from Some Houses: Thirty Houses in Fifteen Years, 1971-1986
by Chad Faries
I was lying in the burned out basement with the full moon in my eyes. Actually it was a dated station wagon. A Ford Falcon to be exact. I rode in its belly all the way to Florida, sleeping on 12 cases of beer. I slept deep. The only time I shuddered is when John, Mother’s new boyfriend of convenience, moved me so he could get one of the beers out from under me. John was a friend of Liz and Scott. We were all going to Florida to experience a winter without snow supposedly, but everyone was really trying to escape their reputations in Iron River.
Liz and Scott were wild, like multiple grasses blowing in a field and spreading their wild pollen everywhere. I guess Liz was mostly Indian, and Scott was mostly Biker. John was pretty insignificant because I don’t remember shit about him. He had blue eyes and fish spine cheekbones. He looked like a dark-haired Fin and that’s that.
The car fell into our hands after Mother’s party. Arnie, the old guy from across the street, sold it to us for twenty-five dollars after he pissed green all over our toilet. Mother didn’t even complain about the crazy monkey he had on his back that threw shit and seamen all over the place. She was just pissed about the white fake fur toilet cover being stained with green piss. So Arnie was pretty sweet and cut her a deal on the car. The license plates read “Winter Wonder Land,” exactly what we were trying to escape, yet it was stuck to the car and never did leave because when that Falcon hit the Florida heat, it conceded to victory and died. Around that time back in the U.P Arnie died too. I saw the clouds part when we pulled into the farmhouse in Wauchula. The car coughed twice and stopped. We all got out and the car lifted off into the clouds. They parted a little more revealing Arnie. To see Arnie I had to stare into the sun, meaning I had to squint a lot, which made me look like I was smiling. The car kept ascending right toward Arnie with me on the ground smiling the whole time, at least that’s what he seemed to think. And I let him think I was happy standing there staring at the sun shining through a crack in the clouds. It made repossession of the car easier for him. He was always trying to please everyone, and pleased most to death until the only person left to please was himself and he got bored with that and started drinking sweet liquors which, in turn, pleased him to death. Mother didn’t dare stare at the sun because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to stop since she was tripping on magic mushrooms.
For Mother and her friends, Florida was one continuous journey to the field next to the house where they would plunge their fingers into semi-hard cow patties and pick the psilocybin mushrooms that grew on them. I never was allowed to walk in that field, so I always thought they were growing something they didn’t want me to spoil. The little money we had must have come from whatever we were growing there. Scott would return from the fields with a plastic baggy full of something that he threw in the kitchen sink, washed, placed on a cookie sheet, and popped into the preheated gas oven to dry it out. I figured their shift in behavior was a climatic change.
In my developing years, my main role models were seeing objects and colors that no one else saw. Oddly enough, I was the only one that saw Arnie in the clouds and the car’s ascension. Everyone else thought it had been towed because they were to busy giggling at the creases in the tie-died curtains that hung over the windows. Mom was staring at them too because she saw the sun radiating from inside the house and was drawn to it. For six months she mostly basked in an interior sun while sitting on an old wooden chair in the dark kitchen and I continued to stare into the exterior sun looking for people I had known. I took to living a life of psychedelic tripping through osmosis and things were a bit clearer, like when you add a little milk to black cowboy coffee: it was tense and exciting, but you never got to see what was at the bottom no matter how much milk light and sugar you poured into a cup
Various fields owned by a schizophrenic farmer who couldn’t decide what crop to grow surrounded the farmhouse we rented in Wachula. To the north, corn; to the south, something with a bushy green stalk; in the east were onions; and in the west there were only grasses which the cows fed on to make their magic shit which sprouted mushrooms. An old barn was situated out back of the house. I prayed for companionship and it came in the form of twenty dogs that emerged one by one out of the vaginal opening of the cracked barn door.
Everything in Florida that had any life came from a crack, whether it be cracks in the side walks, cracks in windows, or the rotting barn. The dogs were all the colors of a sick rainbow—dirty blue, burnt orange, piss yellow, blood red, a washed out green, bruised violet, and pure indigo. Guard was that indigo. He was a German Shepherd. In his sprouting in the barn, something happened because he came out with only three legs. I always blamed myself for being too impatient because I was calling and calling for more animals to emerge from the barn and Guard, being so obedient and all, ran for the door before he was finished being assembled. He never cared much and loved me anyways and I figured he was crazy for it, just like Liz was crazy for staying with Scott who beat her at least once a month,
I had no toys so Mother ripped off some green felt from the old broken pool table in the basement and cut them into strips that she pinned around my wrists like the Green Lantern’s superhero power-bands. I found a shiny green pebble in the field and embedded it into a crumpled piece of aluminum foil I found in the garbage and made a Green Lantern ring. He was my mentor, or I was his. In Wauchula, people shifted characters constantly and it may have been more desirable for the Green Lantern to be a blond boy with crooked teeth than it was for the boy to have the burden of fighting evil and trying to restore peace in the universe. Green Lantern and I made some sort of compromise and shared our roles, which were really never that different anyways. Both of us had one- syllable first names and similar powers of memory, in addition to an emotionally and morally ambiguous existence.
