Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 2


“Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

They were the best of friends…”

-Bob Dylan

Frankie Lee was a blazing skateboarding zombie fire-balling his way through the busy streets of the city. We were both fifteen and the world had that after school smell that made a young man soaking up a weekend away from his catholic high school believe that anything was possible, if only until Monday. There were hundreds of these days, or moments, where my heart beat easy and my mind wasn’t consumed by racing thoughts about what other people’s racing thoughts might be, and how their racing thoughts might affect me and my racing thoughts. All of these brief specs of time when I didn’t feel broken or misplaced, at least in a bad way, seemed to involve a skateboard and my best friend, Frankie Lee.

He was a year younger than me, and this was towards the beginning of our journey. It was a time when he still looked up to me and not the other way around. A skinny kid with jet black hair and a fierce sense of humor, Frankie Lee was better than anyone I have ever known at insulting someone while still making them laugh. He wore work shirts with patches that had names like “Larry” and “Phil” sown above the breast pocket long before they sold such shirts in department stores, and he turned me on to some of the greatest music ever recorded, The Smiths, The Pixies, and The Butthole Surfers to name a few. He had an appetite for apathy that seemed endless, but after digging for a while I discovered a cold, calm anger was the driving force behind all of his decisions. Frankie Lee had lots of reasons to be angry, but mostly I think he was angry for the same reason as most men, or soon to be men, at the turn of the century. He was angry because he was just a lost little boy, and even angrier at the fact that he knew it.

I think the biggest reason for my lingering affection so many years after our friendship has gone the way of rehabs and marriages and funerals and never ending jobs is because Frankie Lee stood witness to my life. He was the laugh track to the comedy of my youth and the red eyed theater goer to the tragedy of my adulthood. I don’t have home movies or warm soundtrack laden montages like the opening credits of the Wonder Years, so some day I’m going to have to search out the ghost he has become and let him tell me these stories, just so I can know that it all really happened.

We found ourselves on the steps of the St. Francis church. The city we grew up in was a monument of decay, but the churches stood as the last vestiges of beauty. They were built out of great stones, and to me were no less mysterious than the pyramids of Egypt. The St. Francis was a majestic castle of a thing, so much so that when crossing the Somerset bridge on the way back into town I would press my head against the back window of my father’s station wagon and wonder if I would ever get to meet the princess who lived there.

I don’t know how or when the decision was made, and I was sure neither of us would follow through with the silly, useless act of boredom, but on some random Sunday in late March two deranged teenagers burst into the ten am mass, skateboards held high over their heads and began screaming as loud as they could. We didn’t curse or take the Lord’s name in vain. We just yelled. All the folks waiting to be saved just turned and watched us. They didn’t seem particularly upset, just a bit confused. After our lungs gave out we left as fast as we could. We made our way down the front steps and then skated off toward the early morning of our life.

The priest blessed us that morning after we left and had the congregation say a little prayer from us. As bad as things have gotten I like to think they would have been much worse without those prayers.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 1


“They’re selling postcards to the hanging,

They’re painting the passports brown,

The beauty parlor is filled with sailors,

The circus is in town.”

-Bob Dylan

There was a phone call. That much I remember. It was a Thursday. The man on the other end of the line announced himself as officer so and so of the such and such police department. It was Thursday at exactly 7:22pm. I know that because as officer so and so told me of the horrific car accident I just stared at the kitchen clock above the refrigerator. The small hand was creeping its way upward toward the eight, reaching for dusk. The big hard was locked two fifths of the way between the five and six. I spent the entire time the officer told me about the death of my wife determining, for certain, that it was indeed two fifths of the way. Both of the clock hands jutted out from a smiling sun hand painted on the clock face with a small inscription just below. Don’t worry…be happy is what it said.

That was nearly an even seventy-two hours ago. It was now 6:30pm on Saturday night and I was standing in Doubleday Funeral Parlor. I found this all out later, after the fact. I came to at the head of the sympathy procession line. People were shaking my hand and giving me hugs and crying. My mother-in-law was next to me and she was crying. Her ex husband was next to her and even he was crying. What the hell was all this about? Why was everybody crying? There was a clock. Both hands were on the six, dead on straight down. Then I saw the casket. It was closed, but I knew my wife was in there. God, she would have hated all this.

I just wanted to know what had happened. I wanted to know what day it was. I wanted to know where I was. I wanted especially to know where my daughter was. Who had been taking care of her? Was I? Was anyone taking care of me? I really wanted to know what I was supposed to do now. Mostly I just wanted to know when this god damn wake was going to be over. I leaned into my mother-in-law, Jane.

“How much longer do we have here?”

“What are you talking about?” she whispered with that same annoyed tone she had every time I asked a stupid question.

“What time does this thing end?”

“This thing ends at eight,” her whisper growing in volume. “You’d probably know that if you had anything to do with making the arrangements.”

I decided not to ask any more questions.

She never liked me and I never liked her. Maybe if I was a friend of one of her sons she would have gotten a kick out of me being a third rate singer-song writer still trying to make a living off the one hit that appeared on the soundtrack of a film my friend, Frankie Lee, directed. He was able to get my demo past the producers and studio, and a little ballad I wrote played over the happy ending, just before the credits rolled. As it was, to her I was just some boy who didn’t want to grow up. I was that asshole who wore ripped jeans and dark aviator sunglasses when I sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. I was that schmuck who left her daughter home alone with her granddaughter in June while I went and toured shithole clubs, only to return in September with two hundred and eighty-seven dollars in net ticket sales and a wicked case of gonorrhea. Those were just some of the reasons Jane hated me. I hated her because she was always so right about me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shells From The Beach - Prologue

It was the dream startling him awake that had reminded him how sick he was of dreams. How every time he was going to write a new story the first line that would inevitably invade his soft skull was, “In my dreams I carry shells from the beach.” He had no idea where this line came from and that bothered him almost as much as the idea that he would ever, even in a dream, be carrying shells from the beach.

The palpitations were worse than usual. His body rocked quickly back and forth with each rapid beat and his thin rib cage would explode up and retreat back as his heart worked exhaustively to regulate whatever malfunction had taken place. It was the fox dream. Not to be confused with the pig dream or the shark dream. He had seen a real fox only once in his life. It was when they threw up that new development complete with street lamps and their very own cul-de-sac over on Acushnet Avenue. They cut down the few remaining trees in the city, the world, and displaced some of the wildlife. Before work while drinking his morning coffee he happened to glance out in the back yard and saw the beautiful creature with fur like autumn foliage. It was always moments like these that made him feel so empty. He knew from watching movies and nature specials that he was somehow supposed to be moved by the image and he tried to will some emotional response, but he was tired and late to work.

The fox in his dream was nothing like the one he had seen in his yard when he was still the type of person who had a yard and the world was still the type of world that would have foxes running through them. The dream fox wasn’t that classic color of sunset he remembered. The dream fox was silver. Not a silver fox like Sean Connery or Ricardo Montalban. He was pretty sure this fox in no way represented some repressed homosexual urges for older men. It was metallic silver. Bright, vibrant, molten liquid silver. In the dream there was a piece of coal buried deep in his chest and the fox wanted to tear it out. Someone very important had hidden the coal there, but he could never remember just who this person was. He did however remember the orders he was given. The words had become a sort of unconscious mantra. He would catch himself muttering them in his waking life without realizing it. It was not unusual for him to startle passersby and old ladies waiting behind him in the automated checkout lines at the grocery store while he fumbled his way through the time saving machinery.

“The coal of the heart becomes the diamond of the soul.”