Orleans

By Ryan Day

Memoir

It was dark, so it had been at least eight hours since I fell asleep. I wasn’t sure which direction we’d been going. Eight hours from West Memphis, Arkansas could put us in Texas, Utah, Tennessee, Indiana… The truck’s cab was small and crowded like a tokyo apartment that had been decorated by a dedicated fan of Southern rock and duct taped.

There were posters. ZZ Top, Skynrd, 38 Special, Government Mule.

Beards and Les Pauls everywhere.

The blanket smelled like fast food and sweat.

I was groggy like I’d just come out of surgery, and I couldn’t remember getting into the truck.

I pulled the curtain to the side revealing the front of the cab and the wide window with dark expanses rolling into the distance. The driver was a big greasy man like a beach ball covered in sun tan lotion. He kept his jeans up with suspenders.

“Boy, you bout the dumbest fucking thing I done met out here.” He was holding a black plastic square with metal prongs. He pushed a button and a bolt of tiny blue lightning flashed along with the cracking sound of an electrical storm in miniature. “Coulda tazed yo ass.” When he smiled, his beard opened up to reveal the gray tops of otherwise yellow teeth. “Out cold. Do what I want with ya.”

I shuffled up through the curtain and plopped into the passenger seat.

“Where are we?”

“Texas.”

Shit.

I noticed a copy of Conversations with God, on the floor of the trucks cab.

“Here,” he said, handing me the taser. “You hold on to that. If you’re gonna be runn’n round out here best have a way to defend yourself.”

More than anything, this was a gesture to let me know I was safe.

I took it.

“Thought you was a lizard at first. Wouldn’t a picked you up.” He took a shallow pull from a bottle of Mountain Dew. “You held that door for me back in the Waffle House, though. Thought to myself, that boy has manners. Ain’t no lizard, or killer for that matter, got manners that good.”

“What’s a lizard?” I asked through a yawn.

“What’s a lizard?” he repeated. “A Lot Lizard. A whore.” He turned up the radio. Skynrd.

I said I’m beggin’ for mercy, won’t you take me if you please.

I hit the button on the taser and watched the lightning jump the gap between the pair of metal tongs.

“Careful,” he said.

It was still a little hazy. I had gone forty hours without sleep before finding Orleans. Orleans, or Orl’ins as he pronounced it, was the drivers name it turned out. I barely remember a middle-aged mother handing me a ten dollar bill in the parking lot of a truck stop. I must have asked for it. Maybe not. I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days, and ten dollars goes a long way at a Waffle House. Two grilled cheese sandwhiches, a couple of scrambleds, and a cup of coffee still left a buck for tip.

I’d been looking for rides in the parking lot. No luck. Orleans had passed me by on his way into the Waffle House. He was heading in as I was heading out. I remember that now.

I remember holding the door for him, too. I nodded and may even have added an earnest, “thank you, sir.”

I was a polite kid.

Catholic school boy.

After eating I hit the on ramp hoping for someone to take me towards Georgia. I had friends there, and in my mind at the time it made as much sense as anything to head to Georgia and start over. The trip back to Chicago was too long, and besides I didn’t want to backtrack.

Georgia was the plan, but I’d settle for anything other than Arkansas.

Orleans stopped. I got in and fell asleep before a word was spoken.


“You about my boys age,” Orleans yelled over Skynrd.

I was still fingering the taser.

“Hungry?”

I nodded

A few minutes later he stopped the truck.

“Get in back,” he said. “Just in case someone from the company’s out here. Not s’posed to pick people up.”

I got into the cot and covered myself with the sweat stained blanket until he came back with a big paper bag full of Burger King.

I ate fast while he sipped on a coke.

“Not hungry?” I asked through a mouth full of beef, mayo, bacon and cheese all ground to a paste.

“No appetite.” He said lifting his shirt. “Not no more.” There was a scar across his belly like the one from my mom’s cesarian. “Had my stomach stapled.” He pulled his shirt back down. “Barely eat no more.”


I don’t remember if I slept that night, or if we talked, or sat in silence. I imagine we talked, as Orleans was a talker, and I imagine he told me all sorts of stories that I wish I remembered now. But if he did tell me, I don’t remember. Not most of them anyway. I know, however, that he had been a roadie for ZZ Top for a long time, and a drinker, and a philanderer, and that now he was none of those things.

In the morning, somewhere in West Texas, I don’t remember where, we stopped on a small empty highway in front of a house. All that surrounded us was the vacant brown horizon of Texas.

“That’s it,” said Orleans looking at a little house, which, aside from the highway itself and the truck we’d just jumped down from, was the only sign of human habitation.

“That’s what?”

“That there is the house where Billy Gibbons grew up.”

“Hmmmm…” I wasn’t sure if this was important, but for Orleans it was religious. He was sharing something.

Orleans set himself down onto the brittle brown grass that stretched across everything in sight. I followed.

He slid a little hair away from his forehead and pointed to an old scar above his eyebrow. “You see that?”

I nodded.

“Came home late once.” He smiled a smile that came from some deep well. “Wife didn’t like that.”

“Jesus,” I said. “How late?”

His smile became a profound belly laugh. “Couple weeks I guess.”

“At least you earned it.”

“Frying pan. Cast Iron.”

“That’s cartoon stuff. Only Fred Flinstone actually gets hit with a frying pan.”

“More common than you’d think.”

I doubted that it was.

His eyes focused in on that house in the distance. “Coulda killed her back then.”