Green Lantern was originally Hal, a regular man with no fear, so a special alien gave him the most powerful weapon in the universe, a Green Lantern ring. With this ring the Green Lantern was to restore peace to a chaotic universe. The ring received its power from a battery on the planet of Oa. Similarly, my battery was charged from the minerals that lay dormant in the Upper Peninsula. If the Green Lantern ever wanted anything, like a weapon or some fast food, he would just picture it in his mind, and the ring would make it real. This is what draws a little boy to the Green Lantern. This is what draws someone to write down a history as they sit with sleep in their eyes sipping instant coffee in a land where the language is completely unique, some say even passed on by a race of aliens.
The Green Lantern’s only weakness was the color yellow, which possibly foretold his noble fate. His downfall was when he wanted to change destiny. A Mongu (similar to Mongol, which some in this land where fingers are hitting the keyboard claim they and their language descend from) with yellow skin had destroyed his hometown and he decided to recreate it with the power of the ring and his imagination, which, unfortunately, was against the rules of the Superhero Corps.
Creating a new home with imagination required an incredible amount of poetry/power, so in order to recharge his ring he killed other minor heroes with rings and stole their power. Eventually the Green Lantern was so seduced by the ritual of acquiring power that he went into the battery and absorbed all the power making its power source himself. (Scott did this same thing, only with a bottle of beer.) This is when the Green Lantern became Parallax, a rouge superhero who beat up the others and stole their time stream powers to create Zero Hour, his attempt to erase reality from the end of time to the beginning of time and re-create reality in his image. He wanted to play god. He wanted to be god. This failed.
Eventually he realized he had gone bad and couldn’t do anything about it. One day his old superhero friends approached him. It was the final night on earth. The sun had been destroyed and everything was going to die. The superheroes, except for Batman and a couple of others, wanted him to help. So Parallax used his power of light and dark, and summoned his old Green Lantern powers and recited, "In Brightest, in Darkness Night...No Evil shall escape my sight... Let those who worship Evil's power, beware my mightiest, Green Lantern's Light!" and he was changed to the new sun for Earth. Parallax sacrificed himself to be the new sun, which means that he died a hero, not a villain and the people were happy to see that and now they miss him.
The power bands enabled me to round up the dogs with a simple raise of the hand. I didn’t where clothes much in Florida and ran around with only the power bands and the ring. I ate with the dogs, feeding on my hands and knees, while Mother and the others were inside eating mushroom buttons. It was a good life. I was growing up. A mean dog named Egg-Roll had eaten my Barbie after he won a duel where we each put one of her legs in our mouths and shook our heads violently in order to get the other to relent. I lost her so now I was single and free to roam the fields and sleep in if I wished without Barbie demanding a libation and/or affection.
This was the scene in Florida. Our first bout with radical escapism which often led, in our psychedelic delirium, to unpopular choices and subjective memories reconstructed from the light of dogs circling the farmhouse so fast that sparks shot from their heels. I guess I don’t qualify these events as “choices.” Rather, I will call them “Happenings” because I knew that had something to do with performance art and Liz used screaming at Scott as an example. Happenings may be considered a form of theatre spectacle, a wider aesthetic category, which stem from the rejection of the traditions and from the conceit that everyone in the audience sees the same "picture". No one sees the same picture, though. And I’d never want someone to accept my picture without thinking a little for him or herself what it was all about. Why did I color the Green Lantern red in my coloring book?
Civilization was a single orange water pipe coming up out of the ground and running alongside the house to a single tap in the kitchen. From this tap we brushed our teeth, washed our asses, drowned tarantulas, and cooled our foreheads after a hard days work. We did work in Florida. I see it now. Everything was orange and I was in a tree shaking a branch. I straddled that fucker like I was really meaning it, staring off into the blue eye of Florida sky with oranges falling on my head and bouncing down through the crotches and branches of the tree into big green hoppers--a big wooden box as big as a car, full of orange blood and dried orange flesh. We were picking oranges with the migrant workers in groves at the heart of Florida. Payment was based on how many hoppers you could fill. If we had a family system in Florida, it worked best among these trees. I was small enough to crawl to the top of the trees where the large oranges grew from the smallest branches so they were easy to knock down. Scott would be near the center of the tree getting the oranges that held on harder. Mom, Liz, and John were on the ground frantically picking them up and throwing them into the hopper before our neighbors at the next tree scarfed up the ones that rolled onto their turf. Our system worked well, and at the end of the day we would gather around the tap and praise our orange civilization, with the adults rejoicing with magic mushrooms and me pinning on my superhero bands to go and run with the dogs until sundown.
