes often accompanied us. When you’re young, you assume that such things are a required tariff in order to enjoy life.

Because my family moved more often than a pack of unwanted nomads, I lived in Tontitown more than once in my youth. The first long stretch followed our trailer in City View Trailer Park in Springdale burning down, rendering both at least 100,000 cockroaches and us homeless. We moved to the western fringe of Tontitown, near the bend where the new 412 first veers away from the original 68. When 68 was rerouted and renamed 412, it cut across Road 852. Technically, it wasn’t and isn’t Tontitown – but everyone considered it to be so. It was not too far from the infamous and now-defunct Blue Hole swimming spot, home of the coldest water imaginable. When I was young, I didn’t even realize that Blue Hole Road was a real name.

We moved to Washington County Road 852 to stay with Leta, the widow of a paternal cousin. Dad had a penchant for sleeping with a variety of people, and choosing from the woodpile didn’t deter him. It took me several years to pinpoint precisely how Leta fit in the family tree. Her husband, my dad’s distant cousin, had died a few years prior. Leta had an interesting life, and despite all the other surrounding confusion, I now know that I would be fascinated if I could go back in time and have an adult conversation with her. She wasn’t a warm person; on the other hand, I didn’t understand how much of an interruption we might have been to her life.

I’ve written before about the place being the perfect alignment of isolation, anger, and addiction. Highway 68 ran across the north, leaving the land below it pristine and only accessible through a complex series of dirt roads. I was in 7th grade, and because of the fire, I had lost everything. The house was small, and even the so-called bedrooms were nothing more than imaginary boundaries inside the old house. We all shared one bathroom and a clawfoot bathtub. Ancient box fans provided most of the airflow into the house. The outside of the house was covered in tan brick-theme tar paper, similar to what was commonly found in the area where I was born. While we lived at Leta’s, Dad spent time filling the inside of the house with dark paneling. We shared one console television in the living, very close to the front door, connected to an old tv antenna outside.

My parents often fought, as they were prone to do regardless of the impermanence of their residence. My dad had several affairs, including the notorious relationship with Leta who owned the house. The adults around me drank more per capita than any household in Tontitown. The alcohol-fueled many days and nights of violence and terror. It also sometimes granted us too much freedom. At times, I forget that because Leta worked at the Venetian Inn at night and Mom worked split shifts and unusual hours at Southwestern Bell, our presence at the house overlapped in a crazy Venn diagram.

As much as I vilify the players in the drama in that period of my life, I am the first to admit that there were some spectacular adventures. The geography allowed for us to trek miles in several directions, to explode a ton of fireworks with a total disregard for human safety, fire a variety of pistols, rifles, and shotguns, and to escape the lunacy the adults brought to the table. I could go outside and climb on top of the barn past the gated fence, or if I was really ambitious, crawl up onto the roof of the house or clamber up one of the ten million trees. The house also had a simple covered front porch, bordered on one side by a massive pile of firewood. We dreaded the surprise announcements that we were going to have to help our Dad cut firewood. I have an entire book of stories about some of those mornings. I could sneak away across the barbed wire and read, as long as I could suffer the bugs and snakes inhabiting the area. It was at Leta’s that I found her copy of “Your Erroneous Zones” by self-help guru Wayne Dyer. It was a revelation and seemed to describe an attitude and life that seemed impossible. I could take my french horn down into a dense valley and sound like I was summoning the Valkyries. It was possible to walk and fill oneself with many grapes picked off the vines or find patches of blackberries thick with both briars and berries.

At night, the area seemed to revert to a time centuries ago. Dark was genuinely dark, and animals of all kinds inhabited every nook and cranny of the fields and forests. There was a couple of times that my Dad forced us to walk across the darkened fields and leave proof of our visits inside an abandoned house, once part of a now-forgotten community. My cousin Jimmy was unnaturally afraid of the dark and everything it might contain. We were more afraid of my Dad, though. One of those forced walks in the dark is now one of my most cherished memories. The house stands epically in my memory and its silhouette is still etched in my mind and often used as a comparison to measure foreboding. Had my parents been more normal, it could have been a paradise. My appreciation for the land of that area has only grown as I’ve aged. The land owes me no apology for the people who stained its beauty.

