Recent Work By Jeffrey Pillow

Written in 2004

THE LADY NEXT DOOR was a thin figure slightly gaunt in stature and form from the years to which her body had accumulated. Her height was nothing profound through the eyes of a small child—the pinnacle to her highest point no greater than 5’4” tall. This comparison may be slightly off for many years have passed since young eyes stared upward to gaze upon the lady next door. Thus, the only contrast to which my childish eyes can relate lay in my great grandfather, Charlie Marion, a man of Native American descent who stood at 6’7” with legs that stretched for miles and miles as if trying to touch eternity with the tip of his boot.

Mrs. Hartness, for that was her name, was a tiny thing indeed. Soaking wet, her weight may have faintly surpassed one-hundred pounds. A curve in the upper portion of her back was exposed through garments, which rested, swathing her delicate build. Her skin was stretched loose and markings of age covered her entire body from head to toe—from her neck all the way down to her swollen pale ankles.

The hair atop her head was thin and fine, the color of faded strawberries and silver and snowflakes like the cap on the peak of the Alps of Cisalpine with small hints of white flowing in between. From her larynx came a soft voice that shook with each word she spoke. Though, I must say, it would only be accurate in this account to mention that within her soft voice was contained a slight scratchiness and congestion. At any given moment, a cough would erupt and it would seem to those around that her lungs had surely failed her.

When this happened, she would stand up, her body as erect as gravity and arthritis would allow, and grasping for the closest solid object to balance herself, a wall or a doorframe, she expelled from within what the cilia had failed to catch.

Reaching upward to cover her mouth, the veins in Mrs. Hartness’s emaciated hands were quite noticeable and plump. Her fingers were thin and long; and much to the mimicry of her voice, her fingers shook with her every movement as if the last leaf in autumn blowing in the wind—quavering yet resilient.

Everyone she knew and loved from infancy to her adult years had by now passed away into the verve of the afterlife except her own flesh and blood: the precious children she weaned many years ago.

Yet, there was one without a drop of kinship that loved her just the same—not as if she were his grandmother or even a relative—but as his best friend.

The young boy was her neighbor. His stature was less than a foot in height shorter compared to his elderly friend with long, skinny arms that seemed out of proportion with the rest of his body. As the years passed, his body would grow into these long extremities, taking away from the disproportionate specter to which he had known for such a protracted period in his childhood. He had deep blue eyes reaching Caribbean depths, dirty blonde hair, and skin the color of fresh homemade biscuits straight out of the oven, painted as if with a blend of russet and taupe acrylics from an Impressionist’s palette.

Everyday, the young boy would scurry across the green grass, past the pale leaf Yucca plant one house over, to his elderly friend’s door. Her face so gentle and kind was the only face other than his immediate family and friends that he remembers distinctly from that age—a mere four years old.

Sometimes, more often times than not, the lady next door could be seen crouched over, the bumps of her vertebrae poking through her shirt, raking leaves that had fallen from the oak tree that adjoined her and her young friend’s residences. Other times, she was to be found hanging wet laundry from the turning wire clothesline that sat beside a leaning cement birdbath in her backyard. When the wind blew its breath against the clothesline, a slow but acute noise would follow.

“Nails on the chalkboard,” the lady next door would whisper under her breath. “Just like nails on a chalkboard,” the loose skin on her neck and underneath her chin all the while jiggling to and fro.

Her young neighbor referred to this loose skin as turkey neck.

“Mama, why does Mrs. Hartnence have a turkey neck?”

“Because she’s not a spring chicken anymore,” his mother would say. “Hartness,” she added.


“It’s Hartness.”


“Hartness, but don’t worry. You’ll get it one day.”

But the young boy loved her turkey neck. He used to pull and stretch the skin as if trying to wrap it around his fingers as he sat on her lap while she rocked back and forth in the wooden chair on the front porch.

Mrs. Hartness let him do this never blinking an eye for a second.

It gave her sagging skin a certain kind of beauty she knew not before; well, that is to say until her young neighbor began visiting regularly; and visit he did.

If ever the boy wanted to find her after school as he stepped off the bus, there she would be, sitting on her front porch, one leg crossed over the other, smoking filter-less Lucky Strike cigarettes, rocking backwards and forwards in her faintly stained wooden chair. On rare occasions, too, it must be added, when the weather forbade her from escaping outside, she was to be found inside her home alone at the kitchen table with an ashtray, a Dr. Pepper, and the day’s newspaper.

Choking smoke danced from the end of her resting cigarette. Ashes un-ashed grew in length by the trice, but the lady next door was not bothered in the least. This was a pattern to which she belonged—the smell of smoke both a friend and foe; and so it was, she would lick the tip of her finger, sip a long sip of Dr. Pepper, and turn to the next page of the local weekly, The Charlotte Gazette.

The chill of the wind.

The downpour of rain.

Whatever condition the Heavens sent down would have to be waited out.

Mrs. Hartness’s young neighbor had much more mobility. He was a rambunctious little fellow. He could never quite keep still no matter what his mind found favor in doing. Because of this surfeit in energy and vigor, his mother allowed him to meet his older cousin, Robbie, early each morning at the basketball court before school. The parents of both families agreed: Exercise was not only necessary for these two but also indispensable if the sanity in their respective homes would continue. Not only that, but it would keep the two out of trouble once the playground was replaced with the school room, their weapons no longer walnuts and sticks, but #2 pencils and writing pads.

The young boy and his cousin were good kids: polite, well-mannered, and reverential to their elders, but a half-pint of chocolate milk at lunch and a chocolate-banana fudge bomb to follow and the very axis to which the universe rested would be tilted, disrupted of its very mellifluous harmony at the local elementary school. The basketball court would at least rid them of this surplus in energy. It was to them itself a sanctuary for the neighborhood kids and was only a hop, skip, and a jump away from the young boy’s front doorstep.

Through this front door and just to his right lay the house of Mrs. Hartness, its gray and black speckled shingles holding on for dear life. As a souvenir of his adoration, the young boy used to bring her a handful of rocks as a gift: the prettiest, most beautiful rocks he could find to give to the little old lady as a gesture of his love and appreciation—for she was his best friend, he knew no other.

Two or three times each week he did this—never missing a step, never faltering the beat. What is more to say is that he never, oh never on his life would he, settle in giving her the dull, colorless rocks of gray and charcoal; no, only the best for the lady next door, only the prettiest and most beautiful in her eyes and his.

