Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Summer in the teens

This has been the itchiest summer I can remember since I was a kid. Mosquitoes lie in wait for me to step outside so they can try to bleed me to death through my feet. All they manage to do is keep me awake at night with the itching, experimenting with various itch remedies, pondering the usefulness of parasites. Trying to remember the symptoms of West Nile.

Survival of the fittest. Let he who is without malaria cast the first quinine pill. This calls for Jynnan Tonix. 

I slept a long time today with a pillow over my face, half convinced that staring at screens is turning me migraineful. And here I am staring at another screen.

I finally read Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, and it got me thinking about predators in a way I hadn't before. I liked the book, my second try at it. I put it down a couple of years ago, put off by the biology, not ready for all the nature. I'm finally old enough for it.

Barbara Kingsolver is 58 this year, the same age my mom was when she died. I only looked her up to make sure she wasn't dead, or worse. Every suicide I hear about scares me. The only solution is to avoid the news, because we haven't figured out how to stop swallowing bullets, jumping into nooses. But she's alive. I just had to check.

Because now I'm reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, but sometimes I have to go back and reread for the chuckles I missed the first time when I read it looking for clues.

I mean, you see lots of clues in lots of things. Coincidences, clever word plays. They don't all mean everything you try to pack into them. It's exhausting to keep putting pieces together like it's one big puzzle that's going to come together in the end, because it won't. Or, shit, maybe it will. Don't ask me. Maybe it will.

But the clues all point different directions and none of them answer my question, which drags a bunch of little questions behind it like little wooden ducks on strings and becomes so selfish, I don't even ask it in the end. I just keep reading for clues and studying pictures, looking for anything familiar, afraid I will find it, afraid I won't. I don't think it always looks the same, I don't know if it always comes from the same place.

My brother is planning to board a bus on Saturday and head for North Dakota. He doesn't have a job, or even an interview lined up. He says his ex wife's step brother wants him to come build a smoker. I guess that's sort of a job. And I guess he'll have a place to stay, at least for a while.

I'm all kinds of worried. I can't even sort out all my objections. I guess that's why I'm awake so late. I told Alan I'd give him the blankets he left here, and Eddie threw in a couple of paperbacks for the bus ride. I can get a care package together to send with him.

I guess the rest of his stuff can go to Goodwill. The army cot, the mostly empty plastic storage containers, most of it stuff I bought him anyway, just the stuff he didn't take with him when he left that last time. Big stupid knives and bits of welded metal.

Probably I'll hang on to the knives.

We had a cookout for Alan on Saturday. I got him a cake that said congratulations, but I was still hoping he had an actual job when I asked to have that put on a cake. I probably would have gone with "good luck" if I'd known, but the steaks would have been the same. Over the course of the evening, I got sharper and snappier and should have left before biting Eddie's head off.

I asked if it counted as a fight, but Eddie said no. He ditched me after dropping my brother at his motel, a ditching I thoroughly deserved, and I curled up alone, feeling like I'd swallowed a wasp that wouldn't die. I felt the stinger bounce around my chest, sliding with my pulse, hot and mean. It started just behind the top of my sternum and slid in a rush of blood down toward the bottom, tracing a circuitous route as if it really were following a blood vessel. Or a twisty slide. When it got to the bottom, it reversed, climbing back up. I curled up around it and didn't sleep for a long time. I woke up in time to ignore Eddie's text messages, but I left my phone in the bedroom to avoid the temptation to reply. After a couple of hours, I finally came back in to see if he'd sent any more messages, and he was already calling. 

So of course I cried, and I was surprised when I did. I'm no good at fighting. I always assume it's the end. Right, this is where you blow up and I say something horrible and you leave and you're never coming back. And we're both sorry, but we can stuff our sorries in a sack.

It's not so much the horrible things I say, it's the contemptuous way I have of saying them. I get all sneery, and the nastiness just drips off the words. Here, have some of this vile and poisonous resentment, all hot and juicy and made fresh for you.

So of course I'm going to die alone, but probably not today. Because he said he was sorry too, and he said I wasn't really all that bad and he should have come over instead of leaving me to wonder, and I said what are you going to do if we move in together? Go stay in a hotel? Because I said something shitty? Because I'm really sorry I said shitty things, but I'm probably going to say something shitty in the future, and I should really be held responsible for that in an adult sort of responsible way. You know, in person. And he said that's why we definitely need two bathrooms. Because he knows I won't follow him to the bathroom. And he said it didn't count as a fight.

But I think it counted. And I think it went okay.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

switchbacks/rumspringa

I stopped in for beer because I had to wait for a train, and I saw a little sign with an arrow, so I pulled over and parked the truck. Inside a tiny shop, a man in a yellow sweatshirt flapped open the blanket-curtain separating the back room from the store. Vian. The town must have been Vian. His sweatshirt said Wolverines, the high school sports team. I could hear a tv from the back room, could just see a recliner. The place looked grubby and cozy.

The beer selection was mainstream, not a microbrew or craft beer in sight. I grabbed a six pack of Lone Star in cans and a six pack of Shiner. I asked about ales, but didn't get much out of the talkative clerk/proprietor. He offered up some Grolsch he had in the back, and I took it. He insisted on helping me carry my purchases out to the truck, maybe just to see if I was telling the truth about going camping in the mountains in January. Taylor watched us from the front seat of the truck. The liquor store guy said he could tell she was a kind dog. He whistled at my paper tag and told me to make sure I stopped at all the stop signs, because small town cops don't have much of anything better to do.

