“I’m not like my brother,” he muttered, “I don’t sing when I’m drunk.” In fact, he didn’t sing at all, and he didn’t drink much, certainly not enough to get drunk, not since those days in his twenties when he tried to keep up with their father. His eyes squinted when he thought of it, from pain referred through the ages, the recollected burning of shiners. Their father always wanted to fight when they were drinking, not fight everyone, mind you, or anyone in particular, excepting him, his kid that was trying to be his drinking buddy, the one closest to his cocked fist. They were cold, he remembered, the father’s hands when they landed. Somehow cold, possibly from the succession of beer bottles and rock glasses they held prior to commencement of fisticuffs. That split second freeze on his eyes and the punches connected, before the residual burn and swelling amidst the dizzying fall to the floor. What moments! Like the spray of a rushing stream before it takes one under and down, down into the familiar, the darkness, the escape. Oblivious to the father blows and the father epithets and father spittle raining upon the shirt already damp with whiskey.
Their father was dead before the kid brother took up drinking like the old man. Long fearing for him, the big brother steered his sibling away from violence, instead teaching him to sing.
Can-I-gettaCan-I-gettaCan-I-getta; that’s what he says, or sort of sings to himself, over and over, faster and faster as the afternoon slides forward. The melody is disjointed, not exactly familiar, even to him, but still enormously pleasing – a stress reducer. Like so many of his habits, the quickening staccato-shot toward an unreachable crescendo that would drive others insane, instead works to steady him, make him feel like himself. The old boot that he is. Old and worn in, not out. The bump and scar on his shin where his hammer strike missed the bumper he was detaching. The heaving chest that grew ever so slightly with each moment of adulthood. The crazy mind that spins out songs and exclamations all day in bursts of glee, about penguins and hot rods, donuts and trailer parks. Eh-eh-eh, Eh-eh-eh… he’s off on another tangent – a car racing downtown, 20 miles in 20 minutes, in traffic. Better use the shoulder. Caaaaaan-I-gettaCan-I-gettaCan-I-getta…
Walking, if that’s what one would call it, was what he liked to do most when he was drunk. The animated chattering and amorous canoodling of the tavern culture carried much charm, but it was his walk to his flat, after his snoot was full, that gave him the most sublime joy. The magic in the bottle seemed unfailing; it numbed his aching, prematurely aged joints, and at the same time, provided air soles to his shabby shoes. Sidewalks became trampolines, curbs turned to starting blocks that would launch him into an intersection as if he were spring loaded. The restrictive grid of the city turned curvy and forgiving, very forgiving, with walls like billiard cushions, and soft green parkways like table felts. The world moved then too, but faster than his vision, which was on a slow watercolor delay. If it was windy he could push back against the breeze with his hands and the baggy arms of his greasy overcoat. If it was rainy his feet would become an entire percussion section. Often he’d sing along the way, his gait, propelling the rhythm as he seemingly traversed among the clouds. The cacophony of sounds were his arrangement, and yet he was generous in sharing its majesty, a remnant of an aria, a stomp, with the occasional passerby. There was no straining of the vocal chords, no pain at all. Odes to joy along the wet nighttime streets.
It was walking that was his favorite thing to do when he was drunk.
King’s Club King’s Club! Ain’t a king no more, don’t wanna be. Wish I’d known before.
The words repeated over again in his head and in sinc with his steps. He was marching away, for good this time but no one knew. To the coast, all the way west this time, not just to the Badlands and back, but all the way. L.A. Airsoles might be heavy out there but they sure add bounce to his trip over here, on the colder, harder pavement. Bricks bricks bricks he’d miss them, the color changing bricks that are everywhere here. Gold to red to purple to blue, morning to night and then sometimes neon-kissed under the club marquees. Alien bricks or at least garish immigrants among their cousins. There were still old street lamps in this neighborhood, the city was late to change anything around here, and the golden glow above, a hundred dying suns, would be missing out there, replaced by a boozy, sinking disc seen against the smog’s dirty screen. He’d buy a pair of swim trunks – everyone swam in cut-off’s here, and maybe a Vespa to glide the few blocks to the beach. Perhaps later, a big hog, or a Bel-Air with a rag top to head up and down the PCH. Up to San Fran and down to Tijuana. Ain’t a king no more, and nobody knew. How could he tell them. How could they understand. Anything different scared them. A hundred black leather greasers lined up against the alley walls around here, all watching the world go by. And now he’s going by. Bye. Past the corner and across the gas station lot, through the prairie yard over the viaduct, past the water tower and the guy with the gun, under the fire escape jungle and down the gangway. To the depot.
Wish I’d known before, wish I’d known before, the depth of the shame and the sadness, the opening that next morning and the promise of reckoning, sunlight, and escape.
King’s Club King’s Club! Ain’t a king no more and don’t wanna be.
It was a long nap, not as long as some, but better by an hour than the one yesterday. The resonant wind in his curls brought a freshness beyond sleep to the customarily stale early evening. This troubled him for a moment, nothing troubled him for much longer than that, but for that brief interlude he wondered if he’d been pursuing the wrong discipline. Maybe he should abandon his commitment to napping and instead figure out why his hair felt so right in the slight gale. Was it the product choice, the Tenax, that made the difference up there? How could it be so different than whatever he’d stolen from the apothecary aisle last month? Maybe it was the increasing length of the locks – he’d been saving money by avoiding regular haircuts. Or maybe – perhaps this was it, the way he slept had unmatted or otherwise arranged his hair just right, and now it caught the breeze like a sail. If so, he could chalk it all up to mere coincidence, and he wouldn’t have to give up napping, a relief indeed, for he didn’t know what else he’d do on all his idle afternoons. He tied up that rationalization like a sailor. Smirking, he fixed a gaze through his sunglasses at the setting sun, and presently turned in the opposite direction, heading into the night.
Continuing the expeditions of Jeff MacNelly, James Kilpatrick, and Eugene McCarthy, with apologies.
The Super Delegate
Like a message from prehistory, a multitudinous swarm, or a darkening sky, the general election pestilence of the Super Delegates casts a pall over the hopes of common pols. Thundering home the message of the elders, the SD stifles the cries for reform and change that, in one of nature’s ironies, pop up in sequence with the SD’s quadrennial pre-election appearance. The Super Delegate has extraordinary strength in numbers, as each SD carries a power weighted greater than its pitiful cousin, the lowly, simple Delegate. En masse, the SD population can sap the energy from a primary season and decimate interest in a convention. It can eviscerate expected television ad revenues for convention week, and cause the unemployment of hundreds of advance people. The SD is, as such, widely reviled, and yet, in keeping with the country’s norms, is also left unchecked to continue its plunder of political reason. However, the changing times bring snippets of news from the field: poachers hunting outside of election season, under the radar of parties concerned, may be slowly but inexorably thinning the Super Delegate herd. Check back in four years.
She didn’t know the girl, she was sure of it now. In the walk from the department store she had rifled through her memory, cross referencing facial features, hair style, voice, clothes, posture, gait; and found nothing. Now, she felt more anxiety, even more than she’d felt when she heard the comment as she marched through the cosmetics department. But now she questioned: had she heard it – would a stranger be so rude? Was it just her imagination running away with something she could not be sure of? Again the rifling started, the Rolodex shuffle; maybe she knew the girl, maybe…
She caught her reflection in a store window. She hated the way she looked when she was submerged in obsessive thought – her eyes looked smaller and her face longer, her chin tended to jut out. She thought she looked like a brooding old spinster at best, at worst: an angry man about to rampage through the streets. Not the desired presentation for a woman of twenty years who woke up this morning vowing to shine like the rising sun.