Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 2

More of ‘Land Run’ and my 20 somethings against the crazy world. There’s a lot of peripheral activity cut to see if these two gel inside the bigger story. I suppose it’s good sometimes to watch sub text like picture in picture.

Maddie reached for her phone on the towel by the tiled, built-in hot tub in the fleeing lawyer’s almost ex-wife’s back patio. More like a courtyard. The house was a big U around the xeriscaped back yard and patio, pool, hot tub set up. Nice grill, too. And a stainless steel baby fridge full of decent chardonnay. There were worse ways to be dumped.



***

Harli watched the city she grew up in go by, north to south. Riding in a stolen luxury SUV, with a guy she didn’t know. “How long have you been stealing cars?”

“Thirteen.”

“Thirteen years?”

“Thirteen years old. Thirteen years and I would have been 10 when I started.” He checked her out the corner of his eye. She’d been talking to the window like she was afraid to look at him. “That was in Detroit, before we moved. I tried to quit a squad when I was fifteen, they didn’t like it, mom wanted me alive a little longer. Like Fresh Prince. Only the Oakland side of the Bay, not L.A., mom came along, and no rich relatives. What about you?”

“Dad. And mom…I was eighteen. Just graduated high school.” She let that hang a few beats. “Ka-Bloooey! Mom said she’d never been so happy. Turned out it wasn’t for me, but because she was tired of my dad’s ‘endless quest for stupid things to with his penis’, and with me out of the house she could finally do something about it. The next day mom called some guy with the biggest pickup I’ve ever seen to come get all dad’s stuff and take it to the drilling company’s pipe yard. She was his business partner, on paper, and she forced a sale on his drilling business. Told him how the money was going to go and he could take the deal or she’d make him out to be the biggest weenie waving hole driller in history and he’d lose everything. He took it. I went to college, Mom sold everything and went to Florida to be a snotty, country club divorcé and Dad went to Mexico to run a high end kink carnival and whore house .”

“And you fit into their reincarnated shituations how?”

“I don’t. If it wasn’t for school, I’d be homeless.” He watched her shoulders sigh with that. “Not broke…”

“But nowhere real to be? I get that.” He tipped the blinker, checked the lane camera and moved over for the airport exit.

She turned away from her window of denial, watched him drive in his state of relaxed vigilance for a few before she blurted, “Have you ever felt like someone launched all the pinballs in your game of life at once, and then walked away from the table?”

***

Flash drove around the airport parking lot one time, scanned each row as he went by, parked the Lexus in the middle. “Stuff your hair in the hat and pull it down.” He handed Harli a pair of big, seventies style sunglasses from the bag, watched her stuff her hair and helped her squash the hat. He pulled his cap down, flipped up the collar of his shirt. “When you get out, look at the ground and follow my feet.”

She stuck to him like velcro. He kept his head down, counted the rows as he walked. On the eighth one he turned right and stopped four cars in. He tapped the handle and the doors unlocked. He dropped into the driver’s seat, entered a four number code on the console. A woman’s robot voice said from somewhere behind the dash, “Entry Validated. Anti-theft disarmed.” He sat back into the seat and relaxed.

They left the top up and kept their sunglasses on because he’d joked that neither of them looked like foreign software engineers or plastic surgeons. A comment that cemented him as West Coaster for her, because where they were it was more likely oilies and crooked lawyers. Which they didn’t look like, either.

Flash was full of easy conversation, had let her talk out her parent’s messy divorce and her loss of a sense of place without placating commentary. He was comfortable with himself, and her, and was becoming addictively fun to be around. For a car thief. The drive-through cherry limeade and onion rings at Sonic that ended up in the shade of a struggling tree in the adjoining WalMart parking lot were an unexpected treat.

She set the limeade back in the cup holder on her side. “You’re still shitting me about your name.”

“No more than you. Harli with an I, Davidson. Hookers are more original.”

“Look.” She handed him her thin, front pocket driver’s license and credit card only wallet. “Harli. With an I, Davidson.”

“I know a guy who prints these. Why’d you go for California? It’s easier to not be you in Ohio or West Virginia, somewhere off the reality index.”

“I go to school in California. Leventhal, USC. Almost a Masters in Accounting. Global economies and all that.”

“Say hey, neighbor to the south. Berkley. Almost Modern Literary and Visual Culture Masters. More like film and lit cross contamination. Nobody knows what’s art and what’s not, so we argue and throw money at the university until the day they say we need to write a thesis and graduate.”

“A liberal arts car thief from Berkley with a crazy fake name. My lucky day.”

You look, my Southern Cal global economist friend.” He handed her his identical to hers front pocket wallet. “See. Flash Lieght. It’s even on my debit card.”

“That’s Leet. Or Late, not –”

“The i-e is like ‘pie’. Lieght. When I was little they called me Lite. L I T E. Like Lite Lieght because I was skinny and…Never mind.”

She knew she was laughing too much and couldn’t help it. “You said you knew someone who could print these. My name’s on my American Express, Lite Lieght.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “So there.”

They handed back their respective front pocket card and license wallets, got in a finger tug of war over the onion rings. He laughed, she blushed and flipped the visor down and checked her teeth in the mirror to hide it.

“This place has always made me feel like I have dust on my teeth. Since I was a little girl. All gritty.”

