by Nathan Blake
In his infinite douchebaggery, Mr. Branson wrote on the back of your paper that legitimizing oneself as a writer is fundamentally dependent upon the ability to craft a fine narrative and that it is difficult, (though I personally think impossible) to even begin thinking of crafting a fine narrative if one (and I’m speaking about you specifically now, Daryll) has nothing important to say, no overarching vision or strategic game plan for the piece’s relevance and lingering success in a capricious world of literature such as today’s.
And you’re sure you were the only student to get a comment like that. Because apparently you really stink at writing which is, well, news to you.
So you boil. You steam. You stew at 250° Fahrenheit and bake at 400°.
You figure Sarah Keyes didn’t get a comment like that. Not the Sarah Keyes who was asked to read her stupid piece aloud in class about how she voluntarily donated her stupid kidney to her stupid old dystrophied grandmother even though it means she can’t play her stupid field hockey in college next year, because what is more important, the ability to excel and perhaps even dominate a particular sports arena or helping one’s neighbor, let alone family member, who changed diapers lovingly even with dainty, crooked fingers?
Like Sarah Keyes is even going to get into college next year. Not with those braces, honey; who even wears braces anymore? For her own sake you hope she realizes they don’t generally allow little stupid baby kiddies into college, unless they are some sort of foreign-born genius stupid baby kiddies, which she is not, as far as you can tell (at least on a closer second or even third glance).
And you know what? You got appendicitis in the 10th grade and missed the first half of the baseball season and never really got the timing back in your swing, which is why you couldn’t keep up the following season and were cut from the varsity team before anyone else, despite your natural gap power, despite the way you rounded second-base and almost forty percent of the time made it to third. And let’s not talk about your defensive positioning for cut-off throws from the outfield, because Christ, man, you could really do that very very well, at least in your own humble eyes and maybe even the most proud eyes of others. You really could.
But do we see you wasting everybody’s time in Intro to Writing Non-Fiction Editorials Summer Session (Block III)? Do we see you complaining?
No. Not really.
You just wanted your next piece to tell everyone how things really are. The metaphorical meat and potatoes, but most importantly, the gristle. You wanted to shove stupid Sarah Keyes’ paper down her stupid spoiled throat. You wanted to expose the world in all its fractured, raw glory and then maybe, if you just so happened to stumble along the path of good fortune, get a great recommendation from Mr. Branson and ultimately leave Harris Community College in order to move on to greener, albeit more expensive pastures at a nice writing program somewhere out of the state where the professors type and attach formal responses to student papers and blog at The Huffington Post and wear corduroys and have full beards and smell like cigarettes and broccoli. That’s all you really wanted.
So you knew how important it was not to screw up the formal editorial: the pink crescent jewel in your burgeoning writer’s crown. Because it wasn’t going to be like the paper previous where you examined this dog named Rolf dying alone in a garage from heatstroke while his owners were on vacation in California. And that really happened. But did it make any sort of difference? No. Mr. Branson said that your presumptuous depiction of the canine’s internal dolor was conceited and utterly banal — emotionally constipated!, and you suppose you felt much worse than what was at first expected because you had to look up most of those words in the dictionary before you even knew he hated it.
But that wasn’t going to happen again. Learn from mistakes, you told yourself. Do not be fooled twice in this crazy interconnected world of cause and effect. The world is your oyster — shuck it.
The sonic energy ripples alone emanating from your brazen ambition would cause Sarah Keyes’ stupid grandmother to reject that stupid kidney and go on to choke Mr. Branson on his little femme Nutto-lite! bar right in the middle of class so that once recouped he would grovel and wail endlessly before you, supplicating, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I did not quite understand your genius at all, maybe you should stick around next year and shadow me for a while and, well, heck, why don’t you teach my class for me, please just go ahead and do all of us one big giant favor by teaching my class for me because I am just so stupid and conceited and utterly banal in my emotional constipation and have so much to learn from you! What a stupid asshole.
