Friday, September 8, 2023

"You're Just A Character in Your Own Novel"

I'm feeling a little funky this morning.  Woke up with a sore throat.  I'm sneezing.  Runny nose.  I lie in bed and think.  What did I do?  I swim up through the murk of unconsciousness hoping to break the surface before I run out of breath.  Oh. . . yea. . . yea. . . I remember.  

But let's jump back 24 hours.  I was up then, writing to you when I got a text message from my mother.  The a.c. company called and said they were on the way with her new unit.  This was confusing after my mother's befuddlement of the day before.  She, in her near nervous breakdown, was telling me that they were going to send someone out to do an estimate.  O.K.  I finished up my missive to you and called my mom.

"They are bringing a new unit to install," she said.  She sounded normal. 

"Well that's good, right?  You were all sketchy about it yesterday."

"Yes, it's fine.  They'll be here in a minute."

Just then, there was a knock on my kitchen door.  It was Mr. Tree.  Shit.  I motioned for him to come in and kept talking to my mother. 

"Do you want me to come over?" I asked. 

"No, it's fine."

I didn't want her freaking out again.  I could go over and sit with her while they installed the unit just in case they had any questions.  

Mr. Tree was standing in the kitchen at a respectful distance.  When I hung up I told him I was talking to my mother and tried to explain the situation.  

"Oh, brother, I'm sorry.  Do you need to borrow some money?"


"I can lend you some money if you need it."

"Yea. . . I need A LOT of money.  Give me money."  

"I have a lot of people who haven't paid me yet.  I can go try to collect. . . . "

I interrupted him.  "No, I'm kidding.  I don't need any money."

I'd forgotten that they don't have any comedians in Malaysia.  Never try to tell subtle jokes with anyone from the far east.  It is useless.  They are a literal people except for when it comes to spirits and ghosts.  

"O.K." he said.  "Close your eyes and hold out your hand."

I knew what was coming.  He had brought the Cohibas.  They were in a beautiful box.  

"Oh wow," I said.  "Thank you."  

"Have you eaten breakfast yet?" he asked.  

"Yea. . . no. . . I don't really eat breakfast," I said.  A small lie.  Sometimes I do, but I had no time for going to breakfast today.  "I've had coffee."

"Oh.  O.K.  We need to go to dinner sometime.  I want to take you to that good Malaysian restaurant. . . ."

It went on like this for a bit.  I was still playing the concerned card over my mother, so he left to go rob and plunder other people in the neighborhood.  He's a decent guy, I think, but he IS a Malaysian Pirate.  He leaned in for a hug.  

"I love you, brother."

I reached to make sure I still had my wallet. 

All this time, Q had been calling.  I couldn't answer and now I wondered if I should call him back.  I knew he was driving back into the city.  What the hell.  I called.  

"Are you driving?"


"Did you talk at dinner last night?"


"Oh, man.  And you still have a job?"

"We went to a bar first, then to a sushi place.  I drank a lot.  I talked the whole time.  I told other people to be quiet, that I was talking.  They loved it." 

"I'll bet.  What are you doing today?"

"We're going on a boat trip in the Bay."

"Do you get seasick?"

"I've noticed I felt funny a couple times, but I've never actually gotten sick."

"I do.  I throw up.  I don't even like riding in the back of buses."

We spoke of other nonessential things.  I quoted Jack Nicholson from the Batman movie when he says, "What a world when a man dressed like a bat gets all my press."  

"What a world, what a world," Q replied.  "Who would have thought that a. . . " what is it?  What does she say?"

"Who would have thought that a little whore like you?"

"Yea, that's it.  We showed the boy 'The Wizard of Oz" one night.  He said it was boring."

"You don't beat him enough."

"That's what I told him."

