Good Luck: Episode Sixty

 

So we set off to demolish my house of memory. I drove the bulldozer. Rae squeezed in beside me. Jackson rode in the bucket of the machine, laid sideways, head on a pillow. 

Joey followed, at the wheel of a four door dually pickup. Everybody else in the hit squad was loaded tight in the cab. An air compressor on a hitch was towed behind. And in the bed of their truck, our tools of destruction were piled high. 

As we drove through Jersey City, I got a panicked phone call from my brother William, who rode shotgun in the pickup. “Don’t worry,” I said. He said, “But we are headed towards the Holland Tunnel with a bunch of explosives. I’m going to worry.” 

I heard the chatter of the other five voices in that truck. There must have been three other conversations going on all at once. “Chill out,” I told William, and hung up.

Soon I began the big detour away from New York City and its police and pestering hammering of reality. 

The traffic petered out and then vanished. Sprawling country soon opened up. Marshland and then farmland. We drove past rolling green hills. Crashed across a silver river. Crushed our way through a dark maze of Hansel and Gretel forest. I stopped the bulldozer at the edge of the trees. Across the field I saw no movement except the grass and endless colorful wildflowers moving on a gentle breeze. 

In the distance, the house of memory looked crooked, odd, distorted in some way, as if it were wearing armor.

Then Death walked by, picking flowers, sniffing them. Death saw us and waved. I waved back from the machine. The horn of the pickup truck blared. The headlights flashed. I called my brother. “It’s fine, relax. Everything is all right.” Death walked to the side of the machine and said, “You’re back.” I hung up the phone, introduced Rae to Death, Death to Rae. She held out her hand cordially but Death just nodded politely. She took her hand back, “Oh thank you.” 

I would have liked to tell Death that it wasn’t the death of life, and couldn’t kill any of us with a touch, that it was only the death of the imagination—as severe as that was. Instead, I let Death go on thinking what Death wanted. It was easier. 

Death told me, “Again, your house is full of bad memories.” The traumatic things that had happened to me. The embarrassing things. The shameful things. 

The vigilantes who had saved us just a few days before had already taken their bodies and shotguns and ATVs back home to North Carolina. This was totally understandable, those vigilantes were working class people, with families and jobs and obligations. Rae said, “They just came here to be kind? Is that what happened?” I said, “Seems so.” She said when we got home I should remind her to send them thank you cards and a big shipment of Omaha Steaks. 

Death looked into the back of the pickup truck and was apprehensive when he saw the gasoline and dynamite. Michael Bible gave Death a cigarette. Mungiello said, “I loved your work in The Seventh Seal.” Death nodded. My coworkers said, “You ever get to bring any real smokin’ hot chicks across the River Styx?” Death grinned. 

Everybody got out of their vehicles. Stretched their legs. In the distance we heard a wolf howl. Death whistled. A crimson wolf came out of the woods. “Come here girl.” The wolf had Death’s scythe in its mouth. “Thank you! Who’s a good girl? You are, that’s right.” He leaned down and took the scythe from its mouth. The wolf wanted to play. “Go fetch!” He threw the scythe over the trees. The wolf tore off after it. 

I got a beer out of the cooler and gave one to Death. Death drank slowly and it was a beautiful day. We all drank a beer with Death. Ashleigh asked Death what it was like to work with Ingmar Bergman. Death said Ingmar was an asshole, but a talented asshole. 

I passed another round of beers out. Death relaxed. “I like you guys. I’m glad you came. It’s lonely here.” Death said it was tired of the teeter totter of my good memories and my bad memories. I told Death that that was all over. Death said, “Then maybe I’m just tired of looking at that house.” My coworkers pressured Death to help us. Death said, “Maybe being impartial hasn’t worked out. Okay. I’m ready to leave. Let’s get rid of your problems today.” 

Death whistled. The crimson wolf with the scythe in its mouth walked out of the trees. A pack of sleepy wolves followed behind it. “Sorry to wake you!” Death took the scythe from the crimson wolf, turned and marched across the field, robes swaying, head held high. “Let’s go.” The wolf pack followed the crimson wolf who trailed Death. 

“Looks like they got this,” Rae said. 

“Yeah, I’d say.” We all agreed to just hang back and chill, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes. 

Leading those wolves into battle, Death looked even more regal than usual.

