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


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


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


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.