I found myself being shaken violently.
As I opened my eyes, I felt the cold kitchen floor on my back. The overhead lights blinded me momentarily.
“Hey, X, wake up! What happened?” my wife asked me as she continued to shake me.
I raised myself to a sitting position, trying to clear my foggy head.
As my hands began rubbing my sore eyes, my wife said, “Be careful, you’ve got bruises under your eyes and on your face. Who hit you?”
I couldn’t remember anyone else being in the house with me. As I tried to process what might have happened, I remembered that I was about to eat a bite of lunch. I had gone to the cupboard, which we jokingly call “The Sarcophagus.”
“Aha!” my wife exclaimed just I recalled randomly pulling out a can of soup to open it.
“Look, honey.” My wife held up a partially-opened can of soup as I turned my neck painfully to look.
It was a can of whoop ass.
Important note: I realize that I’m not always the smartest person. Not only do I routinely jab my face with a toothpick, but I attempt to place glasses in mid-air where the side table isn’t, fail to duck my head in front of an immobile object, and insist on poking things to see if they are ‘hot.’
In my defense, I stopped sniffing hot glue, at least.
If you live in Springdale, you can read this and either roll your eyes with the federally-mandated “DUH” reaction, or you can admit that you’re like me, ignorant in more ways than should be humanly possible.
At the ongoing risk of sounding stupid, I didn’t know there was NO limit on trash volume for a residence in Springdale. Whether it was based on fact or not, I’d been told by more than one source that the containers were the weekly limit. Like the myth of the guy who actually likes vacuuming the living room, I simply believed it to be true. Shortly after moving to this side of town, one of the employees for Waste Management told me that customers weren’t permitted to leave trash outside the assigned container. Other than the “Aliens Are Real” patch on his shirt, he seemed credible.
A few weeks ago, a couple of issues aligned to cause me to question things. Other than my own confusion, I mean. Despite what I thought I knew, I was still hearing contradictory information about our trash service. I noted that other people were doing strange things about their trash because they didn’t understand there was no limit. For example, one neighborhood family was walking the curb on Monday to find partially empty receptacles to throw their overflow trash inside. While I own my ignorance, I take solace in the fact that I’m not the only bird brain hereabouts. Watching the shenanigans after Christmas convinced me. Note: it’s also possible that I unwittingly bought a house in a cluster of ignoramuses. I’ll take note during the 2020 census.
I contacted Waste Management to put an end to at least one small part of my vast ignorance. It turns out, everything they told me in an email was incorrect. Almost everything: they spelled Waste Management correctly in the email. Please forgive my humor and snark about it. I wrote to them and asked how to go about getting an additional container, regardless of cost. They wrote back and told me that a contract with the City prohibited such an arrangement. Before hearing back from anyone, I had compiled a fairly creative list of possible reasons for such a clause in a trash contract.
I followed up with both the Springdale Water Utilities and the Mayor’s Office. They were immensely helpful and answered questions I didn’t even know I had. And they said “yes” and “no” where it mattered, instead of hedging their bets. It was refreshing. I’ve yet to call, email or contact anyone in the City of Springdale without getting an answer. As you may or may not know, I wasn’t initially a fan of Mayor Sprouse. It was mainly due to his hair. Unfortunately for my previous opinion, he has always responded quickly and professionally in any matter I’ve been involved with, either for me or for other people. It’s a real pain to have to admit being wrong. Not about his hair – it’s still not “Mayoral,” but it is much improved. As to his follow-through, it’s been tremendous. Reading such straight-forward replies made me dizzy enough to consider vertigo medication.
Per Springdale’s agreement with Waste Management, you can put out any quantity of trash you wish to. If you fill your 96-gallon receptacle, all that is required is that you bag the overflow neatly and stack it with your assigned receptacle.
Waste Management must pick it up, regardless of volume. Those assigned to your route might frown if they note you’ve constructed a pyramid of trash bags towering above your container. They’ll still have to pick it up despite their displeasure. At no extra charge.
While it is possible that I am the only idiot to not know this, I’m willing to bet others might not know, either.
I wrote back to Waste Management to let them know they were still sometimes giving out incorrect information and requested a simple inquiry from within their company to discover why. After several days of waiting, they wrote back. Surprisingly, they admitted that I was right about both my questions and that they were changing their information and training methods to reflect the corrected information. They also said they now offer an additional bin, directly billed, at $7.50 a month. They also admitted that I could simply stack my overflow bags next to the bin, at no charge. Now that I know I COULD get another bin gives me a long list of fun, creative ideas to use such a bin – and none of them legitimate.
It’s a shame for Waste Management that they didn’t say “Yes” when I first contacted them. I’d have a bin from them at an extra cost. Their loss.
I hope that the family down the street never learns of this. I can now look out the front window and laugh at them as they scamper about like trash ninjas, seeking space in their neighbor’s trash bins. As for the neighbors who negligently throw things in the general direction of the bins they leave curbside for 17 days a week, I just bought a pallet of glitter bombs to decorate their grass. We’ll be a fabulous neighborhood.
Kudos to Waste Management and the everyone at the City of Springdale for listening and helping me out. Waste Management gets kudos because they listened to me when I asked them to review their internal procedures and FAQs to help out my tribe of ignoramuses.
It turns out that the story I wrote regarding my dad and Oct. 23rd, 1993 might end up being ‘the’ thing.
A torrent of people wrote to me after reading the story in other places, wanting to know the rest of the story or asking questions about Bobby Dean – or the history of the place I once called home. I’ve done my best to answer them. My dad would get a laugh from the idea that so many people, almost all of them strangers to himself or his hometown, might want to read about his life. He would also struggle to understand that it would be his younger son who valued nothing of his contribution until it was too late who would ultimately be the culprit responsible for softening Bobby Dean’s character. I opted to shed myself of his name and yet the residue of his shadow eternally lurks just behind me.
