MADNESS AND BUBBLEGUM
I was seventeen the first time I saw a man die. It was Mrs. Banana's husband. Her name of course wasn't Mrs. Banana, but something else that I could never remember. It wasn't the same as her husband's, which was Franklin, Dr. Franklin, the dead guy. No, she was more independent than that and had kept her own name, or maybe she just made one up. I don't know really. So I called her Mrs. Banana due to her favorite outfit that she would wear at least twice a week. It was all yellow; cowboy hat, boots, belt, and jumpsuit. At first I thought it hilarious, then I started to think it rather sad, but by the time her husband died I just accepted it as the defining attribute of Mrs. Banana.
Of course she had other things, I guess you would call them quirks, that set her apart. She always wore a walkman. It was red and white with a yellow cord that blended away on jumpsuit day. One day she came up behind me when I was talking to a guest and put the headphones on me. It was a tape of whales singing, or maybe they were screaming. I don't know really. That was what she listened to at all times, whales, not fish or waves, or foreign drumbeats, just whales. I told one of the other bellboys, Todd, about it and he said that I should call her Shamoo instead of Mrs. Banana, so I tried, but it wasn't the same.
Now before I go any further on the nuances of Mrs. Banana let me say that she is not an important part of this story. She just happened to be married to Dr. Franklin, who was the first person I ever saw die, and since I know nothing of him I described her instead. It's all relative. I suppose that could make her a very important part of this story. I don't know really.
I should also tell you that my name is Lyle, this may or not be important to the story, but it is important to me. When Dr. Franklin died I was a bellboy at the nicest resort and golf club in Arizona. Now I am an ex-bellboy, recently fired from the nicest resort and golf club in Arizona. The resort and golf club is actually two entities, which of course are the resort, which is just a fancy hotel, and the golf club, which is just a fancy golf course, or maybe it is a fancy club, I don't know really. The point is that we had to deal with two types of people: rich hotel guests, and rich club members. Actually that's one type of person, rich. I should say that we dealt with two types of people, those we did know, and those that we didn't. Everybody knew Dr. Franklin.
I should say that Dr. Franklin knew everybody. I didn't know anything about him except that he was a plastic surgeon and his wife had a face as tight as a fist. Some said that he had actually created his wife out of plastic. Dr. Franklin on the other hand knew everything about me. He knew that I was a college man, that I enjoyed tennis and cricket, that I had lost my virginity to a whore in Mexico, and that my name was Larry. None of these things were true of course, but Dr. Franklin knew them, and he knew them about me. He knew similar things about Todd too.
The best Dr. Franklin ever looked was at his funeral. His hair was perfect. I don't know how they did it. He always had the worst hair due to the fact that he let his wife cut it. He told me once that there was nothing sexier than having your lover cut your hair. Those were the truest words he ever said to me. Of course when I was young I didn't have a lover, and now that I do I don't have any hair, but damn if it didn't sound nice.
Todd and I were able to go to the funeral by a stroke of luck. The entire resort and golf club staff had been invited to the private ceremony, but seeing as how we were just bellboys we lay pretty low in the pecking order of company fringes. About an hour before the service a guy came in for a job and we told him that he was hired. When we got back later in the day he was still there so I had him talk to the general manager about getting paid for it. The next morning when I got to work he was there again, except this time he was my boss. Seems he really was a college man, although I'm fairly sure he was still a virgin.
We needed a new boss, whose official title is that of concierge, due to the firing of our original one. It seems that he and Mrs. Banana were having an affair. I first became suspicious when the concierge, the first one, came in with the worst haircut that I had ever seen. He was a dandy , that guy, almost queer in fact, and his hair had never been out of place. Actually, I don't know that I ever saw it move at all.
So he comes in with this terrible haircut, which can happen to the best of us, but he was happy. I had never seen someone with such bad hair be so full of happiness, except Don King, but he's rich. Of course I would be that happy now if I had any hair, bad cut or not, but that's different. Anyway, the concierge, Franz, comes in and asks me what I think about whales. I told him that they had lovely voices, causing him to just stare at me in wonder. That was when I put it all together. He was in love with Mrs. Banana.
When I told Todd he said that he had known it all along. He said that the summer prior he had caught Franz masturbating in the poolhouse while Mrs. Banana lay out in her yellow bikini. She had a great body, still does in fact. Franz begged Todd not to tell, and he didn't, which explained why Todd hadn't worked a bad shift in months. The thing was that Todd was positive that Mrs. Banana could see Franz the whole time as she lay there sipping pina coladas and listing to whales.
It had never occurred to me that she was the cheating type, but apparently she was. Shortly after the haircut word spread through the resort and golf club, and before long it got to the doctor.
Now remember, all of this happened in one day, starting with the haircut and ending with a possessed Dr. Franklin coming through the door. He confronted Franz, who cowered into near disappearance as only a concierge can do. This was not good enough for Dr. Franklin who decided to take the situation up a notch by grabbing the computer monitor off of the desk and hoisting it over his head while yelling at Franz and stumbling over its cord for balance. Before anyone knew what was happening he caught his foot on the edge of the lobby fountain and fell back into it with the monitor in his lap.
They say that he was electrocuted at the exact same time that his skull cracked against the marble statue of a golf ball that sat atop the water. They say he died instantly, but it looked like it took a long time to me.
It was that day, the day that he died, that Mrs. Banana became Mrs. Black. She started wearing it all the time, not just once or twice a week like the jumpsuit, but every day. Even her walkman was black now. So I never referred to her as Mrs. Banana again, or Shamoo for that matter. The funny thing is that Mrs. Black is her real name. I think they call that irony, but I don't know really.
I also don't know why I started with this story, other than I just wanted you to be aware that I know things about death and madness.
