Harry’s Hapless Plan

A true story, dedicated with gratitude to Harry Havery, and inspired by the compassionate leadership of Coach Richard Bozeman.

I never hold a grudge.

To hold a grudge is to coddle it, and allow it to believe it is dependent on you. I cannot have that. I work my grudges, push them and starve them, withholding my love and attention until they become lean and resilient things that stalk the earth far beyond my time here. I try not to accumulate too many, so that I can focus my discipline on building that esprit de corps among my resentments that sets their shoulders back and lifts their chins above the faltering, feckless grudges so common they do not warrant a mention. Here in this public forum I could say I am not proud of this pastime of mine, sanding the imperfections off of my grievances until they shine like mirrors, but it would not be true. I fear the loss of, or worse, the resolution of any one of the affronts in my collection would crack me at the knees and leave me a refugee, undefined.

Perhaps I am bored now? Perhaps a little pas a doble with self-destruction is the thrill I need? At Bucky McMahon’s invitation to participate in this event I felt I had to suffer an experience as he does, and let the story of that suffering become the final draft, so I decided to dig deep into my catalog of grudges and attempt the unthinkable, resolve a vintage high school grudge.

1985, Sebring, Florida. I am in 10th grade and I am not a jock, or a prep, or a stoner, or a hick. I am a breakdancer. We are few in number being so far from New York City, 1,100 miles far specifically. I have no idea what the Bronx is, but I nod knowingly at graffiti on trains carrying phosphate out of Frostproof. We gather behind Garino’s Pizza off of Lakeview Road and spin on cardboard to mixtapes playing on a 12 D Battery Boombox. We go to The Loop skating rink on Friday nights, but we don’t skate, just practicing backspins and windmills on the polyurethane floors. We anoint ourselves with noms de guerre- Fresh Kid, Mr. Spin, The Floor Doctor, The Dynamite Kid, Shortrock, and DJ Joe.

Our crew, the Defenders of Funk, and our best friends and rivals the Kool Rock Kids dream of making a trip to Orlando to serve notice to the big city locals at Club Electric Avenue. None of us have been, but we hear rumors they can headspin.

Harry Havery is a senior, and Sebring famous if anyone can be. Harry can play guitar, like real songs, and he plays a Fender Stratocaster. His hair is blond, curly, and down to his shoulders. He is not caught up in the music of the times, 80’s synth-pop and commercialized New Wave. At 16 years-old Harry is an anachronism already. He is a disciple of the Beatles, or what people like to call real music. I don’t know if people thought Harry was cool, but Harry Harvey was known. I didn’t know of anyone who disliked Harry. He could stand at the center of a pep rally or a Christmas Assembly and work the crowd in between songs. To this day I don’t know how he learned to play, or why. To me Harry was born with leather cuffed boots and a vest over a KISS t-shirt. It was all so surprising when we first heard the rumors about something called, “Anti-Breaker Day.” Facts were hard to come by, but we understood it was about us, and not in a good way. Since the summer before we had trouble with whom I would consider the popular kids, mostly good Christian children from respected local families. They played sports and dated cheerleaders and high-steppers, our school’s performance dance squad of sequined choreography. These guys would cruise by us wearing paper Burger King crowns and flip us off or do some clownish dance moves to mock us. We hated them, hell, I still hate them for that. They acted as if, and they knew it to be true, this sleepy orange grove town was theirs to inherit. The Burger King Breakers were the ones who ran with Harry’s hapless plan of Anti-Breaker Day, and whatever his original intention, it became a different thing.

The Defenders of Funk and the Kool Rock Kids held a summit in 2nd Hall, our turf at Sebring High School. Emissaries were dispatched to 3rd hall, the territory of the metal-heads, the stoners, and the kids generally associated with shop class. “Are you down with 2nd Hall?” was our question, which shortened to the coded reference, 2nd Hall Down, which stuck like a modern-day hashtag. We knew many kids had their reasons to despise those first hall assholes as much as we did. We shared 2nd hall with a large clique of black kids, basically all black kids who had not distinguished themselves enough to emigrate to the band crew, student council, or the big three- football, basketball, and baseball. The Dynamite Kid, Shortrock, the Floor Doctor, and me the Fresh Kid, negotiated treaties and solemnly shook on alliances to stand against the assault, when it came. DJ Joe said Harry Havery started it, and he was going to take care of him personally. He showed us a 10 inch piece of lead pipe with Harry’s name on it. Notice was given to all breakers that to come to school not in full regalia on Anti-Breaker day was treason, and 2nd Hall Down offered no second chances, not with us was the same as against us. Sharp lines were drawn throughout the student body.