Better writers, better singers, and better historians might recount a more compelling tale; from their absence or application of effort, however, they’ve yielded the floor to me. I don’t know what writer’s block is and I seldom let the undertone of misbehavior break my pencil. Our lives are all stories, even as we fail to see it or wish them to be unwritten.
For anyone who has looked past my imperfect and stubborn way of writing and reached out to me to let me know they found something of value in it, I thank you. I still believe that our lives and the internet would be more understanding if everyone could find a way to share stories, even those tempered by our lesser natures.
It’s maddening and rewarding to find an audience out in the sea of strangers on the internet, in the place allegedly most hostile to sharing one’s life or story.
This picture is of my dad in a moment brimming with happiness. The house is now a hunting lodge off of Highway 49. I’m not sure what music might have been playing in the background, but Schlitz beer was powering the occasion. Dad, whose dance moves ran the gamut between A and all the way to B, danced with glee in front of his friends. It’s worth noting that Bobby Dean would have never danced in front of other men had alcohol not been involved. Delma Lee, the wife of one of dad’s friends, snapped the picture. She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Her voice was as supple as a whispering angel, one with a drawl long to reach across the room and cause people to listen.
It’s still difficult for me to believe that dad wasn’t even 30 when this picture was taken. 25 years after his death, people who never shook his hand or cursed at his antics are thinking about his life. It’s a romanticized version, of course, but the majority of our memories are culled from the husks of things that many times should remain at rest or fuzzy with the passage of time.
In the last few days, another accident near Springdale started the same conversation about needing a Level 1 Trauma center here in Walmetro. (It’s a reasonable nickname for this area, don’t you agree?) I enjoyed reading the teeth-gnashing commentary on social media news sites. I’m pretty sure that about half the locals misspelled the word “trauma.” I’m not a big freak about spelling like some of my other weirdo friends, but it is worth noting that someone needs to tell everyone that the ED isn’t for erectile dysfunction. (Unless you have taken 16 tablets of Viagra mistakenly. Or on purpose, too, I guess.)
I don’t want to be airlifted anywhere. If I am airlifted against my will, the paramedics should use me as a human bomb. I’ll allow you to drop me onto any local Walmart, where low, low prices won’t be stymied by a falling corpse. (May commerce live forever.) Just leave the door open as you fly over and give me a directional push: no one will know. I’ll just drop in. If the paramedics can drop me through one of the roof skylights, they should get extra points for effort.
A couple of times when I was young, I survived, even on the occasion I might have been technically dead for a bit. During that episode of “Frighten Grandma,” I lived in the middle of nowhere in Monroe County and the only reason I’m here is that some milk or ice cream truck miraculously went by.
The other time, I lived here in Northwest Arkansas, back when no roads came here on purpose and the word ER meant that everyone hoped someone was on duty (and sober) if he or she accidentally shot their own face off. I came out of that one with 160+ stitches. I’m not even sure anyone in NWA knew what a helicopter was back in those days unless they were James Bond fans or Vietnam draftees.
Historical fact: until the 1970s there were literally no roads to get to Springdale. They didn’t want us getting in or out. True story. *True-ish. Okay, it’s totally false, but we’re living in a post-truth period.
Since then, the medical community here has developed to such an extent that it’s difficult to imagine the necessity of being airlifted anywhere. Whether we have a Level 1 Trauma center is immaterial to me. As long as the billing department is operational, I’m sure I’ll get all the required attention I need.
Another fact: if you experience trauma, they always cut your pants off first. It’s not to give you better medical care, as you probably learned on episode 12,367 of Grey’s Anatomy; rather, it’s so that they get to your wallet first.
Let’s be honest about this anyway: it’s likely that if the medical crew discovers it’s me needing assistance, they’re likely to play a round of golf before getting around to transport me. Ever since the infamous incident wherein I recreated the Alien stomach-burst, the paramedics put me on ‘the list.’ (I think they aren’t sci-fi fans.)
I’ll take my chances, especially now that I’ve lived over half a century.
If I am to die, I’ll take a slight risk with the local medical talent here. I don’t want to be in some miserable hospital away from home, imposing a burden on the few people crazy enough to be interested in my early demise. (Not hasten it, I might add, even if they seem to be in a betting mood.) Having spent a lot of time in hospitals, it is important that you understand that they are misery factories for family and friends. The burden and expense of being away from home is completely objectionable to me.
Before you ask, yes, that means I’m willing to roll the dice with my life a little bit if it means that the locals get a stab, so to speak, at me first. Driving through Johnson is a risk and I’ve mostly survived that.
Keep this in mind if something unexpected happens to me. Keep the helicopter for someone else. Feel free to drive me 140 mph down the interstate if you wish, jumping hell and high holler. Everyone needs a little practice driving the ambulance, so let the new guy Jimmy give it a try if you pick me up. An escort by Roscoe P. Coltrane might be nice, too.
While this might have made you chuckle, I’m writing in all seriousness.
Death is no laughing matter unless you’ve made plans to be buried in a jack-in-the-box coffin. I recommend that everyone at least ask their preferred mortuary if they offer such a thing. If only for the laughs.
We have world-class medical facilities here. Don’t fly me anywhere, unless I’m already gone and someone needs my liver – or he/she answers to the name Hannibal Lecter.
