“San ping sake,” I tell the server. Three bottles of sake.

When she returns a few minutes later with the fresh pitchers of warm rice wine I pour shots for myself and my friends. Sitting directly to my right is a young Californian who’s been in Beijing for just under a week. I toast to him on this evening, one that marks both his first night out in the city and his first sake experience.

At the table next to ours a group of local men wearing the green jerseys of the local soccer club are also imbibing sake. I make eye contact with one of them.

“Sake feichang hao,” I say. Sake is very good.

With this simple statement the red-faced Chinese man and his equally crimson companions acknowledge the group of foreigners with a chorus of “hellos” and offer to fill our glasses. With cups brimming, my new Chinese friend clinks his sake vessel to mine and says, “ganbei,” which translates to “empty the cup.” All of us drain our glasses and continue to “ganbei” for the better part of an hour.

By the end of the aggressive drinking session the China newbie is grinning a happy drunken grin and surveying the loud, smoky restaurant with a look of awe. We pay our bill—a ridiculously cheap 150 Yuan (around $25) per person for three hours of all you can eat and drink—and spill out into the night, chatting and laughing our way to the next spot, a Western style bar teeming with dolled up Chinese girls.

We find seats among a group of them at a back corner table. Somebody pulls out a hash joint and it makes its way around. Drunk, stoned, and cozied up to a sexy young local, the newb leans into my ear and says, “Man, is this a pretty typical night out?”

I tell him that it is. What I don’t tell him is that he is now one of the Lost Boys of China.

China is a fascinating place to live. A new world power only rises up once every three or four generations, and being in the midst of the phenomenon is a truly unique opportunity. That the latest power to emerge is China, a country that a century ago ended 2,000 years of imperial rule and had a population existing primarily on a subsistence level, makes the storyline all the more compelling.

But it’s not just historical implications that make the Middle Kingdom an exciting destination. Life here is enormously entertaining. I’ve yet to experience a place that on a daily basis intrigues, challenges, and shocks me to such an extent. I forever have the sense that just around the corner something totally whacky awaits.

In the last month alone I’ve seen columns of old women dancing in step to tinny music blaring from a boom box, an exploding construction site, a mother encouraging her child to defecate on a sidewalk in Shanghai’s swankest district, and a box of “Obama” brand erection pills for sale. I’ve been recruited by ladyboys to star in a striptease and by a restaurant owner to sing “Hotel California” in front of a packed house. To a foreigner in China, madness is the status quo.

True, living in a country with more than a billion people, where language and cultural differences can seem insurmountable, brings its fair share of frustrations. But the upside is that accomplishing basic things, especially when you first get here, can feel heroic. Just buying produce at a market can be immensely satisfying. You strut home with those fruits and vegetables.

And as this evening demonstrates, being a foreigner in China has a number of fringe benefits. Back home, I’m just another white guy. Here, I’m a White Guy. This distinction is not only conducive to getting free liquor and female companionship, but can result in job offers (from companies eager for foreign human capital), forgiveness for a wide range of outrageous behavior (owing to the fact that you may not understand Chinese customs), a general celebrity status (especially true as you get away from big cities), and other perks.

So why, then, given all the reasons why life in China is fantastic, did I recently have a Skype conversation with a friend in New York about sharing an apartment in the city? Why do I wistfully look at my family’s Facebook pictures? Why do I regularly peruse booking sites for a cheap flight home?

It’s because in many ways, I have digressed since moving to China. Before coming here I led a fairly adult life that consisted of such quotidian pastimes as driving a Subaru, birdwatching, gardening, and oenophilia.

In China, I don’t even know how to read. With the vocabulary of a toddler I gesture, grunt, and throw out the odd, poorly-pronounced word to get my point across. Half of the time in this country it’s all I can do to maintain bowel control.

While here I am Peter Pan, a perpetual child who runs around with the Lost Boys and has adventures. China, in other words, is my Neverland.

Of course, the longer I stay here, learn Mandarin, and become accustomed to Chinese culture, the less fantastical it all seems. But I’m more committed to gratification than assimilation, and given the already-tall order of deciphering this enormous, diverse, rapidly changing country, the madness could continue indefinitely.

It won’t, though, because I’m certain that at some point, I will leave. The only thing left to decide is when to officially call off the China Experiment.

This is easier said than done. Every time I think I can’t stand another moment in this overcrowded, polluted nation of spitting, smoking, and horn-blaring people I experience a breathtaking moment that could only happen here and which leaves me gasping for more. Going home would also mean a much higher cost of living and the renouncement of my privileged White Guy status. Furthermore, anytime I talk to people back home and describe my life here I’m reminded of just how rock and roll it is.

But like a rock star, there comes a point when the act becomes more pathetic than cool. I’m reminded of this as I sidle up to the bar to order a round of shots.

To my left sits a balding white guy wearing a cheap sport coat. He sloppily makes a pass at a young Chinese girl who smiles uncomfortably and retreats into the crowd. Undeterred, the man takes a swig of his beer, lights up a smoke, and tries his luck on the next girl to approach the bar, who similarly rebuffs him.

While it’s difficult say when, exactly, one goes from being a Lost Boy of China to a Dirty Old Man of China, it’s easy to tell the difference. One remains a child at heart. The other could very well support child prostitution.

Far be it for me to judge this man. It’s just not where I want to be at his age. By then, I will have resumed my days of car ownership, tending the vegetable patch, ornithology, and deriding shiraz.

After all, I didn’t come to China because I think a comfortable, bourgeois life is contemptible. I just wasn’t quite ready for it. My goal, in a nutshell, is to be able to tell some damned good stories at dinner parties when they’re once again part of my social life.

Like, for example, the time my buddies and I met a group of girls at a bar in Beijing, got into a punchup with their boyfriends, then, after being kicked out and moving to another spot, shared a drink with a Chinese businessman who invited us to a “sexy” karaoke bar and paid for everything, including…

Well, there are some things that probably shouldn’t be discussed at a dinner party.

 

Teddy Ruxpin. Does anybody remember him? If not, Teddy Ruxpin was an audio-animatronic toy bear into whose backside was built a cassette tape recorder that played stories with names like “Help Teddy and Grubby Find the Treasure of Grundo!” The whole process involved something called “differential pulse-position modulation,” which means Teddy Ruxpin’s mouth would move along with the “pulse” of the audio, creating the illusion Teddy was actually talking to you. This doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but remove the mediocre “Grundo” cassette and replace it with Mötley Crüe’s “Shout At The Devil” and you’re onto something. You’re onto animatronic blowjobs. And for a ten-year-old, this kind of mischief is the ne plus ultra of existence.

First of all, no self-respecting ten-year-old is going to be caught dead owning a Teddy Ruxpin. This is why younger brothers and sisters—neither of which I had or have—were so important. Larry, a friend of mine if only out of disgruntled, juvenile, sexually frustrated convenience, had a younger sister who had a Teddy Ruxpin and, once we had successfully locked her inside her closet, we’d run over and tear into her toy chest, rip out the “Beware of the Mudblups in the Land of Grundo” tape and rock out–quite literally–with our cocks out. Now, “Shout At The Devil” was a crucial soundtrack for three important reasons:

1.) “Shout At The Devil” kicks ass.

2.) If you squint just right at the album cover (see inset), the Crüe can be construed as hot babes, except of course for Mick Mars, who makes a solid case for the ugliest specimen in rock and roll.

and

3.) By throwing in that breakneck glam, Teddy’s mouth would move with extraordinary speed, prurient speed. Ideal blowjob speed.

Larry’s mother must have wondered where all her Pond’s cold cream went, because it became evident early on that Teddy Ruxpin’s unlubricated maw was too abrasive on our penises and the cold cream, applied liberally to the top and bottom of his trap, made the process exceedingly more pleasurable.

It was the summer of 1985, a year designated by the United Nations as “National Youth Year” and, unofficially, “The Year I Really Started To Experiment With The Possibilities of Places I Could Put My Penis.” The year of the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, whose exploits I followed with what my father referred to as “unhealthy enthusiasm.” Of astronaut Barbie (who, while exotic and cosmic, could not be fucked, we determined).