They were just ordinary rocks in a driveway to most people; but to the young neighbor they were much more than that. They were a precious token to the little old lady he cared for so deeply, so true and innocently.

To characterize the rocks distinguishing them from the rest in the driveway were the heavenly brushstrokes of color, epidote, and other mineral deposits. Some were speckled with green, others with pink and some the color of sunshine, and even more a light blue like the Heavens above that the lady next door stared at during the day as the young boy sat in Kindergarten class daydreaming.

Day after day, the young boy waited patiently yet with eager volition to get off that big, yellow school bus to go see his friend; and so, as his routine schedule was sentient of, one day after the bus let off, he knelt down in his driveway as he did everyday. Juggling the gravel in his hand, he fished out the most beautiful rocks that he could find from all the rest. Though he only gave her rocks two or three times a week, he would nevertheless collect them each day. In his room at night, he would pour them out like marbles onto his bed; and then again, the young boy would separate the most beautiful from the strictly beautiful.

His mother used to tell him not to dump the rocks out onto his bed sheets because it would cause a given spot on the cotton linen to turn all the beautiful colors of his gifts to the lady next door, but he paid no mind. Thus, when the lights went out and his mother had left his bedside, he would reach under his bed where the rocks lay hidden in a shoebox and repeat his partitioning of gifts. Subsequently, he would wipe away the residue from the consolidated minerals and close his eyes for the night. The dust of the rocks would itch him as he slept like cracker crumb morsels eaten in bed, imprinted in the skin of his back.

This day, as a repetition of previous days, the young boy stepped off Bus 38 and ran from the driveway in front of his home hurrying to his neighbor’s doorstep with his oversized book-bag nearly ripping at the seams. He pushed his tiny, little finger hard against the doorbell because it always took some extra effort for someone his size to make that old thing sound; but it is what he had to do to let Mrs. Hartness know that he was waiting for her; and so, he pushed and pushed in anticipation of seeing her face.

RIIIIIiiiiing! RIIIIIiiiiing!

The noise it made was always so drawn out. It was not a pleasant ring but the doorbell always made that particular clamor. It was a sharp-pitched tone like an antique wind-up clock one can still find at a Pawn Shop or Flea Market if searched for long and hard enough. Nevertheless, the young boy loved the sound that doorbell made. Its significance meant that soon after it was sounded the person he cared so profoundly for with all his heart would soon be on her way to open up the creaking and hinged screen door to ask him how his day went at school.

“I hope you are getting good grades and paying attention,” she would say as the door opened slowly. Then with his two little hands covered as if he were hiding a baby bird that had fallen from an oak tree, the young boy would open them, palms up together in unison, exposing his gift as his face lit up with joy; and there they were: the most beautiful rocks you would ever see.

“Aw, are those for me,” Mrs. Hartness would ask in question, knowing the answer already as she leaned out her fragile, shaking hands.

“They are beautiful,” she continued, giving a wrinkled smile his way and tapping her hand on her lap, and the young boy would hop up and give her a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you so much.”

Mrs. Hartness, with her young neighbor now firmly planted in her lap, would begin rocking back and forth in her chair. He grabbed four fingers of loose skin from her turkey neck and folded the layers over his finger as if a blanket. Not long after, he was sound asleep.

He pushed on the doorbell again and then waited a moment on the concrete slab at the entrance to her home. He jumped one step down and then back up. No one answered.

She might be sleeping, he thought. But she always answered the door. Sometimes she was slow to answer but she nevertheless came within a minute’s time. It had never taken this long all the other times he had come to visit, so he stretched his arm out once more elevating himself on his tippy toes and pressed the white, rectangle doorbell with a faint orange light inside yet again.


He waited. No one answered.

RIIIIIiiiiing! RIIIIIiiiiing! RIIIIIiiiiing!

Still, she did not come to the door.

The young boy dropped his outstretched arm, cupped his lone, full hand together, and ran across the yard back toward his own home, his book bag smacking back and forth and all. As soon as he opened the door to his house, he asked his mom for a Zip-loc bag to place his rocks in for safe keeping. That way when his friend woke up, he could still give her his present and his beautiful pink and green and yellow and blue speckled rocks would not go to waste. With the Zip-loc bag in hand, the young boy hustled upstairs, jumping one step, then two steps at a time, and threw off his book bag onto the floor and ran directly back outside, grabbing his bike before heading over to the basketball court to wait for his friends, Robbie and Jeremiah.

Later that evening around 5:30 PM when his friends had to leave to get ready for dinner, the boy decided to go back over to his neighbor’s house.


No answer.


Still nothing.

She must still be asleep, he figured. It has only been two hours since I got home from school anyway.

The next afternoon upon his arrival back home from Kindergarten, the small boy noticed more cars than usual filling up the driveway next to his: the driveway of the lady next door. The Zip-loc bag full of rocks from the past day was in the small pocket at the front of his book bag with his pencils and crayons just waiting to be delivered. He even took them to school so that once he stepped off Bus 38 he would not have to run back in his house to fetch them.

He slowly edged off the bus this time in a non-haste like pace, unzipping the front pocket of his book bag, and pulling out the plastic bag. His eyes focused on the extra cars he saw in Mrs. Hartness’s driveway and then back toward the entrance to her home.

The wooden door was wide open and the screen door, too, where the top bolt had been locked as to keep it open so that someone could enter, leave, and then re-enter again.

He started to make his way from the road that passed from in front of both of their homes into her front yard, brushing up against the two bushes that had not more than three inches between them that were always connected by a thick spider web that forever had a few drops of moisture waning on top of it; but he went in between the bushes each and everyday regardless even though he was terrified to death of spiders.

The young neighbor made it about halfway through Mrs. Hartness’s yard when the door to the house to his right, his home, where he lived, opened. As he heard the turn of the door handle at his home, he turned his head. His mother appeared. He stopped, was at a standstill, and looked in his mother’s direction. Her mouth shifted downward and her eyes, cat green in color, had a very precise look to them, never blinking, not even for a second.

“Son, come here for a second,” she said with a maternal presence.