* * *
Eventually I started Kindergarten. A bus just magically stopped in front of the house one morning and I got on and ended up in a classroom with people my own age. We watched Captain Kangaroo in the morning on a television mounted in the corner and took naps on red athletic mats. There was a lot of show and tell too, although I never showed or told. The heat and the psychedelic osmosis followed me everywhere and the intensity of mundane experience never left me. Within feet of wherever I was there was a precipice that taunted me to cross over. Sometimes it was simply the dark space behind a couch or the frown and flutter of Snoopy’s sidekick, Woodstock. At the playground it was very real. It was the place where alligators resided just beyond the shrub fence at the edge of the playground. Near the shrubs is where I would meet girls with pigtails and jump rope and try to get them to go a bit further with me. My meanness was disguised in Florida because I was terrified of the emotional barometer that rose up to the back of my throat. It pushed a tremendous pressure into my head and stifled any ability I had to make speech. So I stopped talking to people who could reciprocate after awhile. Speechless, I did my class exercises with a pencil stub, I climbed the delicate orange trees, I closed my eyes while holding Mothers’ hand a hallucinated with her: Naked Men in silk cocoons hung from trees instead of oranges. They had aromas of scented pipe tobaccos so strong they traveled on the breeze like crests of waves crashing toward the shores of Mother’s tiny nostril pools. On the cocoons men had written different advertising slogans intent on getting picked. Some were descriptive and blunt like “well hung,” and “multiple climaxes,” while others were somewhat more complex, “hands like sterling silverware, will feed,” or “Jeweled.”
I did everything I was supposed to and no one minded if I was silent. I was amazed at the possibility of going an entire day among others silently without them realizing a thing. After awhile I began to think that their body’s weather instruments had been damaged by the thick Florida heat. Bodies began to break down and people started forgetting how to act and react accordingly. Even the dogs knew their places better in Wauchula than the humans, so I began talking only to them and they talked back. At first the conversations were mostly simple, like “I am hungry,” or “Pet me,” or “I am afraid of it” (dogs didn’t use gendered pronouns). After awhile we could have whole conversations and talk not only about the present, but tell stories to each other about the past and how we saw the future.
La Grange, an old terrier, was a friend of Guard, and they, along with myself, had formed a coalition against Eggroll, who had recently been screwed by another rouge dog named Lex. Eggroll was being overly protective and assumed that all males wanted a piece of her, so she took it upon herself to act rather than waiting to someday re-act. After she had bitten all of us, we started to talk about what we would do to her puppies and it wasn’t good. It was easy to talk shit about the future, about lining them up in the road like bowling pins and wait for the school bus to come and knock them over, or fill them so full of magic mushrooms that they’d simply be transported into another dimension. Or there were reveries about Mother Nature on the run in the nineteen seventies. Lyric dominated the future: There was a band playing in my head and I felt like getting high. I was thinking about what a friend had said, hoping it was a lie. At night the moons would be full, all of them. One was over a village in a land I made up so I had a future to think about. In that village was a dark haired girl that I could play with. We would have an old bunny I’d name Tirpala, the kind with short nappy hair and limited stuffing, wire ears that I could shape any which way to hear a church bell rung by hand, or a bird perched on an old butter churner eating seeds. There was a moon to Disco dance under too, in a city on a river that flooded every spring.
This talk was good. But talking about the past, about fur on the hi-way, and relatives lying stinking and bloated in the ditch were a bit harder. Guard would often break into a howl recounting his police dog experiences. He had seen babies dangling from the grip of angry fathers who didn’t want to give up their seed. His job was to go for the ankles and distract the assailant long enough for the police to move in. He often watched Liz and Scott and howled. There were so many moons everywhere that I assumed who was howling at them and that’s what he let me believe most of the time until I was really persistent and then he’s give in and tell me about it—what it did, what it looked like, who shot it, but never a word about him or her. We could also have a laugh at Eggroll getting it from Lex, and his look of pure determination. One thing dogs could get away with was screwing in public. Liz and Scott tried to do it but it was strange. When Scott got frustrated working on his Harley that he bought in a basket, he would either beat Liz, or bend her over the handlebars and take her from behind, “doggystyle,” and she whimpered much the same. Scott was frustrated a lot and it could only result in something permanent for Liz, perhaps a scar, or a child. And she received both in Wauchula.
Scotty was always too small for me to play with so I watched him from across the room and tried to make him think by summoning the power from my ring and transferred it across the room towards the red spot on his forehead. I knew his history was unclear. He would always feel Florida, but he’d never remember it. It would be a phantom limb reaching out from the red spot and waving its invisible fingers trying to get his attention, but only managing to irritate his eyes to the point of tears, at which time his mother would yell and yell, begging him to stop crying and he’d always blame himself when it was the fucked up Wauchula weather that really did it. I liked that little guy, and since I couldn’t play with him, I chose the next best thing, which was a tiny puppy that Eggroll and Lex had made, yet never named, so I simply called him Puppy. Puppy was black I think, at least that is how I pictured him. Skinny. This is something I want to stop remembering now. It got sick. I nursed it best I could, feeding it cake, trying to make it run with me. “Come On Puppy! Come On Puppy!” I said. It lunged a little. It had happy eyes. That is the only way I can say it; but the grass is too high, too green, and it stumbled, it stumbles; small, fat, weak, and bloated. It seemed unfathomable that in the morning with the sun like a big orange balloon that no needle could penetrate, it would be stiff, so cold.
