Recent Work By Nicholas Belardes

What if you could take a collection of short memories, weird and otherwise, and store them on your iPod? Then people could scroll through and play them back at their leisure. Would some play in loop mode? What would some of yours be?

People have been wanting a place where they can go to read the Twitter novel “Small Places” without clicking through the reverse order on its Twitter page site. Right away, this post is for “Small Places” readers and new fans, and people who want to discuss literary innovation, because here, they will get 14 chapters (of the 25 posted), and a whopping 358 tweets of the nearly 600 posted.

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

She was a head-injured quadriplegic at a nursing home. I took care of her sometimes. The other assistants who cared for her brought her Playgirl magazines. They’d open them up to a photo of some guy’s package. That brought a big smile to her contorting face, which was the only part of her body she could move. A former Cal Trans road worker, she had been smashed by some kind of vehicle as she stood on a Florida roadway. She couldn’t talk, only smile. She couldn’t eat except through a tube that dangled from her side. But she loved porn. You could see it in her eyes.

I had to turn her constantly to keep the sores off her body.

A head-injured man shared the room. All he could do was eat. He couldn’t move a muscle. I spoon fed him and had to massage his throat so he could swallow. I changed his diapers, took him to a shower room and hosed him off while he lay on a big blue gurney. He stared a lot. That’s all he could do. I didn’t sense any thoughts behind his eyes. I figured any kind of reasoning was hidden far behind a veil of fog so thick that his soul was in a constant winter.

His mother, whose fingernails looked like strange digging spades, would come to his room once a week and rub his head. She thought he might wake up. “He’s going to come through,” she said. Her little puffs of grey hair and big glasses hid a motherly anger.

I hung out with a couple of CNAs at the nursing home. James was a large black man who would tell me lots of Bible stories. “You know Christmas trees are in the Bible,” he said one day, then launched into the old testament tale on the topic, saying there was an evergreen, that it meant Christmas. “It’s true,” he said.

“Fool. That’s a bad word. Don’t ever call anybody a fool,” he said on another occasion. “People don’t know, but they should be afraid of that word. God will punish them.”

I was glad to be at the nursing home, far away from the clinic and the likes of the angry head-injured like Ken Svent, who would always throw his breakfast at me. He often screamed until his ribs cracked. Herman Burger also lived there. He was a six-foot, five-inch-tall gay lumberjack. He once lunged at me with his razor while trying to help him re-learn how to shave. More than once he threw a shoe at his Alaskan wilderness lover, missed, and hit a window.

My favorite head-injury victim was an old timer named Tom. He pitched in the World Series back in the 1950s and still had enough wits to show me his hand gestures for a slider and curve ball. His smashed brain could at least put together those memories. I always wondered if he made the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame

The rooms and halls of the nursing home smelled like piss. The old people in the hallways constantly pissed themselves, the floor, their rooms. The smell lingered in a cloud of human waste.

I studied in the nursing home. I read and then fed the head injured. I remember Fall months and the leaves tumbling through the air outside the windows. I remember James saying he had another story for me. “It’s about God’s covenant by fire and water,” he said. He came into the room often and saw a bit of God in there. I know he did.

I don’t know what happened. I could be one of those people who black out, who say things in moments where there’s no clarity, no real consciousness, just daydreaming —  starwalking in silent dreams during schoolyard bells.

The bus dropped me off near Geneva Avenue — that’s on the southside of Bakersfield. It was a poor blue collar street with stray dogs, tumbleweeds and the shitty kids I grew up with.

Walking home, I remember a short Asian-Mexican boy with a cleft palate. His face always looked angry, distorted. He had a mouth like a pumpkin scar. He was in the group of kids following me, encouraging the boy at the front of the pack to get me.

There’s no pride in fighting when your father claims to be a fighter and he never teaches you how to even slap someone with a glove and say, “Touche!” So I kept walking.

The boy following me was a dirty-faced white kid with dark stringy hair. He thought I said something at school. Something mean. Something that questioned his boyhood maleness. I racked my brain for some sort of explanation since I had no memory.

He turned me around and clocked me on the left side of the temple.

He was taller than me. He looked tougher. But I remember it didn’t really hurt. And I didn’t fall down. I just stood there. “I don’t want to fight,” I said.

Eventually he and the others left. They were laughing. I got one final stare from the kid with the cleft palate and permanent angry eyebrows. His curdled milk lips knotted into a gleeful smile, thirsting for blood.

