QQ && AA

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Nine

 

Death writes in, “Who is God?”

 

The Editor writes in, “Did that say Death? Death is in this book now? I don’t know about this, man. I’d cut Death if I were you.”  

 

Yeah, I’m not happy about it either. I guess, mentioning The Seventh Seal is what did that. Not sure how to fix it.

 

Jackson Frons writes in from Los Angeles, California, “What’s the world’s biggest dog?” 

 

Nah dude. I’m not letting the world’s biggest dog in this novel, we’re already dealing with Death, his scythe, his hourglass. Look it up yourself.

 

*Takes Bible off hold.*

 

*Bible is singing along, “My heart goes on tonight, tiiiiiiiime is on my side ….”

“Yo, Bible.”

“Bud, yeah, I’m here.”

“Sorry for the delay. Can you please send those questions again, one at a time. I’ll answer them, bing bang boom.”

“Bing bang boom, got it. Here they come.”

 

“Is suffering more the absence of pleasure or the presence of pain?”

 

The pain of presence.

 

“What are your thoughts on the pull up vs. the push up?”

 

I’m a pull up guy. A pushup hardly ever saved anyone’s life.

 

“Does one’s current political or cultural affiliation still matter faced with the knowledge that we are dust and dust we shall return?” 

 

It does not. Yet we should help each other avoid going to dust, if we can, whatever that means, however long we can.

 

If olfactory is the sense most associated with memory, what sense, in your estimation, is most closely tied to seeing the future?”

 

Touch has always been the future, and it always will be.

 

“Do you truly believe in the maxim “more money, more problems” or is the opposite true?” 

 

The opposite, ‘problems more, money more.’

 

“Without researching the topic, do you, right now, believe dinosaurs had feathers?” 

 

I do. But I’m not letting dinosaurs into this book. I’ll say that.

 

“Is wine or chocolate more important in your life?” 

 

Wine.

 

Did you know some birds sleep while flying?”

 

I did not.

 

Do you trust what I have just told you is true?”

 

I do not.

 

“How are your knees these days?” 

 

Knees are still good. Back is the problem. But I’ve been working out again.

 

Oh good. What in your mind is the perfect temperature?”

 

Eighty-eight degrees, Fahrenheit. I want to go swimming. If I can go swimming, and I am swimming, any other degree up to one hundred is also acceptable.

 

My brother William writes in from Bayville, NJ, “Did we land on the moon?”

 

Why are you so fixated on the moon, man? Did we go there, did we land on it and walk on it in 1969? I believe we did. If we hadn’t, by now there would be too much evidence to prove that we hadn’t. Conspiracy theories are always funny, but the amount of coverup that would have to happen is so vast, that it gets hard to believe that many people could all be in on something, together. Occam’s Razor says whatever theory that causes the least speculation is usually correct. So, unless you think that all reality is simulated and we didn’t go to the moon because we are living in a simulation then I’m going to say, yeah we went there. Wait—holy fuck—are you saying we might be living in a simulation?

 

William writes back, “Occam’s Razor says you’re a wacko.” 

 

Fair enough. See you this weekend.

 

Amy writes in from New Castle, Delaware, “Do you believe that evil is just good people making bad choices?” 

 

Hello Amy, great question. Thank you for reading and thanks for writing in. I’m not sure how to answer this question. But I think sometimes it might be that way. There’s a movie called The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. It’s about a man who works in an office building, and all of his superiors begin to pressure him to let them use his apartment to come over and have sex with their mistresses. Jack Lemmon keeps giving in to them, because he is a good person, is sex positive, doesn’t judge anyone. A little more than halfway through the movie, his point of view begins to shift. He finds Shirley MacLaine asleep in his bed. She tried to kill herself with sleeping pills. Jack Lemmon has some kind of epiphany about letting his bosses come over and fuck in his house, and he takes the key back, becoming evil, I guess. I’ve only seen that movie once, and I was only half paying attention.

 

Jack Lemmon writes in from The Apartment, “That’s not what that movie is about jackass.”