Madness can start with anything. Rage is a popular one. My rage started in the balls of my feet and slowly twisted and knotted its way up through my back and deep into my shoulders before finally settling in a large lump at the base of my neck. It wasn't automatic. It had probably been growing slowly for months, maybe even years, whenever it was that I first realized that I hated my job at Arizona's finest resort and golf club, and three people that came with it, the holy trinity of uppity women.
I didn't realize how mad I had become until I was home watching CNN one evening, waiting for the snapper of the day, that being the guy who went over the edge somewhere and shot everyone in the store, or restaurant, or school, or work, anyplace would do really. There was always one, and eventually they mentioned it. That day it was in Oregon. Again. I just sat there and watched the pictures of the dead, and I didn't grow nauseous, or saddened, or wonder what's wrong with the world. I just sipped my beer and looked at their faces wondering, "Yeah, but what did they do?"
I know that sounds sick, but it's true. All I could think of was the way they treated me at work. The way they treated everybody. I just stared at the gunmen thinking, "Did it work?". How desperate and brave to stand up to aggression, it was an action that deserved both thanks and damnation. You can't just shoot somebody because you hate them. Can you? I don't know really.
Sherry the fat lesbian really pissed me off. She was a know-it-all, even when she didn't know it all. She was not quite butch and not quite feminine. The only person I could compare her to, physically mind you, was Meatloaf the way he looked in Fight Club, but with longer hair. She was judgemental and held herself beyond reproach. She threw away my Maxim magazine in the breakroom because she found it offensive, never thinking how offensive I found her.
WHY DID SHE DO IT?
Maybe she didn't love women quite as much as she hated men. This thought occurred to me when I realized that the cover of the magazine she threw out had a scantily-clad Pamela Anderson, or Lee or whatever the hell she goes by these days, on it. Anybody who appreciates the female form could not have committed such an act. The only reason she could have for doing it was that she was sick. Sick and mad. I decided to keep an eye on her.
Ally was a runt. Small and hispanic in the most annoying way. Her constant growling and bitching created a complex cross between Napoleon and the Taco Bell mutt. She must have thought that power made her taller, because she paraded it about like it was a pair of six inch fuck-me pumps. Do this. Do that. Don't do that. You can't do that!
YES I CAN. THIS IS AMERICA.
Taco Bell gives me the shits. If I take even a bite of a single item on their menu I'm in the can before I can swallow it. She rubbed me the same way.
I suppose Holly, being the actual boss of the other two, and me for that matter, was granted a certain amount of power due solely to her upper-management status. I, however, failed to recognize it on the grounds that the tiers she had ascended to her lofty position were built with, on, and by, the sweat, blood, energy, and time, of numerous people. None of which were her.
It made my stomach turn.
The resort and golf club were getting the better of me.
There is a very small list of reasons to get up at three in the morning. Nowhere on it is being a bellman. Yet, there I was with my new schedule, six days a week, from four in the morning until the next shift came in, anywhere from eleven to one. What did I do? At first I did nothing, after awhile I got drunk.
When I started the shift from hell I was not a drinker. For over seven years I was a watcher of monitors, a keeper of logs, a stoker of fires, and an increasing insomniac, but I never drank. It didn't really occur to me to abuse my situation until I was going through the confidential files one morning. Todd had been fired a few months after the fountain incident. I had just assumed that he was upset about not getting the shifts he liked anymore and had caused a stink. I had never talked to him about it. Todd and I had a good working relationship, but due to company policy we were not allowed to fraternize in our own time. Hence, I never saw him again.
I found his file in the disciplinary folder. He had been moved from his three-day-a-week, elevenish-to-four shift, and had been given the shift that I had. Apparently he started raiding mini-bars in unoccupied rooms and depleting the vodka supply which he then restocked with tap water. One night he accidentally entered a guest's room (although judging by the fact that it was occupied by one of the Victoria Secret models that were shooting a calendar on the golf course I don't know how accidental it really was). The file went on to note that she was not pressing charges against the resort as long as Todd was relieved of his duties. Behind the document was a postcard from Bermuda. It was from Todd and his new lingerie clad girlfriend, in which he wrote, "Hey fuckers! I'm in Bermuda with a supermodel thanks to your cheap-ass vodka and my incredible bedroom prowess. Thanks for everything dipshits." It was signed Todd and Naomi. Under the bar-coded sticker that the post office had put along the bottom I could make out the beginning of a p.s., I pulled off the code and read, "Tell Lyle to get his ass over here, I gotta girl for him too." It was eight years old.
That's when I started drinking. At first I just dabbled a little, a drink here, a drink there, nothing too drastic. Slowly I started hitting it a little harder. I went from one screwdriver, or vodka and whatever other juice I could find a couple of times a week, to one a night. Then it was two a night. Then three, four, up to seven a night before someone came in. The vodka was easy enough to hide, nobody ever used mini-bars unless they were already drunk, and if they were already drunk then they didn't notice that they were paying eight bucks for a little bottle of one part vodka to nine parts water. The juice was harder though. I hid a case one night and left a note saying I had dropped it, but not to worry I had cleaned up the mess, just please don't stack the juice so high anymore. I was never questioned. After my supply ran out I started taking one here and there, hoping that guests wouldn't notice the extra five dollar charge on their bill. A few did. By that time I was up to at least six a night, so I just cut out the juice all together. I figured there was no reason to push my luck.
Three shifts a week I did not work alone. This is where the rage grew. On the Thursday shift I worked with Holly. She was rather distant which was the best thing about her. If we exchanged hellos then we were really talking it up. For the most part she sat in the back, chain-smoking and doing god knows what. I sat on the edge of the fountain across from the fireplace, and drank bottles in one tilt of the head before dipping them in the fountain and filling them, sealing them, and putting them right back on my cart. It wasn't so much what she did to me that pissed me off, it was just the tension that filled the air when she was within twenty yards that I hated. It rested across my shoulders like saddle bags.
I hated going to work.
Today's music is nothing more than packaged sex with a bubblegum center.