1n 1979 Detroit Disc Jockey, Steve Dahl, organized and promoted “Disco Demolition Day” between a doubler-header at Comiskey Park. Attendees got in cheap if they brought a disco record to throw in a giant bin which would be blown up in the outfield between games. I speculate that Harry was thinking of this event when he promoted Anti-Breaker Day, just a tongue-in-cheek repudiation of the new, in favor of the familiar, a story so ancient it traces back to an apple, found on a tree, and all the calamity of new things.

I don’t remember on what day of the week Anti-Breaker Day fell, but I remember showing up very early to secure my redoubt before the gauntlet of Burger King Breakers had time to mobilize. There was a banner, hung right across from the office, and it read ANTI-BREAKER DAY in red letters, at least in my mind. I was scared, but also excited. I belonged to something. One by one my fellow breakers showed up, minus a few, who can live in their shame. DJ Joe locked Harry’s lead pipe and his boom box in his locker. This unassailable control of the morning soundtrack was a stroke of tactical genius. 2nd Hall would play our music, and no one else’s. Afrika Bambatta and his Soul-sonic Force, Egyptian Lover, and the Boogie Down Bronx, songs that fill my blood with pride and defiance to this day.

Anti-Breaker Day began in a rush as the doors at the ends of both halls opened and two armies marched towards us in the middle. It ended when the king of the shop crowd decked an ancillary metal-head with no affiliation to the Burger King Breakers at all. He should have been on our side for all they cared about a guy like that. It just occurs to me now that perhaps those two had prior beef? With that single punch though, chaos ensued, and all I remember are teachers, principals, and an appearance by the Highlands County Sherriff’s Office. They found Harry’s lead pipe when they opened Joe’s locker to stop the music. DJ Joe was suspended. Me? I slinked off to home room without further incident. That is the sum total experience of Anti-Breaker Day as I recall it.

Given the deep political angst of our country I thought to myself, “What can I do to make things better?” I’m not changing my mind on any of a dozen core issues. My positions and perspectives on those topics are calcified and arthritic in my personality, immutable and painful to exercise. I could however, lighten my load. I could contact Harry Havery, and ask him about that day, and whatever the outcome it would be a known thing, and like it or not Harry would have to help me carry it from now on. I sent him a friend request on Facebook, and he accepted. I wasted no time while I had the courage and I wrote to him, explaining should he cooperate or not I planned to write this story. I was nervous, and feeling as 2nd Hall Down as ever. This is his reply.

I have regretted that day for years. Still haunts me. I was such a jackass in school. Just a complete dick. I pretty much still am, but at least I’m aware of it and I’m trying to make changes. I’m so sorry about that. So sorry. Of course I’ll be happy to talk to you about anything, especially if it helps with forward momentum. I am sickened by the state of divisiveness in our country and world. Breaks my heart to think that I contributed to it at several points in my life.

Well damn it. This was not what I expected at all. With that genuine reply thirty-three years of cherished resentment disappeared. A conversation began, and continues. My remaining grudges stretched themselves out, got more comfortable with all this new real estate available. I see my grudges all a little differently now. I question their loyalty, their genesis, and their facts. Are any of my grudges truly second hall down? For thirty-three years I have told this story on occasion, always making the point that the administration sanctioned Anti-Breaker Day, that the entire establishment was in on it. Harry says no, that is wrong. The principal told him “Sebring Blue Streaks are not anti-anything.” which puts this lump in throat when I think of it now. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my suspicions about certain faculty acting as instigators and provocateurs.

The whole Anti-Breaker Day concept had one card to play, just like Disco Demolition Day, wear a rock t-shirt to school. That was it. Somehow I either forgot, or never knew, that was the desired action as Harry conceived it. Oh the things others will do with our bad ideas. Now I often forget that my stance towards Harry is supposed to be happening in a disciplined environment for the sole purpose of creating this essay. I see him scratching the ears of an orphaned possum on his kitchen table, or liberating a cold iguana from the pool. I’ve become like everybody else who tells me, “Harry Havery is a great guy. He still plays the Christmas show at the elementary schools. You need to let it go.”