“Come quick mom! Blow on him! Blow on him!”, I said pulling speech from my back pocket, “Get some blankets! He’s cold, please Mother, blow on him!”
I didn’t want to remember that part but I have no choice in the matter. He died, and Scotty might as well have too because I never got to touch him. Maybe once. Scott and I took Puppy out into one of the fields and buried him in a shallow grave. Scott brought his bow and shot an arrow straight up to salute him. That was a time when I liked Scott and loved a puppy. Scott went back to the house and lifted Scotty from his crib where he lay asleep. Scott stood near a window and cradled Scotty in his arms and rocked him in an embrace that mimicked what he thought of as love. I watched the whole thing with Puppy’s family from outside as I stood on all fours and lifted my leg to mark my territory. I shoved my words back in my pocket.
* * *
There was the day when the school bus dropped me off at home and the birds weren’t singing. I knew that no one was home when the bus rolled away and the smell of the diesel washed up on my shore, more like brown scum and fish skeletons than the crest of a wave. And my house was full of wait. No one was there and the dogs were gone somewhere in the fields. Not only had everyone forgotten how to act accordingly, they lost the capacity to simulate love and remember essential things. They had left me. I was sure of it. And I decided to speak again because it was all I had left— something I had saved for a time like this: a credit card I had been granted because of responsible spending.
I walked a half a mile down the gravel road through the dust the bus had created to the nearest house. There was a garden with a sprinkler spraying over the stalks of a small row of corn and some onion bulbs. The sound of the water falling on the stalks pacified me enough to build up my courage to go to the door of the house and use my speech to let someone know that I was now on my own and I needed help, just like Mother had done most of her single-Mother life. I pushed the tears away from my eyes toward the back of my neck to cool myself in the Florida heat that made people forget how to act accordingly. I didn’t ever want to do that, forget that is, so I cooled myself and walked to the door of the freshly painted wooden house, so distant from our house.
“I guess I’m alone now,” I said when a boy my age came to the door.
“What do you want us to do about it?”
“I guess you should feed me first, if you wouldn’t mind, and then I’ll need some sleep. Tomorrow I will have to try to move on back up north.”
“Well, let me ask my mom. Mom! There’s a little boy here claiming he’s hungry. Can we keep him for a day?” A woman came to the door with flour on her hands.
“Let him in, let him in,” she said as she brushed her hands on her apron so she could put them on me to see what I was made off. She bent down to my level and created a lilac breeze with her sudden movement, which pushed away the harsh diesel air that had followed me to her house.
“Come in” she said plainly, as if she knew exactly what to do, “we have been waiting for you.” It was really impressive for someone to make a decision like that. She seemed like the kind of women who would never have to smell milk to see if it was good. She just knew. She knew when meat was bad and little boys were good. I fell in love with her immediately. She placed her flour-dusted hands on my cheek and rubbed them like little cakes. No questions were asked. She invited me in.
I sat at the table with her and her son who was about a year older than myself and ate batter-fried meat and vegetables. All of the plates were matching hues of blue and the silverware was heavy and thick enough that it wouldn’t bend if you stuck a spoon in ice cream, or used the butter knife as a screwdriver, or the fork as a radio antenna. It was a good set, almost too good. This silverware demanded perfect posture and no elbows on the table to be used properly. I rested my elbows on a bubble of air and brought a fork to my mouth. The mother and her son did the same, and we all smiled. We all smiled, not because of happiness, rather because this is what the unwritten manual of how to take care of a child that wanders into your home would have said. Right in the preface: “Under know circumstances do you let the subject sense that he is in danger, or that you may feel in danger. You must assume, for the safety of the family, that the subject is emotionally reckless and has the capacity to do violence and disrupt the family system. Keep the subject pacified enough until the proper authorities can be contacted. Feed it if you have to. Avoid direct intimacy, such as bathing; subject may be cunning and work its way into your life through long pathetic narratives, which generate a primal mammalian sense of empathy and responsibility, making detachment extremely difficult. This is exactly what the subject wants.”
I knew this preface well, albeit with a vocabulary adjusted for Kindergarten comprehension. I guess the Kindergarten translation would be “act as if.” So we all did until a solution presented itself. But I acted too. I went with the feeling that I had been primordially, unconditionally accepted into another family system. I eyed the mother, who was, like most mothers, older than mine. Her hair was done up in a bun with two sanded, finished, and painted twigs in her auburn hair, full as a bird’s nest mounted in the soffit of a silk factory and built from tailings left by seamstresses. Her eyes were like a couple of number two polished billiard balls in TJT’s Nirvana bar in Iron River, and the skin they were embedded in, although a different color, was as soft as the green felt that owner Butch Testini had replaced every six months rather the table needed it or not.