The train had passed. I got back on the road, heading for the Ouachitas. Another hour or so on the pavement, then 3 miles down a dirt road, and there I was.

My imaginary friend came without his wife. She's my other imaginary friend. It was too cold for her this year, and he was running the 50k. He opened beer bottles for me with his wedding ring. He told me I'd meet more friends of his at the top of the mountain. I found the bottle opener after a while. Other friends showed up. I made new friends.

People set up camp. People sleeping in their vehicles, people hanging hammocks between trees. One guy had converted his Honda Element into an enviable dirtbag RV, complete with shelves along one side, blacked out windows, and a bed that he could stretch out on - and he's 6'2". I asked. I was jealous. At least one sprinter van prowled the dirt parking lot, but I didn't get a look inside.

It was bitterly cold. I was giddy with cold. I went into the woods to scavenge firewood and scratched my face and my hands on the brambles. Dora served spaghetti at the edge of the parking lot. Runners and volunteers balanced plates and beers while we stood around the fire, grinning at each other. It felt like we were getting away with something.

Taylor wailed when the runners took off the next morning. She doesn't like it when she doesn't get to run. There's no explaining to a dog.

I got to my aid station a little later than I meant to, and all the water was frozen, but I had a pot in my backpack that I'd meant to use to make soup, and we used it to thaw out some water, me and my new friends on the top of the mountain. We shivered and grinned at each other. I laid out olives, cheese and crackers, homemade baked goods, and handwarmers. My new friends cooked quesadillas, logged runners' bib numbers, and we all cheered. I burned the shit out of my thumb on the water pot. There is a shiny line across the pad of it today. I keep digging my fingernails into it. A strip of skin will come off eventually.

I sent Taylor down the mountain with some friends so she would stop sulking and protest-napping. So she got 8 miles in. I was down the mountain before she got done, and she came running to the finish, OSU coat swinging, so excited. She curled up in her chair by the fire after that and couldn't find much reason to complain. A tired dog is a good dog. The other humans and I stayed up talking and drinking beer, building the fire up, melting our beer bottles in the fire, passing around the whiskey, staring slack-jawed at the stars whenever we turned away from the fire. Or maybe that was just me. The stars are so bright out there. The sky is so clear. I stood as close to the fire as I could get without burning, slowly turning, trying to keep all my sides from freezing. I put Taylor to bed in the truck and stayed up longer, still talking.

I don't know how cold it was. Cold. Freezing. It was a test of will when I went to climb into my sleeping bag. I knew I should strip down, change into something clean. I parted with a layer, shivered, pulled off another layer.

Sunday morning crept up on me. My imaginary friend and my new friend were making breakfast before I wriggled out of my sleeping bag and back into layers and layers of wool and fleece and jeans. Someone noted that the campsite had dwindled down to just our three Tacomas. I felt like we'd won something.

I stopped at the first Tote-A-Poke I saw, and I was disappointed that it didn't have any vending machines in the bathroom. I bought coffee and gas and a pack of cigarettes. The clerk asked to see my ID, for the cigarettes. She handed it back and said she'd thought I couldn't be more than twenty five. I laughed and said my beauty secret was going two days without a shower and camping in the back of a truck. I'm forty. Rumor has it, I was put down three months ago.

I drove until I saw the pink building with the giant T-Rex sculpture out front. The dinosaur held a metal handbag that said "GONE SHOPPING." I stood in front of the closed store, trying not to look too weird, smoking in front of the signs that warned of video surveillance, staring at the oddities, until the cold got to be too much again and I had to get back into the truck. My imaginary friend drove past and I felt very uncool to be caught staring at the thing that was meant to be stared at. Like a sucker.

I didn't take any pictures. My iPhone was dead most of the weekend. iPhones don't like cold, and I never remember to put my phone in a warm pocket.

Maybe next year.

Monday, January 15, 2018

alan, september, over pizza

Alan 9/10 8 pm

Any who, we left - see what was it, Tuesday of last week

(crash from dogs) it’s fine

before I left, told sheila, hey, check on the dogs, make sure they get fed, make sure they get water, and she said fine, and i said they’re used to sleeping in their crates if you don’t mind bringing them in and 

wednesday she called and said she was approved for an apartment, i said great.

i get home friday and they’re gone. i mean sheila’s gone with the babies and everything. i walk out into the backyard and both the dogs are fucking filthy. the water in their buckets was clearly not fresh.

I go in the house and there, both sinks are full of dirty dishes. there’s food laying out on the fucking stove. i told her, you kind of left me with a mess here, i mean, i’m not mr. goddamn clean but -

i’m not a slob, but, by some people’s standards i might be.

she finally showed up on friday to clean the litter box.

he got a bath. bull dog’s tomorrow.

we’ve been short handed at work. the guy i pick up went to jail. what happened was dylan, one of the other guys with a company truck, the other foreman, he’s going on vacation to ireland. i took Foster, the other guy, over to his house to get his truck and 

so i get a call from Foster, and he says “tell my wife i am going to jail.” so i call him. ask him what the hell’s going on, and i can hear the cop. i can hear the cop’s radio, i guess he’s standing right there, and he says he got pulled over for an expired tag and found out he had an outstanding warrant in macintosh county. 

like, well shit. i called paul, paul’s like i’m on it, we got the tag for the truck, we just didn’t put it on it. 

(but they didn’t impound the truck. somebody showed up to take the truck) *raises hand* oh, you! okay.

i go, 

any who, so we go in the waffle house, sit down, i told melanie, i said tell him what you told me.