Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Haircut.


I don’t remember if it was once or twice a year. But we’d load up, the four of us boys into Pop’s truck, after taking a picture. The picture was of us all. Four boys with a year’s worth of mangy hair and dad with a beard to match.

We’d drive four or five blocks down to the barber shop by L&S Foodland. Years later I’d work at L&S, which hadn’t been updated since before we were even children. The strip mall the barber shop were in was in disrepair in 1986. And even more so a decade later when I’d push baskets through the potholed lot.

I’d usually walk down to that same strip mall to get beans or olives or whatever else a recipe called for that we didn’t have in the cupboard. I’d pass a laundry mat and dream about taking my clothes, which we hung dry, there to the crumbly laundry mat, breathe in the chemical scent and know once I put them in the dryer they would smell fresh and they wouldn’t be stretched and they wouldn’t be frozen from the moisture in them when the nights got below zero and they wouldn’t be faded and the holes would fix themselves and they would not be hand me downs or inexpensive or practical and the elastic in my sweatpants wouldn’t be broken.

But on this day, my dad would drive. Past two stopsigns and lady pushing her buggy through the potholed lot.

There were two ladies who cut hair there. They would see us running up, trying to make sure we got a seat to wait in that had a magazine. Usually a months old Field and Stream. The barbers were an older lady who was probably in her sixties and a younger one in her late twenties. I’d always hope to have the younger one, who was in my mind the most beautiful unisex haircutter of the ages. 75% I’d end up getting the older one. Who would fidget with my head for 15 minutes as we’d all watch Mama’s House on a 13” television, in a strip mall, watching people walk through the parking lot with their bags full of beans and olives, trying to avoid the potholes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cornbread.


My mother is a great cook. A simple comfort food cook. What she did she did on the cheap and she did well.

I remember that when we'd have leftover cornbread, and we'd not be hungry for a dinner but enough for a snack, she'd pour a glass of milk. The put a piece of cornbread in it. A regular old fashioned corn bread milk shake.

I can't remember how many times I had this. But it popped into my head the other night. Right after we'd made some cornbread, which I subsequently drowned in 2%.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Josh + Ben


One summer when I was around twelve Mom told us she had placed an ad in the paper.

I’m going to babysit this summer. We could use the money, and then you all would have a new friend to play with.

I didn’t need any new kid to play with. Much less any kid whose parents would pay my mom to watch them. A kid who would come into our house and see that we didn’t have proper bedrooms or nice furniture or air conditioning.

She went on a few interviews. I don’t know how any panned out except the one that she told us about.

I’ve found a family
you already have a family
whose children I am going to watch.
What children? Multiple? You have multiple.
Their names are Josh and Ben.

The kids next door in the nice house were named Josh and Ben.

The Collins?

No. These kids are coming down to stay with their parents this summer. They are from Minnesota. Their mom works at the Mayo Clinic. It’s a really nice hospital.

I had never met anyone from Minnesota. At that point, I don’t think I’d met anyone from outside of Limestone County. I didn’t know much about hospitals and less about the Mayo Clinic but what I did know what that the people who worked at our hospital had glistening cars and that if our hospital was just a hospital and not a good hospital then I bet these kids wore Starter jackets and nice shoes and maybe even had jewelry. Now it was worse. We weren’t just having kids at our house. We were having exotics.

We drove out to the county to their parents place to pick them up a few weeks later. In our black Dodge van. It was the only new car my mom has ever had. We bought it years before, right after Taz was born. It smelled like carpet. I wanted to make it my bedroom. I could remove the middle bench seat and make it a living room. The seats were grey for three months. After hauling the four of us around for 6 years it didn’t smell like carpet any longer. It smelled like broken. I was embarrassed to be in this van. This van that had crushed chips and stained seats and a broken rearview mirror.

I expected we’d pull into a mansion. With a doorman. And we’ve meet the boys. And they would hand me their luggage or whatever it is that a kid would take to another kid’s pink sagging house for the day when he was not going as a friend but as a business venture. I bet they’d have brought their horse down. I was sure Minnesotans were cowboys.

We drove out to Seven Mile Post road. Turned left off the hiqhway right at the store that sold fireworks and gas and antiques. There were cotton fields on either side of the county road but a forest a mile ahead. Enter the forest. Turn right. Into a trailer park. Pulled up to their double wide.

Of that summer I remember a number of things.

Accents. Josh and Ben didn’t talk like they were from the South.

We hauled dirt. Our neighbors had put in a below ground pool. They had to put the dirt someplace. So mom had them put it in our back yard. And then decided to raise the natural level of our front yard. We spent two summers moving wheelbarrows full of dirt from our back yard to our front yard. Two barrels a piece each day. More if we got in trouble for acting up. The dirt was easiest to haul right after it rained. That summer was 95% dry. I’m sure having children who you are taking care of do manual labor is slightly illegal. Or at least frowned upon.