“It’s the dust and wind combo. That airport parking lot was a sandbox.” He reached for the limeade, too late. “Where am I taking you when you finish the rings and the Route 44 by yourself?”

She pushed the nearly empty onion ring bag towards him and held out the Route 44. “My friend has been driving, but it’s the Marriott, on the north loop, I remember that. And it’s not far from the Chili’s where we stole…” She stumbled over the thought speed bump of car boosting. “I don’t remember the exit but there’s a Lowe’s across the street. With a Starbucks and a Wendy’s in the parking lot.”

“That corner repeats every five miles anywhere you go.”

“Well, I —”

“No prob. I’m in the Super 8 off the same exit.”

“Say hey, neighbor to the north.” She smiled, big. He grinned back before he looked over his shoulder and pulled out into traffic.

Shit. Her stupid, big, happy-girl smile had to jump out on its own. Maddie better not want to shoot this Flashlight guy. It would totally suck if she did.

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 1

This is an excerpt from a project that will never see the light of day titled ‘Land Run.’ It contains more of my 20 something kids in the midst of grown up weirdness. For me this is like posting a sketch, not a polished bit of anything, but I’m going to cut more of these loose after the close of Bobby B Book One. From ‘Land Run’, here’s Harli and Flash.

Harli and Maddie followed the house shooter into the bar at Chili’s an exit away from his motel. The hospital complex they’d passed had brought upper middle class burbs, slab shopping centers and a mile long run of hotels and motels on the north side loop, along with the requisite franchise food places. Cookie cutter America. They could have been anywhere from Miami to Seattle.

Kevin sat at a bistro-height table by himself, listlessly drug a straw around a tall glass of Coke. He kept his sunglasses on because his eyes would tell everyone about his afternoon of some big green bud from NorCal and four baseball games on different screens in a topless bar. He prided himself on being able to clear the cover charge, pick up an unfinished drink from a table on his way in, wave off waitresses and look at boobs for two hours, three bucks, total.

His shadows hadn’t bothered to follow him into the topless bar. No stateside topless bar held a candle to Bumpers and they agreed that they’d just bitch about the sticky floor and vinyl booths, so they sat at the back of the parking lot in the rented Camry. Harli learned, during the parking lot wait and debate about everything from politics to economics to sex for hire, that Maddie had gotten a gun from somewhere. A no nonsense Browning nine with a spare clip. All Maddie had said when asked was “just in case.”

***

The Chili’s wait wasn’t going much better than the topless bar wait except they were inside. Forty minutes in, a twenty something guy who needed a haircut pulled up a stool by Cali Kevin and ordered something clear and carbonated with two lime wedges. The shaggy guy and Kevin hardly spoke, stirred their drinks in unison. The young guy let his eyes roam the restaurant, landing, and briefly staying, on most of the women.

Maddie elbowed Harli. “Wake up, sweety. Real estate agent on final approach, far end of the bar. Aaaaaaaand, there goes our California wonder boy to meet her. They’re mine. The anti-hipster is yours.”

Harli took a deep breath, pulled out the stool vacated by Cali Kev. “Hi. Harli. With an I.”

“Flash. With an F. Before you ask? I don’t come here often.”

“Don’t be a jerk. I don’t like this, either.”

He tilted the Collins glass and drained the last of whatever was in it. “Make it easy on yourself?”

“Straight?” She wished she had one of those hair-toss moves actresses always had at times like this. “You and the old school stoner? S’up with him?”

“A job. An easy job. Buy me another Sprite?”

“You’re the one with a job. I’m working for my dad this summer.”

“I never met my dad. What’s yours do?”

“He owns an erotic resort in Mexico.” She’d learned to say that quickly with no facial giveaways. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“So.” The waitress picked up his glass and asked ‘another?’ with her eyebrows, he shook his head in a lazy ‘no’. “You’re in the mix with video Kev and the real estate agent. And the lawyer and his about to be ex-wife. Everybody’s screwing everybody on that deal.”

“I said, don’t look at me like that.” She tried a serious don’t-mess-with-me look that fell short. “I’m not screwing anybody. And how do you know about all that?”

“I do confidant and Kev likes to talk when he’s baked, which is 24/7. I hate to break up our party, Harli with an I, but I have to go steal a car.”

“No way.”

“Big ‘way’, Nineties movies girl. How am I supposed to pay for college, Harli with an I? Minimum wage and two hours’ sleep?”

“Stop it with the I thing.”

“Wanna come? No weapons, broken glass or alarms. Nice car. ”

She gave it a split second. “When in Rome, right?” She slid off her stool when he stepped off his.

“Okay, Harli with an I, first —”

She stuck her finger in his upper arm. “I told you.”

“I’m listening, alright?” He rubbed his arm where she’d finger stabbed him.

Now you are. I’ve never stolen a car. What’s next?”

“I feel like a Lexus SUV. The two spray tanners with stiff hair and tennis skirts that just hit the bar? Stop and say something like ‘didn’t I see you at somebody’s wedding’.”

***

He walked up to the new, white Lexus SUV hybrid like he owned it, unlocked both doors. Harli stood on the passenger side, frozen to the parking lot. He quick stepped around the Lexus, opened the door for her, slipped her a pair of flesh tone gloves.

“These are?”

“Old people gloves. Not compression, but for cold extremity issues. They’re pretty comfortable and aren’t obvious like vinyl.”

“No, I mean why?”

