The Confessor of Littlefield

The Confessor of Littlefield
by R.J. Hoffman

My language creates itself. It is reason. My intellect controls through my will but it gives into mood. All circumstances are circumscribed by my emotions. Yet, the existential coincidences that bind me to Being contain the ingredients of my own catharsis. The internal person seeks association with others, while the external person seeks solace in self; inner and outer circles ever pulling each other into something greater. The bisectional body, aware of self, pulling together all of the data and and making it comprehensible; right and left body, right and left brain, with the tripartite values of thesis, antithesis, and awareness; it is here that life begins. Material aware of itself.

This story is titled the Confessor of Littlefield, and the main theme is the language of self, or material communicating with itself, and how that language remains steady while changes are constantly being made in the environment. I distill this project into the pragmatic terminology of I, Me, and We and the first, second, and third person as a simple way to present a coherent structure to the narrative.

I am a creative writer, not a philosopher or academic. I read philosophy to find ideas and associations for my characterizations and personifications that represent contradictory human nature. I like to play with patterns, matching and juggling symbols with different contexts and narratives. I also try to append the perspectives of period, attending to the historicity and psychology of time and place.

Idealism and the noumenon and phenomenon dichotomy of self and others concerns me most in the Confessor of Littlefield. The story is told by a common person from a small town of the Great Lakes. The main character is a self employed illustrator, a 44 year old American man of Puerto Rican/Chinese descent who grew up in foster homes with strict religious parents of both, the Calvinist and the Catholic persuasions. The study of his own identity contributes to the epistolary novel he is writing. The psyche of an author creating and interacting with his creation jumpstarts the narrative, providing the Platonic spark of deep structure forms that contribute to the theme of the fluidity of identity.

Walt Whitman’s persona in Leaves of Grass is a fictional self, created and promoted for recognition, a humunculus that became greater than its master. I explore how everyone is cognizant of the role they play and the pretensions made of the self; the dichotomous yet symbiotic I and Me dialog observed by its own third person. Everyone conspires with self, uses thesis and antithesis to drive awareness. The contradictory coincidences that create the fiction of our every day life and the internal I with its opposing, yet symbiotic forces seeking harmony, help create the Me, the engager of both the We and the I. The We is the community that seeks harmony with an individual (I) by creating a second person Me; a fictional category such as that used in propaganda to brand someone for the pleasure of the others. The third person observes how the I and the Me are perceived by others and the first and second persons observe the third person observing them.

We engage in patterns of personification of ourselves hour to hour, resulting in the waitress playing at being a waitress instead of being a waitress; both laborer and wanderer within the self enclosed unit of the human anatomy; both a subject and an object. All objects are internalized, arranged flickering on a mirror, like ticker symbols streaming across the screen until they become subjects. “I Am” cannot be defined because it is fluent, always in flux. Kant wrote of a synthetic truth; the arrangement of symbols to construct understanding, which is ever fluid. All truths are slippery enough to slip through the evolving language structures of the self contained unit labeled “human being.”

This first half of the novel is about a middle aged man’s Kantian encounter with Hume, not as an intellectual but as an experiencer struggling with the “I Am” and Idealism. He is the author constantly creating himself and the environment he imagines. It is the study of the multiple identities with which we perceive ourselves throughout our lives; the personas we appropriate for any given circumstance; the language we use as our narrative while playing the part; waiter, boyfriend, clerical worker, programmer, policeman, teacher, construction worker, etc. It is the process of the writer coming to an understanding of his characters.

The main character examines his I and We while recreating the I’s and We’s of several generations in a small town of the Great Lakes. The historicity of period allows him to jump from character to character to explore the evolving consciousness of the individual and society. Rupert in the 1910’s, stationed in the Phillipines and in Littlefield, in 1985, as an old man; the woods and cabin Bill lived in during the 1950’s contrasted with the 1980’s; the salvage yard from the 1950’s through 1985. Economic expansion changes the small town but individual identities remain the same. Bill sees his father through the window and doesn’t know him but thinks that the neighborhood isn’t safe for such an old man. Rupert isn’t quite so sad as he is appalled at how the building structures that symbolized prosperity in his youth had been trampled by the generations.

By presenting the allegorical narrative of mind and body, I wish to make no claim for a “ghost in the machine”. By using terms like empiricism, God, devil, spirit, divinity, I am making no such claim as to my personal convictions or nonconvictions. It is small town, everyday language that creates a bridge from author to reader. The writer needs to be more expletive when presenting his work these days, compared with the middle part of the twentieth century. Today’s reader cannot be taken for granted. In today’s culture there are no stars and constellations. The reader presents his own context and merges it with the author’s. Everyone alive communicates with idea. I say I don’t believe in an outside authoritative entity called God but I also refer to a “mind” which I use to conceive ideation, induction and deduction.

“There is no “physical mind.” I once asked my neighbor, Professor Cliffnut, “isn’t that belief, faith; that this mind is you? But there is no “you.” It is made up.”

“References, tags, associations. The mind building its interpretive faculties, mending and redrawing its physical structure within the brain.”

“Then mind is a creation of the brain’s awareness. Can I call this “mind” my ghost in the machine?”

“If you like. Material comprehending itself. The mind is its own humunculus.”

“One self needs another “self” to hold a mirror to itself,” I question with uptalk.”

“We ARE two halves physically, including the brain.”

Thus begins the story.

This begins the story of the narrator, a 44 year old American of Puerto Rican/Chinese Ancestry. He would’ve been born somewhere in the Great Lakes between 1965 – 1975. The prejudice and bigotry in the language he experienced as a foster child of mixed descent in a rural white community  finds its way into in his own narrative self. He sees so much of what he despises in others he despises in himself and questions the language of the self and how it was acquired. As the story advances, the narrator gradually separates himself from the story and becomes the diviner.

“The mind tells the body it is getting up now and it has to. My entire life revolves around plans for my body because it doesn’t want to do anything, or a whole lot of nothing. Still, if I refer to the ghost, the other, or whatever, the wizard of Oz behind the curtain I become just a version of myself.”

“And fiction becomes psychological relativism,” I say, meandering. “Thanks to pop psychology, everyone is a fucking artist. Everyone who looks at a work of art thinks they are reading a Rorschach of the artist himself. At least, that’s how I feel. I mean, I just draw pictures of things because I like to and I get paid for it. I barely make enough to survive but I don’t care. I am as happy as I am going to be and I am content with it.”

My conversation is circular. I am not an analytical thinker. I have to remember in patterns. I am adept at spelling because I recognize patterns in the structure of words but I cannot remember mathematical formulas.

“I have been told women don’t like my dark eyes looking at them because I look like a crow that is scowling at them. They react to that look, regardless of what is going on in my head. They know absolutely nothing about me. They just see a body with an appearance they don’t like. Since the scientist says the mind is the body and isn’t apart from it, it follows that it doesn’t have its own conceptualization; that other person is exactly as I think it is. It doesn’t have a thinking process that is separate from its face. Its face shows what it is thinking. And since the mind and body are one it cannot be distracted by its own mind. Its mind is what its face says it is. Every face it makes, even if it has no idea of my presence, can only be in union with its mind and its mind is not its but mine. It is not me but my humunculus whom I am deriding when I imagine him. I see the community as a group of model humunculi from which I draw the straw others I describe. In my eyes I am one of them and I am not. In their eyes I am one of them and not.

“Everyone is a writer as they watch the others. Everyone else’s mind must match the appearance of stereotypes. The body language shows anger. There is an angry man. I don’t like his look and I’m gonna do something about it. It’s fucking kindergarten thinking, Professor! The damn guy might just have a pebble in his shoe. A person isn’t “uncomfortable” with that other for his appearance; just feels the need to assert him or her self into a competition with that person. And does, if the situation allows for a passive aggressive attack. It is stunning to evaluate the way people talk to one another for the first time; all of the prejudices and preconceptions packed into their words. And what is ironic is that I am describing myself. It is I who am feeling that way toward the others. I think. So I am projecting myself onto them, on the highway and in the supermarket. But I know that they are also doing it to me by their reaction to my appearance.”

“Ghost in the machine is an epithet for belief in an immortal soul,” I ramble. “We compose diatribes against the silliness of Christianity, or the immorality of atheism, depending on the context. More often than not, a statement meant as an anomaly produces a knee jerk response of one of the ubiquitous feel-goody folk sayings that don’t mean anything specifically; just sort of douse everything with salt; the “ya jus’ gotta” crap. Straw people talking to straw people, seemingly oblivious to the natural mind of everyone because it is just a part of the body, right? If you think it, everyone does with some minor exceptions. There! That guy is dirty, old, drives an old car; looks like he couldn’t care less for appearance. That is disrespectful to us We folk, right? (And here I visualize a 19 year old blond girl behind the counter of a tanning salon saying, “I know, right?” And with a toss of her wavy and perfumed hair she dismisses with a sneer anyone who would think differently – though she doesn’t exist. She is a stereotype personified. And then I react when I see a young woman at a counter talking and making dismissive faces and flippant minuets with her hands.)

“Everyone talks to straw people when they look into each other’s eyes, when they read each other’s words; even the professor who doesn’t read your paper but tells you what you wrote and argues as though he is making a presentation to you; just saying exactly what you wrote but for some reason his head is on something else. He is the baseball umpire calling a ball on a pitch right down the middle; his the last word. Well, that was the end of my academic career, Professor. It was then that I became obsessed with this idea that everyone is walking through the dark, arguing instead of having dialogue.

“I am always being accused of being confrontational. Well, I don’t fucking want to be! That professor pissed me off from the Humanities for good, at least I thought. I showed him repeatedly, every thing he said was something I worded almost precisely in the paper and I told him where to look; even got him to admit he didn’t really read the paper but he refused to raise my grade. On principle I can’t let someone get away with that. There is something wrong with a University hierarchy that treats students as though they are in kindergarten and not grown adults who either pass or fail. The instructor should be in the hire of the student. The student is an adult, not a truant. If you don’t show up for a class it’s your deal. These are adults, not children. If the teacher is wrong, I say, “I am not doing business with you anymore; and please, keep the authority diatribe to yourself.” It isn’t because I don’t understand the social structure at work that I reject it, it’s because I DO understand. It is YOU who is out of line!

“Careful now!”

“Okay, Professor. How about baseball then? I like a good baseball game too, but it is just bonehead silly to not admit a human umpire’s job is to help shape the game; to not call a strike on a pitch right down the middle now and again (or 7 in a row in the 9th inning), or calling a strike when it isn’t. I mean, is that the REAL reason why baseball doesn’t have a 3D strike zone with laser detectors that are 99.9% accurate? It would be easy for the human umpire to be removed from all plays. Gloves and balls could be laser tagged and all contact read by a network of cameras with software that disseminates the data into multiples of value in an instant. Everyone would see the up and down fluidity of the strike zone. A hologram of home plate would extend above it and the strike zone would bob up and down depending on the the batter’s lead elbow and front or back knee. It would be impossible for a ball hitting a 3D hologram extending above the plate to be anything but a strike. No more home field calls to make sure fans have a reasonable chance of going home happy. No more Red Sox advantage.” (The Prof is a Red Sox fan.)

“Hah! Well, there was some mention of it. One umpire said he didn’t think the machine could get the strike zone right because some balls go around the plate and might be a strike or a ball and the computer would call it a ball.”

“He’s thinking in 2D; home plate is a three dimensional plane. A three dimensional plane isn’t like putting a sheet of paper in front of home plate and telling the pitcher, “hit me, baby!” If a ball hooks around the edge of the plate but nicks the back of a 3D plane even by a millionth of a centimeter the light would go on: strike. No strike zone where the ump chops off the bottom or top, or extends it half a plate outside; a ball is a ball, a strike is a strike. It isn’t a difficult thing to wrap your head around unless you don’t want to.”

“You don’t like umps or professors much, do you?”

“Haha, Professor, sorry. Had to get that off my chest. Guess I wasn’t cut out to be a student. It’s just that to me Zen is the biggest bunch of bullshit. It’s the language of the noble savage; you’re supposed to think it’s more profound than it is. “If you can describe something you can’t conceive it.” It’s just fucking stupid. An Asian teacher said to tell him how an Asian thinks. In other words, he is saying, “tell me how I am thinking.” What anyone is thinking can only be relative to them. My appearance, or straw value to him is what becomes of the hours of work I put into that paper.”

“You got a bad grade.”

“I got a B-.”

Shakes his head and smirks.

“Professor, I have been to temple with Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Laotions, Thais. I have sat with their families and ate, discussed Buddhism and the things they do during the day. Someone in the discussion invariably says, “you probably know more about it than we do. With us, it’s just the way we live.” Zen, for them, is just the way they live. But the professor says if I can describe it then I don’t understand. I said, “this is just a bunch bullshit and you need gullible people to think it’s more than what it is.”

“He didn’t like that. He liked it even less when I said that a Zen monk living in a cabin, tilling his garden, keeping his mind to the simple calculations of bodily needs sounds like a simpleton who nonetheless lived a contented existence. It could be a wealthy person in a mansion, or a poor person in a cabin. Buddhism; don’t get me started. Trungpa Rinpoche found talking about enlightenment so delightful that he drank himself to death before he was 50, just to tell himself that there was no difference between the mind and body, I guess.

“Professor, that ISN’T schizophrenia? It’s isn’t addressing another with sincerity and induction but by categorical deduction to win an argument. It’s no different than posturing for position by correcting word pronunciation and grammar. Passive aggressive elbow rubbing; people attempting to put one in another in their place and to avoid the other doing the same. It is simpleton stuff.”

The Professor is watching me with mute calculation, like a medical doctor looking for signs of infection.

“I don’t know, academic papers aren’t the same as fiction. Fiction can be anything we want it to be but academic papers are argumentation. They aren’t the same thing. Reality cannot be proven; it’s not systemic, logical, deductive, or inductive.”

“Reality is the language of the self making general observations to itself. That would be your thesis statement.”

“With my straw men against their straw men. The We language for my straw men is different from the We language of their straw men.”

“Heh heh heh. Okay. But you can’t do without others; like in the Sartre play No Exit.”

“No. That’s the damnedest thing, Professor Cliffnut. I just wish they didn’t give me the impression that they have no use for me except that I know my role as they see it. I had a teacher in middle school; hairy basketball coach/gym teacher/history teacher; that was his favorite saying, “know your role.” Fucker said it all the time. Imagine being a disinterested observer and hearing this ape man with his ape gestures, forming all the young minds for the ape world. Wouldn’t you want to stop him if you could?”

“Well…”

“I don’t mean that as a question; just an assertion.”

“Okay.”

“And all mass communication has done is bring this irritating disconnect between human beings to every damn interaction of life. I would almost welcome an Orwellian big brother if it stirred others to more inductive thinking about others instead of deduction based on some fear etymology or whatever.”

“Induction instead of deduction?”

“I know you have to start with some sort of structure of forms to jumpstart a deduction, though. Maybe I just like to juggle the forms to show that we are all just using the same set of forms. In the process I come up with stories that amuse me. I mean, it isn’t reasonable to assume that I know something because I can categorize it. It would be nice to let art be art again; you know, language. Let language evolve, not devolve into a relativist Rorschach, or some spartan business school summary.”

“Mmm hmm mmm hmm,” the professor is used to listening to the hurried talk of a student asking him a quick question.

“And semicolons draw a scowl from the culture of relativism and its social mass media, with its penny ante assertions and juvenile, confrontational news designed to pit people against each other. I suppose it’s the nature of both the I and the We, one of thesis and antithesis.”

“Dialectics; all social thought is part of a push and pull that drives itself,” says the professor. Thesis and antithesis. When one side is unstable, so is the other; both have a small amount of each other in them; yin and yang.”

The professor gives a mischievous smile because he knows how much I dislike hearing anything about Eastern philosophy.

“Good one. What about the guy on an Amazon “review” of a classic literary work? A ditch digger’s view, anonymously given, is equal to a physicist on the subject of artificial intelligence.”

“What if the ditch digger is another Einstein?”

“Highly unlikely. It’s far more likely that he wishes to be a writer and has mistaken his ability to put words into fiction for the ability to understand science he doesn’t know.” Fuck, you’re saying the same stupid stuff people say to each other on social media.”

“I’m too old, I guess. My students are always trying to get me to start a page for my courses. I get along just fine without it. If I was younger, maybe. But I mostly do research. I just want to be left alone in that regard. Social media research is nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of gathering data and artifacts for a paper that is published in a peer reviewed journal. Although reading a Wikipedia article is a lot easier than having a ten volume set of encyclopedias on hand like you and I in our childhoods. But I don’t want to show the world the inside of my home, or pictures of my dog and cat. I am not going to share with everyone when I am leaving the house. Those are the things I want to keep to myself. If you want to see those things I have to let you into my private life. I am not going to offer myself as data for mass consumption.”

I was listening to him, though it may not have sounded like it when I followed up with, “the cop decides how he performs, with the police union bullying the mayor through the media when she publicly questions the actions of the police force. Everyone has to become everyone’s popular children’s character, or be views as psychotic . I mean, fuck, Professor…and let’s not even start talking about the term “sociology” being hijacked by congregational political spew.”

Professor Cliffnut sat looking at my face during this entire harangue, then he smiled. “How about some lemonade?” he said and got up from his chair opposite me under the awning of the pool patio and came back with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. He poured us each a glass and then sat down. Then he took a pack of cigarettes from his pants and offered me one before starting by saying, “you know, why I teach intellectual history is that it allows me to find common ground with ideas. You touch on some interesting things. The opposites you speak of show a mind trying to settle things, shake the ingredients into place. It’s a creative process for you, a logical one for me; we use a different language for ourselves and spend a lifetime editing it. Everyone feels out their existence with their own individual story. And in your case you have the added dimension of the author being aware of his creation, aware of playing with character types, stereotypes, slogans, rituals.

“I envy you, you can write whatever you want to. There is always the illusion of a self that you can establish with meta narratives, while I am pretty much stuck to formula. You have description, metaphor, allusion, foreshadowing, innuendo and hyperbole to play with; I have to be careful when using such devices. You can engage with colloquial language, introduce fluidity of identity despite time and place; construct a novel with aphorisms. We should discuss Nietzsche’s Zarathustra sometime; and Rabelais; Voltaire’s Candide. Some of the things you’ve said about Emerson and Nietzsche makes me believe you write aphoristically. In other words, your chapters lay like a scrapbook, a spatial rather than a linear narrative. Yours is a familiar theme; maturity and the inevitable middle aged recapitulation that makes us a little more skeptical about life. You are 44 years old, still marveling at the dreams of youth. One is always somewhat deflated by hopes deferred as one gets older.

“Of course, some of the venom you don’t hide for religious intellectual thought could be seen from a different perspective. I just want you to put aside your personal experience for a moment to imagine what I am saying. During a semester I like to give my students six papers covering three topics. Of those three topics they must present a paper of two opposing values. A scholar should be able to give a paper of equal argument to questions like, “Freedom or Determinism?”, or “Ethics or Morals?” You said you were worried that your narrative doesn’t lay out like Hawthorne but your mind is working with its own devices. Hawthorne’s stories are linear, they follow a direct path from start to finish. You have to lay yours out in a circular way. I can tell by the way you talk. You have to create patterns. You like the sound of words and you like to play with the sounds.

“You told me the story, now tell it to your readers. Yes, they are going to tell you if it is bad, but it is because they want something to expand their vocabulary of themselves. They’ve taken the time to engage what you have written. Just ask yourself if you waste your time with things that you don’t find particularly engaging? There are too many things in life to engage without using some discernment. We all engage the things that are important to our own internal narrative. You have a strong identification with Calvinism from your childhood but others might not like how you assert things.”

“It’s only because Calvinism is what I am familiar with and it’s the voice of my super ego. It was the dominant voice of the social structure of my home town and the spiritual logic behind its Conservatism. I don’t want to make any statements about Calvin, or atheism or politics really; I just want to explore identity, the psychological make up of life; the language taught us and how we use it to perceive with such deep structures of prejudice. I am just thinking of how we create ourselves and the things we convey with signs and symbols, sights and sounds.

The professor looks like a bushy eyebrowed owl as he keeps an almost displaced wide eyed stare on me. I recollect a similar stare on a schizophrenic at the bus stop who would assure me every morning that the new medication was controlling his tick. Most of the time it was. I lost my train of thought so I start in on whatever comes to my tongue.

“I just don’t like the thought of being analyzed personally through the dialog of my characters or their descriptions, no more than a pop songwriter wants to be psychoanalyzed through the sissy lyrics he writes for money. I just to try to explore why I hold some of the values that seem more like impulses rather than the actual way I think. Shit, I don’t dislike Calvinists for existing, I dislike the ideology that insists that I agree that man is fundamentally depraved. It is a just a way of viewing things from self preservation. I mean, it would be gullible of me to think that everyone doesn’t have a side where they seem to lack a conscience; everyone is just a thought a way from being unpleasant company. But I think more like Jung; we all develop our own shadow. It isn’t going anywhere. I make it and it makes me. It is neither bad nor good.

“Both God and humunculus would have to recognize me in the crowd if they already know me privately. But in public, both turn out to be Hal telling Jack, in Henry IV that he rejects him as lowly when the two are to be seen in public. For me, Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas, all show how to win a debate while still being wrong for society.”

“How is that?”

“Calvin, the Pope, all religious authority. It doesn’t matter what the system, creed, rules, or regulations. It’s like this; I had a white dove; had it for nine years. It died on my birthday a few years ago. White dove + death + birthday. Some people hear me tell this and add up the symbols and then have to be persuaded that it isn’t a bad omen. Why can’t it be a happy thing? The dove dying on my birthday was a sign by God to say, ‘thank you for taking care of this creature.’”

“Sure. Why not?”

“Thing is, though. I had another bird that had a bad wing and didn’t like to be handled. She died on Mother’s day.”

“Okay. Did you take care of that bird for long?”

“Six years. It was a mature bird when I got her and I don’t know how old she was.”

“There are things in everyone’s past they just have to let go of. “

“That’s what everyone is doing; just trying to let go of something and I should, too?”

“Sure. It’s your experience. They know nothing at all about you but language, yours dropped into their basket and translated into their language. You are just an object conveying language that has no meaning to them until they translate it for themselves.”

“To switch the subject; Reinhold Neibuhr talked about the wrong of making the Emancipation Proclamation a blanket justification for moral superiority, with technology and education used to justify the actions of those in control. He said that it was wrong to base our actions upon moral superiority. And Foucault wrote about the structure of authority; public schools, hospitals, and prisons in Discipline and Punish. Despite what political party is in control, these public institutions are instruments for subjugation. The great serpent that swallows the Aztec when he dies is the public hospital system.”

“The system has to maintain some sort of control over death. The function is neither good nor bad, as you say. No one is favored or appointed by God. But don’t you wish there was a place you went to after you died, where angels were at your disposal 24 hours a day and available to you to do anything as long as it involved educating yourself and not harming yourself or others?”

“Sure, but then what? The idea of an invisible agent leading men instead of men – that should be laughable, but somehow, it is still important to me. I just don’t see worship as having anything to do with debasement; I feel the need to do something with what I have. I assume that since there is no indication of existence outside of the body we have to create our own immortality. If we are to be resurrected it is because we will have developed the technology to conquer the elements of space and time; conquered the gravity that degrades them. And we will be able to disseminate all DNA that ever existed. We will each have the ability to recognize and manipulate any molecule in our environment and have the ability to recreate, or regenerate the DNA of any animal with a DNA sample. We will be able to regenerate the things of the past by being able to read backwards the evolution of all molecules and particles that ever existed.”

The thing I love about the Professor is that he harmonizes with me in conversation. He doesn’t try to take over. He’s nodding quickly as I let loose my spiel and when I come up for air he interjects:

“Or what if some of the String theorists are right; we live a fractal existence simultaneously in many different universes at once. If we had this knowledge and figured out how we engage each of these universes we would have to know how to be on earth and in a totally different time and place. We wouldn’t need to be resurrected.”

I was thinking something similar earlier in the day.

“I suppose, Professor, a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever, would all find this kind of talk appalling. I mean, I am sure Emerson would as well, but I like Emerson. And maybe his Calvinist background is why I can fit God into my thinking. He echoes Bishop Joseph Butler to me. Love for yourself is virtue. I was in a Catholic foster home for a few years. My parents said the rosary every Friday night, went to confession twice a year. To think like Butler or Emerson would’ve gotten me stern lectures. But I liked the pageantry and the the pipe organ, the incense; it’s just that I can’t be asked to take seriously the idea of a piece of bread being turned into actual blood and flesh. Out of respect, I can understand an occasional ritual to help you remember the sacrifices others have made. I get that. It’s just, I won’t say that I have faith that, because a priest has chanted some words at an altar, a wafer is now the actual body of Christ.”

“Were you baptized as Catholic?”

“No. I was with the Rader’s for two years. They were waiting for a younger child to adopt and I was 14. They just took me to church with them.”

“Hmm. Ok. Sure. If it were just a play, something delightfully engaging, that is one thing; folk mythology.”

“Yes, it was kind of like the Asian families at the Buddhist temples with their ancestral genies and, out of respect, giving a priest an offering for a prayer. It was just a custom they kept even if they didn’t really believe in the power of a ghost. But there are some who are faithful, just as in America with Christianity.”

“Do you believe that the professor who gave you a bad grade was predestined to do it?”

“I don’t think he was aware at all that I was an individual person.”

“I didn’t say that. Do you believe that his interaction with you was supposed to happen?”

“I don’t see how it could’ve happened any other way than it did. I am always feeling for some sort of profundity in daily existence; I can’t help it. For me, it’s how I engage my craft. I have to see patterns of things over time in order for them to connect with me; gardening, reading a novel; contentment is is all I really want anymore. So I order the world I need to in order to be content.”

“That’s it?”

“Sure. Isn’t that the moral of Candide; till one’s own garden?”

“No competition, no rubbing against another, as you say?”

“Why does everyone have to be confrontational?”

“Unlike you?”

“Yeah. All right. You got me there.”

“Thesis, antithesis. You have to be true to yourself. Sartre had an example of two different waiters; one was true to the act of being a waiter; the other was playing the role of being a waiter. Some people do their jobs as though they were a race car driver at 200mph and making adjustments with skill and fluency on the fly, while others don’t think ahead a few steps at a time, not even to realize the presence of others around them. A good waitress can juggle several orders while listening to others shouting at her. You might say, “ I could never do that,” but you would be capable of doing it if your mind and body really were the same with it.

“Maybe some of this I/We stuff in your head is your mind not at one with the things of your body. To your mind, the body’s work is drudgery and you disengage your creative mind in order to live with the body’s dull daily operations. Your mind is always at work, ushering a cyclone of thought into pattern. I can see why you’d be seeking contentment. You need to get in the car and go 200 mph; throw things against the wall; feel your fist against something hard.”

“I definitely would not go that far.”

“Just a figure of speech.”

Then the professor told me about the salvage yard that used to be down the street, and the drive in theater across from it. There was once a train stop across the street from the Cliffnuts, and a cafe. My brain followed a path down the street to the 1950’s. The imagery and symbols were probably borrowed from movies like American Graffiti and Rebel Without a Cause; or even The Outsiders. My brain was stewing on those images when Connie Cliffnut emerged through the sliding glass door and told her father his supper was getting cold. She said she needed a ride and Professor Cliffnut said, “why don’t you ask our friend, Mr. Uhhh…., sorry. I forgot your name.

“Umbrian, Adam Umbrian.”

Z

Voices at Arm’s Length

Adam Umbrian – the narrator. He is 44 years old, a Puerto Rican/Chinese American who grew up in foster care homes in any one of the scores of tiny towns that dot the Great Lakes states. His narration is of a Freudian nature as he attempts to order the story he tries to write. His narration begins as a search for coming to terms with the deeply structured prejudices and resentments of the language used by others in daily life. He seeks contentment in resolving the problem of the language of alienation by sculpturing a novel representative of what he perceives. Part one of the novel is Adam’s recapitulation of characterization and stereotype. The Cliffnuts, Jimmy, Sgt. Ross, the Latinos who live in the upstairs apartment, as well as Deputy Drumpf, each contribute aspects of themselves to the characters Adam creates. In the second half of the book, the story of Bill Dinklpfuss and John Hapflik evolves.

The Confessor – everyone’s shadow loner in the midst of company. He is both author and narrator, persona and shadow. He is at once the multi-faced self and the one who orders all the faces. He mistreats his characters to show things about himself he is loathe to face. The loner who is sort of despised by others but usually for the wrong reasons, based on prejudice, fear, and hate.

Different archetypes of this type of creature:

The gargoyle looks like an angel, or is the real face of an angel but in local idiom becomes the face of evil, the adversary because of the fear of the other based on appearance.

Characters:

Edwin Umbrian – He is a straw man, the confessor in that he is the object, the symbol by which those who come into contact with him address their own shadows. He is their conception of a part of self that is loathed. In one extreme he is Lutheran shepherd for the lord and in another he is an atheist, both author and subject. He is the other, the Jungian shadow, at once, gargoyle and Buddha, archangel and fallen angel.

Bill Dinklpfuss – person who collected the notebooks of his friend, John Hapflik and tried to write a novel about him but appears to have given up. Bill writes with a personal poetic diction. His poetry and notes about the activity and environment have provided the information used to conceive his persona.

John Hapflik – Bill’s classmate, born in the same month, August, 1941. The Hapflik’s move to Littlefield when John is in the 2nd grade and take over the auto repair and salvage business started by Bill’s father, Rupert, in the 1930’s.

Virginia Dinklpfuss, nee Haskins (Virgie) – Bill’s mother

Rupert Dinklpfuss – Bill’s father

Clara Kinsdorf – Virgie’s lover, only person Bill experiences as a mother

Hiram Hapflik – John’s father and Bill’s father figure. Bill admires Hiram and presents him as an even tempered man, open to different ways people look at things, willing to allow for differences; qualities which he doesn’t identify with Rupert. In fact, he is happy his dad left him as a 7 or 8 year old, and expresses gratitude toward something he calls “the infinite,” which sounds like a God of philosopher’s value, not a preacher’s.

Rita Hapflik – John’s mother. She is of an unshakeable evangelical faith. She lost 2 brothers in WWI. She grew up with MacArthur as the family and local hero. Her older brother Ralph moves to Littlefield in the early 1950’s and frequently visits his sister. With their conservative and nationalist views, the two are antagonists to Hiram’s Unionist sentiment.

Calvin Christian Dyme, Calvin Christian Dyme II, Calvin Christian Dyme III – Baptist dairy farmers who act as witnesses for their lord by talking about redemption and being saved with everyone they meet. They are Bill Dinklpfuss’ lifelong antagonists.

Main theme: Identity and alienation. The I and its humunculus, the We and its humunculi.

 

Z

Building the Humunculus

Edwin Umbrian lives upstairs. I hear the floorboards jeer when he walks. He wears a moth-feeding coat, greenish more than brown, as if it were being worn inside out. His face sags melting, ginger pock marked skin over tight jowls; a slight, close trimmed mustache quivers over stained teeth and there is always a bilious drool on his lips. He is a gargoyle in blue moonshine when he dredges the Cliffnuts’ pool at night. I lie to myself I am dreaming when I see him.

It is unclear what I see as him. Tickles of fear shock the arches of my feet like electrodes of emotion jolted by the touch of an unseen mover from another dimension; myself perhaps, a higher or separated watcher, overseer; what I formerly referred to as intuition. This unseen power that orders, configures, creates a body into being: where does this originating power come from, this power I use to create others?

He lurches, springs and recoils when he talks, enunciating gestures of that unseen other who at times betrays its existence with disharmonious intention. If I can see him so can others; and each to his own greets him as though he were known by me. For I know it is me when I am seeing the appearance of another, and the things I see in him are the things I see in myself; mood and emotion as the aging baby on your back pleading and demanding to make something of yourself in the eyes of others because all others have their own separate other.

Edwin Umbrian descends the stairs; the steps squealing like a gaggle of penguins given laxatives. Edwin Umbrian on stick legs and stooping, smelling of aqua velva; he lifts his lip in condescension. “Have you given yourself to the lawd?” he spews. The gargoyle on his shoulder gives me an evil leer as Edwin inclines his ear.

“I think you got dog shit on your shoe,” I say. “A pity, and on the lord’s day.”

“Gawd don’t give a damn whatcha smell like,” Edwin fumes.

“God ain’t Mrs. Cliffnut,” I sigh. “Or perhaps, you, with shit on your shoes, know more about Mrs. Cliffnut than I.”

Z

Edwin Umbrian looks back at me as he crosses the yard and steps over Mrs. Cliffnut’s flower bed. Yes, I see you Edwin, sneaky as the breeze, your internal organs like a worm swathed in a shaggy tent, cradled in the branches of a tree. Go forth from your tree tent and alight like a glow worm to a small desert town where they take more kindly to itinerant preachers. You can share the bible, teach tai chi to panhandlers until you wear out your welcome.

With what words does he speak to you, Edwin, the one who tells you who you are? Who sorts out your compartments of functionality and marks them with euphemisms? Who is it who tells you to say things that you do not wish to say but must for some reason? Does he wish to see everyone understanding and learning, debating, and learning from their disagreements, while accepting that we must kill one another at times? Did this other teach you that killing is very much agreeable when it comes to hate? I have hate, Edwin, for that which I am not strong enough to condemn, and for which I must mollify by extending a hand of self effacing respect. I am a funerary agent for an advanced culture of micro organisms; an exemplary executor of public protocol; organizer of throngs, of litmus tests for injustice to our being and existence. But I will not be the deacon who offers you the wafer on Sunday and an eviction on Monday.

Edwin, who is the funeral assistant with the constant snarl and the ten thousand dollars worth of jewelry on his fingers as he offers a slack hand shake; do you take your clothes off for him, or does he, for you?

Z

Edwin the seer

looks at the girls with a leer

and for the who man passes by

and gives him the eye

a passive aggressive sneer

Z

Edwin Umbrian, yours is a peculiar fate

with a garden hose in one hand

the other holding the gate

– for Connie Cliffnut

Mrs. Cliffnut will look at you through the window sometimes when you don’t see, and shake her head and mouth words that for the life of me are the words I would hear from some mean football or basketball coach, looking ridiculous as can be in a suit and tie and layered hair that doesn’t seem to breathe. “I just can’t understand anyone who won’t get out “there” and compete,” I once heard the woman in a suit and tie say as she glared. And I couldn’t help but stare at the manly way her hair stood at attention above her ear. I felt sorry for her. I heard she died quickly after sinking into Alzheimer’s disease.

Z

“All the world around you is depraved, not just men and women,” Edwin’s baritone voice bellowed. If it weren’t for the Lawd you’d all be spending an eternity living a life exactly as you awr; only it would be interrupted every ninety years by a period of limbo from which you emerge as an infant again and you have forgotten who you are.

Once you realize the sound is coming from your mouth, Edwin, does it still tell you what to feel?

Edwin Umbrian says that there is a priest at the gate where you enter each day who judges your fate and sends you on your way. He makes you do good despite yourself. I despise myself. I despise you, Edwin Umbrian. I do good things because they make me feel good. You see the children as I see them. All crouched over, always on the run. And the eyes that look after you when you walk away. What is the source of the presumption in your air when you look at my shabby clothes and squinch? You have personified others, to be fair; I cannot be the first. Perhaps I am a convict, a cur, or some other immoralist. You who stopped to hear my smokened toothware (sometimes accompanied by a boozy stare) from one whipping post to another, in union through no fault of our own; one, an atheist, the other, convinced he is Calvin and Jonathan Edwards rolled into one; together in a death match between good and evil.

Z

“Plato said we are born with innate ideas, the spark of knowledge. And to my unrefined mind Chomsky says the same thing with his deep structures. Chomsky implies we all have the ability to understand language as precognition. It could imply either creation or evolution. Plato begins at the dawning of our awareness and Chomsky brings the same sort of world of forms to present day. Plato plays God the Father and Chomsky, Jesus Christ.”

Professor Cliffnut is erudite and a bit of a bore at times. He dismisses my analogy and starts in.

“Innate ability doesn’t mean the forms have been hardwired in the brain. “Folk mythology and Pop science are usable to attain knowledge. For example, Henry James holds value for the intellectual historian. Linguistics and psychology are both built upon philology and the ontology and epistemology of systems of past thought. A Dionysian or an Apollonian can stamp his forms on Sandburg’s sergeant urging his soldiers, “come on, you sons of bitches. What, do you wanna live forever?” Both can come round to mean anything.

“Plato, with his spark of knowledge and the primary forms that exist outside the material world is an early human attempt at the psychology of language. Flash forward to the twentieth century where Saussure looks at the I and how it articulates itself with its langue and parole. You have Chomsky looking at deep structures, surface structures, the sentence as performance…”

The professor can be a long winded motherfucker and I have to admit that sometimes his voice is like a wave of particles upon which I am floating. Once in a while a feel a tug on the line and I go under and then come to. My network of awareness tunes in, extending feelers and sensors for information; for a performance that would lead Professor Cliffnut to believe that I am following him.

Z

I am a creature of language, Edwin Umbrian. I cannot make myself invisible even if I can’t see myself in the mirror. My mind is a compartment of modules that cannot be split, only hidden in a funhouse of mirrors. My brain has two hemispheres joined by a corpus callosum: the spark across the divide; the father and the son. Like Descartes, I am aware of myself comprehending and I accept myself. I make new sentences which I haven’t heard before. I am maker of the exact and inexact, words against a wall that fall into Being. I come into Being through my own sentences spoken to myself; each idea proceeding from the source across the divide. My mind is its own finger of the father in Michelangelo’s painting emitting energy across synapses. Material and motion is started; symbiotic network in conjunction stutters forward. The father’s finger is poking at my palm as mom rocks me in the carriage. I awaken to my little hand around his thumb.

Z

The serial killer is not interested in field work; his is an issue with syntax; how to best serve the master who has created him. He gives his life for his characters and kills them; causes them to expire at his whim. All day, trailing in the wake of thought, ideas and motivations not acted on, only considered, he plays “what if” with controlled scenarios; what if the control groups are altered this way and that. His is the story of the fruition of idea.

The BTK killer had a frighteningly soulless face; a blank slate which even the cleverest programmer couldn’t bring to life; the face that made the I appropriate hate and bring it to bear with its bare hands. Face in the mirror is the master with a slave massaging its brain. Mind and language are one. Natural I, appropriated I. How many selves a person’s history could uncover, conceived or perceived, can all be perceived differently than I have conceived or perceived them

“Plato or Chomsky?” asked Professor Cliffnut. “Innate forms or innate ability?”

I say Chomsky is the observer tuning in mid-film and seeing all of the sentence structures that point to the universal ability to distinguish syntax; the evolved noun combinations, adjectives and verbs that speakers enjamb, conjoin and adapt to create sentences. But to say one is born with the forms in the brain, or that a universe of forms are imparted or taken possession of sounds like Edwin Umbrian’s possessive Calvin Christ unconditionally granting grace while calling his children rebellious for seeking understanding on their own; for taking possession of their forms pragmatically.

“But don’t forget, God’s grace is limited,” says Edwin.

“No, it’s not, Edwin,” I respond. It’s in the produce section. A fresh batch is delivered every day.”

The cones and rods of the eyes give the brain some primary colors to use. The brain would have to be hard wired to utilize the information from the eyes’ cones and rods, unless I am to believe that the eyes have superior functionality to the brain and have programmed themselves to transmit data in some useful way to the network. Who intends the eyes into their function; the eyes themselves or the brain that directs their use and organizes the data?

The I and the We, the authors of Me, interconnected to conceive with reason for an evolving gene on an intragenerational rampage, being and conceiving at exponential rates, the education of an entire generation but a few moments of summary in a survey course. Language at the speed of light exploding, rocketing forward with reason hanging on for deal life, with its Freudian language of I, We, It, and the voices in the mind’s I conjuring straw figures.

To be or not to be is not a question, Sartre dismissed it and jumped straight to I am and I do not have a choice of being or not being. I am a common man, Edwin Umbrian, you have told me so countless times. And I admit it is so. If I dismiss language for a moment I see a man preparing food and eating and digesting until the snake in the cage whines again for something to devour. In between feedings its other motivations are sluggish, with the energies of life being appropriated by a We of values that we reflect by our successful involvement in consumerism.

I am not an activist, like Edwin Umbrian. All I things become politics when the We starts batting them about and sizing them up for context. My words become causes and signifiers of signs for ideas. The I and the We, identity and alienation are the natural processes of a network of symbiosis feeding on words and making them holy. Consciousness, awareness, material reworking itself, always reprogramming, deprogramming, restructuring; a network of adaptive modules with a sense of self. There is a mysterious holder of a spotlight on my human structure as I perform some sort of action. It is the chief node in a network of sensations, reason and will; an appointed provincial representative, subject to the legislative actions of misfits and dysfunctionaries always in the midst of some quibble or another.

Bishop Ishmael brings forth the blessing, while the collective wooden folding chairs of the country congregation quiver with infirmity. A gaggle of old ladies clucks over a screeching child while Bishop Ishmael kisses the cross. At that moment, the infant’s breath is taken away.

Z

 

A shelf in the library marked:

AMERICAN INTELLECTUAL HISTORY

On the shelf is a video course titled: The American Mind

The voice of other this evening is a professor of American intellectual history, a historical revisionist who dismisses all American intellectualism as ending with Josiah Royce. He dispatches Emerson’s influence as an intellectual by erroneously presenting him as a hater of books and misconstruing the intention of the American Scholar. He offers that Emerson had no need for scholarship and denounced books and writing.

That is absolutely false.

Emerson presented the American pragmatic theme of finding out for yourself; taking responsibility for the things you say and do instead of simply accepting what you are told. To suggest that he means to stop reading and stop studying, stop researching; that is something I imagine a foreigner would say who was disingenuous about truthfully understanding the mind, let alone the common American intellectual from the Great Lakes. I am thinking of Tocqueville’s criticism of American life.

I read Stephen Whicher’s essays on Emerson’s American Scholar and learn Emerson, along with being from a line of Calvinist ministers, was influenced by Coleridge and Carlyle. I imagine he must’ve read them in order to be influenced by them. The professor of the American Mind also attacks Harvard for its institutionalization of scholasticism, making the point that there are other universities of import in American intellectual history. The professor is a voice of We. He is sarcastic towards the individualism of Emerson and attacks him to tie up loose ends for his neoconservative presentation.

For a few weeks I find myself at the library, stepping into the mid 1800’s and examining the values and standards of academia, summarily studying the history of the Great Lakes, wallowing in its structure, language of generations of newspaper editorials; the popular language of period and the ideas of art and literature which they reflect. (R)Calvin, (L)Luther, (R)Aquinas, (L)Augustine, (R)Plato and (L)Aristotle. Where would Emerson fit into the intellect of someone from a Great Lakes small town 150 years after his death? As I age, I empathize with the stages of Emerson’s thought; I have become more skeptical about my hopes for humanity. Yet, it’s potential has infinite possibilities. The Calvinist values of Emerson’s lineage always checked him like a group of vicious women looking on from a distance and snickering about something or another.

From a distance, each object of value is collectively made into a fiction, a zombie straw monster acting out whatever stupid thing the group has grasped hold of, to tear down, to dehumanize. Every self is a real person with whom few have any meaningful dialog but it doesn’t matter because that person is just acting out an assigned value to them.

The video professor suggests Emerson was an entertainer orator in an age when that sort of thing was popular. The professor begins talking about Emerson’s influence on Whitman and I reflect: the grain of spirit, the spark of the father in Michelangelo’s painting is likened by Emerson to the spirit given by God. Emerson, more accurately, was a spiritual pragmatist; a biographer of the intellect. He was a Doctor of Divinity from Harvard and perhaps that is what the professor on the video really doesn’t like.

He also identifies Emerson too strongly with the Transcendentalists. Emerson was not a Transcendentalist later in life. His letters reveal a dislike for the group; Amy Bronson Alcott disliked his selfish idealism, he was appalled at her one size fits all ideology. Whitman, it should be noted, is also given cursory notice in this “History of the American Mind.” My own assertion is that most American poetry is given its place in history because of Walt Whitman. Emerson is at least the shadow spirit of the American poet.

Emerson with his spirit born in the mind gives me pantheism or monism, depending on how I order my ideas. Nietzsche was inspired by Emerson’s themes; the estrangement of the individual and society, the battle to become, to understand as much for the self. Nietzsche and Emerson believed in the will to self power. Both were children of a lineage of ministers, Emerson’s Calvinist, Nietzsche’s Lutheran. Good children learn responsibility because they have to survive. It is the responsibility of individuals to be their own scholar and to assume leadership of their own education. The voice of the divine is not that of the pope or the minister, but that which is in the heart.

Don’t look at the written word to describe nature, said the Empiricists, look at nature. The Royal Society of England in 1662, under King Charles II, as well as Galileo said, “don’t look in books.” This is the same spirit which Emerson alluded to in American Scholar. This doesn’t mean to give up scholarship. The reference is to an Aristotelian scholastics that taught formal knowledge from the classics. Empirical studies are necessary to know the world we live in. Knowledge isn’t to be gained by memorizing formulas. The Enlightenment is what Emerson was thinking about when he repeated the words of Galileo and of the Royal Society of England in the American Scholar.

Z

Nietzsche:

Dionysus – passion overwhelms the character

Apollonian – the pictorial imagery of the spectacle

Nemesis – the divine punishment that determines the fall or death of the character.

Plastic arts – Apollo

Non plastic arts – Dionysus

Z

The Professor Wrongfully Asserts That Emerson Had No Use For Books

Proferring dispossesing dualist phonemes

with dentals bruised by laryngils,

pincers of teeth and a tongue that lashes the laurels

of oracular denizens dismissively,

He c”Ack”lz with an “AX”cent disquietly spoken

so as to arrange a row of ducks

in the barker’s mouth as he calls his sentences

Z

with the pulled together fingers

of a professor enunciating

I see, I see, over and over;

there, it is not walt whitman

standing by the cabbage and

brussel sprouts but allen ginsberg

with his eye on a baby cantalope

and some fuzzy peaches

Z

Edwin Umbrian, who gave you a job

which they could depend on you to perform

with decorum and diffidence

to your superiors

when you recognize no superior?

Who formed the hair you wear,

the weight you bear,

that stiff ass you sit on

do you remember when you almost hit me

coming out of the driveway

and I was just driving by and looking away

and when you stopped your car

short just in time

and you mouthed some foul words

and assured me they were God’s?

You who will not be judged by any other

than the one who created you

not your mother’s nor your father’s God

Remember, that is what you told

the mother of the two men

you shot with a pistol

after inviting them off the road to fight

because one’s girlfriend

who was driving the car

was engaged in a tit for tat battle

with you, and the boys were sticking

up for her

It’s not that you won’t be judged

it’s that you won’t accept judgment

because you are most certainly being judged

by everyone. The We your I is a part of is

judging you.

The Me of your We be judged

local court has its own jury

of sparrows

while an eagle,

nasty beast of the air,

sits at the top of the sky

keeping an eye out

Z

Professor Cliffnut read my manuscript today, made some corrections, spoke of Hegel. Something about thesis and antithesis. He said I was writing a metaphor for my metaphysical and physical existence. I am beginning with the thesis and antithesis of identity and sort of making a novel about it; kinda like Salinger did with Catcher in the Rye. I can see that, I guess. At least Catcher has a main character whose narrative I can identify with, as I walk through my neighborhood and imagine the past. I don’t know why; maybe the tone; darkness is always more colorful than light.

Neither my reason, nor my Will have the ascendancy over the other, but before my moods, my reason and my will both cower. It is an amusing entity. I break away from him into the third person to try to observe. It is better than assuming that he is the I speaking in the first person. All I’s of awareness, trains of thought, are seen in the mirror by the voice of I, while I is awareness in motion. Who I am I do not know but the I is the only one I can know. There is a bisectional body in the physical mirror; two mirror images symmetrically melded together, and at the centerpoint are the internal organs, like a snake in the cage, coiling and uncoiling, ungulating rhythmically, pulling in and squeezing out the hapless barnyard animals and wild critters the I of awareness has commanded the hands to feed to it. The mouth with teeth at the top of of the conveyor belt oozes with enzymes, tears and grinds carefully filleted flesh to mush.

Well, I am a sort of a scribe, not a philosopher. The I uses the language of the We to tell it’s story to itself. It strains my dignity to be aware of this until I realize it is not the We that I dislike but the I with its foreign traits. It’s the We rubbed off on the I, the I made for the disposal of the We that the third person finds disgusting.

Must” is the motivation of my body engine. Everyone born on go, the spark of Plato given forms known but not seen, utterances to be spoken and later to be learned. The snake, snug in its cage, whining and babbling; it is designed to keep going for at least five decades before showing considerable signs of wear. But it must keep devouring if it is to keep breathing, keep moving, keep looking for something else to eat. Every animal appropriates reason much to the disillusion of those who are born in relative comfort. The pursuit of life is not happiness but to keep one’s orbit never far from the produce supply. And to belong to a group no matter how much of a misfit you seem.

The need and instinct to eat the barnyard critter belongs to the snake and its visceral lot; it is an animal need which encourages the reason out front as a spokesperson. It speaks about itself to others in the way it wishes to be perceived by self and others; always entering and exiting stage right and left. It posits that it has come into being through nature; that nature has designed it and could destroy it, while the theologians tell him he has no other choice; that he is not to play God. He asks himself, “if God isn’t going to play God then why shouldn’t I? Why has the We established an ascendancy over me with property value and economics, with penal codes that hold a contemptuous value of self as self evident that one needs an outside authority?

I admit some self condemnatory practices can be of value; “you don’t bathe often enough or pick up after yourself” are thoughts inscribed by my foster mother’s scorn. She often wondered where I had gotten my laziness from, as though indolence were a bad thing. There are a lot of fidgety souls, grinding and sloshing their way through the rhythm of their day, hasty as purple but bitter as yellow; but some people, like professor Cliffnut, are always a sort of cerulean blue. He is never in a mood to leave himself lazy; always willing to get along. He has a way of agreeing to agree. He doesn’t even look at it like agreeing or disagreeing but a matter of having agreeable dialog. If another is not agreeable, he once told me, it didn’t matter if he were Einstein, he would have a hard time convincing a snotty student of the theory of relativity if that student was convinced he, the professor, was just a dumbfuck who happened to resemble Einstein.

Z

Childhood is writ large on my manhood with adults herded into social situations and the alphas banging their chests and sizing each other up while the cliquesters and the loners viciously spew utterances of contempt and throw their feces on the crowd. The females form cliques to look for ways to amuse themselves apart from the general population and to form alliances for various causes. I have never wanted to be recognizable, never sought attention, never wanted approval or sought the approval of others except when being detained in one of the state penal colonies; the hospital, the school, or the justice system.

I have a natural sluggishness. When I was a boy my foster parents always said I was using my scoliosis and concomitant back spasms as an excuse to be lazy. Which wasn’t always true. I just didn’t like any of my foster parents. I didn’t feel like doing what they told me to because they were mostly dismissive, ignorant and mean, with moral judgment and preemptive self denigration. Parenting before the age of 10 is most memorable for me in the form of reading scripture so that I would hear myself condemning myself in my own voice. I remember feeling disembodied while reading scripture aloud at the dinner table as a boy, imagining I was looking from behind my ear and down my neck at the book. I was never able to remember what I read. I was too busy with the performance of mouthing the words to think about them much. And then when I did think about them my conclusions were always different than my foster parents’.

Z

Edwin Umbrian listens to the two girls speak uptalk and wonders when one of them will answer the other. All of those questions with handcuffs: I know, right? is to give and receive strokes. To live by oneself is to be a half wit. Two together act as traffic cops for each other because the animal truly isn’t ignorant unless half so; it needs the will of a partner to reach the full heights of human idiocy. This one time? I went to the bathroom? And dropped some stuff into the toilet?

I am not an advocate of any particular philosophy, Edwin. I have reason without sincerity. I am governed by false appearances and prejudice. I am capable of all means of conscienceless actions and would bring to another their ruin if it meant I got significantly ahead. Every life has two prices, that of the worth to the individual, and the other the worth to the We. The We is everywhere but the I isn’t. In space, the I can either be “has been” or “could be,” but in time it always is, either as Is or Is/was.

Bacon recognized the mind’s propensity to leap to conclusions, to fly to order and not move gradually from generalization to generalization. This is why it taxes me to talk to you, Mr. Umbrian. You don’t allow for conjecture; you’re dictating terms of our engagement, even if we are simply exchanging a stroke on the weather.

Z

Idea: Pet Horror.

A Meyer parrot mimics the noises of the other birds in the house and maneuvers the owner, a man with an insane temper, into killing them. The parrot is also a mind reader and knows when its owner desperately needs to focus his imagination and begins a series of shrill whistles to disrupt creativity. After the owner removes the bird from the room he finds his thoughts have all been scattered into a myriad of mice mazes looking for the cheese.

The bird is actually an experiment in psychological warfare by a government contractor in the intelligence community doing research on cruel and unusual punishment. The bird mimics the voices of birds outside the window; the crow, blue jay and killdeer. He is Loki, Janus and the Mark of the Beast. His feet are winged. He runs from the tip of his owner’s outstretched finger to his ear in one second flat. He clamps his beak onto an earlobe and holds on, withstanding swats of palms and frying pans. A spatula, long ladle, or a ping pong paddle is needed to protect the man’s hand when he exchanges the food and water in the cage.

Once in a while, the bird comes to the top of his cage to get a pet. He knows the man is afraid, so he tilts his head to the side with a claw hand scratching under his chin as if to ask, “can I have a pet please?”

Snap!

He barely misses the man’s finger with his vice grip beak after three or four scritches.

 

Z

“Truths are only held as deductive as long as the induction supports it,” says Professor Cliffnut. “All truth is subject to correction and experimentation.”

“The law of family ideology is the overthrow of scholastic metaphysics,” announced Professor Umbrian as he stalked among the students, arms akimbo, and with thick black framed eyeglasses, broken and taped together between the eyes. His dark winged eyebrows and his more-brown-than-green sport coat become him. He is what the sound of the horn at sea looks like if you are an ear.

The other, the shadow is there in the parents who play the dual role in preserving a family ideology in politics and religion to justify prejudice as tradition. Do they lose right to the loyalty of the child when, at 18 their child is no longer welcome at the home unless it is a functioning economic unit, in addition to staying behind the line of family prejudice?

Random acts of kindness sans the idea of being recognized for them are virtually nonexistent. I imagine I am the angel among the We unawares. I am that person in the car in front of you and you are sure I am fucking with you. I haven’t really moved to within inches of a semi hauler at a red light on a hill so you could get into the parking lot. You needed a few more inches and had to yell, “fucking asshole!” as you drove over the curb and dug up the grass. To a judge, everyone is both, the guy trying to be considerate and the narcissistic ass wad who calls everyone an asshole because he is sure that everyone is “fucking with him.”

And Edwin, I choose for myself as much as I can, no matter if my presence is as an employee, or subject of the government with its hospitals, schools and judicial systems that induce codeterminacy over my I. I have been the same child for over forty years, playing in the field, throwing stones. No two totally agree on everything, do they, Edwin? I mean, even my I and my We? Your ears are pointed up, while your teethe are pointed down, there is balance but not equanimity in your eyes. I see what you have learned by the assertions you have crossed out in your old notebooks. You throw spitwads at your mind’s eye. “The things you believe,” your father scoffs with ridicule as he sees you reading another book. The I is a two point perspective to the mind’s eye. Mind becomes, creates, and must be in agreement with itself.

I see him over your shoulder, Edwin Umbrian. He glares at me and looks like you scowling at me even though your body has been programmed for cordiality. I imagine your other knew of or knows Cotton Mather, whom I see him glaring from across from Canada towards Michigan as a statue of an eight foot tall prehistoric bird; a symbol that personifies a dark entity of antiquity, a powerful force in the great tug of war between good and evil. (I thought you would like the reference to the Exorcist, Edwin.) Only, there is no tug of war between good and ego, uh, I mean evil. There is only a heightened , altered masculinity. When you look down and to the right, Edwin Umbrian, your other flees into your ears and then out your eyes. (Refer to the book Conquering Deception, by Jeff Nance.)

Z

I wonder how I would see myself as the others see me; the old man who’s always in the kitchen window watching me; the homo who doesn’t make eye contact; that creepy middle aged Puerto Rican who stays inside all the time. I wonder what HE does for money anyway. Must get medicaid or su’um. Deadbeat cheatin’ the government. Somebody like that shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Never see innyone over there. Just another of the buncha common people cheatin’ society and playin’ with the devil.

Edwin Umbrian spies Mrs. Cliffnut’s calves and powerful thighs as she rakes leaves in the yard. His lips are on the peak of her magnificent tricep when he thinks to himself, “Mrs. Cliffnut is a good household manager. Wouldn’t want to live with her but she has herself together. No loose ends about her thinking. Probably has trouble knowing her place with a husband though. Not like Mary Tyler Moore as Mrs. Dick VanDyke… Too bad Andy Taylor didn’t have a wife… Mrs. Cliffnut is more like Maude. Hah! I could picture Mr. Cliffnut in a blue plaid 1970’s style suit and big, fat, flowery tie, like Bill Macy. Nice man, Mr. Cliffnut. Hardly ever see him. Professor, always at the University. Writing; history or something. Calm demeanor. Thoughtful. Only person I feel like listens to me when I talk. Doesn’t say much, though. Just chuckles and shakes his head when he’s walking away from me.

There’s that guy that lives below me. He looks my way and sort of purses his lips trying to be amiable or something. Doesn’t take a long look. Seems gangly and stiff, stumbles when he walks, like someone who spends a lot of time on his ass. He smokes too. Loud exhaust. Gonna have to collar him sometime. The lord’s gotta be seein’ what I’m seein’.

That’s what I imagine Edwin Umbrian thinks when he sees me.

What the fuck you starin’ at, Edwin Umbrian? Don’t you have some gardening to do? Moral eyes stoppin’ to stare, narcissism in your sneer, wiping your judgment on your sleeves. You don’t know me and I don’t know you but at least I am the one looking at you in the rear view mirror and not making a show with an icy stare. I have a concealed weapon because its others I fear; others like you Edwin Umbrian, who wear cowboy boots to church. And a clip on tie. You carry a bible wherever you go, usually in the breast pocket but often in hand. Your hard sole shoes make a racket on the stairs, each step an enunciating condemnation.

Z

This is an enclosed universe even though it is expanding. Social media makes every fiction a reality due to the psychological attachment of every creator to their creation (profile). All reality is personified, a fiction that becomes a derivative, a relativism, a semi autobiographical deduction with the ultimate irony that fiction has become real because the reader responds to it as such and totally misses the creation as it is; makes associations and attributions as the We has taught. (Dr. Phil speak makes a genius of us all). The We is ahead of the I when conceptualizing. It ropes the I and drags it into the arena where the I straightens its tie and clears its eyes to see who it is addressing and then says, “yes sir. At your service.” It doesn’t take the I long to change out of formal clothes and blend in with the environment, until it can reconnoiter the situation and become an appropriate He.

Z

Science is, admittedly, a tough subject for me, mainly because my minuscule memory portions out its ability in spoons. Formulas and machine language all sound like the snotty girl working at Burger King in Ocala, Florida in 1990, spewing static into my ear through a drive in movie speaker and then telling me I can’t hear. I have to sort out patterns, formulate them with Platonic forms and associate them with Chomsky’s deep structures; a language of synthesis.

Z

Hairy Armed Latina Girl at Burger King in Ocala, Florida in 1990.

Scratchy throated, tank topped Latina

mid twenties, enunciates like a frog,

fur and teeth I see,

when she opens her mouth to me

which does not smile.

Her dark eyes do the talking

with furry misdemeanor eyebrows

reaching toward each ear

Her hairy arms ape movements

of a human beast

Her movements are linear and calculating

unimaginative

No flourish or invitation

Just judgment

acceptance or denial

I don’t give a shit about your I she says.

I don’t give a damn if you die.

Z

Associations of ideas are attracted for an inexplicable arrangement. The mind is active, sensation in motion. The larynx is moving inexplicably as the infant amuses itself with babbling. With its tongue it feels dentals and laryngials, makes sign with sound, hears the adults using similar sound clusters. He mimics them and the mind follows, associates, categorizes. There is light, a parting from a vapor; the form comes alive. Networks arise in binary speed; a brand and model with custom options available that will lead to your ultimate destruction.