In the early evening of Saturday, October 23rd, 1993, Bobby Dean stood by the tan surface of Highway 49, in a community sometimes called Rich. He watched as the last glimmers of the sun reflected from one of the windows of the fellowship hall of the Lutheran church across the state highway. The church itself had no front-facing windows, something that always drew his attention. Due to Bobby Dean’s connection to farming in the Delta of Arkansas, he knew that the official sunset was technically 15 minutes ago, slightly before 6:30. Like so many from that part of the state, he didn’t need a calendar or weatherman to predict the weather for him.
It was a warm day for eastern Arkansas. Not that Bobby Dean typically wore a jacket, but on this day, he had left his grease-stained jacket on the hook in the garage all day. The day had turned out to be perfect, rising to the upper 60s. The gas pumps were busy for most of the day, then activity tapered substantially as people headed home to eat before either venturing out again of staying home to watch the world series or Hee Haw. In the last ten minutes, only two cars had passed. Neither had stopped, probably on their way to Helena or Tunica. The casinos had recently put their footprint on the area and Highway 49 was quickly becoming a rapid corridor to find them. Locals argued relentlessly about whether they’d bring life back to their area or further drain it.
As the last car passed, Bobby Dean had been inside the station, closing the old register, the kind featuring mechanical rolling numbers. For no particular reason, he looked out one of the two wide front windows and saw the Reverend from Our Savior Church pull out on to the highway and point his vehicle toward Brinkley. As was his custom, Bobby Dean instinctively waved at toward the departing pastor, unsure whether the preacher could see his silhouette inside the station. Much to the surprise of many, the preacher and Bobby Dean had become well-acquainted. He performed Bobby Dean’s remarriage, as well as his funeral. One of Bobby Dean’s jokes was that remarriage technically could be considered to be a funeral, depending on one’s perspective.
As Bobby Dean looked to the north and south, the highway lay silent, its straight strip of asphalt pointing the way to wide expanses of farmland and house dotted along its perimeter. The tilled-under fields now waited, dormant and marching toward winter lifelessness. For those who admire such austere landscapes, it was meditative. Bobby Dean was certainly no one to ascribe to such silly words. To him, it was simply peaceful.
A younger Bobby Dean had lived in Northwest Arkansas and a short time in Indiana. He resided in Pendleton Correctional facility in Indiana as well, for his part in a robbery of a truck stop off of U.S. Highway 20. His heart always beat strongest in Monroe County. He was anchored to his wild youth, his family, the soil, and the freedom that such wide open spaces always presented to those willing to live inside them. Unfettered freedom and wide stages often led people like Bobby Dean to run wild.
He took an unfiltered Camel from his front shirt pocket and lit it. The smoke filled his lungs. As he exhaled, it formed a small cloud near him. The day’s light breeze had weakened. Bobby Dean always smelled like a blend of one or more of gasoline, oil, cigarettes, dirt, mints, and whiskey. Those who knew him could often read his potential behavior based on the prevalence of one scent over the other.
Looking back at the small church across the highway, he recalled that he had remarried there only 8 months prior. Strangely, it reaffirmed where he’d started: married to Carolyn and living in the small farming community. Carolyn would undoubtedly be at home just a bit up the road, near Cypress Road. The last time Bobby Dean ran this service station, the United States was celebrating its bicentennial and he and Carolyn had lived in a trailer almost touching the rear of the gas station. For a second, Bobby Dean wished they still lived behind the station. He could imagine the scent of freshly fried catfish in hot oil, the shouts of people congregating, and time before family began succumbing to inevitable biological frailty. His weariness enveloped him. His dream of coming back here to live and to work was realized but his bones were weary. Bobby Dean’s idea of a metaphor was the type found in Louis L’Amour westerns or demonstrated in the slitted, watchful eyes of Clint Eastwood.
Tonight, his demon fed by whiskey would not rear its head. Lately, Bobby Dean could not sustain its aftermath. His hard life was dealing out hard consequences. His namesake son, X, had surprised him last weekend with a visit. Bobby Dean had been driving his pickup along Highway 39, heading toward Monroe. His son had pulled alongside him in his roommate’s borrowed car, hogging the entire road. Carolyn was in the passenger seat, smiling like an idiot and shouting. “What’s up, #$%#$%#$%$@#$ ?” Bobby Dean had shouted back, laughing. He pulled over so everyone could exchange greetings and cleverly-worded obscenities as they laughed. Bobby Dean managed to salvage a few normal moments with his son during that visit until the urge to drink overwhelmed him. Like so many, he had no way of knowing that it would be his last chance to build a narrow bridge back toward his son.
He finished his cigarette, dropped it to the pavement, and smashed it out with his boot. Bobby Dean turned and walked over to the three gas pumps. He leaned against the outside pump, watching.
The October sun had disappeared entirely. The edge of the highway and all that surrounded it now lay in a blanket of time and silence. Waiting.
38 days later, Bobby Dean walked his last step.
His bones now rest in Upper Cemetery along the same highway, near one of the areas where Cypress Creek and its thick, muddy waters crest near the road. If you drive by at night, you can hear Bobby Dean’s shouts trailing behind you. You’ll fight the urge to floor it without knowing why. Instead, you’ll roll down the window and listen more closely. Tilled earth, smoke, and whiskey will greet you. It’s my hope that you’ll find only the wild, enthusiastic side of Bobby Dean as you pass; may his violent undercurrent forever be at rest.
If you drive the highway to visit the area where the station once stood, you’ll find the small church still patiently marking the days of its members. The station, though, is long gone. In April of 2009, someone removed the subterranean gas tanks. Not long after, the building was gone. Now, as you pass, you’ll note almost no remaining footprint for the gas station. The two telephone poles which once aligned with either end of the property still stand, along with a very narrow strip of pavement. The rest, however, has surrendered to the relentless fertile soil of the Monroe County landscape. The last couple of times that I passed where the station once stood, I resisted the urge to stop and stand in the field there. I couldn’t be sure that time itself wouldn’t grab me and whisk me back to a distant decade, trapping me in nostalgia.
