Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Blackbird



The microwave dings and I pop open the door and carefully take hold of the little clay handles of the dish I always eat out of. I don’t trust these little plastic trays they put microwave meals in. Hell, I don’t trust industrial food period. After my road years I’ve always had a thing for meals made by my own hand or my wife’s. I don’t like to eat fast food anymore. I don’t like industrial food because it makes me feel lonely. A man eating a TV dinner is a lonely thing.

I lift the little clay saucer I use as a lid for the clay bowl, and a blast of spice hits my nose. It reminds me of A&W Root Beer hamburgers when I was a little kid in the late fifties, back when a trip to A&W was a big night out for a poor family and they brought the food to your car on roller skates. The burger came wrapped in colored tin foil and when you opened it up the onion-mustard steam was a heady whiff of the good life.

This is some left over curry from a couple nights ago. I shake out a gob of hot sauce and open a bottle of lemonade I’ve brought, made from real lemons and sugar. I look at the lemonade with pieces of lemon floating in it and the bowl in front of me and emotionally it feels just right. I know this food. I know it personally, because it comes from me. It has soul.

A guy comes into the break room from down the hall and he has some kind of Swanson pot pie. He pops it in the microwave and looks over to see what I have.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

‘So whataya?”

“Curry.” I say. “Leftovers, same old stuff.” Modest me.

“Yeah,” he says, “My wife is taking off for DC this weekend. Going dancing in DC with her friends.”

I feel my cheeks burn. “She’s driving herself to DC?” My wife doesn’t know how to drive, doesn’t want to. “She’s driving herself and her friends to Washington? Just like that?”

“Yeah, some big reunion celebration going at the Sheridan Towers.”

“How long does that take?”

“From Columbia?”

“You live in Columbia?”

“Yeah. It’s about eight hours from Columbia. Give or take.”

I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be married to woman who knows how to drive and is so independent she can just pack the hell up and drive herself and some friends halfway across the country to go dancing for the weekend.

“You go to Savannah?” he says. “For Saint Patrick’s like I told you?"


“No, I couldn’t make it. You go?”

“Everybody goes to Savannah,” he says. “We were there; stayed in this hotel in town with room service and the parade and ate at this four star place that has these insane crab cakes. Jesus, these crabs, they’re like famous or something. You gotta go there.”

“Yeah, I do,” I mutter, pushing away my fucking bowl of leftover curry. Fucking crab cakes.

“Mega millions tonight,” he says.

“Oh, it is?” I toss my spoon in the orange gunk and cross my arms, waiting for him to get the fuck out.

“Got any?”

“Yeah,” I say “A couple. Good for the Hope Scholarship anyway. Keep my kid’s college going.”

“My daughters in Emory in Atlanta. Studying corporate law. Can you believe that shit?”

“Wow.”

“Condelessa Rice went there. Fuck. Like costs me a fucking fortune every year. Telling you.”

“Tell you what. Those big name schools.”

“Oh yeah. But they’re worth it.”

“That’s what I hear.”

“Kid in college?”

“Local, yeah. Augusta State.”

“Oh,” he says. “That’s good. State’s good. You get to keep an on eye on him.”

“Yep. Gotta keep the ol’ eye on him.”

“So you got a couple? Me too.”

“Yeah, just quick pick.”

“Birthdays,” he says. “That’s my system. So what if you win?”

“You mean the whole jackpot?” I stop and then I have to think. “Buy a fast car.”

“Ever drive a jag?”

“No.”

“The maintenance, shit, the maintenance on that thing kills me.”

“Maintenance.”

“Yeah, it kills you with a Jag unless you lease it.”

“Wow. That’s rough.”

“I lease it.”

“That’s the smart thing to do.”

“Oh yeah.”

He gets his pot pie or whatever it is from the microwave “Catch you later.” He says.

“You too.”

My balls are thoroughly busted.

I don’t even feel like eating anymore. I sip at my lemonade and stare at my cooling leftovers. Guys in suits pass down the hall with women, laughing and talking, off to restaurants to eat together.

Guys do this to each other. I suppose women do too. Guys experience the thrill of their wealth or the beauty of their woman, vicariously through other people, finding some poor loser as a mirror.

The jackpot? What would I do?

I’m sitting in the break room all alone picking at my leftovers and thinking. I’m not thinking about Jaguars. I’m thinking about my dad’s house.

My Dad’s family – version two – lived in an upper middle class house in south Minneapolis. It’s the house he died in. The neighborhood is moderately rich, the way only rich bohemians can make a neighborhood, with lush flower gardens, hand made sculptures, fountains, totem poles and personal flags. They knew each other as a tribe of successful hippies and got together for boozy feasts, costume parties and séances, like modern Victorians. Dad stood out among their ranks like a wise wizard.

His house would have been built around WWII or so. It has a kitchen with a breakfast nook that looks out into the backyard. It’s nice to sit there early in the morning with a book before the house wakes up, and Picky the cat would come and try to bully you out of your seat. There’s a formal dining room with a big table, paintings and a liquor cabinet where guests ate fancy meals Lavonne and Dad made for them. They drank wine and chatted about politics and ideas late into the night. Friends complimented the food, stood, patted their stomachs and groaned and crossed the hallway to the parlor room.

A parlor is an architectural relic from a slower and more elegant time designed for the sole purpose of civil conversation, before the days of Facebook and texting. Dad’s parlor has soft music playing from the classical station, sumptuous sofas and chairs to sink into, tables to rest drinks on, photo albums, a piano, an old pipe rack with a glass humidor that held fragrant pipe tobacco and cigars which Dad waded into when the insurance refused to treat his leukemia. (What the hell, nothing to lose now.) Knowing you’re doomed can be very liberating.