“That’s one sexy motherfucker,” Bible said. 

I saw a curtain move in an upper window of the memory house. I waited for rifle fire, but none came. About twenty yards from the porch, the wolves sat down on their haunches, gazed ahead patiently. Death walked up onto the porch and rang the bell. No one answered. Death figured maybe the doorbell was broken and gave a knock upon the door that shook the whole house. Still, no one answered. Death opened the door and stepped inside. Now my lousy memories flooded out the back door. 

Seeing them run the instant Death entered reminded me of a scene in one of my favorite books. In the book, these people had a problem with loud frogs ruining peaceful nights. The frogs lived in a pond on their property in Big Sur, California. So the people got two alligators and released them into the pond full of loud nighttime frogs. Two seconds after the alligators were in the pond, the frogs were all gone, all was quiet. 

Now the wolves chased my bad memories back into the trees. I saw the ski-masked killers dressed in black get caught by the wolves and it was quite gruesome. But some of those lousy memories made it into the cover of the forest and seemed to escape. Nobody but the wolves seemed to be having any fun over there. 

I climbed into the bulldozer, hit the gas and headed across the field. Death came out of the house, cheered me on and jumped to safety. I slammed the bulldozer into the front of the house with a great thunderous cracking of wood and stone, made a bigger opening where the door used to be. In the living room, I stepped out of the machine and saw no signs of life. Just a mess of garbage, debris, squalor, junk. My friends joined me. We went room to room, looking for prisoners or hiding foes, but found no one. I drove the bulldozer through the center of the house and out the back door, carving my way with the steel bucket.

We all got to work. 

Chainsaws whirred, swung all around. The entertainment center, tables, chairs, a grandfather clock, all cleaved in half. 

Axes fell, burst closed doors, and the axe-swinger inevitably shouted, “Here’s Johnny!” 

Sledgehammers shattered mirrors and TVs and toilets. 

Someone yelled, “Ollie Ollie oxen free.” The game was over. I went outside and sat on the grass with Rae. Mungiello and my brother took turns with the bulldozer, crushing rooms from the outside of the house, working in. 

Off to the side, my coworkers passed Death their cellphones to look at nudes of women they were hooking up with. Death kept saying, “Nice. Nice. Very nice” and passed the phones back, blushing. 

Ashleigh and Joey were trying to figure out the best way to connect the wiring for the dynamite but it seemed I’d bought incompatible detonators. 

And as great as the bulldozer was, the job wasn’t going fast enough. The house was too large. The wreckage was regenerating. Shuffling. Walls stood back up on their own. The roof filled back in overhead. 

My impatient coworkers did the practical thing and went inside the house and began to douse the interior with gasoline. A wonderful fire began in the center and spread out, till soon all was ablaze. A towering bonfire touched the clouds, charred them black. Still the house didn’t fall, or recede, diminish, shrink back. It just stood burning, stubborn. 

We began to lob sticks of dynamite into the fire. A good old time. The explosions made my ears ring. Shrapnel zipped past. I covered my ears. I ducked out of the way. 

Ashleigh had the best dynamite throwing arm. She could have joined the NFL. We stayed back as the blasts scattered the wreckage, as if the house was fighting back against its attackers. 

The beer was almost gone. So my brother and Jackson, and my coworkers went on a run for more. They left in the truck, and drove back to reality. I wasn’t so sure I’d see them again. Meanwhile, we threw more dynamite while the house regenerated. The rooms rebuilt themselves, outward. The front porch cobbled itself back together. Still the fire raged on. Soon it became clear that all the dynamite in the world would not be enough and we stopped throwing it. “I should have brought a nuclear bomb.” 

Everyone was getting tired of the smoke and the coughing. Bible got back in the machine and dumped dirt onto the house, so little by little the fire was extinguished. Then the pile of dirt was steaming, and then the dirt was repelled away. The house stood much the same as it had when we’d first arrived, hours earlier. 

Mungiello had the great idea to start busting up the foundation of the house. I fired the air compressor up, and worked with Brian to run the air line. Joey dragged the jackhammer up the steps, all the way into the kitchen. He jackhammered through the linoleum and into the cement floor. When he saw dirt, he stopped. Dynamite was dropped into the hole. The fuse was lit. 