My son used to collect baseball cards. Now he collects Britney Spears. What about baseball? Where is Derek Jeter now? Last I heard he was hanging out with Mariah Carey. Come on! My son would rather watch MTV than a game, or go to a game, or play a game! I would think him fruity if Britney wasn't so hot. I'll give him that.
I mentioned earlier that I have a lover. I lied. I used to have a lover. That's where my son came from, or so I've been told. She, Annie, left me for a single A baseball player that she met on the Internet. I'll admit that I do miss her, but hell, she's no Mariah Carey. She's Annie.
I guess the reason that I brought up music, or what they call music today, is that it's the same type of crap that all three of the uppity women listened to at work. A little too loud I might add.
They are adults. They are supposed to know better. They should know that jazz is what keeps us all sane, or that the Beatles are the greatest group of all time. They should realize that Marvin Gaye could teach them things about sex that they could never find on MTV, or the Internet for that matter. Even Mrs. Black knows that whales are more talented.
It's the little things that tick me off.
I'm fairly certain that anyone in their right mind, or their left for that matter, would agree with me in this regard. You will note that I never suggested that people in their wrong mind would agree. I mean somebody's buying the damn records.
When I was sixteen and just starting out at Arizona's premier resort and golf club, that of course being the same resort and golf club that I've been discussing (pay attention!), I already knew the difference between music and bubblegum crap.
I started out at the entry level position of bellboy. I drove to work on my first day in my Reliant K-car, a gift from my parents who had no choice but to give it to me after it quit running the summer before, and I had a brand new cassette player from Sears. The glovebox was stocked with tapes from the likes of Kiss and Bowie, the Ramones and the Beatles. Yes, even then I was wise in the ways of the Beatles. You would have to be an idiot not to be. And yes, even then I was surrounded by idiots.
That first day I got a tattoo on my ass of a suitcase with golf clubs behind it like the crossbones on a Jolly Roger. I couldn't sit for days. It was part of bellboy initiation. Since we weren't allowed to fraternize on our own time we had to do it on the clock. We even took the lobby shuttle. Todd got one too. It was the beginning of a beautiful working relationship.
Know what we listened to in the company van? Led Zeppelin! I bet the holy trinity doesn't even know what a zeppelin is, let alone Led Zeppelin (Answers: a. kind of like a blimp, but rigid b. a really cool band).
Chat rooms. That is what Holly was doing when I thought only god knew, but apparently lots of people did. I found out when I got drunk enough one night to go in her office and demand that she take the Backstreet Boys off of the elevator's music system. She was having cybersex with Franz, who was using his laptop, on his laptop, in the poolhouse of his new job, the second best resort and golf club in Arizona . She was masturbating with a banana from one of the complimentary fruitbaskets that we give our "special" guests. Those being the people that have birthdays, anniversaries, or complaints about outrageous mini-bar bills. Sometime after that I started looking into the World Wide Web. I also stopped eating bananas.
The underbelly of Internet life consists of chat rooms and cigarettes. It is for the lonely cat lover and the amused cat lover. It is the carrier of lies, and therefore, the great equalizer. Fat people become fit. Ugly people become attractive. Social misfits become social. All the while the real fit, attractive, and social people are out being just that. It is a forum for public displays of smooth talk and blatant pleads. "Please e-mail me nude pics!" they scream in bold capitalized fonts, "any hot chicks want to cyber?". But there are no hot chicks in chat rooms, just a handful of cat lover's answering "yes." The lies have begun. Ladies, start your bananas.
Every five seconds or so a different screen name pops up and asks you the same thing, "m/f." If you type back "m" they disappear just as fast. The meat market has moved from bars to computer desks where the drinks are cheaper and the lights dimmer.
So I began to frequent chat rooms. I only did it at work, so of course I was drunk. It's amazing how fast you can get a girl's clothes off when she's in Green Bay. On a good night I could go at it with the same girl for hours, pretending that she was the lingerie model that I missed, and wishing that she would cut my hair.
The plus side to chat rooms is that anyone can get lucky. The downside, of course, is obvious. The casualty is interactment with real people. Face to face people. Amazon.com and Grocer.com, and Everythingelseintheworldthatyoucouldeverthinkof.com have taken care of that for you.com. I met my ex in a chat room. The topic was baseball.
If there are any gentlemen out there please allow me to offer some advice on women. I know, I'm about as qualified to give you advice on women as I am on brain surgery, but there is something I have learned that I want to share. My advice is this, when lying to a woman choose your lies carefully. I was going to say "never lie to a woman," but I could just of easily said "always lie to a woman." The two are polar opposites, and neither is a good idea. Lying is a necessary evil. Everyone does it. If she says, "Does this dress make me look fat?" Regardless of whether or not it does, you must always answer "NO" without hesitation or exception. Women are not men. If you told a guy friend that an outfit made him look fat, which you probably wouldn't, he would be thankful that you kept him from wearing it. Most likely however, if he were to ask if he looked fat, he would be told that he is fat, and therefore could wear whatever damn shirt he wanted. It is seldom required for a man to lie to a man.
I always lied in chat rooms. I think that everyone does. I don't know really. But why wouldn't they? When I "met" Annie online I told her about my working at Arizona's premier resort and golf club, making sure to drop the fact that I was the general manager, and not some drunken bellboy. I also explained how I had turned down a career with the Yankees, who had drafted me out of high school, due to a knee injury. It seems that I tore my knee up pretty bad when I was saving a busload of orphans from certain death in a fiery accident. "What?" I had asked her. "No, I'm fine thank you, just can't play ball now." I went on from there about orphans and baseball and how thick my hair was.
Those lies were not chosen wisely. Who would have thought she would find me so enticing as to fly across the country to marry me. I was only joking about the marriage thing. I thought that I had made it clear. Here's an important tip, don't ever joke about marriage with a single woman, it is verbal quicksand. The harder you try to get out of it the faster you're in a tuxedo being bombarded with rice.