Letting go is hard! I don’t want to do it. I want my anger to remain righteous and superior to the anger of those with whom I disagree. My anger is all I have left to remember them by. The Fresh Kid (myself) fell out with Shortrock and DJ Joe over separating families at the border and shipping children to ill-funded and ill-fated holding pens around the country. “Call your Senators” I begged them. “On this one issue stand with me. For this one thing show up and be Second Hall Down with me.” I offered to tell my senators I supported the wall. They refused me. They didn’t believe the news. They blamed the parents for bringing their children. They believe the law must be upheld, and what we witnessed was the law. We called one another horrible things. Short-rock read something I wrote about to him to another friend. I think I said, “Shortrock was always such a sweet guy, he is just so damn stupid he can’t help it.” He left me a drunken voice mail calling me a piece of shit over and over. I hung it up at about number fifteen. We re-connected briefly after that incident. We both tried to walk back our insults, but our backs were already at the wall so there was nowhere left for us to go.

Shortrock and DJ Joe both agree on this one thing that I still can’t comprehend, but I think about it all the time now. They agreed that friends should come before values, and on that premise, I was the turncoat. I was the one wearing my civilian clothes on Anti-Breaker Day. Are they right though? Do we have friends because of our values, or in spite of our values? Apparently not so stupid after all, Shortrock left me with a morality riddle that I don’t think I am up to solving. I’m just another self-righteous piece of shit to him now, and I don’t think I can fix that. I don’t know if I want to fix that.

I won’t call it the end, but at this point in the story the third act delivers this bombshell- I feel closer to Harry Havery than I do to about thirty percent of the Defenders of Funk, Sebring, Florida’s legendary breakdance crew.

Relationships are never static. They are always moving towards distance or intimacy. How bad can things get between us before America leaves itself a voicemail it can’t delete? Gettysburg was known for its trading post and lively taverns once. Srebrenica was known for its soothing thermal spas. Gaza was a lovely city by the sea. As for now, Sebring is known for its racetrack and orange groves, but that can always change.

Juancho

For Todd

I’m back home after an emotionally and physically draining weekend honoring the memory of my friend and cousin, Todd McClure. I anticipated sharing the following words about him, but it didn’t feel like a long speech situation so I abbreviated this considerably. I don’t know what else to do with it so I’m posting it here on the BRC, where I am the supreme ruler of my universe.

Words fall short in these situations. Spending time with his sons, seeing him in their eyes and their wit, that helps. Hugging his wife, my friend I had not seen in many years, that helps. Being with our tribe of friends and my family, that helps, but nothing can help enough because he is gone, and the world is not fair, and for that, it can kiss my ass. That’s about where I’m at in the ol’ grieving process.

For William Todd McClure 6/30/2018

I had the honor of being Todd’s best man at he and Jennifer’s wedding. In our private moment before the ceremony, he pulled out the ring for me to carry. My hands were shaking. Tears streamed down my face. I had already sweat through my coat. I was a total mess. Todd was perfectly calm and joyful. Forever cool in his seersucker suit, he was all about the business at hand. He gripped me firmly by the shoulders, looked me the eyes and told me “You got this,” and helped me take a couple of deep breaths. I was so emotional because I knew he had found his person, and that she loved him even more than I did, and that he would forever from that point on, be okay without me. Later that evening, at the reception, as I tried to give my toast, I got choked up again, and couldn’t finish what I had to say. One of the last things Todd said to me was that he was so happy I found my wife Melissa, so he knew I was going to be okay without him as well.

To Todd I say, the third time’s a charm buddy. I’m going to get this done today.

I was lucky enough to join this family when my father married Melanie, one of Todd’s aunts, when I was about 12 years old. I remember the first big gathering at the holidays when I nervously joined this horde of cousins, most of them here today, playing soccer in the mud before dinner. Todd was inside though, with a stack of about fifteen books, reading on the couch. I now know that is what we call foreshadowing. In the years Todd and I rambled around the country together, we shared hundreds of quiet evenings reading on some of the more disgusting and dilapidated couches one can imagine. With our other friends and brothers, Darin and Joe, we once completed a 7,600 mile road trip in a series of ever smaller cars. During those years Todd, myself, and many of our friends here today lived mostly in two places- our own heads, and the natural world. The jobs we held and the places we lived were incidental means to our more majestic and noble ends. I recommend such reckless abandon to all of you young ones here today.