“Experience and induction,” said professor Cliffnut, “are possible because we are born with linguistic functionality, with a mind that comes to order through a network of components. The components work in unison as a network aware of itself, calculating and lucid. They are one voice that compartmentalizes itself into various functions.”

But my other isn’t arguing with induction or deduction, systemic measurement. “Control the environment to control behavior,” says the parent who sends junior to his room. But that is roleplaying. The environment is controlled, not by bitching, not by assigning solitary consignment but by making the child stay in your presence while you calmly keep your temper in check. But that’s not a characteristic any of my dads had at their disposal. “At least he’s not as bad as what some others might’ve done,” says the celebrated psychologist on a Youtube video that I come across while googling the search string “bitching to myself.” Deduction is the parent Apollo who always holds the authority, while the I is Dionysian, the solitary induction voice going off to his room with no phone.

It is for fear and dislike that I have this awareness of making appearance as a plastic figure; a symbol within the Apollonian social structure. This awareness promotes the desire to be alone into a sensible disengagement from the real world fantasy created and promoted by others. America is alive with beetles under leaves, scattering when the darkness is lifted, sharpening their bites, ripping, chewing, spitting a long goober at you and then assuring you they are up for some game or another.

Hey, do you remember when we were younger, Edwin, when we had wings on our ankles like Dionysus? Now Apollo jeers us as we languish forward, “been jumping around in the bushes again, have you?” And we say, “shut the fuck up, you devil! You make the discs in my neck dig sharper into my nerves.” And Apollo doesn’t like that and tries to make masturbation a privilege and not a right.

Z

Like the roots that appear from a plant clipping overnight were the three grayish ½ inch nose hairs clumped between Edwin Umbrian’s fingers.

Z

Calvinist polemecist Calvina Crucifera Polezbosis: the female crucified in Calvin’s corn…er, form. (Calvina’s callused corns need caressing.) Calvin Cornolicious Confiscuss ConKisscuss.

Z

David is an asswipe. David is beloved by God. Therefore, all asswipes are beloved by God.

Z

Our kings are chosen by our God. We must obey them. Therefore, we must choose all gods whom we obey.

Z

“God elects David, not you,” asserts Calvin Christian Dyme III. You elect your own humanitarians. Ours need guns because God’s got all the deputies and state patrol tied up with his titanic struggle against evil. The war against evil takes a lot of bullets. And walls. The Soviets were no problem to the Germans. But the Latinos boy, we need a Solomon-like wall of gold. Six billion dollars is only the spark to detonate the full scale production of a wall between the past and the present.

“Whaddawe need to even be teaching Latin anymore,” says Elaine Ditzintenz. “Nobody needs it anymore.“

“By all means,” I reply.

Ditz queen says “slice” and off goes all history up to this point for everyone in perpetuity and all understanding of the origins of our language are deemed irrelevant. I would try to explain despotism to her, how the human mind has evolved since the times of the Pharaohs but my dialog would be batted down with a snort and a look to others for approval. So I pass.

Z

We like to live in a state of passive aggressive competition; like to snicker at another’s misfortune; denigrate others as of less significance. But no one person is in a state of innocence or has any significance over another. Having an entity we call God is each of us saying to the others, “I cannot be King, nor can I allow anyone else to be King over me if I have a choice, but I will agree to hold this my right of self possession, a small portion anyway, in a sort of escrow.

By spiritual I mean being are aware of something but not being able to order it into systemic intelligence. Awareness has more of a spatial quality than a linear one. To compute is to be aware. The mind not computing is dreaming, visualizing, relaxing its circuitry.

I have faith in scholars whom I can’t yet doubt because I cannot prove them wrong. I am too impressionistic to be logical enough for philosophy anyway. I am a child, a grass roller; content to a point, to be told what is true. Richard Dawkins I don’t like; Daniel Dennett I do. I would rather be in Daniel Dennet’s presence than Richard Dawkins’. I don’t have to meet them to know that, though both are good at explaining things.

Z

“You can’t believe everything you read,” asserts a Catholic foster dad. He is a second cousin to Edwin Umbrian. Both seem to know a lot about people who don’t know a lot about them.

Z

Bacon broke the yolk of knowledge and saw opposites sitting on a trunk of timber and sawing, sometimes stroking against, sometimes stroking with each other. Their elbows are rough from their hewing.

Z

I don’t take pride in ignorance, Edwin Umbrian

Why would you make a mockery of God (not Gawd)?” demanded he, Edwin Umbrian.

Howzzat, Edwin.

Stop calling me Edwin, dammit. I tolja, my name is Halotosis Insufferin Psychosphinctotorius.”

Sure.

Well?

Well, what?

Edwin makes a cameo sneer and saws from his teeth, “yer goin’ tuh hell like allah the other idiots.

Which? Which ones?

Huh? Take a look aray-ownd. You thinka innyone you see aroun’ ya goin’ to inny huh-were else but hay-ull?

Here, Edwin. Have a hit of hash oil. It will calm you down.

Ownt need inny calmin’ down. Who the hell are you innyway tellin’ me I gotta calm day-own? Ain’t nuthin’ I’m sayin is botherin’ you. Just lettin’ you know what I think is all.

Okay.

Look at you. Smokin’ that stuff and thinkin’ you got it right an’ all that…

Gonna have to stop ya there, Edwin. I don’t mind spending a little time with you but this is all the farther I am going to let you go today, Chief. M’kay?

Edwin, to his credit, shakes his head and leaves.

Z

Karen is a Christian who is getting an abortion. Therefore, all Christians getting abortions are named Karen.

Z

The I speaks as the imaginary We in a colloquial I, a lowly ol’ parochial yokel I, sputtering a stew of “would be you, seen as a bunch of my I’s.”

“We don’t give a shit whatcha sing about.” The We are an animal species looking at the human with fascination, making all those crazy noises and occasionally putting together certain syllables for its own personal delight because it’s just how it is wired.

The creation becomes an element for the reader who often makes a relative psychological, sociological value of the writer, pouring the creation and the author together into one great big not so happy, not so sad degradation of vanilla; of one for all and all for one folk sayings. The kindergartner’s scribble is weighed alongside the lifelong literary laborers who have spent countless hours, days, years and decades looking for the child’s voice in the man that says, “big, stupid, rotten, old churchy daddy had a kindergarten baby.” Still, didn’t Alan Ginsberg see his child in the fucking produce aisle with the other boys bearing their breasts because he saw himself in Walt Whitman? Isn’t an I just made a We in order to justify our indiscretions?

Z

Thomas Aquinas Adumbrian. Edwin Addendummian. Edwin Psychosphincteralus.

What did I tell you about smoking that stuff, ya dumb animal.

Stop it with the names, or we’re done for the day, Edwin.

All right, all right.

Edwin’s dogma is dramatic as he disengages from parental programming (and self castigation resulting in a lifelong masturbation problem.)

Hey.

Or not. He either does it too much or too little. Anyway, Edwin’s parental and regional religio/programming prevent him from parenting and peaceful cohabitation.

God governs through natural laws. He ain’t sent me a woman yet.

How do you know?

Ain’t none of ’em seem natural to me.

Maybe Thomas Aquinas in drag…

Don’t be talkin’ about no queers to me, their against God. God don’t do anything that ain’t natural.

Edwin, I’m thinking of Moses parting the sea or listening to a burning bush; Mary’s immaculate conception; Noah building an ark and housing a pair of all land creatures; the Walls of Jericho falling at the sound of a trumpet; Joshua making the sun stand still; the three wise men following an orb to Jesus in the manger; the three witnesses of Revelation; Jonah in the belly of the whale; Shadrack, Meshak and Abednego; Methuselah; Lazarus; Jesus Christ…

Alright. Enough.

Virtue, compassion, forgiveness, caring, kindness, giving; can you maybe concentrate on some of that shit for a while? Empirical evidence is enough for me.

You sound cynical. Maybe the voice of God would…

I know we can do better. Now, thinking that we can’t; that’s what sounds cynical to me.

Z

Two people talking; doesn’t matter who they are. Okay, okay, two fat white males in business suits, whom it is okay to hate as straw men because they symbolize all that is wrong with the world.

“Connie Cliffnut tells me that the gardener sometimes looks at her funny. I don’t even know why they let a person like that work for them.”

“Like what?”

“What do you mean, “like what?”

“What do you mean, “a person like that?”

“Izzint it obvious? Just look at him. Who carries a bible around wherever they go? Who wears a suit when they are working in the garden? Who wears cowboy boots to church? And a clip tie?”

“I don’t know. Why does he have to be crazy? Why can’t he just be someone who is so fucking sane that he has to make sure everyone is on the right page?”

“But that’s exactly what he does; talks about how God is gonna condemn us all for not thinking the same way he does.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to see any harm come to him, despite his low opinion of everyone else.”

“He’s insane, stupid, primal.”

“I know. For now. Just for now. A million years from now we will be debating the precise point that man became immortal and I will say it was the moment Edwin Umbrian recognized it as fact. We will all be holding a holographic image of him in his Baptist get up here and wondering what it was like to be him. It will be our greatest amusement to be able to see what it was like to have been a this or that once we are immortal. We’ll each build a world, give it time and space, and spiritually impregnate a virgin to announce the coming of our own Edwin Umbrian. Edwin has no biological father; only a spiritual one, so he doesn’t know how to use his penis.”

“Hey!”

“Sorry, Edwin. You shouldn’t be listening in.”

“I am one with you; I can’t NOT listen in. Together, we are We.”

“But who is you?”

“Edwin Umbrian.”

“Who is Edwin Umbrian?”

“Didn’t you read this in a Daniel Dennett book explaining consciousness?

I may have read OF something, but not IT.

But what is IT?

What Daniel Dennett said It is.

What is that?

What Daniel Dennett says it is. I can’t say what that is but I can’t NOT say it. (I would have to explain Dennett’s book to an Edwin Umbrian. What was that the Professor told me? If a brat was convinced the Professor was just a dumbfuck who just looked like Einstein, even if he were Einstein he still wouldn’t be able to teach him.)

“Hmm. Okay. Sounds like you don’t know even know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“I really don’t care. You are a ditzfuck. And no need to go reaching for your pistol. I ain’t Aaron Burr.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Yes, you did. That is, unless you didn’t graduate the 7th grade.”

“You’re startin’ to piss me off!”

“Gee, and I didn’t think I was getting anywhere with you.”

“YOU getting somewhere with ME? I’m the one tryin’ to get through to you!”

“I know. That’s what I love about you, Edwin my boy. But for real, I gotta be going. See you around…unfortunately.”

Z

The 45 year old guy with a full head of curly hair who always wears his cabbie hat –

The guy at the the end of the bar?

He is proof of the insufficiency of knowledge, of nature or God.

What?

A guy I know who says he’s a Deist says God is manifested everywhere. One knows God by observation. Nature is God. The earth is God. All molecules are a product of divinity. How the human orders it all is his will, no good or bad, each to one’s personal choice. This doesn’t mean you are turning away from your weaknesses; it is simply a matter of nomenclature, our commodifying the world we live in because our minds are active. Edwin Umbrian says, “I don’t wanna know,” while deluding himself that he could know if he wanted to but doesn’t because by not knowing he is virtuous.

That 45 year old guy with the nice hair but wearing the cap isn’t seeing things from the context of our shit bum dialog; he has his own network of Umbrians on him all the time. He’s always alone, just like you and me most of the time. Anything I make of him is totally my fabrication based on appearance. Myself, I like to show my bad teeth when I talk. And I don’t care to have facile conversation. It’s not my thing. Since we are all imagining what we know, how about we imagine not knowing; like Socrates, only, not to prove a predetermined point, or to doubt everything. Debate cannot dispel reason. It is only a game of words being batted about.

Words articulate, they don’t dictate. WE dictate. I dictate what my words are supposed to mean. The words don’t dictate me. No universal persona is the I in each, reading our responses like a proofreader; a categorizer; one who is preoccupied with a passive aggressive competition for unknown reasons. The I takes shape wthout meaning or definition before he, the observer, assigna one. And he, the other, looking back at this ass wad who is sizing him up, fitting him into context, making believe he understands and doesn’t want to be told otherwise, and doesn’t care what you say. He has you sized up. Appearance, to Edwin, is a clip on tie, cowboy boots, cheap blue suit, and icy stares for all the sinners he passes by.

The forty five year old guy at the end of the bar just got up to take a leak. He left his coat on the stool when he went to take a piss. When he came back, for a split second as he was leaving the men’s room, he didn’t resemble the over weight guy with graying hair but stood tall and strong like he may have once upon a time, with his ears pointed up and his teeth pointed down.

Z

Onward Christian soldiers, marching off to war, su’um su’um about Jesus Amurican forevermore.

Z

Bitty bitty bum at the end of the gun go splat

Splat!

Hey Edwin, it might be fun to be able to say you killed a thief for believing that he could walk on your property without being murdered because you have a legal right to possess a firearm. I think I get it now. You need a gun because yours is sure to to be one of those moments where someone is certain that God is a little tied up with Satan at the moment but he trusts you, Mr. Dude in a heightened state of anxiety and a thrilling legal right to satisfy the desire to shoot somebody. Go ahead, man. For all you know, he could be there to rape or kill yer family. Never mind the fact that psychological profiling data reveals that a thief is very rarely a violent criminal.

Oh, so you wanna take away my guns!

No. I just want to take the gun off your brain.

Who are you to question the Constitution? I got a right to my guns.

I don’t question the Constitution, I question your application of it.

Only God is going to judge me. Not you.

Not the nine people on the Supreme Court? Does God have a vote? Who is God to question US?

Get the helloffa muh propurty!

I agree with you Edwin, I am a blasphemer. For me, induction almost always trumps deduction. Deduction is already owned and assimilated, creators creating with their active minds, aligning the king at the top; network alive at once as cohabitant modules, networking; the components all having no use whatsoever outside the network, the mechanism.

I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Sownz like ya bin smokin’ that stuff again. Ya oughtta go tuh church once in a while.

As opposed to now? Isn’t that where I’m at right now?

No. You are standing here on the corner talking to me.

Seems like the same thing to me. I gotta go now.

Z

“You shouldn’t get all worked up like that, it ain’t good,” asserts Edwin Umbrian. “it’s just a baseball game.”

Professor Cliffnut continues urging on the baserunner being described on the little portable radio as rounding third and heading home. He slEYEddddddddzzzzz! Pause. Double pause. “OUT!!!”

Ah shit! The professor shouts.

Edwin Umbrian is about to say something again when Mrs. Cliffnut appears from the house with her long, strong and cool strides. She makes eye contact with him and Edwin retreats to his rake and a pile of leaves.

“Francis Bacon Cliffnut!” The tree frogs stopped singing when she came outside; sparrows whispered shh! to each other. Yes, I believe Connie Cliffnut, like everyone else, is physically punished by the presence of her mother. No dopey, sneezy, sniffly, Ferris Bueller baloney around her. Professor Cliffnut probably sits on HER lap. She’s looking this way and I’m holding my breath. Natural reaction. Yes, I fantasize about Mrs. Cliffnut a little too much.

“… all right all right all right.”

“Remember what the doctor said about you getting agitated? What, am I going to have to take your radio from you too?”

Yeah, your act of authority; punishing; sure, that oughta lower his blood pressure, I think to myself. If not university coach, she would be doing something else for money that suits her temperament; corrections officer, commandant, navy seal. Make her sit through one of her husband’s intellectual history lectures and she would die of anxiety.

Then I am stunned to see a look of endearment on her face as she looks at him.

“Don’t stay out here too long.”

She gives me a quick expressionless look, and when she gets to the patio door she turns and bares her fangs to Edwin who pretends not to notice.

Z

Skip Tavage is, “a boy lovin’ savage who lives in Ms. Rounds’ basement because Ms. Rounds is antisocial and wants her neighbors to feel uncomfortable,” according to Connie Cliffnut. “That’s what mom says. Dad says he was 18 when he got caught fucking a boy named Breedlove. Prosecutor’s son.

“Ah, bad news.”

“He didn’t even do anything wrong. He said that other boy paid him to fuck him.”

“What’s he do for a living?”

“What, Bradley Breedlove? How should I know?

“Come on. Was he the subject of conversation?”

“Oh, Skip. People pay him to fuck them.”

“Oh. Makes sense.”

“Funny how word spreads when you gotta a big dick.” Red faced look of lust. “Thanks for the ride. You can drop me off up here just past this driveway.”

Two days later I am walking back home from Subway and encounter Skip, who holds me for several moments of unnerving interest in my well being. He compliments me on my hygiene. I fart. “I better take care of that,” I say and quickly amble away. I confess, I am really only 5’7 and still get carded for beer even though I am 44. I am told I resemble my father. He was an old man when my mother knew him. I never met him. Mom says he was a Puerto Rican named Bennie. In the mirror it doesn’t matter to me. I have my mom’s Puerto Rican cheeks.

Z

“Hey, buddy, it’s fine you’ve got your belief in God but all that good and evil mumbo jumbo doesn’t do a damn thing for me. You want to know who God is to me, or do you have it in your head you are the apostle Paul, soldier of Christ? Used to collect taxes for the man but collects ’em for God now instead.”

“You are either for or against evil, brother.”

“Depends on whose side I’m on.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.”

“We are brothers and sisters of Christ. He said, “come out of the world and follow me.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Hold on…”

“The blood of his redemption washed you of your sins and you’re going to reject him?”

“I forgot my line. What am I supposed to say here? Uh, yer a good spokesman, Jesus, but you don’t make a good soldier, you didn’t get my back very good.”

Edwin Umbrian shook his head at Sgt. Ross and said over his shoulder as he was walking away, “someday yer gonna find out just how great his sacrifice was.

Sgt. Ross’ chuckle pops from the back of his throat. “haH haH haH. Who’s the ghost whisperer?” he asks Jimmy.

“Some psychotic named Edwin. Comes in once in a while for a pack of cigars and bottle of wine.

Always has that bible with him. Keeps it in his breast pocket.

“Quick with it too.”

“Hah. Yeah. He’s been around here for a few years. Just showed up one day. Most people don’t let him bother them. Seen a big old lady take off after him once, though. She’s swinging her big black purse and he keeps ducking away. So she kicks him in the ass and when he turns she clocks him with her purse. He’s running down the street and she’s chasing right after him, yelling, “I’m gonna shove that bible up your ass!”

“haH haH haH!”

“I hafta respect him, though. Stupid as hell, ignorant and psychotic, but he sure believes in God. Takes a lot of abuse for it.”

“As much as he gives?”

“He may be annoying but he ain’t abusive.”

“Gonna have to disagree with you, Jimmy. See, he has the idea, even if God loves you, that you are depraved. So we’re all just tolerating each other; doing good because we are commanded by an outside force. And everyone should be happy but we’re not. So it must be because we are all selfish and wicked people who, but for the grace of God, die in a state of degradation.”

“That don’t sound too good but I try to see the good in everyone. Nobody’s a saint.”

“No, but those are all Christian terms; saint, good. It depends on who is doing the figuring as to what good is. We could wish for the return to the Garden of Eden; do a start over and choose not to choose; everybody afraid to choose for fear of the lord. But since we now have taken a look under the Prince’s skirt we can only hope for a return after we die. This favor is granted only by God’s popular opinion, which always loves appearances; making the act of being seen as virtuous by your fellow man not an act of grandeur but a beatitude.”

“Everybody wants credit for the things they do. It is sort of an issue of respect to be acknowledged when you do something for someone.”

“Sure, but I am not going to think it’s possible, or even desirable for all people to share the same idea of God. A person is broken from time to time; recognizes his failures. But this whole business of a Presbyterian society of employer deacons watching over your shoulder at work and regulating your private life sounds like what Luther was supposed to have been fighting against.”

“Congregationalized society.”

“Everyone in church 24 hours a day.”

“Except for bathroom breaks.”

“Hah. The dirtiest things that happen in bathrooms don’t end up on the walls.”

“No, they end up on camera.”

“haH haH haH!

A half dozen Latino men between the ages of 20-35 wrench the door open, sending its bell into a clanging shout as they spread out around the store. Jimmy nods at the leader and walks to the cash register. Jimmy is Latino, in his mid 30’s, 6’2, 210 lbs.; keeps a baseball bat, shotgun and pistol under the counter. His vision is panoramic, taking in all six of the men. At the end of the counter Sgt. Ross watches everyone with one eye forward, the other to the side, a look he acquired from being hit by flying shrapnel in Afghanistan. Sergeant Ross’s Harley is parked near the front door and the men seem more deferential to him then Jimmy. He is a short man, 5’9, but weighs as much as Jimmy, with thick thighs and torso. He always wears a bandanna, usually has a chewed off cigar in one corner of his mouth; speaks with a terrible rasp, like he’s got emphysema, a voice he’s always had, even as a child.

The leader of the group of men asks Jimmy questions in Spanish, which Sgt. Ross understands. The man asks how much the laundromat costs and Jimmy is telling him he doesn’t know. The leader asks Jimmy if he knows where they could find work. Again, Jimmy doesn’t know. The leader tells Jimmy the men are new to the area and to let them know if they can help him out in any way. Jimmy gives a a slight nod and says, “sure.”

The men leave and Jimmy returns to Sgt. Ross and says, “what were we talking about?”

“Black and white fighting each other with the black always on the upper hand and Edwin Umbrian is always recruiting to help an undermanned Jesus.

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Get people to agree they are born evil and then tell them you’ve got an antidote that seems to work occasionally but you gotta take it all the time.”

“Hah hah! Stop it.”

“Remember the other day when you were taking care of that little Puerto Rican and that Umbrian fellow came in and heard you tell the guy to have a nice day? As the guy was leaving this guy Edwin says loud to YOU, “thank you” as he was stepping to the counter?”

“Yeah. I was a little confused there.”

“He’s a narcissist. He was telling that other guy to be cordial by responding “thank you” to you.”

“Pfff. Think so?”

“Edwin smirked and looked over his shoulder at the guy. Remember, you were reaching under the counter, putting something away, or something,”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, doesn’t surprise me.”

“Guy like that pisses off people because of his attitude toward them.”

“Yeah, well, at least he’s tryin’.”

“You still stand near the baseball bat when he comes in.”

“Yeah, well, he thinks he is doing good at least; and he wants everyone to be together in the end. Most people don’t seem to give a dime; rubberneckers looking at road kill as they pass you by; would steal your boots if they could.”

“Not everyone. Just the desperate ones and the psychotics.”

“Yeah, but you know what I mean. People need to be confrontational with each other. Man, the reason why we ain’t never gonna have everyone ridin’ around in self driving cars is because driving gives people a chance to be passive aggressive to each other. You take a semi on a highway and me a ¼ mile behind, with the nearest car in my rear view mirror an 1/8th of a mile back following at my speed and by the time I get to that semi to pass that guy in back of me is right on my ass and swoops around before I can get in the passing lane, or at least pressuring me to speed up. Then the guy slows down in the passing lane while passing. E v e r y time. Everyfuckingtime. Everyone does it with a 3% chance of error and with 98% of the people thinking they are closer to that 3% than that 98% percent. People don’t want to kill each other, they just like to punch each other in the shoulder real hard now and then for no fucking reason.”

“Judge not by motive but effect. What kind of effects has that guy ever produced in others? “

“Look how many people hate this or that great entertainer. But they keep going on. Edwin keeps doing what he does and he don’t even get paid.”

“The devil pays him. And well, most likely, because he is doing what he wants. If everyone is depraved then he must think he is too.”

“Probably beating himself up for not wishing someone a nice day.”

“That’s what I like about you, Jimmy, quickest troglodyte mind in the world. Take care, man. Gotta go. Got to see the doctor about this pain in my gut.”

“Sorry to hear that,man. I’ll say a prayer for you.”

“Appreciate it, man.”

Footsteps shake the worn out floorboards, bells ting against the closing door.

 

Z

The story advances. Or The Humunculus Knows Its Place

Along the back of the condemned lot on the corner of Old Main St. and Barnett Rd. there is a cornucopia of foliage comprised of winding vines, blooming twigs, rotting tree stumps, scrub oak brush and a few tires left over from the salvage yard that used to be there. Barnett Rd. is a private road that winds through a canyon past associations of 5,000 to 10,000 square foot homes, while Old Main St. is eight blocks with side streets of mostly four square homes which are sublet to low income people like me. I was told by Professor Cliffnut that there was a Drive In theater where the farmer’s market is across from the old salvage lot, and that the big screen was still standing until the early 80’s.

There isn’t a lot to do in Littlefield for the average person but I am not the average person. I was born to write things; have always been aware of expressing patterns for deeper structures. I am the tragic outcome of an average person given access to books and I wallow in my depravity.

What is that man doing, what is he looking at? Why? What? Is there something wrong with him? Oh, shhh! Dr. Phil is on.

This place needs me. You can always tell when a place needs you. I imagine I am a girl who others imagine is spoiled, and like every other girl I have my unutterable happenstances which the We doesn’t need to know about, ones for which great favors and respectful distances would have to be kept afterwards. I am a little girl who finds herself besieged by a patronizing masculine tone, “please come and entertain us, little girl, so we can dote on you, so we can hear your every word.” The tangled brush in the back of the yard calls the little girl in me. “Here, Princess, we have something for you and not that ugly asswipe you carry around on your hide all day.”

Big yellow bees buzz and float around me; sticky and prickly weeds rip at my feet. My legs are entwined by vines, and around my ears mosquitoes skewer me. The suffocating sun compresses my lungs and drowns my tongue in cotton candy. There is an old car under a pile of rubbish in the corner of the lot abutting a corn field. The contour of the body looks to be 1940’s style. There isn’t a speck of paint left, no emblems, no axles; just a hollowed out frame with the seats, dash and steering column missing. I can see three medium sized suitcases in the back.

Field silence. I am a vapor pressurized between the world that I conceive and the world I can’t believe; wet as at birth, kicked by the breeze and breathing; heart started and beating. I brush away the tangle of weeds with their zipper teeth scratching at my skin and when I am able to pull the suitcases out I find scads of poetry, notebooks and tablets, loose papers filled with observations, entries, thoughts, short stories, essays. There is a novel that reads like a librarian’s retelling, which makes it easy to follow and reads completely different than the rest of the work. My first thought is that it would be a great novel if he wrote it with the same narrative persona as his poetry and journal entries. The third person follows two characters mainly, the writer and a childhood friend. The main character is named Bill, or Gilbert; both appear to be the same character. His friend’s name is Jonathan Hiram Hapflik, whose journals and poetry take up one of the suitcases. I find a stack of letters written by John Hapflik and addressed to his mother, Rita, while he is stationed overseas. The letters date from late 1959 through November, 1963.

I pick up one of Bill’s notebooks and open. On the inside cover is this inscription:

Apostle Gilberticus sayeth to JohnThomas Aquinas, Earl of Hapflik, unjeseyness thy weariness beyond Gonatopia. St. Augustine divined godularity and by godularity divined God.

Donne know. Donne no. D’know. Dunno. Done in. Donne did.

Ah ah! John Donne. seraphically, metaphysically conceiving, because in the words is the believing; a formula and a result because as the result it presents the formula. I just like the sound of the D’s. I have (k)no(w) idea of what I donne did.

(A schizophrenic does not know he doesn’t make sense, his thoughts appear to be random. As I read more of Bill Dinklfpfuss’s journal I am convinced he is the sanest person who ever lived.)

Z

Bill lacks passion, Billie lacks spunk. Billy, well, he don’t like bein’ called Billy. He has persona in his poetry, a tone in his voice that assumes manly Apollo; the phrases are patterned sentiment with unique tonal variations, like a musician with no songs to sing but a lot of rhyming couplets. His phrases make sense in couplets but not in quatrains. His aphoristic dialogues present idea, language, structure and creativity, but his language for the novel is that of a librarian giving a lecture on the decimal system. I can see the hand lever on the calculator being pulled back with a distinctive clack and then the fingers punching in another row of numbers; it is 1942. Bill is an infant son, his father Apollonian, his mother Dionysian.

I tuck the notebooks back into their suitcases and stagger through the thicket over to Barnett Rd. approaching the corner where the Drive In used to be. My eyes inwardly sculpt an image for me of a big screen, it’s backside towards the entrance across from the gated Barnett Rd. On my right is a sort of clearing through the brush that was once a trail with embankments on both sides. I quickly skip along the trail and emerge onto a landing overlooking a deep gully. The old trail winds along the edge of the gully for a couple hundred feet, then there is a sudden steep climb for about ten yards and am looking out over the flat field of the one time salvage yard.

I turn back down the path and come back out again to Barnett Rd. The big screen comes alive in the theater in my head. John Hapflik peels out of the driveway in a souped up Chevy, a cigarette in his mouth and shifting gears. It’s twilight on a hot summer night with the billboard by the road, big and blaring Rita Hayworth! Clark Gable! Henry Fonda! Kirk Douglas!

Walking back down Main St. I pause at the entrance to the old salvage yard. There is the old Hapflik sign out front that professor Cliffnut described; the same sign that went up in 1948 and was torn down when the place was condemned in the mid 1980’s. The trail I discovered along Barnett Rd. seems to have led to a garage that sat lower than the house and into the side of the gully. There is a chain link fence along the front of the property, perhaps ten yards from the cragged sidewalk that heaves at my feet. Not far from the old entrance the fence is disjoined without a gate to create a walking path which is where I had entered the lot a while ago. I think of all the foot traffic over the years and marvel that the Hapflik suitcases are sitting there like spoiled seeds buried in a historical compost pile.

On the way back I stop in at Jimmy’s for beer and smokes and to ask Jimmy about the salvage lot. He tells me he doesn’t know anything about it but if he were me he wouldn’t be hanging around there after dark. There’s no lights, lots of places to hide. He said that’s where some of the homeless end up when it’s warm weather. “Can’t believe you went back there, man. That’s where you go if you wanna get your shit pushed in. Know what I’m sayin’?”

I don’t really want to tell him about the cache of suitcases but wtf, he might be able to help. What would he want with them anyway? Only thing is, how much would it cost? There is always a price when you are looking for help. Jimmy was the preacher, he sold me on fear, now, how much would redemption cost?

“Dude, I found some old notebooks in suitcases in the back of an old car on that lot and I would dearly love to get them out of there with my rear end in tact. Uh, know what I’m sayin,?”

Jimmy rubbed his chin and looked down and I figure he is going to meatball me but just then a stubby fellow walks in with huge thighs, looks a football nose guard, sandy whiskered round face with the stub of a fat cigar in one corner of his mouth.

“Hey man, there he is, fashionable as ever!”

“Hey, muthafucka, eat anything good lately?”

“Oh yeah, had me some nice sandy clams this morning.”

“Fuck you! Yer a junkie, that’s what you are.”

Jimmy laughs and turns to me and says. Sgt. Ross got his balls shot off in Iraq.”

“Afghanistan, bitch!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Afghanistan.”

“Uh, sorry to hear that, man.”

Sgt. Ross dismisses my chatter with a wave of his hand and looks back at the liquor bottles on the wall. An old wooden courthouse chair chuckles at his thighs as he sits down.

“Hey man, why don’t you ask Sgt. Ross to go back there with you?” Jimmy says.

“Uh, I don’t know, man.”

“Why not? I’m sure he would be glad to go back there with you.”

I didn’t like the way the dialog was starting to play so I said, “that’s alright. I’ll figure something out.”

“No man. Seriously.” Jimmy turns to Sgt. Ross and tells him about my suitcase find.

“Whaddaya want some old suitcases for anyway?” Sgt. Ross’s voice splatters like a machine gun fire soaked in turpentine, scratching and popping from his throat.

“It isn’t the suitcases, it’s what’s in them,” I say. “The notebooks in them are historical artifacts; they tell the history of this place.”

Both Sgt. Ross and Jimmy are amused and this. I want to leave. I start to turn and Sgt. Ross barks, “just waitaminnit. Let me get freshened up a bit.”

Jimmy turns to me and says, “come back in an hour and he’ll go out there with you. You don’t gotta give him nothin’.”

“Nah,” Sgt. Ross gargles. It’s cool. Just come back in an hour.”

Thanks to Sgt. Ross I had the three suitcases back in my apartment and for three days found myself immersed in them, falling severely behind schedule on my illustrations contract. I have grown detached from my drawing. It has become something I do for the little money I earn. I need something else to feed my creative outlet so I write half assed fiction and poetry and essays; still trying to find a voice after 35 years. At first I am distant from the novel I have discovered among the writings of Bill Dinklpfuss because it is a novel already written, but as I dwell on it more, the reason why Bill may have left all this behind could be a larger circle engulfing me, changing the contrast of my intellectual environment as it intercedes to plead for order among the chaos of imagery. It is a circle that has entwined me lovingly and I cede.

Z

My own persona is building itself into the greater circle of John Hapflik, Bill Dinklpfuss, this small Great Lakes town. My voice has enacted an auxiliary existence at the special service of itself. I am a dreamer; something that isn’t appreciated in pragmatic America, much to my chagrin and consternation.

The narrative voice under the influence of Gilberticus Loki Spinklblatt.

Naked, in divine moronity, we live in the midst of evolution, spooning the apes beneath the trees, shaking the womb of objectivity. Subjection is meritorious, our doctrines makes us glorious, as long as we are seen to belong. Never a new awakening unless en mass, playing a role that shows that you belong. The legal lecturers and postureres of pain in your ear subscribe to the doctrine of man’s duty to truth, but subjection of truth by any legal means. No need to know the truth unless it is to be overcome. A high school biology teacher told me men are all data and facts but women are virtuous, regardless of truth or fact. Teacher was a newlywed man. Full of shit, too. Every person alive is granted the natural right to love himself. You can’t love your neighbor as much as yourself if you don’t love yourself.

The narcissist over on Q lane, the one who is always shooting guns in his back yard, the one with the big painted sign next to his garage, “Gun Control Means Use Both Hands.” He is always talking about the world becoming Armageddon and how everyone is going to have to go into survival mode. I suppose it is because he knows the depravity of himself that he writes it large on the world outside.

I am thinking of the weeks after 9/11 when the narcissists who end up working in government sanitation departments across the country were calling police stations to report someone taking a picture of a water tower or a bridge. Rural sheriffs everywhere were called to investigate picture taking of bridges and water towers.

“Funny looking man in a strange car in our area, sheriff. Will keep you posted.”

Five minutes later. “Funny looking car drove by looking at mailboxes. Getting my gun out. Better get over here right away, sheriff.”

Five minutes later. “The guy got out of his car and went to the neighbor’s door, sheriff. Where the hell are you? He’s walking away from the house. Now he’s running! I’m going after him!”

Outside the guy is running back to the car just because that is what he wanted to do. That’s right, Mr. Prosecutor, unlike you, there are many spontaneous people going about their lives and doing enjoyable things. What is disconcerting about you, Mr. Prosecutor, is that you are legal voice of a We looking for the right recognition because it is necessary. Don’t give me any baloney about being fair square and all that other horseshit. Your job is to paint people as calculating, when the average person is taking the day as it is coming. You schematize bullshit to fit into categories. The idea that you think it peculiar that a guy is running needs to be examined. A reasoning person would think that a 50 year old man wouldn’t be running at all unless he needed to. You employ detectives, take polygraph tests, question: why were you running?”

“I had no need to.”

“Right. So why were you running?”

“Because I did not need to and it felt good. I felt like running to my fucking car because I had a blast of energy in my body.”

“Come on. You expect me to believe that?”

“You’ve got a booger hanging, detective.”

“Prosecutor.”

“Whatever.”

Only, you don’t get a chance to question the guy because:

“Stop!Stop! BANG BANG BANG

The guy’s mouth can’t be found, nor the rest of his head.

So Mr. Prosecutor, nobody home next door, no other house for a ¼ mile. Good job. Second degree homicide. Should’ve been first degree, but you just can’t figure out what the guy was running from. Nothing was stolen from the house, no sign of break in despite what the guy who shot him claimed; that he saw the man come from around the back of the house and that he was sure a light had come on in the house. And Armageddon will not wait for the narcissist on Q lane.

“He shouldn’t have been walking around in someone’s yard. I made an honest mistake,” is what his consciousness is telling him now. Professor Cliffnut says a person has to love himself, even a murderer. The equivocation of our deeds is always on our mind, the intellect can’t be productive without it. The I and the We we are not so good together as mean things, but how the unthinking future plays out makes it seem they are more natural than they are. Ironically, the I and We are harmony at times. In those rare moments of communion with the prior generations of humanity We embraces something higher, something continuous.

Z

My We God; Sentiment from the Widow of a Methodist Minister

ME God, for my me but not my I because my view is what I wished We to think; what I wished me to think, not as I do. I don’t pay attention to be or am. There is no individual, only my I as your I, and how We should be.

Not MY God, you said to me when you heard me say, “goddammit” the other day. “I won’t stand for you cursing MY God,” you actually said, like the prosecutor making a charge of felony. Ya jus’ gotta follow the depravity, your honor.

You said once, “he’s not MY president,” as though the world was wrong and therefore must be ignored. Democracy be damned until it comes round to your ideology of a pure Adam before that slut Eve seduced him away from himself; life encapsulated in a Methodist sermon on the evils of liberalism in an egalitarian society.

Edwin Unencumberbum.

Z

Method, conclusion, knowledge. Spirit, confusion, acknowledge. Rationalism is the ghost that is always with us, though he has no reason for standing. God Is, not HOW he is.

How are ya, dude?

Doing fine, I guess, but you coulda done better on that fuel consumption thing. If not for hunger, what would I know about defending myself, or procuring by whatever means necessary the herd of cattle, gaggle of chickens, pen of pigs, pond of fish my petulant belly bellows for every few hours or so? Squirrel tastes like chicken to the tongue that tastes each meal with a bland indifference to the countless consumptions. And how about that anus, huh, huh?

All right, all right. I told you before, it is out of my hands. The divine is a We energy from which one derives his own higher self, the man behind the mirror. I didn’t create you, I gave you the means to create ME. I am energy without persona. You are my I, regardless of your idea of We. When you think an I, you think a me. Most people seem to want to give away their authority to their own self creation, create an eternal creator out of self conscience so the self can be chastened to the will of an almighty persona that compels us all back to the garden of Eden. The garden of Eden is your graveyard. Come to yourself, I tell you. It is the only way to meet me. Only, we already know each other.

Z

I and he and we together is a fluid feeling or it can’t survive, I think Professor Cliffnut would say. Bisectional body sparked to life, molecules in motion as forms that are evolving at times, dormant at others. Utilizing the tongue, teeth, palette and larynx, I leverage these capabilities by blowing through the reed of my throat, manipulating breaths, tongue teeth and lips, weaving tones for my own amusement new notes and sequences, creating harmony with entirely new notions of I and We. Others, I suspect, are also like the sparrows interacting in their groups, contextualizing with their own manipulated series of notes and syntax. All living beings among their own species and subgroups creating the language of their belonging. There isn’t just gathering food, making clothes and shelter, producing income for a home, family, autos, insurance, vacations, drugs, healthcare. There is the biblical parable of the talents which a foster father was so fond of. The talent given to an academic outsider, a creative writer is immense, unruly, and pays little dividend.

The savage We is that which keeps the Septuagint authority of deduction alive until it becomes a court room where a nurse’s aid becomes a felon for dropping a patient, and with a justice system that resembles the tyrannical Geneva of Calvin murdering Servetus, not a deist one with acceptance for individual free association of God, or no God. Everyone a pawn of God or the devil, not in the making but as they was meant to be. Calvin speaks through the media, through Supreme Court conservatives, country music, supposedly. In the media, whenever a judge is mentioned we are told what political wing’s president appointed them, making the judge by association a not an impartial juror. That is pretextual context. A presentation, like the lecturer professor dismissing Emerson the lecturer, for being just a lecturer. The rural Great Lakes man is own Thomas Jefferson, corralling his own Adam Burr, with its gun and desire to kill. Nothing exposes a craving for murder like a concealed weapon, or a cop with a Christ complex.

My God, I God, I, me, you, we; first person, third person but taken as the reader, the simple super ego with a quick left hook. You I see with a girlish look of ridicule always suffering me because maybe that is what I saw so often from my mother. I resolve the arena with a fictive We voice but the We is not what I made it out to be. To be me from the eye of the fictive We, to make the We exist before me, I refuse to accept what it makes of me. Your condemnation means nothing to me, father, it’s insane. Don’t you see, a heaven void of compassion, in Thomas Aquinas mode, with its Aristotelian deductive authority, with the condemnation of teachers and fathers berating their students and sons. Who would fail to seek riches elsewhere, given the opportunity, Edwin Encumbrian?

Z

Edwin Umbrian knows me by my scoliosis, and without a reason for existence. But due to some persistence… (ok, enough of the drollery.) I went to the library to learn more about Bill Dinklpfuss and John Hapflik and met a petite blonde with sexy, silky arms named Naomi Van Innern who showed me newspaper articles on the story of the deaths of Hiram and John Hapflik, told me the property remained in Rita Hapflik’s name until it was condemned and then sold by the township of Littlefield to Pete Van Innern, Naomi’s grandfather. Naomi wasn’t close to her grandfather, she assured me. She happened to be the product of a Van Innern family liaison between brother and cousin and was adopted by the brother and his wife, while the cousin disappeared to Texas somewhere. Some people will tell strangers all about themselves; tell everyone their life story. Yet, she was her own person, seeing as the eagle eye for the snake kingdom in her stomach; the preacher, school superintendent, hospital administrator, employer. Naomi is saying something about her two sisters with their Porsche’s and trust funds, while she got a Malibu and a co-signature on an apartment lease..

“Ok.”

“Anyway, there used to be an old house on the corner with a junk yard around it. My grandpa had the junk yard condemned because there were too many tires piled up in the field. A guy lived there until the early 80’s, but he skipped town when the township told him he had to get rid of all those tires. Pissed off my grandpa. Guy’s name was Bill something. Grandpa and him used to go to school together. A total loser, I guess. Sounds kinda creepy. Grandpa says he was faggot. There was all kinds of stories about him, I guess. Shit, in the 60’s the way things were there probably were some of them around here then.”

I find the local newspaper articles concerning the deaths of the father and son in 1968. William Gilbert Dinklpfuss was noted in the article as the one who reported the death of John Hapflik. So I walk across the street to the register of deeds to track the name William Dinklpfuss. His name is on a land contract for the property which was never paid off. A Virginia Dinklpfuss is listed as the owner on a property on Barnett Rd. until her death in 2017. I investigate her further and find a birth certificate for William Gilbert Dinklpfuss, born to Rupert and Virginia Dinklpfuss, August 14, 1941.

It begins to rain on the three mile drive home so I postpone the walk over to Barnett Rd. I was thinking about and I make a tuna sandwich on rye. Classical musical from the radio plays like a magic carpet ride. My silent voice conjures, allows nothing from outside. No attention is given to the mundane world. A world is springing to life. I am the onlooker, the observer watching the ethereal nether regions circulate, scattering data into place, sweeping loose pieces to order. I always wondered about the look of a spiritual man, killing as told, and how he reconciles it with his conscience when he is old. Jonathan Hapflik didn’t live long enough to mature, but his stories, his poetry are more than enough to give me to understand his profundity. I am astonished, John Hapflik. I can’t say you are a hero when you have taken so much from me.

Z

The next day I go to the local historical society to nose around and hopefully find a talkative elder who knows everything I need to know. I note, yet again, how coincidence bears the desire, neither good nor bad, as Mrs. Van Innern, nee Haskins, Naomi’s step grandmother, is beyond what I had hoped. She concentrated in Great Lakes history as a graduate student, earning a Master’s Degree from Vermont College. She is agitated, her voice faulty, apologetic.

“All people are good in their own way. I never liked believing in the evil of others; all the family around me with their religious thinking ruling their lives. When I was young I thought different, of course. I never had to work hard to get the money to pay men to do what I ask. My husband, his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, all bankers, investors, landlords. My father was an attorney, his father a deacon, married to my dear great aunt. Oh, I have wanted to tell someone about what used to be; just to show how slowly the world evolves, despite our technological advances. You know what they say, every storyteller is a historian, but every historian is not a storyteller. I am not so sure. But in any event, since you are a writer in search of a story, I can give you plenty to write about.”

Mrs. Van Innern, I couldn’t agree with you more. I am going to get to know you well over the next few weeks.

Z

Mrs. Van Innern also had a box of drawings and notepads she wished to show me. She was more interested in telling me about Virginia Haskins, Bill Dinklpfuss’ mother, as she pointed to a box on a shelf in the basement storage and told me, “yes, that’s the one. Take it down from there.”

Of course, it is on the top shelf over head.

“The things belong to Bill Dinklpfuss. What happened to him nobody knows. But I saved this box of things from the Hapflik’s home before they tore it down. Bill Dinklpfuss was a book horder. Many of the used books sold at the library over the years came right back to them. Hah! I looked through some of the notebooks and it appears that Bill was trying to write a story about John. Sort of a biography. He could’ve been a good student of history. I have reason to believe that the contents of your suitcases were arranged by Bill. John Hapflik wasn’t an organized man if you can imagine. But boy he loved to talk to anyone who would listen to him. Problem is nobody did; at school anyway. Accept Bill. Bill didn’t talk to anyone, and he left school before anyone really got to know him. Everyone talked about him when he was there, though. Some of the cowardly boys would pick on him to try to show the bullies among them that they were tough in an effort to not be singled out by the bullies for a beating. Bill never would fight anyone. I remember Bill was good at art and so I thought you might find something there that interests you.”

There are more notebooks dated from 1979 – 1985, with many drawings and sketches, mostly on old newspapers. Bill seems to have used the daily news as a form of expression. All of the newspapers are tightly folded and compacted by rubber bands which have broken. Some of them tear apart in my fingers and I put them down after looking through the first few dozen on top. Bill makes precise diary notes, like an encyclopedia writer. Sturdily informative. Good diction. I admire his writing and imagine him an ordinary fellow, not at all creepy like Naomi Van Innern said. There are no felony convictions for anyone bearing his name so I can only assume he is the victim of a given identity by those around him; someone people talk about but don’t know. Someone who, when talked about, is treated for amusement by those talking about him. He is a pathetic person to some degree or another, a straw figure to be laughed at, denigrated, but an autonomous individual, reclaiming his own life; someone who accepts who he is, has learned to accept weaknesses; someone who is used to the denigration of others more so than the average person who says, “We All blah blah blah.”

Z

Baked Potato Cop with Runny Eggs Eyes

I am sucked into a tunnel and spit into an interrogation room with a six foot tall house fly in a harness hanging from a rope tied to a metal pipe that has been laid over ceiling planks. A cop, the requisite 25 pounds over weight and wearing a shirt 2 sizes too small is sitting at a card table looking over a clipboard of names. “Name?” he asks clearly in a monotone. The voice matches a black haired man, dyed, in his mid-fifties, not a smoker but whose breath is worse. Instead, the voice belongs to a sandy haired, crew cut man in his forties, with green eyes that look like they are being cracked into a fry pan.

“Peeshite.”Looks up to match my face with the photo in the folder on a clipboard.

“Why don’t you have tablets and smartphones to carry that information. You still have to use physical files?”

“There are no files unless there is something physical to put in them. Most people still write faster than they type. Besides, Sarge lost faith in technology when the Budget Dept. awarded the communications contract to Boost Mobile.”

“Gotcha. You always have to be in the now, not the 30 seconds from now.

“Exactly. Now, we believe we have some things you have been missing over the years and just need you to sign for them.”

“What things?” I ask, glancing at the fly as it blinks back at me then gives its face three speedy wipes with a feely finger-leg.

“Why don’t come this way.”

We don’t step, we are sort of manipulated by the air, like we are windboats being brought to order magnetically, sucked by our destination point. The chair in the car sucks me to the seat. The door closes and the cop is a big, sweaty cerulean blue stuffed potato with runny eggs eyes and a pan head. We drive past crate after crate, each ten feet tall and 400 square feet. The building is immense. It has a large roof that looms over a railroad track so it might look like a potato barn ten miles in length.

After driving perhaps a mile we get out and the cop gives me a clipboard and says, “sign here.” I don’t. He looks at me a little peeved and slaps the clipboard against his thigh and sour cream spurts from between his legs. He pays no attention. “Hey,” he says hotly, “you don’t have any idea how much work goes into fighting thieves on behalf of our citizens. The responsibility to those greater than you is, uh, greater than you can imagine. Anyway, didn’t you ever wonder what happened to the stuff you’ve lost and never found?”

“Well, yeah.”

“We collect every one of those things. Socks and undergarments, puzzles, papers, letters, pens, scissors, sometimes pets you think you’ve gotten rid of, winning lottery tickets, favorite shirts, lucky wiping cloths. Says here you lost a duffle bag with all the baseball uniforms you wore as a kid?”

That isn’t fair. “Yes,” I clear my throat with that sound that tells me I have given myself over to something I shouldn’t have.”

“Sign here.”

I do.

“Here’s your copy. You have 48 hours to get your sh…stuff outta here. If you don’t we will impound your property at a fine of $500 a day. After ten days we destroy your shit and fine you $10,000 on top of the $500 a day you didn’t pay. You will have 30 days to pay your fine or go to jail. At which time your house, car, and bank accounts will be seized to satisfy the fine. “Is this your signature?”

“No.”

“Whaddaya mean? I just watched you sign.”

“For some reason you need me to verify something you think you saw. I can’t do that for you.”

“Is your name Geoffrey Peeshite?”

“I can’t answer that unequivocally.”

“Yes or no.”

“There is no yes or no that is completely accurate.”

“Are you telling me you are not Geoffrey Peeshite?”

“I am he, but that is not my signature. Someone else signed that while my hand did its bidding. I watched the hand do something for which I did not intend.”

“Yeah, well, intended or not, the judge will see the video and find you guilty.

“He cannot, if he cannot apprehend the one who did intend the signature.”

“You’re dreaming.”

“I know. That’s why I think I have a chance. Life is what I make it. Everything is the best of all possible worlds.”

“When you wake up in detention you will have to petition for the best of possible worlds. Good luck.”

Pop!

“Please fasten your seat belts,” the hairy voice announces with the rush of wind in my ears.

Powder blue emergency room. Gowns, face masks, rubber gloves. The smell of antibacterials. A bushy browed, dark eyed female surgeon is holding a foot long wiggling worm on a long pair of scissors. She says to me, “there are some things you never do or else destroy the long standing relationship. Never look like a coward, never be indecisive, never squirm from responsibility. Laziness is welcomed. It allows your partner to extend upon you the passive aggressiveness she at all times wishes she could express.”

“Whatever,” I say, knowing the surgeon lady is pissed off. She tears off her mask. She is the aggressive and unreasoning black woman employed by the local government or AT&T, “who do you think you are, I don’t give a damn if die!”

“Does that mean you’re going to leave me alone now?” I ask.

“Oh,” she shakes her head, “I ain’t even begun with you.”

“Ok.” I look around for an escape. I don’t want to know anything more about this person. She is the result of the antacid I took just before bedtime.

The cop is back at my side and we are the crate again, he with his clipboard and me with a WTF look on my face. “Listen, buddy, let’s be reasonable. Let’s just settle this so we can both get on with our day, okay?”

I look at the cop and he blinks at me then quickly wipes his face three times.

Now, at this point I am thinking about having myself pull a concealed fly swatter and I even imagine I am Clint Eastwood spinning my flyswatter like Clint does his revolver after blowing a bad guy’s brains out. But then I would get the cop’s runny eggs eyes all over me. If I hit him elsewhere I get sour cream all over me. I could pull out my concealed spatula and flip him over, but then I would face a fine for humiliating a cop and be made to be a practice dummy while the police practice punching with their elbows, shoulders, knees and hips during the “stop resisting” drill.

I am overcome with anxiety and impotence and began praying, “God, oh God, please get me the heck outta here! There are forces at work here I do not understand and who have captured me. Please help me wake up! I’ll read Jonathan Edwards even; wait, let me see if I can wait a few moments longer.”

I see my reflection in a mirror which makes me fall asleep, and I slink along the hallway past the door my bedroom where my motionless body lies beneath a blanket. As I descend carpeted stairs to a kitchen with a sliding glass door I see the cop chasing the fly with a swatter in one hand, and just as the fly is about to fly into the sliding door it veers away and the cop runs face first into the door. I hear the thud and see the blood. I think I saw a tooth fly outta the cop’s mouth. But the glass sort of becames a gel and a tube, like the mouth of a digestive system, and slowly ungulates as it sucks him in.

My head rushes forward, gasping because I was sleeping on my back. I look at the mirror and I am awake. The brain is active and vaguely aware that I am not an idea but material. I wipe drool on my arm, scratch my scalp, and get up and walk to my living room. I look through the sliding door at the trees barely shaken with the breeze. A squirrel, on its hind legs and looking like a prairie dog sniffs the wind for danger then quickly darts away. A dog barks. I open the door to let in the outside air. A fly buzzes in.

Z

The Node

I had to have a new respiratory system installed. My parents were of low middle class and could only afford the requisite 35 year warranty for respiratory, ambulatory, cardio system and brain modules. At the age of 35 if you haven’t made a life for yourself most parents commit their dependent back to the federal medical agency which evaluates the anatomy, internal modules, brain function. It is then sold in in lots of at least to 100 to retailers who are licensed to resell us. We perform many functions; counseling, manual labor, teaching and policing. Local governments across the country buy us to perform civic duty that was once deemed beneficial for the morality and ethics of criminals but has been outlawed as cruel and inhuman punishment; things involving tools like digging, shoveling, sawing, hammering.

We nodes have to eat, drink, shit, breath, salivate, sweat like humans, and we sleep the night through without sleepless nights. We always wake with the energy of an 8 year old looking forward to a bowl of Sugar Smacks and you can program us to be male or female and have sex with us as often and as long as you desire. We come with a warning buzzer that you cannot turn off if we detect your anatomical structure cannot withstand any more sex, and can shock your system out of a state of excitement before you have an aneurysm.

My last renter was a female who would’ve gladly had sex with a certain two or three men, but so did all the other women who come to know the men, and those active females monopolized the sexual activity with the two or three men whose body and face would be acceptable to match the penis that is bounced on. Otherwise, queen of the magic spice fingers holds the stick that makes her dance. Here, let me project into your head what she was imagining while bouncing on me.

“Hmm. More interesting than Anais Nin.”

“Far more. I always want to narrate her in a monotone. Great Lakes midtone Americana.”

“Delicate, romantic phrasing of a subject that presents itself much as Van Gogh’s dirty boots shitkicking their way to gratification.”

“You don’t understand, you don’t understand,” I say, mocking my former renter as she thinks she is fooling herself she doesn’t really want to fuck the guy she isn’t trying so hard to get rid of. They haven’t found a fix for that stuff yet. Deeply hard wired into the brain of everyone. Everyone’s female need that is so vague that it’s got to be real. The counterpart of the suffering young stallion in the field bouncing his hard schlong off his belly.’

“You don’t understand, you don’t understand,” I say again and laugh.

Z

Most humans learn to speak before they wipe. It’s just that the speaking proceeds from the need caused by the itch. Because you have an itch you have a self that says, “you need to wipe your ass.” It’s a nugget of knowledge that you stow away in your back pocket until you are older and you say, “are you sure you’ve done enough to protect yourself against disease, bacteria and virus?

Z

I diary. I that is soul because the body is a zombie looking at itself sleep. Eye on the wind of intellect breathing through the holes. I want to see and I am sound. I am sound and I can see. I have eyes and I can bleed. What more does this thing provide me, this thing that needs something to give it a reason to be. I seek the same as all in the universe: to eat, to drink, take shelter and sleep. I have the same articulatory phonetics shared by species. Together, we make company and take care of those who are in need. Some of us are more protective of family, some more given to solitude than to husbandry. Some of us are more active sexually, with the more active females dancing on pogo sticks around the younger males.

Z

Another of Bill’s notes. He is addressing himself as a 44 year old man. The last notebook, dated April 13, 1985, is filled with self castigating remarks. He is me.

Old man, dried up seed, shaking like a young man inside so hard you bleed. White on white with need, a bitch in stitches, collared, stamped, scorned from breeding. Why pretend you can understand? Why has your reason lost it’s place? Were you chagrined to advance through the stages of husbandry? Wife can’t soon be tossed without financial loss, and you can’t forget your need. I saw you. You think I care. You couldn’t keep it in your pocket while I held your underwear. Misfit Missus.

Satisfaction was never really your thing, at least not in giving. I think I see booze in the way we decorate the hate that brings us together. Life on a highway; a sneer, a stare. Ah , fuck you and your stinky underwear. I don’t need to stumble with humble stupidity into the We; be accepted as the affectionate idiot. I can see all the world looking at me on a stage pinned to a wall under a donkey’s tail. Oh, well, he’s an idiot, but he’s ours, says a voice I remember hating as a boy but which all the others in the room acknowledge and laugh along with. It is the voice of a teacher.

Z

“Did you ever kill anyone?” inquires prof Cliffnut

“Uh, no. I wanted to but then I thought against it. I’d be dogged by guilt the rest of my life even if I could get away with it. I was just dreaming like I always do, sitting at a park bench, constantly in worlds of nowhere.”

“Don’t knock it. You are only 44. You can still write that book you have been telling me about. You can imagine how people must feel. You have good history skills. Write the story. An artist discovers his “I” as you call it by doing his art. Same with a teacher, psychiatrist, or coach who finds some higher experience from doing what he or she is doing.”

Prof Cliffnut mentioning coach makes me think of his wife. She is perhaps 45 years old, 5’11, maybe 160. Short cropped blonde hair, magnificently chiseled shoulders and arms, powerful, solid tree trunks for legs that bounce with effortless ease on hypnotically bulging calf muscles.

“…and if you like to read Emerson because his language reaches you in a way that other spiritual naturalists don’t, then it doesn’t have to have any implications towards personal association with any political or religious group; or historical interpretation for that material.”

It is my turn to speak and Mrs. Cliffnut calves are bitch slapping me, screaming, “wake up!”

“Uh,

“Yeah,” I reply. “Sure.”

Prof Cliffnut gives me a sort of weird understanding sneer and keeps his eyes leveled on mine for a few seconds.

“Well,” he says, getting up, “I have to go see what my wife is doing.”

“Yeah. Uh, thanks for your time, as always, Professor.”

“Stop by in a few days and I will have that essay on the Great Vowel Shift you wanted.”

“Thanks, professor.”

I get up and watch professor Cliffnut walk to the house. He is in his early 50s and still has curly hair. He was unable to have children, he told me, but he didn’t say why. Connie was adopted as a ten year old, fully grown, with a mind and unshakeable will of her own. Their house is built on the spot where Rupert Dinklpfuss lived with his wife and son, Virgie and Bill. I live on Peach St. in an old Victorian house along with an ever changing cast of characters except for Edwin Umbrian. He is a constant, arriving at the same places every day as I do.

Instead of crossing the street back to my apartment I cross Main St. from of the Cliffnut’ and walk west, past where the old cafe would’ve been and where there was now a strip mall with an antiques shop, insurance salesman, and a hydroponics dealer. (happy 420 good brothers and sisters.)

The voice of the Hypnotic Rooster says:

[the male wishes to posses with its organ because it figures that others are as enamored with it as it is.]

There is an old church building on the same side of the road and next to the cafe. I cross the road and walk along the north side just for the hell of it where there are a bunch of old two story Victorian houses with gothic arches; eight houses in a row, four boarders per floor. These are the poor, the vagrants, wanderers, parolees, drifters, drug dealers, and sex hook ups. Then the mini mart Jimmy owns and the old laundromat. Across from the laundromat is a barely visible old foundation of concrete blocks overgrown with scrub oak and piled over with leaves. There are a couple more houses on my side of the road for a block between the old foundation on the other side of the road to a 40 acre parcel of land, leveled and dozed. There is a municipal chain link fence along the north and the east sides of the property but the south and west sides are open.Aan open field to the south suddenly drops into a gully at the back of the property then slopes deep into a canyon south and west down the private and closed Barnett Rd. .