I think it should be obvious now why I recommend careful consideration when lying. There is always the chance that you will like her, and then you have to get out of your lies without losing face, or her for that matter.
I picked her up from the airport in the lobby shuttle. I decided it was in my best interest to meet her sober. I did, however, bring a couple of little vodka bottles with me in case they were needed, by either one of us.
We, meaning she, decided that we were perfect for each other after only three chats online. We then decided that she would come out. We never spoke on the phone, and we never exchanged pictures. I was, as you might imagine, quite nervous. As I sat in the pick-up zone in front of the airport it dawned on me that it wasn't my lies that worried me, it was hers. I hadn't given much thought as to whether or not she was telling the truth. I guess I didn't really care when I didn't have to look at her. Yet there I was, sitting in the company van, six inches shorter, thirty pounds heavier, and half a head balder than she was expecting. Let's not forget poorer by who knows how much. I was pathetic, and all I could do was hope she wasn't fat.
She wasn't. She was actually very cute. Still is in fact. I got out to help her with her bags and this is what she said. "I was expecting you inside bellhop. Your general manager is going to hear about this." I stood outside the driver door of the van and downed both bottles of vodka.
We rode in silence for miles, her thinking about the tall, beautiful coifed, rich hero she was being taken to, and me thinking about introducing her to our general manager and disappearing. When we got to the property gate I pulled over, stopped the van, and faced her.
"Annie." I said. "It's me. I'm not the manager, I'm a bellboy. I'm sorry that I lied to you. I really am. I never meant for it to get this far. I was just afraid you wouldn't like me."
After what seemed to be hours of her staring at my head she said, "Is that the only lie Lyle?" She looked like she was going to cry.
"Yes Annie." I said, and I limped around to her side of the van and kissed her.
If my hair is the bane of my existence, then Annie was my antidote. She would do things that were so small and sweet that I could almost forgive her for telling me that she was independently wealthy. She would count the miles as we got closer to home after a weekend trip. She would get up with me and make coffee while I got ready for work. Whenever we kissed she would run her hands through the space where my hair should be. It wasn't a haircut, but it was definitely sexy. Dr. Franklin was actually right about that.
You know what's funny is that even though I always loved her, still do in fact, there was actually one moment that stands clear in my mind as the moment that I loved her most of all. I was drunk. Drunker than usual. I was also being funnier than usual. It was late and Annie had come to see me at work. I remember that there had been a monsoon that day. Let me tell you, if you have never been in a monsoon in Arizona you are really missing something.
That morning was hot. One hundred degrees by 10a.m., easy. Around noon you could see huge thunderclouds creeping from behind the distant mountains. They rested there on the shoulders of the darkened hills, mocking the hot and humid city. I know what you've heard, that it's a dry heat, and it is, but not during monsoon season. Around three o'clock the sunlight shrank into patches that swerved and bent with the will of the building wind which pushed the clouds down like an endless wave of thick gray wool. The growling that had echoed on the horizon began bouncing around the desert, and soon shook above after each angry blast of pitchforked lightning. The glass buildings of the city cowered from their own magnificent reflections as the strikes drew closer and became more frequent. By then the smell had hit. A dank and musty aroma of parched ground begging to be quenched by the toying elements. And just when we thought that it might pass it stopped it's march and let out all hell. Rain, wind, lightening, and thunder fell upon the earth, and they did not relent.
It was the same sort of thing that happens pretty much every day during the season, but that day it was a little more powerful. It was the middle of summer, which is the downtime for Arizona's most respected resort and golf club. I would assume that it's the downtime for any of Arizona's resorts or golf clubs, but I don't know really. For a couple of weeks during this time, whenever one of the uppity women were on vacation, I would be able to work a normal shift. I was working one then. Annie had driven me to work around four in the afternoon, sometime between the mocking and the toying.
"Looks like a bad one baby." She said as I got out of the car.
"Everything looks bad here." I replied. "If the phones go out come and get me." I winked at her before I shut the door, just like the leading men always do in the movies.
Sitting at the fountain bench I was about six bottles into the night when it happened. The lights went out. It was completely black except for the quick flashes of lightening that flew above the skylight. I checked the phone. It was dead. I realized that it was only a matter of time before I had irate rich people, both those that I knew, and those I didn't, coming to me with complaints that I could not remedy. The best action, I concluded, was to hide. I stuffed my pockets with every bottle of vodka I could carry from the cart and went down to the bagroom. This is what led to me being drunker than usual. When I was good and satisfied with the level of my intoxication, as well as good and bored with the novelty of hiding, I decided to check on the guests.
The lights were still out. There were people in the lobby complaining to Juan, the prep cook. He must have come out to find me when the power went out and got stuck fielding their questions. I felt bad, I should have seen if he had wanted to drink with me. I decided to save him. This is where I became funnier than usual. I rolled up my pants and climbed into the fountain.
"Watch your step folks." I told everyone.
"Watch your heads too." I added. "This fountain can really knock your power out, so quit bitching and look out."
I guess I should say that I thought I was funny at the time, because that actually isn't very funny. I was still yelling at the guests when it occurred to me that I really had to urinate. So I did. It was pretty dark, and I figured that my splashing would blend right in with the sound of the fountain and the rain on the glass. I think that it did too. I never had a chance to notice though, with the lights coming back on and all.
Four guests and Juan stood there watching me piss in the fountain. That's when I noticed Annie. She had been sitting at my bench in the dark, and she had been drinking my vodka. She smiled at me as I zipped my Haggar slacks and carefully stepped from the fountain.
That was the moment that I loved her the most. It was when we had the most in common.
I still can't believe that I didn't get fired for that.
The rain fell harder on the drive home. Lightning bounced between the clouds and the reflecting pavement. The radio played loudly. "What is that? Jazz?" she asked staring at the green light glowing from the dash.