Larry and my crapulous affair(s) with Teddy Ruxpin came to an abrupt end when we decided it might be fun to stuff both our dicks inside Teddy Ruxpin’s mouth to the Crüe’s “Too Young To Fall in Love,” for whatever reason. The zeitgeist? Probably not. Our stiff, chubby little worms were too much for Teddy. The bear began to seize, Vince Neil’s vocals began to tremble and as it turned, no amount of Pond’s cold cream could provide a means of egress for our desperate little dongs. Teddy Ruxpin clamped down.

At first, this malfunction was cause for laughter. We scooted around Larry’s sister’s room, howling at the scenario taking place. After Larry’s sister punched her way through her closet and found us in flagrante, our howls took on a different timbre.

“Cathy, get out!”

“It’s my room, Larry! WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO TEDDY? MOOOOOOMMMMMAAA!”

Momma. What a terrible thing to hear. You hear of men in battle, the toughest bastards around, screaming for their Mommas. Momma. Oh, Momma. Oh this ends badly. Larry’s mother, who for some reason never recognized that for weeks her daughter would be regularly locked in the closet while her son and his best friend face-fucked a toy bear, would now find a horrific scene. Two boys with their penises stuck inside Teddy Ruxpin, pants at our ankles, as Cathy, who would have been around eight, yanked on Teddy from one end while we made every attempt to extricate our dicks from the bear. A real sordid tug-of war.

Ben Taub is the hospital you go to in Houston if you’ve been shot, stabbed, burned to an exothermic crisp or get your penis stuck in a talking bear. It’s a ghastly place. Larry’s mother drove both Larry and I to the Ben Taub emergency room, where, naked, we sat crying in our humiliating position, penises partially digested by Teddy Ruxpin, “Shout At The Devil” still roaring out of Teddy’s speakers. A man who appeared near death, covered in gore and waiting around to postpone his reward saw the two of us in the waiting room and spoke.

“The world is a sea of rats, isn’t it, boys?” he said, through thanatoid chortles. Larry and I looked at anything but this pestilent old street crazy; we weren’t prepared to acknowledge anything or anyone.

“A fucking sea of rats,” he repeated, fingering one particularly gruesome wound with grubby fingers.

Larry and I were eventually ushered into a foul-smelling room, attended to by a Dr. Kaplan. He asked us our names, the usual drill. We mumbled our names, through hoarse tears. Then he said this:

“You two probably think this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen don’t you?”

“I dunno.”

“I dunno.”

Dr. Kaplan applied something stronger than Pond’s cold cream and withouted us and our tormented members from Teddy Ruxpin. I wondered if he liked Mötley Crüe, if it bothered him–I wouldn’t have wanted to offend anybody’s sensibilities. He gave us hospital gowns and told us to wait, that we’d have to be checked over one more time, just to make sure no permanent damage had been done. Relief. I was relieved for a moment, until I decided to ask,

“Dr. Kaplan. Is this the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?” Dr. Kaplan seemed relieved to be asked.

“Thought you’d never ask!,” he said, continuing,” My first year as a resident, I saw a man who tried to cut his own head off with a chainsaw.” This didn’t seem much weirder, just bolder, permanent.

“Gross,” I said. Larry continued crying, sure he was going to “get in trouble.” Get in trouble? Larry, we’re in trouble, dude. It’s terrible, this kind of trouble. You go along just fine, skirting disaster until you don’t. Then what? Then tragedy. But just before it’s tragic, it’s not. We were so close to not being in this situation. Was something else at work? This is an argument for God. Not a benevolent God, just a God. You could argue everything is an argument for him/her/it.

“The weirdest part, though,” Dr. Kaplan went on,” he almost did it. But he didn’t. He lived.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Swear to God, he did. Do you want to know how they sewed his head back on?”

“Yeah.”

“They removed most of his anus and used that tissue to reconnect his neck and head. Talk about a butthead!” Dr. Kaplan laughed uproariously. We laughed nervously. What the hell just happened? Nix. What would happen? We would have to go home soon. What would my parents say? Was this something to be grounded for? This story would get out. Fifth grade was around the corner. I still hadn’t the slightest clue what to do with my penis. No hope, no salvation, existential hunger. Rotted, sweaty teeth. Parental love wears thin. This is the age one acquires enemies. This is when we are at our worst. This is a story, ammunition, a big powder keg, a cache of hellhounds. We didn’t want blood, but we got it. The story would get out.

But until now, it hasn’t.

Of course, how could one compete with the new kid, Davey Martell, a military brat transfer from California who took 5th grade center stage, charging 50 cents a head to people interested in watching him auto-fellate himself in the boy’s bathroom? One couldn’t. The worst part? He wasn’t even that flexible.

Sometimes the world is a sea of rats.



To read Part I, please click here

Jeremiah balanced himself against the doorframe, his head loose on his neck, swinging from side to side like a pendulum. He motioned for me with his hand. I staggered his way inadvertently colliding with him at the front door.

Gary approached, intervening. He bucked for us to stay put, to crash at his place for the night citing how much alcohol the two of us had consumed over the preceding six hours.

“There’s more than enough room,” he said.

“I’m fine,” Jeremiah replied, exhaling smoke through his nostrils. “I’ve only had two beers.”

“And how many shots, how much wine?” Gary rejoined, “You smell like a damn orchard.”

“Do you mean vineyard?” Jeremiah countered with a wry smile. It was the same smile he gave when he was kicking your ass in Madden. It was the oh-how-do-you-like-that-shit? smile.

Jeremiah reeked of booze. Fumes of beer, liquor, and wine mixed with the nicotine from his breath produced a yeasty, acerbic combination. The inherent problem in Jeremiah taking to the wheel intoxicated—other than the obvious: he was intoxicated—was not so much the absorption of beer and liquor into his veins. The problem was the wine. Jeremiah simply could not handle wine. Never could. It made him off-kilter, a bit askew in his perception of reality and his ability to function in said reality. It was sort of a running joke within our circle that Jeremiah left zigzagging from Sunday services after communion was given just from the sheer tart quality of the grape juice on his palette.

I was a cheap drunk and hence stuck with my preferred Friday night beverage of choice, Hurricane. Hurricane is a malt liquor with 8.10% ABV and part of the Anheuser-Busch family of beers. BeerAdvocate.com gives Hurricane a resounding grade of D+ with a further comment for beer drinkers the world over to “avoid.”

I find this rating a bit unfair, particularly from the perspective of a teenager in the 1990’s with limited income save for the greenbacks earned by way of cutting grass in the summer time and chopping wood in winter.

The Three Pros of Hurricane:

  1. Extremely economical: Spend less. Drink less. Get drunk quicker. Have leftovers for next week’s shindig.
  2. Extremely potent compared to popular American lagers: Once again, drink less, get drunk quicker. I didn’t drink for the taste. Not to mention, easily the biggest con of Hurricane was that, like OE800, it smells like bottled and capped skunk piss. Pop it open, turn it up, don’t think twice, it’s alright.
  3. Never lifted at parties: The fact of the matter is people do not see a black, orange, and green case of Hurricane in the refrigerator and rogue one. They think, “Who in God’s name brought that?” move the case to the side so as to retrieve a can from someone else’s stash thus leaving my alcohol to keep cold and ready when the time was right to crack open another.

The latter was ultimately the deciding factor from my teenage perspective. Hurricane, Black Label, and King Cobra were my Big Three in those days. The lineup rotated as to which one I drank on a designated weekend. Unlike most, if not all of my friends, I never found myself in one of those “where the fuck is my beer?” moments at parties. My beer was always on the bottom shelf, untouched, except by me.

The only time anyone ever even touched one of my malts was when Brandon Shepherd grabbed one, held it up to his mouth like a microphone, and began singing, “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions. Then, in the same motion, he passed out on the couch.

On days when the income was feeling a bit expendable and I was feeling grandiose and luxurious, I would step my game up and purchase a Mickey’s but those days were rare and few and far between. Not to mention, I loathed Natural Light for its redneck-specific designation on the drinking scene and avoided it at all costs, buying malt liquor instead. But I digress.