I finished up my morning ritual, reading and responding to texts.  I had perused an article earlier on "What Men Need to Buy for Summer" or something like that, a sartorial guide for the uninformed.  You know, the sort of thing young Hollywood stars read to find out what they need to put on to be cool.  Ho!!!  In the shorts category, one needs shorts that fall just above the knee.  How should they fit?  Pinch the garment just under the butt on the leg.  You should be able to pull an inch of fabric.  You want the shorts to show off the shape of your butt and strong thighs, I guess.  Ha!  I don't.  I don't want to show off those things until I take off my pants to arouse my own true love.  I used to be built.  It is true. . . -ish.  I worked out in a steroid gym with monsters who, when out, always wore shit that showed their muscles.  I found it garish at best, hideous mostly.  I, a modest man, wore comfortable clothing that hid my enviable physique.  O.K.  Shut the fuck up.  Maybe I'm a girl.  Maybe I have feminine values.  Maybe I have the values of a once beautiful aging woman.  But I like clothing with flow.  I like large legged shorts that let "my boys" breathe.  I want a freedom of movement.  I don't want to wear a pair of shorts that are akin to Tighty Whities.  Nope.  I think those short look like some Catholic Schoolboy outfit that the Church makes you wear so the priests can see your junk.  No sir, not me.  I want the BBC shorts (big balls in cowtown) with wide legs for pretty women to be able to easily slide their delicate little hands into.  


So. . . I used The Google.  "Baggy Cotton Shorts Men."  Within a couple minutes, I ordered a pair of what look like my kind of linen shorts.  Cheap.  Probably a Chinese company.  I'm sure to be disappointed, but I am defiant.  If I want to show my shit, I'll buy my shorts from Lululemon.  I'll wear those stretchy athletic things.  I must say, however, that the Country Club College girls, those not wearing the half moon micro-shorts, are wearing those Lululemon crotch huggers with the waistline halfway up their trunks, above the belly button by many inches.  Trending.  But whenever I see them wearing those with a sports bra, I can't help but think of all the old grandpas from the last centuries who were fat and wore their pants that high.  It's a bad association for me.  

Needless to say, I've lost the thread of my narrative.  

I went to the gym.  Tennessee was there, back in town.  The bullshit started right away.  I was working in on the bench with a nice fellow I've known in there for years.  Tennessee came over to kibitz with him.  They obviously knew one another.  So my workout was slowing down quite a lot.  In a bit though, the Persian fellow had finished and Tennessee went off to do his workout.  I got through the rest of it just fine.  An hour later, Tennessee and I had finished up and were walking out together.

"We should go to the Pig tonight," he said.  I wasn't sure.  I hate making plans.  I wouldn't know if I wanted to go until it was time.  

"Keep in touch and we'll figure it out."

I drove to a gas station near my storage unit and filled up my tank, then went over to pick up another container of prints.  When I got there, though, I couldn't pick the fucker up.  This confuses me.  I picked them up to bring them here.  Have I lost that much strength?  I tried again and got it off the ground, but I knew if I tried walking with it I'd certainly tweak my back.  I put it back down and began taking out half the prints.  It was still heavy, but I thought I could manage. 

I'm dwindling.  

After a painful struggle to get the container into the house, I was hungry.  I made a tuna salad that I ate on crackers.  The day was getting on.  By the time I showered and dressed, it was mid-afternoon.  I needed to drink some green tea.  Cafe Strange was in my stars.  

The place was full--of old people.  I was there a bit earlier than usual.  Maybe it was the crazy retirees hour.  It must have been "the regulars," because they all seemed to know one another.  Jesus, I thought. . . I don't want to get caught up in this crowd.  I looked at one of the two hippie bars in the place.  One day, I thought, or early evening. . . . 

From there to mother's.  I had called her earlier.  They were finishing up the ac work.  When I got there, the house was cooling down.  She was sitting in her easy chair.  Her back was bad, she said.  She was falling apart.  

"Do you want to split a beer?"

Nope.  She had a glass of whiskey. . . "to help my back." 

"You need to go to a doctor and maybe get another injection.  You can't live with pain like this."

She's resistant.  I guess that is where I get it.  We are, by and large, just a couple of dumb hillbillies.  

My mother started talking religion.  "You are so smart.  They say you are able to take all your intelligence with you when you die."

"Who's they?"

She stared at me blankly.  Why do I do this, I wondered?  What was I going to accomplish?  

I stopped.

"Well, let's hope it is true."

As I was getting ready to leave, I remembered Tennessee had mentioned going to the Pig.  I was ready to respond now. 

"I'm heading to the Pig," I texted.  

He had just sat down to an early dinner with his wife at a place on the Boulevard.  He said he would be about an hour. 

"Already here, homey.  I'll be gone in an hour."

"O.K.  My wife will drop me off at your house.  We'll smoke one of those Cohibas."

Well, shit, I thought, now I'm in for it.  

I ordered shrimp tacos.  I looked at the bar.  It was different than the hippie bar at The Strange.  