At that very moment a figure appeared from the inside of his neighbor’s home while he stood like a fixed statue in the yard, like the cement birdbath out back. The young boy turned back into the direction of Mrs. Hartness’s home, and holding his bag of beautiful rocks in his hand, he noticed how the dust from the gravel had settled on the sides along the bag.

“Hey,” he said kindly to the stranger who looked to be about in his fifties with light gray hair wearing a green sweater and dress slacks.

“Well hi there, young man,” the stranger responded quickly as he continued to walk toward what appeared to be his car in Mrs. Hartness’s driveway.

“Son, come here for a minute,” the boy’s mother said again.

“But I’ve gotta—” he started to reply before his mother interrupted.

“Please come here, Jeff. I need to talk to you.”

Ugh, he thought as he began to trample back toward his yard, his hand running along the two bushes. His little head went under his mother’s arm as she held the door open as he entered, still grasping his beautiful bag of rocks firmly in his hand.

Immediately the door to his home reopened and he appeared grabbing his bike from in front of his house. He pedaled as fast as he could and headed by the basketball court and straight toward the woods and creek that lay down the street from his home. He sniffled and his breathing was heavy now. He wiped his hand across his face as the wind tried in futility to dry the tears that poured from his eyes. His legs kept swiftly pedaling the entire time. Robbie and Jeremiah saw him at a distance and called his name. He heard nothing but the sound of his own whimper and running of his nose.

A few hours later the young boy returned home. His mother awaited him at the door. He laid down his bike and sat on the front steps to his house. His head was buried between his knees and his forehead rested heavily on his arms. You could still hear the young boy sniffling and his breath was hesitant as if he was gasping for air. His right foot moved from side to side as if he were stamping out a lit cigarette. The strange man he had met earlier with gray hair and a green sweater came from his right. The young boy looked up, his eyes painted red, his high cheekbones and face laced with dried tears, salted.

“Would you all like to come into my mother’s home for a few minutes?” the stranger asked.

“Yes we would like that,” the young boy’s mother answered as she motioned to her son for him to get up, but he did not want to.

“Come on, son. This nice man is inviting us into Mrs. Hartness’s house. Let’s not be rude.”

The young boy still did not want to get up but he did eventually just because his mom had asked him.

They made their way through the adjoining lawn and walked casually in the already open door. The little boy’s head was still down. He looked at his feet as he followed behind his mother. There was no reason to ring the doorbell anymore.

The three of them—Mrs. Hartness’s son, the young boy, and his mother—passed through the hallway, its wooden planks much the same as in his own home and into the kitchen where the man asked them to sit down and have a glass of tea. The young boy could smell the aroma of his familiar friend trickling in and out of his nose. A pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes sat beside a more than full ashtray next to the nightstand in Mrs. Hartness’s bedroom as they walked past. Yesterday’s paper was on the tabletop opened as was a Dr. Pepper can beside it.

As the man poured tea into tall glasses, the young boy reached inside the inner pocket of his coat, wondering exactly what that was rubbing up against the left side of his chest. What is that, he thought. As he moved his hand into the already open pocket of his coat, he wiped a tear from his cheek and then noticed something in the corner of his eye. His mother tapped him on the shoulder. The stranger, Mrs. Hartness’s son looked too.

The young boy’s mother pointed upward to the open top shelf that ran horizontally atop the kitchen sink and stove; and in his pocket, the boy pulled out the little plastic bag filled with rocks that had been pressing hard up against his chest. And on the shelf, one by one, hundreds and hundreds of pink and green rocks, and some the color of sunshine and light blue like the Heavens above sat in rows: the most beautiful rocks you would ever see, all lying silently in glass pickle jars, dozens of them.

The boy’s mother lifted him up eye level to the shelf. He stretched out his arm that shook with every movement and gently placed the bag of rocks beside the others that had already found their way into old Ball pickle jars on the shelf top. The stranger, still holding his glass of tea in one hand, stood up beside the young boy and then placed the glass of tea down, letting it rest on the countertop beside the sink. He turned one of the lids counter-clockwise, opening up a jar that was not quite full yet.

“I think those belong in here,” he said to the young boy.

They were just ordinary rocks found in a driveway to most people but not to the lady next door. They were the most beautiful rocks you would ever see and she kept every one.

Gwenn and Shawn Decker. Photo by Jeffrey Pillow

Two years ago, I walked into Shenandoah Joe’s on Preston Ave. in Charlottesville. Postured on a tall-legged, wooden barstool, a young man in his early 30’s busily dashed off letters on the keys of his laptop. White steam swayed side to side from the rim of his coffee mug, and then cut capers skyward. The vapors vanished but the rich, warm aroma of the roasting coffee beans lingered.


Deserving or inspiring ridicule; absurd, preposterous, or silly. See Synonyms at foolish.

I love a good comedy. Some of my favorites are White Men Can’t Jump, Death at a Funeral (the original British version), and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And Slade Ham is pretty effin funny too.

But some things you just can’t write in a script.

I’m on my way to work this morning, listening as nerds do, to NPR. On comes “The Tale of the Covered Teat;” or, at least that’s what I’m going to call it. In my ears came the voice of University of Virginia political scientist, Larry Sabato.

Sabato said, and I’ll summarize, that a politician only has but so much political capital to spend and that spending it on something trivial like what Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did is devastating to a politician’s career. Look at John Ashcroft when he spent a few thousand dollars draping blue sheets over partially nude statues at the Justice Department eight years ago. He became an instant target of criticism because of something absolutely silly to most Americans.

“When you asked to be ridiculed, it usually happens. And it will happen here, nationally,” Sabato said. “This is classical art for goodness’ sake.”

So what did Cuccinelli do?

Cuccinelli had the State of Virginia seal altered, a breast plate added.

The actual seal (as shown above) depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, the goddess of virtue, standing over a defeated opponent. That opponent, Tyranny. Virtus wears a blue tunic with her left breast bare to the wind.

Not on Cuccinelli’s lapel pins he ordered using PAC money for his campaign.

Oh no, an exposed titty?!

Cover your children’s eyes!


I mean, breast!

A supple, supple breast!

An areola!

And all this time, all my life living in this state, I always thought that Virtus was a guy and he just had moobs.

When the media got word of the issue, Cuccinelli tried to laugh it off and say he was trying to turn a “risque image into a PG one.”

Heck, who knows — maybe tomorrow Cuccinelli will alter his name, deducting “Cucci-” and just be “Nelli.”