Scott. Their older brother lived here. He’d moved down with their dad during the divorce. He wore ripped music tshirts with no sleeves, 389 metal arm bracelets, tight pants, long unkempt dry hair, cold sores. He locked his door. We rarely talked.

A double wide. I’d never been in a trailer before. It was dark. Sad. Had linoleum floors. We watched A League of Their Own once.

Leeches. They were clearing the woods out for a large development. There was an enormous pile of trees at the end of their neighborhood. Fifty feet high. A mile long. On the days we’d go to their trailer we’d play on this pile for hours and hours. We’d build tunnels. We’d fall into holes and get cut and get hurt. They told me there were leeches in the pile. I didn’t know what that meant or if it mattered.

The next summer I left the state for the first time. I rode with their dad in his van from Alabama to Champaign, IL, to meet them halfway and pick them up. I thought we’d stop in fun places. I’d seen trips on television before. I wanted to go on one. I wanted to ride with the top down and stop at diners. We didn’t stop one time.

Joel had pre-made eight sandwiches and put them in the bread bag and brought some water and we droveand listened to NPR and looked out at the road and crossed state lines in silence.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stolen Shoes.


I had a pair Nike Air Raid shoes back in the early 90s. They were important to me. I think they were the first thing that I made an independent decision on and was given affirmation from my mother.

I think we were in a store. I really like those shoes.

So do I. I really do.

I bought them. I am sure my mom financed the greater part of them.

They were the first fancy shoes I'd ever gotten. We'd always go to Shoe Carnival and buy the 'buddy' shoes - the ones that looked like the latest style, but had non brand names like Hoops. I'd always coveted the shoes of the kids who had parents with money.

Once I went to who I thought was a friend's house. The kids there ended up ganging up on me and I got hit in a face with a thrown shoe. My nose started bleeding. It was the closest I'd ever been to a Nike before.

So I had this pair of Nikes. The side panels were green suede. There were straps that crossed in the front. Every day I wore them I wanted to wear a dress shirt and a tie. I wanted them to last forever. I wanted to shrink to a size where I could walk into them and live in them and then my house would be new and suede and name brand and not pink and sagging and embarrassing.

I would take them off for gym class. I would put on my Hoops. I didn't care to have the performance of performance shoes I wanted to have the look of the performance of the performance shoes. I wanted the suede to always stay pushed in the same direction. I didn't want the lines or the attention of unkempt leather.

I came back to the locker after class one day and my locker was unlocked. My shoes were gone. My house had been stolen. I couldn't think. I couldn't cry. I can buy three pairs of those shoes. I've got money. I lied. I told myself they come back. I walked into a bathroom stall and I cried. It's like I had been hit in the face with my own shoes.

Weeks later I saw a guy named Chris Tucker in gym class. He was one of the few people in my class who was less well off than me. He had my shoes on. I went and talked to Coach. After an hour of talk, we had resolve. He said they were found someplace else. I thought he'd stolen them. Wanting his own green suede house. I got my shoes back.

But they weren't the same. They had this smell. Something toxic. Like chemical adhesives. I don't know where it came from, but it wouldn't come out. I tried to wear them. But I couldn't. The smell reminded me that my shoes hadn't always been mine. I tried to wash them and dry them. The suede lost it's hand feel. Became dry, cracked. Less green.

I had to throw them away a week or so later. I was back into my Hoops. I felt bad. I'd taken something that made me feel like an equal with my peers from someone who was trying the same thing. Even if they had been stolen. Instead of one of us feeling middle class, those shoes ended up in a landfill.

With all the other fancy shoes and buddy shoes alike.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Air Conditioner.


We had some cats growing up.

Not some obscene amount that would mark us as cat lovers or ‘cat people’ but just as a general rule there would be two always meowing about. Looking for food. Which I don't think they ever really liked being our cats cause we couldn't afford the wet cat food that tasted like fish ice cream or anything I can imagine a cat would like like that. The way we gave them wet cat food was to take regular boring crunchy cat nuggets and soak them in water.

So we had one who was named bear or tiger and it didn't look like a bear or tiger in particular, but you kinda give cats names that fit what you wanted them to look like. So we had a black tiger. Or a striped grey bear. For the purposes of this story I am going to say the cat was Tiger. So...tiger.

We had tiger a long time. Maybe three years? Enough to pump out about another 20 bastard kittens over the course of her life.

We had a central unit. But it didn't get a whole lot of play. We'd just use window fans and attic fans and hope for a breeze. Now I realize how miserable it was. As a kid you don't know what humidity is. You don't realize your sheets are wet when you go to bed. You just close eyes and dream of Nintendo. And the attic fan. One word: economic. Turn on an attic fan for 2 minutes. Open all the windows on the bottom floor. Witness miracle.