Other than Hurricane and a single can of Budweiser—whose slogan I unremittingly recited throughout the course of the night much to the protest of my cousin Gary—I downed a single mixed drink Gary had concocted.

Bleeding Liver

100 mL Vodka
15 oz. Fruit Punch Gatorade

Mix together. Shake very well. Add ice. Serve.



Gary in the middle, me on the right

Character Profile
Gary was my first cousin (standing in the middle in the picture to your left. That’s me on the right. My cousin Robbie on the left) and Jeremiah’s fellow classmate at Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte Court House, Virginia—Graduating class: 1997.

As a young child, the third Hyde of the family, Garland Hyde Hamlett III, to be exact, had this intense fascination with WWF and WCW action figures and collectibles. Each year when Christmas rolled around and Santa Claus slid his morbidly obese, cherry red ass down the clay brick chimney, he would place under Gary’s Christmas tree some new wrestling action figurine.

By the time my aunt Julie, uncle Butch, and cousin Tiffany arrived at our home in Phenix for breakfast on Christmas morning, Gary was itching like a dog with mange to pull out his plastic men and toss them into the roped ring he had been given the prior Christmas. In turn, the Steiner Brothers—Rick and Scott—would gang up on an aging yet still shirtless Rick Flair or involve themselves in an illusory confrontation with the tag team duo of the Road Warriors.

This background is important for at times this imaginary play world of wrestling was implemented in the real world and my skinny self doomed from the start no matter how much milk I drank or Spinach I ate. (Yes, I arduously bought into the Popeye philosophy that a helping of spinacia oleracea would sprout Sherman tanks on my biceps and in turn help me bring down my own real life Bluto, Gary.)

Gary was my elder by two years, might as well have been ten, and was much bigger than I was then and still so even today. He does not recall putting me through the torture I am about to describe to you the reader. When you are on the giving end (as Gary was), I imagine it is but a faint memory pushed to the back of your mind with no resounding quality—just an ordinary day in an ordinary week. On the receiving end (as I was), however, it becomes burnt into one’s memory as if a fiery orange cigarette cherry snubbed out on the backside of one’s hand.

When I visited my Granny and Papa Hamlett in Drakes Branch, Gary, as sneaky and vengeful as ever, somehow found a constant lure and always managed to trap me in our grandpa’s bedroom. My cries for help were quickly silenced by the threat of pain I was soon to endure being even more painful if I called out for aid. He was also pompous to the fact that unlike other kids his age he already had underarm hair—and a jungle of it at that. As consequence, he jerked me immediately and without delay into a headlock and buried my pre-pubescent face in his armpits.

“Smell it,” he would cry out, squeezing my neck tighter as if to pop my head off like a grape. “Smell it!”

I refused to smell it.

He squeezed my neck tighter.

There was sweat on my nose and cheekbones from his pits. Thick white chunks of deodorant on my lips tasted bitter. Underarm hair tickled my nose.

“I want you to smell it. I want to hear you sniff,” he growled.

Then my nostrils would flare in and out.

* Sniff, sniff *

Enduring these moments of agony, I knew that nothing could be done but appeal to the Lord above for strength in a prayer that one day all those gallons of milk I had poured into my belly since weaning from the teat would jumpstart a growth spurt in my body and all that spinach I consumed would swell my biceps like it had done Popeye before he liberated Olive Oil from the masculine and obstinate grips of Bluto’s hands.

Then I would have my revenge.

Unfortunately, this petition to the Big Man in the Sky has yet to be answered and unless I dial up BALCO or Mark McGwire and get my hands on some Human Growth Hormone, my thirst for retribution may never be quenched.

Or will it?

In a metonymic adage originating in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 play, Richelieu, Cardinal Richelieu says and I quote, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

And so with this axiom clearly portraying wit over might, the power of the written word over the physical headlock, I will thus write with my pen a very significant and hopefully embarrassing little known fact about my Blutonian cousin Gary’s musical tastes.

Gary owned and purposely bought and listened to albums by Shaq Diesel, also known as Shaquille O’Neal, The Big Aristotle, and/or Shaq Fu. If my memory serves me correctly, his favorite song was “(I Know I Got) Skillz.”

Quiz him on this.

From the actual song, begin rapping these lyrics:

Yo Jef, why don’t you give me a hoopa beat or something,
Something I can go to the park to.
Yeah, there you go, alright, I like that, I like that,
It sound dope.

Just give him a minute for the full effect to take hold, to possess his body. Then like an uncontrollable instinct or an Episcopalian speaking in tongues, Gary will begin tapping his right foot and spitting the rhyme with prepositions incorrectly ending the sentence and all:

Knick-knack Shaq-attack, give a dog a bone,
Rhymin is like hoopin’, I’m already a legend,
Back in the days in the Fush-camp section,
Used to kick rhymes like baby, baby, baby,
Every once, every twice, three times a lady,
Is what I listened to, riding with my moms,
How you like me now? I drop bombs,
When you see me, please tap my hands,
I know I got skills man, I know I got skills man…

If that does not work, if he refuses to acknowledge this reality in regards to his music selection, simply ask to see his record collection. Inside a dusty cardboard box, you are sure to find a copy of Shaq Diesel’s debut album, and to top it off, nearly every cassette ever put out by the Fat Boys. True, there is nothing really to laugh about here. The Fat Boys had rhymes so sweet they would knock anyone into a diabetic coma.

Back in the day, I liked the Fat Boys too, used to beat box with my mouth at Gary’s on Saturday mornings while my uncle Butch sucked down a raw egg for breakfast. The two of us would venture out underneath the attached garage and toss lyrical heat into the fire. I would morph into Kool Rock Ski and him into Prince Markie D:

(Prince Markie D): $3.99 for all you can eat?
Well, I’m-a stuff my face to a funky beat!
(Kool Rock Ski): We’re gonna walk inside, and guess what’s up:
Put some food in my plate and some Coke in my cup
(Prince Markie D): Give me some chicken, franks, and fries
And you can pass me a lettuce. I’m-a pass it by.

And then Gary would pause for a moment, do the Robot, position his feet on his Max Headroom skateboard, pop an Ollie, and run his fingers through his hair like a 1988 James Dean. Peanut would call from the neighboring yard, “Yes, t-t-t-t-tune into Network 23! The network is a *real* mind-blower!”

Or at least this is how I like to remember the past.

And that was Gary.



Now he stood before Jeremiah and me, interrogating the man with the keys in his hand. Jeremiah opened the screen door, flicked his cigarette, and reached into his oh so smooth black leather jacket to retrieve a fresh smoke.

“Just a glass or two,” Jeremiah said of how much wine he’d had.

Gary hmphed. “More than that.”

“I’m fine man. I’ll drive slow. We’ll hit the back roads to be on the safe side. I pay more attention after I’ve had a few in me anyway.”

“Well if you don’t think you can drive, feel free to turn back around. Like I said, you can crash here for the night. It’s fine by me. Plenty of blankets and places to sleep.”

“Let me take one last leak before we hit the road,” I said to Jeremiah, knowing he would appreciate my common decency. I tend to urinate frequently, a result of what I suppose relates back to my recurrent bouts with kidney stones as a child. Jeremiah knew this.



Once on a short road trip the two of us took, Jeremiah was forced to stop every twenty minutes in order for me to empty my beans. I marked my territory more than a stray dog that evening.

Behind dumpsters.

On trees.

At a laundry mat.

In a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle.

In a 20-ounce Coca-Cola bottle.



Years later, I would earn the nickname “PP” by Jay Taylor, a co-worker of mine in construction. We used to carpool together. He drove. I sat in the passenger seat and read Noam Chomsky books.

In the late 1980’s/early 90’s, Jay used to play drums in a heavy metal band named Uncle Screwtape and had long, stringy hair down to his ass and was skinny as a toothpick. In promotional photos of the band, Jay wears black leather pants secured tightly by white laces running up the leg. Presently, he sports a reluctant comb-over and carries a few doughnuts in the mid-section.