I fear that the entire area might be slipping into non-existence, reverting to a time before railroads, lumber, and commerce; one inhabited by natives.
I fear that Bobby Dean might be dissipating, too. He’s been dead for over half of my life and I’ve survived this place longer than he did.
Each of us only survives in actuality as long as a living soul still remembers us.
Somehow, I received the curse of being the historian of the family. Despite my untrustworthy memory, the only honor I can bring to the history of those who preceded me is to hold my hand aloft and swear to tell the unflinching truth. Some facts slightly disjoin in my retelling, without a doubt.
The mood and temperament though? These are my promises kept.
“Look up, not down,” said a wise man.
Sometimes, though, it’s a comfort to look back and inward.
To counterbalance the stories of unsolicited violence from my childhood, I’m sharing this picture of my dad and mom.
I’ve mentioned before that I have no pictures of us as a family at our own house. At one point in my life, I focused my attention and determined that I had lived in 20+ different places by my 18th birthday. This tally ignores the temporary places we huddled. Our lives were suspended in alcoholic amber and economic instability. Only when we appeared at other family member’s homes did any corroborating evidence of ‘us’ exist. Despite challenges to the contrary, no one can show me a picture that includes dad, mother, and three children. I don’t flinch from the fact that such photos would probably include cleverly turned profiles to avoid the camera and clues regarding the consistency and temperament of the group being photographed. Later, I learned that I could use photo trickery to unite us, much in the same way I fooled my mind into believing that the bulk of my life was normal.
This picture was taken in the living room at my Uncle Buck’s house on Ann Street in Springdale. To whoever bought the house once both Ardith and Buck passed, I hope that no spirits roam the hallway of that dwelling. I spent a chunk of my childhood there. My cousin Jimmy lived a charmed life, initially untouched by the lunatic gene passed down through the family. Looking back, I can see that it deeply affected Jimmy’s life and choices. This clarity wasn’t always available to me. It is maddening to know that adulthood would conceal this truth from me for so long. In the picture, dad is wearing one of his many Don Williams hats. He alternated hat styles. In my opinion, he seemed to be most natural wearing anything evoking Clint Eastwood. You can see that his hands are greasy from hours of being elbow-deep in something mechanical. Mom had a phenomenal job at SW Bell, a job she landed with the help of my aunt. Both my parents were imbibing at the time of this picture. Let’s be honest, had the picture been taken in church, it’s likely that one of them would have been drinking. had my parents been Catholic, I would joke that one of them would bring a straw for the priest’s chalice. Mom’s beer probably rested on the counter between den and kitchen. It’s hard to see, but mom has a lit cigarette in her hand, which presupposes that whatever drink dad enjoyed wasn’t explosive.
As my Aunt Ardith was trying to take this picture, dad told her, “Take the picture already, #&#(@^#^$%&.” He used his favorite curse word. It should have been engraved on his tombstone. It’s a terrible word and one which to this day I find to be hilarious. I have a book of stories about him and the usage of this word, especially around people who had no context with which to judge its usage. If I ever write a book, I may well title it #&#(@^#^$%&.
On those days when both sets of parents weren’t angry, the level of laughter could lift the ceiling, especially when Aunt Ardith and Uncle Buck joined in. Uncle Buck was an accomplished musician with nice electronics due to his job as a tech at Montgomery Ward. Country music always accompanied the mood. At the time, I despised it, failing to see that all genres have something to offer anyone who is careful enough to notice. The kids in the house could move freely in those moments, unafraid of a squall suddenly building and releasing its fury around us. There were times when each of us was truly alive and glad to be present, even if most the music and conversations of the adults made us wince.
Other times, it was a race to discover who would silently become the most belligerent as the whiskey and beer slowly did its magic act by disappearing swallow by slug. In those moments, we became adept at using unobserved doors to make our escape from their immediate wrath. Even some of those moments, though, were filled with muffled laughter.
I’m guilty of forgetting many of these moments. Anger and violence often evoke a pattern of amnesia and discolor surrounding moments, no matter how vivid their imagery.
It’s strange to look at this picture and know that after each visit, no matter how late, I’d have to climb into a car or in the bed of a pickup and go home with someone drunk. As often as possible, I stayed the night with my cousin Jimmy. For several years, my cousin Jimmy had a waterbed. He cherished that cliché of a bed. There were a couple of times when he would wake up shouting at me. Some people call it ‘wetting the bed,’ although a more apt description would be ‘urinating near another person,’ as it more accurately describes the reaction of anyone else in the bed at the time of the incident. One night, after I had indeed wet the bed, Jimmy was shouting at me. It wasn’t so much the fact that I wet the bed, but that he was going to have to get up long enough to put more sheets on the bed. Jimmy was a grouchy sleeper. He was ranting at me when I looked at him and said, “Hey, it’s a WATER bed.” When Aunt Ardith burst into the room to see what the ruckus was all about, Jimmy was trying to kill me with his prized Dallas Cowboys pillow. I was laughing.
As the golden moments of life crest behind me, I still feel the effects of moments, most forgotten, accumulating behind me. Doubt is winning this war of details.
As you read these words, stop and consider how much of our lives transform in our memories. Jimmy’s dead now, as are his parents. Several years later, he’s still mobile within my memory.
Dad, mom, cousin, aunt, uncle, all of them departed. The place remains. An imprint persists, as long as someone like me continues to remember it. My day approaches, a slow, inevitable slide toward the abyss.