“Fingerprints. This ride belongs to the lady who wasn’t at your cousin’s wedding. I read her key through her purse when she turned around. Shut the door.”

Harli’s shoulders were up around her ears, hands clasped between her legs. She glanced nervously at him, and then all around the parking lot. “How did you get here if you have to, um, steal a car to leave?”

“The white Civic, three cars down. They’re probably missing it by now, may be hot. That’s why we needed a new one.”

“You don’t have a car?”

“I’m not local.”

“You steal a freaking car every time you need to go somewhere?”

He grinned, fastened his seat belt. “You say that like it’s unheard of, or a bad thing. Buckle up. That is a law we can live with.”

“Right.” She relaxed her shoulders and hooked up. “Do you always steal white cars?”

“I work in themes. The target today is a white Benz AMG SLS, so I started with a white Mustang. Bad choice. It had the little turbo four-banger and an automatic. What a dog. Like this thing, too sluggish. But these Lexi hybrids are real ass-kissers and I’m on a date. Get in my backpack and pull out two hats. They have cameras where we’re going.”

She reached into the backpack he’d set on the console. “They had cameras at Chili’s, date man.”

“Off-line. The hostess and the manager were on it when we left.” He checked the backup camera, eased out of the parking space. “They’ll call rent-a-nerd, he’ll charge them a hundred dollars for a four-dollar power supply on top of a sixty-dollar service call.”

Harli pulled out two San Francisco 49ers ball caps and a wall-wart power supply attached to a neatly wrapped cord.

“The hundred dollar power supply looks like this one?”

Just like that one.”

Harli’s phone signaled her with Maddie’s text tone. She pulled her phone out, thumbed a few rounds back and forth.

Flash waited until she was finished before he dropped the Lexus into drive. “We’re good?”

She raised up off the seat and stuffed her phone in her back pocket, blew out a long sigh and looked out at the Chili’s where she’d gone in a twenty-three-year-old good girl masters in international economics honor student and come out a car thief.

“Yeah, we’re good.” She turned back to him with a big-eyed, seriously freaked look, grabbed his forearm and shook it. “Please tell me I didn’t just flush my life.”

God Bless the Child

Harper dropped into a stool at the late-night-empty bar in JG’s Pub. The white shirt with tails out under his unbuttoned vest bartender was lost in space listening to Pandora Jacuzzi jazz while he pretended to clean a spotless back bar. Harper almost hated to bring him back. Almost.

“Hey, man.” He waited for the easy greeting to land. “You still have those badass onion rings?”

“Yeah. Same old black woman comes in early every morning when no one’s here.” He hadn’t turned away from the back bar. “Makes her own batter like it’s some kind of NASA secret. With my beer. Cuts the onions too fat. They’re usually gone after lunch.” He glanced up at the clock and over to Harper. “We still got some time to kill on a dead Wednesday night. I’ll go look for you.” He stopped about two thirds of the way down the bar. “Beer?”

“Negra Modelo. Ice cold, no glass.”

The beer slid down the bar and stopped in front of Harper just before the bartender banged through the flapping, spring loaded kitchen doors. A minute later he banged back, wiped the water and ice bits trail from the Modelo off the bar on his way.

“Found some. Dropped them in the fryer for you. Kinda late in the day for rings, bro.”

“Yeah, well…Women. Never a good time, you know?”

“Hell yeah, I know. Everything with a dick and a heartbeat knows.” Open vest and tails out measured Harper for possible pity-me or breakdown potential conversation, couldn’t find any of either. “Not sure what onion rings have to do with that.”

“She’d eat them. Most of them. Like I wasn’t paying attention. All loaded with peppered up ketchup…”

“I get it. Habits. Things you did together. I can’t do carousels. Same reason, mostly.”

“That might be a good thing. Grown men could get arrested riding too many carousels.”

The bartender snorted. “Man, the carousel thing? Goes back a looooong ways. High school long ways.”

“Yeah? Same with the rings. Not that I haven’t eaten my share since then. Ghosts shouldn’t keep you from eating onion rings.” Harper took a long pull on the beer that was so cold it made his teeth scream and scrunched up his face. “I guess we all keep those memory casualties in a jar somewhere, in here.” He tapped the side of his head with his index finger. “Like whatever those things are they bury memories in.”

The bartender knitted his brows, put his hands on the bar.

“Coffins?”

“No, no. Not those. The cans they can dig up with old newspapers and records and –”

“Time capsules?”

“There it is. You dig them up and you think, well, that now maybe you have all the answers about what you’ve kept in that capsule thing. The people. The times. But since you buried it you find out you’ve invented all kinds of shit about everything in there. Built yourself castles out of pieces of dreams.” Harper looked up, found the bartender’s face. “In truth? There they are, real people. With a million stories of their own. But they’re locked up. All that life shit, locked up inside them, just as bad as the time capsule. And here you are, you know, looking for a key to unlock either one and let them out.”

“You talkin’ the pucker-butt people? Because I see enough of that shit every day. Sold off their kid selves and the grownup dreams fucked them?”

“Nope. Talkin’ about the ones who forgot the fairy tale goes on and on, even after the dragons and the pirates and being shipwrecked and heartbroken all left them for dead on a desert island. It’s on and on, man. Till it’s done.”