Uncle Screwtape opened for Ugly Kid Joe in Texas back when Ugly Kid Joe was cool which took place during a window between June and November of 1992. They were on their America’s Least Wanted tour. The bass player for Uncle Screwtape named the band. As Uncle Screwtape’s star was on the rise, the bass player quit to enroll in college. He wanted to be an English teacher. Uncle Screwtape is a reference to a C.S. Lewis novel in which the demon uncle, Screwtape, writes a series of letters to his nephew in efforts to convince his nephew to help bring damnation to a man known as “The Patient.”

Jay used to get annoyed by how much I made him stop so that I could take a leak. We stopped at nearly every store we came upon on our way home from Buggs Island to Phenix.

I hated using a store’s bathroom without buying anything. I felt it was rude so I made a point to always buy an item. I loved Peppermint Patties so I bought one at each of my stops. I didn’t think anything of it, the abbreviation and all. The irony. Jay picked up on it.

“PP,” Jay said. “I think I’m going to call you ‘PP’ from here on out.”

“I hope the gods curse you with kidney stones one day so you’ll see what it feels like. Or an enlarged prostate.”

They never did. But they did curse him with the most awful foot fungus I have ever seen in my life during the summer of 2003. He had to change socks once every hour while at work. Doctor recommended. His feet looked gangrenous. Seriously. And they stunk like a rotting carcass.



It was cold that day and rainy, the evening Jeremiah and I were returning from our road trip down I-81.

“I’m not stopping again,” he said to me as I got back into the car. I had just pissed on a yellow brick wall at a laundry mat on the outskirts of Radford.

Twenty minutes later.

“Hey man, I know you said you weren’t stopping again but I really have to go. I might very well piss myself. I’ve been holding it for ten minutes now and my bladder is about to rupture. I’m pretty sure this isn’t healthy.”

“You’ve been holding it for ten minutes?” he questioned. “We just stopped ten minutes ago. Didn’t you piss?”

“I did. It was wonderful.”

“Then why do you have to go again?”

“I don’t know but I swear I do. I think it has something to do with the rain. Rain. Urine. Both are liquids. And your car idles rather fast. I think it is shaking my kidneys. I know Josh Holt had a similar problem once riding in my mom’s Corolla. It idled badly.”

“You’re not going to piss yourself,” Jeremiah responded matter-of-factly.

“I’m not so sure about that. This may be genetic. My mom gets the dribbles.”

“The dribbles?”

“The dribbles. She can’t do jumping jacks.”



I walked down the narrow hallway and into Gary’s bathroom. A Playboy magazine lay open in a wicker basket to the left of the toilet. An exposed woman stared back at me. She was on all fours stark nude. The sheets were red. Satin sheets I suppose. Rose petals were strewn across the sheets. You know, the way most naked women wait for you.

On all fours.

Stark nude.

Ass in the air.

On red, satin sheets with roses strewn across.

“You are not getting laid tonight,” she reminded me. I thanked her for her kindness and honesty. I wondered what her dad thought. I thought about how I was a hypocrite for enjoying seeing her looking this way, naked, and how I’d never in a million years let my daughter shed clothes for money whenever I had a daughter one day.

I thought about how it wouldn’t be up to me to “let” her do anything. I would have to hope I raised her properly so that she wouldn’t strip nude for money. Then I thought about how I had paid someone to strip nude for money before. She was a friend of mine. She said she’d get naked for gas money. I had gas money.

I was 16. She was 20.

I thought about how I was thinking too much. I thought about how drinking a lot always made me think too much when I already thought too much as it was.

I focused my attention away from the girl in the magazine.

The tank lid was open, pushed off to the side. The ballcock and float were visible. The water was running and the sound sensitive to my ears. I jiggled the handle.

“Don’t be the phantom shitter,” Gary called from the front.

I pissed the most glorious piss I had ever pissed in my existence all the while my stomach flipped, sat upright, turned. Through the pangs, I determined my stomach was essentially eating itself.

Hunger had taken over and the Wu Tang album wasn’t helping the cause. The martial arts samples dubbed into the mix began to remind me of sweet & sour chicken and orange chicken and fried rice with little chunks of egg and…

When I entered back into the kitchen, I grabbed a slice of white bread in my fist and crammed it down my gullet in a matter of seconds. I proceeded to the front door.

Jeremiah turned the handle and we made our exit.

Curtains for the night.

We each walked out with a beer in our hands. Gary stood at the door shaking his head as we made our way down the front steps.

“This is the famous Budweiser beer—” I began.

“Jeez,” Gary interrupted, “Drive safe. And make that moron shut up.”

I opened the passenger’s side door of Jeremiah’s black Thunderbird and slid in. Jeremiah buckled his seatbelt, as did I.

“We are really going down the back roads, right?” I asked Jeremiah.

“Definitely. Not trying to roll into a road check this time of night. Lawson can. Kiss. My. Ass.”

“Country Road?”

“Country Road.”

“I’d say that’s a good call, our safest route.”

“And I would second that notion. You ready? Buckled up?”

“Yep. Ready to roll.”

I had ridden with Jeremiah numerous times when neither he nor I were sober so I trusted him behind the wheel. (Trusted him with my life you could say) The reasoning on my behalf had more to do with the fact that when you are wasted beyond belief anyone’s driving looks pretty good as long as you get to your destination in one piece. It was a youthful decision on both our accounts. Not very wise no matter how you slice it. “Young and dumb” isn’t a popular phrase without reason, and when you are that age, you believe yourself as well as your friends are invincible.

We knew no krypton, could not be taken down with an arrow in our Achilles heel. To boot, hardly anyone traveled down Country Road, particularly at this time of the night.

I pulled out my pack of Marlboros and lit one. Jeremiah followed, asking for a light. I lit it while he edged his way from Gary’s driveway. The outside light on Gary’s front porch turned off.

“And you’re sure you’re okay to drive?” I asked just to double-check.

I was beginning to wonder if this time maybe Jeremiah had had a little too much to drink. His body swayed as if he was without a spine or bones. Under the surface, a sense of worry had presented itself to me.

“Oh yeah, I’m good,” he answered matter-of-factly.

About a mile up the road, Jeremiah hit his left turn signal.

“We’re turning right,” I told him.

Jeremiah hit his right turn signal. “I knew that.”

Country Road was now in sight. The car inched its way closer to the turn. The two of us were laughing it up, babbling about what the night had done to us.

“I’ll tell you, that wine did a number on me this time,” Jeremiah said, his beady eyes glassy.

“That wine does a number on you every time. Did you drink one of those Bleeding Livers Gary mixed up? I think it sent me overboard into the deep. Not a good mix with Hurricane. I feel sick as shit.”

“Nah. Only some shots, some wine, and a few baa-rewskies. If I added anything else, I’d be spewing for sure and you’d be driving.”

“We wouldn’t be driving. We’d be sitting. I’m definitely not in the shape to drive.”

“True. I don’t see how you drink that malt liquor week in and week out. Shit.”

“Cheap buzz.”

Snoop Dogg interjected on the stereo, singing. Jeremiah turned up the volume and veered toward the turn.

The only problem with this was that we had not actually made it to the turn quite yet. We still had a ways to go, roughly one-hundred yards or so; and granted, though we were not flying down the highway by any means, we also were not giving the turtle a run for his money on who was the slowest specimen on the roadside this time of night.

Jeremiah looked in my direction still talking, a grin etched on his face. The cigarette hung out of his mouth and the smoke danced off the end toward the ceiling of the car.

We were driving through the gravel parking lot of a closed convenience store.

And I was fully aware we were driving through the gravel parking lot of a closed convenience store.

For some reason, what reason I couldn’t tell you then, couldn’t tell you now, I thought maybe Jeremiah had decided to stop and get a drink, get a little sugar in his system to caffeinate him properly for the thirty minute drive we were making toward home in Phenix.

That’s what I told myself at least.

As a hypoglycemic in my own right, I tend to keep a stash of foods pertinent to the glycemic index close by to hold me over when my blood sugar begins to plummet.