This was the first thought I had of my old family, and the Upper Peninsula for that matter. It had been a whole hour since I had been abandoned and already I was associating things with the past. I guess it’s quite normal, and it would take me sometime to forget. In a day or two, after I moved on to the next family system, I would be better at forgetting and would associate things with the previous experience of this family rather than Mother, Liz and Scott, and all the others.
It all seemed, looking at this mother’s breasts now, that it would be so easy to forget. Underneath her deep black linen dress, freshly pressed, they were like the front tires of a Matchbox car held vertically, as if it were launching straight up into the clouds. Perfect half circles with no treads, simply soft and smooth, with a little give to make the suspension just right. This is the origin of objectivity. It starts innocently and sincere before you have any idea about the difference between organic and inorganic objects. I really liked Matchbox cars, and I liked shooting pool. Both activities pacified me as much as sucking hard on the breasts of Mother those first couple of weeks in Battle Creek, until I sucked so hard that she had to wear bandages on her nipples. I wanted to place this mother face down on the floor and gently push her around by her buttocks making engines noises like “vrrrrrrrroooom” all afternoon, running her up the backs of chairs, down my arms, and jumping her over furniture. This is how you treat someone you love.
“Would you like some desert?” she asked and her voice this time was like mint pudding, refreshing and thick enough to get stuck on the roof of your mouth so that you have to tongue at it for hours, savoring the minty taste the whole time.
“Yes.” And at this point the little boy disappeared, thoughts of the manual disappeared, all associations with shapes and forms disappeared, and all I sensed was green. This was the color of Wauchula, the color of my slice of rainbow spectrum I was confined to where I’d walk the green hallways totally content and imagine whatever I wished. Green. How I love you green. Green wind, green branches.
“Why don’t you take Chad to the garden.” she poured thickly from her lips, and I was back. I went with the boy to the garden. He had questions to ask, and in our boyish ways we talked frankly.
“Did your parents really leave you?” he questioned.
“Well, how do you know?”
“I think I could smell it.”
“Yeah, you know, just like when cookies are burning in the oven, and you smell it and know it’s past time to take them out—well, I smelled a house full of wait and knew it was time to leave.”
“But what if the cookies weren’t really burning. What if a piece of another cookie from a different batch that had already been baked was stuck to the cookie sheet and was burning, even though all the other cookies were just fine. Maybe you smelled something from before and thought something was wrong when really everything was just like it was supposed to be.”
“But this all feels so comfortable, like it is what is supposed to be happening: Your mother, her wheels, the silverware, this garden and the sound of the water splashing all over the ground. I am sure I smelled a whole batch of cookies burning.”
“Well, I’m just saying…” and then I cut him off.
“Yeah, I know. You’re older and all that too. Maybe you know a little more. Have you ever lived anywhere else besides this place? Like in a different state, or somewhere where it snows?”
“No. I’ve had the same room all my life. And the same weather. We thought about leaving after my Dad died, but we still stayed. Mom liked the garden. She was all into smells just like you, saying something like she loved the smell of the soil when it was wet. That’s why that sprinkler never stops running…so she can smell the wet soil and know she made the right decision to stay.”
“Well I don’t know if I could stay in one place that long. We’ve been moving quite a bit all over the place and it’s pretty cool sometimes. The weather’s always changing. And faces, I can read faces just like if they had short words all over them— wrinkles, the eye size. I’m more like an adult you know. I can take care of myself and swear really good if I have to, you know what I mean?”
“I guess I get the picture,” he said and I wondered what picture that was. Whatever it was I knew it couldn’t be wrong because it was his and I didn’t want to give him too much direction or he just might leave.
“Hey you guys!” his mother called from the house, “Come in here. It’s time.”
And what time was this? Anything would have been cool as hell for me. Maybe it was tea time. I had heard something about that. Or maybe these people streaked too and we’d get naked. I took my ring out of my pocket and slipped it on my finger to summon some power to make something generically good. This left a certain amount of mystery, which was always better than specificity. We went to the house.
“Hey, Chad!” Mother said. What power had I summoned from the ring? Was this indeed good? Mother was in the black linen dress lady’s house. I didn’t say anything. She was puzzled at my silence. it was the first time in awhile that she had taken the time to notice it. “What’s the matter? Didn’t you read the note on the door? I wrote it with a big green crayon so you wouldn’t miss it. I had talked to Ms. Williams earlier and asked her if she’d keep an eye on you because we’d be working late in order to meet the month’s quota of oranges. I got her number from the fresh vegetable sign by the road. I had arranged everything. I was being responsible!” she exclaimed. She looked deep into me like she was trying to figure out a math problem. She was looking for the logic in the situation. “You didn’t read that note? You just came by chance? Well whata ya know! You just came all by yourself!” She kept talking to me with an inflection that begged for a response from me but I just started being silent again because I was trying to figure things out too.
Come on! Scott yelled from the car, “I’m fucking tired.”
“Shhhhhhhh!” I could hear Liz begging, “don’t embarrass Kate. This lady really helped us out. And you’re gonna wake up Scotty.”
“We gotta shrooooom!” he said under his breath.