I didn't say anything. I just stared at the road, and through it to the sky as if the two entities were actually one dark and dangerous force. Again lightning echoed across the rolling desert, blinding out the city lights that were in various stages of regaining power and losing it again.
"Why are you listening to this?" she continued, just as a bright streak of lightning caused her to jump in her seat, only to fall back beneath the restraint of her seatbelt.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her just as she reached the peak of her momentum, and for a split second she seemed suspended there as a silhouette upon a windowfull of swelling cactus that seemed lost in the currents engulfing them. The lightning gave way to more lightning, and she was sitting there again, still staring at me.
"I like it." I said. "I like to hear what I'm looking at."
More streaks filled the sky and the rain continued to fall harder. "Damn!" I said. "Stupid windshield wipers have seven levels of slow and one breakneck. I can't see either way. Either too much rain or too much wiper."
"As long as you can see the road," she said in a thin attempt at humor which didn't hide the concern behind it.
"Just be quiet baby."
"What's wrong with you!" she yelled, grabbing my right bicep and shaking it until I could pull free and grab her hand.
"Christ baby. Why you doing that?"
"You're crazy!" she screamed through tears as thick as those falling against the car.
"Calm down. Just calm down."
We made it home okay. She went straight to bed, and I had a beer on the porch. Our power was out and I took a candle to the bedroom. I could see the window behind her as I lay down by her side. The clouds were illuminated with the lightening and scatterings of returning power throughout the city. I watched the storm dance across the horizon of her shadow-covered body and I listened to her breathe.
It was hot, so I lay there naked across the bed. She ran her hand slowly across my chest as I stared at the ceiling and said drunk things that caused her to sink into a silent sadness. It wasn't what I had meant to do, but things have a way of turning in the night.
"I want it all." I whispered into her ear. "I want it all."
"How is that possible?" she asked.
"It happens." I told her.
"To us." I replied. "It will happen to us."
We lay there, staring at the ceiling, and feeling the heat.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked me quietly.
"I'm watching the ceiling. See that spot above the candle, where it's bright and clear? I was watching the shadows sway away from it."
"It looks like the sun."
"It does. Now look at that bright spot, the way the paint is layered upon itself. I see visions there. It was the face of a devil, and now it's a battleground with men in armor on horseback. Can you see it?"
"When I was little I would lay in bed and stare at the posters on my wall. I was sure that I saw life in them. There was a football poster, and I would lay there for hours and watch the running back break tackles."
"Did they talk to you?"
"What if they had? It's all in the mind. Everything is in the mind really."
"Oh." She said as she squinted at the spot. "I still don't see it."
"You don't have to, find your own picture."
She grew quiet again, and eventually we fell asleep.
The whole time we were together we only had one fight. I think it was about safety, but it may have been about money. I don't know really. We had just received my yearly bonus check in the mail. I had told Annie that I wanted to buy a motorcycle. She became very upset. Buying a motorcycle, she said, was like buying cancer. It's not if it will kill you, it's when. I told her that she was being ridiculous. People owned bikes their whole life without it killing them, and people beat cancer too for that matter.
"It's so selfish of you Lyle." She said.
"I can get a sidecar for you baby." I answered, apparently missing her point. I did that a lot.
"Why? You get cancer from secondhand smoke too." She said. I began to think that perhaps there really was a deeper meaning to her argument. She was seriously afraid that I would die from riding a motorcycle. It got me to thinking about death. The kinds of thoughts that only come to mind after you know things about death. I thought about Dr. Franklin. He must have had similar thoughts. I don't know really. All I know for sure is what he said towards me the day that he died. As he lay there in the fountain dying instantly he looked at me, or rather in my general direction, and said, "I always knew it would come, but I never thought it would be like this." Then he moaned a little, which I can't help but think he threw in for dramatic effect.
I had never in my life thought that I would die on a motorcycle, so obviously I was destined to. I had, however, thought that I might die from secondhand smoke, seeing as how Annie smoked like a fiend, but I was prepared for that. Funny that her comparison of the motorcycle was smoking, she never feared for her safety, or anyone else's, when she smoked. My guess is that the only thing she knew of death is what she read in the Surgeon General's warning: death can kill you. I held my finger to her lips and she looked me in the eyes.
"Forget about it baby." I said. "We can spend the money on something for both of us."
We probably spent it on cigarettes.
I thought about death a lot after that. I suppose that I had thought about it since Dr. Franklin, but I never dwelled on it until I fell in love. Many times when I went to bed I would pull Annie near me and hold her as tight as I could. I knew she would die someday, and that still makes me cry.
I was never afraid of my own death. I know it's going to happen, and it will probably happen on a motorcycle. The only time it ever scared me was when I thought of Annie. The idea of abandoning her scares me more than anything. Of course she has since abandoned me, but I like to think that she would still miss me. I like to think that she misses me now.
So we had a kid, Shane, after our third year together. She left me, taking Shane, after our ninth year. It wasn't due to a fight though, apparently she saw me talking to one of the cartgirls at work, being real friendly like, and I wasn't limping. Nine years of perfecting and covering-up gone in five minutes thanks to the smile and cleavage of a seventeen year old girl.
I became very lonely after that.
A few days later I was fired from Arizona's premier resort and golf club. I was 34, balding, and gaining weight. Still am in fact. I've been unemployed for a couple of months now, and I still get up at three in the morning to drink vodka. Sixteen years of the same routine can do that to you.
Officially I was released from employment for behavior unbecoming an employee. That is, I was caught masturbating. I, however, believe that there are other factors that were used against me. Employees were caught for masturbating all the time. It was my impression that you could only get fired if you fucked someone.
I had been out in the poolhouse getting towels for a guest when I saw my cartgirl laying out on the deck in a little yellow bikini. She was listening to Mrs. Black's walkman, who was also laying out in her little black bikini. My being lonely, as I was, got the better of me and I did what I had to do. Mrs. Black saw me and reported my actions to Holly, who couldn't believe an employee would do such a thing. The thing is I'm sure the cartgirl could see me the whole time as she lay there looking seventeen and listening to whales.