In an article by Charles Q. Choi, “Why Time Seems to Slow Down in Emergencies,” researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, discovered that an individual’s memory plays a certain kind of mind game and tricks us in emergency situations. The amygdala, an almond-shaped mass of gray matter, one in each hemisphere of the brain, is associated with feelings of fear and aggression and is important for visual learning and memory. When one’s nerves tense up and the sense of danger near, the amygdala lays down an additional deposit of memories that go along with the memories typically taken care of by other parts of the brain.

Therefore, individuals tend to remember emergencies much more keenly than normal circumstances. Our senses become, in a way, pronounced and our attention level expands and takes in the scenery and sounds and smells of the moment, among other things. I bring this up because when Jeremiah hit the turn signal and began trekking through the gravel parking lot of the store, reality is this: it happened instantaneously and within a matter of seconds.

I was fully conscious of the situation. It was as if time stood still, the pendulum paused in mid-air, and everything was taking place in slow motion; that Jeremiah had a beer still in between his legs just as I did should have hinted something out to me that perhaps, just perhaps, Jeremiah was not thirsty and not stopping for a Coca-Cola.

Having sensed what I sensed, I created a reasonable explanation to make sense of those senses and did not say anything to Jeremiah at first.

Jeremiah was laughing and so was I. I figured, screw it. He was in control. He has done this a million times before and I have been the passenger of those million times myself and we had always been okay, always gotten where we were going in one piece.

False alarm, I told my amygdala.

You’re totally overreacting Amy so calm the hell down.

Now I know, just as any resident of Charlotte County knows, that our African shaped county in south-central Virginia is pretty dag gone country. Some kids across the United States like to claim that their hometown or home county is small.

“All we have is a Wal-Mart and a KFC,” they say.

Well, that’s nothing.

There is not a single stoplight—not one—in all of Charlotte County.

And Wal-Mart?

Well, if you want to hit up Wally World and support sweatshop labor and American jobs being sent overseas by the thousands all for the sake of a low price, Wal-Mart is a good 45-minute-to-an-hour drive away depending on where you live in the county.

The truth of the matter is that the road we were supposed to take, even if it is called Country Road (quite literally), is paved; and the path we were currently traveling down was nothing but gray dust and rocks.

It wasn’t even a road.

It was the near half-acre parking lot of a store that closed at 8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Like I said, this all happened in a matter of seconds; and ten years ago the Baylor College of Medicine did not even exist to me nor did their study of “Why Time Seems to Slow Down in Emergencies.”

I could have given them that answer and saved some taxpayers’ money.

Conclusion: Time appears to slow down because your senses freak and your adrenaline begins to pump and you’re alert to the belief that you’re going to die and that you never accomplished anything in life and when my mom cleans out my room and starts to cry because I’m no longer here, she’s going to discover my porn stash and she’s going to think I’m a pervert but I’m not going to be able to explain to her that it’s completely natural for someone my age to be looking at porn; at least I’m not a Trekky I would say to her, at least I didn’t waste my life collecting stamps though I did collect matchbooks once and I’m really sorry about almost catching the house on fire. I could have told Baylor College that much.

But right now God had his finger on the pause button and I got to thinking, got to convincing myself that Jeremiah had taken a mini shortcut and was simply going to cut back through on to Country Road when we got to the end of the store parking lot.

We’ll get home one-hundred yards quicker, I told Amy Amygdala, so quit your stinking pestering. I got this. Jeremiah’s got this.

Then Ms. Amy Amygdala wagged her invisible index finger at me.

Should have listened to me, she said. I was trying to tell you something, trying to warn you. Now it’s too late.

Jeremiah wasn’t slowing down. It became very apparent to me and Amy Amygdala who kept saying, I told you so, I told you so, that Jeremiah had made a rather grave error. He thought we had already made it to the right turn on to Country Road and had no idea that this was not a road but a gravel parking lot.

Fuck. I’m going to die.

Stones bounced underneath the black Thunderbird, clanging against the oil pan. A cloud of dust trailed behind our car like the last scene in Thelma and Louise when the helicopter zooms overhead and the car jolts airily into the pit of the Grand Canyon, a photograph of the two friends turning and turning and falling like a feather from the sky.

Click to view Thelma and Louise – Ending Scene

[with a ditch line in front of them and cops behind them]
Thelma Dickerson: OK, then listen; let’s not get caught.
Louise Sawyer: What’re you talkin’ about?
Thelma Dickerson: Let’s keep goin’!
Louise Sawyer: What d’you mean?
Thelma Dickerson: …Go.
Thelma Dickerson: [Thelma nods ahead of them]
Louise Sawyer: You sure?
Thelma Dickerson: Yeah.

I reached for my seatbelt to double check it was securely fastened. The radio was blaring, the cigarette smoke dancing, and Jeremiah was singing:

Hey, now ya’ know
Inhale, exhale with my flow
One for the money, two for the…

And then I noticed a huge ditch line at the back of the parking lot that casually adjoined an embankment. I thought to myself, Oh shit!

I looked at Jeremiah and to let him know that we were about to go jetting through a ditch line at fifty-miles-per-hour, I said, “Jeremiah.”

Yes, I know. Something more immediate should have spilt from my lips. It probably was not the best first thing to say in order to aware someone that you are about to be involved in a car accident, but God had pressed the play button and we were no longer on pause. Time was moving at its normal pace. And then in fast forward. And “Jeremiah” was about all I had time to blurt out.

Jeremiah looked at me and said, “Wh—” and at that very moment before he got the “-at” out to end his reply, I think he honest-to-goodness realized he had put the turn signal on prematurely.

SLAM!

WHOP!

CRASH!

Just like the colorful callouts in the original Batman episodes with Adam West.

We collided with the ditch. The airbags deployed. We smashed into the hill that adjoined the stacked mound of grass and dirt. Hubcaps retreated. Our car crippled, we flung our metal carriage through the last ditch and then managed to land back on the road, Country Road, the same road we were supposed to be driving down in the first place.

“Are you okay, man? Are you okay,” I said to Jeremiah in panic.

A cloud of powder from the airbags circulated throughout the car. On the driver’s side floorboard a cigarette glowed orange.

My left arm had slammed against the windshield and slightly cut open my left elbow and scraped my forearm. My scar from the Gilliam shed window I had broken out as a kid began to bleed and a small amount of blood trickled down toward my wrist. The car was the scene of what looked to be a baby powder fight. The powder from the airbags was suffocating.

I was coughing.

Jeremiah was coughing.

And Snoop Dogg was singing, “It Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None).”

The airbags had chalked up both of our faces. If I had to throw out a combination of words as to what Jeremiah and I looked like when Jeremiah hit the interior light then I would have to say—and this is because of the airbag powder on our faces I may add—that we looked like drag queen circus clowns with a bad coke habit and a bad aim at putting the coke up our nostrils.

I felt like I should be panning for change outside of a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus act come to town. I felt like Jeremiah ought to be right beside me juggling with a monkey resting atop his shoulder—a white-fronted Capuchin monkey named Larry with an asparagus stalk dangling from his bottom lip. I’m sure some animal rights protester would object; but Jeremiah and I would tell them that Larry loves our traveling circus act; and then, without notice, Larry would poo in his hand and throw it at the protester and giggle…

The two of us stepped out of Jeremiah’s black Thunderbird, dazed. Jeremiah looked at me and said, apparently gazing in the direction of an imaginary car and not the one that stood before us, “You think we can make it home alright still?”

I thought airbag powder must have been clogging my ears.

The black Thunderbird, once a fierce machine on the Charlotte County highway, its-terrifying-to-spectators pink racing stripe down the side, though it had now been in a wreck, still had a believer in its capabilities. His name was Jeremiah and he had lost his damn mind.

Or at least banged his head against the steering wheel when we hit the ditch to jar his intellectual capabilities.

I cannot remember my exact words but I believe they were somewhere along the line of, “I think we should probably go back to Gary’s and call someone,” which was immediately followed by a sense of panic that the cops were going to come, tow Jeremiah’s car, and arrest Jeremiah for drinking and driving, reckless endangerment, and me for underage drinking.

The wreck had miraculously sobered me—at least mentally. I could have passed an Algebra II test at that moment and it took me three years in high school to pass an Algebra II test.