I sat in the grass with Rae, held hands, looked at butterflies. And then I saw all my friends stumble out, falling over each other, screaming gleefully like they fully expected to die. 

And then there was an explosion far deeper and more serious than any of the previous ones. When the smoke cleared that whole corner of the house was gone. There was just a crater in the earth. 

My brother and Jackson and my friends from work came back with the pickup truck. They had a keg and fried chicken and whiskey and party hats and Coca-Cola and submarine sandwiches and Bomb Pops. A party began.

We took turns going into the house. This time Rae jackhammered. The next time I did. Then my brother jackhammered. We worked together, took turns lighting the fuses, took turns shouting, “Run for your lives!”

Each explosion done this way resulted in another small section of the house blown away that did not return. 

About that time, the fried chicken gone and the whiskey low, it began to rain. I called the job off for the night, and we all sought shelter in what was left of my house of memory. The structure creaked and sounded on the verge of collapse but it was just a ruse by the house itself to get us to feel bad for what we’d done to it. Stories were told, songs sung, and thunder and lightning could be heard booming outside. Death joined us again, rather than standing around in the rain. 

Rae wanted to know what Death would do for the rest of its life. Death said it had decided to go to Paris, put on a three-piece suit, and give the Mona Lisa a French kiss. 

And then I asked Death what had happened to my memories of Mary Oliver and Willie Nelson and Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine and Death said the memories were still alive, they were alive in their songs and poems and things they had done up on the silver screen. I already knew this, but I wanted Death to tell everyone else because we were sitting in candlelight and it’s nice sometimes to sit in candlelight and hear someone important say something profound. 

Death sat criss-cross applesauce on the floor and said there was nothing more consequential in nature than love, and that art was a function of love, even when it sought to eviscerate. 

My mood pivoted. I got annoyed listening to Death yammer on. Death was the drunkest of us all. How, I didn’t know, it was light beer and Death hadn’t touched the whiskey. But then Death opened its robes and pulled out a bottle of blinding light. It was a bottle of understanding. The understanding of suffering and pleasure and whatever was randomly caught between. We all took a sip and felt high as kites off understanding for a minute or two and then we got dumb again and went back to our own mortal supplies.

A deck of cards came out. Jokes were told. My coworkers tried to call strippers but none would leave reality to make the long uncertain trip. 

I stood up and took a walk deeper into the house. I explored one last time. The most desperate and sentimental of the remaining rooms of my house of memory. And I realized the house was fighting back against its own demolishment with psyops. 

I found an irrational room full of filing cabinets of all the things I’d ever written. I discovered each story had its own file folder with the birth certificate of every character born in whatever story. 

I tossed the birth certificates into a wheelbarrow, and then I wheeled them out to the pickup truck, began to fill the bed of the truck. 

It’d stopped raining and I could see the moon and stars. I’d decided to keep the birth certificates in case any of those characters saw me in a dream or knocked on my apartment door. If they showed up, I’d hand them their birth certificates and set them free, just like I’d soon do for myself. 

I was a writer and how does a writer get away from themselves? Oh, they burn all their manuscripts. I took those out of the filing cabinet and stacked them in a huge pile in the middle of the field. Short stories and poems. Scraps of paper from who knows what. Novels stopped and started, some finished. First drafts. Second drafts. Third, fourth, fifth. All those precious things I never wanted to have to think about again, I threw them all on the pile. And then I threw the filing cabinet on there too, just for good measure. I thought the world could use one less filing cabinet. 

About that time, the sun started coming up and I remembered it was New Year’s Eve.

Joey walked out of the house, looked at the pile, noticed there were pages of this book you’re reading right now. Good Luck. He said I probably shouldn’t burn all of that specific work. 

“People might want to read that one,” he said. 

“I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want them to. I don’t think my life is important enough to write about.”

“Who fucking cares?”

He reached down and pulled out the book. 

My coworker walked around the side of the house, smoking a joint. They saw all the rest of that crap, paperbacks and notebooks and everything else piled up tall in the moonlight and they got excited. “Nice! We’re gonna burn some books!” 

“Yeah we are,” I said. 

They got the fuel cans and doused the pile in gasoline.  Threw a match. The flames twisted up. They hooted and hollered. I hooted and hollered with them. 