“They had a choice, bro. Sounds like ‘Little Pink Houses’ advice.” He leaned against the back bar, folded his arms. “You’re on the wrong damn side of the bar for that. Besides, what you’re sayin’? Could be almost everybody.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” A high school kid in a dirty apron set the plate of rings and a ketchup bottle in front of Harper like he was the biggest piece of shit in his universe for getting a dish and the fryer dirty this close to closing, huffed off and banged back through the kitchen doors.

The bartender frowned in the direction of the kitchen, shoved his towel in a glass, set it on the back bar. “So you’re saying ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ has an extra verse nobody’s heard?”

“Like that, yeah. The dragons go on, good and bad. Sometimes you have to put on Sinatra even if you know it’ll make you cry.” Harper deferred on the steaming rings, lazily turned his beer bottle on the bar. “You got Sinatra on Pandora or whatever you’re piping through here?”

“Sinatra’s on the jukebox. That’s my gimmick for this place, jazz standards on the box. If nobody plays it then the overhead shifts back to random shit jazz on Pandora.”

Harper walked over to the fake digital Seeburg, pulled a dollar from the front pocket of his jeans, fed it and punched some buttons.

The bartender waited for him to get comfortable on the stool again. “Choice. Except You’re flyin’ solo, bro. Nobody here for you to dance with.”

“I brought a few ghosts with me.” Harper dunked a fat onion ring in a mound of ketchup, took a bite. “You have any pepper?”

The bartender rolled the lights down to where the table candles that hadn’t died yet, under bar lights and the neon jukebox were all that lit the room. A pepper shaker appeared in his hand from somewhere, landed on the bar with a knowing nod. “God bless the child that’s got his own,” he said.

“Pepper?”

“Ghosts.”

Someone

Someone broke my heart today
Again
Thought I was past all that by now
All at once I was young again
If only for a while
In a song where snowflakes turn to rain
Pictures of my foolish innocence
Scattered all to hell
Bits of a treasured ornament that fell
So very long ago
Somehow pieced together
Hanging where it belongs
Shame and regret and all the things
We never got to say
Back among the lights and tinsel and memories
That never fade away
Thank God someone broke my heart again today

Bobby B – Gator Bait

Carrie Louise screamed a split second before the shotgun blast. Birds exploded from the cypress canopy, the surface of the water boiled with leaping frogs, crickets, surprised fish and a lone gator. The sound and accompanying activity rolled away across the bayou in an expanding halo. Bobby couldn’t look down where he hoped his feet still were, saw the look of sheer panic in Carrie Louise’s eyes, steeled himself and waited for the blast from the second barrel. CL was shaking so hard she couldn’t pull the hammer back. Bobby took a second, glanced down to see the snake that had dropped into the boat from the tree branches overhead slither through the new hole in his dad’s old, flat bottom swamp skiff. CL screamed bloody murder again when she couldn’t make the sawed-off shotgun work, started to launch it into the swamp after the snake when Bobby snatched it away.

The silence in the aftermath bordered on church-like except for the soft gurgle of the swamp slowly filling the boat.

“Dayum, girl.”

“Dayum yourself, Bobby B.” CL, white as a ghost, held her legs out straight in front of her above the encroaching water, narrowed her eyes. “It was a, a…A snake. You saw it. I…And…You know how much I hate fuh, fuh, snakes.”

“Do for a fact.” He wiggled his feet to prove they were still there, whistled softly. “Dayyy-um.”

Bobby had no idea how deep the water was, but he dumped what had drifted into his dad’s waders, pulled them on and tied a knot in the shoulder straps while the boat slowly settled toward the water line. Carrie Louise cussed a blue streak of randomly constructed profanity under her breath, her heels now resting on the rusty oarlocks, the water closing in on her cutoffs.

He stepped out into water waist-deep on his average to a little tall, twelve-year-old frame, let the breath he’d been holding go. His dad’s waders were up to his chin, so unless a snake slopped over the top they were good. He sloshed the few steps to Carrie Louise.

“When I turn around, climb on my shoulders. Baby style, not piggyback.” He handed back the shotgun. “You see a gator, CL? Or another snake? Holler and let me shoot. Got it?”

“Okay. But you can’t drop me in, in there. In this…You can’t.” She looked over her shoulder in the direction the snake had taken off, climbed on his shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his forehead, her legs tucked under his arms, heels almost touching the base of his neck. “How far is it?”

“As far as it is.”

“Big help. Do NOT drop me.” She shivered involuntarily. “Please.”

“No need to get all polite, CL. You have the shotgun.”

Bobby took a minute to get his bearings, knowing how his dad was gonna raise all sorts of hell about the trolling motor. Once dad knew he could find it and the water wasn’t very deep they’d be back to get the motor, take it home, dry it out and rebuild it on the garage floor. He’d rebuild it, dad would drink beer and give bad advice, mom would put some vodka in her iced coffee or tea and read the latest and greatest from the library where she worked. And pretend to watch them like she cared while whatever was in the oven turned black.

***

Carrie Louise climbed off his shoulders on to dry ground and started screaming again when Bobby waded out. Another snake had hitched a ride, its fangs embedded in the thick rubber heel of the waders. Bobby saw CL point the shotgun at his foot and screamed with her. She shoved the shotgun into his chest, took off down the finger of two-lane ruts that cut through the swamp. Bobby picked up the shotgun, put the barrel against the snake’s head and pushed until the snake lost its grip and recoiled away. He had one shell in the sawed-off swamp boat gun, and he might need it for more than a snake dumb enough to hit waders.