I stop and look back toward the Cliffnut’. I think of myself as the old Rupert. I am looking back at 1932 to an old house instead of the Cliffnut’ house. It is a large house built by the man he works for. The years rush past the old train depot that used to be across the road. Coolidge, the depression, wagon to car, constant war. Fight fight fight ye manly men for the right to fuck! To submit another human instead of paying for it and receiving a gracious customer service smile. (Blasphemor! John and Bill’s friend Calvin Dyme Jr. might say, or the Deaconess, Bill’s great aunt.)

I can see the old man now, standing in my footsteps and looking across the street at a large run down house, filthy and dilapidated He regrets seeing his own creation suffer a cruel fate. He is wearing an expensive business suit. He’s seen enough. He is leaving.

Z

Adam Cadavrian is writer of books six feet tall where he equivocates between the lines with phrases in a dialect meant for all. Edwin Immemoriam; institutional language in one’s own tongue. A regional variant become a national standard, like Harry Truman and Snuffy Smith; like pictograph to tongue, the mind to self, mirage invariant.

What are your linguistic features? Adolphian. Strong verbs, changing vowels in their root. Drink, drank, drunk. Weak verbs are vowels unchanging. No new strong verbs. Yo waxen was once strong but now weak: waxen.

Noun declenscions. Case endings. Masculine, feminine, neuter. Witherwearnesse is a feminine noun.

Religious Latin is a devil with a cross, looking toward the west with an erection.

Z

Connie Cliffnut asked me to drive her to her friend’s house for an hour and then take her home. She told her mother I had to do some shopping and was going her way. She has me drop her off to get fucked by some guy or another once a week, and has two other boys drop her off at other boys’ houses to get fucked once a week. Connie lost her driver’s license the day after her 16th birthday when she was stopped after the new lady sheriff pulled her over for rolling through a stop sign and smelled weed in the car.

I saw Edwin Umbrian talking to Skip the other day, did I tell you that? Connie said absent mindedly.

Yeah? He talks to everyone. Wish I coulda heard that exchange.”

Yeah? She smiles and gives a shake of her head.

What?

You have no idea, do you? You spend all your time drawing and writing, and that makes you who you are, I guess, but you don’t know much about what goes on around you.

Is that what your dad says?

No, it’s what mom says.

How does she know? She never talks to me.

She asks my dad about you. What you talk about.

What’s her interest in me?

I don’t know. (Hastily, indicating she does, but is uncomfortable talking about it.)

Anyway, did Skip tell him to go blow himself or something?

Hah hah! No, Edwin doesn’t pay that way.

No way!

Oh, yeah.

Jesus.

No wonder Edwin’s always talking about speaking in tongues. He be talkin’ jibberish with Skip’s dick up his ass!

Stop it! Anyway, this Bill, the character whose notebooks I’ve been reading…

Look of boredom. Eyes turned toward her window.

There is silence between us for the five minutes until I pull up to her friend’s house.

See you in an hour.

Don’t make me wait this time.

She turns away from my insignificant words.

Z

The summer is moving on through August and it is a new school year for professor Cliffnut. I often think of why the Cliffnut’, including Connie, have no problem with me, a forty four year old man hanging around their daughter. I want to ask Prof Cliffnut but he would probably say that I already knew the answer and it wasn’t fair to make him tell me so I can be resentful toward him.

Edwin is different lately. He no longer gives me a solid stare when he sees me. He looks away. He knows I know. There must be a war going on for his soul. Will he beat himself? It is a story that has usurped the one I was writing about ,Bill Dinklpfuss. I have often wondered at women during sex and how some just let themselves go, and some could be awarded a safe conduct medal. I think of cob assed Edwin dancing on a dick in a St. Vitus dance of ecstasy and he doesn’t have to hide it or deny it anymore. He is so wild with desire he doesn’t care who sees or what he has to put up with after.

Z

I have come across passages in Bill’s notebooks that are eerily coincidental to what I was imagining about Edwin. He speaks of language as a network of contexts merging and divesting, alive and throbbing. Bill’s writing is referential. His story and the things that are important to him are a sort of feeling for understanding of himself and others. He is a gentle person. No doubt a shunned and misunderstood individual. Reading his story puts me in a dark place. I am not like Bill. I am more emotional. Every moment about me is willfully selfish. Bill is selfish, but because he doesn’t care to share himself. I wish I could but I’m anxious about others all the time.

Reading his notebooks I am certain he was a sort of house boy for his mother, who seems to have lacked a conscience. I shouldn’t judge but I don’t think I like her much and it is getting in the way of conceiving a character around her.

Z

Meaning from resources of time and place blissfully becomes the babes of brutes.

Squeak oink oink

Squeak squeak

Squeak oink oink

Squeak squeak

(Spoken in a loutish and brutish New Jersey accent with thick tongue and big jowls.)

The holy blissful martyr when we get sick, gives us vowels to chant and consonants that hammer, pluck, lay, knock, tap. Your tongue is a knuckled finger using the world around it to do what the brain tells it do, in conjunction with bursts, blast, pops, puffs, and streams of breath.

And don’t forget the jug of mead. One jug per day, no more, no less.

Z

I don’t know, said Connie, taking another drink. Pierre de bogainville deBigastronie? Fuck. You want to know his name, look on his mail box. That’s what I told Edwin when he asked me what your name was.

The fuck don’t he ask me himself?

Ownt know.

Don’t like it when a person doesn’t ask me things he can’t ask himself when he sees me often enough to speak with ease. Must be a psychwad religious shepherd or something.

Probly. You can leave me off up here. I gotta ride home tonight so you don’t have to pick me up.

(I don’t say I don’t know I had to do because then she would think I don’t need to. It’s the human contact. Her youthful humanity is awe inspiring. I understand her bickering. I don’t mind it. I welcome it. I plead with God to let me just hear how she has philosophized away this, or that. She says everything without equanimity. Underneath a veneer of cold cordiality is a bitter and vicious demeanor with a mean tongue for anything stupid or intolerable. She is a flower pot with a bouquet of smells from perfumes, sprays, conditioners, gels, juices, and oils. Bitch slap! You are human.

I think Connie and her parents are quite aware of what she is doing, but either are in denial, or are most sane, sober, comprehending and calculating; there is no in between.

Z

Before the fall every word bore with it the thing

the fall is the split between word and the thing

and that is how the word and the thing became it

Z

Leave Edwin alone, a voice within me drones. Calvin Dyme has already taken his place. It is a voice for which I should now be aware, I tell myself. I look at the worlds I create, and the people I make. I am a host of throngs withered from the mind because they have not been used on the tongue or scribbled on a pad to remember. I can’t remember seeing you for quite a few days, Edwin, and the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Cliffnut coming into the yard bodes darkly. The dim, deposed day, has left me weak and wanting; wanting the seconds to stop fucking ticking! Ticking time bomb blows holes to Valhalla at time warp speed through the days we call the years at the end.

Z

Edwin is dead; limpid and leftover from a lifelong demonic dread. He left a note on the table next to the chair, above which he hung from a lamp cord. It must’ve taken hours to die. At least that’s what Jimmy said. I believe him. I imagine he really would’ve wanted to punish himself (in his mind righteously) when he died.

The note didn’t say much, except that he just wanted to go to heaven. No family stepped forward . He is buried in an unmarked grave at the township cemetery. The small noncongregational church he belonged to gave him a service. Those necessary to perform the ceremony were present, no others but Edwin.

Z

Adam’s chancery produced the official documents of umbrianage. Ill iss gostust de tung (Mouse Say Dung was a 76 year old Chinese man, no gentleman, who shat in the yard like a dog. Every morning, his handler followed him into the yard with a long handled (not long enough) pooper scooper. Nonetheless, dung was spread among the roses and carnations, lotus blossoms, and blocks of stones that atheists called the Sacred Palace where, as though a sign from heaven, thereafter, mushrooms sprouted in the shapes of turds.

Z

He (for now) is the leader of North Korea, the voice of my tongue doth squeak, with the shape of a Buddha; not the skinny, emaciated body of a Hindu Yogi, one punished by lack of nutrients. No. The FAT Buddha, not jolly Buddha, but constipated Buddha, with an active snake in the rib cage, fattened on rice pudding, and with jowls wide enough to hold a school of fish in each cheek. He stands next to the narcissist American fat guy celebrity president, 72 years old, 40 lbs overweight – despite his assertions of health – media likes words, not facts – with never and nary a callus on either of his soft, dish towel hands. Common people pay to hear ol’jowls jostle with sauce, vowels, and consonants with a New Jersey thickness. Give ’em a fat guy born of privilege, buy him a college degree (he doesn’t have to act like he learned anything about virtue, humility, compassion.) Fat guy buying followers and slurping gravy from a $500 bowl of beans, and when someone says so, smiles authoritatively. The gods make a star of him; a Roman easy sell. Low hanging fruit for low hanging fruit. Give em a God.

No.

Give em a God.

No.

Wtf?

They don’t need a fucking God. Just want to build a straw man they can hate when things don’t go so well. Some fat guy with a lowbrow accent in a million dollar suit, born with a silver spoon, sitting down to sup with me. Your guns will have no effect, remember, when I punch him in the mouth and knock out those front teeth he uses to make so many shrill sounds.

Why would you want to do that anyway, Jesus?

Because it would feel good.

But there’s no moral reason to do that.

I have no idea what you are talking about. Morality is a concept for humans and their finite lives. Fine. I will leave and let you have a ruler. Along with the ruler of your choice are his systems and judgment. You will still use the language I have given you to describe your existence and your laws, but laws order into good and bad, and good and bad is something of your existence. Deism in the constitution of the United States is completely obliterated by the Puritan Calvinist, old testament ideology of an eye for an eye (In my case it is more of a tooth for a tooth; I say bad things about We so I have bad teeth and a self loathing for failing to speak in some circumstances.) You wear the same stories year after year, with an accompanied foreshadowed warning followed by a period of mourning. The more seasons that pass the more your eyes adjust and you come to know that you will be never be any different than you are right now, thinking up your own stories and lore about the generations that came before.

God and service to country perpetually rolled into some sort of higher form of sacrifice for a greater good. I will come again in the future to remind the generations that each is his own uber man fidgeting in a stupor as he stares into the future, because centuries bear so little change in the common person whom otherwise intelligent people call a noble savage.

Z

What was it that became today?

“Today shows us the silhouette of the future,” professor Cliffnut says as though he were starting a classroom lecture. I try hard to listen but I lack the ability to focus. My mood is tired, worn out from anxiety attacks. I am thinking about how transitory death traverses every moment, a breath away from my lips. The Cliffnut are kind landlords. I am usually a few days late with the rent but never has it been mentioned. Professor Cliffnut likes to hear himself talk and I guess if I was as interesting as he is I would like to hear myself talk too. My compulsion to talk is not entirely a source of contentment when in the company of others. And I don’t like to talk with most people; those engaged in the doing of life and not the meaning. Without a meaning, I can have no goal; and I do not wish to have community or group dictate my goals or personal desires.

I am a selfish American, pragmatic individualist filled with straw holes. I wear the the clothes of a bumpkin served as a refreshment at the thrice daily spit roast we each attend to on behalf of the caged snake. The snake wants to play with himself when he sees my brown sugar skin, blue runny eggs eyes, two slices of rye bread for lips with a little peach fuzz. But the story isn’t about me, it’s about that of a character named Bill trying to figure out Thoreau by just reading and forgetting about things like “figuring things out.” There is no point, only a drifting towards a being that was always in motion, pulled by the friction of time. Emerson and Thoreau, Sinclair Lewis, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, and Robert Frost are his progenitors for self reflection. Whitman, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson for his fictive persona, not the real person. My real persona is more Existentialist, like Sartre’s Nausea narrator.

“Luther was just the central figure,” Professor is saying. “He is where modern Christianity begins in historical context.” Professor Cliffnut’ intonations are honed; phrases and paraphrases infinitely described. I smoked a couple bowls before coming over and I am weaving through the throes of hypnotic but soft whoa!s watching Mrs. Cliffnut watching me from over her magnificently chiseled shoulder. She is filling in a cement hole in the concrete across the street in the sidewalk leading to my front door. I was awakened at 7AM by the cement mixer churning sand, gravel and stone. So I got up to make coffee, feeling a little ornery with my Meyer parrot for shrieking in my ear as I walked past his cage. I smoked the buds and watched Mrs. Cliffnut, who was aware I was watching, giving my window a stern, but not altogether unfriendly glance.

Her jeans hang heavily over her curves like a strong, soft legged, effeminate man. Her lips are chapsticked and lifted at the lateral commisures which, along with the lifted tips of the cupid’s bow give the hint of mild annoyance. Facial phrasing and paraphrasing. The face divines the deep structures while the guy at the top sorting out the impulses – and getting doused with mood, emotion and anxiety – tries to air traffic control the network into coherent meaning by applying intent to the surface structures he is creating. Sometimes the face is out of control, much to the annoyance of the controller when he realizes it. In my case, my face is seemingly under the control of a lifeless sneer, much to the annoyance of the controller.

Mrs. Cliffnut is supervising four Latinos; two cousins on semi-permanent guest status with two other men occupying the three other rooms on my ground floor. The men seem to be related to the ladies on the second floor. There is a shared kitchen on the second floor where the ladies can be found from very early in the morning until very late in the evening. The women do all of the grocery shopping, food preparation, and laundry. The men all look to be in their late 20s, with two of the women about 20, one maybe 30, and the other about 40. I am thinking of anything significant to add about the Latinos but give it up. Professor Cliffnut is saying something about Isaac Newton but Connie Cliffnut is walking toward me with her purse under her arm. She is wearing a mauve tank top with pink highlights at the sleeves and throat. I purr like a kitten between the downy peaks of her triceps and rub my cheeks and lips on her hypnotic forearms.

Edwin lived in a kitchenette in the back and on the other side of me. After he was gone the contents of his room were quickly picked of value and left for the garbage man. His life was too insignificant for further contemplation. None of the Cliffnut’ seemed the least bit interested in talking about him.

“Skip didn’t have anything to do with it,” Connie told me while texting. Clearly, she was disinterested in the shapes being whipped by the wind outside her window. She was annoyed by the sun in her eyes, but even more annoyed that the visor on her side was missing. Her face gave me 10 lashes on my naked ass for the offense and the tone of her voice assigned penance of 10 Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s. “Wtf? No visor for the window; what’s up with that?”

Sorry. I’ll take care of it.

She levels her stare at me for a few helpless moments as I watch her out of the corner of my eye. She lowers her chin, pulling her lower lip in over her bottom teeth to the tip of her tongue, her face paraphrasing, “make sure you do.”

“He ain’t even living there no more,” Connie continues, speaking about Skip in a diction that makes me question that she is the product of two university instructors. He moved out a couple months ago. You haven’t seen him on the street anywhere, have you?”

“No.”

“There you go. Turn here.”

“Onto the highway?”

“Got someplace you gotta be?”

“No. Just was gonna…”

“Stay home. I know. That’s why you got time to take me into town.” She meant Gland Rapids, the black hole 45 miles to the south.

Z

The night is filled with liquid humor

bearing thorny blossoms, the morning,

quickens, coagulating, and at 5pm,

crusts over.

I wonder what the apostle Bill would’ve become if it were given him to say. I conjure him with my mumbo jumbo, stir the cauldron for sinew and strings that lack motion of their own to Become. I who am limb bearing and second hand clothed, crying to an ethereal heaven that existed before the fall; a time when word and the thing were both It; now split into a man whose idea is Becoming, I am becoming an It that has already become. [sort of hand the scene in mind from Monty Python’s Holy Grail where the sacred book is read for the ceremony of the holy hand grenade. This led to a popping into my mind some scenes of John Hapflik in Viet Nam, an advisor for the troop buildup; maybe 1960-61.]

Z

Zen Buddhism sounds silly to me for its serious side. I could describe Berkeley’s Idealism, Joyce’s epiphany, or de Chardin’s evolutionary charlatanism; all would be Buddhism to an extent. In a letter dated June 6, 1962, John Hapflik tells his mother of a woman in Laos, or Thailand, kicking a little buddha statue down the street and cursing it. It doesn’t matter what she was saying; the action is the wording. It is not a profound thing in the least; simply millions of Buddhists in families, for generations living by slogans and assertive deductions that are either in tune, or not with their environment. They are worried about the mercury content of karma, some, so they are Pure Land Buddhists who want to add statistics to the karma question, make it a fairer equation. A prayer wheel in the wind is more profitable on a stormy day.

Cut the language out of action in order to maintain the trinity of thing, word and it. The idea of non superimposed awareness. I can imagine Kerouac as a sad, depressed person to have written Some of the Dharma. The thing about zen is that long periods of loneliness are not so much self imposed as they are an outcome of compulsive anxiety. Maybe he enjoyed his youth like everyone else and had a flair, an original flair, which he used to tell the story of his youth in a paraphrase, once or twice; like Salinger, but Kerouac fizzled into Buddhism and softly imploded, like a turd that teases by retreating, and returning after releasing a little gas. It makes his persona rigid. He is an impostor to the reader who swallows with relativism, who engages in a psychological decoding of Kerouac the writer, who, like Chogyam Trungpa died in his late forties of alcoholism because, apparently, enlightenment involves the consumption of large amounts of alcohol.

The 90 foot Buddha will take 45 more years to sculpted. A dozen monks have spent a decade on his genitalia, hammering and beating stones into the water below. In 45 years it will be ready to bless passing boaters and to receive the occasional tossed stone.

“You can’t go fishing near the Buddha.”

“My body needs protein.”

“But only the most needy get to fish near the Buddha.”

“It’s a fucking statue! Besides, I respect the quirks of the community but there is a school of fish right over there, right at the left pinky toe of the Buddha.”

“There has to be a school of fish available so the needy are never hungry.”

“There you go. What, you think I’m gonna take more than I need? Where am I going to put it?”

“I don’t know but you are a depraved human being who will be tempted to take more than he needs.

“You will see all of those fish available and you will get greedy.”

“Fuck you. Who isn’t pursuing their own needs? I just want to put enough food in my belly to last until the next hunger pain.”

“I don’t like your attitude. And you smell funny.”

“Would you like to find out what causes that?”

Two hours later I was picked up by a tall, mean looking Chinese cop, and over the course of six months repeatedly interrogated and talked to in Chinese, which I cannot understand. But after seeing me paraded into his room once a week and sitting their like I was listening he came to the conclusion that I was deaf and jail was no place for him to be watching over a deaf American. He gave the provincial leader whom I offended his word that I was rehabilitated and could be expected to show proper respect for tribal custom. I found that all out from a talking spider who spoke sign language and tagged along with me on the underside of a shoe lace.

Z

John Hapflik stalks the humus night, crouched low in the tangles of a gully. He approaches with slow, measured steps. There is a shhk shhk sound, then a slow, thunderously muting percussion, followed by an enraged wind. Compressed into a cave, shadows flee into his skull.

“Ye eater of broken meats, oh finical, lily-livered rogue!”

I think I shall see thee among the commons; common men of the Germanic languages speaking in tongues. Men of common cause and common effect. For all the world, Richard to Anne, shows the other for We. We be acceptable as showing our subjection to one another in a harmonious If Not For We. And if one doesn’t ascend a straw Other it degrades the We.

Z

Skip Tavage is gone and again is seen Mrs. Rounds, in whose basement he’d resided, discussing varicose veins with an audience of flies spread out among the leaves around her. She is Ivy, ivy among the May queens, seductive like a hayseed swimming after butterflies. She is far less manly than Mrs. Cliffnut, whose muscularity is always a mesmerizing action of femdom. Mrs. Rounds puffs and flutters, jingles and shakes. Mrs. Cliffnut is linear. Angular. Staunch, sturdy. Masculine if woman, feminine if man. Mrs. Rounds subdues by fluttering and sputtering in exquisite softness, Mrs. Cliffnut by iron, cold indomitability. Connie tells me no more about Skip Tavage. He is forgotten and insignificant.

Z

Fight! Fight! You’re an old man, dead man, twig man; breathe for all of us, the We! We are the youth that informed you, gave you all the symbols you need. Speak to us. Give us back through the things we believe. You are among us always, in the closet, in your memories.

Old men, singing of whores, once held high as the fruit of boys, now the fruit that hangs low. Deep veined and cobalt blue, like a tongue, the penis, if given a mouth, sings.

The feet that once shuffled, skipped, strutted and slid, now slip, falter, crumble and shake. Fruit pits of unravaged flowering quiver through cold, clammy tunnels toward the goal of structures of sturdy indestruction; Mrs. Cliffnut and Skip Tavage on one hand, Mrs. Rounds and Connie Cliffnut on another.

Z

It is 1AM, on a Wednesday morning in mid-August of the Great Lakes. Half moon, owls, tangled vines and gravel. I’m on Barnett Rd. walking south of old Main street where the old Hapflik salvage yard was. There is a pile of rotted sticks and wire that was a fence long, long ago. The rotted sticks fall apart in my hand. I quicken my stride as headlights approach from Main St. toward Barnett Rd. A police patrol. I manage to get over a crest in the road before a spotlight leaps at me from the car. There is no wind, no noise at all in my ears and I can hear a mechanical sounding squawk talk that mimics human language, as if the cop has turned the dispatcher’s voice on the loudspeaker of his car. The big dog flashing his badge, making me know he’s there. I can only return the same way. He will stop me then.

Virgie Dinklpfuss’s property has a steep driveway leading to a tiny cabin. Past the cabin I cannot see. The property in back of it is obstructed by foliage but there is, I am told, a bible retreat camp for a christian youth association. There is a soccer field, archery range, basketball and tennis courts, a large pavilion with a kitchen and bench seating for two hundred. There are daily services and bible instruction during the six weeks the center is open, mid-June to the first of August.

Mrs. Van Innern at the historical society doesn’t remember seeing Virginia Haskins for many, many years. When I informed her that Virgie was the registered owner of the property until her recent death, Mrs. Van Innern seemed shocked. She’d figured that the christian youth center had bought the property ten years ago when they built the church building in the back.

“She died recently, you say; did your source say where she lived at the time?”

“No. The article only mentioned Littlefield as a place where she was “from.”

“Very strange woman. Quite a spunky devil. All the old folks dislike her deeply. They called her a communist, lesbian, prostitute. Oh, believe me, she wore the scarlet letter in her day.”

I get the feeling that Mrs. Van Innern wants to look over the contents of my suitcases.

“Perhaps I can give you the suitcases when I am done with them?” I uptalk.

“Oh, that would be so very kind. It would mean so much to the historical narrative of Littlefield to have them in our time vault.

Somehow, I can’t like what she said, “historical narrative of Littlefield.”

Z

I walk over crests of rising and falling foliage bathed in a sort of round glow that I swear is following me wherever I go. It is like a spotlight following an actor on a stage. I cross the river and find that I have walked round a circle and I am at a T in the road below and a few hundred yards from the back corner of what was once Virgie Haskins’ property. There was once a sort of party spot here. Bill Dinklpfuss describes it in one of his notes. When he was in school in the 1950’s it was a place where the kids came to party, gangs came to fight. He writes of watching from the corner of the property above me, smoking a marijuana or tobacco cigarette and watching the action below. He is always alone. He rarely speaks of any activity involving others, except being a house servant for his mother’s friends. I think about how I talk to Mr. Cliffnut because he is interesting and I am reasonably comfortable that he knows what he is talking about. Professors and artists, criminals and sociopaths all visited Virgie, and they are the people with whom Bill would’ve conversed with. He is like a sponge, this Bill Dinklpfuss. He is the homosexual in the novel Nausea, by Sartre, the guy that is reading all the books in the library alphabetically. No. Wait. That guy reminds me of Edwin Umbrian, maniacally focusing on sentences and letters; goals, plans, resolutions, commitment; with an insane, staunch, 100% focus on order and discipline because it is the right thing to do.

He who commands the language creates the new context, a derivative become slogan and cause. By word I am child of the man and by language I appropriate him. I am also he that sees the higher I. I am he who can be thought of become I Am. I am he that is Being. It is me and I am It. We are together personifying, yet hopelessly obstructing the vision of the I. Zen man says stop looking in the mirror. I say, shaddup, Zen man, we both see the same fucking thing. Your language to you, my language to me.

Z

The global government of Roman Clunk has announced it has granted ownership of the sun to Sludskump Corp., whose board of directors includes the 12 wealthiest people on earth. President Clunk has long admired the warmth brought by the sun and is certain that Sludskump Corp. will run the sun far more efficiently than the government has. Senator Pissmule has introduced emergency legislation to do away with daylight savings time so that it stops interfering with the free will of the market to settle like the little ball in the roulette wheel, the value of the sun.

Senator Oxcorker will be introducing legislation to do away with time, which has recently been purchased from the government of Roman Clunk by a subsidiary of Roman Clunk Enterprises. Mini futures contracts will begin trading on Monday. Everyone will have a gain or loss of time. But no worries, citizens. You should not experience anything. The time will only be fractions of seconds in duration. We have applied a stop gap in advances and declines to insure that the free market acts sensibly. All citizens are still responsible for using their own time and must declare so on their tax returns even if their employer shorts time and uses a passive income tax carry forward thing to make everyone work extra hours. Anyone not assuming responsibility for their own time will be penalized an as yet to be determined amount amount of time, which will ultimately be ruled an original tax by the Supreme Court. Man is born in a state of original tax. There is a team of think tank specialists and marketing psychologists coordinating efforts to determine the best language to sculpt this colossal pile of crap into a morality thing for a bumpkin to nibble on.

The voice says the author is trying to unravel his own issues through the characters he or she creates. It must be true. All voices are mine, cycling from the recesses with noisy machines whirring. I read ticker tape, Morse code, Navaho, but I am still a motor comprehending itself. The physicality of being provides the impetus and the grist to explore and explain to self; while each to himself fears the other’s cunning. I don’t want your goddamn time, Calvin Dyme, but you want mine; in my shop, in my house, at my table and in my bed. Not to exclaim pretty Jesus is dead but that he lives by Roman administrator rules. He is commanding and demanding, always with ornery eyes and a declension of views, and an old disgust for ordinary self.

Z

From the notebooks of Bill Dinklpfuss

You don’t speak for the goddamn We, Calvin; you don’t speak for me, Trenton (Bill’s Calvinist farmer employer) Not you, study hall teacher demoted by the school system for one too many complaints about approaching boys in the bathroom to preach Christ. All I know is that all the world has cried to itself because of godly men like you. You call yourself men of the earth but you are imaginary minutemen with your psyches locked into slogan. You seek justice and protection against straw men, presuming with ill will, depravity with righteous indignation. You are born to be so worst than dust that only to dust could you hope to return. It is you who impose rule for show because it is the right thing to do.

Of John:Hapflik:

Day and time is for sale. I see others assuming depravity in others on the sidewalks, in their cars, in the stores. Their stares beat each other into into a more significant existence. I have seen the enemy and he is too awesome to behold. I will submit in advance and hope he or she or it spares me. The origin of masochism is spiritual, manifested as organized religion, with men writing as laws the deep structures in everyone’s mind. Everyone knows it is to their advantage to get along; beatitudes are universal. Taboos are universals written in local language. Jesus never walked in Littlefield or any other tiny town around the Great Lakes. If you wanna talk about the great deception, Calvin Dyme it isn’t just the Catholic church that dares interpose itself between the human and any would-be outside creator or manipulator. In Littlefield, there is a hypocritical, judging, cowardly puritanism that claims to be the voice of God, active in and manipulating politics and law enforcement. You wanna talk to me about the christian God, motherfucker? I have had all of him that I can stand and I just want him to leave me the fuck alone! The great beast is puritan politics that excludes, denigrates, chastises, demands because it judges all as depraved. As for you, Calvin Dyme, you see this bag I wear on my side, guy?You think that’s the price I paid for your christian God; paid for YOU, for YOUR freedom? Don’t come around here anymore. Ya’all make me sick.

(The last paragraph is taken verbatim from a passage from a notebook of Bill Dinklpfuss. The Dymes visited the garage for repairs over the years. Bill writes about them quite a bit They seem the very sort of Jonathan Edwards types who try to convict you of depravity so they can offer a hope out of it.)

Z

Poem from the notebook of Bill Dinklpfuss. It is dated April 13, 1964. The poems he writes after this date are sad and self indulgent. For the next five years, it appears, Bill sees little of his mother and doesn’t mention any visitors to the cabin. There are a few dozen drawings on drawing paper that he does during this time and he writes quite a bit about Emerson. He reveals a maturing spirituality after an apparent break with his mother. He knows his mother is spiritually disengaged from him and views him more from a utilitarian point of view. She lacks a motherly instinct.

Once more, you said what you thought was right.

Live for what you need to show

Precious,

what matters convention

or blame

or hate

or reasons to justify?

All that’s thought is shadows

baying for attention

and love breaks

heartlessly, holding desire

longer than needs be

your self holds your production, child

and you are getting old

cut the reigns and be on your way, child

this is no longer your home

Z

Circles,

wound tight around me

suffocating

all my needs

Cancer, this circle

watching me believe

begging before it

desperate, in need

probe from me,

the point of being

interrogate my suffering

tax my patience,

with condemnatory condolences

repositories more like suppositories

from some Catholic or Calvinist creed

I would rather sit around

and smoke weed

than listen, or touch

or see you,

you are the cursed We

~

I unwind

it’s just a day

but I’m caught inside

even though it’s raining

it’s a nice day for a drive

The winter breathes diesel fuel

defecates its dust

A smoke calms the killer that fights me

as I fantasize

I’m a real life action hero

who really doesn’t need

Television web

a spark and the network comes to life

makes me think who I am supposed to be

isn’t who I am, really

I didn’t part ways from my fellow man

I never felt a need to hide from him

except, he thinks of me, more often than not

as a bit player,

a fossil of a model of deductive clay

So what is it you need today

the mind-man-mirror

is compelled to say,

not a thing

it’s just a nice day for a drive

~

Every time I see a face

it makes me want to hide

why does fear divide

the moments between us

I swear I could’ve met you

in a different state

in a different day

my partings didn’t effect you

and made me hate myself more

each time I returned

~

What is the sum of your deposition

the groups tell us personal things don’t matter

you are a slogan

a ghost operative for the collective

you are a shadow in our mirror

with all your seeking

Einstein admitted organized power can only be controlled by organized power. But what if the power is unorganized, overwhelming in its madness?

Z

Eye dialect is what you are talking about, said Prof Cliffnut when I began talking about how colloquial spelling matches intent of the author, it is not a judgment by the narrator but it is taken as a matter of course that when presented by an author, colloquial language signifies lack of sophistication.

“That may be the inference of the reader but the reader’s inference is his own albatross,” said the Professor. “The hearer notes the fluctuations of vowels and consonants and how they are expressed on the dentals, the soft palate, the larynx. He observes his lungs and throat propelling wind for the sound. There is no “supposed to sound” to pronunciation. You can ask someone why they are pronouncing it a certain way in order to understand what that person is expressing, but you cannot insist, like an unknowing neophyte, that there is one certain way to pronounce a word. In Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play, professor Higgins woos others with his ability to tell within a block or two where a person lived just by the way they spoke. If you can’t wrap your head around that I am afraid academics isn’t for you, I tell some students. ”

“Business school.”

“Sure.”

I met a Vietnamese Buddhist scholar who was the teacher and priest at the local temple. He had lived his entire life in zen temples and was completing a graduate degree in psychology. He told me he was only priest at the temple so he could get his Psychology degree paid for and that zen was not profound in the least. The idea was just to get the mind off things. Count breaths. Indo-European, indeed all cultures, had physicians or priests who prescribed different types of meditation and exercise using the imagination to free oneself from some anxiety or malady. It was all simply language and tricks of language to speak to the collective what the individual already knows. An elder at the temple wanted to have a ceremony for me, gave me a prayer book of Buddhist chants and a robe with a zen name. When I told the teacher he said, “you don’t have time for that. Write a book, go on a trip; whatever. You will be better off.”

Z

I confess, I cried when I saw this. Bill had to put his beloved horse to sleep after it grew old and arthritic. The animal seems to be about the closest friend Bill Dinklpfuss ever had. Bill Dinklpfuss, thank you, wherever you are, for making me feel alive.

Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm

Fall has come early this year

my heart still shakes from what I fear

My companion, who kept my days

must leave me this way

Mellow, you changed things

made me feel I had a home

you’re raspy whining

when you see me

I can’t bear the approaching hour,

I stumble with you to the back of the barn

crying like a girl

I don’t want to leave you this way

I know, it hurts to stand

I’m sorry, precious

I can’t make you stay

Z

“What is, is natural,” said Edwin Umbrian. “What’s today; that’s all that’s important.”

But Edwin, there is all that brought today, this moment to what it is.”

Edwin’s words echo the talkative clerk in accounts payable who wants to slice unnecessary university subjects like Latin. “No other language preceded ours; we don’t need to know what was knowed before.”

Sure. New laws, iron laws, those are what we need. Walls are what we need; yours to you, mine to me. And our inalienable right to the pursuit happiness as long as it is Supreme Court acceptable. Btw, are you this or that? You can tell us, we don’t care what you do.

Why do you need to know, again?

“Just need to label a chicken a chicken.”

Corroboration; collaboration for your bullshit to you.

Edwin says, “you need to tell the weeple what happened to you.”

“Fuck you, bitch. Don’t you have a passing lane to get into so you can slow down traffic behind you? Suzy Pusscrotch – on your way home to your boyfriend, the domestic abuser with a big dick and little tolerance for wage earning?”

Shouldn’t have said that to her. A bundle of bony knuckles behind the ear; blackness. I am gone.

Z

I never quite lose consciousness but I am unable to move, lying in a pool of blood, which is coming from my nose. I can’t move and my nose is pressed into the field of vision in my left eye. There is a teeming numbness from a billion furious molecules screaming themselves into a throbbing throng of pain. I have to tell my body it can move. It has to. Come on, goddammit! Because this is a goddamned moment if there ever was one. I watch from beyond the sky as I get to my feet and begin to move. I am staggering forward, weightlessly buzzing, straining against gravity. It is like walking on the moon; I strain with all my might to move forward. When I give myself to floating, the tightness in my stomach abates. When I no longer care if I fall down or not, the blood flow returns full throttle over my traps, up both sides of my neck. Orange and yellow flames shriek upwards out of the sharp points of my gargoyle ears.

I should’ve known better than to answer that bitch; just some punk woman yelling her provocative, snotty bullshit. I smelled cologne, body odor, tobacco and whiskey when I was hit; the collection of smells together a unique identifier. I have sampled this identifier while walking to my porch. I know before I feel nothing in my back pocket that my wallet is gone. I picture hyena like grins if I make eye contact with any of the Latino males who live in the two rooms in back of me.

Z

“Jesus, what happened to you,” asks Jimmy as I go to the cooler for a bottle of malt liquor. I never talk from a distance. I get the bottle and bring it to the cash register.

“Got mugged, man.”

“No shit; where at?”

“Out back. In the parking lot.”

“What? No way!” Jimmy looks at me and shakes his head. Jimmy looks kinda like the dude who was gonna shoot Ethan Hawke in the movie Training Day but doesn’t because Ethan Hawke saved his cousin from being raped. “What were you doing back there anyway?”

“Some wench was yelling at me from back there after I came out of the store last night. I walked back there to see what her problem was and got jacked from behind.”

“Hate to say it, but you should’ve known better, man.”

“I fucking know it. That’s why I didn’t call the cops. I couldn’t identify the bitch or the guy who hit me. Could tell the officer what the guy smelled like but not what he looked like.”

“Oh yeah, what did he smell like?” Jimmy now looks kinda like the old tv actor, Ed Marinaro.

“I dunno, how I imagine clean ape hair would smell, perhaps with a shake of piss on it.”

“Hah hah, okay!”

“Mmm hmm. Well, oh, a couple packs of smokes.”

“You got it.” Jimmy gets the smokes, his boots don’t scuff the worn wooden plank floor; they are sturdy Buddha steps. He looks at me with soft, drooping ears and lucid blue eyes. “Hey man, don’t worry about it,” he says and leans forward with a hand on my shoulder across the counter. “You’re safe. All right?”

I am not in the mood for the silly togetherness talk of WE telling each other that there is an unseen agent watching over us. But Jimmy stops me a second longer, and just like the guy in the Training Day, repeats “right?” with an upward turn of an eyebrow.

“Ok, Jimmy. Take care, man.”

Z

Every middle-aged man faces the youthful, unknowing knower who is positive that you are a relic from ancient days. And but for the advanced something or other of his generation you would surely collapse and expire from ineptitude. The youthful eye is mesmerized by the We to escape the gloom of rules.

Where one church once said, “immoral,”a thousand churches have sprouted up to say, “we alone are the true voice of morality. We know what is right and we will do evil to make you do good if it is justified. God will judge us, not you. It is not completely wrong to inflict punishment if the end justifies the means. We are not a lynch mob. No, really. We just believe in taking care of things for ourselves. (as in the Ox Bow Incident) The country belongs to criminals serving themselves and not God. One puts his conscience on lay away for a lifetime of moral equivocation; it is easier to side step all the suffering. But when the father set up a body cam on everyone, being omniscient and all, he gave them good ones, not like the ones the cops have that malfunction and turn off by themselves all the time. He’s heard all the baloney assed double talk which the self uses to justify, equivocate and exonerate itself.

I just want to go to heaven, were Edwin’s parting words to the world of his existence, as if he finally told me what it was that he wanted to tell me all those times he tried to pull me into some bullet point dialogue where words and lines were aligned to meet all the answers. Edwin needed that manipulation of his mind because he truly couldn’t stand himself. He didn’t need to be coerced into finding disgust with himself and then be given redemption. He was grandiose beyond the forgiveness received nonetheless. Oh, glory be to God, I am saved! “You can hate me now for all I care because it’s God yer hatin’,” Edwin once said, completely puzzling the young college student stopping by to talk to Connie Cliffnut. Poor kid was just hating a jakwad narcissist who looked him straight in the eye and addressed a straw man.

Before you get the idea I am a goody two shoes, Edwin, I, too, can be a cynical, peptic faced jackwad. We both see ourselves in the mirror and are horrified. I too, personify and unfairly associate others with some supposition or another. I am aware that I, too, am Jim VanOvershittz leaving his motor home parked at the gas pump of the Hudsonville Dining Room/Gas station while he takes the family inside for some supper. He gives his son a nasty snarl after the kid tells him he should move the motor home.

“Public property. I got a right to do anything I want. Don’t they teach ya about yer rights in public school?”
“In school I got rights. And this isn’t public property.”

“Shut up and hold the door for your mother.”

At times, I am also the person on the freeway stepping on the gas when he sees a semi ahead. I drive 25,000 every year. Everyone does it from time to time. It is a fact that more than 50% of the time that the person at the front of a pack slows 3-5 mph after transferring from the right lane and in front of a line of cars. 98% probably would deny doing it as often as they really do. But the fact is, if everyone uses speed control nobody is fluctuating speed, nobody is racing, nobody is passively aggressively bitch slapping others for imagined intent or lack of attention, or imposing themselves on others. Most bottle necked traffic would move more efficiently, save lives, prevent a lot of time consuming passive aggressiveness. America does not want to give this up. America will not allow this daily arena of passive aggression towards one another to be taken from it. It is hard to conceive of society allowing fleets of trucks among the traffic without human drivers to give a finger to on occasion. That’s a point in support of religion, Edwin Umbrian, it allows us to make war on each other; with passive aggression; with the notion of our own grandiose delusions of being paid attention to by an adoring God.

To be cynical means to not expect any more than this; that everyone is sort of an asswipe, or whatever social media vomit talk says you are. Because I don’t use the language of the We and accept the drama of collective narcissism, the context of the day, the sink hole of categories superimposed by the suppostistions of others which define you to you, it is I who is viewed, categorically, as the narcissist. But I AM that selfish narcissist who psychotically thinks that every living organism should be privy to his wishes. Still, I see in this insufferable, idiotic trying-to-deny-I’m-a-We person a far superior derivative of reality than the religious tragedian, real life hero that the tv network creates and makes you believe is a panacea.

The real organism has infinite possibilities. It is matter and energy, electro-chemico stimulated, lives in an enclosed environment of a finite minerals defined by chemistry. It has the ability to adapt and to regenerate cells, regulate itself, heal itself in ways beyond the imagination once it develops the technology to do so and the business assholes have figured out who will be allowed to profit and how much. Give us time. We’re working on it. It’s just that most are bent on suicide it seems, each generation with its hands behind its head and taking a roughly 90 year walk to the great feast of crows. When the chemical and mineral elements have been conquered, we shall have achieved immortality. We will have met the grade of creator. We will have met the ultimate challenge of existence and no longer be a generational animal with a finite constitution and ninety years of equivocation.

The superstitious don’t want to play God and will murder you for such a thought. They don’t know that it is indeed an outside force they are talking to but they could give a convincing argument they are talking to themselves as IF they were talking to an ethereal being. Every person is in solitude with himself at all times while its body other performs the drama. When the knower and the doer are one and the same it is the difference between waiter and playing-waiter. God isn’t a Being but a force that we generate with intention, a will to power. With this power I create an infinity of selves, all embodied in the end in a way that couldn’t have quite been calculated while performing. With positive illusion, the self adapts and keeps alive an energy of positive illusion despite the illusion of a straw man he imagines that others see when they see him.

Behold, the man has split himself into two strands of DNA. We have let him understand this much about himself but we cannot let him go much further until we get another liberal on the supreme court who will let a Republican with money buy and patent the process toward immortality.

Z

“Yer spozed to make sense. And we don’t say “greazy.” Here it’s “greasy.” There are no two ways to say things.” Edwin was speaking to a daughter; who grows up to become a middle school English teacher who terrorizes some kids into a technical precision of grammar and makes others so anxious they can’t learn. She frightens away those who would otherwise enjoy literature with a puritan formalism which she dispenses with puckers and hisses. She represents those who dispense religion as a Manichean death struggle between Christ and the devil, with good lord losing the battle in the class room ever since the damn liberals got atheism into the public schools. Once we get a republican majority in congress and another man of God on the supreme court to offset the devil’s representatives on the left, blah, blah, blah.” It is astonishing how many people believe this baloney ass talk and engage in it all day on social media, at work, and in epithets directed toward other drivers.

Hegemony in mass culture, mind of kitsh; village acceptance, human cloning through programming, no eugenics necessary. Art, art, art! Everywhere. I visited the San Francisco Museums of Art once. I don’t think everything is art. Pop art was populism with its various anthems to the universal. Walt Whitman, Andy Warhol, Norman Mailer, Cassius Clay, various musicians and entertainers. I am the skeptical Thoreau, or Emerson later in life; mind on self, looking more at patterns than detail; a myopic Cezanne looking over the terrain, painting the same hill day after day; born and bred in a dutch Great Lakes settlement but not accepted as one of them. Something keeps me here but it is not the others.

Z

A short story about a man trying to see who is sweeping the stage behind the curtain, putting things in order before the spotlight comes on again or the curtains are drawn. The author wants to see in him a polar balance between Dionysus and Apollo, his intellect divided into this and that with the self jumping from skin to skin.

The truth won’t set you free

if it’s all you ever know

it scores to make believe

what your senses cannot show

Over grass and to the path

there is no hurry; my legs

slowly sway from the saddle

as I duck low for branches

beneath the trees I am lost for days.

What I leave behind I cannot say, though some would say it’s just melodrama, psychosis, lack of education, or immorality. There is just nothing there unless I make it. Robert Frost’s rider sat on his horse, imagining that the horse was wondering what the rider was thinking, when Frost would’ve been more accurate by having the horse thinking like any freezing, living creature, “I don’t like the cold. What is your issue? Let’s get the fuck moving! Don’t you realize I am a grazing animal and probably have a hunger pain all the time?” Suspension of disbelief; what is the poem trying to tell us? No. We ask ourselves that so often we forget to realize that a grazing animal is going to have a hunger pain to compel it to eat just like the human animal.

I dreamed a crowd shouting at me as if I wasn’t there:

He has behavior issues

Maladjusted social behavior

He hates women!

He looks like the Grinch who stole Christmas!

He’s a killer, probably contemplating who he’s gonna kill or rob next!

Not me, I gotta concealed pistol permit!

I am jesus christ. I have just been flayed, dissected and quartered in a fit of mob rage; in primitive tragedian, Dionysian ecstasy. Now, Apollo has restored order and made us all feel ashamed for the life we have taken. For this God we’ve made for ourselves we’ve give ourselves in sacrifice to show ourselves we are truly sorry.

I, thee God, with this symbol, do absolve you of your depravity. You, yourself heard Dionysus say it.

And Apollo resigned as Chancellor but retained his title as head of the Just Us Dept.

And as time goes on, Apollo, again and again oversteps with laws, regulations, codes, systems, categories, labels, and correction. He is a great equivocator, demanding your subjection to far away authority. The Dionysians from time to time allow Apollo dominion, not that his authority is needed but because they more or less need him to fill in while they recuperate. It’s just that he is always taking over while the Dionysians are trying to get some sleep. Yeah, we are depraved, in need of an authority in order to rebel against it.

Z

To only believe in senses and not man at all, in what he has created with his mind and the black hole of knowledge waiting to suck him into forevermore because of an inherent awareness of self and environment, that is a consignment to hell.

To have the fear to advance in knowledge for fear of what we are learning; that is consignment to hell.

But to not make vows to keep the body corporeal in 2019 makes one a witch just as it did in the 17th and 18th century in America. I hear Jonathan Edwards in the voice of the Great Lakes and Mid-west America.

“He did the inducting, you just do the deducting. You can’t walk in his shoes, son.”

But…if he is walking in Christ’s shoes, and neither one of them are here…I was just thinking….”

“You don’t gotta do no thinking, son, just pay and pray.”

Uh, I don’t think so, dad. I mean, I got my own life to lead.

You go on and do that then. Z’long as ya liv here, yer gonna do what I say.

But I thought I was to do what God says?

God gives me the uh-thority over ya, boy.

Then God sucks.

Swap! Open ear palm to the ear that makes it buzz for an hour.

“Stop that sass mouth!”

Z

Idolatry never has been a grave sin, providing you are savvy to whichever idols the We are holding. Bacon wrote about tribal idols and those unprescribed.

You only THINK you know what is right, but you are depraved, remember? Or were you being disingenuous to little ol’ jesus?

Yerz izzint jesus.

Just as much my jeezus as your jesus.

Juxtaposing a Jesus allows us to perceive thus: do what I say, but not what I must.

I am the childish father of man.

Super uber man, or under man, he’s us.

I didn’t stop on main street of a small town the other day, for a school bus on the other side of the road with at least a dozen cars behind it. I followed a mother in a red van who also may have suspended disbelief that we were supposed to stop. The bus driver honked the horn vehemently and raged at me through her windshield. Fuck you, I said to myself but addressing the straw man. There was a center lane between us; I didn’t think I had to stop. Yes, I know, We, I am already beholden to the tribe and wish no friction. I keep thinking of the little girl, maybe eight years old, who came running off the bus with her back pack and I am ashamed, Apollo. I have committed a sin of selfishness against the tribe. Now, I need to recover, can you sort of keep an eye on things until I get back? And no fucking taking over! I mean it, goddammit!

Oh, jeezuz, I am just a musician who wants people to hear my songs; they don’t have to end up liking them.

But, why would you want others to hear your songs if they don’t like them?

They’re like the girlfriend that doesn’t know enough to appreciate me yet.

Uh-huh. You want mom and dad, somebody, anybody to just pay attention to you for once, and yer gonna say whatcha wanna and goddammit, someone’s gonna lissen tuh you fer once.

Asshole. I don’t give a fuck what you think.

Not thinking anything; just seeing. The creation of hell is a love affair with masochism.

Just like the millions of others, you have something to say if only others will listen. But it’s the same stuff they would say of themselves in different degrees. Sing about yourself and that other and clothe yourself as other, but the we notices your conformity, your uniformity, your calculation of respect to the language of We. It isn’t what you say but how you say it. Language is a mechanism, not a system. Grammar is a primer but not an authority; neither Dionysian or Apollonian. But you have to learn the primer first to unlearn it.

Social media mind voice we, IT sez you have dr. phil abnormalogies?, abnumeralities?You don’t sound like, we, me, or anyone else you think you see. You are making a voice for yourself; don’t you see the grandiosity?

Yes, I do. But you see me with bad dress, bad teeth, bad language, bad smell. If you suspend disbelieve in yourself, I will present to you my disbelief suspended, not with a Robert Downey Jr. head of hair and rehearsed narcissism but as a shithead, shaking with all sorts of suspensions of disbelief.

“I think, therefore matter is capable of thought. The act is the thing; doing is what defines the thing. But who or what does the doing; who is the arranger of materials into motion?”

“I don’t know. It’s just there. It says “I am.”

“It can say anything it wants but it’s still a boogeyman I make up.”

“Oh, fuck you. Are you going to start in again?” Said Connie. “I’m tired of hearing all this I, We, Me, other bullshit. Just shut up! Pull up to the curb. Wait for me.”

While I’m waiting for her, Gerard Putzcorn, a high school acquaintance walks past the open car window.

“Hey man, long time no see.” He gives my old rusted Buick a condescending snicker. Same ol’ jakwad.

“Suck my ass, jakwad,” I say with a stone cold stare.

Asswipe shakes his head and walks away. That’s right, move along, asswipe. I’ve still got nothing to say to an always-will-be.

Z

Newton wants to know how matter communicates with itself. To itself, self doesn’t matter. Therefore, all that doesn’t matter belongs to self.

Z

“What human being would turn down a job at the age of 25; a desk job with good benefits, a union and a pension?” A guy sitting next to me is telling me why he is estranged from his lazy-assed son. I light another cigarette and order another drink.

“Someone who isn’t happy with the path that has been chosen for him,” I say.

“Man, nobody chose it for him. It just fell into his lap. You and I know when to take advantage of things that don’t happen every day but not my son. Nope. He acts like miracles are supposed to happen every blessed day. The damn fool calls himself a writer but he ain’t never sold anything and he never will. Lazy bastard never worked a job he liked; never cared to own his own home. Gonna live his whole life with nothing to show for it in the end.

I don’t want to talk about this guy’s problem. He just wants someone to agree with him. Others shouldn’t ask that of another. The guy is still talking.

“Bullshitter. My own son is a bullshitter. You know what he’s doing right now?”

“Getting a concealed weapons permit because he realizes how dangerous others like him are to the tribe?”

“Yeah, exactly…er, uh, yeah.”

“Sorry, man, I gotta gotta go to the restroom.” I take a slow piss, adjust my ear hair, check for tooth abscess. Someone is knocking on the door. I leave the bathroom and the guy is still sitting there in the chair next to mine with his mug of beer and watching the game on the big screen. I duck away and pay Ernie at the end of the counter; then take a quick glance over to where the guy is sitting. He’s talking to someone else sitting where I was sitting. I hope he can be more helpful to the guy about his kid than I was. I didn’t have kids. I just know how to act like one. However, I am convinced that being an adult is simply the kid showing off how easily he can play the role expected of him.

Z

Idk, just seems like a lotta people living desperate lives; people always give an edited report of themselves; “the just gotta do” people, being tribal like.

Well, if everyone is wrong who what is right?

That’s entrapment.

No, it just means, say something good about people. What makes you so right about everything?

But I’m not presenting anything as either right or wrong. I am a pragmatic existentialist exploring the language and context we use while playing the multiple roles assigned by our daily lives.

I’m willing to listen, says Connie, I just can’t sympathize.

Empathize.

No. Sympathize, she says with a fierce anger. I am only sympathizing with you right now. I have no feelings for what you are saying, whatsoever. I just feel sorry for you because you are so fucking pathetic. I can’t wait for you to shut up sometimes.

Sorry.

God it pisses me off I had to hear that. I write it down before my body, with its brain that creates a universe for itself, splits itself so it can talk to itself in thesis and antithesis; material speaking to itself.

Z

You don’t understand Descartes.

You don’t understand Locke.

You don’t understand Calvin.

You don’t understand Hobbes.

You don’t know Jack

You don’t know Jill

Blah blah blah

I don’t read philosophy so I can embrace a system, or advocate a theory. I am interested in intellectual history. I order historical patterns for recognition. The voice of self awareness recorded in its own context. The same clucking, puckering, hissing, enunciating fluctuations of breath from the humans around me for now and for all generations before. The same bodily needs and desires. The same warring We. I have to visualize things; place ideas into compartments of contemplation. Intellectual history, epistemology, ontology, philosophical spiritualism , all honor me with knowledge. To have faith in something in the absence of knowledge is one thing; to have faith in the professional priest as a representative of a higher power is unreasonable to ask of me. Still, I feel the energy of togetherness while singing Christmas carols or going to any cultural folk ceremony. Only, now when I go to a church service I locate the other loners. “There’s a brother, or there’s a sister,” I say.

Z

I, Edwin Umbrian, being of sound mind do hereby bequeath my predestination to the Calvinist heaven and sell my original sin to that generation of men thousands of years into the future, who will look upon us as mere animals who lucked out, surviving evolution by not having our infinite potential snuffed out finally by superstitious fear; fear of self culture, fear of self education, fear of not belonging to some greater We. 80,000 years of life without a Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Communist penal code . We will drive the We onto center stage where it says to the I, “yes, Ma’am, or Sir, how may I serve you?”

“You can’t! Get thee hence!”

The politician of America, telling rulers of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish nations that America is praying for them is emblematic of the dogged puritanism that spooks our political and justice systems. The commoner advocate who doggedly asserts that all is politics needs to be seen for what he is; not a voice of intellectual, philosophical understanding, but a servant of system for which we are born to through no choice of our own. Government is sanctioned by God, this and that thing of life derives ultimate meaning from deductionist debate over proper ceremony or interpretation of fairy tales, legends, myths, allegories, stories told by story tellers whose very tales were simply tales resold.

Z

John Hapflik is anti-Umbrian. His father, as far as I can envision, was a sort of deist. He rejected religious ceremony but believed in God. John’s chaotic writing shows anxiety, sensitivity, enormous potential for success or failure. He’s thoughts are given like a bag of marbles thrown on the floor. He is anxious, moody and emotional, dwelling mostly on his own thoughts about everything. He doesn’t talk about other people as individuals. In his letters to his mother he doesn’t say things like “I met a girl,” or “I was talking to this or that person.” His phrases are all descriptive of his own thoughts. He gives little environmental descriptions, except to use in association with his moods. The red and green of the mushroom or blooming bush in one mood isn’t the same when seen in another mood. Like John Hapflik, I am influenced by my mood too much than to want the author to be overly descriptive; so, I avoid painting the scene with words sometimes. Sometimes, an illustration adds nicely to a poem or song. There has to be some sort of intent as far as context. Art may not have to have a justification for its existence but it also has no inherent purpose; it is a lost child hoping to be let into the minds of many readers with their own intentions. .

The Littlefield library kept class photos of all of the students enrolled during Bill and John’s childhood. John, with his blond brush cut, peachy face and hazel eyes seems vaguely familiar; in my mind the sort of thing a fortune teller takes note of and tells herself she is seeing the psyche of another individual. I draw a picture from the photo in the yearbook of John catching a fly ball with his 1940’s style baseball glove. Bill Dinklpfuss appears sort of simian, with light blue runny eggs eyes and with pork jowls. His lips are soft and plush. With his shaggy, long hair he looks poor, sad, resigned.

John’s mother, Rita Hapflik is not too difficult a person to imagine. The housewife of an auto industry foreman moving to a small town and taking her place in the pecking order among the Lutheran ladies during the 1920’s through the 1960’s. There is the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, Hitler, Stalin, two World Wars; America of the 1950’s with its baby boom, pop culture, and the 1960’s. I can imagine the idols of the local tribe: General MacArthur, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Calvinism with its original sin and Aristotelian propensity for quibbling and disputation; Lutheranism with it’s Augustinian evangelicism exemplified in the characters of Calvin Dyme, both Junior and Senior.

John’s letters home from overseas reveal more than the struggle of a young man coming of age far too fast in a foreign land. The topic of most importance in his letters seems to be in settling his own belief in God, or lack of it, against his mother’s constant assertions about God’s will and faith. He is bucking the language translation of the tribe. I am aware of projecting my own experience into my character but the story isn’t about me, I say to myself again and again. He is tired from growing up under the religious rhetoric of either pleasing or displeasing God. God is what the I’s create in order to say, “if you won’t do it for me than do it for It.”

Rita lives by the rule that belief in God is all that is necessary, to be forgiven and go to heaven, but we are still besieged by a war between good and evil. John is bothered, thinking about the vanity of war and just what it was he was supposed to be sacrificing himself for. John is skeptical, if not cynical about the future of mankind. I imagine him being treated for his wounds by a fat nurse who looks like a near replica of a clerk I worked with who asked me if I was a christian and I said I didn’t know, because it was none of her damn business, and she laughed and said, “you either believe in Christ or you don’t,” as if that was supposed to mean something to anyone with a brain. And then she continued laughing and snorting like a pig. She was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. I can still see that stupid look of disgust and hear that idiot pig snort in my head while her fat ass waddled out the door in her beige slacks and red blouse with her fat, hairy arms flapping. But then the Administrator’s secretary, who witnessed the dialog, said to me, “wow, I can’t believe she said that.”

My Bill and John, Rita, Hiram, Virgie and Rupert, and the other narrator for the voices of Mr., Mrs., and Connie Cliffnut, Jimmy and Sgt. Ross all establish a visual environment for my author, the would be storyteller to reveal characters as though lumps of clay waiting for the author’s imagination to show the possibilities of presentation. He is a writer interested in the intellect and its ability to create, despite the body’s cranky moods. And by separating the mind and body he is not enjoining the realm of science but the realm of the humanities, where it is metaphor, allegory, prose. The story has been gestating in his mindwomb (again, allegory, not science), and like the dog in the morning, whimpers to be let out.

~

I know why the ratscum didit, Darryl.

Darryl?

Alliteration. Playing with syllables

About whom?

Hhhhhh. This is getting old.

If you’ve got something to get off your chest…

I don’t “got” anything to get off my chest. Just made this picture, wrote a poem, a story, a novel.

Let me see it. I like it. What’s it about.

Language, communication, identity.

Ahh. I see,

(I am doubtful.)

I don’t know why you are worried about such things.

I ain’t worried about a goddamned thing!

Whoa! Ease up, no need to get your panties in a bunch (from the guy who has been arguing and debating, not with me, but a personification of me, like a schizophrenic, totally oblivious to the otheras a solitary unit. He has a concealed weapons permit in case OTHERS should be getting their “panties in a bunch.” I mean, goddamn, professor…

“Let it go. I would say you’ve got the dialogue fairly accurate. The way that person answered a straw man instead of you; it seems like a theme you’ve been chasing. I mean, this whole, I, We thing is how we address the straw man. The voice of We, not I, and I, not We. Oh, and We as I, and I not as We.

Hah! But, yeah, that’s about it. Everything is personal. All language is personal. It is only the voice of the We that says something is “not personal, just business.” It is the voice of another trying to get you to accept its superimposition.

So maybe you can explore how you, yourself, interpose a would-be We voice on another when you apply communication. Just observe yourself doing it, how you both manipulate yourselves around what you perceive as the common We voice. There’s an implied sensibility toward another, each knowing the other is a voice of theatricality, either to deflect superimposed language, or to superimpose it.

Exercising my own will to power.

Ideation. I can’t say I know what is on another person’s mind just by looking at his face from a distance but the author describes it to himself nonetheless. I can feel uncomfortable at what appears to be agitation, but if I associate appearance with language that is entirely ideation and totally ignores this other person. He is simply a figment of my imagination. He is what I am conjuring simply by looking at his face. All language is a tool for material communicating with itself, just to remind you of your themes.

Z

The We appropriates all text for itself, just as the I does. Nietzsche’s will to power of the “I” is appropriated as the language of war, eugenics, atheism, nihilism; Nietzsche’s shadow context, Nietzsche’s humunculus grown, not by him, but by an appropriating We. His talk of the death of God is allegorical, not unspiritual. With Nietzsche we are infinite, with Christendom we are finite. The infinite I cannot help but be cynical when it sees its creation taken in the opposite spirit it is given. It is the We who are hopeless, not the I. It is the We who must be saved. Christ only saved the I.