There is a majesty somewhere in this, one born of being a surviving witness to life.
As it approaches, I find myself seeing this picture as an evolving truth.
Look up, not down.
Because I’m not inclined to have a defined path, prepare yourself to leave with uncertainty, much in the same way you climbed from your bed this morning. You assumed the floor would still lie below to meet your feet as you started your day. No matter your plan or itinerary, the day you’re living doesn’t align with what greeted you in your slumber last night. This post is primarily for one person. Even so, the truth is wherever you find it.
This isn’t about “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” although it rips a webpage from its book. If you’re not familiar with it, I envy your initial discovery. The entries with video are sublime. Here’s a link to the introductory video: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Some of the ideas contained therein are familiar with you already if you know me. Words like onism, morii, zenosyne and most of all, sonder. Their existence is in part responsible for my joy of language and aversion to anything which presupposes a rigidity in its structure or usage. It gave me greater power in knowing that I own this language and its forms are not preordained.
I have a custom metal piece of bird artwork above my back door, one attuned to the concept of onism. Once you grasp the idea, you’ll see why it gives me pause from time to time as I find myself trapped in the cocoon of a typical and confining day, especially as I peer through the slats of the window on the door. We’re always peering through slats into the external world; it’s just that we forget that we’re doing it. This post also isn’t so much about onism or existential moments.
I’ve created several words myself. Disvidisia might be my favorite. Observing people who complain of boredom or express disinterest in ideas or works people share evokes this feeling in me with regularity. This post isn’t about that, either, although it authentically encompasses the reaction many people will have to it.
Given enough time and depth of experience, some people and places ebb and flow in their importance. The tumblers which lock and prevent our understanding find themselves without a connection for years – and one day, when our eyes are averted and our minds distracted, an insight or epiphany strikes. More often than not, by the time we understand what we’ve missed or misunderstood, the cliché of ‘too late’ pains us. It’s difficult to fight realizations which germinate in our own minds.
As for what this post is about, it’s a response to a flash of recognition a few days ago. While we’ve diluted the meaning of the word token, I realized that I needed to make one. In its strongest form, a token is a tiny portion of the original and a keepsake harkening to a greater whole. Once you’ve read this post, go to this link: Avenoir. You’ll learn a new word and perhaps peer inward for a moment. Toward the end, at about three minutes, you might see or feel the token of connection that I’m referencing. For those with strong family ties, especially ones which bond with you even after a death, I suspect that the recognition of the images in your mind will break you into pieces – even if just for a moment or in the tiniest of ways.
There are no new things to see, just our own reflections as we scramble to remember what brought us to these places, even as some of those on the journey with us transform into echoes and invisible companions. We can live in reverse through memory if we can row our boats while seated in the wrong direction.
I’ve made you such a token, for inscrutable reasons that are elusive in their complexity and simple in their expression. The picture in this post isn’t the token, although if you examine it carefully you might find a clue. It should arrive in the next few days.
The picture isn’t real, much like each of our collective sets of memories. That’s my dad standing next to me, though. The power of memory and photography grants me the ability to recreate an imperfect idea.
This story, although difficult to believe, is true. Or true-ish. It’s true enough to make you nod your head in recognition of the people and places mentioned. Since I suffered two almost-fatal head traumas when I was young, I’ve learned to sometimes distrust my grasp of the details but also simultaneously cling to the mood that nostalgia brings. I’m averse to taking the direct route, so if you’re seeking linear fulfillment, it’s probably best that you scamper over to something else to amuse you. Young people don’t appreciate the agony of becoming old and being unable to simply tell a story. Stories worth sharing fail to conform to plot development. In my youth, there were no disinterested bystanders. We were all either in the action or trying to hide from it.
This story takes place somewhere around 1978. Even then, we thought the world was moving too fast, as whispers of new highways and industry were everywhere. Springdale had just reached 20,000 people, a 1/4 of what it is today. Out in the world, many things happened that year, yet few touched the residents of Springdale. Inside City View Trailer Park, though, the world was further reduced to minutes, dollars, and wondering what life was like out in the real world. For many years, it was timeless, stagnant and visceral. Faces changed, to be sure, but the circumstances of those living there hinged on the same calculations people still make today when they might run out of money before days in the month. Most little towns have their own versions of City View. It appeared in the newspaper with startling frequency, usually near the words “Police Beat.” My best friend’s mom was immortalized in the Police Beat section, because burglars broke into their trailer and stole some of their belongings in July 1976. It was strange to find it in the newspaper so many years later. I found hundreds of mentions of City View – none of them had positive headlines. No Nobel Laureates sprang from its loins. As in all places, a few great people lived there and avoided being infected by its lunacy.
For those who aren’t familiar with City View, it was a place a family could find an immediate place to live. It consisted of more than a hundred trailers, set on a mostly quadrangular grid with three main streets and two connecting end loops. The further inside your family lived, the more likely you’d find yourself questioning your ability to make good choices, especially on the drinking nights. If you’re picturing a house with a fireplace or windows that were guaranteed to work, you’re being too lenient on the definition of the word. As long as you weren’t concerned about insulated walls or normalcy, City View always answered the eternal question of “How little can I pay and still claim to live on the inside of a building?” In my later years, I often joked that it was impossible to feel the pull of loneliness there because the roaches were always there to keep us company. We all could hear each other’s business, even as we pretended to hear and see nothing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the principal owner of the City View trailer park was quite wealthy. He bought the Faubus House in Madison County at one point. When I was diving into the details of this story, I discovered he owned trailers very near where I now live and that a tornado had hit the east end of Emma in 1977, damaging trailers he owned there. To be clear, I’m not faulting him for City View’s problems. He could have done much better, of course, but places like City View are almost necessary.