 

I loved you in Grumpy Old Men. And Grumpier Old Men.

 

Mary Oliver writes in from the house of memory,  “What’s a portal?”

 

Mary, great question. I’m sorry I dragged you into all this too. I didn’t realize. I hope you are well. This started out as a little fun project, and now anybody and everything is getting sucked into it. So to answer your question, I guess a portal is whatever we let it be. We should be careful what we let have power over us, and not be afraid to shout out when we think we are being manipulated. For instance, my piece called “Grasshopper” was a portal that let you into the Good Luck project. I regret to have opened the door at all, and to have trapped you here. Please make the best of your remaining time in the project. Please avoid the Angel of Death even though you’ve already died in some larger sense of reality, as I have heard Death incarnate is here too, roaming around. Please make yourself comfortable in my house of memory, write some new poems, relax, kick back. As I was just saying, the project will come to an end at the end of the year and I believe everybody will part ways, better off from it.

 

Mikaela Grantham writes in from New Orleans, “Two part question. What’s the difference between a ghost and spirit? And like what do ghosts do all day?”

 

Hi Mik,  you’re always so curious. You’re always trying to get to the bottom of things. I am sorry, but I do not want to let spirits or ghosts into this project. If I had to define the difference between a spirit or a ghost in the Good Luck project, it would go something like this, “There is no difference, they are both not in this project.” How’s that?

 

“It’s a two part question.” 

 

My apologies. ‘What do [ghosts] do all day?’ Great question. You want to know what they do? They stay out of the Good Luck project, that’s what they do.

 

Maybe you are a little confused because there have been all these talks about living memories, and some of those living memories are of people or things in my life, or people from pop culture, some of which have even become deceased. Well, it doesn’t matter if they are living or dead, it’s all memory. The memory lives as long as you do, and sometimes outlives you in mysterious and ever-changing ways. A memory cannot hurt you physically. It can only hurt you emotionally.

 

Brian Kelly writes in from Islip, Long Island, “Are you okay with growing older?”

 

I’m okay with growing older. I think as long as I am learning new things and figuring out how to be a better person, getting to live on and on is a wonderful reward. I just hope that I’m not such a good person that I have to live to see the end of the world.

 

My four year old niece, Autumn Wiley writes in from San Diego, California, “Do you like kids?”

 

I love kids. Especially ones named Autumn Wiley who live in San Diego, California.

 

My father writes in from Bayville, NJ, “What do you know about me?” 

 

Hi Dad. I know, you were born on June 9th, 1957, in New Brunswick, NJ. You are one of three sons. The youngest by nine years. Your brothers are:

 

  1. Joe
  2. Jimmy

 

When you were a kid you liked reading mysteries, sci-fi, and history. When I was a kid, I read most of your leftover Hardy Boys books that were still sitting around grandma’s house. I don’t know if those books were passed down to you by your older brothers, maybe they were. I know those brothers were so much older than you, that they felt like uncles, or something. But that’s changed as you have aged. I know you liked cartoons, and because you are fully alive, you still like them today. You never really grew up all the way, the way they try and make you.

 

I know you’ve always loved cars. I know you’ve always been fascinated by the way the old ones were built. You started working on cars when you were ten. You did your first valve job on grandma’s  ’58 Buick when you were ten.

I know you used to go to Fort Dix drag strip with your brother Jimmy and his friends, watch them race cars. Being ten was big for you. A banner year.

 

When you were a little older you bought cheap cars and cheap motorcycles to ride through the Pine Barrens. You did good at school, but had no interest in college. If there was anyone ever born to be a mechanic it was you. In your senior year, you finished 2nd in the state for a machine design competition, sketching blueprints, and such. The guy who won first place, you did his drawing for him. I don’t know what ever happened to the guy who won first place. I wonder whatever happened to that guy.

 

When reached for comment on your favorite color, you responded, “I guess my favorite color is blue, but I really like red.”

 

You say the first time you saw my mom was at the drive-in in Tom’s River. She was wearing a rabbit fur coat. Later, at a party, you met her again. Your girlfriend at the time, took you over to uncle Billy’s (RIP).