Written in second person, a letter to Todd

One of a thousand priceless memories is of our trip into Bighorn Cave along the border between Montana and Wyoming. After 10 hours of scrambling for miles underground it was time to exit the cave by going back up the rope we used to rappel down. We descended into the cave around lunchtime, and now it was late evening, so looking up from the bottom we could only see that circle of stars overhead.
I went first, mainly so I could determine if I was in a crisis, or just a situation.
It turned out the desire to see that sky, and feel the blasting, minus 9 degree wind chill gave me strength and courage to climb ten times the length of the rope. I rose into the safety cage above ground swinging from a steel bar, and hanging there, 100 feet above you, I could not make sense of what I saw. The stars, the mountains, and the sky were all blurred together. I thought my eyes were not working right after so many hours of darkness underground. I could see your headlamp poking up the rope in the big, open chasm beneath me. You were moving steady, grunting, and just getting the job done. You joined me at the top, where I stood gaping into the icy wind. As soon as you looked up you recognized it immediately. As I remember that night, you hung there in your harness, 100 feet above this ancient cavern floor formed two and a half million years ago during the ice age, nonchalant like you were sitting at home on the couch.

“That, my friend, is the Aurora Borealis. The Northern Fucking Lights.” Then you did that chuckle you do when you checkmate someone.

It was true, they were the Northern Fucking Lights, and that was the first, last, and only time I saw them. I would bet money you saw them again somewhere. That spot, on that night, is where I will always remember you, suspended between the ancient mystery of the world we know, and the infinite magic of the worlds we have yet to discover. You were, and will forever be, completely at ease on that rope in between.
Being apart from you all these years never bothered me. Sure I wish we could have been neighbors, or taken vacations together, but we had it too good for too long for me to be that selfish. Neither of us were ever tourists anyway. I thought of our separate lives as two spin-offs to a blockbuster adventure movie. None of us have enough time to live all of the lives we desire, but together, as a tribe we become all things. A part of me stayed out west, built a life, and raised two incredible young men, and a part of you returned to the south and serves kids in crisis every day through me.

(Breathe)

When my brother, Tres, moved to Tallahassee in 2003, I got to do it all over again. Yet another in the McClure gang to join forces with, another new set of goals and dreams, another round of nasty couches, and trying to replicate Grandma Jewell’s family recipes. This time, Tres was the best man at my wedding, as well as the caterer, photographer, and chief of security. Thanks to my adventures with Todd, Tres and I had a blueprint to follow, so understand that the daily routines of today absolutely become the folklore of tomorrow, and in the personal mythology that I share with so many of you here, and so many across this earth who can’t be here, there is no greater legend and folk hero than the man we all know simply as, “Cousin Todd.”
Thank you.

Duane meets Two By

Two By and Duane were introduced in the fifth grade by the earnest intentions of an English teacher hoping to score warm fuzzies all around by handing off to Duane a clear shot at making a friend, while to Two By he offered a dependable and affable guide to the general layout and schedule of the school. Duane eyed the chubby new boy wearing shorts in the winter, and assumed that meant he was poor, like Duane, although Duane did have a coat. Two By angled his chin back at Duane and introduced his open hand between them. Duane wiped his palm on his pants and they shook hands. Duane lead them to Miss Crabtree’s Earth Science class in second hall. Once seated, Duane studied the new boy from a row back, his black and yellow Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and ball cap sitting on the desk, his shiny black hair that grew up and out from his head in all directions, and his brown skin. Miss Crabtree invited him to stand up and tell the class his name, which was not yet Two By, and where he was from. “Alaska,” Two By said, and plopped back in his desk again ignoring the stares and whispers of the room. “He’s an Eskimo,” said someone matter-of-factly, and Two by narrowed his eyes, but did not turn around.

After class, following the fat kid with the blotching face through the halls, Two By asked Duane the name of the boy who said, “Eskimo.” “That’s Anthony,” Duane told him, raising his eyebrows in a silent cautionary advisement. “Is he tough?” Duane shrugged, and nodded yes. He thought Anthony was pretty tough, tougher than he himself, anyway. “Anthony,” said Two By to himself, then he cracked his knuckles. Duane’s eyes widened, but he said nothing.