***

Sheriff Sheridan Wylie, a little overweight in a uniform and life vest that fit a couple of years ago, swung Terrebonne Parish Swamp Patrol Boat number 2 alongside the finger of dry land and waited for the two stragglers in the shimmering heat haze headed his way, a .40 caliber pistol, safety off, behind his back.

“Well, I do declare. Carrie Louise Roche and Bobby Buisson. You might crack that shotgun open and hand it to me, young Mister Bobby. Go a looooong ways toward keepin’ my blood pressure under control.”

“Yes sir.” Bobby broke the sawed-off open, offered it butt first. “Sorry.”

“Think nothin’ of it.” Wylie took the sawed-off, holstered his pistol. “What’s a coupla lethal weapons between friends? Now, y’know, when I got the call about two kids with a shotgun wandering the Mauvais Bois, I thought maybe I had me some lost poachers or the next Bonnie and Clyde. Hell no, ain’t nothin’ to it but Houma’s own double trouble.”

The Sheriff unloaded both shells from the shotgun, dropped them in his life vest pocket, set the shotgun on top of the instrument and radio cluster. “You can give that sawed off I don’t know is the wrong side of legal back to your daddy after I’ve carried you two home. And you done told me about the spent shell.”

He helped them step off into the boat, handed them both life vests. Bobby told him about CL and snakes and the new hole in his dad’s old skiff while they cinched themselves into the vests. The sheriff and Bobby laughed, Carrie Louise moped. Satisfied with their vests Sheriff Wylie idled the boat around and out into the swamp in no kind of hurry.

“Either a you two been gone long enough anybody’d be worried? No? Best news I’ve had all day.” He squeezed the trigger on the mic. “Wylie. Armed poachers turned into a shallow water equipment failure rescue. No casualties, no prisoners, no medical required. Swamp rats name of Buisson and Roche need deliverin’. May take me a while.”

He hung up the radio mic, turned and leaned against the instrument panel where he could keep one eye on the swamp and one on CL and Bobby, held the boat on course with his forearm on the wheel. “I’m in no big hurry ‘cause I need y’all to spin me one hell of a good stow-ree about that spent shell. Tellin’ you now it better have a 15, maybe 20 foot gator and a witch and a toothless coon-ass pervert or two in it, ‘cause bein’ as we’re out here and it’s hotter’n hell an all? I’m stoppin’ at the marina for a ring-of-fire hot link, some of Louella’s fried shrimp bites and an Abita Amber just this side of ice. On the Parish dime. And I’ll need to write me up a nice report when I get back to justify burning a couple of hours and a bunch of Parish gas rescuing two born on the bayou kids who should know better than to blow a damn hole in the bottom of a boat.” He turned back, idled the boat up a little. “There’s water in the ice chest if you need some. Go easy, Carrie Louise. Ain’t nowhere for a girl to pee for a good forty minutes.”

***

An hour and a half later Sheriff Wylie dropped them at a makeshift dock on Bayou Black across the street from Bobby’s house. Bobby went home carrying the unloaded sawed off and his dad’s waders, Carrie Louise huffed off to her house next door carrying a greasy paper bag of leftover spicy shrimp bites.

Fifteen minutes passed before she banged on the screen door to Bobby’s kitchen. She’d been having an angry cry, most likely from a Momma Roche ass chewing. He toed the door open and she shoved a plate with a huge slice of peach pie and rapidly losing form in the heat whipped cream at him.

“Momma says she guesses thanks for saving me from bein’ gator bait. I told her it was snakes, but she said thanks anyway, even though a Houma girl dumb enough to blow a hole in a boat mighta been justifiably left behind. And to say I’m sorry about your dad’s boat and scaring you shitless with the shotgun and almost blowing your foot off.” She heaved a big sigh. “She’ll see that we make it right, when we can.”

Bobby could feel the sadness coming off her, along with leftover steam from how mad she’d gotten when he and the Sheriff laughed about her blowing a hole in the boat and not killing the snake, then Momma R piling on.

“I’m figurin’ I’ll tell Daddy I did it, CL. You tell Momma R not to worry.” He shrugged one shoulder, took the pie plate. “Dad’ll drop a couple M-80s to run the snakes off so I can fish the motor out pretty easy. And it won’t be near as bad a ‘Bobby you dumb ass’ sermon as telling him I let a girl beat me to the snake-and-gator gun.” He grinned, held the door open for her. “Come on. Pie this size needs two forks.”

“You sure? About the boat and all?”

“Yep.”

Sure sure?”

“Yep.”

“Like certain sure?”

“C’mon CL, do I look like I’m standin’ here air conditionin’ the back yard changin’ my mind?”

“No…” She stepped past him into the kitchen, opened his fridge. “So I guess that means you have a couple of new shots of Cool Whip or maybe some ice cream in here to go with that extra fork and this big ol’ piece of my momma’s blue-ribbon peach pie?”

The Grandest Illusion / Throw Some Flowers

The Nutcracker

The remarkable thing about The Nutcracker is that it does with music and dance what we, as a global society, often cannot. It transcends religion and geography and tells a story full of cross cultural fantasy and spectacle and fear and joy and when it’s over everyone throws or delivers flowers to the stage where it happened. How cool is that?