It’s important that you understand two contradictory things. City View Trailer Park could be a hellish place to live, especially if keeping your stuff from being put in the trunk of someone else’s car was important to you. On the other side of the equation, it was a small community on the east side of Springdale, one cloistered from much of the rest of the little town. Close quarters create an intimacy that’s difficult to replicate elsewhere. It was just as easy to make a lifelong friend as it was to be both witness and participant in a brawl at 2:30 p.m. on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Despite proximity to one’s neighbors, it might as well as have been supervised by the Mafia. All manner of questionable human activity transpired there. Despite it all, many families lived there and walked the straight and narrow path. Its areas were inevitably crawling with children and their adventures.
Looking back, I see that the concentration of poor people tricked many of us into believing that all the craziness happening there with a monotonous regularity had more to do with the place than the inhabitants did. As wild as the place could be, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I frequently mention that my parents were almost ideal for the confines of City View. While we lived there, much of the shouting had my trailer at its epicenter. We only left City View because either the terrible wiring of our trailer failed, or my mom burned yet another residence because of smoking. To say that my mom smoked is akin to saying a volcano tends to emit a bit of ash. She burned down several residences in her life. I’ll never forget the sight of approaching the palatial grounds of City View on that early November afternoon to see a plume of smoke. Everyone on the school bus was shouting, both wanting to go see whose trailer burned and in hopes that it wasn’t his or hers. No one died in the trailer that day, but several million cockroaches were rendered homeless. I lost my connection to my best friend that day, too, as quickly as the smoke rose and vanished.
City View was near the skating rink on highway 68 (Robinson Avenue), the one near the airport. I didn’t realize until I was older than one end of the park was directly south of the airfield’s path. Back then, the airport had houses along three sides. 68 morphed in 412 as the dollars changed hands and progress moved along the corridor. There weren’t convenience stores on every corner back then, or easy restaurants on that side of town. The Spe-Dee Mart was the best attraction nearby if you excluded the Pepsi Distribution Center that sat on the corner closest to City View. When I looked up “Spe-Dee Mart” to write this story, the very first story that popped up in the newspaper was from 1977, when a man robbed that very store at gunpoint. I have to admit that I laughed upon reading the words. The cliché of imagining that the man who robbed the store probably lived at City View made me laugh even more. I knew it was dangerous to walk or ride a bike along the highway but for someone as poor as I was, it seemed like another world. In my defense, it was just as likely to be dangerous at my house as it was to be around total strangers in the dark, all of whom were armed with questionable motives. One night, back when Springdale had concrete medians, I had ventured all the way to the intersection of 71. A drunken man in a pickup had pointed a shotgun at me in irritation. He didn’t appreciate that I laughed at him and rode away.
Honestly, there wasn’t much ‘town’ on that side of town, either. There were no trails or sidewalks and all the streets in and around City View all looped and connected back to Powell Street. Even the roads were trying to tell us to leave. On the farthest end, a large polluted pond sat, hoping to trick uninitiated youngsters into foolishly wading into its dark water.
Near that pond, a trailer away, a friend of my dad’s lived with his wife and two kids. Like my dad, he was a rough man. His pleasures were fishing and drinking. Unlike my dad, his laugh came easy and though he worked hard, it was difficult to rouse him to anger. Jerry wasn’t the only inhabitant of City View that I knew. I had a couple of cousins, many school classmates, and the only real friend I made as a kid.
I’m not sure why my dad was home when the school bus dropped me off. He was a mechanic by nature but had learned a dozen trades and done countless jobs. I dreaded reaching the small rickety set of steps leading up to the door. It was impossible to open the door to that trailer without it emitting a high scream of metal protest. I knew it was likely that dad was drunk and that said drinking had probably soured his less-than-stellar mood. I sat on the porch a few minutes and petted my dad’s dog, Duke. My dad owned a long line of Dukes, all of them dark German Shepherds.
Cradling my books like a shield, I flung open the front door. Dad was sitting at the kitchen table with a partially consumed bottle of something in front of him. It was probably Old Charter. I’m sure that in those days, it was distilled from cat urine. I’m basing that only on the intense and penetrating stench it released when the lid came off. He immediately started talking to me in his language of Mumblecorn. If you’re not familiar with Mumblecorn, it’s a dialect of mostly English spoken by people who already mumble, spiced with words in no discernible order. As bad as my dad’s mumbling was, it was a capital offense to be unable to understand him and comply with whatever nonsensical order he might throw my way. In this case, I understand the word “Jerry” and nothing else. I walked down the narrow hallway, tossed my books on the floor, and returned to the kitchen.
Dad unsteadily stood up, grabbed his bottle by the neck and said, “Come on, let’s go see Jerry.” He either said that, or “The world is a paradox, unknowable in its complexity.” It’s impossible to be sure, though I imagine the former is more likely. At any rate, I had to put on an Oscar-worthy performance and pretend to understand his alcohol-induced word salad.
Dad stepped outside and missed the steps directly in front of him. He fell in one long step, all the way down. He didn’t drop his bottle or lose the cigarette, which perennially dangled from his lip. His ugly brown beast of a cowboy hat also didn’t tilt off. I knew better than to assist him up. If I made that error, someone would have to pick me up after he knocked me down. Many times, I would simply disappear by darting around a corner or hiding. It was a relief to discover how often he’d forget me if I weren’t in his direct line of sight.
I climbed over the tailgate of his truck and dropped inside. Duke jumped over, too, and lay down along the cab side of the bed. There was no way I was going to get inside the cab with my dad. Not just in fear I might laugh at him fumbling for the keys and the keyhole, but in fear he’d challenge me to drive, smoke his cigarette, or take a long pull from his whiskey, all of which was a common development with him. I sat in the back, hoping we were heading to the other end of City View instead of out into the world. Being drunk rarely stopped my dad from driving.
