Friday, July 22, 2011

Cancer man: Long run 1

Rebecca was downright cheerful; a little chatty (nerves), but cheerful on her first day of radiation therapy.

From the start, she apologized for needing help.

"I've got a car, but it's not reliable. It don't start sometimes and it quits." She sighed heavily. "I don't got no gas to get there anyway."

I liked her right off. She seemed honest and unpretentious.

Into her early 60s, Rebecca looked a few years younger than she was. How that would be possible is anybody's guess. Her life, like some of the others, was an how much battery a soul can take and still retain some degree of hope.

She talked a lot about her kids, her grand-kids.

"I raised them like my own," she said. "Their mother gave them to me when they were little and when she came back nine or ten years later, they didn't want to go."

Both kids were now in their late teens. The eldest, Rebecca's granddaughter, had just got her first job. Rebecca's grandson had another year to go before graduation. Both, she said, were looking toward the future. The girl was looking for an apartment of her own and was engaged to a man who'd been Rebecca's nurse during her surgeries months ago.

Her daughter came around to see them and to see her. There was love, but also a terrible burden.

"She's an exotic dancer," Rebecca told me, stressing the word 'exotic.' She said, "I know what that means. I'm not stupid."

The daughter is 37, has 26 tattoos (many of them the gift of an ex-husband who was a tattoo artist) and Rebecca says she's addicted to heroin.

"She shoots herself in her tattoos," Rebecca explained. "It makes it harder for people to see the marks."

Her daughter also had a drinking problem and a history of run-ins with the police.

"She drives a real nice car," Rebecca told me. "But she's got one of them breath-things. She has to blow into a tube to get the car to start."

The device is supposed to prevent repeat offenders from drinking and driving. Rebecca said her daughter has had four D.U.I.s.

It's a cool car, she said, a fine, luxury vehicle with custom paint and custom interior.

"I can't drive it," Rebecca added. "After I had my heart attack, I lost all my wind. I took it out once, got it to start at the house, but then couldn't do anything with it when I was at Walmart."

Her breath wouldn't register and the machine set off an alarm, summoning the police.

Rebecca doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs and hasn't smoked or had more than a cup of coffee in five or six years. She gave them all to Jesus and Jesus took them.

It's hard to say what she got in return.

On the way back, as we drove up a narrow road to her house, she told me, "I miss weed. I was always a pothead. If they ever made that legal, I'd get a joint the size of cigar and smoke that, but a sin is a sin."

I thought about arguing just a little about the laws of men and the laws of God, but it turned out I didn't really care one way or the other.

I told her I didn't smoke dope and didn't really drink much.

"There ain't enough time, is there?"

No, there isn't.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thanking the Academy

We shot a movie. It was silly. It was weird. It was simple. We used puppies to do a jailhouse movie that was long on cute and short on plot.

It was more about money than art. There is nothing wrong with getting paid and five hundred bucks could go a long way. Nobody was there for any other reason. The competition offered no prestige, only a prize.

My team had three. Two of us came for the show, sat in the dark and handicapped the competition. We stood up pretty well. We were clever, funny and very different. We had novelty and we were coherent. These counted in our favor and our actors were as good as anybody.

At the break, fetching drinks from the convenience store down the street and joking about picking up 40s of malt liquor, we broke down our chances.

I figured we'd take the bronze. He figured we might clear the silver.

We lost. Bigger than shit, we lost and it hit me hard. Sour grapes. I hate losing, but I tried to stick around for a few minutes. There were plenty of losers there. I tried to be one of the crowd for once instead of the guy watching.

Standing off to the side, another filmmaker came up to me with a cup of wine in his hand. "So, that was your opus? Puppies?"

Another just stared through me, oddly hostile.

These were people I knew. It was strange to be observed and held in contempt.

Once upon a time, a guitarist whose work I admire asked me why I didn't play anything. He thought I could, even thought I might be good --if I tried.

I told him I never wanted to give up being slightly in awe of what he did. I needed to keep some little bit of innocence. I love music because I love music, not because I understand the mechanics of how it's done. I appreciate they're there, but I like magic to be magic.

That afternoon, I was given another reason: There is no place for me here. I will never be welcome. I will always be suspect and I can never trust anyone who would ask me to join the club because they don't want me. They want what I can give them.

I am a resource, a utility and an outlet --not an artist. For the price of a little coverage, I am welcome to pretend, however, to be anything I want.

Otherwise, I should just take it outside.

Leaving the theater, a woman I'd spoken to about poetry once asked me, hopefully, "You had a good time, right?"

And I did. Right up until the end, when I remembered who I was.

Friday, July 8, 2011


I'd never been to the regional jail. A couple of hundred times riding the bus up to the book store and plenty of people sitting next to me or across from me were on their way to the jail to visit or to spring a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband, a wife. Sometimes they brought along kids. Sometimes they were only a couple of steps from incarceration themselves.