Here’s the deal. The Nutcracker is supposed to be about Clara, a little girl who dreams her dreams of faraway magical lands that she shares with a brave, handsome prince. But what makes the music come to life, what makes the principle dancers from the best ballet companies in the world look so spectacular, what makes people cheer year after year is that the stage where it happens is packed with ageless little girls’ dreams, not just Clara’s. Dreams so big and real they fill up a theater with their hope and that inexplicable magic of belief in something bigger than reality.

So if it’s your neighbor’s kid or your kid or grand kid or your wife, or even if no one you know is in The Nutcracker playing in your part of the world this year, go see it. Talk to a stranger in the lobby, toast the season. Take some flowers with you and give them to a dancer who might be famous, might have been famous, might have been hurt, might even be a grandmother. This season, no matter what you believe, make yourself part of something bigger and better and more magical than what the nightly news would lead you to believe is our world.

 

In North Texas? Chamberlain’s Nutcracker at the Eismann Center is my choice. My wife is in it.

http://chamberlainperformingarts.org/

True Value

Lamar pulled the creamy bean dip his way across the Formica imitating black shale table top, waited for Upjohn’s woman radar to make the entire room and come to rest across from him.

“Damn, Lamar, which of our asses you think they picked for those nachos?”

“I’m thinking yours. You have the broad beam of success, not me.”

“Shit, you just don’t eat right, don’t go out with the right women.” Upjohn took the restaurant fatigued spoon and fork out of a rolled up paper napkin and lifted a heap of nachos onto his plate. He picked up and sniffed all four of the small salsa bowls, sneezed after the roasted verde sauce. He set it down, tapped it with his fork. “Best give that shit some respect, Lamar. Set your ass on fire just knowin’ about it. You figure we could get Marshon through that door?”

“Marshon?” Lamar picked up a chip that was half a flash fried tortilla covered in all things chicken nachos, cracked it in half when he leveraged it to his plate, covered it with creamy, spicy bean dip.

“Marshon Lewellyn. Big ol’ gal.” Old Upjohn held his hands out a foot from his chest. “You’ll recall she worked at the Buick parts counter? Had to wear a man’s 3XL golf shirt to be part of the Buick parts team.”

“Wouldn’t know her. Never owned a Buick. You checked out that shirt for size, did you?”

“I did. Never know if a woman might need a gift of casual clothing to set her at ease. What I’m sayin’ is there was never even a Buick made for her backside. Thing needed two lanes and a couple of double-wide escort trucks were she to get out on the road. I’m thinkin’ we get her through the front door and these people are good to their word, we be eatin’ nachos till the Good Lord calls one of us home.”

“You think she’d come out from behind that Buick parts counter with you, knowing you were going to use her that way?”

“No tellin’ what a woman might do to be out with a handsome man for an all-you-can-eat ‘till you die Mexican hors d’oeuvre dinner,. You plan on stakin’ a claim on that bean dip, Lamar? Goddam. You gonna start spittin’ shit when you laugh you best ask that girl in the cut-offs running up her crack for another napkin.”

“You thinking about the size of her nacho plate?”

“Man could starve to death eatin’ that girl’s nachos, Lamar, and turn his mind to pudding trying to talk to her. Man needs to know a woman’s true value. She’s good for the napkin and a cup of coffee and a lonely man’s prayer she bends over facin’ the other way.”

“That’s awful close to sexist, Upjohn.”

“I start lyin’, stop me.”

“So there’s a woman in your world for just about anything? Barely legal eye candy waitresses in illegal cutoffs for napkins and coffee, and a woman with a backside bigger than a Buick for when you need more nachos than you can eat?”

“You find a problem with my logic?”

“No. I’m sure the ladies would.”

“That’s part of bein’ female, findin’ fault with how we think. Now there’s men out there will tell you a man should learn to figure women. I’m tellin’ you, a man should learn to appreciate the figure of a woman, and leave it be. Sexism comes down to natural selection.”

“Natural selection? How the hell do you ‘figure’ that?”

“The manager naturally selects skinny young girls who don’t know no better to stand around in push-up bras and short cut-offs so tight they crush their cell phones against butt cheeks they don’t have, just to keep us coming back. And naturally I select Marshon to keep me in nachos that let me sit here longer so I can watch, and she naturally selects to join me because her fat ass ain’t doin’ nothin’ but sittin’ around watchin’ Dr.Phil on the DVR. Ain’t never gonna fix sexism till both sides stop participatin’. And this place comes up with another gimmick that don’t involve asses in any way, shape or form. You ask that girl for some more bean dip when she brings the napkin. When she does, tell her you dropped somethin’ and your back’s out.”

“No way, Upjohn. You keep it up you’re gonna have every woman in the world down on us.”

Upjohn looked up from doctoring his nachos, raised a bushy gray eyebrow and flashed the store-bought smile. “Why God invented fat bottom girls and the blues, Lamar. So you have somethin’ to sing about, something to do, you think nobody loves you.” He shook with silent laughter. “And to keep you from starvin’ when you come in a place like this.”

Groupies – I Just Love Your Wife Version

“Thank you so much for coming! I just love your wife. Did she tell you what happened last week?”