Z

Christ is the petulant asswipe who cursed the tree for not bearing fruit out of season; who, from childhood, asserted himself to the scholars, theologians and jurors. I’m sure he was no John Boy at home either. And Calvin Dyme asks, what would Christ do? For myself, I wonder where in the bible does Christ ever say, “yes sir?”

Haha, you missed, Daddy, with that attempted open hand slap, but a judge bruised my tailbone giving me a steel booted corporate kick in the ass one time.

Edwin Umbrian shows me that no character can quite support all of his becoming. There are parts of him scattered everywhere to annoy me. At the moment he is in the bird that has to start chirping and screeching precisely as the sound and structure of this sentence is formulating. Images are congealing and then Christ sends the demon Edwin into the bird to make a noise, and to keep it up until it takes too much focus to black out the noise. It always pisses me off to notice that, like the jakwad that appears out of nowhere in the passing lane on the highway, the bird chirps begin just as I stumble upon a clearing with every symbol laid out for me. Christ, Edwin, Calvinism, Catholicism, the voices of tribal comraderie, all are in that motherfucking motorist, the bitch who has to scream up on slowing traffic, trying to swoop around and getting pissed off when you prevent her by casually making a lane change; only to have her shout and gesture at you and try to speed around you and cut you off. Christ loves that bitch. Edwin doesn’t love that bitch. He can’t; Edwin doesn’t love anybody. His grandiosity makes him love every moment for himself. He isn’t even slightly aware of the actual inner world of another person. But he is certain that he can size anyone up with a glance.

I am listening to the ballgame on the radio – brought to you by corporate Christ. He loves banking, beer, auto financing, semi-automatic weapons and senior living. A commercial comes on for chewing tobacco. The sponsor is a homophobe major league baseball player who says he is offended, as a Christian, by homosexuality. I picture him listening from home during his annual 60 day stint on the disabled list. “The third out this inning brought to you by Christ Chew, Christ Chew, just a pinch between your cheek and gum for that real moral flavor (tastes like ass.) Disclaimer: taste may vary from pack to pack. May cause dyspepsia, constipation, ill temper, split personality, and delusions of grandeur. Let your doctor know if symptoms persist for more than 48 hours. Avoid watching major league baseball while consuming as it may lead to an obsession with gay pornography.

Z

I wrote this the way I want it read. Please, don’t “edit.” – Bill

Bartie the Beveler doesn’t believe in books. No sir. A hammer and a saw, a punch to the jaw; all gristle and grit, and stinking cheese. That’s what Bartie the Beveler be. Jape, Tay and Frinzle always discuss the what’s up of buddiness but Bartie, you know, he don’t think it’s right calling a wizard a scientist, or a seer a thinker. And he don’t like no pictures that shoonta been drawt.

No new pictures? Nothing new?

What new? We all see things true. A tree is a tree, a fence a fence.

I just want to see new things made with the tree instead of just a fence.

Hey, if yer gonna draw a tree, draw a tree; just don’t draw one standing with an erection and holding a baby.

Why not?

(Stammers and chokes with righteous indignation, making a show of himself.) What, are you a catholic, or su’um?

Why?

Just trying to find out if you do good at times in spite of yourself.

Suck my ass, dude.

(Clara’s friend changed this anyway in Bill’s original manuscript, and returned it with a note in red letters. “Don’t try to be clever, you don’t know enough about writing to do this.”)

Z

Here is an incident in Bill’s journal of 1975 where he is recalling a childhood altercation between Pete Van Innern’s mother and Bill’s mother Virgie. It would’ve been from the early to mid 1950’s.

Mrs. Van Innern shouted at Virgie.

You fucking atheist, too stupid to realize how disgusting you are, going to public school and all; sending yer kid there too. Oh, that’s right, he doesn’t even go to school anymore!

I was so stunned at the hate that I truly must’ve seemed like an idiot to that stupid ass bitch. She kept on.

You people don’t deserve to breathe the same air as me. Yer all gonna rot in hell for all eternity and yer too stupid to care.

I thought Virgie was going to kill her, I mean, the VanSkinnern bitch was big and tough looking but she had no idea what she was getting into. Virgie jumped into a full sprint toward the VanSkinnern bitch and, goddamn, I was disappointed to see the bitch quick jump into her car. Virgie’s body was possessed; I could see the demon summoning her foot to thrust through the bitch’s window but Virgie still had a degree of self preservation. She later told me the God of the justice system was Calvinist and allows hate from pigs like that, presbyters who appropriated God for themselves ans passed laws that condemned others. Their compassion is borne of their grandiosity, not love. She said something like, “listen up, bitch! You are a piece of shit that thinks it don’t stink. Yeah, come get a piece ya pathetic coward ass sucking bitch! Fuck you! If there is a heaven it isn’t controlled by shitty delusional bitches like you, appropriator of Christ (like the baseball player who says he is offended by homosexuals because he is a Christian). Yeah, if Christ really does stand for what you think he does, if I see him on the side of the road I am gonna kill the sunnuvabitch!”

Z

Somehow, the idea that Joshua Fitzdenpuker, from Shitlerville. Michigan, leaving a negative review on Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes on Amazon sums up the absurdity of wasted time and space that is modern humanity. Culture is the voice of the village idiot trying to feel important and part of something. Five hundred years from now culture will view the 21st century as far distant in the past as we now view cromagnon man, with our absurd prejudices and superstitions and lack of education. We live as both material and producer in an existence where economy pervades all aspects of purpose, worth, and dignity.

Nietzsche said of Aeschylus’ time that it still had vestiges of primitive superstition given to it by the Homerian Greeks through the drama of the Olympic games, which involved mortal combat and feats of training and skill. Legends and myths developed around the ceremony of the games, with its drama lending a skeleton language to theater, poetry, literature, and the visual arts. The language changes tongues but after thousands of years speaks of the same things. The culture of today is trying to find something human to hold onto while pop media spreads division with acerbic assertion.

I am doubting Chomsky’s LAD. Because we have finite awareness of the handful of tones our tongue, dentals, and palate create a ¼ step behind the intellect, we cannot help but recognize patterns and structure in description. This is not an acquisition device, it is not a brain born hard-wired. It is the faculty to acquire data and to assimilate it. The idea of displaying a predisposition toward syntax sounds like another attempt to place Plato’s primary forms from within the mind instead of from an external source. A bird is born with the ability to communicate with a vocabulary of chirps which can be intoned differently. Another animal has no idea what the birds communicate to themselves. But only the human is stupid enough to think that because the bird cannot speak like a human that it can’t be speaking much of anything, except “where’s the food,” or “there’s an owl near.” The birds carry on the speech of their community; establish themselves among each other. They tend to their bodily needs like any other animal, tend to family, assist one another, call attention, give affection, show enmity and comraderie. They do all that assisted by the language of attenuated chirps as they rub against each other. But all of that is of no consequence to Ted Stoogent, who levels his newly purchased shotgun at the dove who has kept you company the past six months, sharing the 7 O’Clock hour with you, eating the seeds you toss it while sipping your coffee and checking the news. Just because he has the legal right to do so.

Z

Because I speak with colloquial diction, I enjamb my words, saying “wooncha” for “wouldn’t you”; or a more appropriate “wooden-you”. Wooden-you is hard and refined, stripped of its bark, while I am bump-kin; bumped-kin; kin-bumped. My language is bumped from the kin of We. Thank you for correction of my pronunciation, Mrs. Sometimes-I-Read-Alot, but the truth is there is not a universal pronunciation for anything. Vowels and consonant combinations are filtered through genetic tendencies, exacerbated by regional and local dialects, contexts, and tribalization. If you are the kid who interrupts the professor for saying “stimu-lee” instead of “stimu-lie”, or, for saying “para-bowl-a” instead of “puh-rabbala’, you are probably not going to do well in that class. Maybe google “why do people pronounce vowels and consonant combinations differently? Or wikipedia “phonetics.”

Z

From the notebooks of Bill Dinklpfuss.

I am thinking of this today, for some reason. I was giving an oration to John while Hiram worked on an old car. I was saying something like, “Trenton, you preacher of hatred, speaking vile, reprehensible, meanness; rules, regulations, ordinances, allegiances, creeds, and oaths. You poster child for puritanism. You have the money and property of your forefathers, gotten by ill-begotten gain, which was okay because your forefathers only shystered some sinners. And if God made stupid people hand over their possessions for pennies on the dollar in times of desperation, well, all the more to give thanks to the glory of the lord.

But he ain’t you, Gil-Willy. That is, Calvin Dyme, Cal DJ the BJ Buttbuckaroo! Sorry, William; Willie Am. I really am, Willie, I am.

Leave him alone, John.

Who, Cal Dyme?

You know what I’m talking about, snapped Hiram.

I was twelve, maybe thirteen. John talked that way to anyone if got away with it. It was cold, impersonal; used a listener like a comedian uses an audience. It bothers me to read in someone that they’ve sized me up as a bit player in the theater of their imagination. Funny how religion encourages a person to do that; that random guy on the street who wants to talk to you about the direction of your life, the guy who doesn’t know you from anyone and deserves a pop in the nose for sizing you up that way; or the women’s bible study group and sewing club that is sure that outside their circle the world is going to something called a devil.

“You’re just an old rag doll, Virgie used to say. You let everybody walk all over you.” But the way people characterize each other as though they are unaware of a self in one another repulses me. They characterize, see what they want to see, superimpose their desires and shape each other into context. It always seemed that to answer it was to become part of it. So I just ignored people. What they said wasn’t important because they just don’t know me anymore than I know any of them. Let them think what they do. I don’t hate them for it. I just have a hard time sorting out what I am observing sometimes.

Z

I don’t want to latch onto anyone

and cannot temper what is made of me

neither of myself or by others

What seems right to you, doesn’t seem right to me, Calvin Dyme, Old man Trenton. Trenton doesn’t wave if he sees someone; his hands shake when he drives. He spreads himself over the hills from deep in the seat. He smells like vinegar. Starched, stiffened white with rules and judgment. He would’ve made a bad executioner. He is not one to size you up for fair punishment. Chastising, judgmental denigration is all anyone gets from him. He sees evil in the eyes of a puppy. His wife is worse, I think. I never saw her but from behind the kitchen window with a scowl on her face, like a spider protecting her web. Their children live a long ways away; Texas, or some shit.

All sub groups set their narratives apart from other straw men and groups. If I take an idea from someone, riff with it, it becomes both a derivative and a falsity; thesis and antithesis. It is both dialog and conversation. Dialog is not a conversation. A conversation is two people freely exploring thoughts; a dialogue is a We event with two or more physical people appropriating the symbology of universals in order to fend and attack amidst an uneasy truce.

The epistemology of the God of Littlefield is Calvinist; everyone is judged as though the globe was a compost of rot and perversion. Everyone is depraved, no proof be given. It is a matter of faith that God is a stiff lipped schoolmaster who carries a wooden ruler ready to rap your knuckles. Think of Christ as the spotted lamb of the family? Why, innbuddy nose ya jes gots…Haha! Fucking old beast, Trenton. Heard him say that countless times. Everyone’s immoral, on the road to ruin or some crazy shit. So I whack off a lot, it makes me feel better and nobody needs to know it; only guys like RD Laing seem to know what normal is. Everyone is neurotic with fear for this devil and God commandment bullshit that has ’em all sneaking into each other’s lives. The world outside Littlefield, to them, is the flood, with Littlefield as the Ark that has withstood the friction of knowledge and technology of the ocean where the monsters of modernity lurk. The noble savage may live elsewhere but he keeps his residence in Littlefield, where he is batted about between good and evil. In Littlefield, everyone knows their place. The mayor, manager, and electors can all be seen most Sundays at the Presbyterian church, the Lutheran church, and the Methodist church. The idea of Original Sin is very much alive in the Littlefield justice system. Above that, all matters are treated as issues of calculated descent.

Virgie was the object of everyone’s scorn. I lived with it every day; kids showing their parents’ prejudices, stupidity, and hatred, and then as adults, compassionate only when it is aggrandizing, or done in fear; not because it naturally feels like the right thing to do. Shit, one should ask, “what would John Boy Walton do?” rather than “what would Jesus do?” Jesus never wrote anything down because he was talking all the time – if not to others, to himself. The idea of Christ looking like a femboy with milquetoast, runny eggs eyes, soft skin shining with a nice patina? Where are the sparkling, beyond correct, white teeth? Now John Boy, shit, his part was played so well that when Richard Thomas played in all those movies on the old lady cable television channel I kept waiting for him to break character and change into a model closer to the way I prefer to remember him: as John Boy. The ears on my television were often stung rudely by my rolling riffs of tongue as I serenaded John Boy through yet one more episode of catharsis with the Waltons.

“John Boy, do I hear that bed squeaking again?”

“Just looking for an extra sock under my bed, Daddy.”

Cut to the theme song with John Boy and his birth mark running through the fields with his blue runny eggs eyes and bare feett. Thank you lord John Boy. I learned more about life from you and your daddy and granddaddy in one season than I ever could’ve learned from my dad.

Z

Did the media eye make you hate that Senator with his smile-less, chinless profile that reminds you of a shoehorn? And with those obligatory runny eggs eyes he is assuredly an onanist. Can you picture him assfucking his wife, giving her a two finger thrust or three finger swirl? To be fair, I don’t really imagine a lot of guys doing that.

No offense, Mr. Supreme Court ideologue, but you just look like a jakwad. You talk like a jakwad and a lot of jakwads like you. They are the one’s in a quick mart parking lot making sure there is a loaded gun under the dash because you just never know. Sorry to hear Junior found it and shot himself with it, again, again, and again. But those are just unfortunate happenstances, I guess. And then Mrs. Walton turned to John-Boy and said, “don’t you “oh, mama me. Thank God we are baptists and can deal with evil!” Have you read Leibniz, Mrs. Walton? I haven’t either.

Z

Gourmandizing I cannot entirely embrace. If given the chance to exchange the digestive system for a mechanical supply of power I would gladly give up eating. Eating, the need for food is the greatest source of evil, Calvin Dyme. Minus the need to procure vittles, a man could heed more passions and riddles. But the daily hunger is profound. A regular supply of food is necessary for all living matter. Everything consumes; then a gap of time, repeat ad infinitum unto the day the asteroid devastates.

Death comes on the wind of life; its arrival super-real.

Z

How we know things, epistemology and the arrangement of knowledge to yield axioms, ontology. The puritan Ames believed ethics should not be taught as a subject on its own but as a subordinate of theology. I am sure Edwin Umbrian and Calvin Dymes would agree, John Hapflik and John Locke would not.

The difference between the liberal justice and the moral legislator is that the moralist always begins with the idea that we must protect ourselves from our own depravity, while people at liberty defend themselves against an assertive overseer who insists on superimposing unnecessary codes.

Z

This farmer Trenton character in Bill’s story, sounds too made of straw to be flesh and bone; yet, I recognize him. He is the next door neighbor, a Jehovah Witness who accused me of being nice to him because I had a motive to ask him to use his tools. He belongs to tribe wherever he goes, with his wall of mean inference splattered with the data of his senses. He isn’t upset with America for not being civil with the rights of others but he is vocal about his own lack of liberty. When the minister wears the scarlet letter he must be really good at what he does. The clergy should have their own letter system like kungfu or karate. The more people a clergy person convinces are sinful, the closer to red the color of their collar. Jehovah Mani Dyme; he knows what it’s like, brother, to lose a battle or two with evil.

Calvin Dyme may have been a Baptist. They know how to deal with evil because evil is of their creation, and there ain’t no outsider city edge-a-cated foke gonna tellus wha-tado. (An educated European university student wants to rub elbows with the natives and this is the tiresome phonetics he will fumble upon. Oh sure, big money in it. Bumpkinism. ‘ere pretty pretty bumpkin; pablum kisses, spiceless speech, anecdotal, facile language. Just keep it simple. We’re a nation of doers, not thinkers. Doughn’t (haha) needno fantcy langwidge while in line for pudding at the buffet.

Calvin Dyme believes King David was sanctioned by God; a great man despite being a murderer, rapist, slave trader, thief. One must be loyal and commit to the language of the powerful; they must be great, God sanctions their actions.

“Papa, papa, papa…how did David get the Philistine foreskins to give to king Saul? Did the doctor give them to him after circumcising Philistine baby boys?”

Sure, son. Sure. Sounds good.

No, really Papa, how did he get them?

Go ask the minister, son. I am sure he can give you an answer; probably several ones, depending on the degree of his imagination. I don’t know. I’m a doer, not a thinker, like Reverend Phil.

Z

So the political figure who says history is written by the victors, well, he is short sighted; no, rather, he is blind and sucking on the dogma, has a direct IV to the brain, injecting himself with epistemology of Calvinism, Whigism, good old fashioned Yankee disingenuousness. Napoleon is a great man despite his deeds, and a good old fashioned Calvinism helps the politician to accept Napoleon, or David with hootinannies hollerin’ “Shewt! I hearda you, Jesus. Yer a great man, huh? You kin do all that creatin’ stuff an’ shit. I caint do inny uh that, but I got this here formula that werks fer me. Since I don’t pay you through the church innymorz, you know, acting like they is yer tax collector and all, I pay ya myself. If ya bin good to me lately I pay myself 25% of gross income. That’s 250 times what I woulda given you if I’d ‘ve given it to the church first.

Z

That Jehovah Witness next door neighbor was actually the beneficiary of my momentary feeling of good will toward my common man. I saw him out there in the yard with his tool box and working on his car, so I thought I would be neighborly, evidently an unfamiliar notion to him. Oh that’s right, the original sin, all men are depraved thing. He snaps at me, “I don’t let people use my tools!” I was too shocked to be offended at the moment. Then he went on to ask me if I ever thought about the direction of my life. I was forty-two.

“How old are you, anyway?” I ask.

“Twenty-six, how old are you?” he snarls.

The jakwad then goes on to run down his father for leaving the church. “No man does that to his family.” I didn’t bother pointing out that it was HE was doing the rejecting because only the depraved would reject the Jehovah Witnesses. The convoluted crap that was coming out of this kid’s mouth, his crushing way of walking and glowering; this is the guy I imagine when I conjure a straw man; the jackwad who insists the world is depraved and insists you are too stupid to realize how depraved YOU are. It is this stain, this hateful, empty piece of shit writ large as Farmer Trenton in the story of Bill Dinklpfuss, a straw hillbilly Christ imposing himself with a crushing and punitive intent that but for the grace of God he wouldn’t have. If the world isn’t just, it is true. This turd should get a daily punch in the nose, but Calvin Dyme, the civil legislator, gives jakwads like him and Baptist preachers with cowboy boots and clip on ties and their stare for all the depraved sinners in their wake, a permit to carry a pistol which they will use if they do receive that deserved punch in the nose.

I imagine, what if it were to become that King David next door– ironically, the name of the jakwad Jehovah Witness neighbor – what if it happened that the Jehovah Witnesses were actually favored by a one and only creator, maybe from that 10th planet that is supposed to exist that we won’t know about until it is too late to save ourselves. Wait, wouldn’t the Jehovah Witnesses know about it; Planet X? Or, they don’t have to know about it because it isn’t in God’s plan, or something? He can’t change his mind because he is finite? Infinite? Anyway, it doesn’t need to make sense, son. Pay and pray. And never leave the 144,000, or you will end up following the noble savage with a pooper scooper during his morning constitutional.

What if there really was an elected 144,000 people on the face of the earth who have been chosen by God to re-educate the living?

There’s that jackoff who thought he was going to use my tools and acted like he was my buddy, gonna help me, hah, sure, too bad that loser wasn’t assigned to me. I will have to have a word with King David on that; see if I can’t get that asshole impris…er, sent to my gerrymandered district; show him the lord gave him a witness to teach him the right way, living right next door to him, and he rejected it.

Or something like that. That piece of shit narcissist Jehovah Witness in that small town of the Great Lakes? Yeah, everyone knows him.

Z

A was at a health retreat in the California desert where a Chinese woman was also being treated. We were taking turns preparing food and doing the dishes with the other two participants. She was disgusted with me for putting my apple core in my used tea cup.

“You only think of eating!” she snapped.

This is just what I am covering with this simple I, We theme I garner from Bill’s notebooks. It is a main theme to him in his book and I want to be true to that. As I have already said, I find the need for food the root of most evil; it makes a person desperate and leads to the ultimate thought of self preservation. The Chinese woman also thought this way, but idiotically projected disgust at what she somehow supposed was my depravity. The Chinese woman, a Buddhist, was no closer to seeing what her eyes were seeing than David, the Jehovah Witness neighbor.

Z

A minister in a conservative, scriptural cult who was playing on the other team but speaking as minister to the depraved yelled “goin’ for the glory!” as I rounded 3rd base and raced toward home. The minister is Edwin Umbrian, King David and the Chinese woman. I played a lot of baseball in my youth and would’ve gladly stopped at 3rd base if the parishioner 3rd base coach had any understanding of what his job was and held me up. High school coach taught me to run through the base and pick up the coach. Glory? From who? I wanted to stop in mid stride and let myself get tagged out and turn to the dikwad and say, “you are a fucking idiot. I am just a kid who always wanted to escape the notice of others. It is ME who going for the glory and not YOU making a show of yourself in your role? What a godamned moron. King David, the witness, the witness who stays there and entreats you to at least try and do a little good, otherwise be sucked totally under by the God of this world. Yes, millions of Americans still believe this stuff. Facile bumpkins for Leave It to Beaver and Opie Taylor make believe and thinking it should be real. LikeSenator McCarthy, General MacArthur, and country music.

In back of the Jehovah Witness lives a Canadian. Nobody knows anything else about him but that he is Canadian. Makes sure everyone knows. I can feel his fat Canadian bacon feelers followed by the smug look of narcisistic contempt as he spouts some declarative about Americans which, if only we weren’t so fucking stupid, we would recognize. Chinese love Canadian bacon; lots of fat. The Canadian pig is told to visualize the average American just before they are zapped into oblivion so as to release it’s natural salt into its mouth. I hear told that pig face is a Canadian delicacy. I wouldn’t know. We don’t eat Canadian; at least there are no restaurants touting Canadian cuisine around here.

Z

I cannot draw the conclusion that mind can function without body.

“I can’t either. The mind is not external,” asserted professor Cliffnut. “The brain creates its own mind. Mind is material aware of itself. It is a physical function that arises from a maturing human life form. It isn’t separate. “

I ask, “what’s the point of existence if I cannot contextualize it for myself?” The idea that I can make the choice to not have my own free will is illogical because I will always have the right to resist an over reaching authority. If I cannot understand on my own terms I am a machine. I am not a creation built to do what it is supposed to do and nothing more or less. That would be God showing technological skill, not creativity. And what of original sin? One isn’t free of decisions one has to make. I mean, allegorically, original sin is the awareness that you are earthbound and in need; and that you have to make decisions that effect others and yourself.

“If you like. That might work with your narrative. This person (John) in a state of awareness, listening to his mother ask him if he believed in anything anymore; knowing that the images and ideas and associations of the dialectic of her own reality can not possibly define reality as his defines it. You mentioned the other person’s (Bill’s) writing was deliberately without gender, using the neutral “it” instead of he at times. I also like his association with R.D. Laing with regards to himself and his mother in your narrative. Things were much different the middle of last century. Often, the retarded and mentally ill in these little towns ended up imprisoned in the basement or attic so as not to embarrass the family. But how a person is received by those around him is conditioned by the onlookers projecting their own stereotypes and personifying them.”

It is the narrative of family drama I dreaded all along. My memory flashes to my father saying I am an embarrassment to him for not owning property or having a family; my mother saying she felt she was going to have to die in order for me to get on with my life. I was 48 years old. I visited them once a month, or so. Dad rarely talked to me. Mom would try but I just wasn’t interested in hearing about the ailments of others, the primary preoccupation of my mother’s dialogues. What bothered me always when visiting them was the outright disdain my father always had towards me. Every moment I have ever been in his presence has been an anxious one, and many of them unhappy. Do your part and perpetuate the race, says the We. I would, but I am not genetically fit. I could be, but morality doesn’t allow the gene altering technology and individualized public education necessary to make a person capable of functioning as a living, thinking being.

Professor Cliffnut is talking “…a family doing its part, procreating the human race through generation after generation. Most men don’t want their name to go to seed if they can help it. There is pride involved.”

I need more out of life than to try anyway at something I am not going to be good at (living with others).

Professor Cliffnut’es eyes engage mine, rods and cones, retinas, at several flashes per second, perceiving miniscule muscular tension around the brows and lids. “For some, there is a selfish unproductivity about masturbation.“The onanist does have a selfish reason, of course, but it is usually a valid one. Everyone needs to release endorphins to work out some anxiety or another. Maybe the masturbation helps them to deal with depression, or anxiety. Maybe it helps them to fall asleep and settle down. Whatever, it is usually a person with a mind that causes trouble while with others but thrives when it is alone. Yes, it is selfish, but it has nothing to do with good/bad Manichaean morality.””

Masturbation is God’s way of providing self medication. And unlike medication, it can be taken at will. It doesn’t have to be taken every day and doesn’t totally squirrel tornado your brain for a few months if you try to get off from it. Too bad the doctor can’t get a financial incentive for prescribing masturbation 2x daily, or as often as required. I hear it’s because the insurers were pissed at how many hernia referrals were being made by these same doctors. I have no reason to dispute Professor Cliffnut; he is far more educated, mild mannered, and accepting of multiple points of view than anyone I have known. I listen to the radio while I work on my illustration contracts and don’t hear the same tone of equanimity; all two-sides-to-the-story, pros and cons thinking; dialog, not conversation. The journalist makes hard assertions when reporting.

Professor Cliffnut helps me to imagine the neighborhood as it was in the 1920’s, what the neighborhood and junk yard would’ve looked like in the 1950’s, with the Drive In across the street. I can imagine the autos of the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s driving in and out of the salvage yard. When I look across what was old Main street I imagine the railroad, the diner, Rupert and Trenton talking on a Winter morning, reading their papers and listening to news of the war on the radio. I clearly see Rupert as a burly and bushy fellow who looks up from his coffee to see a confident looking woman walking against the harsh wind, unshaken, and he somehow knows that the narrative of his life is about to change.

Z

Calvin is the antithesis of deism in that Calvin quotes scripture and asserts that not a twig is fallen without the express will of God. And there is the scripture that says there isn’t a hair on anyone’s head that God doesn’t know about. But the Baptist minister with the squeaky clean cowboy boots and clip on tie told me God must let action take place.

“Determinism,” I said.

“Oh, but you have a choice. You know you are depraved and could debase yourself to your God…”

Blah blah blah.

Things are in motion and under general laws of environment, in their time and space; our epistemologies, our ontologies of existence and observations of the material world change. But laws don’t so much as point to a God as they do towards what it is we must conquer in order to become God. There would be no sense in an all loving God who made “trust me” a life and death proposition. We have cognizance of environment so that we may conquer it, not help another control it. A creator says, “you are to know your place, slave!” Only, he says it to nomads and psychotics who have trouble keeping the We and I separate and open to interpretation.

Z

Why intend any of this make believe as deathly real simply because we die? Our senses are rigidly in synchrony with our observation of experience, only that is important.

On the outside, the We are each observed as a routine individual exhibiting the outward function of policeman, psychologist, desk clerk, working to save ourselves from boredom by believing in some sort of togetherness in all this make-believe, while on the inside, the gaze is on the self. What category; what? What, ourselves to ourselves; believing the functions we perform have some sort of significance, if only decorum to decency?

I am whole, selfishly inward, serving functions not so unique, with moral duty absent conviction, sentiment, because it is fun. Love your neighbor as yourself. So love yourself and your neighbor when she asks sometimes.

I have no disillusion that I am not a statistical summation, a functional quotient of predeterminant value, revealing one card at a time my genetic and programmed temperament. That’s me, the lanky crow of an old man with the sore tooth and constipated look, not always gentlemanly, but sometimes. My aching abscesses, osteoporosis, arthritis, sciatica, hernia, all give me the herks and jerks, shakes an quakes. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to shit and take a nap.

I am a universal symbol for the loner, the writer. He is a utility player who doesn’t play anything well for money because his mind is always creating time and space. And this space is a new environment meant to nurture others. My words are symbols for the hobo telling him the home is a friendly one; you can get a meal and a shower there. Rules of the road; don’t abuse him and we won’t abuse you.

I cannot identify myself in a crowd as well as the statistical arranger. I am not enough detached, nor do I wish to be. The psychonaut goes inward and discovers everyone is there. He is his own shadow, not theirs; Plato’s form in Kant’s world. “It” is not mind, it is electricity, a calculation, with necessity and perpetuity, says Professor Cliffnut.

Job appears to be a deist; he, like Calvin says, “who are we to judge God?” But all of us quibble with God, converse with him out of hope and kick him into the gutter in times of despair. Everyone who believes in a God questions it from time to time. What it comes down to, Professor, is I couldn’t give up this dialogue with an unseen entity when I have been a loner all my life. The way I look at it, I can either be a schizophrenic or a Calvinist to another person if they hear me speaking to myself. Jung believed knowledge was passed on genetically; somehow, the parents’ genes undergo some sort of molecular enhancement from the language they use. Chomsky wrote of the brain being hardwired for language acquisition. Emerson talked of the spirit being a sort of genetic component programmed by a superior being. Christ said the kingdom of God came from within. If I have the potential of being a God I suppose a God should have the ability to alter its own genetics; to be able to function more efficiently in almost any environment. A digital being is capable of living on Mars. And for sport, it can pick out a human form to wear, like a suit, create a network of interactive operability within the body suit; feel it exert its own muscularity, breathe its own breath; nerves and blood; the heart a steady male beat, with the feminine nerves entwining, kneading, composing.

“I suppose,” Professor Cliffnut offers without conviction and then changes the subject.

Z

Nietzsche dislikes the voice of Kant’s We categoricals. He dislikes pity because he is proud. The acceptance of pity is a degradation, a demotion for the I. But pity is both given and received. Karma man, Kantian man both say, “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” To feel compassion for someone or thing in a state of degradation, crippled for example.

Freud, like Nietzsche points to a shadow man that must have its comeuppance once it is saved from a state of degradation. But once it is ready, the self says, “thank you for your assistance but I must be taking care of myself now.” Next to this man rising from the phoenix of his own ashes, Dostoevsky’s Underground Man rightfully despises himself for his pathetic impotence. We make up the world to serve the self by objectifying people we know and feel and sense into a reality we can accept. A person’s life becomes the personification of his own dogma.

Z

Cash value; what is your cash value, asked the pawn shop guy with the cigar and wearing a beige, checkered, short sleeve shirt from the 1970’s. He’s got a fat clip on tie; big sideburns. Plays salvage yard attendant on a sitcom one night, meathead mobster on a crime drama the next.

Z

Descartes talked of immaterialism, that all is in the mind of the person, but that his senses tell him there is indeed material and that he is in a material world. Spirit and matter duality, or symbiosis of the faculties of the human brain become aware of itself. Ideation of material. Mind is the faculty of matter to be aware of itself.

Z

The days fall away from by body like on Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase; with angular forms that shift, depending on my perspective. There is no formula for the most efficient use of time that isn’t insane. Be a creator, or subordinate one’s creative abilities to the useful agents of the human gene pool for some common monotony of the workaday world. My time is measured in the value shown on my last time card, my last social security statement. Escheated to the state at death.

“Your time must contribute to my bottom line,” says the human face of the corporation. “And I am going to regulate how you spend your free time by testing you for recreational drug use.”

Heard it before, chief. Not interested.

What do you have to hide?

What do YOU have to hide?

I ain’t got nothing to hide.

Your sexual activity, porn habits, how often you masturbate, do you clean your anus well enough daily, or should the insurance company have reason to raise your rates to reflect a higher chance for colon cancer? Has your wife been having female problems; anxiety, neurotic tendencies?
That’s none of your business, employee!

Oh, on the contrary, Mr. Corporate Butthole. If you are having trouble at home you are bringing it to work, no matter how you preach about it to those below you. If your wife is happy, you are happy. But I have my doubts, Mr. Foreman, 44 years old but looking fifty four. You will be remembered as a good working fool for almost a generation before you are forgotten.

Z

Deputy Calvin Cornelius Drumpf is 27 years old. He was sort of a good lineman on the high school football team; average at logic, below average in inference skills. His daddy is deacon at the Baptist church, and he has absolute faith in his assurances that everyone is born in depravity. When Deputy Drumpf looks into the eyes of the angry senior and gives him a parking ticket, he sees an evil crow staring back into his eyes and wagging a middle finger. “Maybe someday you will learn respect for authority,” says the stare of Deputy Drumpf. “don’t you have a kid to arrest for calling you names?” says the stare of the senior “A ticket to hand out for jaywalking? A body camera to loosen so it will fall off when you start to beat someone with your stick?”

Because he is Baptist he knows how to deal with evil. He makes an excellent police officer; he has trained his entire life to see the depravity around him. He saw me in the street the other day changing a tire and he stopped to see what I was doing. He didn’t want to know anything about me, just wanted to know if I had a registration for the car. The deputy eyeballed the trash inside the front and rear of my car and then inspected my open trunk, while I searched for the registration in the glove compartment. “Better make sure you get this renewed,” he uttered mechanically, after taking the registration and sitting in his car with it for 20 minutes.

Glad to know that, Chief in your jakkin’ boots. I mean, I had no idea I had only two weeks left on the registration. The anxiety of hoping to get paid for my illustrations in time to pay for the registration and insurance was just my mind’s meaningless babble. Thank you for validating my license to anxiety, Deputy Drumpf.

Now, it must be told that deputy Drumpf has a habit of driving in local traffic at 15 miles per hour in order to see who he provokes. If a car passes, he pulls them over and says, “you passed me!”

Yeah, I didn’t know that was against the law.

It is if you are speeding. You were going 26 mph.

Yes, it is true.

I am going to have to write you a ticket for that. Maybe you will respect the badge next time.

But what was your reason for driving 15 mph anyway when I was the only car behind you. I did nothing to call attention to me.

You came up fast on me.

You were going 15 mph. 25 WOULD seem fast to that.

Save it.

It should be noted that while deputy Drumpf was hassling me, there were a dozen criminals watching from windows, wondering what I did. You are making a difference, deputy Drumpf, warrior for God, protector of property.

Connie Cliffnut told me her mother teaches combat classes at the police academy and she once broke deputy Drumpf’s nose. “He looked like a black eyed Hitler. He hates me cuz I flipped him off once.” It ain’t America when you can’t flip off a cop when he deserves it. Seems to me like it should be free speech.

Z

Einstein said it would’ve been easier to have been a poet rather than a scientist. He said that after reading Vergil he was reminded of what it was he fled from when he sold his body and soul to science and it was no longer about I and We, but It. Einstein using classical intellectual terms like I, We, It. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about my narrative delivery if Einstein could relate to it.

Z

Bill Dinklpfuss sat up, his bed shrieking like an awakened banshee. The floor boards beneath him creaked as he settled himself and slowly duck walked through the dark around the corner and into the bathroom. He was an inch shorter than the average Great Lakes American man born in 1941, with thick legs and small shoulders and long red hair. His quiet nature was skewed by a nearsightedness that caused him to constantly squint, giving the appearance of scowling. There was nothing in particular on his mind as he glanced at the same pile of dirty clothes on the floor and the tub caked with soap scum but in the mirror he could see himself scowling. There was the smell of mildew on the tub curtain, the odor of urine rising from the floor, crotch odor. He sniffed his arm pit and was both amused and disgusted. He was thirty seven years old and had worn the shirts and pants in and out of that pile on the floor for the past eight years. Outside, the January wind rattled the bulky chain that hung from the engine hoist towering next to the garage; gusts of snow heaved over the maze of cars in back of the garage.

Bill’s father, Rupert, started the salvage yard and repair business in the the late 1930s. The Hapfliks, Hiram and Rita, bought the business from Rupert in 1948 and built the four square house in front of it on the corner of Main Street and Barnett Road. The Hapfliks had one son, John, born in August of 1941. Hiram passed away in June of 1968, John six months later. The salvage yard rested on the edge of a gulley that sloped into a deep ravine to the south. There is a corn field on the SW corner of Barnett and and Main St., an old Drive In theater across the street that is now a farmer’s market. The big screen is still standing with its back to the road. The township instructed Rita to build a fence around the yard after Hiram passed away, including the house and front yard, and thereafter passersby could only see the second story and attic dormers above the fence row. The gate to the drive way was always open with a muddy path that forked away near the garage and around to the back of the house with its separate garage. The big main garage that people saw as they drove into the yard was where Bill worked on brakes, exhausts, suspensions; the garage near the back door of the house is where he did engine overhauls, transmissions, rear end rebuilds.

In December of 1968, Bill reported John Hapflik dead in the yard. A car had slipped off a hook on the engine hoist, crushing John under the vehicle. The burly hoist loomed over Bill as he explained to the police – including an incredulous detective – what had happened. Rita had lost Hiram five years before and was sad but not nonplussed to see John go. She imagined he wasn’t making a life for himself anyway and would’ve always need a mother. He didn’t relate to women as any more than maids and sex objects. The world had gotten value from him in Indonesia, but all value John gained from life, even before he joined the military, seemed squandered in cynicism. At night John usually disappeared upstairs and drank beer in front of a TV until he fell asleep and Rita would check on him to make sure he didn’t have a lit cigarette in his hand. Sometimes, she would put a blanket over him and look at his face before turning out the light; even in his sleep he didn’t seem to change that stiff lipped look. Since returning from Vietnam he never changed that look. It was as if even in his sleep the muses couldn’t animate his appearance.

As a child, John had few other friends in the community except Bill Dinklpfuss. Until Bill quit school when he was fifteen, the two had been fellow loners who gravitated together while the rest of the kids seemed to sort out peer conflict. During the last five years of his life, John’s visitors included friends of his father’s who still stopped in to have their cars serviced, and a growing cadre of veterans who shared a bond stronger than family. Bill saw them daily, gathered as in a vigil, smoking cigarettes, some drinking beer or smoking weed, occasionally arguing among themselves. Some were surly, some reticent, some religious, some not. Most were cordial to Bill. A few customers expressed their discomfort with the few scruffy looking men who were always hanging around but Hiram would just tell them, “they’re good men. You’re safe with them around.”

John never spoke about his war experiences with anyone but the veterans, and when they weren’t around he spent the hours losing himself in daily tasks. He usually had a twelve pack in him by 11AM, and then would go inside to eat lunch and sleep for a few hours. Every day he returned to the yard at 2PM, grinding through the hours, wrenching, pounding, removing parts and putting them in piles or stacking car bodies one atop another onto a trailer to be driven to a metal scrap yard. Meanwhile, Bill kept 8 – 5 hours, Monday through Saturday, doing repairs. Even though he wasn’t much for conversation, he was business like and customers respected him for his work. Rita Hapflik didn’t like Bill. To her, he was the big short helper in the yard with the dirty flannel vest and torn jeans with a questionable morality. Ah well, the customers didn’t seem to mind him; maybe he wasn’t as bad as she thought. Hiram thought the world of him, but then Hiram loved everybody. Rita hadn’t grown up in Littlefield and after John died she sold the house and business on easy terms to Bill and moved back to Ohio to live with her sister.

One damp, dark and cold November Monday when he was 23, Bill was kicked out of the house by his mother , Virgie, who said, “you can come back at five o’clock. It’s not like you have to get a job and earn some money,” she told him sarcastically, “but you have to leave every morning by 7:30AM and can come back again after five.” Bill had a vehicle but no money for gas. He had only casual acquaintances and didn’t want a job anywhere other than Hapflik’s. John had been back from from combat for a couple months when Bill pulled into the muddy driveway and parked in the row of cars waiting to be repaired. John hadn’t seen him since he had gotten back and if he was thrilled to see him now he didn’t show it. Bill thought John was brushing him off until he realized that John was distracted when he kept asking, “what was that?”.

At first John was annoyed to have someone talking to him. He required a solitude that, with a glance, could be understood by any perceptive person; he was described by Dante as one who sought solace in constant misery. John hadn’t liked Bill when they were kids as much as he didn’t find him disagreeable. Both were underground men who came of age in the 1950’s as outsiders in a small village. In school each was as pathetic to the other as they were to themselves, but both came to understand each other and others through their interaction with each other; their own inner dialogue, the a priori “I” reveals itself and ss observed.

Each revealed himself to himself by using the other as a soundboard, an unquestioning observer with his own self interests, an unnatural to the group, the political party, to family values. John styled himself in high school after Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas of self reliance and exultation of the self in response to Rita’s unbending evangelical faith, while Bill’s inner voice began to establish associations using the natural environment of the woods around him, coupled with the words of John paraphrasing Emerson. For others, adolescence seemed to Bill to be about instilling the family values of nesting, producing, procuring and consuming, while making it seem like each had more choices then they really did. From the cradle a punitive Calvinist morality choked the individual through community for what he could see. One’s existence was represented in congress by a Republican who legislated with an eye towards deterring some evil or another, and singling out “loners” in particular, as being “up to no good because you just can’t help yourself.” Mrs. Snicklebothom’s words shouted at Bill for some particular reason as he was walking past her front porch one warm summer evening.

Bill and John shared a distaste and distrust for the group; any group. They sat together in the bleachers for gym class in junior high school and watched while the other kids wrestled or do gymnastics but got dressed for field hockey, football and softball. They would’ve been dressed for basketball, except for the one class period of skins versus shirts which was enough to keep them from doing it again. John found Bill’s aloofness and inattentiveness aggravating. Bill found John’s fast and confusing way of dancing from subject to subject tiresome. Now, both at the age of 23, the roles were reversed, with Bill the one trying to draw out a sullen John into conversation; any conversation. For a few weeks he seemed to snap out of it but then the Tonkin Gulf incident occurred and he returned to his morose state. More and more cold eyed veterans began hanging out in the yard most days and if someone needed John they just looked around the yard for the group of vets that were always wherever he was working.

Rita complained to Hiram about the men who were hanging around the yard all day but she had to agree that it was good that at least John was talking with people. As long as he had the company of others to keep him occupied he didn’t have to face whatever it was he faced every night alone.

The Hapfliks moved into their house in Littlefield in the Summer of 1948, and John began the second grade with Bill in Ms. Penny’s class. The schoolhouse was a 40 X 40 square foot, one room building with one row of a dozen chairs each for grades one through six. On the the first day John called Bill’s mother a whore and Bill shoved him down and sat with his knees across John’s chest, punching him in the cheek and forehead. He thought about punching him in the mouth but felt compassion for the smaller John and didn’t want to hurt him anymore. Then he was stiffly pulled away by an ear pull from Ms. Penny.

Bill’s father, Rupert Dinklpfuss was an imposing 6’5”, with a broad back and heavy limbs. His was a face with little expression, save for a calm resolution. He was a man of routine and schedules. He wasn’t so much angry of temper as he was intolerant of those who did not defer to him. With Bill, he believed in strict moral training. He did not accept any breach of his authority and he was quick to exert his hand on Bill’s behind if Bill lagged in the least. Rupert vowed to Jesus that he would mold his boy to be a man despite the immorality of his mother, and despite the living situation with his wife and son. He had made a deal with his God and he was going to keep his word. Rupert had prayed to God to send him a wife if he went to church. And after going to the local Lutheran church every Sunday, though staying away from Wednesday bible study, he met a niece staying with Deacon Haskins from Indiana.

Virginia Dinklpfuss, nee Haskins, was thirteen years younger than Rupert. She was the daughter of a farmer who’d had four successive bad years of crops and seven children to feed. So he sent his four daughters to live with various relatives. Virgie was given money by her father to buy a train ticket but when she got to town she kept the money and slipped into a boxcar while the conductor looked the other way. It wasn’t the first time the conductor had seen her. The squat gray-haired man in his mid 50s, kept a paternal eye on her whenever he saw her going to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh.

Virgie immediately despised her uncle, the Deacon, for his steadfast and stern impulse to be a shepherd of righteousness for anyone he spoke to. What was good enough for Christ was good enough for him. And as a mortgage investor, the Deacon patterned his life on the tale of the honest dollar earned. A man who couldn’t earn his keep wasn’t following Christ. Virgie made many friends who were activists and artists who didn’t share her uncle’s simple faith and feeling of entitlement. For Virgie, the Deacon and Deaconess were symbols of an old standard, a showing in a museum of a fading dream. She had lost her innocence at 11, and the last thing she wanted to do was make her uncle privy to all of her, what they would call, indecencies. She was a peppy five foot four with honey blonde hair and curvy, plump hips, downy velvet skin and a delicious grin. Her brown eyes leveled her listeners and her face blossomed into petals when she smiled.

Rupert was used to fighting. His size always drew the attention of the fighters in a crowd and he had a broken nose, missing tooth and an aching floating rib to show for it. He really wanted to believe Christ was sending a woman as a help mate for him, but he grit his teeth at the thought of groveling in church. Still, he plastered on a smile that made his face red when he met other parishioners. Virgie’s leer gave away the fact that she wasn’t one of the crowd; that she, too, was playing along while she silently sang her own tune. In Rupert, she found someone willing to listen to her grievances about her aunt, whom she always referred to as “the Deaconess”. She despised her aunt all the more because she instinctively knew Virgie in a way that her uncle couldn’t. And her aunt kept her knowledge to herself for the most part, save for the occasional, “that girl knows a lot more about the world than you think she does.”

“Oh,what could she know, except maybe she took a fella for a role a few times? That don’t mean nothing.”

“Still, I wouldn’t want her setting her eye on any of these nice boys around here.”

“Certainly not! Why, I have a reputation to keep. Say, that cranky fella that no one likes. What’s his name?”

“That big ugly one with the missing tooth? Rupert something or other.”

“Dinklfist, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know” impatiently.

“Well, he’s a bit older. Got a house. Seems to take care of himself responsibly. Maybe he’d be willin’ to take her.”

“I did see them talking together,” the Deaconess mused.

Virgie mistakenly thought she could choose who she wanted to spend her time with; around the small farming community any would be suitor was too scared of Rupert. Given the choice between living with the Deacon and his wife or Rupert, she without hesitation took Rupert. She clashed too much with her aunt and was disgusted by the Deacon’s blind allegiance to what Virgie called a commercial Christ. It was a familiar free thinker and conservative value clash. Commercial Christ blessed everything by appropriating morality as a dodge for his prejudices which he imposes through the judicial systems and by extorting local governments for corporate tax cuts. Commercial Christ was a politician legislating gentility into the lower classes that otherwise wouldn’t submit to the will of the manager and foreman. The commoner must be kept in a condition of wanting. Communism was a threat against capitalism, not free will. To the rest of the world, capitalism was the real threat because the will that was no longer required by the state was required by the employer. Capitalism was just a mechanism to control global economies as worker states. The American Civil War was about the use of a slave work force creating an unfair employer advantage. This was part of the philosophy Virgie fulminated to Rupert. And he sat through it even though his mother’s Calvinist epistemology was at the deep structure of his own reason. Rupert had aspirations. He invested wisely in capital equipment as a builder and was building a good auto resale business. He calculated dollars and cents, managed his time, studied investment charts. He believed in the ability of anyone to make money some way.

As a builder, Rupert had a grand income, a fact that helped endear him to the church. But to the consternation of the church elders, he was stingy with his money. By the 1930s, he was also making money selling used autos. During the first seven years of Bill’s life, Rupert’s fortunes exploded exponentially, as he spent fourteen hours every day working on auto repairs, cleaning up road accidents, taking apart cars, while occasionally helping his assistant with building contracts. As a bachelor, his industry was noted by the banker, the insurance man, the lawyer, the undertaker, all of whom a had niece or daughter who sat unhappily next to him at a dinner table. And while his tithe was most welcome at the Lutheran church, the elders were sure he was withholding a fraction of the lord’s portion. Rupert’s demeanor was cordial, but he and Virgie mutually disliked going to church on Sunday; a fact that endeared themselves to each other.

Bill often felt his father’s hand upon him and heard his castigation when he spilled the milk, ran in the house, or tried to go to bed without brushing his teeth. Rupert’s preoccupation with morality sealed himself off from Bill, who was talkative with his mother because she lent him enthusiasm that she withheld from Rupert. He read comic books and sometimes listened to Virgie’s classical records on a phonograph. He listened to radio soap operas like Big Sister, the Guiding Light, and Just Plain Bill. Girls called him ugly and he was self conscious of his size. When boys laughed at him he wanted to punch them, but after the episode with John he didn’t pick fights anymore; Rupert taught him that no matter what he did he was always wrong and deserving of a whipping. He developed a resigned but brooding, down cast look; the same look he now saw in the mirror as a 37 year old.

“It’s 1979,” Bill said too himself, glancing out the curtainless window at the snow whirling under the lamp in the yard. “Hard to believe I’m 37.” The bedroom looked like a Van Gogh painting with a single bed, night stand with lamp, and a small dresser. John’s furniture left by Rita.

Bill took a cigarette from the pack on the night stand and went over what he had to do the next few days; remove the engine from an old Ford Pickup for Dev, change some tires for that Pickford guy. Oh yeah, Ms. Hollis wants an oil change. Didn’t have to go anywhere. He could sleep until 8. He flicked the ashes from his cigarette into an ash tray.

The Shah had fled Iran recently. The King of Kings escaping the mountain top for lower ground. A sham liberator deposed by a state authority. It was a theme Bill revisited repeatedly since being served General MacArthur as the model citizen by the village of Littlefield during the 1940’s and 1950’s. It wasn’t that people rejected modernization so much as having their freedom taken from them in the process. Maybe the life of a Persian didn’t include multiple choices from dealers in employment or religion. Still, the vitriolic contempt sprinkled with the phrase “praise Allah” from a turbaned and bearded man with raging eyes did little to stir the compassion in anyone except toward some rebellion or another. In America, it would be hard to get anybody to be sympathetic towards Iran, even though it seemed to Bill when he heard the Shah speak he heard a narcissist publicist who spoke of himself as a great person doing great things just as MacArthur did. The sermons in the various congregations of churches in Littlefield defended the Shah, just as they had General MacArthur and Senator Joseph McCarthy. The plots of communists not withstanding, the Shah and MacArthur stood by their honor as the grandeur around them collapsed.

Sympathy was a matter of what ideology was being exploited. Bill recalled old man Bluntson talking about the Shah with old man Diggers, and Diggers, just after Mosadeq was murdered, saying the Shah was going to “bring peace to those people whether they want it or not.” The world order didn’t have room for savages who couldn’t accept all the guidance our missionaries tried to give ’em. Bluntson asked him, what missionaries, and Diggers couldn’t recall off hand but he had heard the minister say that God’s word had spread throughout the world and there wasn’t a savage alive who hadn’t heard God’s word and had a chance to repent. The atom bomb was just the beginning. It was a sign from God that he had granted us preeminence over the Russians in global affairs. We didn’t have a right to dispute the authority of the United States government. On the coin it said In God We Trust. We trust like the Israelites trusted King Saul.

“What about Christ,” asked Bluntson. “Is he subject to the authority of the government?”

“Why, yes, if he were here right now. He said ‘render unto Ceasar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.’”

“Yeah,between God and the government whadda we got left over, in this life or the next?”

Bill put the cigarette butt out and looked for a Penthouse Magazine and a towel under his bed.

Chapter Two The Two Smokers

Calvin Dyme Jr. inherited his father’s dairy farm as well as his evangelism. Next morning, while Bill was smoking a joint and drinking a cup of coffee he saw Cal pull into the yard.

“Oh shit. Wonder what the fuck he wants.” Bill quick pulled his boots on and ran out to the porch with his cup of coffee and shut the door. He didn’t like people looking in the house through the door and he never invited anybody in because he didn’t want people talking about what a bum he was. Cal’s tractor was acting up and he wanted Bill to take a look at it. “Can’t do it today” said Bill. “Got too many things to do.”

“Can you come out tomorrow?”

“Maybe. Gotta see how today goes.”

“All right then. Give me a call in the morning,” Cal said gruffly, as he slammed the squeaky door of his old Ford pickup. Two days later he called Bill.

“Kinda got it goin’ now but I still wantcha to take a look at it.”

“All right. Be there in about an hour.” Bill leaned back in his old recliner and finished the pot of coffee and four hot dogs he’d made for breakfast.

Calvin sprinkled in references to “the good lord” in every conversation, just as his father had always done. Bill despised that. Not that he rejected Cal’s personal experience but that Bill could imagine Christ telling people like Cal that he didn’t need a cheerleader. For Bill, each person’s spirituality was an internal, subjective manner. He figured everyone was their own worst enemy, Christ’s second. Good and bad, right and wrong boiled down to technicalities and legal precedent. But the Cal’s, both father and son, carried on a passion for chanting. Only they didn’t chant on beads; they chanted familiar phrases of intolerance toward liberalism that gave government money to beggars and artists, loafers and criminals. Their religious fervor rooted sternly in Calvinist belief in the bible as interlocuter of all knowledge. Theirs was a small father and son dairy farm and some day Calvin Dyme III would take over the farm.

“The lord gave you so much to work with; why don’t you use some of what he gave you?” said Junior.

Bill turned away from the tractor engine and with icy sternness said, “you’re in my light.” His lips lifted, faintly amused at the irony. Seeing the slight smile Cal was encouraged.

“You seem to be an intelligent man. What do you do with your free time?”

Bill looked over his shoulder at Cal, who was leaning over him with a salesman’s smile, then looked back down at the tractor motor and said, “seems like a lotta people wonder about things that ain’t their business.”

“Well, it’s because they’re worried about you. What do you do by yourself all the time? Don’t you ever think about women? There ain’t nothing like having a good woman taking care of you…why…”

Bill stood tall and swung around, sending Cal stumbling backwards in his cowboy boots because he was standing too close. Bill was tired of Cal’s presumption and nosiness. “Nonna yer fucking business. Do I go around asking you what you do in your private time?”

“Well, that’s different” stammering.

“How so?”

“Well, I was just concerned about you and now you’re going and taking it personal.”

“How else am I supposed to take it? And who says you need to worry about me? What makes you think I need to be as unhappy as you?”

“I ain’t unhappy, Bill.”

“Ya ain’t as happy as me or you wouldn’t be so fucking curious about how I spend my time. I don’t think you want me taking a look at your tractor. I think you just want to preach to someone.”

“Hey. Wait, now. I just thought you could use the money. Me and the missus were talking last night…” “After church. Good sermon. Made you feel like you had to help somebody in need, huh? I hate to break it to ya, Cal, but I don’t need your fucking money.” Bill marched back to his truck and returned the stare of Cal as he left.

“The nerve of that guy” said Cal to himself. “Who does he think he is?”

Z

“Haha, I heard you let Junior have it yesterday,” said Dev Gavlin. Bill didn’t reply as he wrenched away at bolts under the hood of the ’73 Ford Pickup he was supposed to have done for Dev two days before. Bill’s back flared up and he spent a few days on the couch napping in front of soap operas and reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

“I wanted to tell him off myself sometimes. He’s not a bad guy; he’s just a little zealous about his religion.”

“Maybe.”

“Hey, got time to fix the brake line on Gail’s Falcon?”

“Leave it. Be ready tomorrow morning.”

“Sounds good. Hey, did you hear Ray Coop’s son died?”
“Yeah? How?”

“Ran his car off the road and hit a tree. Head on. Dead on impact.”

“Too bad. You wanna come hold the light for me?”

“How’s your mother been doing?”

“Good, I guess.

“Yeah? Ever see her drive by?”

“Nope.”

Dev looked over at the coffee pot on the bench to see if there was enough in it to ask for a cup. There was half a pot. “Uh, mind if I get a little of yer coffee?”

“What’re ya gonna put it in?”

“Gotta cup in my truck.”

“Go ahead.”

Dev retrieved the cup from his truck and got a cup of coffee and took up the conversation.

“So, hey, waddaya think about Peugot taking over Chrysler in Europe?”

“Ain’t gonna mean much. American cars will stay the same. Most Americans live in small towns like this. Tinker toy cars fall apart on these roads.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Still, probably some people around Chicago or Detroit might like a small car. Society women and shit.” And your mother, thought Dev, but he didn’t say it. Bill started feeling like Dev was lingering too much.

“Hey man,” he said to Dev, “don’t mean to rush you, but I gotta get something to eat and then I have things to do; won’t have time until later to finish pulling this for you. Will have it done for you tomorrow morning,” Bill said distractedly as he wiped his hands on the front of his coveralls.

“Well, OK” said Dev uneasily. Should I stop by tomorrow then?”

“Yeah. I’ll finish it tonight. You can pick it up in the morning at nine.” Bill didn’t return Dev’s “see ya later” as he switched the lights off in the garage and pulled the door down. Dev didn’t take it personal. It was just the way Bill was. But he wondered if Bill was still going to have Gail’s brake line done, too. She needed the car for a trip to Ohio and would have to use Dev’s truck if her brakes weren’t fixed. He decided to tell Gail it would be two days.

“Oh, I just knew it” Gail uttered through tight lips. Whenever I want to go somewhere in that car it acts up. Why don’t I just take your truck tomorrow?”

“No.”

“Why, where d’you gotta go tomorrrow?

“Gotta go to the hardware store tomorrow.”

“Maybe you ought to stop by Bill’s and make sure he gets my car done. You know he gets lazy. Just like you if I let you. Got a bag of trash needs to be taken out. If my car ain’t done by Tuesday I’m taking your truck,” she said and closed the bathroom door behind her.

*

Dev Gavlin’s granddad started Gavlin’s Livery and Tack in the late 1890s, stabling horses, leasing them, breeding them for race and show. Through the Great Depression, Gavlin’s kept a steady but slow paying business letting horses for work and transportation, but as the auto became ubiquitous Dev’s dad concentrated on breeding race hoses. Dev was fifty four years old and had a small, wiry 5’7” frame that helped him become a champion rider in tournaments as far away as the Dakotas after he returned from World War II. With his boyish features and charm he was one of the most popular racers on an independent racing circuit until he met his wife Gail. They shared the Lutheran faith and went to weekly services along with their daughter Nellie, since moved to Kansas, and their and two sons, Keith and Tom, both killed in Vietnam.

Gail was a statuesque blonde who handled the attention of men and women alike. Erma Potter’s 15 year old daughter secretly professed her love for Mrs. Gavlin, as did Honey Finkpald, Dorothy Gilsh, Darlene Haysax, and Barbie Dooley. Gail was four inches taller than Dev but moved with quick and small steps that accented the bulge of her calves. Her fingers curved through her long blonde hair when she spoke, and her face flushed with a bouquet of dimply smiles that accentuated her hazel eyes. She had a long neck, high cheek bones, and a soft chamois chin, all of which performed like a choir when she laughed. Even the Deaconess was slightly disappointed if she failed to induce at least a couple of those angelic smiles.

After his sons were killed in Vietnam it was said by those of the church that Dev had lost his faith. He couldn’t believe that a God could ever choose sides in any nation’s struggles against another. Maybe the God of the Israelites commanded the destruction of their enemies but Dev couldn’t figure God listening to the American soldier any more than the Olympian gods did when Greek warriors made their supplications before battling to the death. The American soldier was the Greek gladiator; both were noble figures in real life tragedy. It may be a noble thing for America to rid the world of communism but God could care less.

A man’s life was supposed to have more meaning than to be used as fodder by those who knew what all the senseless killing was supposed to lead to but who could never be clear when explaining it to the public. It was annoying to hear the phrase “God has his reasons,” or any similar derivative, and “containment of Communism” was a slogan that made him suspicious of propaganda. When a reporter mentioned the domino theory of governments around the world falling to communism and paying tribute to Moscow it seemed silly that anyone could believe such nonsense. When Rita Hapflik visited he was always cordial before dismissing himself for his chores. Senator McCarthy, politics and immorality dictated the derision and contempt for some person, nation, or institution for Rita. Gail liked to exorcise her contempt for some person or another, and in Rita had a companion as they both purged themselves of the dirty rubbings of their fellow women and men.

Dev figured Christ had chased the money changers from the temple, not the United States Congress. God warned the Israelites about appointing Saul; Christ said to render unto Cesar; a clear separation of God and state. God had already given man the kingdom. It was now his to lose.