The boys repeated the routine through the rest of their classes, and in between they did get to know each other. Two By lived alone with his father, who hired on as a guard at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Duane lived alone with his uncle, and when Two By learned this, he put his hand on Duane’s shoulder, and nodded slowly, as if they had reached a deep understanding. “Duane,” he paused for emphasis, take me where Anthony is when the bell rings. A fresh burst of sheen blossomed across Duane’s upper lip and forehead, and speaking against his fear, he nodded, “ok.”

So after the last bell without saying a word, Duane and Two By marched to the bus lines and down the covered sidewalk, Two By stepping out to kick sooty slush balls of ice into the lane methodically. Stopping, Duane’s arm rose to point at a knot of kids, backs hunched against the wind in a circle, and there was Anthony, sweater tied around his waist, mittens in his back pocket, mouth hanging open in a smile. Duane stood locked in place and watched Two By stride right through the group, bumping Anthony hard with his shoulder. The circle expanded immediately in choreographed precision until Two By and Anthony stood alone in the center, facing off. “What’s your problem Eskimo?” said Anthony, right before Two By lifted him over his shoulder and rushing to an open garbage can, dumped Anthony into it headfirst, toppling the can, its middle school contents, and a stammering Anthony onto the sloppy sidewalk. Nobody said a word as Two By walked back to Duane, now an open fountain of perspiration from the hot glare of the limelight. As they walked back down the row to Duane’s bus stop, they heard Anthony jeering, “Fatty Eskimo Two by Four can’t fit through Sweaty Duane’s mom’s door.” Two By turned to go back, but Duane did not, so the still un-defined, but maybe or maybe not Eskimo new kid, followed his new and only friend onto the bus.

Thirteen years later, Sweaty and Two By were still friends, and while Duane rejected his own childhood taunt, even as it persisted in adulthood, Two By introduced himself as Two By to everyone starting the day after stuffing Anthony in the garbage can.

Juancho

Duane Clocks Out (a story continued.)

“You’re leaving? You? Leaving? Where in the fuck are you going to go? How are you going to get there? What the hell is wrong with right here? You don’t like The Service no more? I went somewhere once and you know what? It sucked. I went. I came back. End of story. Fuck up once shame on them, fuck up twice shame on me right? Are you sick of the clinic? Want something else? I can swap you with Leander. He’s working the Blue Lives Matter gig at the courthouse. They fucking love a black guy working that shit. He might not want to swap, people buying him lunch and taking pictures. A guy tipped him twenty fucking dollars on Wednesday and El said the guy was fucking crying, crying Duane man! Whatever though. You can give it a shot down there if you want, but a white guy working Blue Lives Matter is really just holding down the fort so to speak, not exactly making any headway in the disruption department, certainly nothing that will make the news. It’s not exactly going viral, but to a particular demographic of Cook county voting resident it is still a very fucking big deal. A white guy working Blue Lives Matter? Kind of like guarding base to be honest. What the fuck man, since when do you go anywhere?”

Duane took the folded bills, but Two By didn’t release them- tugging back for emphasis he shrugged at Duane, chin pointed so high his face a triangle,”What the fuck man?” Two let go and Duane slipped the cash into his wallet, the ripping velcro his only answer, he offered his hand, which Two took in a hard shake, “What the fuck D man?” Duane ducked his head in a nodding bow, shrugged back at the only boss he’d ever had, “I’m taking my uncle to Florida. Take it easy. Thanks for everything Two,” and Duane walked back out to the brittle cold wind, sweat saturating his Green Bay parka, feet slushing through the sloppy sidewalk with a feeling very close to happiness.

The Paddle-boat Sonata (Sweaty Duane continued)

Duane stopped the car right at the gates to a state park in Alabama. It was late and the gate was closed. He backed up and pulled into a parking lot, there were no other cars. Fourteen hours south of Chicago Duane drove, creeping down U.S. 41 in a straight line. June found the park on a AAA map and guided them towards this pullout off the road where Duane put the Impala in park and slumped over the wheel, unable to release it. June gently tugged him down across the front seat and covered him with an acrylic Pittsburgh Steelers blanket he packed in their haste. She got out of the car and walked into the tree line to pee.