I'm not denying the fact that I was jerking off. That would be a bad lie. But I can't help but think that the three uppity women had something to do with it. They all hated me.
Ally, the runt (it is so tempting to call her something else), used to play this Miami Sound Machine crap as loud as the office stereo could go. Luckily for her there weren't any guest rooms around the office, just the restaurant and lobby, with the gym right above us. It wasn't so lucky for me. I told her that I hated Gloria Estefen and Jon Secada. Boy, did she freak out. She asked me if I liked Ricky Martin, to which I answered in the negative. She said that I was racist because I discriminated against latino music. I told her that she was an idiot.
"I like Santana." I said.
"He's old. Do you like Enrique Iglesias?"
"I like Julio Iglesias."
"Who?" she said.
"I like Juan." Juan was the prep-cook in the kitchen that worked nights and was always singing in Spanish.
"Who?" she said.
"Nevermind." I said. "I guess I'm just anti-latino"
"Well." She said. She said that a lot, like it meant something on its own. She could use it like a verb, noun, adjective, anything she wanted really.
"Don't you like me?" she asked.
"In your case I am most definitely anti-latino." I said as I walked away.
"I hate you Lyle! You pig!" she yelled as I walked to my seat by the fountain.
I sat down and looked at her. "Well." I said.
That might make me seem a little insensitive, but you need to understand, she played that crap every damn night.
Sherry, the bull-dyke, told me that she hated me on several occasions. Besides throwing away my magazine I'm sure that she's the one that hid the postcard from me. She almost always got the mail, and she would have been very pissed that Todd had a supermodel for me and not her. Besides, she didn't believe in supermodels, she thought they were man-made propaganda against women.
She didn't believe in God either. That was another thing that pissed me off. I'm not a very religious man, but I know what's right. I have to believe, it's the only way I can justify my penance of a life. She would always be celebrating some sort of solstice or something by lighting incense and candles in the lobby. It smelled like the inside of my cousin's VW van.
That was her problem, or one of them anyway, she didn't believe in anything unless she was a part of it. Cosmo and Maxim said that she wasn't how society likes their women, which is true, but she claimed otherwise. The bible says that it is wrong to be gay. She says that it's crap.
"Crap?" I said. "You can't refer to the bible as crap. You'll go to hell."
"I'm already in it." She said. I had to give her that. Walking through life as fat and disgusting as she was had to be a heavier penance than I was paying.
You would think that she would listen to stuff like Melissa Etheridge or the Indigo Girls, which I also don't care for, but at least it would be different. She didn't. She listened to bubblegum too. It was way too much for me.
"Why do you listen to that crap?" I asked her.
"You can't refer to Britney Spears as crap." She said. "Go to hell!" She added.
"I'm already in it." I smiled. And I was. I can't imagine Hell being anything more than an eternity of bubblegum concerts. I know it can't be any hotter than Arizona.
"You are such a little prick." She said, taking the conversation to a much more personal level.
"That's an opinion."
"It's the only one."
"Whatever Meatloaf." I said as I walked away.
"I hate you Lyle! You man!" she yelled as I walked towards my seat at the fountain. I sat down and looked at her. Then I flipped her the bird. That felt pretty good. It is okay to get angry.
It is okay to get angry. That's what I tell myself over and over when I think that I'm about to loose it. I used to get so mad at those women. It was the kind of anger that you stored in that little area where your nose, forehead, and eyebrows sort of come together. You normally wouldn't think about it. You might even forget it was there until you needed it. I could be perfectly happy doing god knows what when one of them would walk into the room , and that space, that anger space, would bunch itself up into a heavy clot of hate, and then that would piss me off. I suppose everyone has somebody that does that to them. I don't know really. I just know that I had three.
Holly never said the words "I hate you" to me, but it was implied. I was the cause of her hate clot. I never told her that I caught her in the office, but that too was implied. Whenever she would eat a banana I would say things like "Hey, you don't know where that's been" or "Do those bananas smell fishy to you?". Clever stuff like that. I also brought up Franz all the time. We had never really talked about him since he had left, other than me making fun of him every now and again. Now everytime I saw Holly I would ask her how he was.
"How should I know?" she would answer. Whenever possible I would shift my eyes slyly towards the computer or fruitbasket, depending on where we were. If we were in the elevator I just glanced up at the speaker and whistled along to the Backstreet Boys. She didn't have to say she hated me.
I found her standing on the backporch, barefoot and sweating, staring into the night. Her shoulders were exposed, as well as a good portion of her back, and her skin glowed in the moonlight as if she had just stepped from a rainstorm. I sat at the table that she had abandoned, and sipped her wine, allowing it to float slowly across my tongue as my eyes followed suit across her body.
"What are you looking at?" I asked, thinking that my presence might startle her, but noticed nothing, as if I had been sitting there all along.
"The moon is a thief in the night." she sighed, never turning to face me.
Another sip of wine and I approached her, placing my hands on her shoulders, and bending my head to plant a kiss on the spot that the stream of her neck flows into the sea of her back, and I started to drown. "As are you my love." I whispered into her hair, "As are you."
Then I woke up. I have similar dreams all the time. I know it's Annie, but I never see her face. Does that mean something? Who knows? And who knows if I would believe it anyway. Another thing about the dreams; I never limp in them, and I have hair. I wonder if I'm losing my mind.
I think that I must be. I know that I told you earlier that we had only fought once when we were together. I lied. As I said before, I lie a lot. I think it's some sort of denial or something. We fought pretty often. They weren't fistfights, just loud heated words over nothing important. I was caught in a web of lies and love, and she was sick of what it was doing to me. How many times had I walked right by her and not even noticed that she had been crying? Once when I did notice I took her shoulders in my hands and turned her towards me. "What's wrong?" I whispered.
