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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.

Chuck Says

Chuck says it doesn’t matter what you write.  Chuck says once you make a move like gathering and categorizing your art you say, “What now?” That’s a hard thing to get past according to Chuck.  He says go ahead and write whatever.  Go back to your roots and antagonize friends about bikes.  Write some real stuff then change the names and make it fiction. Send June, Duane, and Manny off to war, or make them dress up like Stormtroopers and go to Comic-Con.

Rail about politics or write a letter to your old high school friends you just can’t see fit to hear from anymore.  Tell them you would rather heave vomit into the toilet until blood vessels pop in your eyes than listen to their platitudes that things will turn out okay, that your friends who are not white, male, straight, or who conveniently have avoided or evaded any sense of dysphoria will be fine.  Chuck says it is OK to write about that.  It was just time for reform and if you haven’t served than maybe you don’t exactly understand freedom and appreciate freedom as much as they do, which is why they feel obligated to remove it from your life experience. Write a how-to guide for black people to follow when stopped by the police.  If they would simply follow the orders of the law enforcement officer than everything will be fine, routine.  In every instance they tell you, if you look at the details, the black people did something wrong and got shot, even Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Jordan Edwards, and those kids who got themselves shot standing on stranger’s porches begging for help in the night.

My old homeboys.  We called each other homeboy, gave ourselves nicknames like rappers on television.  I’m the Fresh Kid, and we did our best to ape black culture  because it seemed so much cooler than our own.   Chuck D and the S1W- pride, loyalty, courage, and even a uniform- kind of like the military.  Defenders of Funk forever right? Right up until the funk gets shot. Get your asses in your deplorable baskets and don’t come out until I say when.

Chuck said it would be OK if I wrote that.

It’s hot and humid and everyone feels like partying, but I don’t feel much like partying.  I feel like digging a tunnel in the floor with a trap door and a little room underneath where me and my sweetheart can tip-toe down the ladder and stay very still and quiet until the knocking on the door goes away.  The WiFi sucks down there too, but it is cool and surprisingly dry with the fan blowing.

Maybe it will be easier to write down there.  Manny can get organized to talk to that woman about getting back in the well and healing America, and Duane and June can finally get his uncle’s car running and get on the road to Florida, because honestly, the author knows not the first thing about Gary, Indiana so this story needs to get on familiar ground.  I mean, fiction is hard enough right? Or maybe that’s the point, to make it hard.  That’s what Chuck says.  He says don’t put puppies in your song because people like puppies. That’s the worst kind of art.  Write a song about black kids that makes people feel as warm as they feel about puppies.  Now that is art, so Chuck says.

 

Juancho

Sweaty Continued- Manny wakes up

Lying on the icy sidewalk Manny Fiesta came to after what, he could not say. He knew with great conviction that he was significantly responsible for Barack Obama becoming the first black man elected as the president of the United States of America. Not through his single vote, which he had not used since voting for Bill Clinton in 1992, but through the blasts of electricity that cracked from his brain and then spread like the veins in a leaf, connecting him to all leaves, everywhere, to spread the sense of urgency that Mr. Obama, the senator from Hyde Park, just 20 miles away from where Manny lived, must become President.

Back then, Manny was first learning of his powers in the Central Florida heat of July, 2007 as he suffocated beneath a tarp under an I-4 overpass.