My brother opened the attic window and threw a stick of dynamite onto the fire. And that was that. The blast got rid of everything, and extinguished the fire. 

It became a sunny day. Death gave us more bright sips of understanding and he began to play fetch again with that lovely crimson wolf. And in between tosses, my friends explained simple things about modern life that Death could never comprehend on its own—what emails were, and what GPS was, and how to make an Instagram story. 

Meanwhile, we kept on with the destruction. We took more turns at the jackhammer. More dynamite dropped into holes. Fuses lit. Laughter, and tumbling, another teeth rattling explosion, another piece of the house gone forever, never to return. 

Jackson had also brought fireworks. He’d kept it a secret until just before sundown. The ball drop approaching (he saw on his watch, EST) he began to line the fireworks up in the center of the field. 

The last of the foundation was blown away, the dynamite gone, everyone was exhausted. Now there was just a mound of bare soil where the house had once stood for thirty-seven years.

The celebration kicked off. Rockets were launched. Explosions of color cut the darkness. Fiery threads and mineral sparkles rained down. Crickle crack. 

And in the woods, the rest of the wolf pack hidden in the hollows looked up at the hot flowers of fire in the heavens and knew that man and even the memory of man was going away soon and the natural order of things would return. And the wolves smiled their sharp toothy smiles. 

And in the same woods, my bad memories saw the celebration fireworks too and knew for sure, their fight was over. And they began to fade away, becoming fainter in sight, until they were a communal fog, then the smallest wind rose and the memories dissipated into wisps that scattered and were gone, for good.

It was all gone. The house was gone. 

The year was gone too, at the stroke of midnight. 2019 kicked the bucket. The past collected all into the bottomless pit of the past, didn’t care, forgot. 

And the future came briefly, for half a breath and then the future was gone and collected into the past, forgotten.

And my friends were hugging and kissing and shaking hands and their lives were in front of them. 

Death waved goodbye and began to walk off toward Paris, but then Joey jogged over and said something to Death and Death gave Joey the bright bottle and we drank that shiny juice all the rest of the night, drunk off a sip, able to comprehend why time sped up faster as you tried to hold onto it.

All gone, and then some of my plastered friends asked me what would happen in my future. 

What would happen to the memory of this night, the celebration? Where would I store these new memories. 

And I said, “No future. No tomorrow. No tomorrow. No tomorrow.” 

Rae lost it, she said, “Don’t listen to this buffoon! He’s full of shit, everybody. His memories are living in an abandoned power plant just down the road from our apartment.”

“She’s right, don’t listen to me. I’ve been careless.” 

I would have to be very careful. From that point on I would have to live my life in such a way that I did not create bad memories. Maybe this could be done. But only if I was careful. It could even be thrilling. All I had to do was recklessly have a good time, and do things I wanted to do with people I wanted to. Sure, mistakes would be made, but I would embrace the mistakes, dance with the mistakes on the tip of the volcano. When something fucked up happened, I’d pretend that it was a great learning experience and then I’d carry the terrible bleeding thing into the room where my laughing friends had gathered and we’d laugh together at the terror and pass it back and forth and get blood-soaked together. We’d do this every Tuesday or Friday night until we all suffered some gruesome ordinary death. But that was a long way off. And we had plenty of birthday cake to eat.

A bottle rocket hit me in the chest and my brother shrieked with joy and I had no choice but to chase him across the field and tackle him into a giant mud puddle. We splashed in and came up as muddy children again, saying in unison, “You absolute fucker!” coughing and wiping the mud from our faces. 

Hopefully we would stay that way forever. 

But time, but time.

One day he would be in a wheelchair and I would be in a wheelchair and maybe we would crash into each other, knock ourselves over into the mud and say in unison, in our shaky old man voices, “You absolute fucker!” 

Time, time, time. 

I put my muddy little brother’s memory at my new memory plant. The plant used to make electricity, but now it just made me happy. 

I put that memory of the last green firework shot into the sky into the memory plant. I put all that whiskey and fried chicken and the songs sung and corny jokes told and the demolition of the whole night there where it would never age. Where time would never touch it, long as I lived. 

And then the sun came up yet again. Reality called. We were hungover and it was painful but it was time to leave that place, for good. 