“I bet,” I said.

“Then, not too long after that, she died.”

For some reason, I remember imagining that house on the horizon emitting the loud amplified sounds of a young Billy Gibbons perfecting his staccato brand of blues. I wondered if his mom got pissed off at the volume. I wondered if he had a dad. I wondered when his first whiskers came in, and if he’d ever shaved.

I wondered if he walked out of that front door every morning and saw all this emptiness as a challenge.

“Funny how the worst moments end up making the best memories,” said Orleans. “I sure as hell never thought getting hit in the face with a cast iron skillet would be the memory of her I kept closest.”

“Your son?”

“Marines,” he said. “I think.” He rolled onto his back exposing the bottom of the scar on his belly under his T-shirt. “Hell, I don’t know.”

I didn’t realize that he was crying until after he’d grasped my hand.

I wasn’t sure if I was scared, or just shaken by his bareness.

“You fucking take care of yourself out here.”

I nodded, unsure of why my eyes were tearing up.

“You fucking take care of yourself you little dumbass.”

He squeezed my hand harder and looked at me with eyes that were meant for a lover.

“I will.”




No more talk. No more posturing. No more filibusters and press conferences. America is broken. It’s time to cut through the rhetoric and take decisive action. Two weeks ago, I retreated to my woodsy cabin in the Montana foothills and mused upon the NINE greatest problems facing society today. When I emerged, I’d solved each. Both political parties and Rand Paul are welcome to adopt these solutions as their own. All I ask in exchange is an ambassadorship to Madrid.


John VourhousDH: John Vorhaus is playing the role of the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come in our new series about when writers fell in love with books. His brilliantly manic suspense novel, California Roll,about grifters who try to out-grift each other, will be covered on Three Guys early next year. I had trashed four galleys in a row after trying to read page 99 of each. When I came to page 99 of California Roll, I knew I had to read the whole thing. I believe that JV wrote this post while sitting in Moscow traffic. He leads the writing team of the Russian version of Married with Children, making the world safe for situation comedy. He said he was glad that he worked especially hard on page 99 of California Roll.

EVEN COWGIRLS TURN ME ON by John Vorhaus

It was the summer of 1977. Like every other college graduate in America, I was in Europe. I hitchhiked and Eurail-passed the length and breadth of the continent, from East Berlin to the west coast of Ireland, from the tip of Sicily to just inside the Arctic Circle. With all that traveling, of course, I often had time on my hands, and always needed something to read, and therefore engaged in avid and active book swaps with anyone who happened to have something in English I hadn’t already burned through. Thus it was that the summer’s most popular book, Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, fell into my hands. Like everyone else I knew (like everyone I’ve ever known who’s read the book), I was instantly and totally ensorcelled by Robbins’ tale of big-thumbed Sissy Hankshaw, plus all the others: Bonanza Jellybean, the Chink, the Countess, and the estimable Dr. Robbins himself. More than that, I was captivated by Robbins’ command of the language; man, could the dude craft sentences. He did it with grace, style, and outrageous humor. It was this last part that was such a revelation to me. I’d enjoyed the jaundiced ironies of Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22, but until I read Tom Robbins, I didn’t know there really was such a thing as a flat-out funny comic novel. I didn’t even know you could do that. But when I read of Sissy’s mother manipulating her father by “turning the vaginal wrench,” I became a fan for life.

As a writer who lacked faith in his own craft, I soon entered the singer/songwriter phase of my career. It was an awkward place for me. I could write songs well enough, but I couldn’t really sing or play guitar, and after five years hard at it, I finally figured that part out, and moved on to other things: situation comedies and screenplays; how-to books on writing and poker; novels at last. But I never forgot Tom Robbins, and never aspired to anything less than his rapier turn of phrase. In fairness, I’ve yet to read any Robbins tome that I enjoyed as much as Cowgirls. I think that has less to do with his abilities than with where I was when I first met him. I was on the road, living the Euro-vagabond dream of my generation. Conflating my own hitchhiking adventures with Sissy Hankshaw’s brought me closer to a character in a novel than I’d ever been before; closer, perhaps, than I’ve ever been with any figment of a writer’s imagination, bar my own. But I still have time for Tom Robbins, and I religiously read every new word he writes. I owe him that debt. He introduced me to the possibilities of the comic novel, and though it took me more than a generation, and an eventful life’s journey to realize them for myself, I’m realizing them at last. I don’t imagine myself any sort of heir to Tom Robbins, but I strive to be worthy to wave the banner of his style.

When I traveled through Europe in 1977, I did so with the full fear that I might never get back there again. Well, I’ve been blessed. My “other” job as a creative consultant for television and film has taken me to Europe dozens of times. Also Australia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Malaysia, and Russia. I’m in Russia right now (like, even as I write these words), running the writing staff of the Russian version of Married… with Children. You can follow that adventure at www.radarenterprizes.com/blog, and I welcome you to do so. Stop by and say hi! I, meanwhile, have suddenly gotten the bright idea to go to the English language bookstore here in Moscow and see if I can find a copy of Cowgirls. I’ve read it probably ten times since the first time, but no time in the past five years or so. I’ve always gotten something out of those re-reads, and it occurs to me that I’m overdue for a dose. How about you? Have you read (or lately re-read) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues? If not, you ought. It’s an inspiring, enlightening, and laugh-out-loud funny read. If I could half turn a phrase like Tom Robbins, I’d be a satisfied man indeed.