When I used to take my nephew Charlie and his mother to the hospital so she could get her dialysis treatments, Charlie would read this magazine for kids called Highlights: Fun With a Purpose. Except when Charlie read it he mistook the word “purpose” for the word “porpoise” and he’d spend the whole time we were at the hospital searching the pages for a hidden dolphin.
I didn’t have the heart to point out his mistake at first, his mom being in the hospital and all, and I was too worried he’d feel like I was pulling his leg if I revealed the truth to him later: that there was no porpoise and he was just wasting his time looking for one. So I left him alone. I figure now that was the right thing to do because Millie got better a few months later and they didn’t never have to go to the hospital again after that.
Every now and then I go to one of those arts and crafts shows in town, the ones where retirees gather with their grandchildren in the gymnasium of the high school to sell homemade ashtrays for a buck a piece, looking for somethin that might answer some kinda question I didn’t know I had, or could maybe shed light on a aspect of the human condition that was too dark for me to notice.
Sometimes I see that creative desperation I’m lookin fer in the eye of one of those widows I see scootin to the bingo hall, or maybe that homeless guy I shoo away from my trash bin before I go to bed at night, and I take home something they crocheted or pieced together outta glass they found at the dump because I’m convinced from that look that they got something important to say can only be heard when you’re alone. But when I set whatever chotchke I bought on the dinner table I never use anymore or in the hutch where my wife kept her Hummel children when she was alive, it loses whatever magic I thought was in it when I bought the thing.
I don’t mind the thought of dyin so much anymore cause I figure in the last few minutes I might know the feelin I see in the faces of those people at the craft shows and maybe I might finally understand what they’re tryin to communicate through the junk they sell.
There are meaningful things that a person wouldn’t never tell his best friend in words but he’ll convey in a craft for a stranger. I don’t say that so much cause I believe it but cause it’s comforting to say since I’m alone and there’s not enough time left for me to form a meaningful relationship with another human bein.
I once uncovered the remains of some kinda race of elephant men while building a utopia in an Idaho desert.
That was in 1972, when I was working with a transportation company taking some migrant workers to Montana. I got the job of packing the workers in little compartments under the bails of hay we were hauling so they wouldn’t fall out of the truck. Despite the air conditioning in the cab I was miserably hot though, so I was looking for something new. That’s when I met a preacher named Darryl in line for McDonald’s at a truck stop outside Des Moines. We got to talking and a couple days later we were hiking to his church, twenty miles inside a former artillery range in Idaho.
The church was a sun-bleached wood shack and we were its only members. So it didn’t quite meet the expectations Darryl gave me but I’d already quit my job and was a thousand miles from home without a dime in my pocket so I decided to just go with it for a while.
Civilization, Darryl told me, is the serpent that got man evicted from the Garden of Eden by subjugating his individual will and subverting the moral sovereignty of the family unit. Darryl said that unless people organized in small anonymous groups in places where the FBI couldn’t find them, man couldn’t never get back into Eden.
We were digging a hole for the foundation of the first community center Darryl envisioned in his utopia when the spade I was using hit something hard. You wouldn’t believe it but I pulled up a bone then that was three feet long. And there were other ones beside it.
After a few minutes of digging I was looking at a human skeleton with a skull the size and shape of one of them pachyderms you see at the zoo. I set that skeleton to the side and kept going and before long I had a whole family of ma and pa and baby elephant people stacked in a pile beside the shack.
When the sun started to go down it got cold and Darryl threw his shovel aside and stared in the face of pa elephant man until the sky turned purple and we heard coyotes howl in the hills. Then Darryl turned around and started hiking back where we come from and I never saw him again.
I lived in that shack for a couple weeks until a ranger found me and dropped me at the highway and told me to stay outta his park.
I spent some time on the cleaning crew at a sports venue in Corpus Christi. I’d arrive an hour after a game or a concert got out and spend all night cleaning the stadium. One night I found a sleeping infant under one of the seats when I was sweeping the aisles.
It was still breathing and it had this t-shirt on that said “Number One Baby” so I figured someone probably cared enough about it to come back and get it. So I put it in the lost and found box in the office and went back to work. When the end of my shift came, I went back to the office to clock out and I saw that baby was gone. So I figured someone must have picked it up and taken it home during the night.
I was fired the next day though after someone found that baby taking a nap in the laundry room. Turns out he climbed out of that lost and found box where I left him and crawled all the way downstairs into a pile of dirty jerseys during the night. I told my supervisor she shoulda trained me better if she wanted things handled different because there wasn’t a section in the employee manual that I remembered about handling misplaced infants. She wouldn’t listen to me though so I lost my job at the stadium and I enlisted in the Navy cause I couldn’t find any other jobs after that.
If you ask me (and nobody did) they got to wonder how those parents are raising that baby anyway because what baby doesn’t have the sense to stay in the lost and found when his parents are looking for him?
Sometimes when we got bored between shifts on the oil rig, we’d take a road trip to a resort in Benito Juarez and toss Ex-Lax to the seagulls on the beach there. Those birds would gobble it up and then they’d flap around the beach dropping shit on the tourists. The tourists would think it was raining at first but then they’d notice the bird shit covering the straw-and-glue sombreros they bought off the locals for ten bucks a piece and run indoors like their hair was on fire. They’d come out a few minutes later like they had no memory of what happened and we’d do it all over again.
There was this one time a shirtless fat guy in a fisherman’s cap with sunscreen all over his nose figured us out though and he came running over yelling German at us. We jumped in Bud’s El Camino then and that kraut waddled after us until we hit traffic and the street we was on turned into a parking lot. When he finally caught up to us he was so out of breath he just leaned over and wheezed and spat and held up one finger like we were supposed to wait for him to finish so he could yell at us some more. Then he sat down on the sidewalk because he couldn’t breathe and a few minutes later the traffic cleared, so we just drove back to the resort. We never saw him again.
I wonder if maybe when humanity was just becoming born the first people to start cooking things were convinced they were making magic. Because I don’t think they understood gastronomy or whatever back then, so if they put ingredients together and they made a taste that was different from what you’d taste if you just ate the ingredients at the same time, they must have been really amazed. I would like to go back to that time in a time machine with some mac and cheese and become a world-famous magician. They didn’t have cheese back then so I bet it would taste really good, your first taste of cheese in your life. They might be so amazed they would mistake me for a god. Some kind of mac and cheese god.
Every Christmas my sister Millie sends me an adult video she finds at a truck stop on 94 and every Christmas I tell her the location of one of the eggs I hid in the basement of her house.
She took the place after our parents passed and when she moved in, she noticed a funny smell that come outta the ducts when the heat come on. Turns out the source of the smell was an egg I painted camouflage for Easter when I was thirteen. It was hidden on a rafter behind the basement stove and you wouldn’t think it but you can still smell the sulfur from those things forty years after they’ve turned green and split from age.
I think I hid three dozen eggs in that basement that year, after Millie told me there was no such thing as a Easter Bunny and that the baskets of soap and pennies that appeared in our living room each year were actually put there by our mom. I guess I never really got over it cause I still make Millie bribe me for the locations of those eggs.
I’m not sure why we never smelled those rotten eggs when we were living there. Maybe the smell was covered up by all the methane our dad used moonshining in that basement.