As much as I knew about the area, I knew much less than my brother who had more friends and didn’t hesitate to go out and work in the grapevines or tomato farms. When the trailer burned, it burned my connections to the friends I had at City View. Sometimes, though, old friends, especially my brother’s friends, would visit and the shenanigans would commence. There’s a reason we universally look back and hold dear those memories of such adventures. They encapsulate so much of the joy of being a boy and having the freedom to experience small pieces of the world.

We often had mega-barbeques, fish fries, and feasts. They were raucous affairs, of course, and many ended with fisticuffs, shouts, and blood-soaked shirts. On one occasion, the party ended because my dad threw an entire box of ammunition in the wood fireplace in the living room. I took advantage of those times by eating barrels of salad soaked in Viva Italian dressing, or bag after endless bag of Venetian Inn salad and rolls. Leta worked at the Venetian Inn and brought home a treasure of food from there each day she worked. I, of course, loved pasta. After eating several miles of it, though, I usually opted for endless salads. We would walk the long dirt road home, rain or shine, from the nearest school bus stop up near Mitchell’s service station. (Those walks home after school would dissuade anyone from choosing a large band instrument to learn.) I’d often eat a king’s meal of rolls, salad and sometimes 2 or more chicken breasts. I could make a pot of coffee and drink it all. I sampled a variety of wines, too. Leta didn’t mind. She knew that we were going to be unable to overcome our curiosity. Don’t be too concerned about the bit of wine. I had access to unlimited alcohol and a few drugs, which didn’t interest me.

I’m only reminiscing because one day not too long ago, someone online answered a comment about that area and Brush Creek, which lies not too far away. Another commenter mentioned the massage parlors in the area. It made me laugh, reading the comments of those who claimed they were all fables and made-up urban legends. Where men walk, you can be assured that vice follows.

For those who don’t know, Tontitown once harbored several houses of ill repute, stills for moonshine, and a bit of weed for those wishing to find them. It’s topography made it ideal for concealment while also not being so far out of the way that it was prohibitive to find it. The hills and hollers made intrusion unlikely. Not too far from where I lived out on the dirt road, one of the residents had a decent plot for marijuana growing, with a water well off the road, powered by an illegal electric connection that was off the grid. He resembled the actor Brett Gelman if he never shaved. He also looked exactly like Leta’s son, who was the personification of an ex-Vietnam hippie. Leta’s son struck me as crazy, but he was always kind to me and talked to me like an adult. I remember once when we drove to Timbuktu to visit him, and he was in the front yard, totally naked, taking a shower under a hand-made system of water hoses. It was hilarious.

Even though the accusation will make some people defensive, many of these unsavory places were known to law enforcement. I’m not alleging conspiracy, of course. People do crazy things often enough with the necessity of making outrageous claims. Someone I know very well loves telling the story of her dad, who was a Springdale policeman at the time, giving protection to someone involved. My dad was known to payoff DWIs under the table, not to mention bribing people to look the other way. It was common. I’m not telling the story to paint someone negatively; it was just the way many things were done. Monroe County, the place where I was born, was a significant conduit for all manner of vice, too. Everyone knew it. Dad had a temperament and way of finding the most clever places to get into trouble. “Friends in low places” would describe his circle. Regardless, though involved in the shady businesses never interfered in other people’s business and expected reciprocity in return. Minding your own business granted every mutual safety.

The massage parlor sat near 68, hidden in plain sight in a nondescript tan trailer. There were, of course, no signs or indications that nefarious goings-on could be experienced within. I used to amuse myself by imagining that some industrious and brazen entrepreneur would put up a huge flashing neon sign indicating “Sex Shop” near the place. Google Streetview hasn’t visited the road in over ten years. I know that many people got lost looking for the massage parlor because I remember Leta and others telling stories about the faraway neighbors getting late-night knocks on their doors, demanding to be let in.