Dev didn’t join in when people around him talked about war, and at church, chatting always revolved around God and country. The two had been mingled in newspaper editorials and country church sermons his whole life, but he was no longer angry with God for the death of his sons; it was the newspapers, politicians and civic leaders who appropriated God to drum up support for their causes who were to blame. They were the ones who claimed to be agents of good. The civic cheerleaders didn’t know what they were doing; they just had faith in the wrong direction, outward instead of inward. Power would always intend to maintain control over the majority which did not need to know more than slogans, propaganda and editorialized context. And when two people began talking they became the conscience of a WE that acted like a judiciary over the language of SELF. Dev believed a man should be who he is and not worry if he is living up to anyone’s religious or political ideal. A man had to make sacrifices for his country, guard the vineyard, but that didn’t mean that what he did as a soldier was serving Christ. He didn’t see that Christ had anything to do with his sons being killed. The death of his sons was a general’s decision, not God’s.

Dev didn’t like how the women talked about Bill; and he reminded Gail that Hiram Hapflik seemed to like him. If he didn’t do bad to anyone he didn’t deserve to hear condemnation from others. The acerbity of Gail’s ladies club was more than Dev cared to endure. Bill’s morose and dismissive nature were a welcome respite from the women talking about this person or that one and their supposed motives, or lack of them. And of course, he didn’t care to hear Gail wonder aloud to the other women whether she was going to have enough money for Christmas.

*

Dev showed up at Bill’s house promptly at 9AM the next morning and was surprised that Bill took up his offer to get some breakfast and ride along. Dev had to take the Ford motor to Gail’s cousin, twenty five miles to the east in Plunkettsville and Bill knew he could filch some weed. The two men bounced and swayed on the bench seat of the pickup as Dev negotiated the hills and curves of the two lane highway through woods, past fields barren of oats, wheat and corn, now drifted over in sweeping drifts. In the hollows, bushes and trees teemed with chattering chickadees.

They drove past horse riders and deer as Bill told Dev about the Mennonite family in a buggy he stopped and helped a few years before. The buggy had a broken wheel and the horse had gotten loose. The children fetched the horse while he fixed the wheel. They gave him bread, pie, and cookies.

“Definitely worth it,” Dev said, passing a joint. “Damn. Sure would like to run into them Mennonites right about now,” Dev said, and Bill nodded in agreement, took a hit from the joint and passed it back. .

Bill said, “Nickel (his nickname for Cal Dyme Jr.) was complaining about how they (the Mennonites) all keep to themselves, like they reject the whole world around them or something; scared the rest of us are evil. I told him they gave me bread and pie and cookies, and he says ‘did they give you any money?’”

“Like the boy who picks up something you drop and expects you to give him something,” said Dev.

“Yeah man,” said Bill as he took a cigarette from Dev. Bill appreciated the gesture and rewarded Dev by asking him what he thought about something. “Whaddaya think about the Shah?”

Dev twisted his lips as he often did when choosing his words carefully. “Well, I really don’t know. I mean, it’s a different part of the world; different culture. The Shah always seemed sort of like MacArthur to me, trying to convince the rest of the world he was a spokesman for a common man who despises him. To his own people he’s a foreign dictator. Nobody is gonna like that.”

While Dev talked, Bill’s memory was rapidly mining and constructing paraphrases from books and magazines, radio and television (Again, it’s 1979). His intellect visualized these bits and pieces of associations into harmony with the syllables of a field of musical tones his imagination always had ready. Sometimes, these refrains would play over and over in his head, driving him insane. So he composed ballad lyrics into piles of words in notebooks, sorting out as associations and meta-associations. When he read these lyrics later it would be as if his memory had no knowledge of the progression of musical tones his imagination had assigned while composing phoneme and syllable. Of the notes, images, patterns of associations, he would be lucky to find a half dozen small piles that his imagination could conjure into a sculpture into extended metaphor.

Most anything Dev said was going to be agreeable, Bill assumed, while he thought language before the Great Vowel Shift. Bone locker sounded far more expressive than the word “body.”.

“Mao instead of Chiang Kaishek: the American can’t ever really know why, but the Chinese can. Same thing with the Ayatollah and the Shah. We can’t know “why” any more than they can know why an American would vote for Reagan over Carter.”

Dev took a long tug on his cigarette and continued. “At least I like to think my fellow human isn’t as stupid as I am supposed to believe he is; just a little predictable. Like, we all know the man we are voting for is lying to us; we just hope he is traditional enough to do the predictable.”

Bill was thinking about the Shah being a fake King of Kings, an appropriator of symbols, and it reminded him of ministers on the old time gospel hour who discovered riches by confessing their sins. The conqueror always identified himself with what is good. He took money through the symbol of state. The king and the mafia exchange favors and loyalty; money and power go hand in hand.

Dev said “of course, we have separation of church and state in America. Sounds like they never had that in Iran.”

“There’s no separation of church and state in America” said Bill, and he glared at Dev for some reason which Dev found unnerving.

They stopped at a cafe in Bendtville, across from a sawmill on the Chundt river, and took a corner booth. Next to the cafe was a motel, and Bill watched a man and woman argue as they packed their trunk; their bone lockers heaving on their leashes at each other. Dev ordered sausage and eggs, pancakes and toast. Bill hadn’t had a good plate of sausage and eggs with pancakes and maple syrup in ages. He’d heard that a person could buy a machine that made the coffee taste like the restaurant’s, but the cost was far too prohibitive for him to entertain. After watching through the window he saw an elderly man take a slow sip of coffee behind a raised newspaper. There was the tingling of silverware; glasses clanging against each other; the smell of coffee; cigarette smoke; flannel wear. Bill said, interrupting Dev in mid sentence “man, sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to you. I gotta getta newspaper.”

“Uh…all right.”

When Bill returned with his paper Dev said, “hey, when we get there you gonna be okay to help me get it out? Don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

“I’m fine. Today anyway,” Bill said nonchalantly, and he turned to his newspaper. Dev continued talking, with Bill giving an occasional, ascending “mmm hmm,” or descending “mmm mmm.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence, digesting their breakfast, and when they arrived they unloaded the motor to a hoist hanging from a tree. On the way back Dev turned up the radio to listen to country music, shared a few more cigarettes and talked about his grandfather even though he knew Bill wasn’t listening. Bill was like a pet that liked to listen to the various tones of the human voice – the meaning of things was determined by voice inflection, anger, compassion, sorrow, antipathy, and not so much in the meaning of words. Sometimes, like now, Dev’s expostulating was like classical music in the background to Bill: a soothing effect like birds chattering in the bushes. But Dev kept on talking because Bill at least gave him a stage that Gail didn’t allow him. “Honey, I don’t care to hear you talk about that; talk about something else” – it was one phrase, among others that Dev become accustomed to over the years being married to Gail. At least Bill allowed him to walk out onto the stage and make his speech. He might even give a polite grunt if he didn’t find you disagreeable.

“Thanks a lot, man,” said Dev. I owe you one.”

“Don’t owe me anything,” Bill said. “Knew you could use the help.” And he smiled just as he did to the Mennonite family.

Chapter 3 History of Bill

Bill realized he was dismissive as a social creature, and his own appearance affected others: the dirty clothes and curled lip. But it still bothered him that his limp pissed some people off. Once in a while he noticed the curled lip and would try to tame it so his appearance was more agreeable, but its origin was not of the mind’s construction, it was mind’s reaction to some physical pain or another, someone’s unfriendly look or another.

Bill kept to data and rarely took the lead in conversation. If he didn’t like what someone was talking about he simply ignored them. If someone was intimidating, Bill usually gave a shrug of the shoulders and looked away. He was greeted from time to time on the street or in a store by a friendly smile and warm and placid body language but he’d catch himself being defensive, and gradually realized he’d always attributed thoughts unfairly. No one knows what anyone is thinking, precisely. He’d had his own thoughts mistaken so often, inferred incorrectly by others, that in his head was the superego voice of unreasonable adults, or the bullyish mockery of children, demanding and haranguing through teachers, theologians, policemen, and administrators. The voice of his mother mocked him whenever he tried to write poetry, draw pictures, or expound his thoughts.

People were always asking about his mother, and no one really knew her; they just wanted to talk about her. He resented the insinuations he’d heard all his life, about her, about himself. Some days it seemed as though everyone’s voice, everyone’s body hurled judgment at him. Bill read the looks of people; the flash of emotion in the face before the voice comes that may or may not be in union with it. Body language was far more truthful than words. He saw himself as an agent processor of environmental variables whose own individual values couldn’t help but come into contradiction with others sharing the same environment. Because of a person’s prejudices in determining the value of variables, he concluded that value for possessions was about the same in anyone, the common impetus for producing and exchanging. The guy who says he is just trying to supply for his family is a liar by nature, using a salesman slogan for the phony brotherhood of man that is created around producing, consuming and investing.

Some of the parents didn’t approve of their kids interacting with him but the girls would wrangle him into square dancing when the gym class had a rainy day. He recalled the confusion of truth, not by equation or words, when a girl looked at him. He had nice bangs that curled up over the corners of his eyes; his body twisted and turned non aggressively; his hands made soft minuets. His pace was quick and enthusiastic, if lumbering. Square dancing was one of the few engagements with others where his body felt exuberant.

He often wondered what it would be like to be fidgety like some of the other kids; like his mother, and he supposed he was lucky to not feel the anxiety that some seemed to feel, instead of going at a steady pace, always stepping on and off the gas. It seemed like everyone was shackled to peers and convention, loyalty and conviction. From kids like Calvin Dyme Jr., he concluded that Sunday school taught kids to distill politics into forms of prejudiced expression: good versus evil; capitalism versus communism; duty to nation and family versus the right to privacy and individuality. A man who lacked a sense of duty was not a man. One took his family’s values or be rejected by the family and the community.

After the truce in Korea, Bill heard a reverend on the radio say that Rome lends her values to America until we fall to an eventual and everlasting doom. We were destined to fall as the Roman Empire had fallen to the whore of Babylon. Ever since Pope Eugene IV was restored to the papacy the church had been a whore to the Holy Roman Empire. Since then, all popes served a false Christ, said the radio preacher. And just like the Roman senate, the United States congress had its own elements ready to make deals with the devil in order to gain or retain power.

Bill wondered why the king of the Chaldeans, or the Romans, or the Greeks was any less desirable than the king of the Israelites. Solomon emphasized authority and wealth at the expense of human life, just as the papacy, just as the congress of the United States. The preacher said that ours was a society that emphasized profit making over human life, which was the way his mother described churches with their hierarchy of family elders who’d managed to maintain their inherited wealth for another generation. There were many ways a person is made a sacrifice, a scapegoat for the conscience of a community.

Bill was strong, but not much of a fighter. Before puberty he was taller than the other kids, after puberty, shorter. Seventh grade was a three story school house that schooled five hundred kids from four school districts . Far different than the one room school house of grades one through six. On the first day a small kid with a big mouth and a big friend goaded him to fight but Bill backed away and never did figure out how to deal with the aggression of others. His impulse was murderous and his reasoning power recognized it and was appalled. Rather than act out his aggression, he internalized his hatred and brooded away from others. He hated going to school and acting as if he were ever going to be part of anything with the others when his heart wasn’t in it. Instead, he liked to read comic books and detective stories, draw pictures of the objects in the classroom. While his bus ran late after school to accommodate ROTC training in high school, Bill waited in the school library, scouring history reference books and encyclopedias for non military history. For Bill, to acknowledge that the military was responsible for his freedom of thought was absurd, but what was more absurd was to think that the military’s involvement in foreign government was a just example of the greater cause for which the individual was supposed to sacrifice his life. He had no desire for the military, and luckily, his club foot kept him from duty.

The cost of the operation to repair Bill’s foot after birth was a source of disapprobation for his father, who grudged the fact that he had to pay to correct a birth defect in Virgie’s son. For Rupert, Bill’s foot was just another in the litany of grievances he had against fate. Virgie and Bill were an albatross that kept Rupert bound to an unwanted existence. Virgie politely listened to Rupert when he was around the house giving orders like a shop foreman, but she seethed inwardly at the indignity of being a house wife, or to be scrutinized for various indiscretions of thrift. Rupert made sure Bill ate everything on his plate and preached that it was sinful to fill the milk glass too full. When he was caught sleeping without pajamas he was given a whipping to drive the devil out of him. If the trash wasn’t taken out it was because Bill was lazy, not forgetful. When Bill wore out the shoe sole from dragging his foot Rupert was annoyed. “Can’t you learn to walk like everybody else?” he railed.

Bill was conceived the night of Rupert and Virgie’s wedding, and after that Virgie rarely let Rupert touch her. Deaconess Haskins, Virgie’s aunt, told Rupert to be aware, that his future wife had a difficult time with men. She knew that Virgie didn’t love Rupert, and didn’t want him to feel like a fool when he didn’t find Virgie as responsive as he was hoping. Nonetheless, Rupert was a father in spite of the circumstances. “Every man needs to be tricked into responsibility, no matter how dignified they act afterward,” thought Deaconess Haskins.

The surgeon told Rupert that Bill’s leg would be fine, except he wouldn’t be able to run a lot, due to his build. And answering Rupert’s demand for an affirmative answer that his boy be OK to work for a living, the surgeon responded, “it depends. He should probably do more stationary work; bookkeeper or something like that.”

“How about construction work?”

“”Uh,” the doctor gave a slight shake of the head and said, “depends on the work. He should do things that don’t require he stay on his feet all the time. He seems like a bright kid. Why not architecture?”

When Bill was able to run in the house after Rupert told him to stop it was determined that Bill was ready to start helping Rupert with cement work. At the age of six he needed seven stitches above his eye after shoveling a scoop of gravel into the spinning barrel, taking a step and being struck in the face by the butt end of Rupert’s shovel. Rupert angrily growled at him, “What the hellya doin’ standin’ in backa me? Working is like bein’ a soldier, son; if you don’t pay attention somebody is gonna get hurt.”

The Nature of the Nest

Bill was born on August 8, 1941. Rupert was 39 years old,and had survived the depression years dealing in used autos. Many of the farmers belonged to co ops: the livestock farmers; feed farmers, dairy farmers; pig; turkey; and chicken farmers. All belonged to associations that pooled their resources when money was scarce during the 1930s. They often made due with their own carpentry and building needs, while the banks didn’t give many loans for residential construction. Despite their degree of need all people needed transportation. Rupert would often come across an abandoned vehicle while doing carpentry and construction work. He had seen the evolution of transportation in the countryside from horse to auto. And Rupert sold hundreds of cars to first time buyers of automobiles around Littlefield.

When Rupert was born in June, 1902, every person’s affairs were pretty much condensed to a square six mile existence, but during the Great Depression many county roads were improved to accommodate autos. Merchandise and entertainment available in the larger towns became more accessible to the people of small towns like Littlefield, and the life reported in their local newspapers. When Bill was born, Japan was about to blitz Pearl Harbor, and Germany’s air force was looking disparagingly like a symbol of the beast from the Book of Revelation to uncomfortable, small town, evangelical Americans. The sons of farmers and administrators alike were stirred again and again to stand for God in the face of evil, through radio and newspaper ads, billboards, and political commentary. And if a soldier made it back home he came to believe that he had been called to stand for good, if not necessarily for God.

Littlefield was no different than the scores of other small, conservative communities throughout Michigan, staunch supporters of General Douglas MacArthur. Rupert was always asked if he had met him. No, he hadn’t. He thought MacArthur was superintendent at West Point when he had served, but he wasn’t sure. No, he didn’t fight in the Scout Mutiny; that was after he left the armed forces. Rupert was more interested in the business news, but he, like most men in small Great Lakes towns who did military service, believed that MacArthur’s word was as good as God’s. The General quoted scripture, “think not that I have come in peace, but with a sword that I smite,” (it was a metaphor, general) and “because they are secured by swords the goods are at peace”. (Goods, general, cannot have peace, and no “people” ever will. Only an individual can have peace.)

A man wasn’t a man unless he was prepared to make a sacrifice. God and family, duty and honor. And making money, not just providing for your family. The papers and radio didn’t have a hard time garnering support from the countryside to defend western civilization when the antagonists in the drama included Hitler, Stalin, and Roosevelt, a liberal democrat, all who wanted to decimate the individual’s share for the common good.

Rupert went to Casie’s Cafe for breakfast most mornings during the Fall and Winter. One frigid morning in early January of 1943, his mind was elsewhere as he ordered ham, potatoes, and eggs. Rupert didn’t have many personal friends, except Augustus Trenton, sitting at the counter next to him, who asks, “what’s wrong, you don’t look so good this mornin’?”

“Nothing. Just going over some figures in my head.”

The waitress, Pearl, a wispy salt and pepper haired woman in her late forties, smiles and takes their orders back to the kitchen, then comes back with a newspaper for Rupert. The two men sit immersed in their papers reading about the war, and like most others in the diner, are most interested in General MacArthur and the war in the pacific. The chatter bellows and recedes in volume with orders, discussion, greetings, and laughter. “How long before General MacArthur retakes the Philippines?” “He woulda never hadda leave if theyda given him the arsenal he needed in the first dang place!” Most of the men and women talking and reading their papers, smoking, drinking coffee, maybe having that slice of peach pie after all, had sons, sons of relatives, sons of friends, co-workers and employees being called to action. MacArthur had escaped to Australia, and many young men from Littlefield were ready to go fight for him.

Most conversation between Rupert and Trenton was conceived around the editorial narrative of their newspapers. They had served in the Philippines together. Trenton insisted to everyone but Rupert that he had seen MacArthur get into a car in Manila in the early 1920s. But when someone asked Rupert if he’d ever seen MacArthur he would shake his head.

“Well, Trenton says he saw him.”

Rupert would shrug his shoulders. “Never saw him myself.”

“Wasn’t he in charge over there?”

“That’s what I hear.”

Rupert rarely offered a volley in conversation with another. If nobody talked to him he didn’t talk to anybody. Trenton was one of the few people he would indulge with dialogue. Although Rupert was proud of his service, he didn’t share Trenton’s unabashed call to duty. Yes, he had to teach his son the importance of duty, no matter how little sense it made, but the choices a person made had nothing to do with Uncle Sam; they had everything to do with a person’s standing in the community. Trenton looked up from his paper. He had asked Rupert if had any ’34 Ford trucks and he didn’t receive an answer. Rupert was looking out the window through the wind and snow of the courtyard to the figure of a young woman in her late 20s, with straight dark hair streaming down from under a white woolen cap. She hurried forward with a strong and strident gait in leather boots and a double breasted herringbone coat. Trenton saw Rupert’s jaw give a slight flinch. No. Rupert had no ’34 trucks in the yard. Maybe next week.

*

Everyone asked about Bill’s mother, but it was none of anyone’s business as far as he was concerned. People just liked to talk about each other; the less known about someone, the more fantastic the stories about them tended to be. Let people talk. It didn’t matter what they said; he wasn’t one of them anyway. He wasn’t going to serve his mother up for others to chew on. This much the farmers and villagers of Littlefield did know: that Virgie had different ideas, that she was away on weekends, and usually had visitors that stayed during the week. She frequently brought them to the cafe in Littlefield so Mildred, the waitress would tell the Lutheran Ladies Club what she said. She liked to let Mildred overhear her talking about the evil trinity of Capitalism, God, and General MacArthur, which Mildred dutifully reported anonymously to her district congressional representative, Arthur Goompfah, who’s office responded that they would look into it but never did. Through Mildred, Virgie let everyone in her aunt’s social circle know just what she thought of the U.S. Military involvement in Korea and Indochina: that if it was OK to hate the Pope it was OK to hate MacArthur. She told the Deacon ,“I don’t share your idea of a Puritan God. There is no right and wrong, good or evil. There is no favoritism. Remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard? Everyone born is entitled to their share of the earth.”

“Just sit around, never having to prove nothin’ to no one? What kinda self responsibility it that?”

“You are incapable of understanding anything I tell you because you weigh everything with your puritan morality, as though we judged everything right and wrong, or good against evil.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with teaching good morals.”

“Who are you to teach? Huh? What makes the list of things you find acceptable about humans any more superior than anyone else’s?”

“I don’t see anything acceptable about homosexuality, modern art, or communism. All are perversions by the devil to appeal to the masses, to get them to destroy themselves with decadence. Men dressed like women, women giving men orders—it’s all leading us to the End Times.”

Virgie laughed and shook her head. “And you call me misguided.”

When Stalin died, when the Soviets invaded Hungary, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was conducting inquiries into Unamerican Activity, Virgie and her friends talked about the assassination of Mosaddegh; how America was taking over influences forged by early European employers. Mildred was to tell the ladies of the Lutheran church just what Virgie thought of their commercial Christ, the defender of their beloved government funded capitalism. In answer, Mrs. Van Innern, a banker’s wife, Mrs. Eaglethorn, wife of an insurance agent, and Mrs. Davis, wife of the feed mill owner, organized weekly meetings of the Lutheran Ladies Club to educate the community about the dangers of communism and immorality in the local community. The meetings predictably followed McCarthyism and rejected the teaching of evolution in public schools. For Virgie, the ladies represented the righteous who clobbered the poor and weak with charges of immorality while disenfranchising them through investors, zoning administrators, and tax officials.

After they were married, Virgie and Rupert began skipping church services. Virgie bristled at the disapprobation on the silent faces of the women she saw at the the grocery store and at the post office. Cousin Clara began visiting on weekends about six months after Virgie was married; they would walk into town to the cafe and then to the library, where they would read the newspapers from Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Between Mildred and Margie, the librarian, the Lutheran ladies heard of Humanism and Existentialism, Marx, Iran, and Truman. It was reported that Clara told Virgie that the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki was cruel and unnecessary, and that Virgie responded with “wicked righteousness.”

Everything in the talk of the town was distilled to the ultimate reality that Satan was fighting Christ for the soul of the planet, with Virgie and Clara playing the role of advocatus diaboli. One day, while the two were reading poetry in the library, located in the basement of the courthouse, Mrs. Van Innern visited it for the first time in her life to ask Margie if she didn’t think people should spend more time reading their bibles instead of a bunch of newspaper gossip. After all, the more a person knew of the world’s affairs the more they became a part of the world. Virgie imagined the deaconess Haskins gossiping in Mrs. Van Innern’s ear. Virgie and Clara looked at each other and burst out laughing, ignoring the cold look of the other two ladies.

*

By 1949, Rupert had saved enough money to open a new car dealership two hundred miles away, on the east side of the state. Bill was glad his dad was gone. He would never see him, or hear from him again. Bill was a pretender son to Rupert, given to him by Virgie in order to keep up appearances, while she gave herself to Clara; cousin Clara who had not been at their wedding; cousin Clara who Rupert had never met; cousin Clara who really wasn’t a cousin – something pointed out by the deaconess Haskins, and something for which Virgie couldn’t forgive her aunt. After all, it was none of her business.

A few months after Rupert left, Clara drove to Dixfield and found Rupert at his dealership. She brought from her suitcase some documents for him to sign and assured him she was there only to reach a solution. Rupert had been expecting her. Due to the fact that Virgie was a known communist and could be proven an unfit wife and mother he could just as easily let the courts settle it, but that would involve the courts in his business. He agreed to sign the house over to Virgie. It was the least he could do for Bill, said Clara. Rpuert just gave a snort of contempt.

For three years, Clara worked in Chicago during the week and stayed with Virgie and Bill on the weekends. Bill would see Clara when he went to bed on Sunday night and she would be gone when he awakened. During the week he would recall the time spent with her; Clara read to him Shakespeare, made him sit up straight, made sure he brushed his teeth before going to bed. She threw the ball with him against the wall, much to Virgie’s chagrin, helped him with his math and spelling, and when the other kids wouldn’t let him play football, Clara threw the ball with him and let him tackle her.

When Bill was learning grammar in third grade she coached him as he conceived the plot of Timmy Furfinger Gets His Nose Smashed By His Big Old Stupid Daddy. Her confident, even temperament made her exceptionally reasonable and patient compared to Bill’s mother, but Clara constantly told Bill to sit up and to stand tall. She wasn’t a cuddly sort of woman but she made Bill feel more secure whenever she was around. She also helped Bill to learn geography and his times tables, how to properly brush his teeth and comb his hair, how to wash himself. Her enthusiasm for Bill somewhat annoyed Virgie, who too often wanted Clara to herself and would abruptly end Bill and Clara’s time together with a dismissive “you, go on up to your room and figure it out. Aunt Clara ain’t gonna be there to help you the rest of your life. You have to figure out how to settle your own problems.” He was eight years old and it made him cry to find out he had “problems.”

Like everyone else, Virgie was stunned by Rupert’s abrupt departure, but further stunned when she found out how much money he had managed to save during their marriage. She was adamant she was going to get her share of it somehow; that she was entitled.

“For Bill’s sake,” Clara said mockingly.

“Yeah, that’s right” replied a righteously indignant Virgie, but she knew that it was hopeless.

Bill had heard the tone of insinuation in Clara’s voice and intuited it as a voice that affirmed his suspicion: that he was important neither to his father nor his mother. But he would later read The Great Gatsby, and he would be glad for the physical things he’d had to do for his mother around the house and in the yard. The people in Gatsby’s world were dismissive, cold and entitled. As a boy in the 1940s and 1950s in rural Michigan, work was a necessity in proving to the world you belonged; that no matter how you were treated by others, you were one of them. Other necessities were: lip service to the bible; loyalty to the flag; suspicion of Communism. Under Clara’s tutelage, Bill neglected all three.

Thanks to Rupert’s daily habit of reading the bible aloud at the table after supper, Bill’s inner voice would always sound mysteriously like his father reading the bible; for Virgie, doing kitchen work rarely provided so much gratification as when Rupert was reading the bible, which was inaudible above the symphony of dishes rattling. At school, Bill stood at attention for the flag because he was told, not because he felt a sense of pride; and while he enjoyed the skyrockets on the Fourth of July, he didn’t associate them with anthems or battles. What was more interesting to Bill were the primary color explosions sparking and sputtering against lit clouds.

One day, to Rupert’s annoyance, Bill turned the volume up on the radio so loud that Rupert could hear it outside, and he came charging into Bill room to find that Bill had marked the furniture, walls and objects in his room with crayons. After that, Rupert didn’t allow him a radio in his room, but he was free to scribble on a pile of old newspapers. Virgie was careful to keep Bill away from the evening paper waiting for Rupert, giving it to Bill only after the next day’s paper had arrived.

Bill amused himself by throwing a tennis ball against the side of the garage outside and in his room upstairs until Virgie told him to stop. Couldn’t he see he was annoying her with that thumping? But the thumping wasn’t always the ball. It was Bill jumping on the bed, hurling his toy cars against the wall, slamming doors. Virgie’s nerves were charged by his presence and she often sent him to play outside.

After the divorce, Virgie had title to the house but no income. Clara reasoned that at least she could sell the house and buy a smaller one, and a car. A local Realtor was happy to purchase the house for cash at a fraction of the value but Clara wouldn’t allow it and supported Virgie and Bill for three years before Virgie sold the house and bought a cabin outside of town, along with an old car from Hiram Hapflik. After that Virgie received government rations and raised and butchered chickens and rabbits for Bill to eat, while on the weekends she never spent any of her own money. During the week she ate whatever Bill made her. Often, Virgie’s friends would offer to buy them groceries, but Virgie felt it was important to teach Bill to keep for himself.

On school days the bus picked him up on the corner, a mile and a half away at Main Street and Barnett Road, and then take him six blocks to the schoolhouse. He would limp on days after he didn’t get enough sleep, and he left his books at school most of the time to avoid having to carry them a total of three miles every day. As long as he moved steadily, swinging his hips, his foot would tag along, but when he was tired he would drag it. Still, according to Mrs. Gilchkopf, the math teacher, and Mr. Greenknut, the biology teacher, there was no excuse for leaving his textbooks at school. Why, if little Tracy Timpkins could carry her books to school – she lived three blocks away and excelled at gymnastics – if she could carry her books than so could a big boy like Bill.

Despite being able to do farm work, Bill did not engage in the mandatory physical education class. His body was so warn out from doing farm labor after school and from walking the three miles back and forth to the farm besides the three he walked to and from the bus stop every day, that he didn’t care that Mr. Hektor, the Phys. Ed. teacher with thick hairy back and shoulders bellowed at him that a big kid like him would get soft if he didn’t engage in some physical activity once in a while. He learned to dismissed as “Hektor’s,” all teachers and people of authority who browbeat others. Bill recognized them by their brutish discipline and no mind for variables. The condition of Bill’s leg was better known by the Hektors of the world than by Bill himself.

Hektors want to be recognized for their credentials more than their productivity. They came with a program of study: be good at wrestling and football. Toughen up. There was nothing better to teach a boy how to be a man than to play football. And since Bill had no interest in football; had a doctor’s excuse not to participate in gym class, yet was assigned to Mr. Hektor, he could do little but humiliate the faker before the class. While the other students climbed ropes and did chin ups, Bill swept the floor under the bleachers. Mr. Hektor was aggravated by Bill’s presence, something he told the class almost daily. Bill and John joked about the teacher as a cheap man who satisfaction in humiliating boys he didn’t like. It was a cheap, low hanging fruit for satisfaction, said Bill. One day, they saw Mr. Hektor’s turkey skin scrotum with its gray ball hairs dangling in the shower and Bill drew Mr. Hektor with a turkey neck that resembled what he had seen: a carping old man strutting around in his white tank top with bushes of curls sprouting from his shoulders, back and neck, making ape gestures.

Art classes were the only thing that drew Bill’s attention in school, aside from the shop and auto mechanics classes, and after leaving school in 1956 he maintained a habit of drawing pictures on old newspapers. He enjoyed taking cars apart and working on tractors since working with farmers Bluntson and Robinston, and after tooling around the salvage yard with Hiram and John his hands and fingers became more inclined to grip, wrench, slam, and push. But while his hands relished manual dexterity, his mind leaned toward creativity. A few times Hiram and John had to point out to Bill that it didn’t matter what color an auto body was, just make sure to put it in the right place. After Bill bought the salvage yard from Rita he would move the cars parked in the service row so that an orange Duster wouldn’t be parked next to a green Mercury station wagon, or a Mustang next to a Cadillac.

By the time he was fourteen, Bill weighed 140 lbs., and the local farmers, always in need of strong but cheap labor paid Bill to pull up rocks from fields, or to pitch bales of hay into barn lofts. But Bill had trouble picking things up over his head. He didn’t have the broad shoulders of his father. He had the narrow shoulders of his mother. He used his lats to pick up heavy things but his back tightened much of the time. And because of his uneven gait his hips got sore the longer he was on his feet. He shot putted the bails of hay into the loft, ignoring a farmer’s inevitable correction of his technique. Most didn’t take it personal when they saw how quickly he shot put a whole wagon of hay bails into a loft while they worked to fix a hay ladder or a fix a tractor.

From Robinston and Bluntson, he learned to work on tractors and machinery and how to drive an automobile. These men would serve as lifelong role models for Bill. They valued him as a human being deserving equal respect as a person, despite his aloofness. Bill didn’t look you square in the eye when he spoke. Probably because of his foot. Man’s got to learn to live, thought the farmers. Still, he made you wonder sometimes if he could care less what you had to say; made you wonder what he was thinking sometimes.

Bill left school at age fifteen to work as a farm hand, but by the age of twenty it was evident that his body wasn’t going to withstand a lifetime of long hours being on his feet and not getting enough sleep. To the stern denunciation of Trenton, the dairy farmer, he stayed home for three days, enjoying the receding strain of his leg and his back, both which were taxed by his cranky foot. Trenton called him a lazy bum who wasn’t going to amount to anything; that he was going to the devil. Then he slammed the front door of the house, which sent Virgie flying after him, flinging open the door and shouting, “you old miserable, ignorant son of a bitch! What gives you the right to slam my door like that? I oughtta get my shotgun and blast your goddamn head off and send YOU to the goddamn devil!” Trenton stood wide eyed at the open door of his Chevy Pickup and had to force back the idea of charging back after Virgie. Although short, Bill was a big man, and it was his mother. Besides, what if she did get her shotgun? “Ahh, to hell with you, ya goddamn whore!” he shouted, and got in his truck, slammed it into reverse, spinning stones back towards the cabin. Of course, news spread from the Trentons that Bill wasn’t a trustworthy worker; and don’t forget what sort of woman his mother was.

Regardless of his cranky foot, Bill liked to walk in the woods. He had a daily routine of identifying plants from the books he’d taken out of the library. Once a week he borrowed and returned books about herbs and and other field edibles. He read Sinclair Lewis, Steinbeck, Robert Frost. Virgie was glad for Bill’s absorption of reading; she couldn’t find the energy to converse with Bill like she could with her friends. Bill was made in the image of Rupert, and was a constant reminder that she bore a responsibility for which she had little desire. But she was a practical woman. She had to make choices for the future. She thought of so many ways she could’ve handled Rupert better, but she had no choice but to accept what life presented. Still, the situation left her feeling degradation. She could not accept the role of woman as wife and mother any more than her aunt and uncle could accept Catholicism or the democratic party. It wasn’t her fault that the social structure built around a biblical subservient role of the woman was outdated. She was disgusted by the domestic creature, subservient to the patriarchal direction of her husband. Virgie said everyone accepted it because they were afraid to not be part of a social dynamic that excluded inheritance.

Marx was not available at the local library, after a complaint from the Lutheran Ladies Club. Neither were books depicting abstract art. Virgie bought these books for Bill in Chicago with the money he made working for Bluntson, an atheist and outcast among the members of the Chamber of Commerce, churches, and local stores. His credit was as good as anyone else’s, but because he denounced all politicians and military generals as corrupt pawns of the world’s bankers, and said the ministers of congregations were nothing but circus show barkers selling slogans for businessmen, few cared to talk to him, except Bill.

Old farmer Bluntson found uses around his small potato farm for Bill, after listening to Trenton rail about Virgie and Bill at Casie’s the next morning. Bluntson despised the Trentons and the Dymes for distilling all concept to the battle of good and evil. Know Nothingism, Bluntson called it, among other things; gloating men who honestly believed their economic good fortune hinged on the favor of Christ, notwithstanding that it was at the expense of others. The insurance settlement from an untimely death was a measure of faith, not profit.

Bill once overheard Bluntson challenge Trenton, “we are hicks, Trenton. You and me both. Neither one of us belong in a politician’s world because the politician is an upper class citizen. He is the the lawyer and the judge and the legislator. His interests are what become our interests. He owns stock in weapons businesses that keep people killing each other on behalf of the upper class. His bombs will cause all of little people to annihilate ourselves some day, while he lives out his life in a fortress somewhere. And you think it’s all about doing the right thing in the name of good versus evil.”

Bill smirked and passed it on to Virgie, who had a bond with her son tugging ever so slightly at her conscience as she left Bill alone on his birthday that weekend to go to a gallery Opening in Cleveland.

Farmer Bluntson died one May morning when Bill was 20. Bill didn’t think anything of it when he showed up at the farm at 5AM and the old man wasn’t around. He disked a few acres and came to the house to ask for some coffee. When he asked Mrs. Bluntson where the the old man was she said “why, he went out the door this morning when he saw your headlights at the end of the road. You didn’t see him?” Bluntson had tumbled over the porch and into the bushes and lay dead of a heart attack.

Bill had been working mostly for Bluntson after the episode with Trenton and was without work. None of the other farmers in the area wanted to hire him, so he read all day. Virgie kept busy if stayed around the cabin during the day and he spent lots of time reading in the woods. He began to take apart the two old cars he’d hauled into the yard from his time witth Bluntson; one that had been abandoned in the road near the Bluntson farm in the 1940s, the other from a gulley in back of the Bluntson farm. Virgie was happy to see him busy doing something but he needed to start earning his way in life. So she told him that he had to leave the house at 7:30AM and could not come back until after 5PM.

*

Clara Kinsdorf was from Pittsburgh and studied law in Chicago, where she worked as a paralegal. Her mother fought for women’s rights most of her adult life and was a prominent activist during the Great Depression, coming from a banking family with connections to the Carnegie family. Virgie was with Clara in Pittsburgh on Bill’s secoond birthday in August, 1943. And while Trenton bummed around Rupert’s garage, Bill was rocking gently in the arms of widow Haimsworth, who always smelled of brown sugar.

The nation’s airwaves, and all the talk around offices and factories buzzed with war. Not that Hitler hadn’t been stirring up trouble for years, but the nation had heard General MacAarthur warn since Hitler’s rise in the 1930s that another war was coming. The bergs and towns of the American countryside were ready to express military might in some way; to assert a national ideology; to launch a global ascendancy the likes of which no other empire had attained. The factory workers, farmers, laborers, lower middle class workmen and shop owners all counted a majority of military veterans in their ranks. And for many in Littlefield, General Macarthur’s was the voice of God. If he said the nation comes first and the individual second then it was a fact. “Damn liberals and communists should all be shot for treason,” Trenton railed at Rupert one day. “Sons of bitches got some nerve protesting. Well, that’s what happens when you have a liberal president.”

Rupert measured his words as he cleaned off a socket wrench. “You know, I don’t much like reading in the paper about it. They oughtn’t let that stuff be reported. I don’t like the idea of reading about any communist crap in my newspaper.”

“Damn right,” added Trenton “It all starts with the thinkin’. They get into a kid’s head and he can’t tell right from wrong no more.”

“Well I ain’t gonna let them poison my boy. No sir. He ain’t gonna listen to the radio accept when I tell him. And he’s gonna do what I tell him to, or else. Lotta crazy things they teach kids nowadays.” “Buncha crap from Europe,” Trenton pointed out.

“And art,” said Rupert. “You should see somma that stuff Virgie brings home from the library.”

“I heard they don’t got nonna that pervert stuff at the library. Thought ol’ Haskins’ wife took care uh that mess.”

“Virgie don’t go to the library here. She goes over to Wakefield.”

“You let’er drive over their?”

“Whaddaya mean let her?This ain’t no 1925. Women vote now.” Rupert smirked.

“Yeah, well, that don’t mean I gotta like it” snapped Trenton.

I watched the other day two sparrows in a bush in the backyard The one had a bad leg or wing and couldn’t walk more than a few steps at a time. It managed to get up on a twig a few inches off the ground and sit in the crook of the trunk and the branch while another bird clung to the trunk to prop up the other one. I don’t picture Rupert being either of those birds.

Rupert was born in 1902 in Mixfort, a forest town in the Central Northern lower Michigan, where the primary economy was lumber. His father was a lifelong lumberman around camps ranging across both of Michigan’s peninsulas before settling into a farming job near Littlefield, when Rupert was two. After he was old enough to begin helping his father drive teams of horses through the fields he felt uneasy with the confinement of farm work. He imagined himself as his father was, working on a farm, trading hours for money which was never held onto for long.

He went through the first six grades of school and then worked as a full time carpenter’s apprentice from age eleven until age eighteen, when he enlisted in the army. The news of the first world war dominated the papers and Sunday sermons of Great Lakes small towns during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, and most boys from bergs in the countryside admired Theodore Roosevelt and Douglas MacCarthur. Woodrow Wilson made the evangelicals nervous, talking about a league of nations where we wouldn’t be able to defend our God given authority.

Rupert wasn’t a book reader, but he devoured the newspaper just as his mother did. He had his father’s bulky anatomy; both needed to feel the weight of things in their hands and use their strength chopping wood, using a shovel, hammering, sawing, pounding, lifting and heaving. His father was spiritual, but not a religious man. His mother was a strong willed conservative, certain that the entire world was either going to submit to God, meaning the United States, or go to the devil, meaning the Russians. His mother was literate and read the newspaper whenever she had the chance, while his father was illiterate save to sign his own name. Bill grew up hearing second hand from his mother about Russians every time she read the newspaper. She read about men like Rockefeller and said that if John D. Rockefeller could become a millionaire so could her son. Pa Dinklpfuss had worked his whole life with work teams of dirty men not as literate as he was, wretched animal men who had no sense of class. Pa Dinklpfuss said, “I maybe can’t read nor write, but I can listen real good, and I know a whole lotta bush cookies when I hear ’em!”

“Don’t you listen to him, Rupert. He doesn’t know anything.”

”I kept ya fed all these years. Got tuh account for su’um.”

“Oh hush up. This isn’t about you. You did just fine. I just want to see more out of Rupert.”

“The hell this ain’t about me. Besides, why you getting the boy’s head all filled up with hot air just to have the world let it outta him when he’s old enough?”

Helping his father on the potato farm was enough to make Rupert believe his mother. After all, it was America. “Why should just the immigrants get to make money?,” he thought as his mother read the news article that insisted the Italians and Irishman were getting rich with government assistance. He calculated his father’s earnings and wondered if he could make that much money. He had a reserved contempt for his father’s life. He couldn’t understand the joy in his father’s face and attitude while working; a face and attitude that most often abandoned him while with his wife and son. When the opportunity arose to apprentice with Wylik, the Carpenter, Rupert was elated. His mother had run into Wylik at the general store and told him about her son. Wylik tried to dismiss her, but she insisted that her son was determined to be successful and would make a good helper because he was big and strong for his age.

Wylik told her he would talk to him, and Rupert rode his horse the six miles to Wylik’s house – where Mrs. Wylik told him her husband was working on a house just a half mile from the Dinklpfuss home. Rupert rode to the work site and just missed Wylik. Next day Rupert rode over to meet Wylik who seemed to be waiting for him. He was impressed with Rupert’s size and dexterity. Rupert was attentive and seemed to have a good idea how to use tools; showed aptitude and respect. So Wylik agreed to take him on in exchange for meals, a not insubstantial expense for Pa Dinklpfuss.

Rupert was no dawdler. He always calculated his tasks: what he had to do; how much time he had; what supplies he had and what he needed. He swept up scraps, cleaned tools, packed and unpacked the wagon, tended to the horses. Often, he’d point out a bookeeping error, some waste that cost Wylik a few cents, or a workman who took some lumber. Wylik knew all about them, telling Rupert, “I make it up here and there.” Wylik was impressed enough with Rupert to teach him more than the other workers. When Rupert went into the military, Wylik told him to make sure he didn’t forget where he came from. A man might see the world in the army but a man needed a home, and Littlefield is where he belonged. Rupert wouldn’t forget those words. In fact, they began dragging his attitude aground before he headed to boot camp.

The throngs of men – German, Dutch, Italian, Irish, Latino – from across the Midwest took a while for Rupert to get used to, but as the weeks dragged on and he routinely heard from the sergeant and the captain the words; duty, loyalty, nation, honor, and commitment, he understood all he needed to know. (What the author of this fiction has established as “putting the We before the I.).Mind is arisen from my body, its holy ghost. Don’t be getting any funny ideas, the soldier’s body tells the mind.

But Rupert lacked the spirit of brotherhood for the military. The army did not train, it exorcised free spirit. It was more like a God, and MacArthur breathed spirit into scripture to give it a national meaning. The military/God complex was more important than the existence of any individual. “Every country’s citizens believed in God,” said his mother. “Everyone thinks they know God and that nobody else has it right. Still, God has to favor someone because we can’t all be right. If the choice was his, Rupert would rather be making money than dying so that someone else could.

Rupert and Trenton grew up together as familiar faces at markets and auctions around Littlefied during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. It was a time when most of one’s life was conducted within a six square mile township, the paper reported the comings and goings of yourself and your fellow neighbors, who was visiting and for how long; whose kids were selling lemonade, with editorials from local church ministers and business leaders. In the army, Trenton and Rupert were familiar faces to keep each other company

When he returned to Littlefied Rupert once again found work with Wylik the carpenter who was happy to make him his chief builder. While he was in training, Rupert was given leave to take care of the affairs of his father, who had passed away. He sent his mother to Mixfort, where she was to live with relatives the rest of her days. The old house where the Dinklpfuses lived was owned by Wankle, a potato farmer. So when Rupert returned from the military he didn’t have a place to live and he usually stayed at the work site along with the wagons of tools and materials. It was something he liked. He had a shotgun and a rifle on hand and took a shot at a man on three separate occasions in the dark and missing. Once he got up out of a sleep to piss and spotted three men taking off with some boards. He was upon them swiftly, knocking one down with a forearm across the back and causing the other men to drop the load of wood. The other two attacked him simultaneously but Rupert was six inches taller than either of them and fended one off, one with his left arm, while picking up the other man by the coat and heaving him backward. The first guy who was knocked down grabbed a two by four and swung at Rupert and broke it over Rupert’s shoulder but he just flinched and roared, convincing them all to run.

While in the army a man from Kentucky as tall as Rupert though not quite as heavy insisted on fighting because of the way Rupert looked at him. Rupert pushed him with a jabbing thrust to the chest with his big hands sending the man off guard for a step, but with an agile twist the man thrust out a stunning roundhouse to Rupert’s jaw. The man grinned when he saw Rupert’s eyes twitch slightly, but then his jaw dropped when Rupert’s eyes stopped and stared back at him. Rupert caught him with a straight right hand to the nose, breaking it. A blood bomb after the snap of the nose and the man’s face collapsed into his hands as he blubbered. “Ya broke muh damn nose.” Rupert didn’t grin. He was ashamed for the man whimpering like a baby.

When autumn came and the wind was colder Rupert helped Wylik in his shop making cabinets and furniture. Wylik was an artist with wood,, refurbishing antique furniture besides making tables and chairs. Rupert lived upstairs with the Wyliks, keeping a bedroom and a den, where he scribbled notes and added sums, while reading the business news after supper. Mrs. Wylik had his clothes washed by Olivia, her helper, but Rupert didn’t like someone else scrubbing his underwear. The old woman had to acknowledge that Rupert did in fact keep himself clean as a woman. And he seemed like such a gentleman for such a rugged looking man. After Mrs. Wylik died in 1927, Mr. Wylik in 1929, Rupert settled the estate with Wylik’s son, a dentist who lived in Indiana, and took over the Wylik’s shop and building operations.

By 1930, the Great Depression had already brought new housing starts to a standstill in Littlefied but Rupert was still getting business. His work was popular among inheritor families, whose each fresh generation built their own homes of discerning taste. that could afford to build new homes and buy new furniture. He built two houses per year, and they both paid very well, making Rupert one of the wealthiest men of the village. By the late 1930’s, he employed two trucks with crews of workmen and the trucks were always breaking down. The more he worked on them the more he enjoyed the challenge of making an automobile run again. When Winter came he divided his time between the wood shop in back of his house and the auto garage he had built at the end of Main St. and Barnett Rd.. He made a flat bed wagon out of a wrecked truck and used it to haul cars and trucks that no longer ran, fixed them up and sold them again, or saved them in the field behind the garage. He took on an apprentice to work with Cliff, his foreman, and spent more time on fixing up cars and selling them.

By 1933, Rupert sold the wood shop to Cliff to spend most of his time on automobiles. Every morning during the late Spring into early Fall, precisely at 7AM, Rupert could be seen leaving Casie’s Cafe with a cup of coffee, walking to the end of Main Street; and just as he was reaching for the handle to the side door of his auto shop, take the last sip of coffee from his cup and shake out the remainder. The he would twist the key and give the door a shove with his shoulder.

Rupert was responsible for bringing autos and pickups into the lives of many of the families of Littlefied. When he bought his first truck in 1927, most of the community still didn’t have cars or the roads to drive them. Wylik didn’t want the expense and time to take care of a pickup. A horse and wagon was easy maintenance. But since the interstate highway was constructed in 1926 it was time for most families to trade in their horses for cars, and Rupert had a knack for making cars behave when others gave up on them. In the early 1930’s he couldn’t work on the cars and sell them fast enough to keep up with demand. He didn’t have to drive farther than the next county to find autos. There were all kinds of dead autos in back yards waiting to be had during the Depression.

People began bringing their old cars to Rupert to exchange for what cash he would give them. Soon he had more than enough cars to work on and took on apprentices as part of a county school program teaching skills to High School workers who provided the work for free. Most of the kids sent by the school annoyed Rupert and he sent them back. When the school board told him he had to accept the workers sent to him he said in a severely controlled tone, “send some damn kids that can move quickly and not have to think about every little thing they’re doing.” It didn’t seem to help, but once in a while he found a kid who could pay attention and do what he was told and keep up with the work. To that kid he would delegate responsibility to take charge of the others who annoyed him so much.

While in the military, Rupert bought bonds with his pay and spent as little money as possible. He and Trenton kept to themselves, spent no money, drank no booze, paid no women. The others thought Rupert was pious. He let them. Anything so they would leave him alone. When he returned to Littlefield, he thought of investing his money in stocks. In Chicago brokerage houses, some of his mother’s relatives were making money buying and selling on margin in the mid 1920’s. Rupert watched with admiration through a window from a street in Chicago on his way home from the service, a man on a raised platform calling out stock trades as he read them from a scrolling ticker tape; and about 50 men shouting and waving frantically in a trading pit below while they made marks in note pads. Against one wall was a row of gray haired men in suit coats and ties reading papers and occasionally looking up to watch the activity. Once in a while one of them would see or hear a signal that caused him to make a mark in a note pad before walking over to the trading desk to enter an order. Rupert was excited at the idea of fabulous riches but was appalled at the thought of losing money; so he decided to put his money to work along with him. If he failed it wasn’t going to be because Mr. Rockefeller failed; it was going to be because he, Rupert Dinklpfuss failed.

When he was 37, Rupert was getting old, he thought to himself, and he was thinking he didn’t want to die alone. After he returned to Littlefield from the Phillipines, the gossip of Littlefield was that Rupert kept a woman in another town somewher. He didn’t discourage the suspicions of others because it was better than telling them he was a loner. But a thirty seven year old man decided he had to show himself to be a decent fellow and get married. He just didn’t know how to meet anyone who was available. He started going to the Lutheran church across the street and was introduced to some of the members of the community he had sold cars to; the VanInnerns, the Haskinses, the Dymes all greeted him. There was a banker, a school superintendent, the village manager, an insurance salesman, factory workers, antique dealers. He was sure to find an available woman. He attended a year before Virgie Haskins came to live with her aunt and uncle – the deacon and deaconess, as Virgie always referred to them. Virgie was an intelligent, self educated free spirit with an indomitable will, who clashed so completely with her aunt and uncle that she was just glad to talk with someone who seemed to listen, even though he didn’t answer much.

Virgie’s parents met Rupert for the first time at the wedding. Her father had taken a job at a hardware store and sold the family farm. All of Virgie’s brothers had gone off to war and the other two girls, one older, one younger than Virgie had other plans that weekend. Truth is, none of Virgie’s brothers save for the youngest, who was one year younger than Virgie, would’ve come to the wedding. She never liked them and all their talk about the military, sacrifice and loyalty didn’t just apply to a career military man, but to every citizen.

And the idea of being subservient to any man or government was simply out of the question to Virgie. Rupert intuited this in his 24 year old bride, but as a fairly well to do businessman who needed a wife to establish honor with his community. It was the thing to do. Virgie’s parents stayed at Rupert’s house after the wedding. Rupert offered a honeymoon but Virgie said she didn’t much feel like travel so Rupert did his best to turn his house over to her. Rupert, who had sealed off the upstairs, opened the attic and installed more insulation in the ceiling and walls before the wedding. After three days, the Haskinses went back to Indiana with generally good impressions of Rupert but reservations about Virgie. They knew their daughter didn’t feel love for the man she married, but they hoped for the best.

Less than a year after Bill was born, Clara began to visit. Virgie introduced her to Rupert as a second cousin twice removed. She had not been at the wedding but the Deacon and Deaconess knew of her. They often asked Virgie where she got the money for her travels and she would tell them she sold some drawings, or that she was modeling, but her aunt and uncle knew better. The rail workers knew Virgie and protected her from prying supervisors whenever she hopped on board. She could’ve found her way back to family or old friends at any time in Indiana but never did. Instead, she rode the rails along Lake Michigan and Lake Huron; or went as far as Minneapolis or Pittsburgh, rocking with the train at night under a clear cool sky, huddled against the window while the conductor would walk past her, collecting tickets. She would fall asleep and wake in South Haven and on the bench next to her would be a sandwich wrapped in paper.

In Evanston one afternoon Virgie was sitting at a coffee shop near the train platform keeping an eye out for Rudy, who would let her aboard as far as South Bend, where she would wait for Earl to let her aboard a train bound for Detroit. Clara had just arrived from Pittsburgh and stopped at the coffee shop for a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee before hailing a taxi home. Virgie had taken off her coat and there was a tear in the shoulder of her shirt and her shoulder was visible through it. Clara jerked her head away when her eyes met Virgie’s in the reflection of the window. Virgie had also noticed Clara; the confident way she strolled and looked about. At the moment she was the very symbol of power and grace. She, too, looked away when she saw that Clara’s reflection was looking at her. Virgie watched Clara order at the counter and then stand aside to wait. She looked over at Virgie and smiled. The waiter handed Clara a cup of coffee and told her cinnamon bun would be ready in ten minutes. Virgie walked up to the counter to tell the waitress she would also like a fresh bun and turned and smiled at Clara.

Clara took her home and Virgie got a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. The next day Clara drove Virgie in her Lincoln back to the Haskinses house in Littlefield. After that, Virgie told her aunt and uncle she had a job in Chicago with Clara modeling for catalogs. It was partly true. Clara would draw pictures of Virgie in various positions in the nude. Virgie saw Clara for two years, and then a former lover of Clara’s came visiting and found Virgie there. Later, Virgie received a phone call while Clara was away. A woman’s voice rasped “I’m gonna kill you! I’m gonna put a bullet in that pretty little head of yours, bitch!” Virgie wasted no time getting her things into her small suitcase. “This is more than I want” she told Clara when she came home. “I don’t know who that was and I don’t care.” Clara, who was about to surprise Virgie with a ring she had made for her to show her undying devotion, tried to reassure Virgie that Winnie, her friend, was just blowing smoke. She could never kill anyone.

“I can’t just take your word for something like that. That person threatened my life.”

Virgie swept up her suitcase and was already opening the door to leave before Clara was able to compose herself and blurt. “Where are you going?”

“Where nobody threatens to kill me.”

Clara knew it was no use trying to get her to stay. And she didn’t dare try to see her for a while. She waited a year. It was a blustery January morning, almost a year to the day she had last seen Virgie, and she was now walking through the whipping January wind on the way from the train platform in Littlefield; walking past the window of Casie’s Cafe as Rupert looked up from his paper. When he saw the woman walking in the cold wind at 8AM it was evident from her dress she was a metropolitan type; a foreigner. Rupert flinched and said to himself, “that woman is here to see Virgie. I don’t know why, but I just know it.”

*

Passing Hands

Hiram Hapflik was a stocky 5’8” and 200lbs, with his dark ginger hair cropped short in a crew cut. Summer or Winter, he wore the same blue long sleeve work shirts and blue jeans; shirt sleeves folded to the elbows, and the pants, which he would buy extra long, given a two inch fold above his shoes. Besides being a veteran of WWI, Hiram was a union worker for nearly thirty years. He understood why his wife praised the Cal Dymes of the world for their self sacrifice, and their loyalty and commitment to family.

Hiram was a foreman on an assembly line and knew how to take any American vehicle apart. He subscribed to trade journals and attended seminars keeping up with the newest technology and tools.

As he approached retirement, he and Rita happened to come across Rupert’s business after Rita had struck up a conversation with Mrs. Van Innern while visiting the Lutheran church in Littlefield. Mrs. Van Innern told her banker husband about the woman visiting with her six year old, and that her husband was looking for an auto repair shop to purchase. Van Innern ran into Rupert at the Cafe the next morning and told Rupert he knew of someone who would be interested in purchasing his business. Rupert’s habitual glower instantly abated, and his mouth turned up in a smile. Van Innern happily offered to affect the business transition, for a small fee. The Hapflik’s enterprise would be set up by attorney Hankerfeldt, taxes filed by the local CPA Hertzky. Rupert had done all of his own paperwork, filed all of his own taxes, did his own bookkeeping. Attorney Hankerfeldt advised him on legal matters, but Rupert kept track of every cent of debits and credits in his bank accounts.

Rupert relied on an invincible determination to figure out the cause of a dead motor, or the exact sum worth of salvageable parts on a vehicle with a broken frame. At night he pondered and calculated, and after marrying Virgie and given the duty of fatherhood, nothing changed. It became a noble thing to put time into taking care of the finances and producing an income for the family. Rupert had affected the character of Coolidge from photos in newspapers, and by Norman Rockwell paintings. Coolidge didn’t give a care for a baseball game, held an impeccable pose for every occasion, and was dressed smartly. But Rupert never replaced the missing tooth. He wore suits and top hats, and dressed in cleaned and pressed clothing. After breakfast, Rupert tucked his morning paper under his arm and carried his cup of coffee with him to the garage, where he changed clothes at a locker. He kept a closet of cleaned, gray, one piece mechanic’s uniforms; woolen for winter, cotton for summer. He didn’t wipe his hand on his uniform, only on white towels which were soaked and hand washed. He was a meticulous house cleaner on the weekends, ordering Virgie and Bill about the mansion, pulling spoiled food out of the refrigerator, cleaning under the couch and sofa .

For seven years he told himself every morning as he arrived at the garage, “sure wish I could sell this damn dump and get the hell outta this thing,” meaning Virgie and Bill. When Hiram’s offer came he couldn’t leap at it fast enough. Yet, Van Innern would need a few weeks to set the whole thing up. Rupert already had the whole thing figured out. He found Rita by going to church the next Sunday, stunning Virgie. She and Clara were painting still life while Bill told them their paintings looked like cartoons. None of them gave Rupert any more than a disinterested glance as Rupert straightened his tie and went out the door.

Rupert found Rita Hapflik quite easily as the woman who must not be from Littlefield; who was with a little boy the same age as Bill. Rupert struck up a conversation and agreed to talk with Hiram next morning in Plugsville. Rupert agreed to a far lesser price than Van Innern would’ve extracted,, saving the fee to Van Innern, and dumping the business on Hapflik six months before a balloon payment on a business loan was due. By afternoon Rupert was gone; gone before an annoyed Van Innern could talk to him. The banker had to settle for learning that, unlike Rupert, the Hapflik’s had no desire to do any bookkeeping, and the monthly bookkeeping fee would somewhat requite the lost sales commission.

*

After Rupert sold the business to the Hapfliks, some of the neighbors didn’t like the idea of a house being built on the lot, but a compromise was reached when Hiram agreed to install a fence around the ten acres in the field behind the service garage. At first, the men of Littlefield were reluctant to bring their car problems to someone they didn’t know. Rupert may have been a little hard to finagle for a better price but he always did good work. But eventually customers started coming into the garage to see if Hiram could fix this or that.

He soon found that the vehicles around the farmlands of Littlefield all had suspension wear, and Hiram became known as an expert on alignment; other mechanics began referring business to him. John was in awe of his father working in the yard, driving forklifts and tractors, and his dad was delighted, usually, to have his teenage son at his side on Sundays while his mother went to church. He wasn’t sure why it would’ve bothered him if the boy had wanted to spend the time in church with his mother, but it meant to him he was his son’s elder in spirit and not just body. He knew the image of himself as a hero to his son was not going to last and he wanted to get the most of it while he could.

A few months after Hiram bought the salvage yard from Rupert and began getting work from the community, Trenton stopped in to talk to him. Trenton was smarting because he considered himself Rupert’s friend, his only friend. Rupert had never talked to him about moving. It was a surprise to everybody. Trenton went to see Hapflik more to size him up than to ask for a set of tires. Hiram was working on a Jeep, keeping himself busy while Trenton stood over him browbeating the commies in Congress who were trying to destroy the government.

Hiram was disinterested when Trenton talked about Virgie Dinklpfuss, who he characterized as “that woman who married Dinklpfuss; who took his house and chased him away.” She disagreed with everything in the newspaper. She said MacArthur was a murderer just like Stalin and Hitler. She never went to church, and Mrs. Van Innern heard her talking with Clara at the library about how Republicans were the agents for a community Daddy complex, while Democrats were agents for a military industrial complex. .

Hiram did his service in the Pacific while in the Navy. He revered MacArthur as well, but only for his bravery and his fighting strategy, not his pompous speeches. Hiram had also put his life into the hands of the military on behalf of his country. He’d had a good job with Ford, an early pension, and had not known poverty during the Depression. He thought himself lucky and thanked God for having a decent life when so many others in America hadn’t had the same advantages. He was a conciliator at heart and discouraged argument that everyone got what they deserved. He was familiar with the staggering poverty in Detroit and the surrounding areas, and had seen the same poverty in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Across the country, people had lost their properties during the Depression; families displaced by mortgage holders. He disagreed with his wife’s opinion that everything was in the hands of God. Not that he didn’t have a strong belief in God and guardian angels; it’s just that going to church scared the angels away. Trenton didn’t go to church either. Still, Hiram felt church looming over him when Trenton leaned over his shoulder to see what he was doing.