Let’s see. Someone came back from China, and the girl from Boston Ballet was soooo beautiful and soooo nice, and the place was packed with girls back from their summer intensives and professionals from all over the world home to see family at the end of summer, and…Yes. I always go back to ballet class with Nana Ballet when she comes home. None of those feel like the right answer. “Duh, no…” doesn’t work in public when asked by a woman who was a New York City Ballet Ford Foundation scholar at 12 and loves your wife.

“I’m not sure. I heard a lot about the ballet studio last week.”

“Let me tell you, she is such an inspiration. She didn’t mention it, did she? Well, there was a large group of very talented young dancers, and some of the younger ones who adore her all filled the big studio on Saturday. And one of them overheard your wife say she needed to check on your grand daughter in the studio next door. You wouldn’t believe it. They were all talking. ‘NO! Like Oh my God. We don’t have to stop taking ballet just because we have a job, or get married or go to med school or get old? We can like still dance when we’re grandmothers? Oh. My. God’. One minute she was another adult taking her regular class crowded in the studio with them, telling them all how lovely they were, and whoops, there’s a grandmother in their ballet class? I think that’s wonderful, don’t you? All those talented young women realizing that dance can be forever. We just love her.”

Nana Ballet strapped the granddaughter into her eighteen-point space capsule car seat, climbed in the front seat, closed the car door and adjusted the air conditiong vents. Off of me and into the back seat like there’s not air blowing back there already. I turn one back my way and get the look.

“I hear Nana Ballet is an inspiration.”

“Seriously? Please. Those girls stand in center, no barre, stick their legs straight up in the air and say things like ‘I can’t believe how stiff I get when I don’t take class’. Ms. K has dancers at ABT, Miami, Seattle, Houston. Denmark. Everywhere. When I saw them all in there on Saturday morning I should have turned around and come home. I shouldn’t have been in a leo in the same building with girls that young and talented.”

No? Shouldn’t let strangers that come up to your knees and hug you get hugged back, either? Not likely…

All you need to do is show up, be real, and kind and able to appreciate your own limitations and the beauty of other people’s gifts, and the magic that needs to happen will take care of itself.

White Lies and Dirty Laundry

 From The Hot Girl – I

Roosevelt Junior High, October 20th, 1971

Deanna clung to her open locker door with her right hand, leaned her head on the shelf inside. She couldn’t go to homeroom. She didn’t want to talk, or smile, or lead cheerleading practice. Or read the afternoon announcements or do anything at all. Just for a day, she didn’t want to be who she was. All she wanted was to be alone and maybe have one real friend she could tell about Gramma Cora. Goddammit. Was that too much to ask, really?

***

“Mornin’, Jackson.” Coach Stephens raised his chin in acknowledgment at the growth-spurt skinny eighth-grade boy in his doorway, tilted his head slightly toward the wall to Jackson’s left. “Some geniuses clogged the shitter in the band room.” Stephens pushed his chair back, hitched up his coach sweats, tossed the blue nylon bag full of his laundry at Jackson like it was a medicine ball. “C’mon. I’ll get you out through the girl’s side. Grab a hall pass in case you meet a stranger on that side of the building.”

Jackson picked up the pad, tore off several hall passes pre-stamped with Coach Stephens signature, stuffed them in his back pocket even though, after a year and a half, there wasn’t much likelihood of anyone stopping him on blue bag days. He hefted the laundry bag to his shoulder, followed Stephens to the center of the basketball court, the invisible wall between the only non-coed homerooms at Roosevelt Junior High. Stephens chirped his whistle.
“Heads up, skirts down, legs crossed, ladies. Man comin’ through.”

Jackson turned red, shielded his head with the bag and sent his eyes to the floor for his trek through the minefield of girl’s gym homeroom. Damn. They sat on the floor cross legged, or laid on their backs with an ankle on their knee, skirts dropped to almost there. He heard them all shuffling positions, heard the giggles, the murmured comments that followed him across the basketball court until he was out the double doors. Up five steps and he was in the hall headed toward daylight.

He shifted the bag, raised his eyes, and noticed most of the hall was blocked with junk that had been pulled out of the janitor’s closet to go deal with the clogged band room commode. Directly across from that obstacle was an open locker. Visible under the locker door were a pair girl’s ankles in low cut sweat socks stuffed in saddle oxfords. Cheerleader gear. Shit. And down the hall from the other direction, on a collision course with him and the cheerleader’s feet was Mr. Han, the asshole French teacher and hall pass Nazi. Double shit.

Bonjour, Mr. Han.”

“Always halfway clever, Monsieur Jackson. You and the bag say it’s Wednesday but on the wrong side of the building. Something to do with who we have at their locker that should be in homeroom?”

Jackson stepped into the narrow space between the cheerleader’s open locker door and Mr. Han, swung the laundry bag around his right shoulder, knocked the unseen girl backward into her locker. He was chest to chest and eye to eye with Han and butt faced the cheerleader. In near-zero personal space, he managed to lift a hall pass out of his back pocket with a thumb and finger, held it under the bag, and waited until he felt whoever she was grab it.

“She was with me, Han. Mr. Han There’s shit, uh, sewage all on the floor by the band room on our side, and Coach sent her to escort me out the girl’s side. So I wouldn’t do anything stupid or talk to anybody. And, um, anyway, she needed a book, that’s why he sent her with me. And, uh, she ran ahead of me. To get her book.”
The girl pushed the crumpled pink slip past the bottom of the blue bag for Han, who snatched it, gave it a cursory glance.

