Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Overnight Shift

It was in the middle of the night and I was left alone in this brightly lit corner bedroom that had hardwood floors and yellow walls, badly painted with flecks of yellow paint spattered along the baseboards.  One of the plastic injection mold machines from the factory I used to work at was installed in the room with me, taking up most of its space and continually, constantly pumping out those blue jar lids we used to make.  There was nothing else in the room except for a red striped lumpy mattress flopped down on the floor and a rickety table beside it with an ashtray on it and a couple of paperback books propping up one of its uneven legs.  

I was supposed to keep an eye on the machine and sort through the parts as they came down the conveyor, but I just wanted to lie on the bed and read the books and explore all the bundles of clothes and discarded junk and old mementos that were stuffed into the dark recesses of the bedroom's closet.  But the machine kept seizing up and the parts kept sticking in the mold and I'd miss it because I was busy fooling with something else.  Then the foreman would burst through the bedroom door, grumbling and banging on the machine with a wrench until he got it running again.  I'd have to sit down at the conveyor and make like I was working and stutter out some excuse as to why I didn't catch the machine when it seized up. He'd just shake his head and go away and the whole farce would repeat itself over and over until this eternal shift was done.   

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

For the Wedding

I shook my father by the shoulder to wake him.  He had fallen asleep on a worn out couch in an unlit, unheated, house that looked like it had sat abandoned for a long time.  Grey dust coated every surface, thick enough to trace through with a finger, and the air itself seemed pale and colorless.  My father sat up grumbling and groggy, as he usually did when he woke up, and I handed him his brown shoes that he had left neatly paired on the floor beside the couch.  We sat there talking about meaningless things and I ran him a glass of cold water from the tap while he cleared his throat and collected his thoughts and held the weight of his head in his hands.

We headed out the door and it was just around dawn on a cold winter morning, crisp and clear, the snow thickly crusted and frozen hard.  The abandoned house that my father had slept in was actually just a small guest house that sat at a fork where the dirt driveway diverged into two driveways which both continued on up to the main house up on the hill.  I had parked my pickup truck behind the guest house in a turnaround which connected the two diverging driveways.  I could see from the grey smoke curling from the tailpipe that I had left the truck running this whole time.  I figured that I had been in there waking my father up and talking him back into coherence for at least an hour.  I couldn't believe that I had left the truck sitting there running for so long.  I kicked myself for the gas I was wasting.

But my father just patted me on the shoulder and told me, "Are you kidding?  These people around here have been known to steal batteries and parts off of any car that's not running.  You never want to turn your truck off around here."  And then I looked and saw a car sitting under a tree across the other side of the driveway.  The hood was popped open and there were pipes and hoses pulled out and hanging every which way over the sides of the fenders.  The car had been gutted and the remaining heap had turned completely brown with rust.  And farther off, half obscured in the tall weeds, I saw other cars in similar conditions, discarded relics crumbling into the snowy landscape.

This got my father talking about the country family who owned this property.  He chuckled and waved his hand towards the main house as we started up the hill.  The family had two wild twin boys in their twenties that loved to go for raucous shirtless joyrides down dusty back roads on summer evenings, climbing half out of the door and howling in the corn.  Their older sister had a husband who was always in and out of prison.  And whenever he was home, he mostly occupied his time by stealing cars and bringing them home for the boys, and after the boys had beat the cars all to hell and run them into the ground, they would dump them off around the property and part them out.  They were crazy, trashy people.  The terror of the whole countryside.

I wondered what we were doing here among these people, why my father was sleeping in their dusty guest house, why I was there to wake him on that frigid morning.  It turned out my brother had been dating this older sister while her husband was off serving another sentence in prison.  These didn't seem like the kind of people my brother would get involved with, but I guess he was in love, and she had managed to get a divorce from her incarcerated husband, and now my brother was getting married to her, and my father and I had come here for the wedding.

So we climbed the hill, and I took my father's arm as the slope grew steeper.  And as we climbed, the day wore on with each step.  It was late afternoon now and spring.  The snow had melted away and there was green grass and blossoms on the trees and the tall weeds along the edge of the property had grown thicker, hiding all the rusted old wrecks from sight, and the sun lingered longer, lazier in the sky.  When we got up into the shaded yard of the main house, we saw that the field out back behind the house had been set up for the wedding.  There were rows of white chairs and the arbor was decked out with pink and blue flowers.

The twin boys wore matching light blue suits.  They sat in the front row, wrestling and punching at one another, almost knocking over the chairs around them.  They both had the same loose mops of brown hair that whipped about in their struggles.  The sister had a blonde-haired son from her first marriage, and he sat in the back row, dressed up in a clean shirt and tie, staring down at his dangling shoes that didn't quite touch the ground.  My brother stood up by the arbor, hands folded before him, grinning and waiting for his bride.