After all, the connotations of “Cucci” to young children in our Commonwealth could be horrifying.


I like it.

Has a certain ring to it.

Brings to mind the rapper Nelly and his bandaid look, which, speaking of, Cuccinelli may need to cover up this ridicule sure to be featured on tonight’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I’m sure a conservative friend of mine will think I’m blowing this way out of proportion, which would be inaccurate. I’m not outraged or furious this happened. I get a kick out of it because this adds to the ever growing cartoon of the current Republican state of Virginia politics. Hell, if you can’t laugh at this then what can you laugh at?

First, Bob McDonnell, a man who received his law degree at Christian Broadcasting Network University (yes, you read that right correctly. A school Pat Robertson formed. Name later changed to Regent University) was elected our governor and his sideshow in conservatism, Ken Cuccinelli, came along for the ride and has since tried to take the words gay and lesbian out of our state’s discrimination laws and filed a lawsuit against the federal government challenging global warming. I can’t wait for his next speech at a local tea party rally.

It should be an interesting four years. I’ve got my material. Slade, you should move to Virginia. Your star will be on the rise for sure. It worked for William & Mary graduate, Jon Stewart.

Hardened bread crumbs burst into fine white powder, sprinkling to the ground. Seeds crack under the weight of jaws clinching, and in an imperfect circle the birds gather round the old man and strut mechanically, their fat necks jerking. They welcome him as if he is one of their own, and he in turn accepts their embrace, and feeds them grain as everyday, assuredly white proso millet and milo for the dark-eyed junco.

The sky is layered pink then orange then blue with clouds of white cotton and gray mastheads splotched throughout. A slight chill fills the air like a cold hand on the back of one’s neck unexpectedly but is otherwise refreshing and silky as it passes from the nostrils to the lungs and presses against the gut.

Crouched, the old black man talks to the birds in low whispers as if they are his children. The birds of variegated species listen attentively, cocking their heads momentarily at his voice and scoop with their stout beaks into the ground seeds threaded underneath blades of grass still wet with dew and they mash the seeds near into dust, and the wet, green blades turn white with chalk.

Laggardly, the old black man rises from his crouched position in Washington Park and stands as erect as the arthritis buried deep in his joints will allow. Muscle, bone, and tendon like toothed pinions within a three wheel skeleton clock turn slowly but surely, never faltering though their movement so supine you are certain will one day just stop, the hand of the clock ceasing, time standing still. The body no more.

He stands upright and looks over his shoulder in my direction. Even from afar, I see the crow’s feet carved into his skin on the sides of each eye, brown and deep. His eyelid hangs droopily, weighted down by age and gravity, the skin loose. His eyebrows scrunch almost touching, three wrinkles to each side of the center of his brow, as he tries to make out the other figure in the park.

I had, for about a week now, been coming to the park each day around 4:00 PM to sit and watch the old man. I watched the way the birds greeted him each day, welcoming him as if he were one of their own, birds of one feather.

The old black man spots me. His arm shoots into the air, waving. I wave back. And he turns around and again reaches into his pocket scooping seed out for the birds and they flutter around his body, wings spread then tight against their bodies.

Originally published by Press Media Group & The Lynchburg Ledger. Reprinted with permission.

A sad turn of events took place Friday when 27-year-old, Tim Davis, a local Charlottesville disc jockey with the radio station, WNRN, was taken off life support after being gunned down on the Blue Ridge parkway by another paranoid maniac with a gun, allegedly Ralph Leon Jackson, 56, of Augusta County, who was taken into custody Wednesday, April 7, 2010.

Picture a beautiful sunset, the sun falling below the horizon. The sky is turning a haze of orange and a fiery globe is sinking behind the sculpted stone structures of God’s hands. A friend is by your side and you watch, and she watches, one of the most beautiful scenes of life unveiling before your eyes. In an instant, both of you are struggling to even take one last breath, to live even one more second.

None of us knows the thoughts that went through Tim Davis as he laid there, a sitting duck by a gunman he could not see, whose gunshot he never heard because by the time the echo shouted across the Blue Ridge horizon it was already too late. We only know another headline in the papers, at the top of the hour on the news, that, in a sense, we have almost become numb to – another senseless act of violence, another shooting in the Commonwealth. Another death that, as soon as it takes place, someone makes a point to be the spokesman for gun owners this country over stating on a news website message board, on Facebook, on the television screen, “It wasn’t the gun. It was the person behind the gun.”

What if I told you that it was perfectly legal for you to purchase a gun out of the back of someone’s trunk at a gun show in the state of Virginia without a background check?

Would you think I am lying? Because I am not.

According to a 60 Minutes segment from July 26, 2009, Gun Sales: Will the ‘Loophole’ Close?, despite a 30% increase in FBI background checks in 2009 compared to 2008, “The number of FBI background checks does not reflect all the gun sales, because of something called ‘the loophole.’ In Virginia and more than 30 other states, people who aren’t gun dealers can sell firearms at gun shows without conducting background checks . . . Actually, these private sellers can peddle their guns anywhere: at shows, in their private homes, or out of their cars” to convicted felons, to the mentally ill, to any old Joe that appears off the street with a wallet in his or her back pocket or pocketbook.

We do not do extensive mental health checks in this country for a number of reasons. The number one reason is because of political pandering and the wealth and influence bought by gun advocates and organizations who do not take into account the 2nd Amendment right they so love to quote was created at a time when cannonballs still existed, when knives were still molded onto the ends of guns.

Another reason is economic. It does not pay to do extensive mental health checks – not enough resources, not enough manpower to carry out the task.

Tell me, how much is a life worth? Is it not worth it to undertake this humane initiative to curtail at least one act of senseless violence? Sure, there is no way to stop every act of senseless violence in the U.S. It would be ignorant and idealistic to think so; but if you can stop one—just one—then we have saved the grief and lives of many.

When the Appomattox shootings took place on January 19, 2010, which took the lives of eight people including three teenagers and a four-year-old, I didn’t write that a friend of mine, the boyfriend to my wife’s youngest sister, who I have known for years, lost his mom, sister, and stepdad that day because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, dropping a friend off at her home, a home that would become the scene of a very devastating disaster to the communities and families of Appomattox, forever a fixture in so many memories.