The air was soggy damp and chilly, but nothing like the cold left behind in Indiana, where summer was still 2 months away. The dome light came on yellowy and dim when she opened the back door, but Duane was unconscious and wheezing into the frayed polyester seat cover. She stretched out on her stomach across the back seat and pulled Duane’s uncle’s mildewed army coat off the floorboard wrapping it around her body she drifted off wondering if Alabama was an Indian name, or an abbreviation of a phrase, “I’ll be back ma?” or “All ‘bout me?” It occurred to June this was only the second state she had ever slept in, and she wondered how many more she might fall asleep in before she got back to Indiana, if indeed she ever did.

Duane woke to the sun piercing the trees through the windshield and onto the side of his drool-covered jowls. He had to rock a few times to get momentum to pull his heft upright to peer into the back seat and see if she was still there, a habit he began that first night she came back to his Uncle’s apartment. He felt the same bemused thrill to see her now, that he felt that first morning, and then dread quickly rushed in as he remembered returning home from the clinic job to find her gone.

The morning calm broke as a squawking timbre echoed from somewhere below causing June to roll over and wrinkle the small worry lines between her eyebrows, but she did not awake, or if awake, she did not rise. Duane took the keys from the ignition so the dinging would not disturb June and he scooched out the passenger-side door feet first. They were above a lake, hundreds of feet below their turnout, and the noise was coming from a white-shirted person with a red hat and a loudspeaker. It was too far away to make out any words, but Duane opened a warm Mountain Dew from the trunk and sat on the granite wall to watch. The trees rolled up on all sides from the lake, in what Duane thought of as Thanksgiving colors, and the road they were on twisted through them until it disappeared into the creased folds of the valley.

Dozens of people, all dressed in the same white shirts and red hats and kerchiefs were lining up in pairs down the length of the dock while the squawker continued the monotone staccato of instructions which blasted from a tower of speakers above a boathouse. June’s shadow, cast by the early rising sun, fell across Duane’s shoulders and she said, “What’s going on?” Without turning around, Duane just pointed to the dock, aligned with little pastel boats on both sides like Jordan almonds placed in a compulsive row by a wedding guest, “I guess it’s a camp?” He offered the can of soda to her, and she took a sip to swish out her mouth before swallowing it down and joining him on the wall to watch.

In pairs the people, who they now assumed were children, loaded into the little square boats and began to push away from the dock and assemble in a bobbing order with a little chuff–chuff of frothy white behind them, “Paddleboats.” Said June. “Like the Lincoln Park Lagoon.” Duane knew what she was talking about, but he passionately avoided all water activities beyond the privacy of a shower. Just the thought of taking his shirt off in public or a t-shirt clinging to his back fat and under his blubbery pecs caused him to go awash in sweat, thereby manifesting his worst fear as he sat there. June did not notice and continued on, as though he didn’t understand, “You pedal them.”

With all campers deployed, the fleet broke into two ranks which rapidly chugged in opposite directions. The water stilled. The squawker fell silent. In this pause, Duane squinted at June his hand blocking the sun in salute, “Thanks for covering me up last night, it got cold, but I wish you’d kept the blanket for yourself.” June shrugged her shoulders, and smiled invisibly to Duane from her shadow. “What is an Alabama?” she said, and then rising up from the lake, came music.

Tinny with static came notes from a piano as the paddle-boats chugged from both directions back towards the dock with purpose. Perfectly spaced apart, each boat fell in rank until they appeared on a course to collide back at the dock. As the two lead boats closed, one yellow as a baby chick, the other chalky red, they veered slightly in opposite directions and the rest, Duane and June watched in wonder. The opposing rows arced in symmetry, lacing between each other in a plait of frothy green wakes never touching or colliding, but easing through each other to the building notes of now a violin, and a harpsichord, joining the piano. As the last boats executed their pass the lead boats were already hundreds of yards out from the dock and beginning to turn in, spiraling the long rows of boats into two churning pinwheels.

Coiled tightly, they paused, as did the music, before a new measure began, a cello, and the two columns of pedalers became one mixed confusion of paddling before the distinct image of a giant treble clef emerged from their efforts and with the last note of a climbing arpeggio, all boats came to rest in stillness and silence.

The sound of cheers and applause broke out from the campers, and rising to their feet Duane and June joined them, June yelling out “bravo! bravo!” so loud the red hat with the loudspeaker craned back towards them, looking above a concrete dam to wave a vague thank you, removing his cap to reveal his bald head as he bowed.