She didn't say a word, but her eyes said everything. Everything was wrong. That's probably why I always looked away.
Once I went out the bedroom window. We were arguing again, and I didn't feel like explaining myself for a moments retreat. Why were we arguing? I don't know. It seems, however, that the more I needed to be alone, the more she demanded my attention, and the more she said it was okay, the more it wasn't. Of course now I am alone, and she couldn't care less for my attention. Be careful what you wish for! So I went out the window. It was raining and I was drunk. What else is new? There is an empty lot next to our house, or I should say my house, that is overcome with wild berries and thorny bushes. If you walk along it on the sidewalk twenty paces or so, you will come across a staircase that used to lead to someone's house, but now leads nowhere. The steps and surrounding area are covered in traces of homelessness.
There are parts from missing bikes, mismatched clothing, and empty bottles. There are books; closed books like "Joyful Noise," and books open to pages that say "Today's meditation." I found a notebook there. It was wet and the pages were more dependent on each other than the ink that washed across them, yet I was able to salvage some of the writing. It was a letter from a father to a son, written in a much more articulate manner than you would imagine a homeless man possessing, or that you would hope a homeless man possessed.
The writing was very smudged and blurry after that. It's too bad, I may have learned something. As it is I could have, should have, written something similar to Shane. All I do is take him to baseball games against his will. No wonder I get ties for Father's Day.
I took the letter with me and sat on the sidewalk in front of the garage. People passed by me in my torn jeans and cheap black pullover, and I realized that I didn't know any of my neighbors. I was glad that I didn't. I sipped my beer that I had carried from the house and read the words of a homeless man, even as my own neighbors stepped by me as if I were him.
Soon enough I found my gaze upon the sky. The clouds moved with such rapid motion that I imagined them to be a train of animals and faces that I alone could distinguish as they took their shapes and then quickly lost them. It is amazing how defined a cloud can be. She came downstairs, unaware that I had been missing for the past hour. "How thick do you think clouds are?" I asked her. She looked at me for a moment before looking to the sky.
"Miles." she said. "Miles."
"I would have thought inches where they are so thin." I answered. They really did seem inches deep, like the steam from a tea kettle. "A moment ago I saw blue sky. Now it's completely gone."
"Enjoy yourself." She replied without looking as she walked upstairs.
Moments before she came down, while I was losing my mind in the clouds, I had imagined such a conversation. It had gone quite differently.
I got up and followed her inside. She ignored me as I walked in and placed the homeless words on the kitchen sink to dry. I walked down the hallway, and thought about crawling out the window forever.
But I didn't. I didn't. That's the difference between Annie and me. She gave up and I never will. Of course she was able to find someone better. I don't know if there is anyone better than Annie.
Okay, so we fought a lot, and I lied to her, and I've lied to you. That doesn't make me a bad person does it? Blame it on my rage, or even madness. After she left me I found a box of things that she had kept. The homeless letter was in there as well as this one that I had written her:
I wrote that to her when she went home to visit her mother. I told her that I couldn't get off work. I can only assume that her mother was expecting more height, looks, and hair than was the case. As it was I had forgotten that I had been able to use words like that, and it hurt that she had left them behind too. I took the letter outside and dropped it on the homeless stairway.
Memories are from a forgotten time. A time when a life was lived with one's hands in vineyards and junkyards, battlefields and cottonfields. Memories are for the strong.
I have not lived. I have watched others in picture shows and brushstrokes. I have heard their cheers and their prayers in subway cars and street corners that echo of jazz and politics. I have stood quiet witness to memories being made.
I enjoy a Sunday afternoon with my coffee and a shot of bourbon, and I remember, not memories mind you, but remembrances of the things I had meant to do. I prefer to remember when it's raining, it absorbs the surreality of my daydreams, making them as fresh and real as the pain inside me.
I've always been envious of people with a cause. How much passion must they feel to stand up and shout, to protest and strike against that which oppresses? I have never felt that. I've never even written a letter to the editor, or returned undercooked meals and cold coffee. Even when I don't agree with the subject of debate, I always respect the passion. Just like the snapper of the day. Do the means justify the end? The more I thought about it the more I felt the need to do something.
So I went out for a change. I spent exactly fifty dollars more than the seven I had allotted myself for a trip to the bar; and I felt every cent of it in my head. I lay on the floor all day, full of regret and whiskey, and stared at the wall. Soon, I planned, I will search for new jobs, at which, I've been told, excitement and opportunity await me. However, there will be no more drinking till the sun comes up, and no more breakfast at noon. At least I'll have money. I could buy a lot of beer with that.
What the hell was I thinking, spending that much cash on drinks? Drinks for myself! It's not as if I was being the great romancer and buying drinks for some lonely girl in hopes that she might warm to me. I spent it all on making myself drunker, louder, and full of piss, almost to the point where I nearly forgot why I had turned to the bar to begin with. I may as well have eaten that fifty dollars and stayed in my empty home with my dog and my illegal cable.
That was the money I intended to use for a credit card payment. Now I'll have to endure another month of eight calls a day, all hours of the day, from the fine people at JC Penney. You would think that if they were so concerned about me they could learn to pronounce my name right. As it is, they're the only ones who bother to call me at all. It's a damn sad commentary on your state of affairs when a collection call from a department store is the social highlight of your day. I particularly like it when a female calls, sometimes I'll make small talk for quite some time before I finally have to confess that no, I'm not home.
My sister runs a rural mail-route in the middle of Nowhere, Arizona. It's the kind of place where you will find more mobile homes than teeth. A part of back road America where trespassers will be shot, and shoes and shirts are optional. It is the Bible belt, the wild west, the backbone, and the heartland. It's too close for comfort.
She's a pretty girl, my sister, with shoes and a full set of teeth. She likes country music and cowboys, tattoos and trucks, but she is far from relating to the element that surrounds her through her work day.