But the AC would only get turned on at nights, for a minute, usually as mom was out bartending in Huntsville. That was her job. She couldn't afford to turn on the AC. But sometimes, like giving a treat to the cats of wet cat food, I'd turn on the AC for 15 minutes. And my sister and I would sit right by the vent. And feel the air that we couldn't afford.

About this time, tiger began to cry under the house. Which she did when she was in heat. She was hot a lot of the time. I'd crawled up under the house, a number of times, and called her name. Trying to get her to come out. I figured she would when she got tired of being in heat and crying and wanted some dry cat food soaked in water.

For a week or so, she cried. Her cries became less forced and quieter. We thought she 'd cooled off, and came out from under the house. We'd not seen her, but that was typical of the kinds of cats we kept around our house.

A week and a half later, I turned on the AC for a few minutes. It smelled funny. I turned it off.

We still hadn't seen tiger.

Another week. It's too hot to not turn on the AC. I turn it on. The smell of death comes into the house. All over. Central death processing unit.

My 15 year old brain puts it together.

She'd not been in heat. She'd found a hole in the cool ducts. And died. Right under my feet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Models.


My older brother used to have a unique style.

For what it was. It was pretty dumpy, I thought. But we were all dumpy as kids. And teenagers. And even into college. I actually wore XL shirts in middle school, L in high school, M the first few years of college and now I find I'm most comfortable in S or XS. I bought a kids large polo shirt last week.

We were dumpy and not particularly fashionable growing up from not having much money, fashion sense, direction. A fairly insular community has a tendency to grow a lot of people who look the same.

But not my older brother. He would do things his own way (I don't think he's this way much any more - I realize that we are grown up and wear collars a little more). He had this hat he'd wear some. It looked like a beret that was crushed by a steamroller. It was flat. Lifeless. Black.

One day he came home from being at the University in town. Which at this time was still a college. Athens State. He wasn't taking classes. He was probably sitting under an oak tree and acting deep and tortured (he might have been - I know the only time I am particularly deep is when I am attempting to get someone to think I'm deep; I'm probably projecting). He might have been 13.

A lady came up to me today he tells mom. She'd like me to do some modeling. She says I have a really unique style. I have her card.

What? That's what my heart and my jealousy said. I'm far more stylish. I probably said this wearing a flannel shirt and green denim shorts.

I saw him moving to Paris. Away from Alabama. And he'd get all the girls. They would think he's deep and tortured and beautiful and he has a black hat and sideburns (which I was insanely jealous of). He would speak four different languages. Be studying a fifth.

I probably stormed off. If only I had been there. Then she'd know who has real style my green denim shouted at the top of its lungs.

Nothing ever happened with it. He did move away, though. One town east. Into my dad's house.

I remember a school picture he had from around that time. He was wearing baggy pants, sleeveless flannel over a teal t shirt, sideburns, no hat. In front of a giant '94.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fish Camp.


(I remembered this last weekend, while we were camping on the Boston Harbor Islands.)

My dad took us camping at least once. There might have been another co-opted trips with some Boy Scout troop (that I think he led one season - it met in an old building at the end of the alley on our block.). But this is the only time I remember.

It seems like we had a camp right on the Elk River in North Alabama. It might not have been the Elk. It might have been near a place called Piney Chapel. That name always did and continues to sound haunted to me. Actually, the only things I remember about this trip are in a picture that I saw at some point. My dad had a blue truck. We camped under a tarp. I think it rained and we got wet and it was cold but I was fishing and dad was there and so I thought it might all be safe.

I don't think I was scared when we slept. Cause I was with dad.

The whole campsite smelled like bait. Acidic. It's what I remember about the South in the summer when you are by a river. That smell of gasoline, plastic (and real) worms. I don't smell that very often. It's one of those smells that takes you right to a point in time. This is that point. When I get near a river and the humidity is high and there are plastic cups filled with nightcrawlers and bugs are crying I go back to 1987.

The only vivid thing that stands out in my mind is the drive back.

D: Shit.

M: ..silence...

A lump forms in my throat. I don't know if we'll die out here. Near the smell of a river.

D: We are runnin' out of gas.

Heart sinks.

M: Can't you drive faster?

D: No, son. If we drive faster, we'll burn more fuel. And then we'll run out sooner.


This was the first time in my life that I remember thinking that adults weren't invincible. That my dad couldn't move mountains. In all honesty, I think this is the point that broke my faith in my dad.

We did make it home. We found a gas station somewhere along the way.

But the damage had already been done. Somewhere between the Elk River and the pink house on North Madison Street.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Johnny.


My freshman year of high school we had a visitor move in. His name was Johnny.

I can't remember much of him, really. He was a friend of my mom's from Arkansas. He had a ponytail, an abnormally red face. Dirty jean shorts. I can't remember where he slept. I think on a couch. I think I was trying to block him from my memory.