Poetic intermission

I just found the full version of this poem I published on here 10 years ago. I’m not entirely sure what it means, which for me is the mark of a successful piece of writing. Anyway- I give you, The Shit-Can Knight.

The shit-can knight

It is winter but I live for summer-
nothing broken just the frozen ether.
Time on my side nobody lives for never-
just little girls skipping rocks on the sand.
Summer comes and then I live for fall,
and by spring nothing matters at all.
Hammers look for rusty nails and
shit-can knights search for dirty grails.
The hands only want for chopping wood
but guts boil over spill and ooze.
false gods only play cover songs
and they never understand that they don’t belong
where the people live and work and play
ignoring their sins of the day.
False gods shine it all day long
and mmmh-hmmm when they could listen.
It isn’t that they do not care,
pick up the baby-
absent-minded kiss him.

Sweaty Duane Continued. (June slips away)

It was colder than she ever remembered in a place known to her only for memories of the cold. June navigated Chicago as an archipelago of warm harbors. The city bus heaters blew so hot that her hands burned as she thawed them folding over to the floor vents. The library at Wildermuth faced the lake and the 2 block walk from the bus stop to it’s insulated stacks was for many years the hardest winter passage she attempted. When the stubborn winter grip relented sometime near Easter June would make that walk as though she had never been. Even now, so many years later she hunched naturally year-round from a habit of bracing and wincing against the cold. She knew every crack in the sidewalk, but could not reliably describe anything above knee level.

Once safe in the library June would scour the shelves for anything new. The Devil’s Children, The Day the Tripods Came, The Edge of the World, these adolescent visions of worlds darker and colder than her own warmed her on the inside as the library’s gas radiator wheezed heat from the basement like a snoring dragon.

As she slipped out of Duane’s apartment she felt a twinge of panic as the door latch locked behind her, wondering if she should have stayed and waited for Duane’s return, wondering if she wanted that. The gasping cold nudged her feet down the sidewalk as she once again navigated by the meridians of cracks from the curb to the blue-stone caps of buildings uncharted. The library was not as close now, and she no longer had a bus pass, but she wasn’t a little girl anymore and the cold could go to hell.

Baby Evelyn-Sweaty Duane continued.

The night was less kind to Manny. Ambivalent to his pain, he collected himself on the icy sidewalk. Regaining his feet he clutched the front of his coat in a panic, and felt the reassuring folds of his secret letter tucked inside the liner. All day he followed the bus route asking strangers if they remembered her, helpless and forlorn thirty feet below the world. Her cries distraught, but oh the life in her! Those mewling shrieks calling to every citizen of the nation, the entire world, and to the night stars millions of light years above Oklahoma. A child himself at the time, seventeen years before his accident, his awakening, the crash of great clarity that revealed his purpose in the universe.

Dear Mrs. (Baby) Evelyn,

What song did you sing from the bottom of the well? Can you remember? The news said you cried mostly, and your mother could hear you. All of us, everyone, could also hear you. You did not want to be in that well one minute longer. Get me out of this well! You commanded. Late in the night you were silent. Oh what we would have done to hear that defiant cry! Then, better than the obstinate yelp of your dissatisfaction, you sang to us. Do you remember the tune, or even a note? I would sing it without ceasing. I bet the rathole driller dug hard at the throttle when he heard your song. I bet he remembers it still.

I trust that you are well, and understand you have a family of your own. I am so deeply regretful to intrude upon the very life all of humanity once prayed would be your fate. It is for the hope of your family, and all families, that I write.

If we are to find our way back to that hopeful night when our prayers were answered, you must do it. Return to the well. To the strong-throated infant that cried from the well, the whole wide world will listen. Return to the well and deliver a message of peace.

Yours in humble service,

Manny Fiesta

As Duane and June dozed wakeful and safe on Duane’s bed, Manny walked west on Belshaw Rd. towards Marble City, Oklahoma. With some rides he could make it in a few days, or if he walked the whole way, a week. The fold of his cap glowed with a ring of ice growing and melting down onto Manny’s shoulders, but that letter and the promise of it kept him warm until he crawled to the top of an underpass on I-290 W and slept as the sun rinsed across the grey hawkish clouds and the sickly aura of Chicago faded into morning.