I remember the guy who was going to see his wife. She was in on a parole violation because of a domestic violence charge. She hit him upside the head with a boot with a stiletto heel. It cut an ugly gash down his face. He sat in the back with a guy, he thought, was a guard or a worker at the jail and explained to him what had happened.

The guy he told his story to worked at Target and could not get away soon enough.

I remember the tattooed grandmother with her grandkids hanging off her talking on the phone and selling drugs by the pill: Three dollars a piece for something. Pain killers. Muscle relaxers. Whatever gets you high.

There were others on that bus ride, going just a couple of stops further than I was, and I'd never been until yesterday.

In the lobby, most everybody had the same bruised and weary look. Some were on the verge of tears. Others fidgeted nervously in their chairs. Nobody really smiled.

The people waiting in the lobby had come to see people in holding; friends, lovers and family awaiting trial or transport to other facilities probably less gracious. Here and there, you could see legitimate heartbreak: a young woman 8 months pregnant; a middle-aged father and mother with hands clasped as tightly as links in a anchor chain; too many small children.

A round woman in a dirty fast food uniform came in wearing a dirty and grease spattered apron. Her skin was like a glazed donut and she had browning tic-tacs for teeth. It was her first time and she didn't know how to operate the lockers.

"You put in a quarter and take the key," someone explained to her.

Visitors aren't allowed to bring in much beyond their identification in the visiting area. Everything else has to be held by someone not going inside or else kept in a small, steel locker.

She couldn't get the locker to work and lost her quarter. It was her first time here, she said. She seemed resigned to a fate that dictated this was not going to go well.

But a couple of kids and their mother helped her. They got the locker to work and gave her the money back.

It was a little thing.

They let someone go. His sentence was up. An order was in. Time served. Whatever. It hardly matters, but a man came out from the other side, wearing street clothes and looking not relieved, but exhausted, as if he'd been pulled from the wreckage of some awful accident: a truth, perhaps. The accident being his life. His family greeted him. They wrapped their arms around him and held him. Each took their turn and nobody rushed.

He was returned to them and they, to him. Everyone was given permission to breathe again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cancer Man: Last one standing?

We joked that it had been a long time.

"I thought someone might have cured cancer and not told me," she said.

"I wish they'd get around to doing that," I told her and the coordinator for the cancer society agreed and said she hoped to live to see it happen.

"I've got someone who needs a ride," she said then paused. "But she's a little out of the way. She's young and lives with her Mom."

She would also need to be at the doctor at 8 a.m., which is awfully early after a late shift at the radio station. I started to balk. Maybe I could do Tuesday. Monday...

"She's got a six hour appointment on Monday, but only an hour on Tuesday."

Right, right, right... suck it up. They don't call if they don't need this. You know exactly what kind of people have to ask for this.

"Okay, I can do Monday and Tuesday."

The coordinator added, hesitantly, "She's got more treatments later in the month."

"I'll have to see, you know? See how it goes?"

The coordinator thanked me then lowered the boom.

"I appreciate you doing this. There are only two of you left."

No pressure.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mr. Lynch buys his dream home -one

Buying, owning and residing in a permanent home has never held much of an attraction to me. The idea of moving on has always appealed to me. I have no idea where I want to go, which is probably the chief reason why I don't really go anywhere. There is no clear vision of a place --not like there was when I first came to Charleston --and so I stay.

Looking at the house at the end of the driveway, I sort of shrugged, not particularly impressed. The yard was well-kept; clipped, trimmed and sculpted almost like a child's play set. It seemed incredibly clean, like a house that had only been taken out of the box and played with a couple of times before the owners decided it wasn't that much fun.

Inside, the earnest wood paneling and shag carpeting summoned up the ghosts of Greg, Marsha, Bobby, Cindy and that little bitchy girl who complained about always living in the shadow of her much smarter and significantly more attractive sister.

"What do you think?"

I liked the other place better, the one that was closer to the highway and closer to the noise, but I walked the rooms and studied the grounds. I saw nothing obviously wrong. The walls and roof appeared to be solid. The floor wasn't rotting. There were no chalk outlines, bloodstains or signs of diabolic infestation.

No, the rooms, while not expansive, were comfortable --and there were enough for everyone. No having to double up. No turning a bathroom, a kitchen or a closet into a place to lay your head. There was even space for me to write and space for my wife to write, paint or make sculpture from piles of human skulls, if she so chose and not that she would.

It even had a dishwasher, which everyone believes is the symbol of my emancipation.

There were a lot of windows and plenty of light. The views were of trees and hills, not the shuttered windows of next door neighbors.

My son would have room to run. He's a little boy who needs room to run, trees to climb and amphibians to endlessly torment. The houses in the neighborhood, also, were scattered. Fewer gawking eyes and listening ears: things you think about when your family is different in ways most people don't expect.

I hated that it was so far out of town --about fifteen miles, which is nothing --but it wasn't as far as my wife wanted to go.

"A real compromise," she said and that's what it was.

And it wouldn't be so bad. We'd each have a place for ourselves, space to scratch the earth and try to make something grow. There are fruit trees and it's quiet.

So, I said yes, and this is where our story begins.