But the place was full of dicks.  Literally and figuratively.  All business guys talking in loud sportscaster voices about the big deals they were working on or the things they were going to buy.  

"He said he wanted to buy a private jet, and I said no way.  You don't spend 12 million dollars a year.  You can't afford this.  He's probably making what?  Five or six million a year?  He's dreaming."

His conversational partner was nodding in rapt attention.  I looked around the room.  They were all wearing clothing that was right out of the sartorial guide I'd read in the morning, tight pants, tight fitting shirts, and the standard haircuts, close on the sides, some sort of goo or stickum rubbed into the top.  I could smell the cologne, if only in my imagination.  My t-shirt had a hole in it.  My baggy shorts were spotted with red paint.  Flip-flops.  At least the hipster bartenders liked me.  

Tennessee showed up when I got home.  The shit show began.  He had a Jamaican spliff the size of a Marlborough.  

"We're going to smoke this."

I looked at him sideways.  I poured the scotch.  We cut the ends off the Cohibas.  They were dry.  Mr. Tree must have kept them in his trunk for a month.  The ends crumbled as we clipped them.  

The late afternoon was pleasant.  I'd be a sport.  I took a hit off the spliff.  It was what I knew.  The night would spin out of control.  We talked things over.  Did I know the fellow I was working out with on the bench, he asked.  I'd worked out with him many times over the years, I said, but I didn't even know his name.  Tennessee tole me, then he told me the fellow was a rich Iranian who went to college in Tennessee.  "He's a Persian redneck who likes to hunt," he said.  I knew about the hunting.  The fellow tells me about his exotic hunting trips around the world.  

"He just sold a company for 100 million dollars," he said.  "My wife and I have gone to his house for parties a couple of times.  You wouldn't know it.  He's real down to earth."

"Yea, he's a real nice guy."

I remembered that earlier in the day talking with Mr. Tree about the woman who bought the beautiful house across the street as a tear down, he remarked about how much money people had.  

"Yea. . . I'm the nigger of the neighborhood.  I keep expecting one day they will just burn my house down."

His eyes had a little bit of shock in them.  Sometimes, I guess, I should just nod and smile.  

As darkness settled, we went inside.  

"What's in here, a body?"

He was pointing to the tub of prints.  I opened it up, and for the next hour, one by one, I pulled out 16"x24" Lonesomeville prints.  Each time, he said he wanted "that one."  He was making a pile for himself.  I hadn't looked a these prints since 2015.  They were a marvel to me as well.  

"You're going to leave these to me," he said.  I guessed he didn't think I had that much time left.  After and hour, we had only gotten halfway through the container from which I had removed half the prints.  In his whiskey and dope crazed stupor, he was making business plans for my work.  It didn't phase me, though.  I'm not of a business mind.  

When I put the lid back on the container, he said his wife had looked at the prints he had brought back to his house and had said she'd like to have some photographs like that made of her, but she wouldn't let me do it because I was his friend.  Did I know any other photographers. . . .  Ha!  I laughed.  

"Buddy. . . ain't nobody else can do this.  Nobody."

"I know it," he said.  

He asked me if I wanted to come to Costa Rica with him to stay at his buddy's boutique hotel on the beach.  It is a small place where he hosts groups like Tennessee's fight boys or groups of yoga instructors.  

"What am I going to do, fight or yoga?" I laughed.  

"You can do whatever you want.  You can surf or not surf.  Just bring your cameras.  We can just go around and take pictures."

I was sad, of course.  I'm broken.  I don't know if I can surf anymore.  I haven't tried since the accident.  Yoga is a problem with my fucked up knee.  I sure didn't want to do fight club.  I was of a sudden confronted with my limitations.  But. . . I would like to go.

It wasn't late, but we'd been at it a long time, or so it seemed.  He was meeting a group for a ten mile run at six in the morning.  He's see me at the gym around ten, he said.  It was his birthday soon.  I handed him a print he chose and told him it was a birthday gift.  I gave him a little mushroom to nibble on as he left, too.  He grinned.   

It was a long, murky swim to consciousness this morning.  My sore throat is better now after a couple cups of coffee.  It was, I think, just dry from the Cohiba and the spliff.  I probably snored all the night through, too.  

I will get dressed now and go for a workout.  I'll see Tennessee and there will be more talk of adventure and daring, more scheming.  

I got a text this morning from a woman who said, "You're just a character in your own novel."

Well no shit, sugar.  No shit.  You don't believe it all, do you?

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