 

You and mom married in 1980 on the beach in Florida. Honeymooned in Disney World. Had me in 1981. Had William in 1983. But not so fast, after high school you worked in Seaside Park at a gas station for about a year, and then started working heavy construction with the boilermakers. When it was slow you worked at the junkyard. You bought cars from there, fixed and sold them on the side. It was 1977. Then it was 1978. You blinked and it was 1979. You blinked and you were married. You blinked again and it is 2019 and I am 37 and you are 62, and you’re just about to retire.

 

I was just at that gas station in Seaside Park the other day. I was trying to fill a tire of mine that was going flat. The gas pumps are gone now. And the station has a different name. The luncheonette that was across the street, where you used to go and get lunch sometimes, is still there, and still has the same name. It’s still half a bait and tackle shop. I filled the tire and went to your house, and you helped me plug the leak. It took you like five seconds.

And what about the boilermakers? What about it? You stopped doing that kind of work in the early 80s. I still do that work. How is it for me, you ask, well it’s been slow for me all summer. I’ve been unemployed, and editing my novel. And what about the junkyard? Well, the junkyard is still there. Sometimes I think the past is like a junkyard, but in the most beautiful way. When you can’t figure out why your life is falling apart, you can go and dig around in your mind, and believe it or not, there are usually spare parts to be found in there, for cheap, and you can use them to repair your life from the inside out.

 

I know that things were harder, and when me and William were little kids, you went and worked at the industrial park too, as a supervisor in a shoe factory that also made rubber hair rollers. I remember you’d come home and have the melted rubber all over your work clothes, from fixing the machines. You worked there with uncle Jeffery (RIP) who lived in our concrete block basement for a time, silver fish, mattress on the floor. These are jumbled among my first memories.

 

You got a job with the township in 1985, started out fixing garbage trucks, and the maggots would fall on you. But you kept doing it. Daytime fixing garbage trucks, and at nighttime still going to the factory and making shoes. 90 hours a week between both jobs. Somewhere in there we sat around and watched Ghostbusters on VHS. And we sat around and watched Gremlins. And E.T. And you took us to car shows and grandma and grandpa’s house. When a bad storm came in, we’d drive your car over to the ocean and watch the ocean get wild. You told me when you were in high school, the winters had been so cold, that the Barnaget Bay froze, and you drove your car out there to the middle, and drank beer with your friends.

 

I know in 1988 you became a volunteer firefighter, and there’s nothing I respect more than that in the world. Just the other day, I found out from you, through a text message, that grandpa was a volunteer firefighter too. He was an engineer, drove the truck. This was back in the 1960s. You’re having his name added to a plaque at Huddy Park. I believe near a bridge that mom’s father set with a crane. So now when I drive by that park, I’ll have something to think about, both sides of my family. I know you have a lot of top responder awards from the volunteer firefighting company. You’ve been going and saving houses, and acreage of the Pine Barrens since I was seven years old. That’s a lot. Thank you.

 

I know when personal computers started becoming prevalent, and people started throwing old ones out, you started fixing them, tinkering around, learning programming and how to build your computers from other people’s trash. I think I get all my curiosity from you. We’re interested in a lot of the same things, but even where our interests diverge, we are both after the same thing—an answer, some epiphany about how things work.

 

I know you worked two jobs up until you were 52. I know we didn’t always used to talk openly about things, and that’s normal around men who work for a living. I work with a lot of guys who are like that. And I’m like that with them, in a way. I’m glad I found out something beautiful though, from you. I found out you’d text message me answers to any questions I had about your life. My cellphone used to seem terrible. Then I found out I could use it to text questions to my father about his life and he would answer them without irony. His answers were true and surprising, always full of small miracle.

 

I know you’ve been as far west as Colorado, as far North as Maine. As far South as Florida.

 

 


[artwork by Tim Murray]

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

One response to “QQ && AA”

  1. Arie says:

    “What do you know about me?” That section is wonderful. So glad I stumbled on this site and your works

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