Because Dad would drink to excess, he would mouth off, often without realizing he was spilling the beans. One evening, he had driven by the trailer with his bottle of Evan Williams between his knees. “That place will make a man out of you,” he said, as he punched me on the side of the head. I don’t remember why I was in the cab of the truck with him. I would choose the bed of the pickup even during a lava storm to stay away from Dad when his mood could shift.

Sometime after, Dad had pulled in to the small driveway next to the trailer. I was surprised because I was in the back of the truck. Dad’s dog Duke and I remained in the back of the pickup. A little bit later, Dad came out and proudly drank some of his whiskey and coke and drove home. I overheard him talking about the place to more than a couple of people.

It took me a bit to connect the dots. There was a cookout at Leta’s one Sunday, and someone said something about the convenience of having a massage parlor up the road. Mom threw her cigarette at the person joking about it and then hurled her half-finished beer into dad’s face. She shouted her favorite “MoFo” curse repeatedly as she left. (Many get-togethers ended that way.) Dad didn’t rush after her as everyone expected. He drank until the sun descended into the valley before reminding Mom of how dangerous he was. I don’t remember whether I cowered out of sight or managed to escape outside and down the road or through the surrounding landscape.

There were times when Mom would drink and then decide to go hunt for my Dad. She’d drive by the Red Door and all the other usual places that might contain him. I think after finding out about Dad’s presence at the massage parlor that she always took a moment to look over the area around it in hopes of seeing his truck. I’m not sure how many times I was forced to prowl with Mom. I do know that she had no business driving most of the time.

Or being married, now that I think about it.

I’m not sure how long this particular massage parlor stayed in business. (Long enough to increase Dad’s chances of getting his head caved in, though.)

If you missed it in a previous post, we moved after Mom discovered that Dad and Leta had been having an affair for a long time. I found them together one night, which is why I can state with such certainty this isn’t a figment of my mom’s fabled anger and imagination. Weirdly enough, we moved to a place very close to where I now live, to a tiny trailer on the road that would one day become part of the Don Tyson Parkway. That place was indeed a crucible of violence. Mom knew that Dad was unfaithful. Proof of it, though, inevitably started a predetermined sequence of weekend tirades.

Now that I know so much more about Dad’s inability to behave like a normal husband, it would be interesting to know whether Mom would kill my Dad after learning the new information. The breadth of my Dad’s infidelity goes much deeper and further than I suspected – and that’s quite a feat.

I have several stories that I’ve never told. Some of my reluctance arises from the involvement of other people who still walk the earth. While it is my right to share these stories, I’ve not done so because some of the unflattering biographies aren’t entirely in my control.

I don’t have a great record of our time out there on the western edge of Tontitown. I’ve mentioned before that my family simply didn’t own a camera. We relied on others to document our lives. There are pictures of our time there, but very few.
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P.S. I wrote this story without stressing the storyline. I didn’t know how to create a central theme, so I didn’t. The story and words stand ‘as is;’ take from it that which you will.

 

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The picture is one I took in 2006 after the house in Tontitown burned. I haven’t lived there for almost 40 years. It’s an unimaginable and detached amount of time. The inset picture is of me from around the time I lived in the house.

 

 

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This picture is of Uncle Beb and my cousin Jimmy doing the Hambone dance. This picture shows the corner of the house that’s also in the picture of the house after it burned. You can see the wilderness near the road in the background.

 

 

 

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This picture captures a common activity: everyone armed and shooting. My Uncle Bed, Uncle Buck, dad, and my cousin Jimmy. In the right circumstances, these gatherings were joyous.

 

 

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The picture in the first comment is a picture one of my dad. He’s three sheets to the wind. He’d just rolled his beloved truck down into one of the deep hollers near our house late at night. He was oblivious that night. The aftermath and days after were violently unpleasant.