I first heard of the Appomattox shootings from my wife via a panicked phone call while I was at work. Her sister was in the emergency room with her boyfriend. His stepdad, Jon Quarles, 43, was the man found in the road that had been shot in the head and was still alive when the paramedics arrived.

My friend frantically tried calling his mom and sister over and over again but could not get in touch with them. Almost a day passed before it was confirmed that they too had perished just as his stepdad did while they were in the emergency room at Lynchburg.

I do not know what it is like to have a family member die in such a way, to not know their fate and to have to sit and think the worst possible thoughts for so many hours that seem like an eternity. I only know what it is like to lose a close friend to brain cancer and to lose a dad to leukemia – to see their suffering, to pray with all I have that I can take away their pain and suffering. Then to know I cannot; and it pains me to see others in such a helpless situation and it is the emotions of anger, frustration, and love for these people I know and for these strangers which I do not, that fuels this article.

Honestly, what will it take for this state and this country to wake up to common sense gun laws? When will the day come that in order to purchase any gun, big or small, we will invest in extensive mental health checks? It’s more of a pain in the behind in this country to get a new photograph for my driver’s license at the local DMV than it is to buy a gun, an object with the potential to take another human being’s life.

Somehow, a certain segment of our population believes that certain politicians have an agenda to strip away the constitutional rights of gun owners. This is ludicrous. I hear relatives and friends claim that Barack Obama, the Democrats, the liberals, anyone and everyone that is not a card-carrying member of the NRA, would love to strip them of their 2nd amendment rights, that these people salivate in simply thinking they could one day bust into their homes and take away all their guns and ammunition.


Paranoid, ludicrous nonsense.

For starters, gun rights have sadly been expanded since Barack Obama took office. Not only can you take a gun with you to a national forest now (when you could not two years ago), now you can stroll onto Amtrak packing heat so long as you have a gun license.

I did not learn this until after the fact when I went to Washington, D.C. for a performance at The Kennedy Center to see Young Frankenstein. Considering the tragedy of September 11 and the strict enforcement at airports, I thought to myself while boarding the train, “Are they really not checking luggage?” Then when I got home, I looked up the laws surrounding baggage checks on railways.

They do not exist.

I thought about how I sat on the train, cramped with hundreds of other passengers, the stench of sweat and the food cart being wheeled down the aisle, literally sitting ducks if someone decided to go bat shit crazy with a gun of any kind. It would have been a massacre and a massacre no one could have stopped because shooting victim headlines come and go with the news.

We may not forget about the potentials of stopping these heinous crimes as soon as another story takes its place but we sit idly by and do nothing to voice our protest after the fact. We do nothing in our legislature to prevent this from happening again, and Virginia, unfortunately is leading the pack in this regard.

We grieve. We feel saddened for the families and victims. Then we live to see another day. They don’t.

And another Tim Davis down the road will be another senseless victim because we don’t even know what to be outraged in this country about anymore.

Another Virginia Tech will take place sometime, somewhere because another Seung-Hui Cho can buy guns off the internet any old time he pleases. Another Christopher Bryan Speight will take his government conspiracy theories to the next level believing that someone is going to steal his land and his guns. Another Ralph Leon Jackson will sit camouflaged on the mountainside choosing innocent young adults as his day’s target practice to pick off.

And what do we do?



Our political discourse in this country oftentimes amounts to a hill of beans. Is Barack Obama a socialist? Is the U.S.A turning into the U.S.S.A? How could Tiger Woods do such a thing? I can’t believe Heidi Montag had plastic surgery again — anything and everything that distracts us from reality, from really sitting down and making new laws that protect us and our families from the cold reality of the world we live in and seem to ignore when we wake up in the morning and go to bed at night. Alive.

We make the same pathetic arguments that you could kill someone with a knife, a pencil, or a piece of broken glass; but riddle me this: how many people can be killed at a distance with a knife, a pencil, or a piece of broken glass?

Two weeks ago, coming from a training class on the Adobe Creative Suite from McClung based in Waynesboro, Virginia, I stopped by the same stretch of road that Tim Davis met his fate on. I looked across the Blue Ridge mountains and felt the cold chills run up my arm. I felt the presence of a being more powerful than myself.

“I know you’re seeing this,” I said to my dad who died last May. The music was turned down and I gazed across the mountains taking in their beauty. It’s hard to believe less than a week later, someone could stand there just as I and meet their death in a time of great beauty as the sun fell behind the peaks.

A year ago at this time my father played, what I believe to be one of the funniest April Fool’s Day jokes ever, on my mother while at the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville.

Three weeks before on March 13, 2009 my father was diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive type of cancer, Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML). Approximately one month and three weeks later, complications from this cancer, a bacterial superbug to be more precise, claimed his life on May 21, 2009, while at Duke University in Durham, the hospital he had been transferred to after leaving UVa.

He was 59.

I received a phone call that morning at 1:30 AM while in Charlottesville. Arising from bed, feet hitting the floor, I slammed my upper leg into the footboard by accident, dropping me to my knees in pain, forming a bruise that wouldn’t completely go away until over a month later, a constant reminder of what had transpired that morning.

My fiancee at the time–now wife–Allison and I had just put this bed up, having taken down our previous bed. This bed was a queen and roomier so that she and I and our dog, Motzie, could sleep comfortably altogether at night piled on the bed. I wasn’t yet used to its bulkiness, its shape in the night.

When the phone rang, I knew what it meant. Because of the time of morning, I knew it wasn’t a phone call I wanted to answer. I did nevertheless. My sister’s voice came across the phone, sad and serious, the voice of an older sister, my only sister, telling me our father was dying and for me to come as quickly to Durham as I could get my shoes on.

I packed my clothes quickly and for a brief second, pulled out a pair of khaki pants and a dress shirt and tossed them on top of my travel bag. I knew this weekend I would be going to my father’s funeral.

But instead of packing them, I placed my pants and shirt back on their rack, my loafers back in the closet, and refused to pack them. I couldn’t give up hope though I knew at this point I should. I wasn’t going to pack clothes for my dad’s funeral.

I tossed on a pair of basketball shoes, an oversized black t-shirt, and jogging pants. My wife was ready as was my dog. My wife and I have no family in Charlottesville and had to make a pit stop in our hometown which was on the way, two hours south of Charlottesville, two hours north of Durham, in Charlotte County, Virginia.