And as someone began to play at an organ that had been wheeled out onto the grass, there she was, wearing a white dress slightly discolored that had been passed down through the generations of someone else's family and lent to her for the occasion.  She had the same loose brown hair as her brothers, but longer and tied up with a ribbon in the back.  She could have been described as homely in the distribution of her features, the smallness of her brown eyes, the almost bulbous tip to her nose, and her wide thin lips.  But there was also something radiantly adorable about her and the pink flush of her cheeks.  She was a bride, in love, thrilled to be getting married.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Just Offstage

This blonde actress and I were on a sound stage, sitting in the front seat of long '63 Chevy hard top.  We were shooting a scene for a movie.  The stage hands kept running about, switching the plywood backdrops that were arranged around the car, reflecting different backgrounds and locales.  They switched from desert scenes to city streets to dense tropical jungles.  There was the Eiffel Tower on my left, and then the Aztec Pyramids on my right.  Confetti showered on us as we made our way through a parade of extras inflated by stagecraft and camera trickery to look five times their number.

Wardrobe continually changed our costumes in a flurry of colored fabric to match these backdrops.  They tossed an Hawaiian shirt on me, and then a cowboy hat, then a fedora, then some other hat besides.  They wrapped a scarf around the blonde's head and put her in sunglasses as she dragged on a long black cigarette holder, so blaise' as everyone fussed with her.  I pretended to drive the car and wave to the crowds and gawk at all the sights.  We traveled the world in minutes and never moved an inch.  It was all arranged and rearranged around us.

When the scene was done, I got out of the car to go make a phone call.  The backdrops were pulled away, and the car was left sitting in a dingy grey concrete warehouse.  The blonde stayed in the passenger seat, powdering her cheeks and checking her makeup in a pocket mirror, still in character, still in the illusion of the scene.  I went through a door that opened onto someone's apartment with plush orange carpet and darkly papered walls.  I spotted a rotary phone on a table across the room, but as I crossed over to it, the stage hands pulled away the walls and took the phone and the table, revealing them to be fake flimsy props.  I went through another door and passed into the bedroom of the apartment, but again the walls were pulled away, and then again through another door, and then another, and every time the walls were pulled away.  I just wanted to get to a phone and call someone out there in real life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Late Fees

One night, in the middle of a loud party with blasting music and bottled beers and people all crammed into this small house, I suddenly remembered that I had a movie that I needed to return to the video store.  I went to the bedroom, and on the nightstand beside the alarm clock I found the sleeve that the movie had come in, but the VHS tape itself was no where to be found.  I looked under the table and under the bed, but there was nothing.  The bedroom was full of people too, and I shouted over the music to ask them about the movie.  They shook their heads and swigged their beers and just grinned at me.

I think it was those grins that really got to me.  Like they knew something and weren't saying.  I started yelling at other people.  Someone had to know where this movie was.  Someone had to have done something with it.  I dreaded having to pay the fine, or even worse, the exorbitant fee that the store would charge to replace the movie altogether.  The party kept on, heedless of my desperate frustrations.  It felt like the whole of my life hinged on finding this movie and returning it.  Otherwise it would be that thing forgotten, coming back to taunt me years later in sudden recollections, that one last piece of never finished business, that one drop of corrosive acid falling down the bottomless pit of my stomach, my head swimming, caught in the endless vertigo of that dark descent.

No, that movie had to be somewhere.  In the kitchen I confronted a man with a moustache and a dark complexion.  I was certain that he knew something; I don't know why.  He began to get violently angry at my accusations.  I felt people crowding in behind me, and I knew that I was pushing the matter too far.  I was going to end up getting hurt.  But someone knew where that movie was.  They had to know.  I kept at the man with the moustache, agitating him to the point that his beer bottle shattered in his fist.  His nostrils flared as he clutched the brown shards of glass.  The suds dripped from his hand.

Still, despite myself I kept yelling.  I felt the people all pressing in behind me, and I turned and saw that they were all friends and family of the man with the moustache.  This was his house and his party.  I didn't know any of these people.  I was a stranger here, making wild threats at the host.  Hostile faces bore down on me in all directions, growling, seething, drawing ever closer.  I would never find that movie.

Monday, July 20, 2015


I was watching a news piece about this famous white-haired old millionaire.  They showed snapshots of him in a suit, laughing as he popped the cork on bottles of champagne in light-festooned ballrooms of the late 1970's.  They showed his boat on the ocean under clear blue skies, and he was standing at the deck in a sailor's cap waving his cigar in the air, blonde beauties in swimsuits lining the rail to either side of him.  The showed his secluded mountain estate atop a long road that climbed through the pines.

They spoke about his love life in that typical way with just a hint of scandal and a patronizing indulgence for the weaknesses of rich old men.  At the height of his fortune, he had met his third wife, a young brunette with curled and feathered hair.  They showed her smiling photograph, and they mentioned something about her teeth, and it was then that I noticed that something looked a bit odd about them, like there were too many or they gleamed too brightly or extended back too far beyond the bright red lips.