I remember being uncomfortable with anything that made me feel different from my peers. And having some guy who stayed at my house who wasn't dating my mom and was a live in repair man who slept on a couch who was down on his luck and just looking for a way to get his feet back under him set me apart. And I believe that is why I remember little of him. Even though I think he stayed with us for six months.

The thing I remember most about Johnny was that he was an amazing handyman. That's what he did while he was at our house. He fixed things. And my house, with our scant income and five children, needed all the fixing it could get. He repaired our back porch, which was closed in and served as our main eating area. The floor was rotted and falling in. And one day I got home, and the whole thing was gone. He'd just ripped the floor out. Hoisted the back way onto something and over the course of the next months rebuilt the floor.

It ended up being the one part of our entire house that didn't shake when someone walked through.

I don't think I ever had a conversation with Johnny. I tried to avoid him. I was confused by his presence and a little uncertain about his prospects. He was just a passer through. One who gave our house on North Madison Street a little more stability when it was crumbling.

One day he was just gone. Maybe Mom drove him back home. Maybe he just walked out. Either way, last time I saw Johnny was the summer of '95.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Oklahoma.


My family are Indians. Or Native Americans. Which explains a number of things:

1) Why my dad wears shirts that have Indians and say 'Department of Homeland Security. Protecting America from terrorists since 1492.'

2) Why I can't grow a beard. Seriously. Think about it. Have you ever seen a Sitting Bull or a Big Mule with a beard?

My grandmother took me to Oklahoma once when I was maybe 10. We went to Miami, where my Great Grandfather Jess and Great Grandmother Rose. Rose was 100% Cherokee. Which is why I have my paperwork and am a registered member of the Cherokee Tribe of Oklahoma and didn't get any college scholarships for being a minority although I never felt I faced any discrimination nor deserved one based solely on lineage .

There are only a few recollections I have of that trip:
a) A city pool. It was really hot, and I think this was the only part of the trip I really enjoyed.
b) A television show. I really wanted to watch one show. But it was only on one night. And I think we missed it. We were at the pool.
c) A top. It was a toy. There was some top that was tearing up the charts circa 1989. On the commercials people spun it and then stood it on the tip of a pencil. My top looked like the one in the commercial. But it didn't act like it. I think we went by Walmart and got one because I was complaining because I was missing the show I wanted to see. And somehow, I ended up with it at the pool.

I don't remember the overall purpose of our trip. It was probably for sightseeing. I remember being lonely. There. With my grandmother and Oklahoma.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Flip Flop.


I grew up in a pink house. On North Madison Street.

And down the street was a lady named Angela Hollins. She was a nice lady. She had a daughter or maybe two. I can't remember is she was married or not. Or if she ever had been. She had two oak trees in her front yard. The whole sidewalk in front of her house became unskateboardable when the acorns started to fall. It was a minefield of those nuts. Needless to say, she also had a lot of squirrels who chose to hang out around her house.

I've never been a big fan of flip flops. The piece that passes between my big toe and lesser big toe always got on my nerves. It rubbed. I avoided it. Except right after rain storms. Which was the only time the pain of a flip flop tounge was less than the joy of jumping in cold puddles. The puddles were always so cold - and in the summer time the sidewalk was so hot. I have no doubt in my mind that there are millions of tiny tornadoes surrounding Alabamian post rain storm puddles.

Which you can destroy by jumping with both flip flopped feet. Right into.

One day, after some pop up storms, my brother and I put on our flippies (I think mine were red and his green - we always had a cool vs. warm color thing going on. Which is how we kept all our Christmas presents straight. We both got ten speed bikes one year. When we were maybe 9. Mine was red. I almost got hit by a car. Then I was so afraid that I locked it up, and to my knowledge, I never rode it again. It just rusted. Red on red in the pink shed behind our house.)

We flopped down the street. Destroying tornadoes as we went. Angela was on her front porch. Maybe having a drink. Maybe just reading a book.

She laughed as we ended up in front of her house.

You (me) and your brother are so cute. I can hear your flip flops all the way down the street.

I think the only time that I'd ever heard the word cute was on a TV show that I wasn't allowed to watch. Something like Dallas. Something my mom would watch and then we couldn't come into her room. Leave me alone. I'm watching Dallas.

The word cute sounded like adult talk. Like a contract. I thought, for about 4 years that I would have to marry Angela.

The start

I was sitting around last week.

I had a memory come to my mind. Which, at times, I've been known to have. I'm not peculiar in this way. All kinds of people remember stuff.

But then we forget. And the great machine called our brain logs it away. And then in another 12 years it will yet again come to the fore. With less clarity than the first time. Our RAM, it seems, can't run all of our memories at the same time.

That's what I plan to accomplish with this blog. A 100% true to memory chronology of things that no one else cares about.

Away we go.