Thankfully, we turned to the east. Dad gassed it, screeching the tires, and didn’t relent until we hit the first speed bump. He loved doing that if he had a victim in the back. In my dad’s mind, the back of a truck was tantamount to the back seat of an SUV in today’s world. I rode hundreds of miles, even through the mountains in summer and winter sitting in the bed or clutching the sides in terror. When people post those stupid memes of kids in the back of pickups, declaring, “We survived,” I’d like to punch them in the throat. I had the joy of being in the back of one on a 4th of July when dad wrecked on an embankment going at least 50 mph, coming back from the coldest swim hole in the area, Blue Hole in Tontitown. To be clear, I loved riding in the back of a pickup if a sane person was behind the wheel. With my dad driving, though, any kid in the back would find himself praying to any and every god imaginable in hopes of surviving the trip.
We made it to the end of the trailer park where Jerry lived. His truck was parked in front of his trailer. People like my dad and Jerry didn’t walk if a truck was nearby. Even the idea of walking for pleasure would’ve confused them. I jumped over the back and stood just out of dad’s sight. Dad climbed the steps and pounded on the door. When no one answered, he began shouting, “Jerry, you b@#tard, open the door!” He turned around to find me and I made the mistake of looking in his direction. He waved his arm to beckon me to the door. As bad as the neighborhood was, many people didn’t routinely lock their doors. With people like Jerry and my dad, it would have been unwise anyway. Guns were tucked everywhere, and usually loaded. The door was locked and later I figured out why.
Dad stepped off the porch and walked a couple of steps to the window. He put his bottle on the ground and pushed against the cheap window. It slid up. “Come on. I’ll push you up,” he told me.
I stepped up on dad’s knee as he bent and then lifted up to grip the window. Just as I was about to clear the edge, I heard dad laugh. Before I had time to react, he forcefully shoved me through the window without warning. I hurtled inside and knocked some things off a little table by the recliner in the living room. I got up and opened the door for dad. I could hear noise from the other end of the trailer. By the way, if you didn’t know, using windows as doors was completely normal, and not just because so few of the windows at City View had screens.
Dad looked in the bedroom directly off the living room. He then turned and walked across the living room, then the kitchen, then down the long hallway on the far side of the trailer. He came back, a horrible smile on his face. He took a Camel cigarette from his striped shirt pocket and lit it.
“We’re gonna have us some fun, son.” He then laughed as Roscoe P. Coltrane might have and whooped. I was glad he was laughing because this indicated a shift in mood. The problem was that it was impossible to know how far my dad might go. “Reasonable” was a fake word to him when he was either drinking or pulling pranks. Some of the stories I tell about him sound impossible to me, too.
Before proceeding, it’s important that you understand several other details about daily living. First, many men like my dad and Jerry often kept a pitcher or jug of tap water on the counter or in the fridge. Filters and bottled were unheard of back then. You simply drank directly from the jug. Everyone in the house knew that it was forbidden to put your lips on the jug or pitcher of the man of the house. Second, most trailers didn’t have showers back then. Most had small bathtubs. Bathing wasn’t meant to be comfortable. You were lucky to get your own bathwater. Kids knew the agony of their moms washing their hair for them. At times, we were convinced our moms were ripping our scalps off as they squeezed our hair. As an adult, you had no real choice except to almost lie down on the floor, placing your torso on the narrow lip of the tub and then bending your neck unnaturally under the protruding faucet. Third, most men like my dad and Jerry had guns everywhere, intended for shooting things outside of one’s house.
As dad puffed on his cigarette in the small kitchen, I could see the wheels of mischief churning in his head. He went into the living room and hunched down near the couch. He reached under it and pulled out a short barrel shotgun. I think it was a .20 gauge, though I can’t be certain. He pumped it to see if it was loaded. Indeed it was. My blood ran cold for a second as I realized dad was going to shoot the gun. Based on experience, I knew that it was just as likely he’d do it inside as outside. He put the gun back under the couch and then went back into the kitchen. I stood, watching.
He opened the old yellow fridge door and reached inside. He pulled out a mostly-full pitcher of water. “A-ha. Here it is. This will teach him to lock the door and wash his hair.” Dad was unstoppable at this point.
By the way, I forgot to mention that I wasn’t sure that Jerry had ever actually washed his hair. It was difficult to imagine him having the time or patience to crouch so uncomfortably and waste his time doing so. I know it didn’t make sense for me to believe this. In my defense, most people didn’t consider the fact that a grown man might fire a gun inside someone else’s house.
I didn’t follow dad down the hallway. I did watch in disbelief as he threw his cigarette in the sink, grabbed the sloshing pitcher of water, and then marched down the hallway to the bathroom to say hello to Jerry. I had connected the dots.
Within half a second of my dad darting into the open doorway of the bathroom, I heard both the simultaneous slosh of water as dad threw the entire contents at an unseen target in the bathroom and the most inhuman scream I’d heard to that point in my life. Believe me, I had heard and memorized some ungodly screams of terror and anger. The scream, which poured from the bathroom, could only be accurately measured against the Richter Scale if it were recalibrated to measure both agony and volume. Almost immediately, another scream and a thud filled the trailer
Dad backed out of the bathroom, empty pitcher in hand, laughing and pointing.
“Go##damnit, Bobby Dean! I’m bleeding everywhere!” Jerry’s voice was piercing.
Since dad was laughing, I risked going past him. Jerry was naked, now sitting on the toilet, and had a towel against the back of his head. Blood was on the edge of the tub, on the floor, and running down his back.
