* * *
I have a vague memory from early childhood. It is not an exact memory but a persistent one. It does not come from some photograph or grainy home movie but from actual experience. I was young, maybe four. Surely not five. We had moved by then. We still lived in Ohio, country folks, on a farm below a woods. My family did not live on the farm, exactly, but across the highway in a house on the river. The farm was my great grandfather's. His daughter lived in a small house adjacent to the farm on property he owned. Her children, my mother and her brother and sister, all lived nearby. I remember the stone house my grandmother lived in and the damp basement that her son lived in dug into the side of a hill. He was building a house on top. I don't remember my aunt's house at all, but I remember my aunt. My mother worked in town and left me with my grandmother. My mother's sister would come over quite often. I remember her loving me as her own. I also remember the time I was peeing outside and when I zipped up my pants, I caught my pecker in the zipper. I screamed bloody murder, to use a silly cliche, and my aunt came out to try to get it out. She tried as I screamed, but there was no gentle way to get it out, so finally she yanked the zipper down leaving me with a painful and bloody member. After that, I always remembered to put my pecker back in my pants before pulling on the zipper.
But that is not the memory I meant to recall. There are several that are distinct for inexplicable reasons. I remember my father taking me to the tall banks of the rushing river to fish. I remember my mother saying, "Bring me home a big one, I'll have the frying pan waiting." And then I was sitting on the bank with my father holding a small fishing pole in my hand. He told me I must sit very still on the bank and quiet or I would scare away the fish. There was nothing but the bank and the dark trees and the rushing river that I was not to fall into. We caught nothing that day.
Again, though, not the memory I originally referred to. Sitting here as the constant rain falls in the grey, wet dawn, I guess the dank basement that my uncle lived in, the damp bank and the river, and even taking a childhood pee come back to me. But in Ohio, from the rain and the damp litter of the forest floor spring a treasure of edible mushrooms. And that is what I was remembering. Again, it is a vague but deeply stamped impression. I was with my aunt. Maybe my mother was there. Surely she was, but if so, she is only a shadowy figure, and I do not remember much more than this. As we crept along searching through the detritus of the wet floor of the dark woods, my aunt told me I must be quiet or I would scare the mushrooms away. They would just close up, she said, and sink back into the soil. "So. . . shhh. . . . " I was astonished and began to tiptoe lightly. I had a big book of fairy tales at home, the cover a light green, that pictured a pretty, winged fairy sitting atop a mushroom, an elf smiling up at her from below. I must have thought we could sneak up on them if I were quiet. But later, after I was grown, when I remembered the incident, it occurred to me that we were probably hunting on somebody else's property and that is why my aunt admonished me to be quiet. Mushrooms don't just disappear at your approach. Do they?
I've asked my mother about this, but she doesn't remember the day. We did, though, go mushroom hunting, she said, for the little morels. She still prefers them to other mushroom types. Those and the big hickory jacks that grow on the side of trees bigger than your hand. Those would get cleaned and fried and eaten like a steak. I remember those most as I ate them at dinner after a hunting trip with my adult cousins when I was a teen.
It is the rain, I think, and this Ohio weather, that is bringing back such memories now.
* * *
I had a busy day yesterday. I didn't want to go to my nine o'clock therapy session, but I got dressed and was there on time. We began with the same dreadful exercises that burn my shortened hamstrings and then my weak hip flexors. They are so sore now that I can barely hold them in position, my face a death mask of agony as I lay upon the therapist's table.
"Are you o.k." the therapist asked me. I could see some humor in his eyes.
"Yea, yea. . . ."
"Take a rest if you need to."
The exercise is nothing more than lying on my side, straightening the top leg, and raising it about ten inches in the air for five seconds. Twenty times. WTF? But it burns then hurts and then just is impossible for me to hold any longer. The rest of the therapy session is equally painful and humiliating.
When the session was over, I drove to the gym. Tennessee was already there. He wasn't the cheeriest of fuckers this day.
"We won't be able to get that table today," he said. Of course not, not in this constant rain.
"I don't think we are going to any outdoor festivals tonight, either," I said hopefully.
"Oh. . . I can't go anyway. I got a call. I have to go to this charity thing at the library. My buddy paid like a thousand dollars to get a table. He said, 'Tennessee, you have to come'"
"Good. That's fine with me. I don't want to go out in the rain tonight anyway."
By the time I had finished my workout, it was near time to go to the DMV. T and I stood outside under the portico of the Y and talked for a bit. When we walked to the car, my key fob wouldn't open the door.
"Let me see that. Come over to the truck for a minute."
He got out a screw driver and opened the fob. He tried to pull out the battery, but it was crazy, stupid hard. At least he was having trouble.
"Take this to ACE hardware. They have the battery."
The DMV was not closed this time. It was packed with people you wouldn't want to hang around with. I've been to county jails to visit incarcerated friends before. This was as close to those waiting room crowds as you care to see. Poor people in worn out weird clothing, strange haircuts made to make you look, crazy shoes. . . anything to accentuate their "individuality." In truth, I am too close to this for comfort. Men with strange uniforms who did not look quite right walked around with pistols on their hips. What the fuck were they? I stared at the arm patch of one fellow's uniform. They weren't police. They were something else. They looked as insane as the rest of the crowd.
I'll admit, though, that they got me in right on time, and within fifteen minutes I was back in my car, a licensed driver now scurrying away from his future past tense. I had called my mother to see if she wanted lunch. She didn't, so I drove to the bowls place and got one for myself. We sat in her garage as I ate talking about the usual things. She told me my cousin from Ohio was going to stay with her again this winter. She had been a real asshole to my mother last year when she left.