Then Jeremiah replies with something else I will never forget: “Nah, I’m good. I can make it home if we just go slow.”

It was a common reply on a trashy talk show like Ricki Lake or Jerry Springer for a guest to come back with, “Oh no you didn’t” and that is exactly what went through my head as if on cue from the producer of one of these trashy talk shows.

Jeremiah tried to plead his case. He tried to tell me that he was okay to drive and his car fine but my mind was made up. Driving back home was no longer a good idea, not an option for this passenger.

Jeremiah looked at the car, looked at me, breathed in the last of his cigarette, exhaled the smoke, and then flicked the butt into the road.

“You’re right. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea. Let’s go back to Gary’s.”

So, the two of us got back into the Thunderbird, buckled our seatbelts, and putted and bounced and hopped our way back to my cousin Gary’s house. It was like riding in a horse and carriage on a road made of seashells. My window was down and I could hear the hubcap on the passenger side attempting to fall off into the road and roll away into the tree line.

Please don’t let a cop pass us. Please don’t let a cop pass us.

My dad is going to kick my ass. My dad is going to kick my ass.

When we arrived at Gary’s minutes later, I called my sister, Jennifer, at my parent’s house. She was in from college for the weekend and most likely asleep and in bed. It was 2:45 AM, after all.

Naturally, since I prayed with all my heart for my sister to pick up the telephone and not my mom, my mom indeed answered the phone.

My mom sounded alert as ever.

She has a freakish ability to do this, no matter the time. Honestly, it is weird. She never sounds groggy and she was definitely asleep when the phone rang and probably had been since 8:00 PM.

I asked my mom to give my sister the phone because I needed to talk to her. I didn’t tell my sister what had happened—the wreck and all. I just made it clear that Jeremiah and I needed a ride home. My sister came and picked both of us up. The next day, Jeremiah had his car towed from Gary’s place. Granted, it isn’t until now that I ever considered what Gary must have thought when he woke up and looked out of his window, only to see Jeremiah’s car busted to pieces and us nowhere in sight.

I believe Jeremiah’s dad, Johnnie, was onto our “someone ran us out of the road” story, as was my dad; but I am not sure still to this day that Jeremiah’s mom, Maryann, or my mom, have the faintest idea of what happened that night. I would like to think Maryann figured it out eventually, but my mom has not a clue of the truth, nor will she ever because even if I let her read this one day, this part will be edited from her copy.

Censored.

Absentis.



A few days passed. Jeremiah’s car sat in the shop being looked over by a local grease monkey in Charlotte Court House. Upon final inspection, the garage gave Jeremiah’s residence a ring on the telephone to give the full report of the damage done. (Let us keep in mind again that night Jeremiah still wanted to drive home after the wreck)

What was the damage?

Two broken axles and the car was completely totaled.

The mechanic told Johnnie the car was caput and he would haul it to the junkyard for him. Johnnie asked to have the car towed back to their house first.

When the wrecker brought Jeremiah’s car back to his house a few days later, I met Jeremiah in his front yard. We inspected the black Thunderbird and attempted to take in fully all of what we saw: our invincibility tested, our lives salvaged.

The rims on the wheels were busted. Two wheels were sunken. Because of the broken axles and two flat tires, the car drooped to one side, slouched as if an elderly man with bad posture or scoliosis. That or somebody born with a short leg. I knew a kid like that once. The front windshield was a spider web of cracks (which is why, when driving back to Gary’s, Jeremiah navigated the road by poking his head out of the driver’s side window).

The two of us peered inside the car for a closer look. The black seats were covered in a haze of white powder from the airbags, which lay deflated over the steering wheel and in the passenger’s seat. The furious Ford appeared as if it had been used in the Battle of Kursk, July 1943.

The Red Army victorious!

In the distance of Belgorod smoked a faithful battering ram with a badge of honor now headed to an aluminum and alloy grave.

“I’m glad you told me not to drive home,” Jeremiah said, his eyes still fixed on the black Thunderbird.

“Yeah, me too. Say, why did your dad have the car towed back here?”

“I think he wants me to take it all in. My piss poor decision. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t buy the story.”

“My dad either.”


[This story is broken up into two parts. Part II will appear nearing January’s end. A couple of names were changed to conceal identities.]

An unclad young woman stared at me from across the room. A straight line ran from her pointed breasts to my line of vision. I took a sip from my beer. Topless, unabashed, she positioned herself against the wall in a rather somber pose, half sobering considering the atmosphere. I took a drag from my cigarette, another sip from my beer. I wiped the froth from my lip. She had yet to blink, kept looking in my direction. Some specimen she was, I thought silently.

I exhaled a cloud of smoke and it hung heavy overhead like empty time. I walked her way. As I approached, she titled forward falling. I caught her, stood her back on the wall, and secured the loose piece of scotch tape that kept her shoulders square, her posture in perfect alignment.

Her name was Amanda. She was a sucker for the shy type. She was a late bloomer, she said.

She straddled a Harley Davidson motorcycle and wore a pair of black leather assless chaps. Amanda was one of various nude women, which served as wallpaper in my cousin Gary’s home.

He was a bachelor.

He drank whiskey.

He wore a leather beret.

He listened to Willie Nelson.

He once traded hats with Willie Nelson after a Willie Nelson concert.

They didn’t smoke marijuana together afterward.


It was getting late. The wee hours of the night tugged at my eyelids. My nostrils widened. Blood shot and dry, irritated by the cigarette smoke lingering in the air, my burning eyes did their best to water. I brought my hand to my mouth and let out a deep yawn. Jeremiah looked my way. His eyes closed. His nostrils widened. His mouth opened and springing from the pit of his stomach a deep yawn arose.

“I guess…. it’s like…. they say—” I said to him, finishing my yawn.

“Contagious is right,” he responded.

I dropped my hands to my side.

Wu Tang entered the speakers. The RZA, the GZA, Raekwon, and the rest of the Clan verbally assaulted us spitting more heat than a woodstove in winter….

You can’t party your life away
Drink your life away
Smoke your life away…

One by one, drunken teenagers and young twenty-somethings saturated in wildly wandering hormonal distress stood in a single file line down the hallway guzzling cheap American beer. With all their shouting, grunting, and vocal might they attempted to revive the once vibrant game of Waterfall that had so consumed them an hour earlier.

Their calls were moot at this conjecture in the night. Cal Adams stood tipsy on the tips of his toes, chugging a beer.

One cold can after the next, participants dropped like flies—beer foam all the while dripping from their lips and chins, giving them the impression of rabid raccoons rocking steady to the beat across the room.

I looked in Jeremiah’s direction and noticed him wobbling. His head bobbed from side to side. His hips swayed. His bones danced a jiggly, gelatinous dance. His body swayed like a drunken vessel….

He belched.

He opened the front door. We both trailed out, lit our respective cigarettes, and surveyed the scene.

Numerous friends of ours lay before us in Gary’s front yard. Some were curled up in the fetal position. Others were slumped over the rail on the stoop blowing chunks of Natty Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon from their jowls.

In spit-filled slurs slung sideways, they promised empty promises: “I’ll never drink this much again,” only to drink that much and more the following Friday down in the boonies of southern Virginia.

Phenix.

Drakes Branch.

Red Oak.

Red House.

Aspen.

Keysville.

Charlotte Court House.

We all were born and raised in a county without a single stoplight. We celebrated our boredom the same way every weekend. We had no music venues. We had no bars. No clubs. No movie theater save the drive-in.

We celebrated our existence, our invincibility at Gary’s on Scott Rd.

“This is the famous Budweiser beer,” I said flicking my cigarette, walking back into the house. “We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive beechwood aging produces a taste, smoothness, and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.”

“Get this bumbling idiot some water,” Gary said.

“Who me?”

“Yes, you. And tell your buddy, what’s his name—” He pointed in the direction of my friend Derek who was passed out on the couch with a cigarette still in his mouth. It had burned its way down to the filter.

“Derek?”

“Yes, Derek. Derek Smith. Tell him not to come over to my house again unless he’s wearing a shirt. Do I need to post a sign on my front door that reads, ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service;’ huh, do I?”