It was a long drive from Charlottesville to Durham, the longest drive I have ever taken though having traveled physically longer distances before and since.

I arrived at Duke and my dad’s sister, my aunt Gloria, met me just outside the lobby at the front door.

“It’s bad,” she said. “You need to prepare yourself.”

I knew it was bad but I didn’t know what she knew. My mom had called me a number of times while on my way to ask how far along we were.

“His blood pressure is going down,” my mom said to me, crying. “The doctors don’t know how much longer he can hold on.”

And though I knew it was bad and though I thought I had prepared myself as best mentally as I could, I couldn’t prepare myself for what I was about to see.

My stomach was extremely upset and I told my aunt that I had to go to the bathroom first, there was no way I could hold it any longer. I did so.

Then Allison and I walked toward my dad’s room in ICU, which if I am correct, was on the 9th floor. I can’t remember anymore.

My mom and sister were inside, as was my uncle Rodney, my dad’s brother, his wife Kim, and Gloria.

The machines were beeping steadily and there was a musty smell, the smell of chemotherapy that I now identified with my father’s odor.

My mom looked at me and broke down crying as did my sister.

“Talk to him,” my mom said. “He can hear you.”

His bright blue eyes were yellowed and rolled back in his head. His mouth was wide open and there was a tube going down his throat if I remember correctly. His arms were scabbed and peeling. His chest was slamming violently up and down, up and down, from the ventilator which was pumping oxygen into his chest.




If you count those numbers as fast as you can over and over again, that’s how fast my dad’s chest was moving up and down. I couldn’t get that image out of my head for over six months and am still haunted by it from time to time.

My dad wasn’t on life support. They weren’t keeping him alive on life support just so that I could see him before he died. I heard someone say that once. I wanted to punch their teeth into the back of their throat it made me so mad.

My dad was still living on his own. Yes, with help. But on his own.

“I love you Daddy,” I said to him. “I want you to know that we will be okay.”

For the past three weeks leading up to this day, I had drafted a letter to my father.

I want you to know that you are a great father. I don’t know if I ever told you that. But you are. I want you to know that you and Mama raised two responsible, hard working kids who love you. I know you got on me when I was younger. I’m just as hard headed as you I guess. And I did some real dumb shit at times. But I want to thank you for being the stern father you always were. It made me who I am today. And just to let you know, I plan to be exactly like you when I have a kid one day and I hope he’s a boy, Daddy. I hope he’s a boy because I’m going to name him after you. I’m going to name him Wayne.

But I never did give my dad that letter. I kept writing it and rewriting it and tearing it up. If I gave my dad that letter, I thought to myself, I would be giving up hope that he would be okay, that he would outlast this cancer just like he outlasted the Stage IV Colon Cancer he had been diagnosed with ten years earlier.

I didn’t want to give up hope.

I didn’t want to abandon that human emotional response to his diagnosis even though I had a gut feeling from the moment I heard his diagnosis that this was a whole different ballgame, that it would take his life unlike the last time.

As I held my dad’s hand, I reached for his forearm and stroked it, those strong forearms that once lifted me above his head on his shoulders when I was a kid. I rubbed my thumb against his hand and then the machines started beeping, his vital signs began plummeting.

The nurses came in. The machines grew louder and louder and the beeps coming faster and faster. His chest up and up, up and down.

He didn’t want to be resuscitated.

And then he died.

You may be wondering, what was the funniest April Fool’s joke my dad played on my mom. In keeping with my mom’s wishes, I won’t say.

I called her a few days ago and asked if she would write in detail that April 1st morning last year.

But she wrote me back and asked I not tell the story.

“Mama,” I said. “It’s the funniest joke ever. I want to post it on The Nervous Breakdown first thing April 1st morning so everyone can see how funny he was. 50,000 unique readers from around the world visit this site and read what us zany writers say each month.”

“It might embarrass your father,” she responded. And I understood that because I know what the joke was.

So if you’re wondering what it was, I can’t tell you. All I can say is I alluded to it once in a response to a post by Brad Listi not long ago. And I’ll leave it at that.

As I played numerous jokes on my co-workers today, I thought of this day last year and I laughed thinking of what my dad had done.

After posting a sign on the elevators leading to my company’s office building that said, “Out of Order – Please use stairs” and then posting another sign on the doors to the stairs that read, “Stairwell Closed – Please use elevator,” I hightailed it out of work and am writing this now. I hope I have a job tomorrow.

I could have been more descriptive, yes. But that wasn’t the point of this memoir entry. It was from the heart and it’s in memory of the funniest man I’ve ever met, my own dad.

Here’s to my dad’s favorite holiday and mine.

Originally published by Press Media Group and appeared in the 24 February 2010 issue of The Lynchburg Ledger newspaper and subsequent issues. Photo by Amber S. Clark.

Photo by Amber S. Clark

Read the reviewPretend this is either an episode of Charlie Rose or a New Yorker podcast and I am a bewhiskered Deborah Treisman with an exorbitant amount of testosterone. For those of you just joining us, I am talking with New York based novelist, Greg Olear, author of the murder mystery/social satire Totally Killer (Harper, 2009). And by talking, I mean I e-mailed Mr. Olear and he didn’t report me to the FBI for stalking.

Originally printed by Press Media Group and appeared in the 17 February 2010 issue of The Lynchburg Ledger newspaper.

Apart from William Melvin Kelley’s 1967 black comedy dem, I have never read a book so swiftly in my born day as Totally Killer by Greg Olear (Harper, 2009). I’ll be frank—though I usually just go by Jeff, Jeffro, or Jeffrey, depending on how well you know me—you don’t need to read any further than the next line to know my true feelings regarding this novel: it is absolutely amazing. Stop reading this column right now and high tail it to Barnes & Noble or log on to Amazon.com and snag a copy.

WASHINGTON – Toyota to recall 270,000 Priuses after reports of malfunctioning brakes. Spokesman for the company cites green initiative.

“It is our belief at Toyota that brake dust and brake fluid are harmful to the environment. As 21st century innovators and leaders in green vehicular technology, we took the initiative and eradicated these two harmful agents from spoiling our beloved Mother Earth and killing innocent dolphins.”