"Really? You are going to let her stay?"
"Yes, I guess so."
"Tell her to fuck off. She's a drug addled asshole."
My mother cannot do that, though. Family, I guess. Not mine, of course, but hers. It's the hillbilly way.
Lunch done, I had another stop to make. I went to the auto supply place to get a battery. Fun times there, too. More of the real America. But sure as shitting, the new battery did the trick. It had only cost me $20,000. It was a real expensive battery.
And still I could not go home. My gas tank was almost empty. And goddamnit. . . I didn't have a credit card. I've been living in 1950's America, carrying cash, walking up to cashiers, counting out my bills and reaching into my pocket for proper change. I remember, of course, when people had coins in their pockets. Old men always jingled when they walked. I could always steal quarters and dimes from my father's trousers. Bureaus were always topped with discarded coins. Nice memories. Nostalgic. But damn, man. . . this was a pain in the ass that took up time. Still, you know, you end up with much more human contact.
"Hello. Can I help you?"
"Hi. I need thirty on number six."
I hand her a fifty. She rings the register, pops open the drawer, and starts counting out fives. Four of them.
"Here you go."
I walk back to the pump.
It was midafternoon when I got home. I took a soak in the tub and showered. Then I lay down for a minute. I just kind of passed out. I had nothing to do from this point on. The rain was steady. When I got up, it was four. I didn't feel right somehow. My body, my head. I made a Campari and soda and sat on the couch. There was no going outside. I turned on YouTube and pulled up a two hour audio of Bukowski reading his poem. It was good but depressing. I paused it, got up and cut a cucumber into slices on a plate. Kosher salt and a little Balsamic vinegar. I poured a short scotch and went back to the couch. It was raining and cloudy and darkness was falling early. It was five, then five-thirty. I didn't want to make a grocery run. But wait. I had half the pork tenderloin leftover from the night before. I had a can of baked beans. The rice container was empty, but I had a vague recollection of buying more. Only vague. I needed milk, but I could manage if I had the brown jasmine rice I was almost remembering. I got up to scrounge through the messy pantry. Fuck yea! Score! I pulled out he rice cooker and wondered for the ten thousandth time how in the hell it knew how long to cook the rice. I poured a glass of Pinot Noir and sat back on the couch. I switched over to some news. I was feeling like shit, though, disoriented and trembly. I put on a biography of Zane Gray. I have never read one of his books, but I am positive he is awful. The bio, though, was fairly fascinating. I knew he was an outdoorsman and that Hemingway wanted to catch bigger fish than he. What I didn't know was what a handsome man he was. He was a ne'er do well who wanted to play baseball, which he did, and have affairs with women, which he did also. He got a scholarship to Penn where he played baseball and became a dentist. He moved to NYC into a poor-ish neighborhood and pulled teeth. It depressed him. He was depressed off and on for the rest of his life. But he managed to marry a woman with money who somehow tolerated if not encouraged his many affairs with much younger women. She funded his excursions into the west where he got ideas for writing his pulp fiction. He became one of the best selling author's in America. He sold the movie rights to many of his books. By the nineteen twenties, he was making almost a million dollars a year. The fucker lived the life of dreams. When he went to Mexico or Australia or New Zealand or the Florida Keys to fish, he always had a coterie of young women. He bought homes in California, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, always working with beautiful "secretaries."
I was feeling worse. The rice cooker clicked off. I heated the pork and the beans and plated them with the rice. I switched over to a serial I've been watching for a very long time about a fellow who bought little stone houses in the Italian mountains. He lives in a tent and works on the huts and houses, rebuilding everything. He has solar panels and a spring well. This night, he had finished his fireplace and burned his first wood in it. He lives alone with his chickens. He works alone, cooks alone, eats alone, cleans alone. He films it all. The food was brining me back to life, and for the thousandth time, I swore I would begin working on my house again.
But the Black Ass had me. It overwhelmed me and swallowed me whole. My body is shot. My mind is following. Maybe associating with these young cocks isn't good for me. Maybe it is taking its toll. I felt as alone in my house as I ever have. I took some pain relievers. I ate a Xanax. I finished my whiskey and went to bed.
I slept without moving. I woke at six to the sound of the constant rain. I need sunshine, I thought, hoping it was the weather that was making me blue. Now the coffee is gone but not the rain. I will head off for the gym again like the automaton I am. Surely the robbery has something to do with it. I keep eyeballing Leicas online. I'm not winning. I'm losing. I need something good. Good weather. A woman. A new camera. Something. Everything.
Zane Gray died of a heart attack at 67.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay. . . .
* * *
My grandmother's house had a very long driveway that curved out to the highway. One day, she had dug a hole close to the house and filled it with water. I had a stick with a line and was pretending to fish. She went into the house, and in a little while, bored, I walked down the yard beside the gravel drive, perhaps halfway to the highway, further from the house than I'd ever been before. I heard something like a song coming from the clouds, like the singing of angels. It frightened me. It got louder and louder and I became increasingly fascinated and afraid. And then I saw it, an airplane that was flying by. I stood there watching it, staring into the sky somewhere between earth and the heavens. In a bit, my grandmother came outside and yelled for me to come back to the house. When I looked back, the house looked like a tiny toy, distant and impossibly far away. Something happened to me that day that I've never been able to understand, at least not in words, but I was at that moment, in some deeply profound way, forever changed.