Derek rarely wore a shirt anywhere. He wasn’t some macho asshole. He just didn’t like to wear a shirt. Half the time he didn’t wear pants. That night at Gary’s he had on pants: camouflage cargo pants. Derek had signed up for the National Guard. He was due to leave for boot camp in a few weeks.

Derek used to sit in the parking lot at B&D Mart in our hometown of Phenix, Virginia, in the broad daylight in his tighty-whitey boxer-briefs with a Camel unfiltered hanging off his bottom lip, shaving his face with the Norelco electric razor his parents had given him. He shaved his face everyday with that razor. He kept it charged in the A/C adapter, this all despite having minimal facial hair at the time. The type of facial hair you have when you’re in high-school.

Unless you were Dwayne Davis.

Or Jimmy Lovelace. Also known as Paco. Or Mustapha. Whether he looked Mexican or Arab depended on the season.

If it was summer or fall, Jimmy looked Arab. If it was winter or spring then Mexican.


Jimmy got the nickname Paco when the two of us enrolled in summer school after 9th grade. We both had flunked Algebra II.

There was a kid named Deron that used to always ask him for lunch money. He hassled Jimmy a lot. Gave him a lot of shit.

Then one day Deron walks up to Jimmy, sort of nudges him. They were serving tacos that day.

“Yo Paco. Let me hold a dollar. I need a Taco, Paco.”

It’s been fifteen years. I still call Jimmy, Paco. He passed Algebra II that summer. I didn’t. I took it once again in 10th grade. Third time’s a charm.

The year before, we pleaded with Jimmy for nearly an entire semester in 8th grade to shave the Superman logo in his chest hair.

“My mom would kill me.”

“How the fuck is your mom going to know,” I asked him. I was pissed. Jimmy used to do anything I’d tell him like bark for a piece of chewing gum in 7th grade. Now he protested.

“Bark for a piece of gum and I’ll give you a piece. It’s Teaberry. Teaberry is fucking awesome,” I said chewing. “Man, this is some good ass gum.”

“I’m not barking for a piece of gum,” Jimmy whispered back. Our teacher had her back to us.

“Guess you won’t be getting any gum then. By the way, your breath smells like dog shit. Did you eat a turd for lunch?”

A few minutes passed. I had swallowed my gum by that point. I used to always swallow my gum despite my mom telling me it would take seven years to come out the other end.

That was bullshit. I remember seeing chewing gum in my shit when I was six years old.

“Ruff!”

“What was that,” Mrs. Clark said.

When Jimmy barked, I had switched over to Sugar Babies and had crammed my mouth with a handful of the caramel and chocolate treats developed in 1935 by the James O. Welch Co.

I began choking on my own saliva.

The saliva was thick and sugary.

It tickled my throat.

“Who just barked,” Mrs. Clark demanded.

I started to laugh. My eyes watered. I had too many Sugar Babies in my mouth.

Jimmy was shaking with laughter. I was shaking with laughter.

Old, fat women in bikinis, I thought to myself. I was trying to think of something not funny. It wasn’t working. I could hear Jimmy barking over and over in my head.

I started to cough. I thought my eyes were going to burst out my head.

Then I threw up on my desk. It looked like cat shit, kind of. I thought Jimmy was going to throw up too. Jimmy used to always throw up when other people threw up. I used to always throw up when other people threw up too. I remember once in 1st grade when Larry Wade poured milk over his tuna ball that sat on top a piece of lettuce in his lunch tray. Someone had dared Larry an orange push-up he wouldn’t eat the milk, lettuce, and tuna mixture.

Larry did.

This overweight kid I used to call Skipper threw up watching Larry eat. He called me Little Buddy. His mom worked at a chocolate factory. Every Valentine’s Day she would come to our class for Show and Tell. The Skipper’s real name was Chad.

When Chad threw up, I threw up. Then other kids started throwing up all the way down the table. My cousin Brandon threw up. He was in the middle of an argument telling all the other kids that Santa Claus didn’t exist when he stopped to throw up. He had a rat-tail. So did Erik Ragsdale. I’m not sure if Erik threw up.


Jimmy’s mom knew everything her children did. He was terrified to go against her or do anything he thought would upset her in the slightest. His older sister would later become pregnant out-of-wedlock, carry the baby the entire length of the pregnancy having never been to the doctor for a single check-up, and go into labor one day at the high school. She was a teacher.

She had graduated college, had a salary job, and was still terrified of her mother.

Jimmy would later tell me about the situation. He prefaced it by saying, “Man you aren’t going to believe this shit.” The conversation went sort of like this.

JIMMY: By the time I get off work, get to my locker, and check my phone I have like ten missed calls from my mom. One missed call after the next. One new voicemail.

“Jimmy,” my mom said. “Please call me when you get this. Call me as soon as you get this.”

She was extremely upset.

Crying. Fucking delirious sounding, man.

Naturally, I’m thinking someone has died. Somebody has definitely died. I start to panic a little. I’m almost scared to call her back. What if something happened to my dad or sister? I’m a little fidgety, antsy about returning the call. I’m going to do it. I just need to calm down first. I light a cigarette. I’m shaking. I’m hot-boxing that bitch. Then my phone rings. I look down at caller ID. It’s my mom.

She’s sucking back snot.

“What’s the matter I ask her? Mom, what’s the matter?”

“Melissa had a baby,” she says.

(Jimmy pauses, looks at me, eyes big as saucers, and laughs)

ME: Yeah man, that shit came through the grapevine. I heard about it all the way in Charlottesville. I didn’t even know she was pregnant.

JIMMY: Neither did I.

ME: What did you say?

JIMMY: The first thing that came to mind: “Are you fucking kidding me?”

That triggers my mom to bawl more.

“When the hell did she get pregnant,” I asked her.

I was floored. Dude I was fucking floored. My sister had a baby. Do you believe that shit? She was fucking pregnant for nine months and never told anybody. I mean shit. How do you pull that shit off? Thing is, you couldn’t even tell she was pregnant. You know my sister. She doesn’t exactly win the gold medal for most physically fit but still—pregnant? Nine months? Had a baby? Fuck!

(laughs)

Suddenly me dating a black chick isn’t the worst thing in the world for my parents.

(laughs)

ME: How’s that situation going?

JIMMY: Same ole, same ole. Don’t come home unless you’re single or got a white girl on your arm.

(He pulls on a cigarette)

ME: Your folks need to be more understanding. Do they realize you don’t even look white? You look like you’re from the United Arab Emirates. And you’re balding prematurely.

JIMMMY: Hey, fuck you.


Finally, the owner of B&D confronted Derek about his lack of outerwear. He was shirtless and had on no pants. He wore army boots and white boxer briefs. He had been polishing his boots since we got off from school.

He was standing at the Coca-Cola machine, trying to straighten a dollar bill on the side of the machine. I sat at the picnic table with some other friends: Rick, Ricky, and Brian.

Brian had a stuttering problem. If we were all having a down day, we used to get Brian to sing “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive for kicks.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Here’s something that you never gonna forget
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet

Brenda, the co-owner of B&D Mart (the “B” stood for “Brenda”), knocked hard with her knuckles against the drive-up window that was duct-taped shut. Derek looked her way. I looked her way. She had a mean snarl on her face and pointed at Derek.

“You stay right there,” she said. You couldn’t hear her but you could read her lips. She was fuming. Then she proceeded out the front door and began berating Derek.

She finished, turned around, walked back inside. She stood at the window looking outside at us.

Derek looked at me and said, “Shit. What’s her problem?”

“You don’t have on pants,” I said.


Gary turned his attention back to the fizzled out game of Waterfall. Then Jeremiah stumbled back into the picture, wobbling across the carpet like a pregnant woman, her water about to burst.

He squinted.

“Are you alright,” I asked Jeremiah.

No response.

He narrowed his eyes even more trying to fix his pupils on one of the three of me he saw. Assuming he was staring into the image of me located in the middle of the other two blurred images of my form, he asked if I was ready to leave.

“Are you ready to leave,” he asked.

I was.


