I. Trailer (1993)
"Stay within our sight."
The sound was like filling a tin bucket with water from a great height. Parents.
Enter the Indian boy and red Huffy, mullet thrashing about with each consecutive torso lurch and pedal. His white man doppelganger rode alongside him, racing I think. Two seven year olds and their mullets and coupled inertia, playing about in the wind. To think I knew their names once.
Beyond them was the hole in the fence. Led directly to the fairgrounds where we'd run around, alive in broken rules and bare feet. The comfortable and diverse zest of farm animal shit.
Other side of the road and a Town Pump gassed up tourists passing through. I'd mastered the game at four, eating gas station ethics from the inside out. Walk in without a shirt or shoes, a few pennies in hand.
"Is this enough for the Butterfinger BBs?”
It never was, but it also never mattered.
I pedaled my Big Wheel, a plastic tricycle hardly meant for gravel roads, between a pair of USPS mailboxes. Did a three-point and tore home, satisfied with the emulation of my father in his gray eighties Astro.
I miss the boxier vans. Something solid, room-like about them. Might be appropriate for furnishing and a family movie if you took the car seats out. And we did, using one as a couch in our mobile home near the television. Die Hard was not-quite-so literally the ride of a lifetime.
Mountains of popcorn and that massive silver bowl. I once fit underneath you know. The heated air and the unspoken inference of salt. As a family, we watched something animated, probably Disney. A song about the anticipation of being a king.
A lone kernel arced through the empty space in our living room. Laughter, and a spontaneous battlefield. The brown shag carpet was only an implication beneath a coat of popcorn, misfired. Our Retriever’s eyes marbled over in the kiln of canine existentialism.
Squint and imagine that first, fresh layer of winter snow. Now, imagine a tight ceiling and walls bumping up against your elbows and the tenuous aromatic permanence of microwaved butter. Step forward. Know how it feels for your foot to anticipate the crunch of ice only to feel the twig bones of mice breaking beneath. Open your eyes and smile again. Your family is here. Those pale immobile blotches are only popcorn. Does this constitute domestic violence? Isn't The Lion King great?
This is what it feels like to remember.
I heard that the word “SEX” was secretly animated in dust somewhere in The Lion King. I try to keep that Durden bullshit out of my life, but I can’t help it. Every thousandth frame or so of my cognitive experience is spliced with lone images of debauchery.
II. Logan (2003)
"Peace be with you,” says Pastor Mike. A couple hundred years ago, the Catholics weren't doing something right, so we could call him Mike, Pastor Mike of Faith Lutheran Church in Great Falls, Montana.
"And also with you,” returns the congregation. The last "you" echoes with a delayed repetition. "You, you, you…” Each utterance is a procession of age, an audible argument for neural dilapidation. The end of my pew goes like this: croak of frog, croak of sad frog, silent scream.
I finish drawing a mess of cubes on the provided program. We were learning about the illusion of depth in school. Top of the class, sixth grade art, whatever that means.
“Now please bow your heads.” Phew. Sound waves strained through a mustache prickle and burn. Our Father, who art in heaven… I open my eyes. I’m invisible, Schrodinger's child. Heads bowed in rows. I squint and a plane forms in my vision: row upon row of grey noise and spotty skin, pockmarked with an occasional haystack or ring of fire. The presence of bald spots and saturation in hair color are inversely related and incremental. Shiny, shiny heads and hospital coughs. So many goddamn old people.
…hallowed be thy name…
A sneeze and jolt in my periphery from the pew in front of mine. Hunched shoulders and a lowered head, mid sleeve wipe. We’re all so clean.
...thy kingdom come…
“Gesundheit,” I whisper. What I really meant was “ha-ha.”
…thy will be done…
A head of matted red hair emerges from the wiry frame.
…on earth as it is in heaven…
Eyebrows rise and a smile turns the corner. A Jolly Rancher pokes out between his incisors. Dirt-coated sugar laden lips spread wide. Gross.
“Now go in the name of the Lord,” says Pastor Mike. And we believe we do.
I’m with Logan and his mother for the day. A self-arranged play date. Vestigial guilt remains from that time I didn’t invite the token overweight kid—not the kind that adheres to his or her boisterous stereotypical perception of admirable fat folks, but the kind that falls victim to schoolyard truffle shuffle shenanigans nigh willingly—to my birthday party. Can a third grade birthday invitation function as a life determining fulcrum? Am I the weight that tips the balance? Fat joke.
People file through the McDonalds for a different kind of communion. Each takes their turn to order and sit down, and eat in their respective conversation bubbles, each like an invisible sound barrier. They only leave when others require seating of their own, an unspoken exchange of human empathy. Try not to crack a smile at that one.
Orange soda drips down his chin and expands the potentiality for the dirt smile into uncharted territories: I Found Mommy’s Lipstick Pt. 2.
“God damnit, Logan. Use a fucking straw.”
She grabs him by the wrist and twists. The drink falls to the floor and disappears in the rivulets between each inoffensive grey tile. The white noise (Ha-ha, white people) from each invisible sound barrier halts, a short in the wiring due to this anomaly: the high-pitched wail of a socially inept preteen. I stick a fry down my throat far enough to gag.
“We’re leaving,” she says. And so we do.
“Finish him,” commands the television. Where might that voice actor be now? At his nice home, with a wife and grade A, A-grade kid in hand? I’m not so quick to think so. No, he is likely sipping Seagrams in a sweat-stained old chair wishing he told dad the three big ones before he went away for good. The archaic architecture of alcoholism, thanks be to committed folks like Logan’s mom, more or less just the orange glow and metered cough in the corner.