“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be, Mr. Jackson?”

“Yes sir.” Jackson stepped off in a hurry, just under the ‘don’t run in the hall’ rule, didn’t look back. Han followed him with his eyes until Jackson and the blue bag were around the corner.

“Miss Collings, are you feeling alright?”

“Yes. And no.” Deanna hauled herself up out of her locker, brushed her butt, checked her effort and the pleats of her skirt over both shoulders. “My grandmother’s funeral was yesterday. I just didn’t want to talk to everyone…Anyone. That’s why I, um, ran to my locker, like he, like Jackson said. I’ll be okay. Really.”

“I understand. There’s never a good time for a funeral.” Han glared down the empty hallway. “Or Jackson.” He flicked the pink pass in his hand with his middle finger, handed it back. “Someday Stephens will learn to put names and dates on his hall passes and sign them like the rest of us. Why he’d send someone like you out with that kid and the bag is beyond me.”

“Well,” she waved her hand under her nose, “there is some really gross shhh…Poop. And stuff. All on the floor on their side and Jackson can get in trouble. I mean pretty easy, and kind of a lot. And I did need my book.”

“As usual, Miss Collings, everything you have said is true.” He pushed her locker door closed. “But homeroom young lady. Now.”

“Yes sir.” She smoothed out the hall pass, put it inside the history book she wouldn’t need for four hours. Wow. Blue Bag Jackson had spare, stamped hall passes from Coach Stephens? Covered her on the fly and slacked her hassle with Han before it got started, no big deal, no stupid guy conversation, no junk? How cool was that? Even if he was kind of a jerk, knocking her on her butt with that bag… But still. Cool.

Toothbrush

via Daily Prompt: Toothbrush

“If you’re about to apologize, don’t,” she said. “This was my idea.”

He watched Zanie brush her hair back into the signature bushy pony tail, adjust the perfect, store bought cantaloupes in a bra with six hooks under a silky t-shirt.

She checked herself in his mirror, shook her hair. “I wish I still smoked.”

“I keep some of Dash’s cigarillos around here somewhere. And some weed from Hawaii somebody gave me.”

“I told you I have a meeting in half an hour. No weed. Find the cigarillos. And a Coke or beer or something. Where did all that polite Coach Cowboy host shit go?”

“Polite host mask comes off with my other clothes. Coke or Heineken?”

“That’s it? Coke and Hiney?”

“Carbonated French fart water. And a couple of Michelob Lights that might be a year old.”

“Make mine Hiney.”

He left that alone. He returned from the kitchen, tossed the box of cigarillos on the bed between them, handed off her beer, and pulled a lighter out of the nightstand.

“Thanks.” She held on to his lighter hand after she blew the smoke sideways. “I was thinking while you were gone.”

He lit his own cigarillo, remembered why he didn’t like them, waited.

“Thinking I should tell you the rest of the reason for ‘this’.”

“Your call. I don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to explain.”

“I’ve spent the last four years as a cover wife for a gay jock. So back when I walked my stringer gig I could get some career shit off the ground with no man interference. I saw all the holes I could plug if had a little time, didn’t have to worry about money for a couple of months, and bought a set of serious Hollywood qualifications to fix… A problem. I thought when this move to the warehouse next to Dwight’s is done I might need to let someone in. Someone I could work with. And trust. Navarro told me about your Golden Rule number two. This afternoon has to be that way.”

“What afternoon?”

“Good.” She smashed the cigarillo down in the ashtray and chugged the rest of her beer. “Do you have a clean toothbrush I can use?”

“Depends on whether I can still brush my teeth with it when you’re done.”

“Charmingly perverse.”

“It’s a gift. There’s a new one in the drawer on the right side of the sink.”

“Kind of late to be worrying about germs.” She stuck her feet in her heels that immediately made her five inches taller than he was, walked past him and into the bathroom.

“Is this where I cue ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and watch you drive down Ocean Boulevard with the top down and your hair blowing around while a little bitty tear lets me down?”

“No.” She wiped her mouth on a hand towel, draped it over his shoulder. “I’m in my production van. And sad, whispery folk songs gag me. Your tear was a nice touch but I know it’s bullshit. ‘Here’ is where we swear a blood oath to take ‘this’ to our graves.” She blew in her cupped hands, checked her breath. “So far you’ve gotten in my shit, told me a clown punching to old Playboys in your dad’s closet story, whined about the healthy crap all the ‘Oh my God if I gain an ounce or get a zit I’ll die’ girls made you eat all week and turned my idea of a quickie to find out who the hell you are into most of an afternoon. You’re a keeper.”

“I didn’t say anything about punching the clown.”

“I have brothers.” She shook out the ponytail again, bent slightly, got chest to chest with him. “You and I ate lunch, found out we have a lot in common that is mutually beneficial professionally, we’re production house neighbors, and we plan on working closely together on a number of projects. Can you repeat that on-demand?” She got two inches from his eyes. “I don’t care if they pull out your fingernails. Lunch. Friends. Period. The end. You fuck anyone else in this circle jerk mess of a softball team Little Miss Calimex Navarro handed you and I’ll be outside the door with a camera and crew. Professionals. Lunch. Friends. Period.”

“The end?”

“This is how good I look leaving. Remember to miss me.” She turned and hit the switch on the thousand-watt smile. “Until Saturday’s game.”