I turned around and walked home. I was looking forward to reading another book in the John Carter of Mars adventure series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’m guessing I was about halfway through “The Chessmen of Mars.”

Nearly one thousand miles from home, it was just us and the two Norwegians in their blue pick-up. We took a road out of Santa Rosa that headed away from the red-banded hills near town and into the Chihuahua Desert. I felt a sense of wonder and satisfaction as the truck flew down the highway on what seemed an adventure never before undertaken—deeper into the New Mexican desert than anyone could ever venture. Not even Coronado’s tears could penetrate this place. Far away we drove to a moonscape, a desertscape, under a red glow of sun and blue wisp of desert day.

Eric had been to the airstrip before. He was hiding memories. Tragic and sad-looking, he sat behind the wheel with his sandy hair flipping happily in the wind. But then he was suddenly joyous as he yelled through the back window at us in the cab: “Jordan?!”

“What?”

“Do you love airplanes?”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna go to an airport?”

“Yeah!” Jordan looked at me, his six-year-old eyes as wide as the desert. “Dad, wanna go to an airport?”

“Sure, Jordy. Sounds fun. Let’s do it.”

Eric’s father, Olaf smiled. He stuck his arms straight out and puckered his lips. Strings of hair on his balding head flopped as Autumn, Jordan and I laughed each time he tilted side to side, leaned out the window and waved his arms. “Zoooom!” he yelled.

Autumn and I sat close to each other. We’d gone days without showering, our car dead in the desert in a town miles away. She put her dirty hand on mine and I smiled as her long brown hair flipped in the wind.

Soon we pulled onto a dirt road which took us to the tiny Santa Rosa airport. From there we could see a few buildings—converted mobile homes at best, little tin shacks. We parked and Jordan ran onto the asphalt airstrip. He didn’t seem to look for any planes. He waved his arms and stared at the ground. Then he went hopping and looked into the air like he was about to take off into the clear sky. He ran at full speed—which for him was scooting at best.

I jumped out of the truck too and ran after him, shouting, “Here I come! We’re gonna dive bomb this place!”

“Let’s take off and land, dad,” he yelled. And we did. We both went buzzing like airplanes. We ran side-by-side and waved at Autumn. She walked with Eric along the side of the sad cracked strip. They both looked magical there—her towering over him the way she did me. The sun hit their golden bodies with beautiful beams of light.

There’s a Star Wars kite that flies through my imagination. It fights a plastic parrot over a lonely section of the city. Cars zoom past and we all ignore them. The kites dart and dodge. They batter one another. They’re  not really even there. But I can open the front door of my apartment and see them flying across the apartment tops in a pool of blue sky.

On a rainy day I can still imagine the summer sunlight, the kites fluttering, dipping with each tug, and two little boys with hands wrapped in string.

I suppose it might not mean anything that when I needed to move again, I moved right back into the same apartment where I used to live. In an entire city block of carbon copy apartments it’s the same exact one. About thirty feet outside the apartment is a little area of cement. Dates and initials are carved from the mid 1990s. I lived there with my mom and my sister. My mom died in 1998 from an aortic aneurysm. My sister now lives somewhere in the mountains south of Bakersfield (about 70 miles north of LA). I’d left the apartment around 1996 and thought I’d never look back.

Sometimes it’s really disturbing living someplace I thought I’d left far behind. It’s tough convincing myself that I really did make progress in my life. I’ve seen and done a few things since then.

My mother watched “Singing in the Rain” a lot. I can see her doing that when I’m passing through the living room.

Sometimes I go and kick dirt off the initials in the cement. I think of dreams I once had while living in the apartment the first time. I can still see those too.

On occasion, when the front door opens, like today, I can hear a little boy crying from atop a swatch of grass. I gaze upward as his Star Wars kite breaks off into an uncontrolled arc across the sky. It goes crashing outside of the apartment sea, over a fence and alley, and into a row of homes, never to be found.

I’m wondering if writers in my Generation X age group who contribute their talents to various sites and newspapers, and yet don’t feel like they’re a part of a literary movement, might feel a kinship to this particular piece that I have never shared publicly until now. The Dead Generation is an excerpt from Chapter Nine of ‘Citrus Girl’ (about a third of that chapter). It was written sometime between 1996 and 1998. Could all be drivel. It’s up to you to decide. Part of it was edited by literary historian John Arthur Maynard of CSU Bakersfield who wrote ‘Venice West: The Beat Generation In Southern California.’