Duane Gets Paid

Duane wished it would get cold enough to snow.  Sleet stung the back of his neck, exposed between his coat and his uncle’s wool watch cap, seeping into his shirt eventually meeting with the sweat slowly rising from the small of his back.  A young woman looked at him like she was going to punch him in the face, but instead she casually spit on his shoes as she brushed past him, escorting a couple into the Wicker Park Planned Parenthood clinic.  Duane wished them a good morning, as his commitment to his employer was only to wear the sandwich board of a dismembered fetus with the bright yellow ABORTION IS MURDER! scrawled across the top and GENESIS 1:28 along the bottom.  He did not know, nor care which bible verse this was, or if it may indeed sway the decision of anyone seeking help at the clinic.  He assumed his presence at the clinic didn’t really make a difference to anyone other than his anonymous sponsor, who verified Duane’s compliance by GPS and a promise that someone was checking to confirm he maintained high visibility and did not obstruct the message by any means.   Seventy-five dollars for 2 hours work was good money, and Duane needed that cash. He was offered an additional $50 to chant from a list of approved slogans, but he declined, being too diffident by nature to go to such effort.  Standing was good though, although the rain was picking up. He watched the girl’s spit slowly dilute and rinse from his shoe.

There was a girl at his apartment.  The first female to ever enter that space to his knowledge.  He recognized June, because anybody would recognize June if they had seen her one time. He did not recognize the man he had shoved to the ground, and he did not recognize his own bewildering actions in knocking that man down.  He did not expect for her to be there when he returned, although he would not mind it at all.  All night he lay awake next to her while she slept like she may never wake up.  He lay there all night in the clothes he was wearing, only removing his wet boots and his belt, wide awake, skin buzzing with the closeness of not just someone, but her.  For the briefest time he dozed, and dreamed he was driving over a shining highway that climbed miles above the ocean towards the sun. He startled from it in a soaked panic that he would crest the horizon and the road would disappear, leaving him to fall and fall and fall into the sea.   In real life Duane had never seen the ocean, just the lapping shores of Lake Michigan with its cold, stinging rain.

Sweaty Duane continued…

June woke to an empty apartment. Duane was gone. Icy air seeping in around the window frame made her shiver and she pulled the acrylic blanket snug around her neck and rolled her back to the wall.  Duane left her a note on the nightstand, it read, “went to work, don’t leave. Come back if you leave I mean.  If you want to.” He signed it with his first name in a careful cursive, “Duane.”

She had nowhere to go, no place to be and also no reason to stay.  The thermostat ticked and she heard the radiator somewhere far below in the basement wheeze a warm current under the bed.  She had to pee.  The mattress rose against her hips as she sat up, it was an old and formless thing, and she rocked against it to get upright and swing her legs to the floor.  Still wrapped tight in the tattered Green Bay Packers blanket she scuffled in her socks to the bathroom.  It was tidy, if not clean and she lowered the cold seat and pulled her tights down.  She finished and used the last scraps of toilet paper on the roll.  She squeezed a bit of toothpaste onto her finger and rubbed her teeth and rinsed her mouth, then poked around for more toilet paper to replace the empty roll.

The bathroom cupboard held 4 threadbare towels, neatly folded, 2 washcloths of the same era, a large bottle of amber mouthwash from which she poured some into the cap, gargled and spit, a pipe wrench, a coffee mug from Cook County Sheriff’s Office with a scrap of soap in it, and a coarse shaving brush stuck to the bottom.  No paper.   She moved slowly into the kitchen as if she might disturb someone or be caught snooping around where she was not welcome. She found a can of coffee in the freezer and not finding any filters, used a napkin on the counter to improvise herself a cup from the little 2 cup maker on the counter.  She searched the rest of the cupboards as the coffee popped and percolated, not finding any toilet paper there either.  She moved to the narrow coat closet in the foyer by the front door, and broke through the tightly packed rack of men’s overcoats and uniform jackets to reveal a cardboard box against the wall on the floor.  She read the simple label.

IDENTIFICATION

NAME OF DECEASED: Alfred Edward Duval

BIRTH/DEATH DATE: 1936-2014

CREMATED ON: 11/27/2014

RELEASED TO RELATIVE/FRIEND: Duane Wicks- nephew

She slowly closed the curtain of clothes and backed away from Uncle Alfred’s resting place, turning the knob to close the door as if she might awaken him. The coffee maker stopped. The radiator no longer hissed through the vents, and June thought of Duane, in his silence, day after day.