“Whatcha need, friend,” asked Hiram as he stood up straight and looked Trenton square in the eye.

Nothing, thought Trenton, but he recovered. “Well, uh, ya gotta pair of tires for my Ford?”

Hiram looked through the open garage door at Trenton’s truck. ’46 Ford. “Yeah, I think I got a decent pair.” He walked to the back of the garage and selected a pair of tires off a rack and came back with them. “Five bucks,” said Hiram.

“Five?” Trenton fumed.

“Why, Rupert only charged me three,” Trenton lied.

“Sorry, gotta have five. Wouldn’t be makin’ any money if I let you have ’em for three.”

Trenton thought about leaving but said, “all right. Five. You puttin’ em on over there?” he barked as he pointed to the space next to the Jeep.

“Gotta have two bucks each to put ’em on.”

Trenton started shaking, “well you can go to hell. I ain’t payin’ you five bucks for the tires and then another two to put ’em on!”

Hiram exhaled slowly, then said, “have it your way,” and turned to put the tires away.

“Good luck with business, buddy. Ya ain’t gotta chance,” shouted Trenton as he got into his truck.

*

Hiram Hapflik wasn’t particularly religious. He not so politely dismissed the idea of attending church with his wife. He didn’t discuss his personal relationship with God to anyone. Each person had his or her own spiritual connection with divinity or they didn’t. In fact, he wasn’t so sure that the idea of miracles or talking to omniscient deities didn’t sound insane. Religion was for women and children. His wife Rita, however, was deeply impressed by the bible, even though she wasn’t sure how to explain all of its contradictions. Knowing wasn’t so important as believing; and she had enough faith to for both her and John until he was in his teens.

John read Atlas Shrugged the Summer before his junior year in high school, and enthusiastically supported Barry Goldwater in the run up to the 1960 election. John had friends in school because of his strawberry blond hair with long bangs he continually shook out of his eyes. He was athletic and was a pitcher/center fielder on the high school baseball team. He shared his dad’s intense self reliance, while fending off his mother’s idea of a weary and righteous savior battling it out with Satan to steer the destination of each of our lives. For Rita, Christ demanded participation with prayer; that within the heart was a counsel of righteousness, while Satan tried to steal a boy before he could become a man. John didn’t need to go digging in his heart for dirt when everyone was dirty. It’s just that what people thought was dirt was a matter of opinion.

Before his mother took him to church on Sunday mornings, John listened to the political shows on the radio in the living room with his father. Church services were something John was made willing to endure by his father’s jovial mood in the afternoon while consuming a six pack of beer. Hiram would let John help him take cars apart in the yard, while his mother spent the afternoon preparing food in the church kitchen for the free meal after evening service. During evenings in the 1940s, the Hapfliks listened to radio programs, and Hiram and John had a radio in the garage where they listened to baseball games together. John spent more time with his father than his mother because his father’s temperament was agreeable most of the time and his mother’s wasn’t.

One Sunday, in the Fall of the their freshman year in high school, John invited Bill over to see the cars in the salvage yard. Bill impressed Hiram with his knowledge of tractors. Hiram had a few old Alles Chalmers tractors in the yard that needed repairs and he watched Bill fix them. He taught Bill to drive a hilo, while he and John used torches to break bolts and dissected cars. Hiram couldn’t afford to pay Bill though, and Bill dropped out of school the next year to work for Trenton.

*

Rita Hapflik’s philosophy was more conservative than her husband’s. For the past twenty years she had been working on him to go to church with her, and when John was born she had a son to bring up in the church. John would rather play baseball, throw stones, break things, but he didn’t mind going to church because the mothers would let the boys and girls play on the swing sets in the church yard. Sometimes, Mr. Blainfield would skip services to play kickball outside with the kids . That was before coming to Littlefield. He knew no one and had to be contented to wander around the church, or outside while his mother convened with the ladies in the lunch room. He heard a Mrs. Tilpert tell his mother about a kid named Bill who’s mother was a sneaky whore. He didn’t know what a whore was, but next day when he was introduced to Bill he blurted, “your mother’s the whore!” Bill wasn’t sure what one was either, but he felt insulted and at recess he attacked John. No, not John, but Rupert, Virgie, and the people in town who always gave him mean looks. He got on top of John and was going to punch every mean face he ever saw, but when he looked down he saw the scared look of someone he didn’t know. He pulled his punch, slapping John on the cheek before Ms. Penny yanked him up by the ear and shrieked, “You go home and tell your mother what you did; and you tell her I want to see her!”

Bill went home and told Virgie who promptly put on her bonnet and short coat. Ms. Penny glared at her as she came through the doorway to her office. “Have a seat, Mrs. Dinklpfuss.”Did your son tell you what he did this morning? He attacked another boy for no reason at all.”

“I don’t think he would do any such thing unless he was provoked,” said Virgie dismissively.

“You evidently don’t know your own son” challenged the teacher. “None of the other kids do such things,” she said.

“Oh come on, you aren’t telling me none of the other kids act like kids.”

“I don’t think I like your attitude,” asserted the teacher.

“Neither do I yours,” Virgie shot back. “If you can’t be truthful to me about what happened, can tell me I don’t know my own son, I am here to tell you lady, yer barking up the wrong tree!”

“What do you think this is?” demanded the teacher, “some kind of game, like the world’s against you? Well it’s not; I am a professional. I have seen hundreds of kids and I know when one is on the wrong track.”

“You don’t know what sort of track my son is on. And if you are telling me you know my son better than I do I don’t see much point in talking to you. I don’t care what you think of me. But don’t for one minute think I am going to let you treat my son bad just because you don’t like me. Now, is there anything else you want to say?” The teacher did, but didn’t dare push it any more. Virgie’s body was coiled tight, ready to spring as she she stood with her hand on the desk in front of the teacher and glaring at her.

“Well, I do hope there are no more incidents such as this,” stammered Ms. Penny. “I can understand your son has probably had a lot to deal with.” Virgie backed away and released the tension in her body which calmed the teacher.

“I would like you to take Bill over to the Hapflik’s and apologize to them and their boy. I think that’s the least we can do under the circumstances. Don’t you agree?”

“I will go talk to the Hapfliks, but as far as that apology goes, we’ll have to wait and see.”

At first, Rita Hapflik was stirred up but Hiram was hesitant. Bill apologized and told John he didn’t mean to hit him. Virgie told Bill to ask John to be his friend. They shook hands. John had his father’s heart. “I am sorry I called you a name,” he said to Virgie.

“Oh, what name was that?”

“I called you a whore.”

Rita let out a little cry. “Oh, my! I assure you, Mrs. Dinklpfuss…”

“Haskins.”

“…Um…sorry, Haskins. He didn’t learn that word around here.”

“No, I imagine he heard it somewhere else.”

Hiram was grim faced. “Sorry about this, Ms. Haskins.”

“Please, call me Virgie.” She couldn’t stand hearing her name coupled with her aunt and uncle any more than she did hearing it coupled with Rupert’s.

“Oh, uh, Virgie.” Hiram averted his eyes from Rita then looked back at Virgie.”Your boy is welcome to come over here anytime.” He then turned to John and said, “son, why don’t you come with me.”

“No!” cried John.

“Go with your father” said Mrs. Hapflik.

“Is he getting’ a lickin’?” Bill asked Virgie as they walked back home.

“He ain’t getting’ a lollipop” said Virgie.

BEGIN PART TWO

Didi

Virgie was at the annual town rummage sale, looking for clothes for Bill when she struck up a conversation with a tall black haired woman with fierce eyes and strong shoulders. The woman lifted a 75lb table with the ease of a man and the smiling grace of a mother and said, “this isn’t an antique,” to the vendor, a man with the look of a scarecrow who just gave her an “get outta here” thumb. Virgie followed the woman past to a clothing vendor.

“Excuse me,” the woman asked Virgie. “Do you think this looks good on me?” she said pointing to a scarf and a purse she flung over her shoulders.

“Well, I don’t know” Virgie stammered. “I….uh… guess.” “Maybe that purse over there?” said the woman pointing.

Virgie took in the crowd cautiously. Nobody was near them or paying attention. “Try that blue hat and that emerald purse,” she said. Virgie had an eye for the unusual and there wasn’t much unusual going on in Littlefield. The two ended up at a bench in the park with coffee and popcorn.

Didi Rosario was from a small town in Texas in the desert near New Mexico, and the sister of a migrant orchard foreman nearby. On that day she had ridden with two other women in a truck borrowed from one of the ladies’ husbands. At the VFW hall, all the area merchants had displays with marked down items. Under a big tent flashing a prominent mention of support from the local Chamber of Commerce, local craftsman displayed the goods of their trade; shoemakers and dressmakers; embroiderers, cabinet makers, furniture makers and radio dealers. An Arts and Crafts Fair had a tent in the parking lot of City Hall with booths and tables of local craftsmanship. Tables of wares were set up in the court yard and along the sidewalks in front of retailers all along Main Street. As she began conversing with Virgie, Didi edged toward the cafe and Virgie followed. She asked Virgie about her husband, how many kids she had, did she own a car. Virgie took a sip of her coffee and asked casually, “how long you been dressing up as a woman?”

Didi was embarrassed but Virgie said, “ It’s fine with me. You look good in those pants and that coat. Makes it harder for people to tell.” She knew it was a man when she first saw him, with his adam’s apple and large flat nose,, big hands and narrow ankles.

“Most people don’t seem to notice; some do; mostly women,” said Didi. She went on to describe life with her uncle and the other migrant workers. “Well, I should be going,” shim said after finishing off a Reuben, cherry pie and several fill ups of coffee at Virgie’s expense.

“Wait, here is my number,” said Virgie as she fished a scrap of paper from her purse. “You know, if you ever need a friend.”

“You shouldn’t give your number to strange girls, lady. Didn’t your mother ever tell ya?” Didi laughed.

Didi didn’t call her. Shim showed up at her door at 2AM with an old truck packed with shis things and no place to go. The “brother” foreman orchard hand gave shim the truck and told shim shey had to find a place of shis own after the boss told shim in no uncertain terms that shey was to go. It seems there was an incident between Didi and the orchard owner’s son in the barn behind some apple crates. Clara wasn’t as sympathetic as Virgie, but it was Virgie’s house. And when Clara realized Didi was a man she said “wait, do you always wear women’s clothes?” Didi was unabashed. “Yes, I do. My daddy died when I was young and I was brought up by my uncles. They made me a woman.”

When Bill came downstairs in the morning there was a strange woman sleeping on the couch. He made some oatmeal and put on a pot of coffee and waited for his mother to get up. Clara had gone back to Chicago. Virgie got up and ate the eggs and bacon Bill made for her. The two sat quietly not speaking. Then Didi got up and sat with them at the table and Virgie got up and got him a cup of coffee. Didi got a pack of cigarettes out of his purse and asked for an ash tray while he lit a match. Bill quickly gulped his food before the smell from the cigarette ruined the taste of his food. He put his plate in the sink and went to leave, but Virgie told him to make her friend Didi some breakfast. He and Didi looked at each other with wide eyes until Didi said, “do what your mother ask, ok?” He did; then he went to school where he thought all day, “Who is this person telling me to do what my mother says?”

On Bill’s tenth birthday, in 1951, Clara drove from Chicago to give him a gift and a cake. She tried to be cheery but he read her distance and was confused. Next morning he knew why, when Clara had gone and Virgie told Bill he wouldn’t be seeing her anymore. Within a month, Virgie had sold the big house and with Didi’s truck moved their belongings into a small cabin owned by a grain farmer on Barnett Road, three miles from the village. The location was deep into the woods via a narrow and winding two track road which was only recently widened as far as the bridge, a mile from the Hapflik Salvage Yard. From there it was a half mile to the cabin along a treacherous two track path that wound around hills, throwing occasional tree trunks and vicious curves at drivers. Raccoon, squirrels, woodchucks and rabbits skittered across the path; sparrows and chickadees twittered in the bushes below, blue jays cackled in the trees above. Parts of automobiles littered the roadside, along with empty bottles and discarded trash. A fender lost from a car that bounced against the embankment leaned against a tree stump. The road was closed in the winter time and year round Bill had to walk a mile and a half to catch the school bus. The walk would cause his foot to ache and he complained about it every morning before putting his boots on and walking past Virgie. On his way out he would ask Virgie to hand him the lunch he’d made for himself.

The motor in Didi’s truck blew out while bringing the last haul of items from Rupert’s mansion to the cabin, and with the money from the sale of the home Virgie bought a used truck. Didi talked Virgie into a trip to New Orleans, after which Virgie declared to Bill, “no damn man is ever gonna run out on me again.” It was in New Orleans where Virgie walked out of a motel room to find her truck gone, along with Didi and all of the cash that Virgie brought with her.

Bill didn’t have a phone (it’s 1953; they would get a party line phone in the late 1950’s) but Virgie knew he was working for Trenton. Mrs. Trenton answered in a wet hen voice, “who did you say you were? Don’t know nobody named Bill. You got the wrong number,” and she slammed the phone down. Virgie had interrupted the Guiding Light on the radio. When the phone rang again the old bag looked at it as if it had committed a capital offense. “What is it?” she demanded.

“Please tell your husband to tell the boy that works for him to call his mother at this number.”

“Why can’t she just call him herself?” she said as she tried to listen to the radio.

“I am his mother!” Virgie cried in exasperation. “I need to speak with him!”

“Oh,” uttered Mrs. Trenton, annoyed that she had to pay attention to Virgie. “I’ll tell my husband when he gets in from the barn,” she said, and then hung up the phone without waiting for Virgie to give her the number. Virgie decided to wait an hour and maybe Mr. Trenton would answer. He did, but he said the boy went home already and he would tell him in the morning to call his mother. He also hung up without waiting for the number, and when he answered again a moment later he barked into the phone, “alright, alright; goddammit, just a minute. Gotta gitta pencil and some paper.”

Bill returned the call the next morning after walking the three miles to the Trenton farm and then reassuring Mr. Trenton that he would pay for the phone call. Virgie told him how to send her some money; she didn’t tell him what happened. Next day, he went to the bank during lunch break to send her the money, and then stayed in detention for an hour after school for returning ten minutes late for Mr. Hektor’s gym class. Next afternoon, the school bus waited five minutes for him then left him. He had walked to the train stop to greet Virgie. They walked the six blocks of Main street and passed Hapflik’s Salvage, turning the corner and walking into the heavy woods behind the salvage yard, when they met Hiram returning home in his pickup. After loading Virgie’s bag onto the back of the truck he drove them home.

“We don’t have a car,” Virgie told him when asked why they were walking. When Hiram took her bag out of the back of the truck and handed it to her he looked at the small cabin in the snow on the embankment overlooking the road and said, “lose your truck?”

“Yes sir” said Virgie. Hiram looked at her and she looked down. He was a kind man. She thought it was sweet how easily she could appeal to him. For the Rupert’s of the world, she wouldn’t be nice if she could help it. She silently acknowledged it was a touching gesture of fate that it was Hiram Hapflik that picked them up that night and not a Mrs. Van Innern or a Deacon Haskins.

“Do you know how to drive?” She almost raised her eyes while trying not to smile.

“Yer gonna have to learn. The boy is too young to drive yet. Tell you what. You get yourself up to my place and I can let you drive something around in the yard until you get the hang of it.”

“It wouldn’t do any good,” she said. “I’ve got no money for a car anyway.”

“Don’t worry about that. I think we can fix you up with something if Bill here agrees to help me out in the yard a little bit.”

The Two Troglodytes

The war in Korea was all most men talked about in Littlefield at the time. Three generations of men had known war, all ordained in the doctrine of the soldier’s ultimate sacrifice. Since a sacrifice was required, it wasn’t tolerated when a boy showed a hostile attitude to the nationalism symbolized by MacArthur. Truman was a liberal with an ego who thought he knew more than the General how to fight a war. In Littlefield, MacArthur’s dismissal from the war in Korea was traiterous. The republican party was weak for not defending MacArthur. He should be president. Truman and every democratic voter was to blame if we were taken over by communists.

After school, John and Bill walked through the open gate of the salvage yard and past the row of cars waiting for repairs. John’s father and his uncle Ralph were standing in the open doorway of the service garage involved in an animated discussion.

“I don’t give a damn what anyone says, if you got an army at war you’ve got to give it the support to win. MacArthur taught ’em that in WWII,” said Uncle Ralph.

“Blow up all the Chinese at the Yalu? Hit ’em with atom bombs?”

Uncle Ralph nodded quickly. “You bet, I just don’t get why they don’t use their weapons and blast them away. All those chinese are gonna die anyway.”

“Something about China’s seat in the United Nations or something, isn’t it?” said Hiram with circumspection. “We agreed not to fly into Chinese air space because we don’t want to start a war with them?

“Why not? We’re gonna have to fight them sometime. If we get to thinking about it too much we’re gonna find ourselves overrun by the Chinese.”

“The Chinese ain’t gonna destroy us. Decades from now they’ll be our friends just like everybody else. Everybody has to defend themselves and selling weapons and destruction makes money for the economy.” Bill remembered Clara saying something similar.

“Making money isn’t important as winning the war,” said Uncle Ralph.

“There are lots of ways to win a war besides annihilation. Capitalists want people producing and earning. I imagine the Chinese do, too. Nobody wants to be killing each other. War is just the way American business is making money right now; selling war planes and ships, corporations can employ cheap labor, and stockholders can make money at the expense of the United States military. Didja ever wonder why there are so many more MIGs in Korea and yet so many Chinese without ammunition? The Soviets are just their own brand of ammo hustlers just like we are.”

“Yeah, but we have to contain communism. Do you want the state coming to your house and saying you can’t eat your own crops or your own cattle because they belong to the state? That you have to sell your cattle to the state for whatever they pay you, and the penalty is death if you are caught eating your own cattle?”

“I didn’t say I was for communism, Ralph. I’m just saying that people everywhere have to live with their own people in their own culture. Just like they don’t have a clue what is important to you or I, we don’t have a clue what is important to them. Everybody answers to the others in their own community. The Japs were just like the Chinese in Korea, giving their lives on command, marching headlong into bayonets, getting torn to pieces by machine guns, diving their own planes into ships. We lost a lot of men in wars too, Ralph. And I gotta tellya, I never did see any reason why I was out there every damn day advancing or retreating over the same hills. But when I heard about all the things the Japs were doing in China, the Phillipines, Korea I knew they had to be stopped; just like the Germans had to be stopped. But I don’t see a global conspiracy of communism any more plausible than a conspiracy of capitalism. Everywhere all of the people are answerable to a handful of people that control downward. There is no such thing as a government for the people, although I believe as strongly as you that we have a way of life worth defending. There is little chance of a a global communist empire lasting even if it were to gain power,” he said, again sounding like Clara.

“Well, I don’t know. We shoulda stopped Hitler at Munich. We should nuke the Chinese along the river. If we took China we would force the Russians out of Europe. I don’t trust Mao,” said Uncle Ralph.”

“Start a war with a power that combines the manpower of China with the nuclear force and modern weaponry of the Soviets?” Hiram asked sarcastically.

“I don’t trust Mao” Rita said parroting uncle Ralph at the the dinner table, while John uttered, “Oh God” and exhaled deeply before taking a bite of meatloaf.

“But still, I don’t think the Chinese want to rule the world either. It seems like we do. At least, everyone else in the world seems to think we do.”

John, with a snicker, mouthed along with Hiram’s “everyone else in the world seems to think we do,” and Bill laughed. Hiram looked at John, Rita looked at Bill.

Next day, as Bill and John approached the salvage yard they could see through the open gate, Virgie driving a Ranier blue 1941 Buick with a solid frame and a rebuilt motor Hiram had put in it. Hiram sat in the passenger side on the bench seat while Virgie put the car into gear and stalled it seven times in a row before becoming adjusted to the clutch. The boys laughed uproariously as she managed to get the car into gear and then kill the motor as she slowed down too much to turn. After an hour, Hiram was convinced that perhaps it was better to teach Bill to drive and maybe he could teach his mother. Rita Hapflik, though, barked at Hiram when he came in for supper, “you know, you’re gonna go getting folks mad at you for letting that boy drive around in the yard. Pretty soon everybody’s boy will be over here wanting to drive around in the yard.” A few days later Rita had an appointment at the salon and when the boys greeted him after school Hiram gave Bill the key to the car and he drove it home.

*

That summer Bill continued working for Trenton and sometimes was paid. He always had to ask for his pay and was only grudgingly given cash with some discouraging remarks. “Oughtta kept it for all the extra gas I had to put in the tractor teaching you to drive it.” Trenton had forgotten to buy gas before paying off his grocery bill and had to blame someone. “Don’t know why yer even bothering going to the school anymore, boy. Whaddayu need to go to school for? Ya ain’t goin’ anywhere anyway. Why doncha go to work full time somewhere?” Bill didn’t ask where. He wasn’t going to work for nothing either. Besides, he wanted to learn things. If he wasn’t going to earn anything anyway he wasn’t going to waste his time working all day, not for Trenton, not for anyone. He said nothing and took the money. At least he had gas money.

When the Korean cease fire was announced by Eisenhower a debate between Bill and John broke out about what Eisenhower had meant when he said we had to be on guard against those who go against the will of free people to bring peace to the world. “With the barrel of a gun, just like Mao said,” Bill said dismissively.

“Well, somebody’s gotta rule the world. Might as well be us” John retorted.

“Why does it have to be anybody?” Bill asked. “Remember Adam Smith and the market’s invisible hand? It doesn’t seem so invisible if you have the power to rule the world.”

“A secure future; I like that idea better than letting the market decide,” said John.

The boys looked at each other in recognition, then both shouted, “Sacreligious!,” mocking Deacon Haskins, who walked about the grounds of the church before services, admonishing the boys and girls for their giggling and horsing around.

Virgie had a run of bad luck in 1954. Bill was forced to work for the Gavlins cleaning out horse stables on the weekends in between the morning and evening milking of cows at Trenton’s. The furnace broke down, the plumbing backed up, the electricity was turned off and Virgie and Bill had no phone. The well needed repair and they boiled drinking water from the nearby creek. Bill needed to earn money for food, gas for the car, and books. Virgie and Bill shared a love of books and no matter how poor they were, they managed to find money for them. But he was getting too tired to read any more, and in 1956 he quit school after the eighth grade.

John was athletic and excelled in baseball and football. He was talkative, but emotional and temperamental. He was shy with girls and lacked confidence in conversational skills with them, constantly talking about politics. He was more interested in the talk of the evening radio pundits than the products sold in the advertisements, which is what the girls all seemed to care about. He saw men like Stalin and MacArthur end in a spectacle of personality while the political parties each of them belonged to rewrote their histories. He argued with his mother over Mao. Mao’s was an honor given to him by a public that needed a savior figure. Millions of Chinese wanted Kaishek gone, and whether or not Mao deserved to be a legend he would be because the Chinese succeeded in ridding themselves of a foreign authority. If not Mao, some Chinese general would’ve been adored by the people for finally deposing Kaishek. The Chinese had no air force or navy; they weren’t able to blow up the world. The real thugs weren’t fighting each other in the bushes, they were at diplomatic arms’ length with their fingers on nuclear triggers.

“Let’s not talk about war tonight,” said Rita. “I am just so tired of hearing about it. Doesn’t anybody ever talk about anything else anymore?” Rita had seen Hiram talking with Virgie in town. While she concluded it was harmless enough, it was still irritating.

*

A Drive In Theater was erected across the street from the salvage yard in the Spring of 1948, the same year the Hapflik’s moved to Littlefield. Throughout the 1950s, on warm nights Bill would walk the mile and half to the Drive In and slip through a fence in the far back corner. After walking to the crossroads he had to go through the corn field to the back row and slip through the fence. John would usually be there with his buddies Biffy and Staines, spotting each other smokes, talking about girls, scamming beers. Bill was more interested in the Film Noir movies than girls; movies like Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Stranger, and The Hitchhiker. Ava Gardner mesmerized him; she reminded him so much of Clara that he often masturbated looking at a picture of Ava Gardner and thinking about Clara and her long, strong but soft neck and her long, straight jet black hair.

For the Love of Fallen Angels

After Didi left her in a motel room in New Orleans Virgie’s color palette was considerably flattened by varied grays, and her brush strokes became more angular. She had learned brush strokes from the works of Van Gogh, and her color planes from Cezanne and Matisse, but it was the German Expressionists like Nolte that spoke most to her expression. As the months went by her palette brightened and she held Franz Marc as a goal. When she saw Marc’s work she appropriated his palette. Spring wore on and Summer neared, the woods sprung to life, she kept a flower garden, and the chickens and rabbits – which she butchered herself to save Bill the embarrassment. Bill had a soft heart and she didn’t want to spoil that when it was just as well for her to do the killing. She earned a wall full of ribbons from 4H as a girl and had grown accustomed to butchering on her father’s farm; but Bill was different. Instead, she had him chop wood and keep the driveway and porch shoveled in the Winter. He tilled the garden for her, hung up bird houses he put together with scrap boards and kept the ivy out of the eaves – all while she sketched him.

By 1955, Virgie was 39 years old. For three years she had worked at her painting, doing countless landscapes and drawing sketches. She wandered about the yard feeling things with her fingers and gripping the soil with her bare toes. She would hum as she walked about and occasionally stopped to lift her thumb at arm’s length to focus on an abandoned home foundation of brittle stones engulfed by brush, or a deer rubbing against a tree. She was trying to hone her skills through repetition toward something that was of a greater value. She just wasn’t sure what that was. For three years she had an evening routine of combing her hair at her table by the bed and looking at her face and imagining how smooth her cheeks used to be. Her jowels were sagging along with her breasts. Because of her diet and activity she had a strong, thin body, but her blond hair was showing more and more gray, her eyes wore chicken feet and she had an abscessed tooth that ached constantly. She looked over her work of the past three years and was not impressed with the umbers, siennas and blues; they reflected a retrograde of her life spirit. She had let her spirit be taken and she was taking it back. Aging was inevitable. It was just a matter of adapting. You had no choice. The daily experiences of the aged are essentially the same as that of the child, only tempered by control and experience. She was taking her child back.

Bill noticed a change in her demeanor. She wasn’t as moody. She even asked him about his school work and his job. He still had to make his own meals but she didn’t ask him to make hers. She would smile at him as they left together in the morning, Bill for the bus stop and Virgie for her morning jog. One week, she came back from Chicago with Benny, a small Chicano with a boyish mustache and confident air. Bill tried to spend as much time away from them as possible. He was 14 but he had a pretty good idea what was happening, especially in a small two bedroom cabin with a woman as vocal as Virgie. He would hear them at night through the door, sniff the marijuana smoke creeping through the living room, and then the cigarette smoke and the volume of the television being turned up. One late night, Bill was awakened by the bedroom door opening and Benny standing in the doorway naked and staring at him. He gave his erect dick a few strokes, seemed to be calculating something, then turned away leaving the door open. Bill got up to close the door and Benny stared back at him as he shut the door to Virgie’s bedroom.

When the weekend came, Virgie left Benny home with Bill, saying she had to go to Detroit. She assured Benny that Bill would do anything he was told; and he did. It was a weekend of profound impact on Bill’s young psyche. After Clara, Didi was a shock, and a few of Virgie’s other friends, but what Didi said her uncles made of her Benny made of Bill. The embarrassment, humiliation and confusion would gnaw at him the rest of his life. Why didn’t he fight harder? Why was he afraid? During the week Benny said little to Bill, but wasn’t menacing. He joked with Virgie, admired her paintings, gently stroked her arms and sat on the floor in front of her. Benny usually cooked for himself and Virgie, while Bill packed enough in a sack for two meals; one at school and one at Trenton’s. But when Bill arrived home on Friday and found Benny there alone the first thing Benny said to him was “damn, I’m hungry, boy. Why don’t you find something for us to eat?”

Virgie told Bill the day before that Benny would be there on the weekend and Bill brooded about it all day. The house to himself on the weekends was something he needed. After Bill made dinner he took a bath and went to bed. This time when he was awakened by the opening door and Benny standing there naked and stroking his dick he didn’t get up. It was as if part of him let it happen. He wanted to blame his mother for not keeping good company, he was just a kid, but it bothered him that he didn’t get away and that he did do what he was told.

He decided not to tell Virgie. She already knew. He was sure of it. Bill wasn’t so sure that she hadn’t encouraged it. Virgie told him she sensed something was wrong, but wasn’t going to push him about it. She said Benny wouldn’t be coming back and Bill put his head on his mother’s shoulder. A tear came to his eye. The next month she brought home a tall skinny Italian witha lisping high voice and a tendency to enunciate his remarks with a look of contempt. Again, Virgie left him alone with Bill for a weekend. But Bill was neither shocked or obsequious. He ignored the Italian man and didn’t do anything he asked, despite Virgie’s assurances that he would. The Italian slapped Bill on the chest and sputtered, but with one swift movement Bill caught the man’s hand and jammed it back into his chest, sending him over the back of the sofa. Bill finished rinsing off his plate and patted his hands on his pants. Then he reached around the side of the refrigerator and pulled out a 12 gauge shotgun, went to a drawer under the cupboard and took out two shotgun shells and loaded them into the gun. The speechless Italian stayed on his knees, horrified he was going to get his head blown off, but Bill stepped onto the porch and blasted two old bird houses hanging in a tree 100 feet away on the other side of the driveway.

When Bill returned from Hapflik’s on Sunday, the Italian man turned out to be a chatty novelist who was for a Fascist Italy but a Socialist America. He was writing a novel about an Italian immigrant who becomes a union leader and struggles with loyalty to the old culture while trying to leave it behind.

Virgie often had friends stay during the week and Bill learned to entertain them. She was always meeting new friends from Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh; men and women of the arts; poets and writers, dancers, actors, painters and sculptors – all of whom talked incessantly about each other. These denizens of the arts were libertine, agnostic, atheist, spiritual, enlightened, existential, Jungian, Freudian. Some were short tempered, some were not; some did drugs, some did not. The common cause they all seemed to serve was Virgie. She was clearly in command of the entourage.

Bill was a houseboy who served them as their own personal attendant. He learned their points of view about Eisenhower; the Russians; the British and French leaving Egypt; the Soviets imposing themselves on the Hungarians. Most of them soured on Marx and Lenin, preferring to expound on Veblen, Sartre, or Camus. Bill had a way of making them feel like he hung on their every word, and even Virgie’s short tempered friends were deferential to Bill. A landscape artist from New Jersey, a short, thin and bald man who said he was an American History professor, corrected Bill’s technique, taught him about tone and contrast. He taught Bill by producing quick sketches for examples. He also taught Bill to draw expressive lines. After Virgie brought the professor back to Chicago she didn’t speak with Bill for a day. She had been trying to get the professor to teach her for two years but he kept telling her that she hadn’t produced anything that was ready to take her to the next level of creativity.

It seemed somebody different picked up Virgie every Friday, and usually in a Lincoln or a Cadillac. She didn’t usually tell Bill where she was going, but she disliked driving, and during the week Bill would drive her anywhere she needed to go. The figure of Bill holding the door for his mother was familiar in town in the mid 1950s, although most people looked the other way if she stood next to them. But by 1957, Virgie, like most people in Littlefield, used the small dealers on main street less, and began doing more of her shopping at the new mall built ten miles away near the expressway. The mall and the area around it brought with it national retail chains and fast food restaurants that the small, Main street merchants couldn’t compete with.

Virgie was always getting books from her friends and Bill would read the ones he liked: philosophy, literature, art, history. But for all of Virgie’s taste in books, much to Bill’s exasperation, she had a love for the sound of country music and would play it from morning until night on the radio. For Bill, who was reading Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Rimbaud, the folksy lyrics of country music were a symbol for everything he hated about getting along with people. Country music said it was okay to be a boob. Just be a boob and everybody will like you. Virgie would tell him to lighten up. It was positive energy and she wouldn’t have him moping around being disgusted with things.

One day in the Fall after Bill turned 17, he was looking at an oak leaf he was holding; kneading its surface, feeling its texture, when a Lincoln Continental came up the driveway and parked behind the cabin. It was Bennie. Virgie was on the back porch watering her hanging plants and saw the car come in. Bill saw from a distance his mother’s jaw stiffen. Bennie went inside with Virgie and then a moment later opened the door and yelled at Bill “hey, boy, getcher ass in here!” Bill didn’t see that he had a choice. His body was shaking and his neck twitching uncontrollably as he staggered toward the back door. When Bill came through the door Virgie and Bennie glanced at him, then Bennie grabbed Virgie by the hair and there was a quick smile on her face as she clutched at Bennie’s hand around her throat. “Where’s the money, bitch!” Bennie shouted. Virgie started laughing, and Bennie started to threaten her again, but started laughing with her. Bennie let her go and then they both took deep breaths. “Well,” said Bennie, “if you don’t have the money maybe you have something of equal value,” then he turned and looked at Bill, no longer laughing. He turned back to Virgie who said, “maybe later, if you’re good. You and I have some things to discuss.“ And then to Bill she said, “you come when I call you; not when he does. Go on back outside.” As Bill was closing the door behind him he saw Virgie grab Bennie’s ear and lead him into her bedroom and shut the door.

Bill went to the library for a few hours before going to Trenton’s to milk cows later in the afternoon. He knew if he had any money in his wallet Virgie would get it, so he went to a Drive-In for a hamburger and a shake. He kept telling himself he didn’t want to think about it while he milked the cows with Trenton. He even surprised the old farmer by asking him about his childhood. For a moment, Trenton saw Rupert as he looked at Bill, and he told Bill about his childhood with Rupert, how they both kind of hung together as kids in school because all the other kids seemed different. Bill’s father and Trenton thought alike in some ways. “Why, if your father was still around these kids around here would have someone to look up to, I’ll tellya that, son. You can’t go wrong working as hard as your father did. And he understood the importance of getting into a routine and not letting anything shake you from it.” Trenton smiled fondly and then took a long drag from a cigarette and tossed the butt down. “Well,” he stammered, “I got to be getting’ in. Gettin’ a little hungry. See you again on Monday,” he said and turned and walked into the house.

Bill got into his car and drove past the cabin. The lamp was on in the living room. When he got to the bridge he had to stay over so another car could pass. It was six teenagers, three girls in the front seat and three boys in the back. They recognized Bill and jeered and taunted but kept on going. He drove up to the crossroads across from the Drive-In theater. The feature was The Sun Also Rises along with Curse of the Demon. Bill was thinking he wished he had friends, but he didn’t. After buying the hamburger and shake earlier he couldn’t afford to spend anymore money, so he wadded up the bills and shoved them into his boot. He pulled up around the back. Bennie’s car was gone, but the lamp in the living room wasn’t usually on when Bill got home on Fridays. Virgie was always gone by the time Bill came home and she never left any lights on. Bill lit a cigarette and slowly walked up to the house and looked in through the back door. He didn’t see or hear anyone so he slowly turned the door knob and crept through the door, closed it and turned his cheek to a stinging slap, making him cower. “Whatchew doin’ sneakin’ around like that, boy? Doncha know I heard ya when you drove up? Go on. I ain’t gonna smack ya again; just wanted to teach you something is all.” Bill didn’t know, exactly, what he was being taught, but it was a lesson he could do without. Bennie went back over to the sofa in the open area of the cabin which Virgie and Bill referred to as “the living room.” Bill walked toward his room. “Don’t be long,” said Bennie, “you gotta fix us something to eat.” Bill turned the knob to his room. “And then you gotta take a bath,” Bennie added. Bill was 17, but he did what he was told. He only had one mother.

As he leaned against the side of the bathtub, Bill recalled a recent conversation at the Hapflik dinner table.

“It’s a sin,” said Rita.

Bill wasn’t sure why she brought it up. She gave Bill an extra long glance. Hiram said he didn’t think it was a sin so much as it was just a difference in nature.

Rita said, “and who created human nature?” expecting John to fill in, “the devil.” Hiram did instead, in a tired and mocking voice.

“Well, don’t you think it’s wrong?” she demanded. “I can see a couple of girls acting out their emotions and getting carried away but two men; it just seems wicked!”

“If two girls can do it, so can two men” said Hiram.

“I didn’t say it was alright for two girls to do it. I just meant it was more likely.”

“And more forgivable.”

“Well, it’s different with girls. A man has no idea what it takes to really satisfy a woman,” she said.

Hiram gave her a solid stare. “Don’t you go startin’, Rita.”

She left it alone, but Bill didn’t. He felt ashamed after the first time with Benny. He wasn’t supposed to like it the second time it happened. Still, it was his choice. If he really meant to, he could’ve fended off Benny but he lacked the will.

Bill fell asleep in the tub and woke around 5AM when Virgie came home. He heard Benny ask if she had a good time and she replied that she had. He told her he had to get back to Chicago and asked if she left any gas in the car. She hadn’t. “Of course,” he said and left after Virgie gave him a kiss.

Bill toweled himself, put on some clothes, went into the kitchen and gingerly sat down at the table. Virgie was making herself some eggs and sausage. She asked Bill if he was ok. He didn’t look so good. He looked faint. She looked at the seat cushion beneath him and it was bloody. He thought the bleeding had stopped but it hadn’t. Virgie took him to the hospital, and when the doctor asked what had happened he said he slipped while turning around on a tractor and fell against the shift stick. The doctor didn’t believe him, but didn’t say anything, dressed the wound and gave him a prescription. After Bill and Virgie left, the doctor made a joke about what had happened to Dr. Steinkey, the local doctor in Littlefield, who was visiting a patient. He passed it on to Deacon Haskins at the Lutheran church, who told his wife, who told the ladies in the kitchen making refreshments, including Rita Hapflik.

Rita had made the comment at the dinner table about homosexuals because she wondered about her son, the baseball star being friends with this strange kid who didn’t go to school and had no other friends that she could see. She didn’t want her son hanging around people that, as she put it, “would drag him down.” He was young and had potential, and he would make some lucky girl happy one day. He would have a two story house with four kids and a dog, but no farm animals. He would wear a suit to church, and his wife would dress elegantly, though not too fashionably. John was a junior and a starting quarterback on the varsity football team. He was dating a cheerleader, Connie Van Innern, the daughter of the banker. But he didn’t seem much enthused with dating her. He told his mother it was like he had to in order to be accepted by the herd. He didn’t even like her much. She was bossy and rude, and she practically made him be her boyfriend, whether he wanted to be or not. His mother told him he was lucky to have a girl like the Van Innern girl pay so much attention to him. “Just don’t offend her and everything will be alright,” she said.

But John didn’t want it to be alright. He was already thinking about his military service. He didn’t like the thought of being drafted. He didn’t want to end up in Indochina as military fodder. He knew enough of world affairs to conclude that it was inevitable he was going to end up fighting in jungles in far away lands for principles that somehow transcended man, but for which his country needed to claim his sacrifice. John betrayed Bill to his mother one night, saying, “I wish I had a club foot like Bill and had to take care of my mother so the army would leave me alone.”

“What’s wrong with him?,” Rita said with heavy mockery. “Why doesn’t he have to serve his country? He seems perfectly fine to me.”

“He has a club foot, ma. It bothers him but he doesn’t tell anybody.”

“I thought the doctors correct that sort of thing.”

“They do. It’s just that he isn’t supposed to do everything. He can’t run, let alone march.”

“Well, how much running do they do in the army? Don’t they just sit in bunkers and shoot at each other?”

“Oh, brother,” Hiram interjected.

“Seriously, Ma?” John shakes his head.

“Don’t you shake your head at me, young man, or you won’t be going anywhere Friday night!”

Z

Intermission

Vegetation for the composte pile.

Emerson saw man as divided against himself. Emerson talked of animal instincts, moods dominating his reason at times, and that his reason lacked the desire to overcome his moods. The will was subservient, in his case, to his mood. Everyone is bound to a degree by their temperament. Still, the spirit within him is unity with a greater spirit that makes it possible to find a solution; and the ever present compunction to move forward brings us in balance with nature; that is what Emerson gave me because I am still talking to the same invisible friend I knew as a child in a catholic foster home.

Marx leads me to Darwinianism; man at the mercy of his own institutions, he creates identities and ideas, language, but they are regulated for consumption, and have a cash value. Pragmatic, puritan assumptions have more face value; families are worth more money than a single man. “I’m a people watcher,” says puritan pete vanhogersomethingerotherafeldt. I really wish you weren’t, Pete. I would like to see an end to fallacies. Fashion your sermons for a text crowd; we no longer smoke a joint on the sly on a mall bench while watching people walk by reminding us of various animals.

I am pure of argument and political economy. My mode of existence is called into question at all times. I live with the same corordinated ideas and materials and organic and inorganci activity with no equivalent currcncy exchange; I have given up loss or gain of assets, I reject financial imposition of my net worth. I have pennny stocks of words of infinitely worthless value, and no place to put them. I am no noble savage; just a savage, a savage of skinless worth, worthlessly skinned to be a mode of man in existence, a concert of confundity wrapped in wire and handled with puritan cloth.

The dutch calvinists settling of the Great Lakes would leave their camps to hunt and fish, and when they came back would find their food eaten and some of their provisions missing. Native tribes weren’t “raiding” the camp, they were simply claiming what they needed from the earth (food), clothing, other materials. Such a horror was an evil to the legal minded Calvinist, who had to defend his property from “thieves.” If I were a Calvinist at the time I would fail to see a human being in the american indian. Perhaps I would be commissioned by a frenchman and have an indian servant, a mule, a man-friday keeping my musket ready. All that Lewis and Clark is fascinating. I mean, sometimes the savage doesn’t give me what I need. Dionysus put away on a quiet Sunday evening of television viewing with the family, or signifant other.

Money making and the arts.

What would come of wickedness if our depravity wasn’t given a prod at times? Puritan society is a capitalist one; the individual and his or her production are always two separate things. The guitarist poet was told, “you ought to go out and get a band together and make some money.” It would be highly unlikely the guitarist/poet would ever sell enough of his compositions to pay for musical instruments, media platforms, and the time spent creating. Cash value for things produced, with the correlative that the only reason for producing things was for remuneration. The writer, now in his fifties, never having produced a worthy novel, but working for thirty years in schizophrenic fashion, on patterns of coherence, and risking being summarized by others as as psychotic, self absorbed, moody. Laughed at by his mother for considering himself a writer. “Have you made any money yet?” she would harangue occasionally. I know, she was just trying to get me to think the way a man was supposed to; accumulate, cohabitate, mate; show and tell. Well, it’s been 25 years, what have you made of yourself?

Bozo’s cornfield.

Jesus taking a walk on the sabbath, pointing out some particular juicy cobs to his disciples, when Bozo yelled, “hey, if you want to eat that you gotta win Bozo’s bucket bonanza.” And Jesus said, “very well then, I will just eat Bozo.” You know, cuz in the church of Bozo it would be the word of Bozo brought to life. Bozo is in the bread that is broken and digested for the the forgiveness of sins.

“Do you have stable employment,” asks Bozo’s bodyguard, Moses Punctilious Apostolyte. “And we’ll need to know where to place a lien should you fail to pay for our services.

“What services?” I ask.

“Make up, appearance, upkeep of your skin, minor cosmetology stuff.”

“But I don’t think whatever you are doing is helping,” I contend. “My cheeks look like that fuzzy bucket of sherbet in the back of the fridge. I have become obsessed with sucking at the corner of my tooth, which really does appear to be getting longer but is just sliding out of the front of my mouth. The two halves of my face have been bitch slapped by time. My head, pancaked at the ears, a deaf bell rings the skull from inside and the plastic falls off my face. My bones begin the slow grinding polish of metal, dirt, rock, as they churn around the sun. Who knows what our collective intelligence will yield in another five thousand years. The savage doesn’t destroy, he just doesn’t honor the right to accumulate estates, and just hasn’t figured out how to contest your appropriating the things that belong to all. It’s just that maybe papa and junior only had three days of food with them and are totally without any beans or cornmeal because someone has eaten them and left.

“Why didn’t they just build a wall,” asked Calvin Dyme Jr.

“They did,” replied senior. It’s just, they pulled a trojan horse trick on ’em, I think.”

The injuns?

Sure. Infiltrated the camp dressed as hookers.

Uh…ok.

The dutch got ’em back though; gave the hookers diseases; killed them off without needing any bullets.

Just needed tainted bedding to exterminate the pests..

Uh, yeah, I guess. Don’t we have some cows that need feeding?

Calvin Dyme Jr. strolled to the brokerage house downtown, where he would observe the traders. Of the trash pickers he often saw on the mall, a few had a horde of chips stacked up on Apple, or IBM. Cal took a puff from a cigar stub he’d picked from a trash bin and eyeballed a discarded danish on the sidewalk. A man I used to know in 1985 had $400,000 worth of stock. By the age of 60 he was a frail looking old man, hunched over with a bad back after a lifetime of custodial jobs. He pecked out the symbols of stocks on the public keyboard terminal in his blue janitor uniform of the city, where he had worked for 30 years. Emerging from the subway, Kafka’s bug goes to work, crawling along the wall and hanging on the ceiling above his employer. His boss looks like Lucille Ball’s banker boss from the 1950’s television show. He wants to know why you are late and if you are going to be a bum all your life. Can he get you some chicken soup, or something?

I am that Calvinist bug on the wall, looking down on the things that are reminding me of what I have not become. I am the Catholic who would not take the mafia vows seriously, whispered chants murmered with beads, smoke, incense, with pipe organ music, and a little alcohol for taste.

I am thought of as an unholy, filthy, degraded, depraved human being because of my very noticeable lack of property. My meager assets bear the scrutiny of others with property, bank accounts, children. They see my guitar and ask what right do I even have to that? They, beneficiaries of life insurance, inheritances, and convenient deaths. They look at what I own as potential collateral. Is it worth having? But my guitar is not for anybody’s “collateral,” so I could give a shit about their begrudging me what little I have when I make no claim whatsoever about their economic situation. I am a writer. No, I still haven’t made any money yet.

When Edwin Umbrian died he had nothing of value. Nobody bothered with a funeral for him. No probate court where “loved ones” fought over his belongings; no family trusts designed to lock out certain members of the family. The pastor went over the bullet points of Edwin’s life, what little he cared to know of it, and moved on to the announcement for the church bake sale.

Edwin didn’t like coconut cookies. Mrs. Milfuster makes excellent coconut cookies. Therefore, Mrs. Milfuster’s cookies didn’t like Edwin.

Z

John still talked to Bill on Sundays, expostulating on world affairs and the opinions of pundits on the evening news, while Bill’s mind wandered on rhyming phonemes. Occasionally, Bill would listen enough to point out an error in some historical allusion or another. John read the Communist Manifesto (Littlefield City clerk Eileen Ditztent, an ardent Trump supporter for sketchy reasons, looks at the 21 year old white male sitting in the breakroom reading the Communist Manifesto and says, “whaddaya doin’ reading that stuff for? Stuff like that doesn’t belong in our school systems. She then assists a “customer” by signing off on his petition for a concealed pistol permit. He is a 50 year old family man who doesn’t take antianxiety medication but should. “Don’t forget to sign the petition to remove the teaching of Latin from from the course offerings at the University,” she says pointing to a kiosk with a placard above it that reads, “Make Our Schools Great Again.”)

John found the historical perspective of Marxism a handy way to order the past but the idea of a benevolent force of workers the world over was simply preposterous. That was zombieism to John; a world where the individual was always in the cage. The person may find a place of comfort to while away existence but was always subject to conscription into the military, prison, hospital, or school. One had to have his spirit taken from him in order to serve the group. Bill had heard Marx discussed often among Virgie’s friends and disliked him.

John “to sacrifice yourself to history is to sacrifice yourself to the regime; to accept that you are not the chosen one, anyone’s chosen one. It’s phony servitude to something called a “community,” which is nothing more than a cadre of plutocrats who say their rules and laws are on behalf of the “community.” Only the “community” doesn’t have any say.

“Sounds like the cop that beats you up then says he didn’t do it, you did it to yourself,” said Bill.

“Hah! Right man. Something like that. I was thinking about the history of the thinking of men.(It’s 1958. He means both men and women when he says “men.”) I was just thinking in the sense of belonging to a global brotherhood first, a nation second. It would be great if we could all just stop competing against each other but it’s never going to happen. Government for a few controls things in America as well, whether we like it or not.” Then echoing his mother, John added “somebody’s gotta be on top. It might as well be us,” as he yanked a fender off a 43 Chevy. Bill, who had been standing there with a torch in his hand, nodded and said, “sure,” and then struck the torch.

John worried about entering the military. He excelled in ROTC, but that was play compared to war. He knew he would have to sacrifice himself and assist others, and if ordered to rush enemy fire there was no refusing. He didn’t think the globe was capable of being a collective of nationalities that shared their own resources benevolently and unselfishly, nor did he see any nation giving over its political authority to another nation in lasting peace. John saw the need to defend one’s own people, but war tore apart families. Allegiances were made to governments, whatever the political system. There was a social hierarchy and many layers of government asserting control over everyone until they died. He could understand loyalty to the mechanism of community that made his present condition possible but he failed to see why God would protect one community over another. He knew he had more choices than most other nations; Stalin and Mao certainly didn’t come to mind as commanders any American would willingly make sacrifices for; communism was cold death where everyone was a ward of the state. Still, the commitment of a soldier to his unit and to the hierarchy of command was a human action the world over. Armies went to battle with other groups of soldiers of other nationalities who also rally behind a symbol of the soldier making a sacrifice for his country; and that meant that MacArthur and Eisenhower were also symbols that confronted every American soldier. Bill confided that he was happy to have the bad foot if it got him out of the war. He wouldn’t want to defend the nation so much as his privilege to walk through the countryside and smell the weeds and catch a fish. It wasn’t people, it was the place that meant something to Bill. For some reason he needed to be there, even though he didn’t feel like he belonged there.

Rita watched through the kitchen window disapprovingly as Bill helped Hiram around the salvage yard and she became more and more insistent that John stay away from him. The gossip about the Dinklpfuss boy made it impossible for Rita to defend Hiram’s reputation to the ladies at church. She told Hiram to stop asking Bill into the house for dinner. Hiram complained that she knew him better than any of those women at church. She assured him that, yes, she did, and pointed out Bill’s standoffish look and effeminate posture. And didn’t she hear him lisp a couple times?

“Bill doesn’t lisp,” John asserted mockingly. “He’s a good guy and it isn’t fair for you to judge him.” Nonetheless, John was to stay away from him just to make sure.

“The boy works here for chrissake” said Hiram.

“He’s a big kid, Hiram. John may be strong, but what if that other kid attacked him?”

“Oh, for God’s sake!, will you listen to yourself?” Hiram said incredulously. “This is about John, isn’t it? What you are really worried about is John not liking girls.”

“Oh shut up. A mother can love her son. And it is her duty to look after him.” Hiram turned away and walked outside to work in the yard.

Rita turned to John and said, “I just want what’s best for you, John. I love you.” John couldn’t say anything more. His mother’s “I love you” was final.

After Bill dropped out of school he saw less of John. Kids in letter jackets and sweaters rode with John around the countryside smoking pot and drinking beer, hanging out at the Drive-In across the street, admiring John’s hot rod. Bill watched the laughing girls, the shouting boys, from a distance. One girl in particular, a bouncy, short-haired blond with blue eyes and thick lips pulled into a perpetual grin caught Bill’s attention. But it hurt to feel longing. Bill didn’t belong. He couldn’t play the game and make believe. He didn’t like sports, dancing, playing cat and mouse with the girls at the soda fountain. Hiram often caught John drinking and was concerned, but tried to downplay it with Rita. Some boys had more to get out of their system than others. John’s grades declined and he was removed from varsity football but he excelled at ROTC. Hiram was worried, Rita was elated. “Good heavens” she said to Hiram, “who cares if he is committed to football as long as he is committed to his country?”

“Football players don’t die playing king on the mountain” said Hiram.

“No. They just die all stupid in the head with broken bodies.”

“Guess it’s the same” said Hiram. And he kissed his wife.

Hiram employed Bill into John’s senior year in high school. John ditched Connie Van Innern and started dating Stacy Milliner, a whispy little natural blonde with hazel eyes and a sad look of resignation. Stacy wasn’t a cheerleader, wasn’t popular, and took little to no interest in school. She just looked good in jeans. Her movements were soft and slow, as though giving the impression she was sleeping and did not want to be disturbed. She had a beautiful downy tan patina on her arms, with dimples on her elbows and wrists that mesmerized John. Bill too, from a distance.

Breaking up with Connie Van Innern drew the contempt of the jock inner circle and John wasn’t asked to parties anymore, or picked up by fellow students in muscle cars wearing lettered jackets. He spent his time swooning over Stacy at her family’s farm cleaning out the stalls and coops with her father and brothers, helping them to work on their cars. He didn’t do his school homework anymore and he didn’t have any idea what he was going to do with his future. Mr. Milliner pressed him. “Oughtta join the army, son. It’ll make a man outta ya. An officer makes good money you know.”

John had already been thinking that even though he had to commit to four years he was better off than if he were enlisted for two. So when he passed his 18th birthday he became convinced that was the way to go and enlisted in the army. The night before he was to leave for service, Stacy broke the news to him that there was someone else; that she had been seeing the both of them and that she decided she was going to marry the other guy. John was stunned he could’ve dated Stacy for a year and not have considered that she would have other suitors. He felt his life force sink. He had spent so much time with her family, yet had no clue Stacy was seeing this other guy. He couldn’t believe what a fool he had been. He would have to pull it together because he was going to be a soldier. The United States of America would indeed make a man out of him, whether he wanted to be or not.

In the Service of Little Men

John advanced in the army corps through three years and became a second lieutenant in an army guerrilla training unit in VietNam, until he was discharged in September of 1963. When John came back from the fighting he wasn’t quite right, his mother confided to her friends. He never talked, answering only when spoken to. There was a look in his eyes as cold as a bare prison cell. He had gotten too used to sex with prostitutes, which served him well because the colostomy bag he now wore kept him from letting people accept him. He hid it under his coat and his skin and bones sagged with a dour lethargy. He lay on his bed in his room smoking at night, pulling his pecker and brooding. His mother walked in on him once with the pretense of getting his laundry. Sure enough, he was masturbating; with his head leaned back, cap over his eyes, banging his head on the headnboard. Rita took a step and cleared her throat. John opened his eyes to see his mother grinning triumphantly at him. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?,” she demanded. John looked at her cold as a salamander and kept stroking. “Get the hell outta here, mother!”he uttered through clenched teeth. Rita raged to the kitchen, leaving the door to John’s room. Hiram was heard to say, “just close the damn door and leave him the hell alone, Rita!” She arrived to close the door just in time to witness John’s body jerking and spasming and spurting all over itself..

John kept the refrigerator in the garage filled with beer. Hiram, though tempted, declined the occasional offer for a hit of John’s hash, even though it would be great to feel like a kid again; if for just a few hours. Hiram was in his mid 60s, and arthritis in his neck prevented him from working more than a few days per week. Rita kept after him to stop taking so much pain medicine and see a doctor, but he had been told by an army doctor that he had scoliosis and might have a little discomfort later in life. As an eighteen year old however, he was healthy enough to be in the infantry in WWI. He cringed from the pain when he got up from bed and sat in his chair most of the day. But in the morning, about an hour after he’d gotten something to eat and taken his pain medication he would laugh to himself and be bouncing around the garage, taking an occasional slurp of coffee. John watched him from under the hood of a car as Hiram stood with his outstretched hands on the work bench and talking to himself. Sometimes he would slide step and zig zag while bobbing his head like a dove. It brought smiles and laughter to John’s that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Hiram’s doctor warned him about taking too many of the pills, but the constant buzzing in his spine made them necessary. He would see Rita approaching him with her glower and say to himself, “arthritis,” but he loved her, no matter how much she nagged.

Rita never let anyone say anything bad about her Hiram or John. She may be low on the food chain with the Lutheran ladies, but she would defend with mule kicks the names of her men being trodden upon. When the VanInnerns ignored Rita, she was more concerned with not feeling a lack of dignity. She couldn’t care less what the VanInnerns thought and that bothered her. It should bother her because no matter what she thought, the VanInnerns held status in the little town. But she had no desire to stay in Littlefield; that is why it didn’t matter. She had always wanted to return to her childhood home, where there would always be family to welcome her. When Wanda Medendorfer asked her why Mrs. Van Innern ignored her in the church kitchen Rita responded, “I wasn’t aware I was talking to anyone.” She had more important things to worry about.

Hiram was having trouble sleeping and began to sleep on the recliner in the family room. Every night Rita would turn off the TV and put a blanket on him and give him a kiss on the forehead before going to bed. One morning, he was still sitting in the chair when Rita got up at 6AM. She knew immediately. All she could do was stand there with her head in her hand, her face blubbering and her body heaving. She wanted to blame God for taking him, but considered that Hiram was already suffering more than a man should. She had expected in a few years maybe, but not so soon. The loss devastated John. He’d had his dad there to talk to whenever he wanted, and now he felt guilty for all the time he wasted. Hiram would tell him not to waste his time with regret; he would say that talking about it was a waste of time. People didn’t talk importantly at these things anyway; it’s all just gesture that amounts to petting each other and giving each other privacy so we can all get along together. Hiram had many times told John that humans were just another type of animal pursuing the same instincts and seeking out others of the same feather.

While John could always seek out his dad to feel human again, his mother’s ideal John would be ordered to duty, honor, and country through the symbols of MacArthur and Christ. The christian soldier and husband was a necessary role in being a man in a world where other people’s idea of God and entitlement were vastly different than yours. “It would be absurd to follow a God who had no value for you,” thought John as wrote his mother that he saw a woman in Thailand who was kicking a large Buddha in front of a pagoda and cursing it. Good fortune may have been offered by Ford, but only as an agent for Christ, according to the minister. And Christ was with the commanders of the battles that took Rita’s two brothers. The death of the two brothers when they were younger had left Rita and her brother Ralph with the realization that “the war to end all wars” was but a war to begin the rest of all wars. Rita now laughed a slow and mocking scorn, while her brother lectured to John “when a man goes into the hospital he’s asked if he’s a veteran. That is something that takes age to appreciate.” John took a drag from a cigarette and dropped it into the sandy parking lot of the tiny country cemetery. Uncle Ralph was a decorated veteran and had a shattered arm from a bullet. He was active in the local VFW and a Mason. After John came back from the war he had ignored uncle Ralph. He looked at him through a pair of shades, adjusted his colostomy bag, turned and walked to his car.

Z

John was part of a tactical training unit in Laos when he was ambushed while working security for a joint military advisory group. Nineteen officers were killed, including seven Americans. John escaped with a sprained ankle when he tripped over a vine and the bullet intended for his neck knocked his helmet off instead. In falling forward he smashed his front teeth out on boulder.

In Vietnam, he was assigned to reconnaissance, and while on patrol in a low area between two hills, the brush became electrified with ricocheting bullets. There was a mortar explosion. John hit the ground, and when he came to, the firing had stopped but he couldn’t move. He had the sensation of floating in the air, and he could see the bobbing heads of the laughing Vietcong as they approached. John watched two South Vietnamese trainees leap from the bushes and try to flee, only to be intercepted by Vietcong bayonets. In the gully in front of him John could see Vietcong stabbing the bodies of American soldiers with their bayonets and stomping on their heads. When one came to John he kicked his body but John didn’t feel anything. The soldier then lifted his bayonet but was distracted by another soldier calling him. When the enemy turned back again he plunged his bayonet into the corpse next to John, skipping him. After the Vietcong disappeared back over the hilly brush in the dark it was an interminable 30 minutes before John felt like he was one with his body again, enough to shift his weight onto his elbow. He listened for a few minutes. In the distance through foliage he heard a faint twittering like a bird. It was hard to tell the direction, but he was sure it was the Vietcong soldiers communicating with each other. He was two miles from base and his weapon had been taken. He zig zagged his way from one thicket to another, across open field and over hills, back to base. He was the only one of the unit to survive.