They cut to an old clip of an interview with this woman.  She was explaining that she'd had her lower jaw removed due to cancer, and now she wore a facial prosthetic.  To demonstrate, she unhooked the prosthetic jaw and removed it.  The woman interviewing her then revealed that she too had a prosthesis.  She had a plate in her face that extended from a dental bridge on the upper left side of her mouth on up to her left eye.  She popped the glass eye inward, and then slipped the prosthesis out through her mouth, leaving her face drooping on the left side and a dark hole where the eye had been.  And then they cut to the cameraman, already in the process of removing his prosthesis, and on it went until I felt like they'd set off a chain that would end with everyone everywhere having a facial prosthesis, the whole world turned upside down.                      

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Leaving the Park

My family had all spent the day together at the park, having a picnic.  At twilight, when the sun had dropped below the hill that overlooked the park and it was getting too dark to keep pitching horseshoes, we began loading everything into our cars.  The table cloths and folding lawn chairs and foil pans of chicken were all shuffled and packed away in the dim yellow dome lights.  Once we had everything squared, I started my car and swung it around, and there was one of my nephews, a little boy of about three, standing in the beam of the headlights, standing out there in the open, giggling.  I was so startled that I jerked the wheel and went off the pavement into the grass.

This caused a great deal of commotion, and the boy was pulled aside and scolded for getting in the way, and I found my tires spinning in ruts in the muddy grass, and a bunch of us had to get up under the front bumper and heave and push until the car was free.  And then we were on our way again, following one another's taillights in a long procession, until we merged with the whole streaming sea of lights out on the freeway.  The nephew looked back at me from the rear window of the car ahead, his wet eyes red and sorrowful and sad.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sick Day

I had stayed home sick from elementary school.  It was a frigid winter day with ice crusted on the windows.  My bedroom was at the back of the house, far from the furnace and slightly colder than the rest of the rooms, and I was sick in bed, dreaming all the stale dreams of a day in bed underneath all the layers of blankets, huddled within, pretending to be deep in a cave, leaving that one little hole for light and air.

In the afternoon I watched my cartoons on the the black and white TV that sat over on the dresser at the foot of the bed.  In my excitement over whatever show I was watching, I started bouncing on the bed and I made a gesture like I was about to throw something at the TV.  Just as I did this, I noticed one of the kids from school peering in at me through the frosted window across the room.  He had his red gloves cupped around his eyes, and his face pressed to the glass.  I could just make out the shape of him through the ice.  I didn't think anything of it.  I just gathered up my thick bundle of blankets and wound them around me and rolled back over facing the other way.

But later on in the evening, as I got out of bed and crept out into the hallway, I heard the voices of my classmates coming from the living room.  I came down the hall to find them gathered around messing with our old stereo cabinet, the type with the wooden lid that lifts up to reveal a turntable and radio dial.  My father sat in an armchair among them, a darkened silhouette shape against the rosy light of the winter evening window over his shoulder.  I couldn't see his face, couldn't see what he thought of all of this.  My classmates just kept fiddling with the stereo knobs and laughing and telling my father how the kid had peeked in at the window and seen that I wasn't really sick.

I got mad, listening to them go on about it.  I had come out from the bedroom still wrapped in one of my blankets, and I let this fall to the floor as I gathered an outraged breath and prepared to tell them all that they had no business staring in my windows and that the gesture that they'd seen had proven nothing and that they were all just looking to start trouble.  But then my father was there behind me, still dark and unseen, and he told me over my shoulder to calm down, to let it go, that none if it mattered as long as I knew the truth.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Big Disappointment

I had taken up smoking again.  And not only was I smoking again, I was caught smoking in the middle of the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.  The nurse came in shouting at me with half my family trailing scornfully behind her.  There was even talk about a lawsuit and charges being pressed for smoking in a restricted area.  My mother, uncles, aunts, brothers, cousins, everybody glared and shook their heads at me.  I tried to stamp the cigarette out under my heel on the white tile floor.  I tried to explain myself.  I tried to tell them that it was just the one pack, and that once it was gone, I could quit just as easily as I did before.  But every word came out like the feeble excuse that it was.

I slipped away from them and out into the parking-garage that adjoined the building.  It was evening, just beginning to get dark out.  I knew there was nothing waiting for me at home but long lectures, distressed sighs, and bitter recriminations.  Down at the curb in front of the hospital, there was a black-haired girl in a light blue 65 Mustang convertible.  She offered me a ride away from all of this.  I accepted eagerly, and we were off down country roads that unwound in the headlights and sharp lashes of wind in the open air.  I clicked on the radio and the dial glowed gold and there was a warm hum and then all the old songs were there.