We hitched the air compressor to the truck. Loaded the jackhammers and the axes and chainsaws and wheelbarrows and other tools. We crossed it all again in reverse. The field, the forest, the silver river, the green hills. We appeared again as a blue dot on the map of Rae’s cellphone and she typed in directions to see if there was a better way around the traffic. The Pulaski Skyway was jammed. 

Back in Jersey City it was like everyone had decided to  turn the volume of their lives up all the way. Everyone was out walking on the sidewalk and dogs were licking each other’s faces and no one driving the roads honked their horn, for once, for anything.  

I parallel parked the bulldozer on the street. 

Joey parallel parked the truck behind the bulldozer. 

I happened to walk past my car, parked on Duncan Avenue. Someone had smashed in my passenger side window. Aquamarine glass was all over the ground and they had stolen a bag of groceries I’d accidentally left on the seat. In the bag, I’d just had two cans of kidney beans and a 17 oz. jar of canned roasted Marzano tomatoes I was going to use to make  chili. Oh well. I pretended to be grateful, and did a happy dance and put the smashed window and the missing ingredients into my new memory plant.  

The whole crew was wiped out. We dragged ourselves inside Rae’s and my apartment, and we all ate grilled cheese sandwiches and drank tap water. The apartment was quiet for a long time after that. As if the world had suddenly decided it was time for a nap. Time. Time. Time. 

I fell asleep on the couch and woke up and found most everybody had split but they had left a sweet note for me on the table, stating how much fun they had all had. Can we come and see the memory plant sometime? And I thought, you’re already there. 

I went back to sleep, this time in the bedroom. Rae was beside me in the bed, and I put my arm around her. And that was the end.

The next day, I brought the bulldozer back to Staten Island and couldn’t afford the rental fee, not even close. I called Rae’s mother, Elaine, on the telephone. I don’t think she’s been in this book at all up until now. Well, she’s one of the loveliest women I know. I’ll put her in the next book a lot more. I passed the clerk the telephone and Elaine gave the clerk her credit card number. And then I was on my way, in her debt. But fine to be in it. I was on my way, but everything was on its way, actually. I looked up, and the clouds were zooming by like they were taking part in some great race. I took the train home. I taped a garbage bag over my broken passenger side window. I went inside the apartment and googled how much it would cost to fix. Then I googled banks in my area, to see if there were any in particular I would like, perchance, to rob. 

No. I’d stay broke but out of prison. I’d just go back to my regular construction job. I’d go there and make a little money and then I’d write a poem each night after work. After I washed the grime of the jobsite off me and I was clean, I’d write a little story and I’d make the world that those characters lived in like the world I wanted everybody to live in, and I’d do that till cancer or heart failure got me, or Alzheimer’s erased me. I’d see my friends coming up the block and I’d hang out the window and say, “Coffee is on/Beer’s cold/Look who the hell it is!” I’d drive down to see my mom and we’d eat pumpkin pie. I’d go to an island somewhere with Rae and we would watch the people on jet skis jump the waves while we drank something out of a coconut. Much later, I’d stand with my brother and one of our parent’s caskets would be lowered into the earth. I don’t even want to think which one first. And when I was in my own grave, I wouldn’t write or dream anymore. So each day I would make sure I did plenty of dreaming and scribbling little poems on cocktail napkins.

For a while, my life was a house where I kept my memories. I built this house the day I was born. It grew on its own. Each year a new room was added, and new memories lived there. Before me and my memories arrived, before the house was built, it was an “empty” field with wildflowers and grass and bugs. And now that my house of memory was all gone, the bugs in the grass and the wildflowers began to return and call the place their home again. How nice. 

And these were the things that returned:

Ants, first a few, then a thousand, then too many to count. Then worms, fat ones, skinny ones. Crickets who made a racket. Rabbits that hopped out of the woods, twitched their tails and ears, and sniffed. Snakes who slithered out, tested the air with their forked tongues and laid eggs in the sand. Moss, the most boring soft thing of all. Toads who hopped into the shade and bashfully croaked lest they be consumed. Grasshoppers who leapt in wild acrobatics between the tall spiky weeds. A stupid-as-shit groundhog who stuck its head up out of a hole and was scooped up by a hawk and murdered. The entire wolf pack who lay in the middle of the field, belly up in the sunshine, paws seen to move, as if running together through a warm dream.

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books, 2020), among others.

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