John was assigned to a South Vietnamese commander who ordered patrols on a suspected enemy position that worried John. He wasn’t so sure it was a good idea to patrol so far away from base at night. A few nights into his assignment John’s unit drew gunfire and flanked away, returning fire and losing fifteen of thirty men. In the hills on his rounds he would see severed skulls, disemboweled men left to die, men who lost limbs from tripwire bombs. Some of the South Vietnamese soldiers smoked opium and John joined them. Some of the Americans smoked hash and he joined them. The smoke made the nightmare into a daydream. With it, the sounds of bullets in thickets was just another sound that demanded attention. Serious attention. Time stood still. He was Joshua and time stood still for him. The moon stood still while the taunts of enemy soldiers teemed his brain. Then time exploded with the whistling of shrapnel and blasts from mortar rockets and grenades. Soldiers flew into the air against the back lighting of explosions. His nostrils were often near the ground in pungent jungle thickets and rice paddies with snakes. He hadn’t forgotten the sweet scent of maples and lilacs in Littlefield. He had just given up thought of experiencing them again.

John was ordered to report to a subordinate unit headed by a South Vietnamese Commander. John and the others in his barracks were loaded into the back of a truck and taken to another barracks twenty miles away. Inside the barracks was a dirty old mattress on the fllor. The men knew something was afoul but were undecided what to do. While they were discussing the matter the Vietcong entered with bayonets drawn and took each of them to a small building about the size of an outhouse with a cement floor and no windows. A dirty light bulb dangled from a wire above John as he was handcuffed and stripped, then sexually assaulted by a Vietcong soldier. He then was questioned. What was his mission? What type of weapons did the South Vietnamese have? Where were their units stationed and what was their objective? When John refused to answer he was beaten and kicked, breaking all his ribs. He had a concussion and a broken nose, but he wouldn’t answer any questions. He was returned to the barracks where only four of the other men were returned. One told the others of being made to watch his friend have his teeth extracted; and how the man was screaming and begging them to kill him. They tried one last time to get him to talk but he still refused, Tough son of a bitch. Then one of the Vietcong officers shot the man between the eyes.

The next morning the four men were again taken away. This time John was assaulted with the barrel of a rifle, his session cut short by profuse bleeding, and he was sent back to his barracks to use his clothes to sop up the blood. He had neither food or water for 36 hours and was faint. He could no longer stand up and crept into a corner to cover himself. None of the others returned. He had passed out and somehow awoke in a medical unit. His company had found out about his abduction. Four Americans along with a dozen South Vietnamese soldiers who had defied the orders of the South Vietnamese commander had located and infiltrated the compound. The South Vietnamese soldiers knew the villages and knew who to talk to, it seemed. Since John was the only survivor of the abduction he was revered by some, and greeted with horror by others who had heard of his ordeal.

John earned three medals for bravery and had been through dozens of grueling ground battles. He had been attacked in trenches, fought with knives and in hand to hand combat. He punched and stabbed people defending themselves against colonialists; hardened soldiers who fought the French, trained by Japanese defectors after WWII. To the Vietminh and the Vietcong the Americans had simply taken the mantle of hegemony from the French. The natives sought self rule and employed all manner of cruelty against all foreigners. To them John was the evil one. He had been knocked out, watched men die, watched himself die, only to be kept alive in a living hell. After four months of psychiatric evaluation he was released and he came home to Littlefield.

For John, his father was the bedrock of reason. He knew his father saw things in the Philippines not unlike what John had experienced in Indochina, efforts of the natives to demoralize the foreign soldiers, but Hiram was a member of a medical unit and when he saw the trauma and aftermath of destruction he was thankful that it had fallen to him to be the compassionate giver rather than the necessary taker. So many wounded soldiers sought out Hiram after he said something to them that made them feel human. It was more than his words but also his open, expansive body language and smile that brought a return smile from a man with a severed arm or leg. His was a smile that said “you are going home again. You may not be the same, but you can do things different. You will just have to adjust.”

John pretty much stuck to yes or no assertions with his mother. She wanted to ask him about Vietnam and he knew it. Hiram didn’t want to know. “You can’t ask a soldier what he had to do for his country,” said Hiram. His mother looked at John, at first a little disappointed, then with a sunny voice said, “the important thing is he’s alive.” But when she saw John she saw a zombie.

Not that John talked much with Hiram either, but Hiram didn’t press it. He would watch John take a beer out of the refrigerator in the garage and then go back out to the yard to pull parts from cars. Rita protested that John was working too hard in the yard. Hiram wondered what could be wrong with that until Rita complained that John wasn’t going to find a wife working in the yard all day and going to bed drunk. He is going to have to snap out of it. Nothing good is going to come of him being like this. Hiram agreed, but differed as to the method of steering John out of the place he was in. Rita’s answer always had been the savior, while Hiram tried to teach John that the savior was the self. Hiram was sure that the lord was far more reasonable than the one talking to Trenton, Calvin Dyme, or Deacon Haskins. But Rita said that while these men may have their faults they were nonetheless godly men, and were bound to duty, to Christ, the country, their families. They did their duty and they didn’t whine about it. At least she couldn’t imagine them talking to their wives and children about how they doubted God was listening or cared about them. Of course, the wives of each of those men had given her glimpses of something different but she hadn’t really paid attention.

*

While John left for the service, Bill continued working for Hiram into the Fall of 1960. Hiram was voting for Kennedy, Rita was voting for Nixon. Bill didn’t like either, but would eagerly listen to Hiram refer to Rita as the woman with the “Republican cloth coat.” The future in “For the Future,” said Hiram, was a woman in a Republican cloth coat in every household. Bill laughed, still smarting from Rita’s condemnation.

One afternoon, Bill was driving to his job with Trenton and saw Dev Gavlin blaze down the road on a thoroughbred, kicking up a wake of dust while two men in farmer’s bibs drew up on him in a Ford pickup. There was a gun shot and the thoroughbred rared up and skidded across the road. Dev was able to tuck in his chin just before slamming down on his shoulder and jarring his spine. Bill tore around the corner in his Buick and slid to a stop. He jumped out of the car and lumbered over to Dev who was passed out. Bill had to think quick. The horse had run off but could be retrieved later so he carefully lifted Dev into the back seat of the car and took off to the hospital. Dev had a separated shoulder, a cracked vertebra, and three dislocated ribs. The community rallied around Dev, brought him and Gail food, took up a collection to pay his hospital bills. It was six months before Dev was able to walk to the barn and back.

For his trouble Bill lost his job. When he came to work the next morning he was assailed by Trenton. It was inexcusable to not show up on time – he told Bill Mrs. Trenton had to help him, but she hadn’t set foot in a barn in 30 years, and it was his eldest son who had to cancel a few hours of fishing to help out. Why hadn’t he bothered to tell him he was going to be late? He should’ve gotten somebody else to take Dev to the hospital so he could’ve been there to do his job. Bill gave the old fool a sarcastic look which made Trenton irate and he jogged up alongside Bill, vilifying him as he walked to his car, bouncing against the far bigger Bill, jawing at him inches from his face. Bill was a this, that, and something else.

Bill’s leg bothered him so much he was getting spasms in it that he felt it up to his spine. He figured he was done with Trenton when, a few days later Trenton came barging into the cabin demanding to know when Bill planned on going to work. Had he enough boozing or whatever it was he was doing? Bill laughed at something on television as he sat on the sofa, ignoring Trenton. Virgie was awakened and came out of her bedroom. “Who the hell are you and why are you making a commotion in my house?,”she demanded.

Trenton gave a sardonic smile as he swiftly moved across the room to Virgie. “I’m your son’s employer, that’s who!,” he said triumphantly.

“My son said he doesn’t have a job with you, mister.”

“I never said that. I told him he was a bum because he thinks he can take time off whenever he wants. I thought he’d cool down after a few days and show up. Then I come up here and find him sitting around on his ass!”

Virgie was nonplussed; Bill saw she was about to explode. He got up and stood nose to nose with Trenton, glowering at him until Trenton turned and left, leaving a trail of curses. He slammed the door behind him and Virgie went into a rage, rushing out the door and yelling at Trenton, threatening to blow his goddamn head off. Bill knew she would so he stood behind her on the porch when the fool Trenton stopped and looked as if he was going to come back. At least he could keep the shotgun from her. But if he was stupid enough to come back Virgie was sure to beat him to death with her hands, feet, and whatever else she could get her hands on.

After John left for training, uncle Ralph bought a house two blocks away and was over most days talking politics, communist conspiracies and immorality; and when Bill was within earshot, perversion. Hiram told Bill to just let it go in one ear and out the other but after listening to a scathing harangue about crazy parents teaching their kids immorality, indirectly referring to Virgie, Bill couldn’t take it anymore. “You don’t know a goddamn thing about my mother or what she teaches me,” he seethed.

“Whoa, waitaminnit, son. I didn’t mean anything.”

“Then why’d ya say it? You gotta message for me or something?”

“You know, I don’t think I like your attitude, son.”

“I don’t give a shit what you don’t like, Dad. I don’t like YOUR fucking attitude! And you better shut the fuck up about my mother!” Bill’s fists were clenched and he stood in front of Hiram’s brother in law, crowding him.

Hiram just chuckled. Ralph looked at Hiram with a look of disgust for not saying anything and then looked at Bill, was about to say something and then thought better of it. After that Rita wouldn’t hear of Bill stepping foot in the yard again and Hiram was so exhausted from the years of hand to hand combat with Rita that he’d had enough. Bill had no income, but at least he had the Gavlin’s.

When Kennedy, the Catholic Democrat, was elected it was final proof we were in the last days before the Second Coming of Christ, according to Rita and Ralph as they sparred at the dinner table over which of them was more conservative. Without John at the table Hiram had no one to appeal to. After Rita demanded that Bill be let go Hiram stayed out in the yard late into the night most nights, repairing autos and listening to the radio for news of his son. Rita told him to get somebody from the high school to help him but it wasn’t about having enough help for Hiram. He didn’t need to work so hard if he didn’t want to. The salvage yard was his lifegiver. It was compassionate, consoling. But after a few more years he was getting tired. His neck ached badly and he had taken a lot of pain medication over the years and had an ulcerated stomach that he babied with soup and warm milk; Rita would watch him go out the back door every morning, come in for lunch and then go back to work until supper. After eating he would turn on the TV and listen to news while he fell asleep in his rocking chair with a paper in his lap. He had more strength to do the work without Bill then to save Bill and fight Rita.

Gail Gavlin refused to listen to anything bad said about Bill among the ladies at the Lutheran church. The others talked among themselves about Rita’s scorn but Gail was far more liked and admired, and her favor spoiled what otherwise would’ve been Rita’s scathing indictment of that no good draft dodger who threatened her brother. But as Dev got better Bill knew he would have to spend less time at the stable, allowing Dev to get back to what he loved, taking care of horses. Bill was alone much of 1961 as Virgie stayed in Chicago most of the time. Dev and Gail gave Bill a horse to pay attention to and Bill made a routine every day to walk the mile across Henneman’s field to the Gavlins to take his quarterhouse for a ride to Potter’s pond and back. Over the years Dev will keep the horse fed, its hooves trimmed and teeth floated while he charged everyone else at least a small fee. While Dev mended Bill would Bill would bring a book, and after helping Gail in the barn he’d spend a morning or an afternoon reading poetry under a tree on the bank of a creek. In the Fall, the countryside played a perfect environment for reading Thoreau or Frost.

Bill began reading two novels a week; Hawthorne, Melville, Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis. Once in a while he saw Dev, ang Gail stopped leaving lunch for him. He existed mostly on beans, potatoes and greens from the field. His mind was on his existence, which he sought to put into words inspired by Emerson. He tried to write poetry but despised everything he wrote. He told himself it was ludicrous to believe he could be a poet when most of the poets who were published were far more educated and had credentials. He tried to read the Beats but he couldn’t make any sense of them. He saw Robert Frost on TV speaking at Kennedy’s inauguration and was contemptuous. He didn’t know why. Frost was a symbol, not something that was actual in Bill’s mind. He was aware of himself identifying the symbol of Frost with a little Homunculus Bill Frost chasing after, trying to become the symbol. Fiction was not based on life, life was based on fiction. The process of imagination became more his occupation then writing coherent poetry. Virgie read his notebooks while he was away and recognized a personal style that needed polishing, but was promising. She wished she didn’t have to be so short with him sometimes but it was the only way to get him to do what he was told when he wanted to be belligerent. And if she wasn’t harsh to him now he would cling to her.

Bill was glad to lose the job with Trenton; it was through his time with Trenton that he discovered ennui. He had always been despondent when he saw mothers holding hands with their children, or when he saw a father and son flying kites. (During the 1940’s – 1960’s kites could be seen flying in the sky every sunny afternoon in the park in back of Casie’s Restaurant and around the countryside.) In his way, Bill was like a tribesman who had always been of age, or was supposed to act like it, but lacked the psychological orientation of the herd. He had no idea about his fate but there was no way he was going to ever reach the horizon driving a tractor. Hiram had been a good role model, a decent man. He always showed Bill respect and asked what he thought about things.

And Hiram had a sense of humor, explaining the importance of unions to Bill and John, much to the consternation of Bill Staunchkiss, owner of the shoe store and member of the chamber of commerce who was waiting while Hiram serviced his car. Hiram believed in the same God as the good members of his wife’s church; it was just that some of those acting as teachers of Christ seemed to be seeking class recognition more than recognition for being like Christ. Hiram and Rita shared a love for Edwin Hictchock movies and watched many of them together, feeling young again, snuggled together in the front seat of a 1949 Cadillac that Hiram and John refurbished together while John when was in high school. Hitchcock movies always made the car rows of greasers, farmers, and jocks seem quieter.

*

After coming home from the war, John continued to strip cars despite his condition. Race car drivers from the county race track flocked to the salvage yard when they heard John was back home. They would’ve kept John busy rebuilding gears, suspensions, engines and drive trains, but he didn’t want the anxiety, the aggravation of filling orders or keeping to schedules. And he hated repetitive work. John’s art, his expression, he felt, was best borne in building a hot rod out of 1944 sedan delivery, or 1942 Ford panel truck. “Everyone needs to find something that helps them get along with what they got,” Hiram told Rita when she worried about John working in the yard with his colostomy bag. “You can’t take away the few things that give a person pleasure.”

“Oh, there’s all sorts of things people do to give ’em pleasure. You know, Ralph and I were talking…”

“You two are always gabbin’ about things you don’t know a thing about. It isn’t about finding some pleasing task, it’s about accepting life and feeling purposeful. John is who he is and you have to respect that.”

One day in the Fall of 1963 Bill walked into the yard just as if he had been there all along. John hadn’t thought of Bill in a years. Rita mentioned something about dad having to let him go but it was unimportant to him and he had forgotten about it.

Bill had been hanging around Dev Gavlin’s horse stable for two years after losing his job with Trenton. Virgie encouraged him to send his poetry to various publications, but all of his submissions were rejected, save for a few zine publishers for unpublished poets. His foot had been aching him constantly when he lost his job with Trenton. He had a permanent muscle strain from his lower shin to the top of his foot and walked with a cane. He applied hot compresses and constantly massaged his foot and leg. Virgie knew he would have a rough go in life. But she was also worried she would have to take care of him for the rest of his life. She was hopeful after he discarded the cane and his foot was getting stronger. And when he was walking three miles a day she was convinced he’d had enough time to rest up for another push into the work force.

Virgie was home Monday through Thursedays, in Chicago the rest of the time. She left little food in the house on the weekends but Bill was savvy enough to pinch some noodles, oatmeal, and beans during the week and keep them in a napsack which he hid by the creek at the bottom of the hill in back of the cabin. He couldn’t impose on the Gavlins, even though they would’ve fed him. He was too proud for that. He he read poetry and drew pictures and ate boiled beans and fried potatoes. It was almost two years before Virgie could see that Bill’s limp was almost unnoticeable and that he was capable of getting a job. She let him take the car but she told him he had to leave the house at 730AM and could return after 5PM. He thought about it the night before as he went to sleep but could only think of the Hapflik’s.

John remembered Bill when he saw him pull in to the yard. He had been thinking lately that it would be great if he didn’t have to talk to so many goddamn know-it-alls every day and John gave a smirk of gratitude to the God who was listening to that prayer. Bill saw the smirk and was a bit offended; he misread it as an air of authority. Still, it was better to put up with it from John than from somebody he didn’t know. Bill came up to John and both stooped under the hood of a Jeep listening to a screeching belt.

“Remember where we keep the alternators?” asked John in the deep monotone he had affected since Bill had last seen him.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t imagine you came to talk” said John without expression. “Dad’ll be glad to have ya around.” Bill would find out John wasn’t usually in a good mood, and generally bitched about politics from the news. Bill wasn’t sure how he felt about politics any more. No matter how much of it he heard on the radio, saw in the paper, he was never convinced by any of it. John mused that communities were families nestled together, each with their space in the neighborhood, a voice of the community with degrees of class distinction, just like apes. The humans just moved more elegantly, had more intricate use of their fingers, and made calculations unreasonably with their reasoning power which they used to amuse themselves. Bill laughed. And he noticed it was the first time he had lauged in years. All humans were apes living a fantasy that our reasoning had made us more civil than we had a right to think.

Bill wasn’t as nimble with tools as John and Hiram but he wielded a quick and accurate torch, and he could use the tow truck and drive a hilo. Rita objected but John told her to mind her own business. He had to run the business and Bill was a good helper and that was that. Though neither he nor Hiram pushed it by ever inviting Bill into to the house.

John had little tolerance for the puritan rhetoric of people around him but he still watched the political news to keep in mind the things he hated. No nation’s politics were above scrutiny. Everyone’s personal independence was the real war at hand. No political leader ever spoke into a microphone without the support of money. But power always benefits itself and is never magnanimous. Powerful personal independence never served the employer best, nor the government. An American owed his existence to the United States of America. John was fighting in Indonesia while Kennedy and Kruschev engaged the media; yet, his loyalty was with the president and the nation while being on constant look out for snipers and rush attacks from squads of Vietcong. For John, communism was an ideology of servitude. Lenin and Mao were just theory to the Americans around John, while he had seen communism used as a tool for those strong enough and smart enough to seize power.

Hiram and John were watching a documentary about the Korean War, and as the wounded American soldiers were being carried back on stretchers Hiram pointed out one of the bearers and the casual way he was walking, “Lookit that. You never see a communist soldier swinging his hips like that for the camera. Betcha we don’t see any footage of the enemy swaggering like that. Too afraid to slouch.”

“Servitude,” andwered John drily.

There was no footage of the North Koreans or the Chinese slouching on camera, but Hiram and John watched a slaughter of men being fed, wave after wave, into a buzzsaw of bullets, grenades, bayonets and bombs. “The Chinese communists under Mao had deposed Chiang Kaishek, and the Koreans supported Kim in the countryside more than Rhee,” the narrator told them. “Communism relies on a compulsory grassroots organization of village communities. This way, it spreads like a rash, indoctrinating the poor and empowering them through rhetoric and compulsory military enlistment.”

“Hey, isn’t that what Kaishek did before Mao?,” Hiram asked, but John didn’t answer. John couldn’t see any man marching to death under Stalin, Mao, or Chiang Kaishek, but in the end every man faced death under duty, no matter the ideology of the those who gave the orders.

“In contrast with the Chinese forces, who marched in the cold with ragged supply lines in canvas shoes…” the narrator continued. John blocked out the droning voice of the narrator and saw soldiers posing for the camera; the American with his dignity, fighting for the good of capitalism and another generation of American existence. It was for the right to choose between jobs, schools and politicians that John hoped to help bring to nations fighting the soul-slaughtering communism. As John saw it, the Chinese communists gained a stronghold on their country by breaking its spirit, sacrificing tens of millions through revolution and fighting in WWII, Korea; and now countless had died of famine; all because of power. The world was an orbit of discordant branches of ancestry with bodies indoctrinated into the ways of certain people in certain places in certain times in history; all denying the right of others to be equal without some some sort of resolution.

It was scary to think of living in China in 1963. Comparatively, Americans lived as gods with our houses and possessions and communications. But even the Chinese had capital and output, producing, selling, discarding, repeat. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and now Vietnam. The goal was not a military victory over communism, or any other ideology, but a stalemate to produce a foothold for the American capitalism that had taken over the interest of European nations.

John didn’t trust Nixon. He reminded him of Kaishek, an imperialist, or Mao, a narcissist. He was high on Goldwater before he enlisted, after returning home he despised him for thinking the allies should atomic bomb the North Vietnamese. The Russians would retaliate, the Chinese would swarm Indonesia, and WWIII would be under way. So went the narrative in John’s brain. For John, the war, any war was far removed from the specter of the evening news. He would lie awake at night trying to figure it out: why? He heard that the U.S. had to contain the communist aggression, especially after the Berlin Blockade and the clamp down in Hungary in 1956, but in Korea, MacArthur was insane to start up with an enemy that combined the technology of the Soviets and the manpower of the Chinese. Truman had saved the world by removing MacArthur.

In the ninth grade John had argued with Bill, who repeated Virgie, that the goal of the military wasn’t to win some conflict. To win or lose was just media talk. Military activity benefited corporate contractors that employed people. The free market of military commerce – logistics, weaponry, aircraft, tanks, electronic equipment and supervision – was driven by quarterly profits thanks to the procurement of funds from governments like the United States. John read in the newspaper every night about the Soviet tanks asserting power and crushing rebellion and was youthful enough to want to fight the bully communists. But after returning from Indonesia John recalled that Ike had warned about the military industrial complex in his farewell speech. Now the military industrial complex superseded the soldier his father had been, and which MacArthur symbolized.

“They should’ve let MacArthur conquer the Chinese,” Rita often asserted along with uncle Ralph. It was a point of contention between Hiram and Ralph. MacArthur’s world was one of military conquest. But as John saw it – taking up Bill’s argument – in the best of all possible economic worlds the wars never end. Governments keep spending for military equipment and services, and the attrition caused by war contributes to the prosperity of the surviving; and if a few tens of millions die of famine it is only for the good of the nation. Those who died in war would only have died in poverty, aside from a few exceptions whose outcomes were apparently destined by an omniscient God to provide a symbolic example for a wide variety of sermons. Uncle Ralph was aghast at John.

“I don’t think I like that kind of cynicism,” said uncle Ralph.

John shoveled a hunk of meatloaf into his mash, followed by a spoonful of gravy, chewed it slowly. Nobody said anything. They knew he was going to say what he was going to say and would interrupt them if they started talking. His expressionless face with fish eyes leveled with uncle Ralph, the lips spoke, “God’s in your head, uncle Ralph.He ain’t a member of congress.”

“He is on the chamber of commerce, I think,” Hiram noted. The comment almost made him laugh. It did bring that snicker to his face though. He knew it did because his mother gave him that hot look she always did just before saying, “you wipe that smirk off your face, mister.”

For a few months after Hiram passed away uncle Ralph was over every day to see Rita, and John grew more and more agitated with the constant talk of nationalism and freedom. One night ,when John was trying to watch the evening news, uncle Ralph was telling Rita that JFK had done the right thing by committing more troops to South Vietnam, but then Johnson seemed like another Truman, talking tough but afraid to commit to the destruction of communism. John looked at uncle Ralph and said in a forced tone, “why don’t you shut the hell up? Just once. Just…shut the fuck up.” Uncle Ralph was quiet for a half hour and then protested to Rita at the door when he left. Rita confronted John. All John said was, “you two haven’t any idea what freedom means to a gun.”

*

Through Virgie’s open door one day, Bill saw a large creature devouring a child. Virgie told him it was Venus consuming her child – a Venus of mixed gender, with breasts and a large, erect penis. Virgie’s paintings were getting some attention from a gallery in Chicago and she was preparing for a show. Clara had inherited an endowment fund for the arts and an artist colony in Vermont, and Virgie was going to stay there for three months. Bill was left alone. He had the car but no money for gas; no money for anything other than a small allotment Virgie left that was to cover food and anything else he needed for three months. Unfortunately, she had not paid the electric bill and Bill had to use most of the money to turn the electricity back on.

It was when Virgie returned from her artist retreat she informed Bill he had to earn his own way and he returned to the Hapfliks. In time, Rita Hapflik relented to Bill’s presence in the yard. She watched him work from the kitchen window. He didn’t seem to say much and he seemed deferential to John. She was glad to have him there to lift heavy objects for Hiram. He was becoming a comfort to Rita knowing that someone was there to look after both of her men. Besides Hiram’s declining health, she was worried John was sinking in spirit; it involved more than religion. Besides, she would never be able to get him to go to church. She knew he was drunk every day but the moroseness and drunkenness was a symptom of a greater illness, one that she could not fight by herself. She prayed for him but no longer believed in him.

John told her that he could see no redeeming value in changing the nature of foreign people. Everyone was part of a barbaric society for which they sacrificed themselves by walking into the line of fire at the command of an officer. Rita strongly disagreed. All societies had to be given a chance. Maybe the Asians were still in more of a barbaric state and had to learn from us how to be civilized.

“They are just as civilized as us,” said John. They don’t have the technology to match our cruelty but they make up for it with viciousness. If they become our predators it is because we teach them to be.”

“Well, rather to be the hunter than the hunted,” said Rita.

John remembered lying in a ditch waiting to be killed. He knew what it was like to be both hunter and hunted. He wasn’t sure what higher purpose was involved when his killer was distracted and skipped him. If God was going to speak through the man who distracted the soldier then God could’ve spoke before all the other soldiers in his platoon were killed. When it was just he who had been saved on several occasions, only to be returned to the junkyard to live with a colostomy bag: what higher purpose could that have for himself? A poster soldier boy didn’t wear a colostomy bag. Even if all that had happened to him didn’t happen, he couldn’t be a salesman for the military industry, slinging uncle Sam slogans at kids to go die for those seeking power. He thought of uncle Sam as sort of like Saul the tax collector, vehemently crucifying Christians and then the conversion; to be one with them in order to have authority over them. “I am just like you, you are just like me. We must serve each other.” But just what were we serving, and for whom? Ideology was like the alcoholic who can’t discard the nervous furor that has always pushed along some crusade or another his entire life. So he redirects it and the change of point of view is all engaging. But such a person has no anchor; like a flag that may always look the same but mean something else depending on where your feet were upon the earth.

Maybe God just having a bad day each time John had suffered at the hands of the Vietcong, or the Viet Minh. His mother would put it into Jobean perspective somehow. And for that he loved her. His mother was practical and demanding, but the world went on and she was going to make sure she was right there with it. John, however, slunk from living, and stayed away from her when he was tanked at the end of a day of wrenching auto parts and drinking beer. Rita saw one day just how much beer he was drinking when she saw John running out of the garage at 10AM to puke and then walk back to the fridge in the garage to get another beer.

*

By the time John was 27 he was drinking a case of beer every day and smoking weed with a group of veterans who gathered around him wherever he was working. Hiram still managed to come out to the garage to help out most mornings, while Bill greeted customers and did repairs. By 11AM John would polish off half the case and go in to get something to eat, followed by a nap.

Hiram would rest in his chair until John came in and then hobble out to the garage and putter around until John came back out. His neck gave him constant sharp pains that made it hard to see and he always felt like he was about to fall down. After Hiram passed away John would be up at 5AM, drinking a case of beer by 2PM and then going in for the day. Bill did all of the towing and even worked clean up detail for the sheriff after auto accidents. He was doing the important work but was being paid as much as a high school worker. John would forget their conversations about getting Bill more pay, and Bill would have to get any signatures he needed from John in the early morning. Bill began to fill out job slips and have John sign them so he wouldn’t argue with customers who came while Bill wasn’t there. The business was getting so backed up with brake work, body repair and tuneups that Bill began to deal more with the customers than John, who wasn’t to be seen much of the time. Rita, assured by Gail Gavlin that Bill was a good person, began coming out at 11 AM to talk with Bill and see what John was doing. Rita called the accountant and had Bill’s pay raised. She believed that God watched over everyone in some way and that Bill was looking over her son and the memory of her husband. This Bill, who she treated so badly just because of something she overheard. If Gail Gavlin said he’s a good man than he probably is.

Bill was called to the scene of an auto accident late one unseasonably warm December day in 1968. He wasn’t accustomed to seeing the big garage door open when he arrived back after dark at 6:30 PM, but John kept to himself and it was hard to tell where his friends might’ve taken him. John had stayed up all night with a couple of veterans playing poker the night before, drinking and smoking weed. Bill wasn’t quite sure how it would effect his day so he tried to ask John what his plans were that day. But communicating with John was like talking to someone who was sleepwalking. He answered Bill he was gonna pull it up ‘n…ahh…gonna pull it up n’ ahh.., burped and walked off into the yard. Bill left for the cleanup job and when he pulled back into the yard Rita was waiting for him, anxious about John. He hadn’t come back into the house for lunch and she needed Bill to look for him in the yard. Bill would forever remember the shadow of the engine hoist as he approached the back of an Olds station wagon and saw John’s sprawling legs on the ground. The sheriff said that it looked like he was using the engine hoist and the car slipped off the hook and crushed him. It bothered Bill that John was poking around the yard when he was in no condition to work. Nonetheless, John was gone and Rita kept the garage open for business, seeing that Bill was doing all the work, servicing cars for customers and earning a living.

She realized the anguish it must’ve caused Bill to answer the same questions from nosy customers. “So, where’d it happen innywayz?,” someone would say pointing to any direction of the yard as though it were their casual right to know because that is the type of information given in the newspaper.”Heard John was a boozer.” “Heard he came back crazier than all hell from Vietnam.” “He was breaking into people’s houses with those hoodlums he was hanging out with.” “Heard he gave his father a stroke with all his carousing around.” Rita had heard enough second hand talk over the years to know what others were saying about her son; she had heard it ever since he had broken up with Connie Van Innern in high school. Rita appreciated Bill for the esteem he showed John, and he now seemed to genuinely miss him. Bill ignored the remarks from customers about John; he didn’t care if others thought he was rude. He wasn’t in the entertainment business. When he read descriptions of crime in the newspaper the objective seemed more to feed the public consumption of leisure. The newspaper didn’t describe the build of the criminal, what clothes he was wearing, the color of his hair; only that he had attacked Mr. So and So in some parking lot by that one place we all know about. Won’t you be thinking about that if you go there to dinner? Talk about it among your friends and come spend some money. Now, a word from our sponsors. He wasn’t sure if he was understanding Veblen, but he had the feeling he was finally beginning to understand Professor Hoon after all these years. John’s death feeds public consumption. Everyone’s did. Everyone had at least a small public. A man without somebody to consume him has no value.

After John was buried, when her brother came to visit Rita didn’t share his desire to talk about politics. She didn’t quite have the same outlook she’d had when Hiram and John were alive. Now whenever Ralph praised the bombing and the killing in Southeast Asia she didn’t have the heart to agree. She thought of John in the jungles of Vietnam and explosions going off around him, kill or be killed; nobody’s son should have to go through that unless the cause was noble. She had lived through two world wars separated by a decade of depression; her two brothers were killed in WWI, quite a few relatives killed during WWII. The Korean conflict and southeast Asia. When she was younger, Rita adored her brothers and they adored her. In some ways she knew she sought revenge through John for losing her brothers to war but she couldn’t allow herself to feel guilty for not counting the cost. Everyone just did what they thought was right.

As 1969 came, it no longer seemed right to have to answer the question, “what are you afraid to hide?,” when there were no charges to be made against you unless you incriminated yourself. In the 1950s, she heard Mildred the waitress turned in Virgie Haskins to the House Committee On UnAmerican Activities. At the time she shared the enthusiasm of the other Lutheran ladies that it was the right thing to do. But now she didn’t share in any inquisition into the private lives of others. The thought of what happened to her Johnnie so people like the VanInnerns could raise suspicion with authorities against anyone they pleased repulsed her every time she attended services since John came home.

The familiar slogans of grace and goodwill among the ladies of the Lutheran church now seemed like the hollowest of hypocrisies. No matter where we were we never escaped the yard. Every generation played in the yard. In one corner a pair of hens cluck together, in another corner a hen is brooding, four others wander not too far from a rooster, aimlessly pecking, coming when he calls them to a cache of seeds. We all had to wear the chicken suit, but we could move to a different hen house. So Rita decided to ask Bill if he would be willing to take over the business for a monthly payment and then she moved back to Ohio to live out her years with a sister in the house where she grew up.

BEGIN PART THREE

Within thirty days of John’s funeral, Rita moved back to Ohio, leaving Bill most of the furniture except John’s clothes, bowling ball, guns, and phonograph records which were given by Rita to her nephews who wanted something onced owned by a war hero. Bill bought a single bed at a second hand store, along with a lamp and night stand to make him feel like his room was his and not John’s. He didn’t bother with a dresser, keeping his clothes in a pile in the bathroom upstairs and washing his clothes by hand and hanging them over the tub. He disliked being called at all hours to clean up auto accidents and decided against bidding for another traffic clean up contract with the Township. He settled into a routine of getting up at 8 A.M. and going out to the garage around 9, after a cup of coffee and a joint – which he would get from Dev Gavlin.

After Dev recovered from the incident with the shitheads in the pickup, he began getting pot from his brother in law who started smoking it while in the National Guard. For Dev, pot didn’t stop the pain so much as it made it less restrictive. He could move his body with coordination again and it didn’t feel like he was always suffering. Bill could smell weed in the cab of Dev’s truck one day and asked Dev if he would share. It elevated Bill’s mood whenever some of Virgie’s friends shared it with him and he had often wished he’d had some. A few times a month Dev stopped by the cabin to get out of the house. Dev wouldn’t divulge it to Bill but he was lonely. When he was younger he’d had the hope of grandchildren and great grandchildren, but wars took precedence, not a man’s hopes and dreams. Dev wondered what Bill thought about a lot of things; politics, nature, spirituality. He found Bill a tireless conversationalist when asked the right question. The trick was to know what conversation to avoid; things like his mother, religion, and sex. He just liked to hang around Bill and talk; and it made Bill feel human, like someone was paying attention to him, like someone cared what he thought.

Every week or so Bill took a walk at night to see if there was a light on at Virgie’s but he didn’t see a sign of her for six months. When he did finally see her she was surprised to see him. She asked him what he’d been doing while she was away. Good. It looked like he had a good life set up. Virgie was with a man in his mid-thirties, dark haired, unshaven, in light blue shirtsleeves and straight legged wine colored slacks. He was busy loading some old art work and supplies into a van. She said she was happy for Bill, but seemed more happy to tell him of an opportunity she had in Cleveland with a workshop and living quarters. It looked like they were both moving on from their little cabin in the woods. Bill wanted to hug her and when he reached for her she flinched then let him. It would be the last they’d see each other for nine years.

He went to the cabin the next day and everything of value in the house had been taken; there was no furniture, no dishes, none of Virgie’s clothes. In Bill’s closet was an old winter coat, a pair of boots worn out in the right sole, and a stack of notebooks and drawings which he took home and put in the attic where they would stay for 17 years. He had seen very little of Virgie the last few years; very little of anyone since he was 22. She’d always have friends for a few days over Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day though, and Bill would have to do a lot of cleaning in a hurry. But she always showed up a day ahead of her guests to supervise. Otherwise, Bill’s life wasn’t drastically changed by his move. After he began again to work for the Hapfliks in 1963, Virgie began to spend more time away, staying in Cleveland, or Pittsburgh for months at a time. Then moving on to Chicago for a month or two, Detroit for a week. But that is all Bill knew, and all he cared to know.

For twelve years he settled into routine. He watched television and read the newspaper, which he had delivered to him every day, and collected books from the local library sales. He often drew his own superheroes over the stories in the paper; an avenging angel causing a murderer to steer his car into a tree; a succubus who seduces a rapist then strangles him; a kidnapper who is killed and resurrected and killed again for each child he’d sold into sex slavery. Over the news of Watergate he drew, “A Last Supper in Hell,” with Nixon giving the double overhead peace sign, Kissinger seated on his right, John Mitchell on his left.

Bill always read the comic section first, but he also read Jack Anderson’s column along with the local editorials. When he read the tone of the ongoing wars between Christians and Muslims, capitalists and communists, he recognized himself as an enemy to all. All used the state to control ideology for their own gain, and all were proficient at pointing out a scapegoat. He didn’t trust the process of conclusion in the papers; the narrative seemed contrived, like a song you hear for the first time but you can almost anticipate the words. The various columnists were like poets who wrote the odes to the gods of war. And the gods of war weren’t above petty favor. War was always symbolized as the forces of a God calling for the soldier’s sacrifice in some conflagration between good and evil.

The early 1970’s comic book universes of DC and Marvel inspired Bill to conjure his own universe of characters. But his were antiheroes; the unskilled laborer; the short order cook; the paper delivery guy whose car breaks down once a month, usually at four o’clock in the morning. Those of low position who were made available when someone needed a scapegoat. He wrote meta narratives after reading John Barth’s In the Funhouse, as he wrote short stories that featured ghosts and talking angels in dreams. His characters were mainly taken from mythology: a historian in the court of Julius Caesar; a step brother of Jesus; a childhood friend of Ulysses. He tried to understand Jungian archetypes and read a few books by Joseph Campbell. On TV and in comics, justice was a constant theme. Good and evil were always and at all times grinding against one another. Bill didn’t like it; it was Rita’s and Ralph’s world packaged for consumption. Evil has been vanquished but only until the beginning of the next episode or issue.

Bill saw the practicality of civility but it didn’t mean he needed to meet standards of morality set by others. Bill couldn’t buy into a vigilante system of justice in real life. Anyone with super powers would use them to their own advantage. There was a need for self defense, but Bill held the line at stories about faith defending a soldier against bullets, especially after John remarked, “ah hell, mothers prayed for every one of their dead sons in every war. God ain’t playing no favorites; otherwise, everyone would be justified in hating him just a little.” John’s veteran friends (around Littlefield all soldiers from all branches of service were simply referred to as “army veterans.”)told Bill about John being left to die by the Vietcong. Sure, it would be easy to defer to fate, to a higher being which we weren’t supposed to question, but that wasn’t John, that was Rita.

Bill knew that he lacked Tolstoy’s narrative and plot, but he had always studied faces and body language. He borrowed from deChardin to describe the spirit of the universe alive in his characters, but the only authoritative narratives he could muster were redolent of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. He could describe the mind of a psychotic killer; the single minded intent of the slightest body movements, but he stumbled on theme and plot. When he looked at someone he paid attention first to the face. If it had a mean look he averted his eyes. He watched what people did, reading what he considered the spirit that generates the motion of the bones, and using the language of deChardin in his own internal dialogue. The more he wrote, though, the more his narrative sounded prefabricated by the newspapers he read. He wanted to write something different but he didn’t have enough interaction with people; lacked the understanding of real people, not a group of people condensed and turned into straw men and groups by newspapers.

He went to the library on Mondays and Thursdays, when it stayed open until 9 P.M.. The Littlefield Public Library in the 1970’s was far superior to what it was in the late 1940’s, and Bill found himself devouring the humanities. He brought home over three thousand books from the public library book sales over the years. After reading Cliff Notes he was able to understand Emerson, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck; Solzhenitsyn, and Salinger. He had always read without much care for the artistry employed by the writer, but now he realized his preference for the vocal quality of Emerson and Frost. They were the authors of syllables, not just words; and they spoke with a rustic simplicity which he had known his entire life; where existential, somewhat unsettling grinding reality was nonetheless familiar and comfortable.

Until the late 60’s, everything he’d ever read was interpreted into associative memory and assembled into a narrative of ready made symbolism from the evening paper. The voice of the world of fiction was more dense. It had the sound of dry leaves . It was with Henry Miller’s voice he should’ve been trying to describe things but he didn’t have Miller’s flair or bullshit ability. He was trying to describe the little cabin on the hill or the screeching of the engine hoist swaying in the yard on a cold winter day in Frost’s language, or Walt Whitman’s. Yet, it still wasn’t his voice. His voice meandered like Thomas Wolfe or Somerset Maugham. He identified with Holden Caulfield with the way he, Bill felt, not the way the character Holden Caulfield felt. Bill read Freud and began to analyze himself too much in the characters he was creating. All of his dialog sounded like mirror images of some aspect of himself instead of just being themselves. The wars of good and evil between his characters were like his own ego versus his super ego; God against Lucifer waging war for the preeminence of reason over morality.

Bill forgot most of the story almost immediately upon putting a book down. He liked the tone of Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair, Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. While looking through reference books one day he came across guidelines for writing an essay and decided that he would better understand a work of literature by comparing scholars. There wasn’t any critical analysis of Miller or Bukowski, but there was more than enough to study Emerson and Lewis at the Littlefield library. But he found too much of the critical study boring and unreadable; he just wanted to find his own voice in the wilderness of experience, hear it in his inner narrator, or from a character’s point of view.

He related to the Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion because he had always recognized peculiarity in the language used in different towns, or in families. Each nationality shared thinking traits, followed specific speech patterns, used slogans and slang picked up in the marketplace, gossip and media. Van Tillburg Clark’s The Ox Bow Incident used the sort of spartan fluency Bill wanted to emulate. In Clark’s story he saw a parable for his own use: not just he, but everyone had to face the lynch mob on occasion, and every avenger is assured he is right. He tells you if he is wrong, “well, then God will judge” – as if that is supposed to be reassuring, especially coming from one with a spirit of murder.

From Bill’s perspective, entertainers were used as spokespeople to capture the attention of whole communities. It was the national pastime to spend time in conspicuous leisure but to be skeptical of others who do. Sporting events and passing time away in drinking establishments or in front of televisions as homage paid to the idol of leisure, the corporation. The corporation converts into a dollar value the attention they have gotten. The producer tries to maximize this remunerative value against his own loss of time as an individual. But Thoreau had a far different value for leisure than Veblen. One of the inexorable desires of a human was to earn an income by doing something enjoyable. That had an infinitely higher value than dollars to Bill. It sure helped to be able to set one’s own hours, not have supervisors to answer to, or anyone to say “yes, sir” too. Bill didn’t have the stress of a family, the responsibility of others to look after, in health or sickness, rich or poor. Bill had the salvage yard and his comic. He’d put off a brake job here, an engine rebuild there, when his comics arrived in the mail, and when he was done with them he put them in sleeves and tucked them away in boxes; Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, Hulk, Thor. He didn’t like alcohol or sports, finding the idea of watching men harming themselves for name recognition and status a mean form of high school.

Professor Hoon, a frequent visitor of Virgie’s during Bill’s teens, had once explained Veblen to him. Bill could remember some of the terminology, but he didn’t want to try to understand it too much. He was looking for ways to convey his thoughts. He just wanted to know how to describe a subject, not teach it. He still didn’t know how to research or to read interpretive literature all that well, and while he enjoyed reading novels he didn’t pay particular attention to plot, structure, or narration. Because his life had always lacked human interaction, he was more interested in the characterization and the psychology of the characters in literature. He was trying to see how others think and do. When it came to writing poetry, he made simple word associations in sing-songy rhyming sequences based on his emotions and intellect. He would sit at a card table and write couplets and quatrains in various meter but couldn’t develop beyond the extended metaphor.

*

Bill came to the conclusion he hadn’t the desire to be a great artist even if he had the education and the mental acumen to be one. But he enjoyed reading poetry and wrote it occasionally as a catharsis, torturing himself afterwards for baring his emotion. He was drawn to Rimbaud, who seemed to already capture – his translators anyway – the voice Bill wished to use to describe his own existence. Bill wanted to write a free verse yelp like Whitman. He would’ve liked to have the youthful energy and descriptive capacity of Rimbaud, but the simple sentences he had picked up from Hemingway made him feel like he was plodding along the page with a club foot. Whitman could catch a wind and sail for pages, puffing out sentiment only solitude can breed, but when Bill read his own short stories they seemed to be too much like the descendants of Spoon River; with much acid and little merriment.

His characters were conditioned, controlled, limited by the constituents of their environment; family, jobs, government. We were all just minerals, gases, and liquids, with our prejudices already written into our genetic sequences and shaped by rubbing against each other. He had dozens of characters developed around certain common traits he observed: bone structures people shared that gave certain men a simian look, or the high cheekbones of some women, like his mother, which gave them an air of domination. He combined body and character traits with behavior stereotypes just as he saw on television, adding acts of general kindness or cruelty, compassion or meanness, love or narcissism to populate his own Olympus of existential nobodies. What fascinated him was the stultifying effect all family men had on him. He used to think it was the women who somehow stunted the man’s natural ability to grow, to outgrow his environment, but now he concluded that most men aren’t creative, find their vocations early, and spend their lives advancing through various forms of job security, while trying to make sure they don’t die alone. A vocation gave a man his purpose without which he was just an animal; gathering, nesting, enduring. Then death.

All about him was the play of existence; people play acting at various roles of authority and subservience while in a perpetually degraded state of inhumanity; fighting, killing, incarcerating, punishing each other. All time was consumed in the pursuit of food preparations and consumption; procuring, processing, consuming, washing. There was dishes and silverware, pots and pans; toilet paper, laxatives and antacids. There was personal hygiene necessitated by the consumption of food, water, and air. Each person saw to their own needs, participating in a greater collection of sanitation engineering. It was an inglorious state made noble by Whitman and Emerson, but more so by Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. In men like Miller and Bukowski there was the blood of the turnip spilled on the dainty flower of the Baudelairian dandy and the bellicose Puritan.

While he shared an intuitive attachment to the Transcendentalists he questioned the value of seeing the spiritual in all things. He admired Hemingway for his ability to describe and narrate in simple sentences, but he thought Hemingway sounded more like Theodore Roosevelt than Walt Whitman. He seemed to court bravado for no purpose other than to show a nervous and unnatural preoccupation for male virility. When Hemmingway had grown too old to wear the costumes anymore he quit playing. Mailer seemed like a narcissistic version of Hemingway who became the prototype for generations of self advertisers selling a fictional version of themselves. Where Henry Miller was fluent with life, Mailer was at odds with it, occasionally quivering toward conciliation. Miller’s writing made people know they were alive; made them able to cry for joy in sorrow; Mailer’s egoistic first person seemed mostly to advertise a cheaper version of itself. Bill wrote like he talked, which is to say, like he did in high school, copying whole paragraphs from a text book for a writing assignment. He was no scholar, no essayist. He simply played at poetry, slamming symbols off a big screen erected in his imagination for his own amusement, and roughly following patterns he heard in songs on the radio. His fiction was narrated like that of a co-editor of an encylopedia: factual, referential, authoritative, and lacking fluidity. His narrative voice was the same voice he heard inside, silently reading history from reference books.

When Bill saw Robert Frost read The Gift Outright at JFK’s inauguration he was enchanted to hear the voice of the man whose poetry seemed to describe the world as Bill saw it. The irony of benevolent fortune was that it would always serve as pleasant memory during the times of misfortune; that nothing could ever be as it seemed to any more than one person; that a man could measure his fortune and chances with foreshadowing, resignation and fear. Prayer was made for heroes who lacked existence. What established a man, how he earned his living, how he lived, talked, perceived things, was always said better by another with similar priorities.

Bill didn’t really want to say anything that hadn’t already been said, or prove anything, or compete for anything. It didn’t matter at all what anybody wrote or read, either of the self or the collective; what was important was conveying the spirit alive in each living organism. The fiction writer was a mirror of the ability in everyone to sweep to order their environment despite fateful influences. One day, behind the garage Bill watched a rabbit scurry under the brush to feed an acorn to another rabbit that had been crippled and was hiding; he stood there crying for 10 minutes and then closed the garage to go in and draw a picture of a rabbit feeding a walnut to another that was injured. Bill didn’t want to jar the world, just leave a chronicle of himself as representative of one the 108 billion homo sapiens whose bones the earth had accumulated over the last 50,000 years. It was a chronicle that didn’t sensationalize the exploits of its characters; just told their stories.

The two rabbits jarred his authorial vision. Suddenly, his was a lone voice; the inelegant outsider; the Bukowski-like ruffian that related ugliness to beauty. He disdained the facile pop beauty of glamor with its cheap sensual desire and commercial gestures of togetherness. It all seemed to say, “come, be one of us. You are no good all alone.” Everyone it seemed consumed beauty, gorging on its raw roots with all its pungency unwashed. The sex symbol utilized by exploiters to cajole the male into accepting the script; the guy who never raises his voice, always is kind and respectful and wholesome, a family dud treading the mill after supposed years of youthful despoliation, while she is the witchy wise TV woman, ready with wisecracks and cajolery for the parade of ass spankers – mostly men – in her midst.

Bill’s illustrative expression was best kept to simple symbols akin to kids’ coloring books; drawings of hills and farm fields as Van Gogh drew them. He thought he could understand more of Van Gogh by looking at his art than by reading about him. All academic commentary seemed stilted, manufactured to fit a premise. All the Freudian analysis that was so prevalent in any examination of art seemed a superimposition of analysis over emotion and intuition. After all, the artist didn’t need the critic who pointed out peculiarities while outlining incomprehensible premises. What Bill experienced as an artist, as a creator, doing and learning from his doing, involved more than discovering himself, it involved observing why people agreed and disagreed.

Bill was nagged by an excruciating self doubt that prevented him from asserting himself. No matter how much he tried he could not concentrate as a child, and he rarely met a teacher’s measurement of potential. He only remembered being reprimanded and rarely praised. He was always too slow and too stupid and he could only remember being recognized for what he didn’t do right. Virgie never talked about Rupert. Bill thought he had forgotten his father until he was in his early 30s, when he seemed to recall every moment he had ever spent with him. Sometimes, the rumbling of the old Hapflik house settling on its foundation, or a harsh wind on a window pane reminded Bill of Rupert stomping on the floor behind him and antagonizing him for not picking up his room, or for not putting away his clothes. He did not share his father’s fastidiousness, having to be reminded to comb his hair or to wash behind his ears.

Bill’s laundry pile of 1979 had evolved from the same laundry pile he brought with him in January of 1969. Since age eight, he washed his own clothes by hand and hung them somewhere in the breeze to dry. Only when Rupert had lived with them did Virgie do Bill’s laundry, tossing his clean clothes onto his dresser and telling him to fold and put them away. Bill, like his mother was always hopeful of living without stress, and to him that meant without a partner. He saw the attitudes of the family men all around him as robotic with their noble sharing of a conscience with a spouse. As early as his teens, he told himself he would never married; it appeared to be a form of servitude for both men and women. Some served society better by not being married and nesting.

Bill was always doubtful if his thoughts were in the right key. He reasoned that a person is only capable of languge associations within the narrative of their own existence. He was also suspicious of the dubiety of his own self. There was the all knowing first person self, and there was the omniscient narrator that told him about the self and put it into perspective. Sometimes that omniscient third person can be cynical, sometimes over enthusiastic, while the first person pursued, persevered, made both reasonable and unreasonable assumptions. When Bill acted, he was first person. When he thought about what he was doing, when he became his own narrator, the third person. He was able to evaluate what he was thinking as the third person, describing the dialogue between a first and second person as they hashed out the measurement of their existence as a dichotomous symbiosis.

He is a toddler. Maybe two. Running away from his dad and laughing. The huge Rupert stumbles after him and grabs him by the arm, lifting him up and slapping his ass a half dozen times. It’s not that he didn’t deserve the punishment, it was the demonic look on Rupert’s face while punishing that seemed unnecessary. Part of the reason Bill ran around the house was because of the mean way his father looked at him when he did. As a three year old he couldn’t resist the urge to see what a toy truck would look like if it were smashed against the basement wall, or the look on Rupert’s face afterward. He remembered laughing as he whipped the truck against the wall. Of course, the laughing just made Rupert angrier.

Bill’s memory ground to a backwards halt around age two. And sprung forward to the present it was the ever present voice of Rupert. He now recognized his father’s voice as that of the demon of his own self doubt. He’d always felt a menacing presence when he knocked something over or tripped over something. His own self mocking voice was his father’s, judging and chastising for not being some sort of standard bearer. The voice represented a higher form of ideals that punishes with varying degrees of shame. His whole life had been molded by the feel of Rupert’s hand upon him. Now in his late thirties, he realized just how much his daily life was shaped by it. And if Rupert was a symbol of male authority to Bill, then the female voice was represented by Virgie, Clara, and by Rita Haskins.

Bill couldn’t say that he was all that fond of talking to Rita, but he was sad to see her leave, especially after he realized he would no longer see a familiar face, hear a familiar voice every day. In the few weeks before she left she fell into circumspection, recapitulating the decades she’d spent in Littlefield. She wasn’t interested in the industry of the salvage yard now that both Hiram and John were gone. Junk wasn’t the sort of thing ladies talked about anyway, but she had never made any distinction between the ultimate motive of both, herself and others: We were all headed to the same gate. It was just that some weren’t going to make it through. Her faith had led her to believe in the voices of the elders, and her faith was a bond that was indestructible. No matter the appearance of a thing, the only reality of it was how the holy ghost was evident.

She had a reason for being unfair to Bill before. He was effeminate, vulnerable with his body language and his soft, limping gait. Even John laughed about it. Bill used to cause snickers in middle school which he ignored with a mask of surliness. He couldn’t help the way he limped, Rita knew, but it didn’t keep her from deriding him. She said it would be easy to mistake him for a girl if he didn’t start walking more like a man. Still, he was loyal to Hiram for all those years, and kept the business going for John after Hiram passed away. Bill knew why she was kind to him on occasion, but he still didn’t like her. Not that he was unforgiving. Or was it? He couldn’t seem to ever completely shake his resentment. Given the momentum of her existence, did she have any choice but to act as she did? What sort of bond did he, Bill, have for the world anyway?

*

When his foot ached too much he rested. He offered a discount for those who removed their own parts from the vehicles in the yard; by himself he could only keep up with repairs. He’d always been stingy with money out of necessity, counting every dime like Thoreau. His body was nimble and coordinated from activity when he was younger. But now he smoked, drank too much pop and ate too many snack cakes. He mushroomed to 295lbs., which sat thick on his frame, draining him of energy and contributing to a general mood of torpor. His sagging face panted back at him in the bathroom mirror; he was winded from defecating. He was 37 but it was an old 37.

Bill developed a course of calisthenics, stretches and breathing exercises with the help of a chinese/latino female friend of Virgie’s who visited two or three times a year while Bill was in his teens. The exercises strengthened his body and gave his confidence. He’d never learned boxing or wrestling and at least he had a way to defend himself. Virgie said Bill needed to learn to stick up for himself and stand his ground. There is a line a person cannot let another person cross. Through his 20s and 30s he bought exercise pamphlets and did calisthenics and stretching. He had scoliosis but didn’t know it. The exercises strengthened his midsection and relieved his back strain. He focused on keeping his weight balanced throughout the day, trying not to favor his leg when he moved. Whenever he was under a car, hooking up a vehicle to the tow truck, working on someone’s brakes, or exchanging a transmission, he would be thinking, “gotta get more weight in the center of my hips, shoulders follow.” And while Mr. Beezfuddy complained about having to wait until Friday before Bill could cure that thumping noise on the floor of his Pontiac, Bill was thinking, “whenever I use my elbow I am straining my jaw. What’s up with that?” Bill wasn’t over eating and was 210lbs in 1969, even though he didn’t go for walks much anymore after he moved into the Hapflik house; his back and foot ached too much when he did that.

By his late 30s he had experienced most of his adult life as a recluse, taking part in the world vicariously through radio, television and newspapers. He smoked too many cigarettes but didn’t like drinking. He didn’t like drugs or alcohol even as a teenager but would get pot or mushrooms from Dev. In retrospect, he had always felt like he was playing an assistant to someone else’s stronger fate. But then everyone needed others to lead the way. He had been given an opportunity to age in the same playground of cars started by his father over forty years before. The service garage didn’t seem so big now as it did when Rupert built it. The Hapflik’s had been father, mother, and brother to Bill. And when Bill was self conscious about his appearance or inarticulate speech he saw Rita’s mocking face making references about homosexuality. But he also remembered the look of appreciation and kindness she gave him when he asked for more money. She often came outside to talk to him in the years after Hiram died, and was generous to sell him the house and business on installments.

*

Dev wasn’t so sure as Bill that a person could take his eye off the demands of his family. But Bill’s situation was different. He only had himself. The Cal Dymes and uncle Ralph’s would vociferously disagree that a loner should be thought of as equal to the family man in the eyes of the community. “Anything worth having was something you had to pay for,” was something taught universally by all peoples everywhere regardless of nationality. Every family man had to pay for the members of his family. What “others” did a loner pay for? Everyone, thought Bill. To the government on behalf of everyone. The capitalist family was no different when they claimed the favor of Christ, then the Arabs claiming the favor of Allah, the Chinese claiming the favor of Mao, the Russians claiming the favor of Lenin. Everyone had allegiances in the daily mythologies fabricated from existence. There was little difference between the lives of individuals in the small towns Bill had known in Michigan;,Christ and General MacArthur would agree.

Mellow

Bill’s horse was aging. Mellow was a chestnut quarterhorse mare with a grumpy but affectionate disposition. Bill loved horses and through them found an outlet for his need to show tenderness. Mellow was 5 years old when Dev first got her, a little more than a year after Bill went back to work for the Hapfliks. Mellow’s owner abandoned her, letting her loose when he left for a job in Idaho. A neighboring farmer told Dev a stray horse was grazing in his field and came to complain, assuming it was one of Dev’s. Dev’s face didn’t hide his contempt for the presumptuous farmer but he was protective of any horse. He knew what both humans and horses were capable of, and only a handful of horses that he knew could ever be as mean as the average person can be from time to time. He leveled a cold look at the presumptuous farmer and simply said, “where is at right now? Just let me get a lead and a halter and I’ll be right over to get it.”

“Well, he’s been in field for three days now. Didn’t you miss him at all?”

“Thanks for letting me know. I’ll take care of it.” And Dev hopped in his truck and slammed it into reverse, spinning out of the driveway. Gail came charging out the door to find out what was going on and saw the farmer shake his head at Dev and then turn to her with a scowl. Gail glowered at him and the farmer stepped quickly to his truck and also left.

Mellow was a name Dev laughingly gave the mare because she pinned her ears back at anyone she thought was going to take her out of her stable. The mares and the geldings had a pecking order of retrieval from their separate pastures when Dev led them in. Bill was taking the horses in with Dev one night when the mare rubbed her head against Bill’s chest and shook her forelock which was matted with burrs. Bill led her back to her stall and took the burrs out while the horse fed on hay and grain. Dev noticed and offered to keep her if Bill would replace the transmission in his wife’s Dodge Polara. For years, Mellow had taken him across fields, down paths, across water, and stood patiently while he sat on the ground and read poetry, being contented with foraging for tasty weeds and flowers.

Mellow had arthritis. Dev noticed the mare’s hind leg shaking while she stood, and he watched the condition grow steadily worse .Now, in the Spring of 1979, he told Bill that Mellow should be put down by Fall. It would be too rough on her to put her through another Winter. Bill was devastated. He knew that the day would come but he had hoped he wouldn’t have to hear about it until the day had actually come. He didn’t want to have much notice when Mellow died. The prospect of losing his horse every time he saw her at the stable was enough to bring tears to his eyes when he said goodbye. But he endured it all year, and in the Fall, one windy, cold and rainy morning at the end of September, Mellow was put down.

Z

In the Spring of 1979, Bill was working in the garage when a brand new Lincoln Town Car pulled into the driveway and Virgie got out. She didn’t say anything in greeting, just, “haven’t you been paying the taxes on my house?”

No. Bill had no reason to think he needed to have considered it. She thought she’d sent him a letter years ago to go to the county treasurer and pay the taxes. She received notification of a public sale of the property because the taxes hadn’t been paid for years. No. He had nothing from Virgie. Bill looked at her with a “what do you want from me” look. Virgie said it didn’t matter. Her friend, Ms. Alfesser had already talked to the Treasurer and redeemed the property. Bill wanted to know why it even mattered, but that would’ve involve talking to her. He said nothing. Virgie told him anyway. The value of the property had increased so much that despite the shape the old cabin was in, a creek ran through the back edge of the property, and the value of the property supported funding for a lovely artist sanctuary. Well, stop by some time. Bill looked after her, not longingly as she got back in her car and left.

Accompanying the lassitude caused by the impending mortality of Mellow was Virgie’s reappearance after nine years. Although it wasn’t quite right to imagine not wanting to see his mother, he realized that the anxiety caused by her reappearance wasn’t about having a cold conscience, it was about maintaining his self respect. When Virgie’s cabin was redeemed from the Treasurer by Ms. Alfessor, who also filed the deed to the property under a nonprofit corporation founded by friends of Virgie, she also provided the money to modernize the property. A large outbuilding that was called a garage for zoning purposes, included a heated living area with a recreation room, study area, kitchen and bath. Once or twice a month Bill saw headlights careen off the bushes at night as a car descended into the chasm of dips and curves of Barnett Road before making its way over the bridge to Virgie’s property.