Pressured with questions regarding Toyota’s other recall, the company spokesman offered his take on the matter saying, “You say tomato. I say tomahto. My friends, the press–these accelerators are not jammed. They are simply locked. Jammed and locked are two wholly different issues. By coupling locked accelerators with malfunctioning brakes, we, at Toyota, are preserving our planet. When an accelerator locks and you have no brakes and you’re going down a mountainside at 80 MPH, everyone, and I mean everyone, knows that you put the gear shift in Neutral. And what does Neutral do? It saves gasoline. Saved gasoline saves planets. Toyota’s Green Initiative. Any more questions?”

Click to watch video of Crash Test Dummies performing Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.

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.




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.



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.”

Prior to being expelled from the team and subsequently the school for stealing Coach’s cell phone, deleting all of his contacts to conceal the stolen item, then turning around and selling said stolen phone to another player, Delonta was a college basketball teammate of mine.

Delonta was no taller than 5’6″ with shoes. He was, by all means, an unlikely candidate for the sport, particularly on a roster of towering trees on the hardwood. However, Delonta had freakish athletic ability evident in his lateral quickness, vertical jump, and uncanny ability to create sufficient space between him and the defender, which allowed him ample time to get off the open shot. He was a sharp shooter who lived mostly behind the 3-point arc, but once inside the paint lived predominantly above the rim gliding by and above defenders over a foot taller.

He had a shiny head that he shaved regularly, a bright smile, and hands the size of our starting center, Stanford, who was well aware of Delonta’s pilfering past and prior misdemeanor convictions.

“Keep a close eye,” Stanford had said when Delonta appeared through the double-doors on the first day of tryouts.

After Delonta made the roster and our first away game scheduled, I was in Coach’s office shooting the breeze about our potential for the season when Stanford moseyed in through the door. He folded his giant body into the lone chair beside me in Coach’s office. He slouched a bit, positioned his elbow on his knee, and propped his face in his hand.

“Coach,” Stanford said, “I don’t care if the locker room door is bolted shut with a logging chain and a 5-inch thick padlock, I’m not leaving my shit in the open for sticky fingers to snatch. I’m telling you Coach, your golden boy is a thief and will pick the pocket of more than just the opposing player.”

Coach was The Redeemer in a way. He was all about second chances. No one was flawed in his opinion, only misguided, and could be put back on the straight and narrow with the proper mentor—someone who could identify the struggles of the individual and help them overcome it. One way of doing that was to be part of a team, an interconnected group of individuals whose success depended on the whole of the team and not on one individual. It was a way for a kid turned sour to turn good again. He could play basketball as well as earn his degree, and with an education came a better future and more open doors.

“I’ll pay close attention,” Coach responded, trying to appease Stanford. “But give him a chance, will you? People change.”

Stanford rose, sort of shook his head a little and unwillingly agreed to give Delonta the benefit of the doubt—for Coach’s sake.

For the short time I knew Delonta, he was a likeable guy and could tell a story with the best of them. On our third road trip that season, Stanford sat in the back of the bus with his headphones in, nodding along to the music in his ears. His left leg was stretched out and straightened in the aisle.

The entirety of the team went through their pre-game road rituals.

Jerel began freestyling.

“I like that,” Chris said in response to Jerel’s freestyle before beginning his own.

Then Buck jumped in.

Then Juan.

Keshawn Pickens sat beside me and Bird Owen and Palmer to the right of us.

My ritual consisted of reading Larry Bird’s autobiography, Drive, every road trip—a habit that, more than anything, grew out of superstition.

“I think you’d appreciate this,” Coach had said to me, handing me the book prior to one of our away games.

That night I went out and scored 19 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and dished out eight assists in a win. Therefore, as a rule of superstition, it became a necessity to read Drive every trip while twiddling a crumpled Dennis Rodman trading card between my fingers for hours on end as I read.

Delonta initiated his road ritual that day, a ritual that would only last approximately two more games before being banished from the basketball team for good.

“I have a story,” Delonta began. He licked his lips and rubbed his thumb against his heavy eyebrow, a habit of his that accompanied the onset of a brief narrative.

“When I was in first grade, I was a good speller,” he started. “So I’m standing up there in front of the school in the auditorium. The year-end Spelling Bee. The Big Finale. It’s just me and another kid. We’re the only two left. Everybody else has been knocked out. Kids sitting down, still crying ’cause they missed a word ten minutes ago. One boy had to be picked up and carried offstage by two people because he was so upset he lost. Me and this other kid are going back and forth; the judges trying to make one of us slip up. My moms is in the front row, smiling. Proud of me.”

“‘Bicycle,’ the judge says.”

“‘B-I-C-Y-C-L-E,’ I respond. My moms gives a big thumbs up.”

“‘Hydrant,’ another judge follows.”

“‘H-Y-D-R-A-N-T,’ the other boy spells.”

“We’re neck and neck. It goes on like this for a solid two-three minutes. Neither of us falters.”

Delonta pauses. Jerel has stopped freestlying, as have Chris and Buck. All eyes are on Delonta except Stanford. He’s still in the back of the bus. Sleeping. Leg stretched out.

“Then the judge says, ‘Crayon.’ My smile gets this big.”

Delonta smiles from ear to ear.

“You stupid,” Bird says to him, laughing.

“So I’m thinking, ‘I got this Bee.’ This kid doesn’t have a chance. I’m taking home the gold today. ‘Crayon,’ I respond. ‘C-R-A-,'”

Delonta pauses again.


“I’m picturing my crayons in my hand, coloring. My favorite color green. I’m smiling. I’m gonna win the Spelling Bee. My moms is smiling. Everybody in the auditorium has their attention focused on me. The principal is looking at me. My teacher.”

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-L-A, Crayon.'”

“‘I’m sorry, Delonta,’ the judge says. ‘That is incorrect.'”

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-L-A,’ I spell out again.”

“‘I’m sorry, Delonta.’ He looks at the other kid as if to give him a chance to spell it.”

“‘Crayon. C-R-A-Y-O-L-A. Crayon,’ I say, crying. My moms is up from her seat, walking hurriedly toward the steps to the stage. The principal is nodding his head at the assistant principal. The auditorium is in complete silence. The kid who had been crying for ten minutes because he spelled a word wrong ten minutes ago has stopped crying. He’s looking at me.”

“‘That’s how they spell it on the box,’ I say to the judge.’That’s how they spell it on the box!'”