It’s amazing how even when you’re naked people can still tell that you’ve pissed yourself. Just can’t pull a fast one on anybody these days, it seems. Regular seasoned crime scene investigators everyone turns out to be when you’ve pissed yourself and don’t think anyone will notice because you’re completely naked and running top speed down the street holding an artificial leg, which you would think might distract some from looking at one’s naked body for just a moment.
Yes, that’s you running down Kingsley Street bloodied, completely nude, holding an artificial leg, pissing yourself with each fluid stride. Look at you go!
And yes, those are pornographic film producers chasing you down Kingsley Street bloodied, completely nude, pissing yourself with each fluid stride. Look at them go!
And you happen to have lived on Kingsley Street for, oh, to make a general sort of estimate, your whole life.
And there’s Mr. Robertson and his big stupid white bald head watering his stupid prize-winning rosebushes, tracing your naked loins like you’re the freak. No time to explain, and he probably wouldn’t understand anyway because he’s so old that it would be like explaining Mondrian to a circle. He’ll just have to deal with it like you deal with his disgusting raw chicken hands.
Look — coming up on the left is the primary school and oh lord it’s recess and oh god there’s your sister Sarah, oh wait, you don’t think she, yes, yes she sees you and now she’s staring at you and trying not to cry and now all those stupid little kids who piss their pants every day are pointing and staring and do we see you staring at them when they piss themselves? No. It’s rude, those little assholes.
And here’s your house, and you think you’ve lost those creepy coke-headed pornography guys, but then you get to your lawn and slip on the grass your gardener Benny cuts and ah christ there’s Benny the gardener shirtless behind the garage with Yuengling-soaked chest hair, and you bet he’s going to totally blow this out of proportion and end up quitting the job so that Ma makes you cut the lawn every Thursday from now on, but you finally get into the house and lock the door and run upstairs finally to Ma’s room. Finally.
And just like your first day of preschool, you end up naked, crying on some woman’s floor.
There’s nothing wrong with it.
You repeat: there is nothing wrong with it.
Totally natural. Admirable, even. You had an idea and the idea had legs — legs to put your paper so far out in front that none would come within even a fart-sniff of it, especially not stupid Sarah Keyes, whose paper, from what you could glean, was centered around her Buddhist uncle’s traveling band of circus clown ice-sculptors.
Like, who the hell cares?
You had your own factoids. Brad Gavin’s older brother, you heard, was home from college on academic suspension. Apparently, Brad once or twice saw him making porno videos in their parents’ garage. Independent type deals. Real hush-hush.
And then it hit you like a frozen sledgehammer via some sort of cosmic intuitive perception mediated by an inner light of awareness: You had to blow the lid off of the underground suburbanite pornography ring of Fransten, South Carolina. And you had to become a porn star, too, but that went without saying. Like, how else would one pull off a daring and amazing feat such as this?
And looking back on it all, maybe it was pretty stupid to show up at Brad Gavin’s two-story garage in a bathrobe.
And maybe it was stupid to just walk right in unannounced on a day when Brad’s brother and five of his porno friends were doing lines of coke off a naked chick’s chest.
Because it sort of got out of hand after that in a big kind of way.
Hey — did they really have to tear the bathrobe apart? Like, didn’t those stupid assholes know you were naked under there and that the robe wasn’t even yours to begin with but on loan from Pop? And what was with all the vicious kicking and whatnot? Jesus, the nerve of some people. Any idea how embarrassing something like that is for such a young guy? What, with one of them grabbing your wrist and sort of trying to shove it into your own mouth? To eat your own hand? Pretty degrading, especially when coupled with all the maniacal laughter.
So you ended up puking on your fist. Big whoop. It’s not like you’ve never puked before, on yourself or otherwise. But the poking? That really got your goat. Also the slapping, kicking, pinching, biting, choking, etc. etc. etc. Also the titty-twister, the one to spurn even the most callous masochist. Also the name-calling? That was, like, way out of line. “Dickfeeder” and “Shitterman” are names that add lame insults to sustained internal injuries.
So let’s talk about shoes. Let’s talk about how you’re getting pummeled by six college guys and all you can think about is their stupid shoes. Eleven black rubber shower sandals and one steel-toed boot. Because, Christ, one of them has a steel-toed boot with an artificial leg attached to it, how funny is that?