“Well o.k. then.” Mother sighed, smiled, and took my hand to break the awkward pause. No streaking I thought. “Thank you so much Ms. Williams.” Mother fumbled in her dirty pocket full of soil and leaves and pulled out a five dollar bill and passed it to the lady with the black linen dress—I guess her name was Ms. Williams, but I liked it better when I hadn’t known. I hoped no one would reveal the boy’s name. She wouldn’t accept the bill.
“Just drop me some oranges sometime. And let Chad come back, Billy doesn’t get a lot of visitors out here.” Damn! She said his name—but she said my name first! It was really something to be desired and I would never forget that. I’d plant an orange tree, grow them good, and bring them to her myself.
I stared at Ms Williams’ black linen dress and wanted to race her all over Wauchula. I blinked, but only one eyelid shut. Ms. Williams liked it, and she did it back to me and I was happy that I could leave the house with a certain amount of mystery. I trusted that the ring had brought some good and put it safely back in my pocket.
“Let’s go Chad. I guess he’s being shy.” Mother and I turned to walk out past the smell of wet soil, but before I had the chance to turn completely—turn, that is back into being with my other family—Ms. Williams put both of her exquisite hands with fingernails painted lilac onto my shoulders and stooped down to my level and kissed the eyelid I’d shut. She did it rather quickly because Scott was getting louder again and the horn beeped twice. I mouthed “thank you” to her, bowed, and continued my turning with Mother.
* * *
Green. And green was the space between the fields of Wauchula and my Great Lakes eyes. It was a green that I could swim in as long as I didn’t talk and disturb the process of tipping reality on its side in order to make a seemingly neglectful moment literary. In Wauchula this child amid green greener than the fabric of the Green Lantern thought literary thoughts but didn’t know the words, and it’s always more sincere that way, and objective. It’s an epic where a loss can be turned into a victory. But loss and victory didn’t mean much to me either, until we all went to Daytona Bike Week and saw some 50,000 Harleys racing up and down the street, some pulling Hondas and Kawasakis with thick linked tow chains until a spark sprouting from metal and asphalt friction would ignite the gas fumes pouring out of the Jap Bike and explode like a miniature sun being thrust out of the road, dissipating among a larger sun’s light. I never knew which motorcycle won; the brute overpowering force of the Harley, or the restrained pacifism of the Jap bikes which turned to suns and descended to a heavenly kingdom while the Harleys continued to reek havoc in an earthly kingdom. Empirically, the Harley’s won. Theoretically, with an emotional cherry and shot of spirituality, the Jap bikes won. Much later, my first motorcycle would be a Jap bike, until I succumbed to a Harley. Then I would abandon both for motorcycle neutrality and buy a Triumph. Both sign and symbol would come together allowing me to contemplate the past kingdoms of motorcycles in Daytona where I couldn’t hear for seven days, except once, and relied solely on engine vibrations and eyesight to orient me toward maturity.
The night I heard was after Scott shouted for three hours in the grandstands while naked bikers raced super-Harleys up and down the strip. His mouth was stretched as wide open as it could, sucking in the carbon monoxide and blowing it out his nostrils. When his throat got dry he wet it with cheap flat beer from a plastic cup that had been dipped in a beer trough because the tapper was worn out and refused to work. The veins in his neck were like gas lines where fuel traveled to his brain up and down the strip. His hair was generic brown, thin and too greasy to blow properly in the sea breeze. When I looked up at him I knew he was a failure because his Harley still sat in pieces in the farmhouse because he never did find the bolt, even after blaming four dogs and Mother and Liz. He didn’t blame John because he had simply left and that’s all I have to say about that. The past is like that sometimes: pure with nothing to analyze, no symbolism. So, I didn’t really hear Scott shouting in the day, I just saw his mouth opening slowly and it remained that way for a while so I knew what the gesture was. I didn’t actually start listening and comprehending until later that night when the whole Florida family was walking across an old parking lot and somebody yelled out in the darkess “cute kid,” at which time I remembered desired.
“You can have him.” Mother replied, and Liz and Scott giggled. I wasn’t sure if the giggle meant that it was obviously a joke because she would never feel that way, or if it was because the thought of not having me around made them genuinely happy. It was hard to figure out on this night with the noise and the heat, the tattoos and body odor. This night was particularly extraordinary for everyone because no longer did my Florida family simply have to settle for mushrooms. In Daytona, everything grew wild, right out of the streets. Scott had pockets full of what looked like ju-ju beans but I wasn’t allowed to have any. He became increasingly more impatient.
“No! You can’t fucking have any. Don’t you get it?” His personal weather system was about to turn into something really mean, something that could wreck houses. It occurred to me that the labor behind every orange Scott had picked was for this moment.