“At this point, my mom has whisked me from the stage and taken me behind the curtain. Her hand is over my mouth. My feet are dragging the ground.”

“‘Crayon,’ I hear the other kid say, ‘C-R-A-Y-O-N, Crayon.'”

“I’m throwing a temper tantrum, protesting to my mom and telling her they are cheating. My mom is whipping my ass behind the curtain. And everybody’s clapping for the other kid who just won the spelling bee.”

Less than a month after telling this story, Delonta was expelled from the team after Coach’s cell phone went missing and was traced to another player on the team who it had been sold to. Whether or not Delonta’s failed attempt at winning the coveted Spelling Bee championship in 1st grade after being robbed of the crown on account of corporate branding and product monopolization was the result of his descent into a life of crime and kleptomania is anyone’s guess.

Nevertheless, his theft did result in his banishment from the basketball team for good; and though Delonta may have been a kleptomaniac, it was never suspected he was a pathological liar and had made up the Spelling Bee story. Stanford would later transfer on scholarship to an apprentice school in Norfolk and be zapped by a high voltage of electricity while working as an apprentice in the shipyard. He would be okay.


[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.


Drakes Branch.

Red Oak.

Red House.



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.


“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.


“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!


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


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

THE VOICE WAS UNMISTAKABLE. Sharp and high-pitched as it pushed its way from the ceiling down to the floor. I listened more attentively trying to peg the voice. Then it hit me.

“Is that that Billy Corgan?” I asked my wife.  We were walking into a popular clothing store.

“Sure sounds like it,” she said.

“Did he make a Christmas album?”

“I do believe those are jingle bells.”

“Cow bells also. And a xylophone,” I said.

A young man, roughly twenty years of age, approached us as we entered in full. He wore a bright smile and headset. A mic was positioned just at his mouth. He looked like a telephone operator.

Gaydar had spotted him some twenty feet back. Less Red October. More Pink November. He wore a light blue button down oxford. The sleeves were pushed up to his elbows. Like the Brawny Man. Or Chuck Norris when he’s cracking skulls. Or the Brawny Man in earlier photos because the Brawny Man in earlier photos looks like Chuck Norris wearing flannel when he is about to crack skulls with his sidekick, Trevett.

“Good afternoon,” the retail clerk said.  Beaming.  Slightly effeminate voice.  Looking in my wife’s direction. “If I can be of any assistance, please let me know. And one last thing: May I direct your attention to our new line of jeans that just came in this morning?”

Just came in from a Chinese sweatshop, I thought to myself. How many knuckles of overworked child laborers bled over this curvy fit, dark denim?

‘Stop being cynical,’ the internal narrator of my life, whom I call Jason, countered. ‘Your clothes were probably sewn together in an Indonesian sweat shop by a woman eight months pregnant who is enceinte for the sole reason that she was raped by her sweatshop boss. Really, there is no use in fighting it. You could tiptoe through life all you wanted and you would never escape the effects of globalization. Even if you wore a garbage bag as clothing you’d never escape. Do you know how many garbage bags are imported from India each year?’

I had no idea how many garbage bags were imported from India each year.

“Oh I like these,” my wife said to me. “Now help me find a top.”

She had not dragged me along. I volunteered to help her clothes shop. I can’t dress myself for shit but do have a considerable eye for what looks good on the ladies. I am the white reincarnation of Leon Phelps and usually stop off for a fish sandwich sometime after my time spent as a heterosexual fashionista.

Being a fashionista is oftentimes exhausting work and requires a reboosting of blood glucose levels. Glucose is a fancy way of saying “sugar.” 1 in 3 American children will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime and 1 in 3 are already considered overweight or obese partially because of jacked up glucose levels from most everything they eat containing high fructose corn syrup.

“If we’d drop the damn embargo against Cuba and bring in some real sugar cane to this country we wouldn’t have this problem,” my old college roommate Kelly McDowell-McCormick used to say. He’s Irish. In case you couldn’t tell by the name. “You ever drink any Old English 800? That’s good shit.”

He used to always fill the top row of our apartment’s refrigerator with OE800; that, and Chinese take-out. He spent a summer in China and came back with a bootlegged copy of Thank You for Smoking and was so inspired by the Chinese culture he took a job as a rickshaw driver when he got back to the States.

The two of us scoured the store high and low in what was becoming a somewhat futile attempt at piecing together a single outfit.

“What about this,” my wife asked holding up a thin, long-sleeved pink shirt that appeared to be made of spandex with a ruffled front.

Spandex, or elastane, is more durable than rubber and can be stretched up to 500% from its original size and still retain its original form. Because of this statement alone, “more durable than rubber,” spandex should never be worn as an outer layer of clothing.

Because of the second half of this statement (“can be stretched up to 500% from its original size and still retain its original form”), spandex should never be worn as an outer layer of clothing.

Unless you are Heidi Klum. Or Eva Green from the film The Dreamers.

“Their selection is sort of eh,” my wife said. Her face turned sour. “What about this?”

“It’s okay but, I mean, it won’t exactly keep you warm either. Winter is fast approaching and it’s already cold as balls out. And balls are pretty cold, usually 1-2 degrees cooler than normal body temperature. It’s the only way the male species can produce viable sperm and continue the human race. How about this sweater,” I finished.

Inquisitively she responded, “With the buttons on the shoulder?”

“Yep. It’s different. I know.”

“No, I like it actually. I just didn’t think you’d go for something like that.”

“That sweater is hot like Tex Pecante,” I said.

“What,” she said.

She grabbed the two items, paused, found the “Fitting Room” sign and proceeded in that trajectory. I stayed close by her side as if a small puppy with its owner.

I began searching for the man chair but only found, the closer we walked toward the fitting room, another man standing. His hands were in his pockets. He rocked back and forth on the balls and pads of his feet. He wore somewhat dirty and scuffed Adidas running sneakers, a black cap with orange and red flames, which is truly the type of hat that should never be worn in public and why firing squads still exist in Somalia, and had unkempt facial hair.

“Back in a minute,” my wife said smiling walking toward the fitting room. The man with the unkempt facial hair pulled out his cell phone and acted like he was checking for missed calls or text messages but he wasn’t. He wasn’t because I was getting ready to pull out my cell phone to see if I had any missed calls or new text messages. Because that’s what you do when you can’t find the man chair.