You had no choice, you know. Everyone has his breaking point. It’s understandable. You grabbed that damned fake leg and the beating stopped. So duh, right move geniuses (not running away!). The goateed fatty it belonged to looked down on you like Did he really just do that? Did he really just grab this here fake leg? as if you’re the bad guy in all this, the stupid wank.
You did what you had to do and truthfully? It was commendable and should we dare say valiant? Let us go ahead then and dare say. Do not listen to naysayers. Because really, it opened a small window where you could give the amalgamation of metal tendons a good jerk and plop, off it came, and boom, down the goateed fatty followed.
Which was good for you. A small win is a win nonetheless.
You just sort of slipped out of the garage after that, naked, bloodied, pissing yourself, clutching so tightly that stupid fake leg, off towards your house four miles away on Kingsley Street.
So now we’re all caught up.
Your ma — it should be noted, before the rumors start — is a real lady if there ever was one. Pop’s not much good though. When he isn’t looking at the bottom of an empty beer bottle he’s eyeing the top of a full one. Ma cooks and cleans the house and pays the bills. She taught you how to play baseball. She paints pottery and studies Chinese art on the weekends. Ma even hired Benny the gardener to take care of the yardwork because Pop lost your lawnmower in a game of poker and, besides, do we think he could get all 400 pounds of himself off the couch to even mow the lawn?
She has patience, Ma does, which is exactly why she doesn’t immediately call the cops when you show up naked in her room, screaming and drooling blood all over her new oriental rug, the one with the intertwined Chinese dragon and goldfish on it, the one she bought on QVC just last month as a gift to herself because she always says Lord knows I got to treat maself sometimes, I got to treat maself.
“Now what the HELL is THIS all about?” she screams down on you. There is a fire in those eyes you wish you had inherited. Instead you ended up with Pop’s cold, fish-eyed stare.
You aren’t sure how to explain it to her, so you say something like “Oh god, Ma, oh god, they just started beating on me, Ma, you gotta help me, Ma, they’ll be here any second.”
“You had better slow the hell down and tell me what happened, boy!”
Who are you even kidding? You stall. You can’t do it. You can’t tell her that her only stupid son tried to break into the porno business, even if it was only for a day. So you tell her the next closest thing to the truth you can think of.
“Ma, they beat me up because I’m stupid! They think I’m a mongoloid and they think you and Pop are too!”
“My son, a mongoloid? Chrissakes, no, not this, not this time. I went through it with your father and his drinkin,’ but not my only boy. Get downstairs and watch the damn door. And put some damn clothes on. This ain’t the Discovery Channel.”
It’s stupid of you not to think about what she might be planning, but you go on and grab your old, oversized Donald Duck t-shirt that reads Get on the Right Quack! Don’t Abuse Our Hosing Facilities! anyway. You slide down the stairs on your ass like you used to do when you were a kid and sneak up to the window softly, peering out at your lonely little street. On the horizon, ahead of the yellow row of docile busses, a speck inches closer to the house. It’s Brad’s brother. It doesn’t take a genius, you know.
Before you can say anything, upstairs some boxes fall with the accompanying “Chrissakes” and all 110 pounds of Ma comes storming down the stairs with a pistol. You are shocked. You have never even seen a real pistol before and here’s Ma, gripping that thing like some kind of stupid Egyptian amulet.
“Get the hell out of the way,” she says, like you’re the problem. “We don’t need any more trouble for this family.”
“Ma?” That’s the only stupid thing you can think of. It sputters out of you like shit from a baby’s butt. She pushes past you, or rather through you, and slams the screen door shut on your elbow which really hurts like hell but you don’t say anything because of the circumstances.
“Wait, Ma, wait, you don’t know what you’re doing!” you yell, but there she goes, down the street to meet your assailant head on like she’s a samurai in some stupid classic Japanese film. Does she listen? No. Should she have listened? Yes. Infinitely yes.