Eventually we all settled into a cheap motel, at least that’s what I assume happened. I woke up in the middle of the night and everyone was gone again. This time I looked for a note. There was nothing, except for Scotty in his portable wooden crib set up in the corner. They had left both of us this time. They had even taken our clothes because both Scotty and I were completely naked. I knew I was older than him and decided to take charge, thinking the whole time of how Ms. Williams had taken control of the situation before. But she had the benefit of expecting me, although I didn’t know it at the time. I kind of expected that it would be up to me to break down and touch Scotty, nurture him a little, but I didn’t know it would be tonight. The pressure was unbearable. I didn’t know if I could take it and figured I’d need some help so I took my nudeness with me out into the hall to find some help. I sound brave now, and I’d like to portray myself as such, but I was bathing in a melancholy spa. I laid back into the emotion and felt its warmth. Somehow I needed this time in a utility-carpeted hallway completely naked with tears running down my chest and off the tip of my pee-pee. I started to run, hoping for the breeze I generated to dry my tears. I ran to the end of the hall and took a sharp right and slammed right into the knees of a large police officer. In 1976, with a family like mine, I was taught that police were not your friends so I was in a predicament. I wish I could have ran into some softer knees, like those of Ms Williams.
“Where’s your room boy?” he said firmly.
“Where’s your clothes, boy?” the other one chimed.
“Where’s your Mommy?”
“Where’s your sense?”
“Where’s the moon?”
“Where’s the ketchup?”
It just wasn’t sinking in so I pointed to the direction from which I had come. I led them like the dogs had lead me, but with less love. I thought of the dogs back home in Wauchula fending for themselves among the fields, tearing up vegetable and devouring magic mushrooms. They were probably mounting each other left and right, eating shit and pissing all over festively. Jupiter and Venus would be on the horizon. The moon was black and new and the dogs sucked on the teats of the milky way and howled when their bellies were full. I would give up written language for that life.
We entered the hotel room and the police saw Scotty. One reached for his walkie-talkie, but before he could press the black talk button, Scott showed up in the doorway with a paper sack full of beer.
“What’s going on?” he said startled and buzzed.
“The boy was naked in the hallway.”
“He didn’t talk much. Just pointed and led us here. We figure he thought he was abandoned.”
“Well I’m right here!”
“You are now, but you weren’t. Where is the mother?”
“I just ran out for a minute to grab something to drink, Man. Honest. The baby in the crib is mine, but the boy isn’t. His mother and my wife are out on the town I guess. No problem here really. Honest man, really.” Scott started pleading unnecessarily as if he was facing a different reality than the reality at hand which made things worse. “Do you hear what I’m saying man? No problem. Just a lot of Harleys and noise and chicks but no problem if you know what I mean.”
“Where’s your wife sir”
“Where’s your sense sir?”
“Where’s the moon?”
“Where’s the ketchup?”
Liz and mother showed up at the door just in time to prevent Scott from going into convulsions.
“What’s going on?” Liz exclaimed.
“The boy here was naked in the hallway, Ma’am.” a policeman said.
“He didn’t talk much. Just pointed and led us here. We figure he thought he was abandoned.”
“Well we’re right here!”
“You are now, but you weren’t. Are you the mother?” he asked Liz.
“We were just out on the town. The baby in the crib is mine, but the boy isn’t. I guess Scott ran out for a minute to grab something to drink.”
“Yes Ma’am that seems to be what happened. How can we resolve the situation.”
Finally Mother spoke, “The boy is mine. We never had any intention to leave the children alone, not now or ever, and we will stay with them for the rest of the night.”
“Well, good.” both policemen chimed, “you may want to take special care of him,” and simultaneously they lifted their right arms and pointed at Scott which caused him to hit the floor for cover. He stayed down.
“Everything will be o.k.” Mother assured again. The assurance carried across Florida retroactively and I realized I never had anything to worry about. The police left. After they were around the corner, Mother and Liz lifted Scott from the floor by his shoulders, all the while shouting at him.
“You fucking asshole!”
“Idiot! What’s the matter with you? The room’s full of mushrooms, grass, and pills!”