So I press a combination of buttons on the gamepad and finish him, a skill? subconsciously engrained from countless sleepovers and secret rentals from the video store. My father will die never knowing how goddamn excellent I was at Mortal Kombat.
My character’s hair extends and wraps around Logan’s, as would a python, and squeezes until a thirty-two bit bone crunch blasts from the soup can speakers. His character turns to pixilated dust and a few egregiously capitalized red letters emerge from the wreckage.
“That’s not fair! I told you not to do that!” He springs a leak and that wail spills out.
“But it’s part of the game. It’s built in.”
“I don’t care. It isn’t fair.”
“Shut the fuck up, Logan,” say the embers in the corner. And so he does.
III. Interview (2013)
"Good morning, Monday!" fzzzbbtttt "Dozens of Nigerian students dead!" fzzzbtttuhhh "No end in sight for tuition hikes." bbbzzzttthhhfzzz "Ay-eend I hee-I hee-I will always love you-hoo-owooowoo!"
Radios don’t actually make that noise, but fuck ‘em anyway. I'll just use my iPod. That guy. Me.
Shuffle. "Traveling, swallowing, dramamine..." Nice music for a long drive with everything to think about. I’m doomed.
Didn't warm up the car that morning. Pulled out of the Thunderbird Motel in Missoula with frost on every window but the front. Thank you, Discover card. You're killing me and saving my life all at once. You did damage to that frost; I can discern colored light and the implied shape of street signs. Thought I'd let the heat handle the rest. Thanks. Sleep now, Discover card. Sleep.
To exit Missoula in the morning fog of inversion: rural noir.
Less angst, please. Practice that smile in the rearview. Good boy. Don't let the natural desaturation get to you. White mountains, black trees, rolling gray asphalt. Light is there, just slanted. Cascading in those wave-balls over your head, chasing the curvature of the earth. The forty-seventh parallel is fucked, yes, but you aren't.
Q. What makes you qualified enough to teach English here, at Hamilton High School?
A. I have an English degree, but don't ask me about grammar or punctuation. Ask me who wrote a book, any book, and the name will apparate, the product of reading reading lists over a five year period. Goodbye to syllabi! Introspection is easier now, an intuition. Ask me how I'm doing and I'll deliver the goods. Not good, honestly. Too many choices. The mind's eye, being on the inside, has adapted to the dark. It cannot determine direction: up, down, left, right, the in-betweens, directions yet discovered. The little bugger just chooses a vector and says, "You are my standard," then prays.
Q. What will you do to make sure students are educated with their best interests in mind?
A. Put me in charge of your child's well-being. I'll teach 'em a thing or two about reading and writing. Unless that damn school-board kicks those novels to the curb. Welcome to class, 9th graders. Today we'll begin reading Portnoy's Complaint, a book with which many of you will identify. Yes, we'll get straight to the heart of the matter. Or, more appropriately, the liver. The school-board can return from whence it came: the local chest-high socioeconomic ceiling.
Q. Give us a brief outline of your personal morals and how they either underline or contradict the NCTE/IRA standards.
A. Fuck mass. Walk through a wall sometime. Also, what?
Q. Why should we hire you?
A. Each day, a thousand wavering eyes will pass before me and I'll be asked to keep them fixed on a point. The point: a nebulous swarm of beautiful nihilism. So I preach.
Children! Commit to memory that which has no name, no shape. Commit the English Language! Its structure, its rules (I will laugh here), growth, velocity, its applications! Literature, expression, the dissemination of rule sets on large, colored signs!
The borders of frost on the windshield have expanded enough for me to read a passing rectangle: SPEED LIMIT 70 / NIGHT 65. (Sidebar: is night defined by a set time or percentage of visible light?)
I approached such a sign on foot during a march at Band Camp in eighth grade. Two mes could've fit in that plane (not including tuba and if assuming the fetal). The surface area of the thing! I reach this conclusion by multiplying width times height. I’ve filed this one away under Sense of: See “Awe”.
“Hey, Second Chair Tuba. Get the fuck back in line!”
Almost there. The pedometer is broken, but I know what seventy-five miles-per-hour feels like as opposed to, say, two hundred. Or zero. Ballpark.
What is the plural form of “me”?
Fog so thick it looks like the parking lot is forming and disappearing below me as I drive. A few halogens, dull and yellow from the muck of years, blink half-assedly into existence. One of those bulletin boards with letters missing, a haphazard toothy grin. Cheshire cat. All these goddamned associations. Those signs are still around, I guess.
Welcome to Hamilton High School!
2-2 BBB DEER LOD E
2-7 GBB HOME
GO BRONC !
Since when does Deer Lodge play Hamilton? Seems unfair.
Slam it into park and kill the ignition. The silence and cold seep on in. Wool socks even fail me. Toes are stinging, but that might be the shoes. So impractical. Shiny, a distraction. Brown like shit. What else comes to mind when I say “brown”? Your answer determines the decade in which you were born. Shiny shit shoes, digging deep on into my achilles, dying to chip away at my frozen bones.
Those double wide glass-paners (door slang) are fucking killing me right now. They form a sinister face. I’m not sure how, but you could find a way. Like, those upper two panes are the eyes, and, like, but so the lower two are giant buck teeth, and, uh, the metal divider is that pencil flat grin. Or something. I’ll workshop it. In the meantime, I bust the teeth wide open.
That lady has glasses like I’ve never seen before. Pulled sharp at the edges, like they’re trying to split the world in two. What a place to start.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Here for the interview.”
Oh man, my smile. You should see it.
I am absolutely beaming.
“Take a seat over there, sir. They’ll be with you in but a moment.”
I am not supposed to be here.
This seat, it hurts my ass. Fucking pleather.
I am slave to my ambition.
“We’re ready to see you now. Please come in.”