You follow after her sort of dazed, almost naturally, like a duck. You understand ducks to do things like this. You trust her, wherever she might go and whatever she might end up doing. Stupid.
She moves in on him quickly, which, unfortunately, ends up being pretty anticlimatic because Brad’s brother slaps Ma on her left jaw before they even parley.
And then it gets real quiet.
“See what you made me do? Do you see that, you bitch? I didn’t want to do that. You made me do it. You can’t just walk up to me with a gun, you crazy bitch!”
Ah, Christ. That was pretty out of line.
So there’s Ma, crumpled in the middle of the street, crying in a stupid gold tracksuit you told her not to buy in the first place. Already the neighbors are crowding in front of their bay windows with binoculars, mouths open, dialing frantically on their stupid cordless phones with intent beaming white hot from their stupid tight faces. This is the kind of trouble Ma was trying to curtail in the first place.
Brad’s brother looks at you and snickers.
“All this trouble, for what?”
You legitimately don’t know anymore. It’s embarrassing how easily one forgets one’s newly found life-purpose.
“Jesus, kid, just give me that leg or I’ll make sure she doesn’t get up. You really pissed Frank off back there. He’s never going to get off the couch without his leg.” He kicks Ma in the ribs to let you know he’s serious and acting purely on Frank’s behalf.
You piss yourself again, just a little bit, although this time you can really see it through the front of that big stupid Donald Duck t-shirt. Get on the Right Quack! Stop Pissing Yourself!
“I said give me that leg, you little shit.” He kicks her again and that’s when you hear the gun cock.
That’s when you know Ma isn’t kidding either.
That’s also when Benny the gardener thinks it best to step in and handle the situation himself.
“Boy, you betta get yoself outta here fo they call the police,” Benny says, cool as a friggin’ cucumber, like he’s rehearsed that line over and over again until the words are like white fish meat in his wet gullet.
Brad’s brother womps him in the mouth, too, for good measure, and in the hustle and bustle that follows, the sound of the gun shot crashes through the fragile plane of your fake plastic suburb with deafening gusto.
And that’s when your gardener Benny takes a .22 magnum to his sun-spotted left temple and flops down on top of your ma, who has somehow managed to crouch herself into and simultaneously execute the infamous Rice Paddy Prone position Pop would teach you in a drunken swagger every Fourth of July. Great job, Ma. Muy excellent. There’s Benny the gardener, bleeding like a third-string quarterback, and Ma, spread out beneath his floppy pancake corpse, gold as glitter, shocked with this stupid blank expression on her face like you’d find on those little angels lining an old woman’s mantle.
Stupid coked-out asshole Brad’s brother flees down the street and cuts the median on I-585 before catching a pickup truck head-on headed southbound towards New Mexico. They find different parts of him all over the street across from the primary school and Sarah comes home that night crying, “His head was gone, it was gone!” which is, for someone so young as she, pretty morbid to notice. But she’s right. His head is gone. It takes them a week to find it behind some old dumpsters as it has collected quite a protective mound of paper refuse.
Later on, with the wind in the small trees, they drag a catatonic Ma to the county jail wrapped in some crappy orange felt blanket and ship both Benny and Brad’s brother off to the morgue. Sarah Keyes writes her stupid paper about her stupid Buddhist uncle’s traveling band of circus clown ice-sculptors, and Mr. Branson submits it for publication in the local paper’s critically heralded “LiveLaughLove” section, praising its intrinsically authentic Dickensian humanity.
You miss the assignment and later drop out of Harris Community College to take over Benny’s gardening route, which is normally safe and pretty easy to manage. Brad points out that Frank’s stupid fake leg is still in your yard and so you two meet at his garage for a few quick beers before burying it in old Mr. Robertson’s prize-winning rosebushes.
The Sunday following the incident, when Ma would normally curl up on the lawn furniture and read her second hand art textbooks, Brad and you mosey down to the shipyard to throw rocks at the stupid workers until the night creeps in and you lay flat in the gravel for a while singing songs you learned when you were just kids.
NATHAN BLAKE is a student. School him. He gets lost easily when looking for bathrooms. Play your cards right, and maybe he can find yours.