“Wake up you fucker. Listen to me!” Liz started yelling with the force and history of almost a year in Florida. Scott’s head was bobbing back and forth as if it was attached to the rest of his body by a spring. Mother and Liz seized the opportunity to smack him. Liz was first; a slap hard on the cheek with her free hand while holding him up by the hair with her other. Then Mother reflected the motion. It went back and forth like this for a couple of minutes, Scott’s head tethering and Mother and Liz competing to see who could knock it all the way around. After awhile his head sprung a leak and blood tickled from his mouth like juice from an overripe orange fallen to the ground from the highest branch. Liz had an inclination to squeeze the juice from his head into an empty can and pour it down her throat, gargle, and spit it back in his face. Mother had an inclination to go for his crotch with her knee and did. The only problem was that Scott probably wouldn’t remember, and Liz didn’t want him to forget so she filled a pitcher full of ice while Mother braced him against the wall and continued to knee him in the crotch. Liz poured the ice over his head which indeed caused Scott to come-to. Not only did he regain consciousness, he regained his strength and coherence, which didn’t work to anyone’s advantage because now he was really pissed and threw Mother across the room, knocked the empty pitcher from Liz’s hand and grabbed her by throat. That is when I really learned how to swear. He called her things like “dirty filthy cunt,” “greasy Indian pussy,” “two-faced bitch-whore….” And then there were the imperatives:
“Suck my fucking cock you bitches. I’m gonna jam my fists down your throats until they come out your fucking asses. “Come here.” He grabbed Liz first and I realized his threats were real. He grabbed her by the back of the hair and yanked it back so that her mouth was opened wide as if she was screaming up through the ceiling at the black moon. With his free hand he made a tight fist and tried to screw it into her mouth. His fist was too big and Liz’s lips were pressed into her teeth and crushed like strawberries. I put my ring on and thought of something quick so I cold make it real. I thought simply “stop beating Liz” and pictured an aerosol can flying across the room and it happened— Mother hurled one. It was heading right for Scott’s head, but he ducked and it bounced off the wall into Scotty’s crib—who had managed up until this point to remain sleeping— and ricocheted off a wooden rail making a loud noise near his ear which made him scream. Liz and Scott both looked over their shoulders at the crib and assumed the can had hit Scotty. Scott stopped beating Liz and she lost the desire to punish Scott. Instead they both formed a coalition against Mother who had broadened the conflict by supposedly hitting Scotty who continued to scream louder. Now I was in a corner, Scott and Liz were shoulder to shoulder against the wall and Mother was opposite. I had seen the same play before back at the farmhouse when Lex and Eggroll ganged up against a female who had tried to nuzzle Puppy to make sure he was o.k. Lex and Eggroll thought she was sniffing Puppy’s ass in order to figure how close death was so she could plan some sort of incursion. The same sort of canine irrationality was at work in the hotel room. I knew that I was in another position as spectator about to witness a happening, left to interpret the situation on my own. But Mother had just affirmed her willingness to keep me and I wanted to participate. I summoned the powers again. Before I could think of how to word the command properly to ensure the desired outcome, Liz and Scott lunged at Mother. She ducked and rolled toward me, knocking me backwards and my hands flew up and slammed against the wall. My ring flew off. Liz and Scott joined hands and stooped. They jumped up on the bed to get a better perspective of Mother’s position. Scott spread his right arm like an eagle and Liz spread her left so that the span stretched across the entire room. Mother and I were both near the window and the door was to our right. They took flight and were gliding across the room at us. The arrow that Scott had shot up to salute the dead Puppy was coming down and anything that he may have felt for me then was being made null by his downward ascension. Liz’s flat, fat red lips were stretched open wide and blood still trickled from Scott’s mouth. They were coming down on us fast. I felt a breeze on my neck. It was cold. Incredibly cold. I grabbed Mother’s hand and sprung up with all my canine energy and we genuflexed backwards out the open window. Liz and Scott crashed to the floor and fumbled for the door but gave up. All the aggression was contained in the theatrical space of the room and we had managed to escape past the curtains where we were distanced from the performance. As spectators we were free to flee the situation and ran like hell with our tails between our legs in a weather that had changed drastically and became very cold. My mother took the Indian scarf she was using as a belt and wrapped me up in it to cover my nudeness. We ran to the front desk where Mother explained the spectacle to a balding middle-aged guy not much bigger than me. He didn’t seem surprised. He said he had heard of that same performance last year.
“I might be able to arrange something for you. I bet that little boy is tired,” he said as if he was figuring out an equation on the blackboard of an 8th grade teacher, “You should put him to bed. I can maybe help you, ummm, watch him, you know, protect him or something.”
“Listen, are you going to help me or not. What can you expect from me now? Do you think I could enjoy anything with anybody? You like it like that? I don’t think so. You’ll feel better if you simply give me some fucking keys to a fucking room where those fuckers can’t find me and my son. Do you understand that? Do you understand that I don’t want any more beating or fucking or drinking tonight? Can you help me with that? It will be your one good thing for the whole fucking year, please, Man. You’ll be rewarded, but just not by me right now, understand? Please. And don’t tell anyone where we are. We’ll be gone by sunrise.” And that was that with him. He tried to call one time claiming he wanted to see how we were doing, and that’s all he asked, and Mother said “Fine” firmly and “Thanks” a little softer, then asked him for a wakeup call—strictly by phone—at 5 a.m., two hours away. She hung up and called Gramma, taking the phone with her into the bathroom. She emerged about 10 minutes later. “We are going home in the morning.”
“Back to Wauchula?”
“Back to Michigan.”
At 5 a.m. the rumble of Harleys was subtler and matched the mood of the sun coming up through the smog. The blank moon was silhouetted in earthshine. Luckily, Mother had the keys to a cheap car we had purchased in Florida. Our plan was to drive the car to a Western Union place where Gramma had wired some money to Mother. The car wouldn’t start. Mom popped open the hood. Wires were pulled everywhere and Mother simply yelled “fuck” and we flagged down a biker who put us both on the back of his Harley and drove us to Western Union. We picked up the money, walked across the street to the bus station and purchased two Greyhound tickets to Iron River. For the first time in thirty years snow fell in Florida. Billy got his change in the weather. The trip would last 50 hours.
Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.
Flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home.
And then we moved.