However, the element lives high on the confidence of Coors and Milwaukee's Best, and they have plans for this pretty girl delivering their court summons and food stamps. They want her on the back of their motorcycles, and sitting tight against their side on the bench seat of their Ford pick-up. They talk to her of Nascar, and look for their reflection against the shine of her smile. Then they both laugh, her because it's funny, and him for not knowing what else to do. I like to think that I'm different from them, but I don't know really. I mean how many times did I have a bowl of chili and three glasses of whiskey for dinner?
I brought up my sister because she is actually the one that is going to have to worry about my JC Penney's account. I had let her use it once at Christmas or something, and somehow her name had been added to it. Now whenever I miss a few payments they call her too.
She was telling me about all of the job openings at the post office. You know it's funny, that's the one place you would figure that I couldn't get a job now, since the incident, but they don't even check you for those rural routes. I guess if all the jokes you hear about the place are true then I'm a perfect candidate.
You are probably wondering what incident I am referring to. Well, it's not something that I am particularly proud of, but it happened, so I'll tell you. Besides, it would have been rude to ramble on as I have about my whole goddamn life story, and not have a point.
As I said I went out for a change. Well, at some point in my drinking I told my story, the same one that I told you, to this guy at the bar. Turns out that he hates Britney Spears too. So anyway, he asks me why I don't do something about it if I feel the way I do. I told him that I didn't know really.
"You talk about those snapper of the day guys like they're some sort of heroes." He said. "They ain't. They are just normal guys like you and me. Just normal guys dealing with their madness."
"I guess they are," I said. "I mean, I know they are, but those guys are desperate. They have nothing to live for."
"That so? And what do you have?"
"I have my son."
"From what you tell me your son doesn't even like you. Sounds like he's embarrassed of you."
"Boys are supposed to be embarrassed by their parents."
"Now look Lyle, you want to sit there and tell me that it's normal for your boy to hate you while he's living with your wife and some ball player. That doesn't look promising."
I had to admit that what he said made sense. It hurt, but it made sense. For all I know Shane might even be playing baseball with the bastard.
"I don't want to hurt anyone." I said.
"Listen now pal, who the hell are you? Some sort of devil's advocate?"
"I'm just a guy that knows things about death and madness." He said. "One cures the other." He stood up from the bar and padded me on the back as he walked away.
"What the hell was that?" I wondered as I finished my beer.
I was still wondering it as I pulled into the parking lot of Arizona's finest resort and golf club. It was late and the only lights on were the courtesy lamps in the lobby. I had a shotgun in the trunk from a hunting trip a few years back. I put it over my shoulder and walked in.
I only had a few shells, and I had no idea who was working or where they were. I had to make sure each cartridge counted. There were three of them that drove me to it, not counting Mrs. Black and her walkman of course, although a case could be made for her part in it too, and I planned to take out each.
I walked into the office and found the first one. I pumped the gun, placed it flush, and shot. Pieces flew everywhere.
The second was in the elevator. I held the door open with my foot and fired. I reached in and pushed all of the floor buttons sending the mess on a trip upstairs.
There were voices in the halls, and I headed for the door. The third was right behind the concierge desk, just next to my old fountain bench. I didn't even break my stride as I aimed over my shoulder and pulled the trigger.
There was a scream behind me, and I turned to see Mrs. Black with her hands waving frantically above her head. She sounded like one of her damn whales. I glanced to where her walkman should be, and it wasn't there. In sixteen years I had never seen her without it. I was so startled that all I could do was laugh. She had no idea how lucky she was. If she had been wearing it I would have shot it too, just like I did the three speakers that had haunted me half my life. Arizona's finest resort and golf club was now bubblegum free.
I must admit that the thought of shooting Holly and Ally did cross my mind as they stood there watching me destroy the sound system, but why in the world would you shoot someone without CNN there?
I walked out of there without looking back, got in my car and drove home. It was the second best night I ever had there, next to my favorite moment with Annie. When I got home I was shaking like a wet dog. I poured myself a vodka and lay across the couch. I thought that the cops might come, but after an hour I decided they, being the people at Arizona's finest resort and golf club, hadn't even called the police. Maybe they were just happy that I didn't shoot them, or maybe they were secretly sick of bubblegum too. Whatever the reason I was alone. I sipped on my drink and watched ESPN. Every couple of minutes I would catch my head falling forward in a sleep induced bob, and I would jump slightly to stay awake. At some point I eventually faded into sleep and dreams of Annie, wishing she would turn around.
MADNESS AND BUBBLEGUM
ON MADNESS AND BUBBLEGUM
Like the narrator I found inspiration all around me, but mostly in front of me on the television.
First, it would seem (to me at least) that everyone, at some point, has had something in their life that angers them to no end, whether it be founded in politics, religion, or the daily disappearance of their lunch from the breakroom refrigerator. The curious thing about it is how people are able to deal with it, handle or accept it, and yet some can't or just don't. At what point do they break? Is their anger really any greater than that of anyone else? And if not what keeps the rest of us in check?
Then I started putting faces to the madness. Everyone has a story, though as a society we usually ignore everyone's but our own. What about the guy that is fifty and still working at something he took as a summer job when he was sixteen? What about the insecurities that some can never overcome? While television reminds us that we are not playing for the Yankees or touring with the Stones as we had always planned, the Internet offers many a means of escape, but in the end they are held just as accountable. It was by comparing people with where they are to where they wish they were that I came up with the characters I did; which is to say that I don't feel that I created any of them as much as showed a reflection of feelings that dwell in all of us.
Now by writing this analysis I can't help but notice that I may sound as if I am taking some sort of highbrow approach to this, but that is not the case. Although I think myself happy with my station at this point, it is not where I imagined I would be days before my 30th birthday, nor am I content. In fact, I'm just as lost at times as Lyle, and I guess that that is what makes the tangents all the more bearable.