Reflecting an uncritical disposition, he took on the patterns of the life that was offered him. He slept in his room, he drank in the saloon, he attended church on Sunday, though that diversion was not offered, but rather, insisted upon by Pastor Welsh. He loved the way the sun came through the pointed windows of the church, and the smell of the pines that rushed into the place after a hard rain. At Christmas time, Ozwald would sometimes help the Pastor decorate the church with ribbon.
Then there was the digging.
The undertaker was distant when he was not drinking, but Welsh was always accessible, so much so that Oswald found himself talking to him even while digging alone. On cold nights, when the hard ground gave itself grudgingly, often the conversation was profane and unbecoming, but it was genuine. As Ozwald got knee deep and further, he was taken away from pretense and propriety, deeper into his own mind, and then away from there, to a place where his gut and his aching arms, and his cold, wet feet, were given voice.
It was strange to see it there, this seemingly misplaced artistic sentiment. It so contrasted its surroundings – it seemingly came alive among the dead darkness of the alley, morphing from flatness to relief to a real guy sitting there, in that chair. And he just sat, silently meditating, or mourning – who can say for sure? We were all intruders in his space for a moment, a moment of zen, in alley in a dirty city, where all sorts of things are alive and beautiful.
The club entrance was in a gangway off a side street, and was lit by a garish bulb. Dirty and exposed to the elements, it provided atmosphere, but little illumination. Almost as if keeping with that theme, the place had hired a doorman who spoke in scat phrases, sometimes wore a topknot, and even in temperate weather cloaked himself in a black leather duster that made everything but his face and hands disappear into the surrounding darkness.
The place was popular with club kids and local toughs, but, curiously, there were spaces in the nights were has was alone, or nearly that, and he would sing, or kind of yodel into the empty gangway darkness. In winter he would sometimes spell out the name of the club in the snow with his Dr. Martens, or burn a girl’s initials into the accumulation with the cup of hot tea they would bring him from inside.
He carried a piece of chalk in his coat pocket to write song lyrics, The Clash, mostly, on the black walls of the doorway. On the rare occasions that they’d play such a song inside, he’d go at the wall in a frenzy trying to keep up with the cadence. Once, hearing Morrissey’s crooning Girlfriend in a Coma, he drew a simple heart on the wall and then ran to and fro in the gangway like a caged animal for a moment before reclaiming his station as if nothing unusual had just happened. Rumor was that he’d had a girlfriend, or a sister that had died long ago, but nobody asked him. Even a gangway performance space has some rules of decorum. Besides, the show he put on each night was part of the reason one visited the place, sometimes even the only reason. Many partiers would divert through the gangway while on their way somewhere else, just to see what he was doing, which was sometimes nothing. They would search the wall for his chalk marks, or the snow for his tributes, and finding nothing, look up at him with a smirk as he held his teacup and saucer in fingerless gloves, pinkie out, quietly sipping.
Sliver was sharp and pointy, like both his name and the stiletto he carried in his pocket. He learned to use a gun in basic training, but preferred a blade before and after he was discharged for using one on the base in peacetime. He was relieved to be out of there, though he did like the haircut. Took him right out of the 70’s and into the new decade, where, though times were changing, they still played disco in neighborhood clubs. That was fine with him. The girls liked that music, and that was why he was going out anyway, to score, wagering his small bankroll on his chances. He was swarthy but small, dapper but dangerous, the kind of guy that made you wonder why he always seemed alone, until you went out with him. I knew he had friends – I’d seen him hanging with them a lot on the street corner in front of the tavern – but I guessed he liked to work alone, when he was working at night, on his prospects at the club. And it was work, to him. He was not a Good Time Charlie, or a happy drunk. Seeing him at a club was like seeing a government lawyer in court. All business.
Just before the neighborhood changed he went away, alone. I heard he died that way, in some town outside of Vegas. They found Sliver in his apartment, in a chair – no T.V., window open – with his stiletto in his hand.
Continuing the expeditions of Jeff MacNelly, James Kilpatrick, and Eugene McCarthy, with apologies.
Most often seen as an impervious block, this creature’s putty-like insides allow it to assume other obstructive shapes when needed. Once shunned as a downer among the formerly happy warriors on both sides of the bestiary, the Gridlock is now embraced by an over-represented but powerful legislative majority, in opposition to executive action, that seeks to extend the unremarkable status quo. Indeed, there seems no shame in letting the Gridlock hang around indefinitely, notwithstanding its complete lack of manners, indifference to common decency, and antiquated personal hygiene. This is seen by some as dangerous to the stuffy norms of the bestiary, and that may be so, but more dangerous still will be the day that the Gridlock becomes the friend of every legislative majority, regardless of political affiliation. On that day the insides of the Gridlock may just ossify in place, creating a dangerous and permanent blockage.
Driving in the midnight snow with the top down and a tree stuffed into the back seat. That’s how they remember him, the few that saw him, accidentally, sneaking in as they were in the wee hours, from a holiday card game or a girlfriend’s apartment. Christmas Eve, back then, when the winters were colder and lit with fat colored bulbs. A phantom sliding along in the streets, leaving Christmas trees on the porches of shut-ins. It happened for some years in the neighborhood and then faded away, but with a resonance, leaving many of us, years later, still peeking out at our porches each Christmas morning, to see if something was left there overnight…
In the mean, there will be moving – much moving, places to go again, futures to make and remake. Writers shaking the plume. Virtuous benefactors vindicated. Rogues redeemed.
The coming age galvanized the generations young enough to suspect that a bit of time was left to put right when had been wrongly placed; enough time to find peace and nurture it dearly, and to live, live, desperately live, with empathy, kindness, and a resolve that the legacy left would be restorative.
The slow building of the sound of reawakening moved them from their apathy and into the syncopated march of the future. The dance of the new world begins again.
Outside, the feeling of liberation belied a rebirth of community. Poets expressed their understanding of the new covenant with their words; dancers did so with their bodies. Correspondents presented the big and small events without embellishment; there was no need to guild this blossoming lily. Leaning into the cameras, they said “Look; see.” and pointed to the scenes of enterprise and empathy, of collaboration and kindness; of relief, as the breath of possibility spread over the nation like a cool breeze.