A house with a room to serve food you've made to guests who come to see you.

A house with a room just to sit and talk and only that.

And other rooms, I would have. A room to think. Rooms with books. All the lovely, lovely books. Walls of books. A harem like Solomon’s, of hungry books holding out their arms to me. Read me. Read me tonight, you promised.

I would go to the University, at last, finally and for the first time. And not for job skills or even to get a degree. I would take classes on wonderful useless subjects like English literature and Poetry and the history of film. And I’d talk with the professors and debate with my fellow students and live and swim in the world of great ideas and the great eternal conversation that is passed from generation to generation. Once in that world, I would find a way to stay there forever.

And I would get a car.

Not a Jaguar, but a camper van. The kind John Steinbeck had. A small one with a fold out bed, and table and a kitchenette. I’d drive into the mountains and hide myself like a forest animal. I’d make coffee on the little stove and spend the day inside my head reading at the little table under the pines and then taking out a yellow pad and a pencil and writing and writing where no one can find me.

But I wonder, is that a good idea? To want to be so alone?



That evening we go out to the little Masters Cinema where the tickets are two bucks a head, the only entertainment we can usually afford. On the way back I stop to buy gas and sonuvabitch, it’s over four dollars at last. A milestone has been crossed, I’m finally paying four bucks for gas. As I pump in fifteen dollars, trying to make it last until pay day, my wife and kid jump out and tell me to get another lottery ticket because it’s gone up to $640 million. I go into the station to pay for the gas and I’m standing in line looking at all the crazy junk they’ve got for sale.

Gas stations aren’t really in the business of selling gas, they don’t set the prices and they don’t make any money off gas. A gas station is a snack stand that sells gasoline on the side. They make money off snacks and drinks. As I stand there I’m staring at a car magazine with a yellow Jaguar and a tawny woman in tiny hot pants, unbuttoned, partly unzipped, draped across the hood, writhing in deep Sugar Daddy estrus.

I’m a little kid, my Dad’s family – version one – in a confused little house in Iowa. Mom and I are putting a puzzle together on the living room floor and the radio is playing a Hank Williams song. We put the pieces together one at a time, starting from the frame edges. A curved notch fits sweetly into another. Two dark shapes snap snugly and make a satisfying revelation. I can see it now, I can start to see the blackbird on the wing emerge. Another piece becomes the brush of a broom, the grin of a girl, the blue of the sky, the brown of a tree. It makes sense only a little at a time. Mom and I shuffle through the scattered pieces together building sense of the heaped chaos that lies between us on the floor as our lives are just beginning to crumble around us.

“Cash or Credit?”

“Credit. Give me a quick pick too”

When I come back to the car, my wife and my kid have gotten out and are laboring over the windows scrubbing them clean for me. I get in behind the wheel and watch them work. When they get back in, they look at me all grins and pride. They did it to honor me. They want to make me happy. They want me to be all right.

All right.



C. Sanchez-Garcia

6 comments:

  1. Personally, I think that people like your workmate, who spend all their time talking about how much money they make and spend, are a bit pathetic.

    But I love the description of your Dad's house, and yes, I can see this would be a worthwhile way to spend money.

    Hugs - Lisabet

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  2. In between my 3 jobs I try to get to Jazzercise class at least a couple of times a week. I HATE the months of spring, when women who lunch, that is they don't work because they married to richer men than mine, start yakking about where they are going for break this year, as opposed to Jamaica last year. Then they start to show off their tans and compare their fun times. I try not to be jealous but it hurts to know that I get no vacations like theirs...in fact, I make minimum wage to sell them their bathing suits, and part of my job is that I'm supposed to feign interest in where they are going to sell them more stuff. Is it wrong that I just want to tell them to fuck off?

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  3. I wonder if I should have done more rewriting, because looking back the piece seems more gloomy or angry than it was meant to. I wanted it to end on a happy note, but the note I think is too muted.

    THe guy in the workroom is only partly fictitous, I really have had these conversations, and it sounds like Fiona has too. Its just oneo ft hose human things. But at the end of the piece I'm trying to hit the note that things makes sense over time, or at least acquire the residue of meaning, and small though my world is, there is still the occastional gesture of appreciation. Its not great, but it could easily be so much worse. So we just have to be grateful for whatever there is to be grateful for.

    Dad's house had it's problems too. No air conditioning for one, and right next to the airport. But I loved the way it was designed to accomodate other people visiting.

    GArce


    Garce

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  4. Hi Fiona

    No, telling them to fuck off won;t do anything good. I think wealth becomes transparent after a while, people who have a lot forget their unique situation and think everybody lives like they do. When Marie Antoinette was told the people were rioting for want of bread and she famously said "let them eat cake" she didn;t say it out of heartless contempt. She just figured they were like her, if there wasn't any fresh bread handy just yet, get a piece of cake from the pantry, what's the big deal? She couldn't conceive there were people who simply didn;t have that choice available.

    GArce

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  5. "I would go to the University, at last, finally and for the first time. And not for job skills or even to get a degree. I would take classes on wonderful useless subjects like English literature and Poetry and the history of film. And I’d talk with the professors and debate with my fellow students and live and swim in the world of great ideas and the great eternal conversation that is passed from generation to generation. Once in that world, I would find a way to stay there forever."

    Oh, Garce. You've reminded me of how lucky I am. I grew up in a poor-but-intellectual family and found a way to stay in the local university forever.

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  6. You are lucky Jean. I think anyone who is lucky who has found their natural element and a means of dwelling there.

    Garce

    ReplyDelete