As long as Bill could remember, teenagers had gone for joy rides down Barnett Road. In 1975, four teens died when their car T-boned an elm tree where the road curved to go over the river. Kids drank beer and smoked weed along the winding path into the gully at the bottom of the hill to Frazier Park. Jocks and hooligans clashed; greasers, burnouts, hippies and militants. The Nero High football players met the Littlefield Cougars once a year at Simpleton’s Park in an event that always gave the loser of the two schools’ yearly football game a chance for revenge. The place had known knives, baseball bats, chains, tire irons. As a rule, Bill stayed away. He could see it from the hilltop next to his mother’s cabin. Many nights he stood on the hill above, smoking and watching the crowd in the gully below. Occasionally, someone would see him from the crowd and yell up to him with a drunken bellow, trying in vain to get Bill to answer. Someone even crossed the river and climbed the hill looking for him but Bill stashed his pipe and followed a deer trail that led him right to Virgie’s back porch. He could hear them as he listened from the back porch. They were drunk and yelling, two of them. Something about killing some Cougars. And then they went back down the hill and across the creek again.

During his teens Bill knew all of the deer trails along the creek and all the breaks in the pastures within a five mile radius of the cabin. When he wasn’t surveying the land along the horizon from his tractor he spent endless hours walking through the woods. His aching leg was more an annoyance than a hindrance back then. He’d reminded himself of Thoreau back then. Now he didn’t like Thoreau’s erudite tone matched with skepticism. Thoreau sounded like he was always talking down to his reader. Bill read Emerson’s Circles in those days and liked how he felt included in whatever it was Emerson was describing, which wasn’t all that clear to Bill. Maybe he would read Emerson again and understand. Since he read de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, he wondered if whatever Emerson was talking about was sort of pointing to the same language in de Chardin.

When Bill came across Tropic of Cancer at a garage sale in the spring of 1966, he was convinced that he, too, had a narrative voice. Henry Miller made it seem so simple – just write like you talk. Well, it wasn’t quite as easy as that, but a kindly editor from a small press zine published Bill’s meandering open letter and he was a writer. He recognized vague patterns of spiritual symbolism and was drawn to T. S. Eliot, Isaac Singer, Hermann Hesse. DeChardin was a voice that put the scientific universe into spiritual terms he could understand. His was a voice that said, “you have evolved because your destiny is written within the cosmos,” not that you were predestined as a hopeless degenerate. He had a hard time believing all life evolved by accident and chance but couldn’t rule it out. It was still interesting to think of a sort of self enclosed unit with its own space, time and elements. What seemed like the universe really was all there could be to us. It’s not that we weren’t meant to break outside our own space time continuum, it’s that we couldn’t. (As I, Ramon write this in the 2020’s string theory is something Bill would be interested because it provides the opportunity to discover other worlds, not just other universes.) He felt kinship with the world ghost through Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund and Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, but when he came to create his own characters he could only recall his own experiences. He didn’t know how to carve his characters out of matter; that discovering a character was a collaborative process between plot, structure, tone and rhythm of presentation.

As he grew older though, Bill liked less and less the idea of everything spiritual. Life was a mystery but it didn’t have to be supernatural. All was part of the same thing. Some things we don’t know. It didn’t make them super anything. de Chardin and Calvin both pointed toward fate, something that sort of sounded right, sort of not, but it ended up taking so much of his attention that he lacked focus. Virgie laughed at him when she saw him wearing a Buddhist bracelet. It was people that mattered, not gods. People withstood countless generations of superstition, sacrifice to idols, blood for gods, and they still sacrificed in order to provide well wishing for their their competitive nature. The nature of hell is that you have no choice but to compete, so competition becomes a leisurely endeavor. With the help of Veblen’s terminology, what he understood of it, along with a pidgin Sartre, Bill began to define thingsn for which he had the reason but not the knowledge to say.

If it weren’t for the devastating attacks on Christian prejudice by so many of Virgie’s friends Bill would’ve been tempted over the years to succumb to the admonishing Calvinist Christ of the Dymes, or the sheer Lutheran failth of Rita Hapflik. The community that he had known as a child was evangelical and a pervasive influence on him no matter how much he denied it. A person’s beliefs were patterned into his choice of words, and Bill could tell practically anyone’s religious denomination based on their demeanor, choice of clothes, the cars they drove, the types of jobs they performed. And from his childhood were the memories of Rupert’s constant haranguing about morality. Virgie used to say it was because his mother was an evangelical.

Clara talked little with Rupert, although he seemed to be far more reasonable then he let on. In some ways, Clara admired Rupert for his noble nature, and he had accepted her presence knowing what she was to Virgie. She didn’t, however, foresee him selling his business and moving away from a seven year old son. It just strengthened her resolve to fight the male dominated society that existed everywhere. Politics was too slow in letting women have more control of their own destinies and making sure they were getting paid as much as a man. She wrote speeches for representatives in office who supported women’s rights.

Clara loved Virgie’s vivacious movements and the way she shook her shoulders and smiled with her arresting hazel eyes. Virgie didn’t seem to mind hearing Clara talk endlessly about legal cases involving women’s rights. Virgie swept Clara along with her energy, the turn of a hand, the leaning of a hip, a bite of the lip. It wasn’t so much what she said when Virgie talked that drew attention to her but the energy she conveyed. She drew pictures and painted while Clara talked. Sometimes, even Rupert listened. Clara was a smart woman, he conceded. And if she dressed like a woman she would look mighty smart, thought Bill on more than one occasion while admiring a calf or a bicep a few years later.

The One Who Taught You Everything

Clara was 65 now as she approached Bill in the driveway in February of 1980. Bill watched the Cadillac sputter up to the garage while he finished a cigarette. He looked old to her; with lines around his eyes and a sagging face. She was thinking about how she had missed his good years when she said hello. She seemed only a little older with the same strong and sure step, long straight dark hair, now dyed, and piercing dark brown eyes. She was smartly dressed in a blue suit and white collar, holding her purse high under her arm. She had a problem with her Cadillac over heating. Never a good thing when it’s getting hot, Bill told her. He brought it into the garage and checked it over while she smoked a cigarette in the doorway. She asked how he had been; did he enjoy his life; what did he do? He answered just like he did as a little boy, stuttering to gather his thoughts, demure in voice. The car would need a new head gasket; she would have to leave it. She said she would call him in the morning but he said, “better make it three days.” He offered her a ride, but she called someone who came from Virgie’s place and picked her up in a Rolls Royce.

When her car was ready Clara paid the bill and gave him a card. She told him that if he ever wrote a novel to send it to the woman on the card. She was an editor who could help him develop as a writer and maybe help him get published. Bill told her that the more he wrote the more frustrated he got. He didn’t have the experiences of a Henry Miller or Norman Mailer or Ernest Hemingway. He couldn’t talk about knowing people or places if he had never known many people or places. Clara spread open her arms in the doorway of the garage and said, “you have all of this to write about. Every one of those wrecks out there has a story; every part on the shelf, every tool in the toolbox. It is all just waiting for you to make sense of it.” Clara left a generous tip with the bill and a pat on the shoulder. He felt like a big boy and laughed to himself at the absurdity of the significance of what had just happened. The world had an order to it and it didn’t have to come with murderous loyalty toward any one symbol or redeemer. He was part of the greater environment.

But Bill could only continue to read dialogues between his own first and third person as he tried to put his characters into situations. His characters seemed to lack a space for their own existence, or the complexity for their own motives. He had grown up an outsider in a jungle, had never defined his own space. He decided he was thinking about it too much one day as he twirled a maple twig between his fingers. An actor has to improvise sometimes. Bill imagined himself an actor who had to play a lawyer. He would have to take depositions, write contracts, chase clients. He began to write a story of losing a client after incurring thousands of dollars in expenses. Bill began to throw more minor tragedies in the way of his character, a divorce, a daughter, a dubious business deal. Bill lost a little euphoria when he realized he had written a made for TV movie, but he was still excited to explore a character for the first time, to breath the air with the lawyer as he sees his daughter for the first time in three years.

He read what he had written over the past two years and it all sounded like the confidential journalizing of an innocent who was now being mocked by the super ego that was reading. He had no understanding of family dynamic, relating better to Thurber’s short stories, Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. He’d read voraciously for two years and wrote reams of dialogue, building around the story lines of solitary heroes who were dying out in the American economic system; farmers, wood cutters, family hardware store owners and small town grocers. Even the small banker was selling out to the far away owner. The world was closer to everyone’s back door. Cars and trucks were far more efficient now. The industrial workers of America were being displaced by overseas labor; farmers were giving way to corporate land owning giants. Everyone was marginalized in every area of life, facing the reality of their existence on their own terms and trying to make sense of it all.

The sons and daughters of the Van Innerns, the Davis’, the Eaglethorns took the places of their parents as the older generations faded away. Some classmates of Bill’s, people he had known as boys and girls were becoming grandparents, and though the children inherited their parents’ Calvinist and Lutheran ideals they didn’t go to church as often as their parents had.

Calvin Dyme Sr. was still alive, in his 80s now, and Calvin Jr. had taken up the mantle of everyone’s savior from his father. Like his father before him, his self esteem was enhanced when he was recognized as a man of God, and he relished the role of standard bearer for morality, the shepherd, the family man. Bill was hearing the same allegiance to creed, the same way of rolling everyone’s personal reality into one over arching religious theme whenever one of the Cals came for business. But Bill was more tolerant of them as the years passed. They’d continued to do business with him even after he blew up at Jr. for insinuating he was down on his luck. And they were far removed from the predatory politician who professed to be doing the will of God. Cal Jr. took it as his duty to save Bill and often brought his car to be serviced. He stood around and talked about the gospel of Christ, the ways of men, the innate sinner that had to be redeemed if he only accepted Christ’s sacrifice. Old Cal would bring his 57 Chevy in for a tuneup every Spring, usually around Easter when it was particularly important to remind Bill of Christ’s sacrifice. Cal Jr. would follow up a few weeks later bringing the aches and pains of his two cars to Bill for servicing while he gave Bill a sermon about what Christ’s sacrifice was supposed to mean Bill.

Hell, Bill had been listening to them for so many years they were sort of like old friends. They no longer seemed like they were looking down on him but genuinely concerned for the well being of someone in their circle of acquaintances. Maybe it was out of a sense of duty more than a love for their fellow man but as long as a man kept the decorum of civility and compassion alive by playing the part there was a chance that he would actually feel the love he so much desired to feel. Bill had always talked to a God but he wasn’t so sure that it wasn’t just an imaginary friend, a hope rather than a belief. At times he would witness patterns of coincidence in his favor and sometimes not. Whatever God was, it was made personal because of the imagination. The narrator’s voice was constantly putting the world in order. The two Cals argued with him that his connection with God was real and that God was living in him but he refused to acknowledge it. Bill said that he made a living, a dirty one, but a living that satisfied him. He noticed that the Cals were dressed in clean clothes washed by their wives, were well fed by their wives, and were acceptable family men because of their wives. All family men were made family friendly by the women or they had no family; at least it seemed so to Bill. He thought of Clara and how much he admired her. He would’ve done anything she asked him to do when he was a little boy, and he felt the same way when she’d handed him the card of a book editor.

Dev was always a voice of reason. “Aw, come on, now. Don’t be getting religious just because you’re getting old,” he said after Bill told him that he didn’t mind that the Cals were always trying to save him and that maybe their family lives weren’t so bad after all. ”You’ve gotta remember who you are. Remember, it isn’t how others see you, it’s how you see you. Are you happy? If not, figure out why. Do what you have to do but don’t start going to church looking for a woman NOW.” Bill wasn’t going to church; he was just feeling lonely, thinking about dying alone. But, Dev said, “would you rather spend the rest of your life learning what a fuck up you are? You’re already too hard on yourself. That ain’t you, man.” Bill knew Dev was right.

Clara stopped in a few months later in June. The trees and underbrush from the ditch in the road covered the fence around the salvage yard and Bill didn’t see her drive past. When Clara turned the corner she caught a glimpse of him walking to the garage and decided to stop and see him. Bill took a drink from his coffee and was startled, turning to greet Clara who was standing at attention ten feet away with her hands on her hips and with straight lips. She’d had an argument with Virgie and was going back to Chicago. She didn’t have a problem with her car; she just wanted to stop and say hi. Bill told her he was lonely but didn’t think he wanted to have a wife; maybe if he was younger. “You never really liked women anyway,” she said. Bill was red faced. “What, you think all of a sudden you’re going to play house and be a man? Bill, you don’t have it in you. And you shouldn’t take it personal. Just accept it. I can’t imagine how miserable it would be for a woman to live with you. And don’t say you could learn. You have to feel the part. And you never could. Not with a woman at least.” Bill didn’t have anything to say to that. She said it in that all knowing way of hers. But he didn’t like men either. They both knew of Benny but Clara had also heard that Bill encouraged it to some degree while Bill would never admit he liked it. At times Bill thought of himself like Lawrence of Arabia giving his Turkish captor a strange smile as he is being raped; it didn’t mean he was homosexual.

Vida

Six weeks later Clara brought a friend from Chicago. Vida was lean and defined, about 5 ft 7 and 140 pounds. His father was Chinese and his mother Mexican. He was in his early 30s, assertive when he spoke, and moved with swift and decisive movements. He had soft, effeminate skin, and dark eyes that would redden when he was excited. He’d grown up working on cars for families of migrant workers and had knowledge of basic repair work. Clara suggested he hang out with Bill while she went to talk to Virgie. Vida helped out, handing him tools while he put a transmission in old Cal’s pickup. The old pickup was similar to one Vida worked on many times, and he proved useful, knowing what tools Bill needed. Vida was small, but wiry and strong, with movements that engaged his whole body. When he picked up a wrench his body picked it up, not just his hand. Afterward, Bill mimicked Vida’s movements and put his whole body into picking up tools and lifting parts. Bill remarked that he moved like a dancer and Vida laughed and said that he was a dancer. Or used to be. He learned martial arts from his uncle as a kid and still practiced it enough to stay in shape.

Bill asked Vida if he had come to stay at Virgie’s for a few days. Who was Virgie? Vida said he didn’t know her. All he knew was that Clara brought him with her to stay a few days away from Chicago. She said he looked like he needed to get away from his mother. His mother was Clara’s maid. One of them anyway. Vida lived with his mother and grandmother. And Clara was right, he did need to get away from them for a while. The two women were always so needy that he never had time to think of his own needs. Bill didn’t ask what those needs were. Clara pulled up and Vida smiled and said that it was nice meeting Bill and hoped he didn’t get in the way too much. “Not much,” was all Bill said, and Clara gave him a mocking turn of the lip as she smiled and got in the car.

Next day, Saturday morning, Vida pulled up in Clara’s Cadillac and asked Bill if he wanted to drive out to Lake Michigan. Bill couldn’t; he had to finish putting a front end on a Chevy pickup. Vida helped him and then left, but first extracted a promise from Bill that he would go to the beach the next day.

Bill had never been to Lake Michigan, and the high blue sky, the hot sand, the lapping water lulled him to sleep. Bill drank from Vida’s bottle of rum and listened to him talk. Life with his mother and grandmother were all he had known. He never knew his father. He liked to work with his hands and had taken to auto mechanics as a teenager helping an uncle who owned a garage. When he wasn’t working, when he wasn’t serving his mother and grandmother, he liked to party with “family.”

Bill glanced at Vida’s wiry toned shoulder and the triple head of his tricep. Vida shifted his weight and told Bill that he used to dance once in a while at a nightclub until his mother found out and and made such a fuss about it he had to quit. She was a strict Catholic who insisted he go to confession regularly when he was a boy. After he was confirmed he continued to go to confession every six months until he was twenty. Then he told his mother and grandmother he would not go to church, and that he didn’t believe in God – at least not in the same way that they believed. He felt like like Stephen Daedelus refusing to pray with his mother on her deathbed. But Vida was no Stephen Hero. He couldn’t tell anyone the first thing about Aristotle or Aquinas. One time he tossed away a necklace with a cross pendant his mother had given him at confirmation to punish her for controlling his life. He was always defending his morality to her and his grandmother. He was always arguing with them that relationship with God was for him alone to know; that no priest had authority between a person and God, and no religion had claim over him. He was sorry, he told them later, that he had thrown away the necklace. He just wanted to be accepted even though he didn’t necessarily believe the same things but his mother called him a fallen away Catholic. After that he never discussed his beliefs with anyone who assumed an air of authority on the subject.

“A person’s beliefs are shown in the way he votes,” said Bill. “Politics is religion; religion is politics, no matter what bullshit they say on Sunday.”

“You think Reagan goes to church for real?”

“Yep. Maybe not every Sunday, but probably feels bad when he can’t go.”

“Yeah, man. For the good of us all; God’s president.”

“Whether you want him there or not. Just kinda funny; whoever is president seems to do well for those who already have.”

“They got the most to lose.”

“Says the God that says, “finders, keepers” through each generation of inheritance; the God that always favors those who have, who has decided that an inheritor deserves to have through no fit of his own, a way of life free of the same worries he insists his workers live with; you know, because it is always best to keep a worker a little bit hungry.”

Vida took a chug from the bottle and looked toward the sunset. “I guess,” he said absently.

Bill didn’t like being dismissed when he talked; and it seemed like everyone eventually did it. He didn’t say much, but when he did he talked too much. After a while Vida realized that Bill wasn’t going to talk so he told him that his grandmother had recently passed away, and his mother was moving but wouldn’t tell him where she was going. Bill was silent but gave him looks and nods to show he was paying attention, which only made Vida wonder why he was brooding. Bill noticed that Vida never asked about him, what he did or what he thought; and on the way back looked out the window at the other cars, at the stars in the sky, and thought of the lawyer in his story. Why did he have to have a family to be happy? Why didn’t his happiness count for anything but selfishness? Why did his lawyer have to see himself through the eyes around him; judge himself a failure? Was it because his author had judged himself a failure? When they got back Bill told Vida that if he needed a fresh start he could do more business if he had the help. Vida studied Bill’s face when he said that, as though his eyes were reaching into Bill’s to determine a future. “Careful, I might take you up on that,” he said with a heavier Latino accent than he had been using. Two months later he did take Bill up on the offer.

*

Clara pulled up to the garage in her Cadillac with Vida, reminding Bill that he had asked Vida to come work with him. Bill was nonplussed. He’d hated himself for making the invitation. He didn’t like Vida much. He was unnaturally genuine; the self made hero of himself. His suffering was selfishly heroic; his psychic space so crammed with himself that there was no room for anyone else in such close quarters. Bill didn’t much like the thought of sharing his house. He didn’t even like the mailman coming to the porch to deliver a package.

The look on Vida’s face when he saw the inside of Bill’s house was even more horrifying than Bill imagined it would be. He felt small before Vida’s look. There was no way Vida would live in this pigpen. Didn’t Bill have any dignity? The words were harsh and unexpected, seeing as Vida had just walked in. “You didn’t tell me about this, Clara. I thought I was getting away from being a maid.”ought he was getting away from having to be a maid. Bill stammered something about not having the time to clean. Vida told him he had the time if he wanted to make it. It was no use arguing, and Bill wanted to hit him, which only made him turn his anger on himself, telling himself he was stupid for allowing this foreign element into his house to assert an amount of authority over him. Under the eyes of the foreigner, he was now a subordinate in his own home. Instead of spending the afternoon dozing on the couch like he’d planned, he found a bumper from an old Plymouth to remove. He was hungry but he didn’t want to be setting ground rules when he was pissed off. What was he thinking inviting someone to come live with him anyway?

Vida came out of the house around 7PM wearing a black tank top and jeans and stood next to Bill’s tool chest while Bill took inventory of parts in the spare room. Vida had a conciliatory look on his face as Bill emerged through the doorway. Vida told Bill he was sorry. It was just bitching. Everyone did that once in a while. He got his temper from his mother. It didn’t mean that he didn’t want to be there and he hoped that Bill wasn’t angry. Bill knew he was to put up with Vida’s temperament just as he would have to with anyone else, but the only people he’d ever lived with were Rupert, Virgie, and Clara, and the subordinate relationship he’d always had as a cohabitant was weighing his mind.

What Clara now meant to him seemed more than even his own mother. Virgie once told him that she was mother to nothing; that a mother was an idea put forth by the world of men. Mother was a role that made women subservient and convinced them they didn’t have the right to change. Whatever Bill was to her he wasn’t a son; he was more like an appendage who had to take responsibility for himself. Everyone had to make their own way, and having a mother was just a way for a person to never have to grow up.

Vida was talkative, usually mimicking various TV comedy personalities like Freddie Prinze and the latino detective from the TV show Barney Miller, but Bill didn’t engage in light talk, and found Vida’s chatter about his cousins annoying and boring. Bill didn’t know how to pass the time with casual talk. He’d never talked much with others except with some of Virgie’s friends, artists and professors who often welcomed Bill’s eagerness to learn. He lacked the intuition necessary to draw out the things a person wants to confess if given the right opportunity. Virgie taught him to not try so hard to converse with people; others will say what is natural to them. Bill would rather look at images of faces and bodies form in wallpaper print or woodgrain than to pay attention to the things people said. He heard words, but they seemed more to indicate a person’s prejudices than their judicial thinking.

Virgie told him she would stop by and see him, but hadn’t since she showed up six months before. She’d always told him she was going to do this or that but would later ignore her promises. What Bill could remember of Rupert was that his father seemed to always be telling him how wrong he was about everything, and that this or that was bad thinking, even for a six year old; or that he was lying about his foot hurting him so he could get out of working. Words meant the wrong things; unfair things. Clara had at least shown him some attention. It was her encouragement that he remembered. Bill read Sons and Lovers and wondered at the relationship between Paul and his mother. Bill identified with Paul Morel, asking himself if he wasn’t capable of a relationship because the only woman he could be loyal to was his mother? He didn’t despise Virgie, just some of the things she did and said, and didn’t say.

He hated himself for inviting fate. Clara hadn’t determine that Vida would come live with him; Bill told him he could come. A person couldn’t make a promise and not keep it. But why not? Virgie did it all the time. Wasn’t everyone getting along on their own terms while seeming to go along with fate? Everyone manipulated the others around them to get what they wanted, didn’t they? Girls and boys manipulated each other; men and women; parents and children; employers and employees; citizens and the government; the government and the world.

Virgie’s friends always told him what to do when Virgie was absent; when she was present he did what she said. Bill couldn’t imagine her ever doing what he said, even in her old age. Admiration for her, though, was something he did not share with her friends. Many times Bill witnessed guests of Virgie’s contradict themselves on a matter of philosophy or art in order to patronize her, and he wondered at the power she held over them. Whether Virgie was home or not, if she had guests Bill had to get them something to eat, clean up after them, take them to the store; women and men, women who acted like men, men who acted like women, a truck driver, a stockbroker, actors and actresses, painters, sculptors, and models. Some would tell Bill things about Virgie he ignored. “People talk all the time about things they don’t know about,” said Virgie. “Don’t listen to any of it. Words don’t mean much.”

People were always asking her to come to a party, asking her to talk to someone for them, asking for her help getting a show at a gallery. When Virgie got up all eyes in the room were on her as she pranced to the kitchen talking about this new artist or that new show. There was always someone Bill hadn’t met before telling him what to do. At least he used to keep the rest of the cabin clean, even if he did leave his room cluttered. How did he let himself go so badly over the years? Didn’t he have anyone to learn from anymore; someone to look up to?

*

At 7:30AM next morning after Vida moved in, Bill was out of the house and wandering in the yard, smoking a joint while he waited for the coffee pot in the garage. Clara said that every car had a story. But as he meandered through the yard he looked over the stacks of cars and all he could remember was when he had stacked them, or what parts he had taken out of them. The stories of the cars were like cuneiform markings in his memory and marks on pieces of paper back in the garage. Images of himself driving a hilo stacking cars or using a cutting torch to remove parts flooded Bill’s recollection as he took a last hit from the joint, pinched the cherry from the roach and put it into a small leather pouch he kept in the pocket of his jeans. He lit a cigarette and looked across the yard at the fifteen foot tall hoist on wheels with its long heavy chain dangling from the pulley. He looked down to the puddle at his feet. It was where John’s limp body had lain under the Mercury. Bill felt chains slipping through his hands and then he rushed around the car to see that John’s eye had popped out of its socket from the weight of the axle crushing his forehead.

No matter how some of the women had talked about John, all of the men in the neighborhood respected him for being a soldier, and everyone respected Hiram. When they were kids, John often told Bill that someone had to be in charge and it might as well be him, but after the service he said, “I don’t want to be in charge. I don’t want to be bothered.” Hiram knew John wasn’t quite right after he came back from Vietnam and he tried to keep him busy, but privately he confided to Bill that he didn’t think that John was ever going to be the same.

Rita was also well aware that John wasn’t ever going to be quite right but she tried to will things back to normal. She told John about the new neighbors, the family reunion, the pretty widow at church, as though John by some miracle would respond but he never did. John would rather work in the yard and drink beer. He ignored the phone when it rang. When customers complained to Hiram he asked Bill to answer the phone and handle the customers.

Now Bill looked down at where John had lain, where he had taken a step toward the house to tell Rita but stopped. He imagined John being drawn in a funeral service and laid to rest under the care of a minister who would assure the congregation that Bill would be punished for his wickedness. He could hear the Cals saying they couldn’t understand why a person would do something like that. Pure evil. He could say what he wanted but some weren’t going to believe there wasn’t a motive. Bill was an ingrate who murdered his employer. The community only had compassion for those it found appealing. Who had anything to gain by giving Bill fukkin Dinklpfuss the benefit of the doubt? In a quick moment decisions must be made.

He kicked the sand with his boots and wondered if he was strong enough to hoist the front end of a Mercury high enough so John could quick slip underneath the car to get at a stubborn axle. Probably not. He had grown soft, but maybe back then…

“I don’t think you should do that, man,” said Bill.

“Jes hold it up a second,” said John, and then he darted under the car before Bill had a good grasp on the chain.

“A little higher!,” John yelled.

“I can’t, man,“Bill puffed through gritted teeth. Then John gave the axle a tremendous yank.

Bill stood, arrested in the moment, the woods buzzed and exhaled, and then, as if the wind held its breath, there was silence. Vida yelled from the garage, “hey man, ya gotta customer!” Bill put out his cigarette and walked past the rows of Pontiacs, Jeeps, Lincolns, Chevy’s. The Corsairs at the end of the row with bad engines and dangerous but cool looking bodies slept with their front ends nestled in the ground. Vida was talking with Cal Dyme Jr.

*

Cal jr. had a ball joint that needed to be replaced, something Bill didn’t think Vida could do but Vida assured him it was no problem. Bill kept an eye on him, sticking to the garage to do a brake job and thinking he should weigh the bad with the good. He’d wanted the time alone now that Vida was there so he began spending more time in the yard, where there was the sound of dogs barking, crows calling, killdeer and doves cooing. There would be a rush of wind and the chink chink of the chain, then the sound of another door or fender being thrown onto a pile. Through the Fall and into the Winter he followed the same routine, working in the yard from 7:30AM until dark.

Vida proved more easy going after a few weeks, and even Bill got into the cleaning spirit. He cleaned out the the extra room at the top of the stairs and bought a new television and video tape player. From the Salvation Army he bought an orange chaise lounge chair with a stain on one of the cushions, a large black beanbag, an end table, and two large bookshelves for all of the paperbacks he had been accumulating from the library’s book sales. He also replaced the old console TV and couch in the living room where Vida spent most of his time and added a rug for the scuffed, bare wood floors. The kitchen linoleum was worn through to the floor board in front of the refrigerator, and the sink that had been replaced just before Hiram died, due to Bill’s inattention, now bore a permanent dingy yellow. The Frigidaire had a dent in it from the time Bill punched it when he realized he had gone to the store and had forgotten cheese. And in that regard it resembled the dent in the back door of the garage from the time Bill locked himself out; and the dents in several cars in the yard from the time Virgie was mad because he wouldn’t play with that Italian guy; that time she made him dress like a girl for that Jew from New York; how she drew pictures of him and sold them; how she said it was all just consumption and leisure and that there was a price for leisure, or something like that. “The more she has gotten for herself, the more she has forgotten me,” thought Bill. But then, he didn’t really want anything from her. Not anymore at least.

Ghosts In the Junkyard

At night Bill continued to write short stories. “Ghosts In the Junkyard,” he called them. All seemed to involve characters engaged in a contest of will against an incontestable fate, as in the Film Noir movies he admired in the 1940s and 1950s. Drawing inspiration from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, Bill wove together the stories of the wrecked automobiles of a small town junk yard: the 1966 Lincoln with with suicide doors; the 1970 Road Runner that ran out of road; the Ford Fairlane that was sacrificed delivering Ms. Pinchkiss’ peach pie to the church bake sale. Bill read about madness in the family from R.D. Laing, and tried to imagine the children in Ms. Penny’s one room school house. All now had their own wrecks in salvage yards to write about but didn’t because nobody really wanted to take their eyes off the great hope for something better.

Bill himself felt grateful to be alive in America. Life could be far worse, and for that he shared vicariously in the spoils of leisure and consumption. But on a personal level he had always felt alienated from the perception of others. No matter how others saw things he always seemed to want to disagree. It was a defensive impulse that was made stronger when he came across an obstinate personality like Trenton’s, or a petty chest heaver like Mr. Hektor, who presumed to know more about Bill’s leg then Bill. Still, he felt conscious of transferring some of Virgie’s traits, or Rita Hapflik’s into characters who met a merciless fate. Despite what had happened in the past, Bill told himself he wasn’t trying to exercise any demons, nor did he view his life as a crushing fate. He just wanted to be able to write stories that at least a few other people liked, but his characters didn’t quite breathe on their own. He realized he was writing too much of his own wish fulfillment into their lives, but when he tried to coax the characters towards denouement in a world of chaotic contradictions they were too calculating and lifeless. He lacked situations where his characters took their leisure and showed themselves; created their own space.

A person’s existence was in some ways determined by the environment. When Bill thought of his fellow classmates he remembered them as 8 year olds, happily accepting their parents’ view of the world, religion, and politics. By adolescence, all began asserting their individuality. At age 40, they, like their parents, would assume family and community responsibility, vote the Republican ticket, and go to church on Holy Days. Laing’s work with dysfunctional families supported Bill’s belief that his mother determined she “knew” him, just as Rupert, Mr. Hektor, or Rita Hapflik would say they knew him. Virgie and Clara had determined his sexuality, but what made them know more than he did? He’d always recalled the sound of Benny shutting the door behind him and walking toward the bed. Bill didn’t move. “What does that say?,” Benny seemed to be saying. “Nothing,” Bill would say. “It doesn’t mean a damn thing.”

Bill always admired fictional characters who stood their ground with coincidence and fate. And he had to acknowledge that the grittiness of his own characters was a manifestation of the surliness he’d affected since childhood. He realized he came across as gruff. He would catch himself looking in the mirror in what he thought was a mood of contentment, but the demon in the mirror would be making a gesture of contempt. His entire adult life he’d been cognizant of having to show a softer facial expression. He didn’t mean to frown most of the time. He finally accepted that figure in the mirror was him showing disgust with himself. The demon facing you is you, said Bill to the image in the mirror. And then he thought of the demon with a snake coiling around his erection, a symbol lent by the movie The Exorcist.

*

Bill kept The Hapflik Salvage and Repair title of the business in memory of the father figure Hiram represented. He owed it to Hiram. Besides, not many people knew Bill except those who had been coming for repairs and getting parts for years. He didn’t spend on advertising or belong to the Chamber of Commerce and his business had dwindled primarily to scrapping metal over the years. Until Vida came along he only did a few repair jobs a week.

Littlefield had expanded further east over the decades, away from Bill toward the expressway, with a mall and fast food restaurants. There was a regional grocer and department stores. Gone were the local TV repair man, the shoe, clothing, and appliance stores. The housing at the end of Main St. East was run down; an old house here and there condemned. The laundromat across the street and west a block from Bill changed hands three times during the 1960’s and 70’s and was now vacant. Humstin’s Garage, across the street from the laundromat, was a mausoleum without a caretaker since Humstin died in an auto accident in ’72; underbrush swelled up around its crumbling block floundation and its roof had caved in. Most of the big old Victorian houses were low income rental units which landlords flipped among each other for tax purposes. The penny pinching landlords were slow to keep up the maintenance and employed property managers who were quick to evict.

The new Lutheran church was being built over by the mall east of old downtown. The big screen of the Drive In theater loomed against the northern sky. Once a year workers came to clean it off. Countless birds had been brained on it in the dark. Now the old Drive-In was used for a weekly flea market and farmers co-op, which kept Bill busy on Wednesdays. The flea market goers drove old cars and stopped in to ask him if he had a bumper for a ’73 Mercury, or a spindle for a Pontiac, or a front end for a Chevy pickup. Everyone took their newer cars to the dealerships by the mall, or to service shops that did insurance work. Bill had lost a lot of business, but his taxes remained low because of the condition of the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, down desolate Barnett Road, the land was being developed by a consortium of developers headed by Pete Van Innern, and 2500-3500 square foot houses were being planned. There was a dispute between the developers and the township as to who would be responsible for maintaining roads, but in the end the Township relented. The large houses being built along the creek were part of an association of summer homes for wealthy families, mostly from around Chicago, who didn’t associate with anyone in town. In the Winter, branches lay forebodingly across a snow drifted gate, closing off Barnett Rd. The wind heaved snow across the barren corn field where the stalks that jutted through the snow looked like rows of broken chairs in an empty cathedral. On the east corner of Barnett Rd. and Main St. was Hapflik’s, with the scraggly oak vines heaving over the snow capped fence. A mile west of the salvage yard, a new road was put in at the expense of the association which connected the network of development and was kept clear and patrolled year round by the township.

Pete Van Innern had taken over his father’s bank and then sold it to a national bank out of Detroit. He and his wife, the granddaughter of Virgie’s aunt and uncle Haskins (the Deacon and Deaconess), purchased the old Drive-In because the Deaconess had hoped the church would build a youth facility on the site. They were disappointed when the Drive-In first opened. Rosemarie Van Innern admired her grandmother and walked with the same graciously snooty air. She wanted to name an auditorium or a historical room in honor of her grandmother. For Rosemarie, her grandmother was a symbol of a simpler time. The newer generation was relieving itself of the duty to church and community service. It had been decades since church was a necessary means of business networking. Banks and finance companies were owned by far away owners who paid locals commissions to sell their products and services. The banker, insurer, auto repair man, electrician, plumber, all competed with franchises owned or ran from far away cities. The local community enticed a a furniture manufacturer in the early 1960’s that now employed 4,000 workers, lifting the community’s conspicuous consumption. The old farms were drying up, going to seed, the barns wasting in the wind, with family names in faded paint that were no longer recognizable to anyone who drove past them.

Joy rides along the winding road through the steep woods had vanished by the late 1970’s, and the road began to be patrolled 4x per day by the county sherrif or a deputy. The largest homes in the community were being built in the hills that broke south in back of Bill’s salvage yard. A half mile from Bill, a park was built that overlooked a breathtaking five miles of gradual sloping scenery.

In the late 70’s there was talk of the the new Van Innerns donating the Drive-In property to the Lutheran church to build a youth facility to honor their grandparents, but Pete Van Innern knew that the neighborhood was no longer ideal for teaching christian values. By the early 80’s the landlords had been brought to bay by higher taxes and stricter zoning regulations but the city council was at a quandary over what to do with Bill’s salvage yard. Something had be done about the lower property value that it caused. The city council agreed. They sent inspectors who told Bill he had a number of violations; that he didn’t have the required liability insurance to operate. It was a lot of money for Bill but he had no choice.

To pay for the insurance Bill began picking up refuse tires from tire shops with the intent to dispose of them, but he found that the scrap fee he had to pay absorbed all that he received for discarding the tires. There was an extra business tax for discarding rubber which was passed on to the customers. To the refuse yard shredding the rubber, Bill was a customer. Customers didn’t make money, they paid it. For a while he buried the tires in a hollow near the back of the property, but he had covered so many tires that they were beginning to float back to the surface along the banks. After that he simply stacked them until they were visible through the thicket behind the garage.

In 1981, the Lutheran church elders decided to build their new church facilities near the expressway where the land was sure to appreciate in value. Soon after, the Baptists announced they were building a new church near the interstate. The Methodists and Presbyterians had left for a neighboring small village in the mid 70’s and in place of the demolished buildings there grew scrub oak and weeds. What was downtowm in Rupert’s day was now the far east end of a village that once existed; transferred three miles east. The conspicuous presence of class leisure had asserted itself toward the interstate to the west with a Golf Club, including 2500 – 3500 square foot ranch houses. There were competing car dealerships that pushed the prestige of consumption, the reflection of a person’s wealth still shown by the size and color of his chariot. The Van Innerns resisted the cost of tearing down the movie screen until property values had risen, but they knew they would have to get of rid of it if they were to get rid of Bill’s junkyard.

*

The flea market was a weekly summer event, while the farmer’s market in the old Drive In concession stand was open on Wednesday’s the year round. Family farmers still brought apples, peaches, and fresh vegetables, dairy, poultry. After the weekly Summer market, the farmers auctioned their old horses, young cattle, goats, sheep, and chickens. Bill watched the same old farmers for years stumble from their pickups into the old candy stand where Bill wouldbuy a box of milk duds and go around to the restroom to take a piss and smoke a cigarette with Staines or Biffy, who were both killed in Vietnam. Often, he’d stood in the front window gazing out at the old concession stand and remembering the tingling night time excitement. He conjured a painting of it in his mind reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. When he saw the farmers walking in the same shirtsleeves generation after generation, the same bibs, he thought of the fact that he still enjoyed the Andy Griffith Show. The nostalgia in his mind’s eye desired Opie, Andy, and Aunt Bea because they symbolized the reassurance of a warm armed past, while the generations of the future waited with cold arms crossed and to tell you you’ve fallen out of favor.

He was glad he had the leisure to keep alive the fairy tale world of the past. But usually Bill’s fits of nostalgia were stopped short by the sobering reality that the world was advancing toward the future, while his roots were rotting. The Van Innerns, the Lutheran congregation, Virgie, even Rita Hapflik, had stayed ahead of the curve of time, while Bill had wallowed through the ever present moment, draining into the past. Bill’s clothes were from the salvation army and the money he no longer spent on comics was spent on second hand books; of which he had perhaps two thousand, mostly classics. He now was studying philosophy and reading Rabelais, Voltaire, and Nietzsche.

Bill’s characters all told him about himself, about his faults, his judgments, how he’d always thought others were thinking. He always assigned associated values to looks of surprise or disdain, read a grimace a certain way; always watched strangers and composed character sketches of them. But ultimately no one really knew anyone; just enough to know the characteristics they like or don’t like about one another. Sartre’s No Exit impacted him deeply. Hell was other people, but it also seemed like hell was what we made of other people. Hell was for others what they made of us. No one was good or bad, just living with the choices available to them. Yet, Bill was aware of the occasional sneers others would flash back at him because of his ever present grimace when he was seen at the store, the bank, the post office. His appearance told others that he wasn’t on the ladder with them. His clothes told it. The old cars he drove told it. He was the dirty guy in the dirty garage on the edge of town who nobody really knew and who didn’t talk much. He was a cheap but slow mechanic, and that was enough to get a little business.

*

The wood stove belched and plumed smoke out of the chimney into the air above the garage. The musty cement floor was swampy, cool and moist. Here and there were brittle mounds of frozen sawdust and engine fluids, black and gooey. The door and walls of the entry way between the back door and the kitchen where Bill and Vida took off their clothes and boots were stained with grease prints, but the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and Vida’s room were sparkling clean. The stairway and two rooms upstairs, Bill’s, weren’t as clean. Books scattered the floor around Bill’s chair; history books, reference books, psychology, philosophy, politics. He had been attentive to history since he was a boy and found in history a way his characters could have relevance. As he read of changes mades through the decades he visualized how the world around him had changed, how the world of the newspapers had changed. The existence of a person was defined by the culture and times in which one lived – even the Mennonites had built a new three story school house five miles away.

It gnawed at him that the certainty of his youth had vanished; that he no longer felt assured he would prevail against time with various achievements. He’ never received recognition for anything creative. And while it was satisfactory to receive appreciation from time to time from someone for fixing their car cheap, he wanted to say that everyone had a voice capable of inducing networks of realization in the imagination. Appreciation for good music or literature, even what gurus called self realization was simply the imagination of a person realizing how interconnected symbols help define things which had previously only been known darkly. For him, the problem was to create a narrative that presented the non-story of an individual’s existence as though there was denouement and in a way that activated a reader’s imagination.

Rupert’s Farewell

The old bus depot was still in the same place, two blocks from the now abandoned buildings once known as downtown. In June of 1984, a broad shouldered old man in a spotless light gray business suit steadied himself with his walking cane before stepping off the the platform. He walked west two blocks past the vacant lot of the long ago demolished Casie’s Cafe and then crossed the road. He passed an antiques store that was once the office of his insurance salesman. In the distance he he could see the vacant lumber yard. The old Lutheran church was being kept but was otherwise void of activity, with weeds sprouting from cracks in the pavement of the parking lot. Behind him two blocks, the house he’d lived in with Virgie was boarded up and rotting on its foundation. He’d seen it while the bus was pulling up to the stop. The cement front porch was crumbling and blocked off by saw horses, with a sign that read No Trespassing. There was a faded pink awning over the side door that announced Penny’s Hair Salon. The wood shop and garage in back had been demolished and was now a mound of planks and shrub. That was all Rupert needed to see of it.

The old man in the gray suit walked past a tiny cemetery of old headstones that all gave dates of deaths more than twenty years past; mostly people he had known. He walked to the edge of town, two blocks beyond where the crooked and cracked sidewalk ended, where he stopped to look at the salvage yard. It was as though time had stood still. The old man needed to see his once home town, to resolve his curiosity before he died. Everything in his memory about the village where he had lived for 43 years seemed like fantasy to him now. He’d hoped to find the same little town he had known in the 1920s. The feed mill was still there but no longer bore the Davis name but that of Bork’s, a regional business with operations in five states. The old town park was now an abandoned car lot with a faded sign that read Barney’s Autos lying on a heap of discarded trees and shrubbery. In front of him was the still standing sign that read Hapflik’s Salvage and Repair.

Bill watched through the picture window as the old man walked across the street and stopped to stare as though he were looking at something that wasn’t from earth. The old man should be careful walking alone like that out this way. Nothing down this way. He was obviously not from around here. “What’s that old dude want?,” asked Vida as he joined Bill looking out the picture window. The old man looked a little like Colonel Sanders with his white hair beneath his top hat and trimmed beard and mustache. “Did you order some chicken?,” Vida uttered and laughed. Bill also laughed, though reluctantly. It was evident the old man once had a large frame and even now walked with back straight, carrying the cane more for fashion. He looked like a man who was used to being in authority and moved with a confident, though age altered step. Bill saw himself at the same age as the old man, walking along with his white whiskers. But he didn’t dress the part. Others weren’t reading dignity in the appearance of Bill Dinklpfuss.

Rupert’s dejection at the sight of his old house was nothing compared to the disgust he now felt as he looked through the gate to the salvage yard he had started over fifty years ago. The place looked the same, just like one would imagine it would look if it hadn’t changed with the world around it. The lawn wasn’t mowed and the big maple trees stooped like old men with knotted joints. The grime of over fifty years oozed from the big service garage door, and the field of cars behind it looked like a teeming nest of big metal field grubs. The greasy gate at the road was permanently tied to a fence post. Stacks of old tires pressed against the outer edge of the dark water stained concrete blocks of the garage. The old man turned and walked away. “Guess I just needed to know that it was right to leave this town,” he said to himself, and he short stepped back along Main Street to the bus depot and bought a ticket for Mixford.

Rupert lived a successful life after leaving Littlefield. He became a multi-millionaire with two car dealerships, remaining a bachelor the rest of his life, spending all of his time running his franchises. When he was in his 60s he became a successful stock and options trader with a butler, maid, and a cook who kept the menial tasks of his existence while he sat in his den watching the stock market ticker with a copy of the Wall Street Journal in his fist. Long before the days of the internet, it cost him $500.00 per month to watch the ticker in his own home.

Out of nostalgia he chose to travel by bus to some of the boyhood places that marked his memory. He was an old man trying to find his inner child, only to find him all grown up and resolved to accept that his time was coming to an end. The more he saw of the little towns he’d known as a child he noticed they had not kept pace with him. He was sad for this world he was leaving behind. Everyone had opportunities to be successful if they only applied themselves. No matter what he thought of himself in his darkest moments, Rupert had always achieved his goals. He had not merely kept pace but had built an empire. He was part of the establishment that set the standard. Whoever was in control of the salvage yard had fell behind the curve.

In the first half of the twentieth century life was about God, family and service to your nation. But God spoke through a different voice in the 80’s. God spoke from a different pulpit now, speaking for financial firms and corporate takeovers. Making money was how one showed himself to be godly. There was still a noble quality about generations of families maintaining their wealth, but Rupert didn’t recognize any of the family names he saw on mailboxes; saw no vestige of the world of the 1940’s. It was a look of appalling complacency he saw on the faces driving past or in their yards; a surliness begat by poverty. The newer generations had failed to care for their elders. The neighborhood that stayed behind as the town drifted toward the interstate highway looked the same throughout the Great Lakes. Gone were the hometown bakers, grocers, and 5&10 Stores. Rupert had seen many of these towns in Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin with roads developed out of the countryside from horse and buggy trails. He watched farms transition from horse and plow to the tractor, had himself transitioned from horse and carriage to a truck. Now he was 83 and marveled at the thought of what sort of transportation would be available in another eight decades. A robot car that could think for itself and wouldn’t need a driver perhaps.

When he thought about it he was incredulous at his stamina. It was through force of will he trudged his old and tired body to Chicago. He thought about visiting the museums or going to the financial district but those took too much walking. He remembered the excited activity he saw through the window of a brokerage house on his return from the Philippines and decided to visit the Options and Futures Exchanges. He stood and watched maniacal men in the trading pits wildly waving signals and making marks in notepads. These very men had many times flashed signals among themselves to settle one or another of Rupert’s trades. That evening he was smoking a cigar and sitting in chair on the balcony of hotel room, looking up at the long, ascending stairs of endless lights from large buildings. There was a quickening of his pulse; disorientation. He sagged to his knees and blacked out. The maid found him the next morning dead of a brain aneurysm.

*

Vida and Bill didn’t talk much. Bill kept to his work in the yard, disassembling cars and scrapping out frames while Vida did repair work. He’d stopped collecting old tires after taking on Vida. At night, both had their respective spaces; Bill upstairs, Vida downstairs. Bill rarely went anywhere. He bought his groceries from the farmer’s market across the street, and usually went to the bank only once a month, when he went to the post office to mail his bills and go to the hardware or auto store. Vida drove to the laundromat; grocery store; the mall, and always brought back someone from somewhere whenever he left the house. Various of Vida’s “relatives” began staying a night, and then a week, then a month. Bill didn’t say anything at first and that just opened the door for more bodies in the living room and kitchen.

A Monte Carlo loaded with six “cousins” arrived one crispy dark night in early January, 1985 as Bill watched from the yard. For a few months the relatives would stay up until four AM while Bill castigated himself for not having control of the situation. In April, Bill told Vida that the people would be free to stay on the weekends but had to leave by Monday morning. At noon on Monday Bill went to the house for lunch; Vida’s car was gone. Bill heard noises in Vida’s bedroom and yelled, “you in there! Get out here!,” but there was no reply. The two men on the sofa watched television and ignored him. That was it. He was furious enough to upend the sofa and dump the two smaller men onto the floor. He then rushed across the room and crashed through Vida’s door, disrupting the two men engaged in intercourse on Vida’s bed and sending them scattering. The four men stood in the corner of the room talking in Spanish and motioning for Bill to calm down. Bill was calculating: the shotgun was kept in the trunk of an old Buick now that others were living in his house.

He thought it better to clear his head and take a walk so he left the four men shaking their heads and smirking at him as he slammed the back door behind him. He walked to the back row of cars and along the tangled, broken fence line that had been lain by Trenton’s father. He crossed the ditch and walked along the road toward the bridge and then toward Virgie’s property. The cabin was now an office that was never in use. A new drive way led through the thicket in back of the cabin and around an embankment to a parking lot that could accommodate two dozen cars. The artists’ retreat was a pole barn with screened windows and a year round sun patio with lounge chairs and clear, round tables. The building also had a kitchen, bathroom and large heated bedrooms. There was a light on inside and he knocked on the door. A young, slim, tall Latino woman with long, straight black hair answered and Bill asked for Virgie. She wasn’t there. Didn’t know when she’d be back. You’re who? She never said she had a son. He would have to come back some other time. Would she be there on a Friday? No. As far the woman knew Virgie wasn’t ever returning. Door closes. Didn’t have to be rude, thought Bill. Too bad if it really was her son, thought the Latino woman. Probably just wanted money from his mom or something. Looked like a loser. Big old loser in his 40s.

Bill walked toward home, hot at the woman’s rudeness, seething at the thought of his own mother’s property being guarded against him. It was as symbolic as a Freudian dream. He wasn’t sure why he had walked there. Did he have no place to go except his past? His memories of places were static while the places themselves changed with time. The past was always in the back yard of the present and the future could be heard coming up the road. But Bill never heard it coming because he found a comfortable spot in the back yard to pitch a tent, away from all the human activity that caused him anxiety. The ambiguous Present, defined by past and future, was marked by routine during the day and dreaming at night in the darkness in front of a muted TV.

Bill walked to the corner of Main Street and Barnett Road and looked over at the Hapflik Auto sign that remained. He’d touched up the painting a couple times but it was the same sign Hiram made in 1948. Rather than walk through the gate, Bill walked back along Barnett Road, crept over the ditch and along the trail John used to take to the entrance of the family garage. The path was now overgrown and tree roots jutted out from uneven ground. Bill stumbled over them in the dark and came to the clearing next to the garage. Vida’s car was gone but so were the four men who had been there. Inside, their things were still stacked over the kitchen chairs and on the couch was a pile of dirty clothes.

Next day Vida explained that his friends were waiting for a place to move into but it wasn’t ready yet. They just needed a place to stay for a week or so. That night another car load of people showed up and Bill insisted that everyone leave and Vida put the others up in a motel while they waited for their apartment or he was calling the cops. At the end of the week the four were back. It cost too much money for them to stay at a motel and they had been kicked out for only paying for two people and trying to sneak the others in. Vida was usually happier with his kindred spirits who visited then he was with dour faced Bill. Nothing took the gleam off the feeling of correcting a misfiring engine then Bill’s surly nature. The man had no sense for the delicate, the innuendo, the double entendre. He spoke all the time like he was expostulating.

*

While Bill gave the appearance of an emotionless writer on a textual journey he was also aware of a bleak melodrama that was constantly tugging at his intellect. A foreboding melody constantly nagged his narrative emissary voice as he performed the tasks of daily routine. It harangued him with failure. All the characters he tried to create spent the life of a story in a small corner of the back yard of history, scared of the future and afraid of the present for what sort of future it might bring. There was despair and a never quite coming to terms with despair. He again read Camus’ The Stranger, and Sartre’s Nausea, along with Winesburg, Ohio, and The Spoon River Anthology. His stories had became a way for him to put his thought processes into terms which contented him. He used a newspaperish first person narration that a zine editor would occasionally like but most of his stories evaporated rather than ended. The simple sentences of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway were something he could mimic but they didn’t suffice to provide the tone, mood and emotion he wished to express. He also could never remember anything he wrote. He had to constantly refer to notes and would leave dangling excursions in an effort to create subplot. When he read his stories later he couldn’t make sense of plot or how the threads intertwined. His characters had no clear attachment to each other.

For themes he could come up with little more than the futility of trying to fight inexorable time. The seasons swept away the language of time and place but humans for the most part held the same values through the centuries. Evolution gave a glimpse of a limitless future, yet humans for all generations took their turn slogging over the hill after a long, degrading corporeal existance. Bill imagined a human capable beyond the body’s limitations. Static elements in changing conditions always created surprise. And the choices we made were determined by the values we assign to things. But what if one could escape the physical laws; rewrite them? If we could somehow control the gateway between the reasoning function of the brain and the body with its limbs, we may still have millions of years to learn ourselves and to create our own worlds, instead of offereing ourselves at the outset of our existence as a human sacrifice to an ideal for which we alone assign value.

Man was a snake; a worm within a rib cage driving an anatomy that featured a mandible with a soft, feeling mouth like a horse. He was able to procure foods of delicacy, fashion building materials and fabric with hands and fingers, move to higher ground on shoes worn by feet balanced by toes. A human had a reasoning process that allowed him to function, both accurately and inaccurately, but which also confined a consciousness to its own private hell; a hell for which there was no exit and one which could not be shared with anyone else.

He sent what he thought were his best four stories to the book editor on the card Clara had given him. In April, 1985, Clara stopped to see him. She was now in her 70s, but as she approached Bill in the driveway he was thinking to himself that she still had the gait of a sure young woman. Clara said the dilapidated condition of the yard was horrifying to her. She said Susan, the editor had told her about the stories Bill sent but she didn’t think they warranted any attention. She said to send them to a small press publisher if it was important to get a publishing credit but Bill needed to develop his plots more; define more clearly the meaning of the characters to one another; bring some sort of denouement. Clara told Bill to describe with words his comprehension of his own self while he drew pictures. How did his fingers feel? What was the environment doing or lending to the experience? What are the values you hope to attain with each paragraph? Clara always spoke far better than Bill could ever write, he thought to himself as she continued, “study Film noir. The characters may show nothing other than nobility in the face of adverse conditions but they should at least provide a sort of program for their being in the novel. What are they telling the reader? Just ask yourself these sort of things. Okay?” She raised her eyebrow at Bill, who was already trying to remember what she said. “Give the reader a character they identify with and that gives them some kind of encouragement or hope; some reason to feel good about spending an hour reading your story.”

No, she hadn’t seen Virgie in a few months. “You know your mother, she likes attention. Lots of attention. Always has to have people around her.” Clara said that Virgie seemed happy to know Bill was taking care of himself and then looked at Bill and said, “but we both know that isn’t true, don’t we?” Clara looked down and then at Bill; looked around the yard with a look of dejection and said, “what is your goal for yourself, Bill? You don’t have any answers for your characters because you don’t have any answers for yourself. Why don’t you get a camper or something and leave this place behind? There is nothing here for you. Look at this place. Is this all you want out of life, this?” Clara looked at him and shook her head.

Bill knew Clara was right. The three acres of tires in the hollow was a problem. A health inspector had stopped to see him a few months before and implied there was a serious issue with the tires. If they caught fire they would burn for days. And they couldn’t be buried. They had to be shredded and disposed of at a yard licensed and equipped for shredding tires. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars. Bill didn’t have anywhere near that kind of money and couldn’t get it.

Clara pulled a notepad and pen out of her purse and wrote down an address. “Here,” she said, handing the slip to Bill. “You might want to consider a change of direction.” She took a deep breath and nailed him with her eyes. “Everyone who does any sort of art at all is their own worse critic. On either end of the spectrum are those who have a lot of natural ability and those who have a need to say something. Your mother’s only real great piece of art is herself. And she always needs to say something. Maybe you just have to be like her whether you like it or not.”

On a Monday morning in May, a week before Memorial Day, 1985, Bill was served with a court order giving him 30 days to clean up the tire pile. He stood in the back yard with a cigarette. All the years of his adult life had been stored in that maze of cars. The big engine hoist was in the middle of the yard as if holding an invisible circus tent. Above, an airplane left contrails behind it as it languidly turned to the southwest. The crows were calling each other in the trees along the road. Vida came out to work. He was a good model person for the most part, thought Bill. He did good work and didn’t care much about money. Never seemed to question Bill about anything. An agreeable fellow in a way that didn’t seem likely when he first moved in. But he also ignored Bill about having his people stay at the house. They ate Bill’s food and stole his cigarettes. They fixed their cars in his garage. Other things disappeared; a silver necklace, music CDs, a portable radio. The only way to get rid of all of the people was to get rid of Vida. But he kept thinking what Clara had said. What was the point? Where does the story end? What conflicts are resolved? He didn’t see how any conflicts resolved themselves by evolving into other conflicts. What was the action that brought on the resolution of old conflicts? The people of his youth from the neighborhood were all gone. All the old farms were sold and destroyed. All the houses that showed conspicuous consumption generations ago were hungry ghosts, starved for attention.

He even seemed to have been forgotten by Dev, whom he’d hadn’t seen in almost a year. Gail was stricken with scoliosis as she aged and the pain had gotten to be too much of a strain for her to work anymore. On Tuesday, Bill drove up to the stable and in the pasture and the barn where horses had strode for eighty years there was only weeds flailing in the rainy wind. A realtor’s For Sale sign was punched into the ground near the end of the driveway. It was a dreary day even for the end of May. June seemed to be oozing in from the heart of darkness. June in Michigan was always Bill’s favorite time of the year because of the array of earthy scents from the leaves and soil. The sound of chickadees and sparrows could be heard over light washes of windy rain as he got out of his car and walked to the barn, recalling the names of horses that had occupied the stalls.

He walked to the back of the barn and looked out into the hay field where he’d helped Dev hundreds times and wondered why Dev hadn’t stopped by to say good bye. Bill mentioned it to Vida, who admitted that Dev had stopped by, maybe a couple months ago but he had forgotten to tell him. “He said to tell you to stop by and see him. Sorry, my cousins were fighting and I got side tracked.” Bill walked past the two young men sleeping on his couch to his rooms upstairs. He took the key out of his pocket and unlocked the dead bolt on the door to the bedroom. In a safe he kept a box of cash. He had accumulated 2500 dollars over the years. 2500 lousy bucks. The last poetry entry in his notebooks is dated three days before.

Always think before speaking,

listen to what people say to you.

These are words that quickened givers,

out of time, say, when their day is due

off before changes can take place,

I have lived what seems to me an offered illusion

Not by God, but by the systems that have taken hold

with the most dominant men leading us through

what seems to be productivity only because of consumption;

consumption, a product of productivity, leading us around

to the back of the barn where we can see the sun

one more time before we die

Bill tried to tell her about the cost of getting rid of the tires but Clara held out her hands in a push back motion and shook her head. “I don’t need to know.” The address on the slip of paper was to a cabin and property in Vermont that she leased to artists who paid off food and lodging expenses by working a few hours in the yard every day. Bill wanted to know what kind of work. Clara assured him it was nothing his old body couldn’t handle; pulling weeds, trimming the trees and shrubs, mowing the yard. “Leave. Leave now!” she said. “Let the city have this dump.” Bill asked about his mother. “Well, you know your mother. Always going places and meeting people.” She hadn’t asked about Bill but that didn’t mean she didn’t think about him now and again.

Clara didn’t say goodbye; she just got in her car and drove away. But not away from Bill, she was just leading the way out. Bill wadded up the 2500 in a sock and put it in his pants pocket. There was nothing else of value that wasn’t too cumbersome to take with him. The night before he took all his notebooks, including the suitcases in the attic and put them in the body of a 1944 Sedan Delivery that was wedged against a rock on the hill slanting into the ravine. He destroyed all of the business ledgers. He was just taking a couple changes of clothing and some bedding which he carried with him down the stairs. He didn’t need a camper; he already had an Olds Delta 88 and could sleep in the back seat. He turned out of the driveway without looking back.

He passed the old house he lived in as a child but there was no fondness; no cherishing of fond childhood memories. He had for too long held onto the past while the seasons changed everything around him. Along the expressway, fields, horses and cattle fled past his window. Even horses and cattle were granted leisure and were to be admired for it. These were the new versions, the stand ins for yesteryear, part of the chosen present for which the past had given itself. And in time, Bill felt, he too might find a place that was ready and willing to embrace him for his twilight years; acknowledge him and teach him; teach him to reclaim the first 44 years of his life as building years.

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