“Where are you bleeding?” I asked. He was lucky I personally had a couple of hundred head stitches of my own when I was 6 or 7 – and had felt the inside of my own scalp when it was almost ripped off my head. I’d seen enough blood to know that if I were looking at it while it was coming from someone, no one had been killed. Yet.
“It’s my head. That faucet caught my head after Bobby Dean threw the ice water on me!” Jerry sounded like a wounded mountain lion. My suspicions had proven to be true: dad had thrown the entire pitcher of water directly across Jerry’s rear-end as he hunched over the edge of the bathtub, washing his hair.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I said something like, “Aren’t you glad he threw the water on you instead of firing your .20 gauge in this bathroom?”
The look on Jerry’s face seemed to indicate that neither sounded very reasonable to him. He told my dad to stop laughing and to go jump in the pond behind the house. His language was a little more colorful, though, full of words which surpass mere English.
Jerry, of course, didn’t go to the doctor. Back then, you only went to the doctor if you lost an arm and couldn’t find it. He soaked a towel and a shirt in blood as it slowed. He put a ripped piece of a shirt over the flap of scalp and put a ball cap over the top of that to hold it in place. Wherever he and my dad had planned to go was forgotten. They sat in the living room, drinking beer and sips of whiskey. Occasionally, Jerry would idly threaten to kill Bobby Dean. Dad would laugh and ask Jerry if he could get him another glass of ice water, or “ass water,” as he jokingly referred to it.
I’m not sure which had hurt him worse: the huge cut on his head as the faucet scraped all the way to his skull as he jumped up with a buttcrack full of ice water or his back, from attempting to jolt him upright from what amounted to a prone position under the faucet. If Jerry washed his hair for a while, I’ll wager he locked the front door, all the windows, and the bathroom door, too. And maybe hid all his guns, too.
After a while, I walked back up to the trailer I called home and probably hid in the closet to read.
So, please forgive me as I sometimes forget the idea of scale or appropriateness. My barometer for evaluation was damaged. Prehistoric man had to be cautious of predators and being gutted while sleeping. Modern men exposed to my dad had infinitely more difficulty attempting to navigate the prognostications of what he might or might not do. “If you dream it, they’ll come” is a well-known mantra of the baseball player. “If you can imagine Bobby Dean doing it, he’s already on his way over,” would be the mantra for my dad.
Based on the scream Jerry produced at the moment the ice water contacted his backside, I’m going to have to say that sinister government agencies should replace water-boarding with ice water crack attacks.
You’ll never forget those screams, even if you had the chance to live in City View Trailer Park, back when time sometimes stood still.
Time eventually started its march once again, even for City View. Springdale mercifully stepped in and vainly attempted to correct some of the living conditions there. For good or ill, it touched thousands of people. For me, it fills a spot in my mind similar to the one occupied by my dad. All the people and places that I called home color everything that I am. City View changed its name, just as I did.
Humor is in the eye of the beholder and time always renders translucent the fondest of memories – and the toughest of circumstances.
Oddly, one of my biggest Christmas surprises this year was a gift that arrived a few days late. My wife Dawn managed to find the most horribly perfect set of bath towels, ones so flimsy that they can be used as Confederate flags of surrender. Naturally, I love them. Unlike normal people, I prefer smaller, non-plush towels. Some people use hand towels bigger than these bath towels. The towels are white with a single blue stripe on them, similar to what you might find at a really bad massage place or in a bathhouse frequented by savages. The towels probably shipped with a little white slip of paper marked, “Failed by Inspector 456.”
Years ago, I used a similar set until they were so threadbare that you could play tic-tac-toe in the threads. I had visited Tulsa, staying at a Ramada Inn near downtown. After showering, I was amazed at how small and flimsy the towels were. Naturally, I wanted a bunch of them, no matter what the cost. The housekeeper had left her cart down the hall and I took a stack of them. I left an outrageous amount of money on her cart, to let her know that they were in payment for the towels I had no intention of returning – or a tip for her. Later that afternoon, as we passed in the hallway, she smiled a huge and knowing smile at me. I just nodded, a happy co-conspirator. I’ve forgotten almost everything about that trip to Tulsa except for the handsome set of hotel towels. I’ll also bet that the housekeeper in question remembers the crazy hotel guest who paid her $50 over cost for the worst towels ever made.
Once those towels turned into loose threads, I’d catch myself asking at places like Target, “Do you have anything THINNER?” The clerks invariably looked at me like my cheese had slid from my cracker. “Uh…no,” they would utter. I’d reply, “These are too plush and comfortably large. Anything smaller?” These conversations tended to go badly, as the average person thinks towels are supposed to be as plush as bed comforters and fit four per dryer load. Over the years, I gave up hope of ever finding a suitable set of replacements. I forced myself to use good towels, even as I cursed the universe for my first world problem.
I threw in the towel, in other words.
I won’t bore you with arguments regarding ease of use, storage, cleaning, or laundry bulk. The truth is I don’t care about any of the utilitarian arguments in favor of using smaller, thinner towels. I just like them, like burned toast or popcorn, or dry fruitcake.
My wife Dawn solved my problem, though. This new set of towels is so perfectly thin and small that I shall delight in their use. As you foolishly use the equivalent of your grandmother’s quilt after your shower, I’ll be laughing and enjoying the worst towels in human history.
The picture is of all 6 of them, stacked no higher than a plate of Waffle House pancakes. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?
Most of you will look back and remember your new television or instapot. Not me. I’ll be nostalgic for this beautiful stack of horrid towels, the ones which made me instantly happy.
I think I need another dozen of them, though, just to be safe.