To read Part II, please click here

I have been accused of being too cerebral. Once. Or perhaps twice. And to prove that this is simply not true at all, I would like to share a brief, somewhat scatological, story of my girlhood, excerpted from my memoir, FallingThrough the Earth, which was chosen as one of the Best 10 Books of the Year by The New York Times.


From Falling Through the Earth:

ONE SATURDAY THAT SUMMER, Serenity decided to stay the night. She brought a duffle bag full of clothes and a plastic jug of orange juice mixed with Smirnoff vodka.

“Here,” Serenity said, holding forth two tabs of acid, wrapped in the plastic of a cigarette package. The squares were white, with pink mushrooms printed over their surface. She lifted one tab by its edge. I stuck out my tongue and took it.

Earlier that afternoon, after school, we had worked the lock on the gun cabinet and took two crisp twenties, to pay for the acid. I had only taken gun-cabinet money once before, the previous winter, to buy a new ski jacket. I had taken four twenties that time. When Mom saw my coat, and asked where I’d gotten it, I told her Dad had bought it for me. She looked it over, saw that it was expensive, and said, “Columbia? Your dad must have been feeling generous.”

The guy who sold us the acid said that Vitamin C would enhance our trip, and even though we suspected that this was just an urban legend, we’d been drinking orange juice all afternoon, in preparation. We took turns swigging as we walked to the bus stop.

Although most people were averse to it, Serenity and I liked the bus. The plexi-glass shelters promised freedom to the car-less kids of town. We would buy monthly passes and shuttle from one end of town to the other, riding until after midnight.

The bus rumbled up, flipped open its doors and, swallowed us into its cold, chemical air.Sometimes, when I was alone, I took a seat next to a greasy haired psycho-killer in ripped polyester pants. I would strike up a conversation, flirting with death. The bus would drop me into the space odyssey of the icicle night. I wandered the holocaust streets, dodging wind-whipped newspapers. I would find myself alone in strange parts of town, a girl who liked to be lost.

The bus dropped us downtown, at Riverside Park, a narrow strip of trees and benches skirting the Mississippi River. All of Tony Dimantilo’s friends hung out there, mostly because the park was zoned for ‘roller skating and other sporting activities,’ and the police had to leave skateboarders (and the girls who hung out watching skateboarders) alone. Serenity and I went there after school and on weekends. With nobody keeping track, I went wherever I wanted. Nobody noticed my grades, my drinking, that I spent most of my Saturdays in detention. I did whatever I chose.

Down by the water’s edge, there was a pack of punk girls.

Punk201


I’d known these girls for the past few years, since Tony introduced me to his crowd. One of the girls said, “Yo Dani! What’s up? Looking for Tony?”

“None of your beeswax,” I said, pulling Serenity by the elbow to a park bench, next to the river. We sat down just as the world began to drain away. Serenity’s face jittered before me, all electric skips. The Mississippi river was roiling, boiling lava. If I turned around, the park leapt into a burst of firework colors,
hundreds of ribbons curling up.

This was the first time Serenity had taken acid. She looked confused. I had only done it once before myself (with Tony) but to her, I was an expert. She said, “Why is everything so…colorful?”

“I think the acid is kicking in,” I said, holding onto the park bench with both hands, as if it would roll away.

Our bench was within a stone’s throw of a six-foot mini-ramp. Skateboarders, Tony Dimantilo among them, strutted and sauntered around the ramp, leaned on their boards, ollied and performed every variety of flip (heelflip, kickflip, nollie kickflip) that they could manage. Jump ramps radiated from the edge of the
mini-ramp. The boys posed for the girls magnetized at the periphery.

Skateboarder


Tony did not see us, and I was sure, suddenly, that Serenity and I were spies hiding behind the curtains of the real world, Girl OO7s. I said, “Do you think they can see us?”

“Who?” Serenity asked, her voice spacey.

“Everyone. The skaters. Tony.”

Serenity squinted, examining the cartoonish tableau before us. She said, “I don’t think they can.”

“But we’re here, right?”

Serenity crinkled her nose. “If they don’t see us?”

“Exactly.”

“If they can’t see us,” Serenity said, becoming suddenly authoritative, “then no, we’re not here. We
don’t exist.”

I tapped a cigarette from my pack of Marlboro Reds and lit it. Serenity touched my fingers. I gave her the
cigarette. We smoked, thinking over the consequences of our new state of non-existence, while imaginary boys on unreal skateboards slammed the sidewalk, carving and ripping past the bench. Each truck grind, each skid, had a tangible sound, tinny and resonant. Serenity suddenly said, “If we’re not here, I wonder where we are.”

“We’re nowhere,” I said, confident. “Non-existence means nothing’s here. Nada. Zilch.”

“But we have to be somewhere.” Serenity stuck out her arm. “Touch me. Do I feel like I’m here?”

I squeezed the key-teeth grooves of her wrist bone. “Feels like you’re here to me.”

We burst out laughing, fully aware of how ridiculous we sounded. Serenity covered my mouth with her hand, stifling my laugh, which only made me laugh harder. A boy with a T-shirt that read SKATE OR DIE rode by, leaving a sparkling, elastic, Wile E. Coyote trail behind him. I said, “That guy definitely turned
his head in this direction. I think he saw us.”

“Yikes! Yikes! Oh my God!” Serenity lifted her arm as if it were something she’d found on the street, a piece of wood or a lead pipe.

“What? What’s going on?”

“I can see through my arm! Do you see this? My veins are on the outside! Oh my God! That is so freaky!”

I took her arm and stroked it, smoothing the veins into place. “There,” I said. “You’re fine. It’s all skin
now.”

“Thanks,” she said. “How the hell did that happen?”

The sky turned saffron yellow, as if the sun had been pricked and its essence sucked into the air, a color that contained greens and flecks of red, like a ripe peach. Looking across the park, at the road running along the river, I half expected to see my father, driving by in his truck, ready to take me to Roscoe’s.

“If you’re upset that your veins are changing places with your epidermis,” I said, unwilling to give up on existence so easily. “Then you must, in some sense, exist.”

Serenity lit another cigarette. After a few seconds, she said, “You know, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. If I didn’t exist, I wouldn’t care if my veins were squiggling around on the sidewalk. This is solid proof.”

Just then, as if in response to Serenity’s empirical evidence of our existence, a pressure rose in my bladder.

“Emergency,” I said, crossing my legs tight.

“Emergency?”

“I have to pee. Really, really, bad.”

“How can you pee here?”

“Duh. I can’t.”

Serenity said, “Here is a second instance of proof: If you didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have to pee. Or you could pee here and it wouldn’t make any difference.”

“If I didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have drank so much fucking orange juice.” I squeezed my legs tighter together and, for a moment, I couldn’t tell if I had a body at all. After a few minutes, however, I realized that I really needed to go.

Serenity pointed to a squat brick building in the park. She said, “There’s a bathroom over there.”

“But I don’t know if I’ve got to go or not.”

“Either you have to go. Or you don’t have to go. One or the other.”

“What I mean is—This is kind of a Big Question.”

Serenity raised an eyebrow. “Is there something I don’t know about peeing?”

“If I’ve really got to go it’s settled: We exist. If I don’t, and I’ve just made it up, we don’t exist.”

Serenity was all appreciation. “Good one,” she said.

She shoved me onto the sidewalk, into the wavy, rainbowing, off-the-bench universe. I walked quick, dodging the metallic stares of the skateboarders, stumbling over a patch of grass, and onto a billowing sidewalk. My knees Jello-ed. The punk girls, each one a different color (one purple, the other green, another a brilliant shade of blue), turned their Martian eyes upon me, their gazes indicating my path: It’s right there, the answer to your existential questions!

I grabbed the bathroom door, all of existence hanging upon the result of my task, and rushed inside, where I yanked up my skirt and squatted over a muddy, broken-seated toilet. Two minutes later, I emerged from the Potty in the Park, triumphant. “We’re real!” I called, waving my hands at Serenity’s small, pink head hovering like a balloon above the park bench. She waved back, ecstatic that we did, in fact, exist.


For more about me or Falling Through the Earth, please come visit www.danielletrussoni.com.


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