Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Very Good Day

For the past few years, I've been spending most holidays by myself. I don't like them, have a tendency to become anti-social. If I am ever rich and famous I will spend the requisite moneys to hire a shrink and learn from where my aversion stems. But that's not really important.

I had a wonderful Christmas eve. Went to an AA meeting that was SRO, which always happens around the holidays. Family, expenses, expectations all take their toll on alcoholics in recovery or not, and the holidays bring out both the best and worst of us all.

I changed the strings on my pedal steel guitar, all 20 of them, and re-tuned the damn thing. That occupied 90 minutes. I fooled around with some music-recording software and figured something out, and that made me feel very smart. I wrote a couple of pages of a novel I'm working on, did household chores and gave thanks that I was not in Bethesda, Maryland, where I lived years ago. A giant water main broke there, flooding roads qand carrying cars away. Thankfully, no lives where lost. I understand it made the top of Fox news nationally..

I wondered about the stupidity of some home-grown terrorists who decided to have a training video transferred onto DVD. They gave it to the engineer at the shop offering this service, and the young man, a high-schooler, took one look at the tape, heard gunshots and Arabic and called the cops. The bad guys were arrested. I wondered why the bad guys were convicted just yesterday when the incident happened in 2006.

I read that Obama exercises 90 minutes a day, and find that laudable. I cooked a superlatively good two-inch-thick filet mignon without burning it, (four minutes a side in the broiler, then four minutes in the oven) then watched an Englishmen (particularly sweet, that) making faces as he ate giant worms in Africa.I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, translated from the French and highly recommended to anyone who wants to deride Kant and/or the utter silliness ofphenomenology.

I drove around and thought I am amazingly lucky. I have friends and people who care for me. I live in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the wealthiest area in the country. The country, despite the recent economic downturn, remains the standard that most other countries aspire to. So I am blessed.

Thanks to all, and to all Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Animists, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Taoists, agnostics, atheists, and any and all other I may be overlooking, I wish you the best of the day and the season.

Here's installment 61 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 15

Colin dropped Catherine at her house. She hadn’t spoken much on the way back from Mamadou Dioh’s garage, had merely said that she liked the man, asked Colin, “Do you really think he can help?”
Colin had nodded. “He knows a lot of people. Washington’s a small town.”
He caught the last half of a meeting at the Serenity Club, bought a plastic container full of salad and a ham steak at the Giant. In his mind he planned an early evening--a quick workout, food, an hour or two ambling the Net. Weights and the Web, then sleep.
As he came through the door to his apartment, something stunningly heavy hit him across the forehead. He staggered, dropped the Giant bag. A second blow caught him just above the navel. He coughed, vomited. A fist bounced into the back of his head.
When he came to someone had a handful of his hair, holding his head upright. A voice said, "Looka that! Man done puked on my shoes! On my shoes... Man, that's disgustin’. Brand new shoes, my Momma gave ‘em to me for my birthday. That's white man puke and now I'm gonna have to throw those mothers out. Ain't nothin’ more revoltin’ than white man puke..."
Colin felt a sharp ache, confusion. He wanted to say he was sorry, because he was. If someone had puked on his shoes, he would have been unhappy too. Especially if they were brand new and his mother had given them to him. It was a terrible, insensitive thing to do. He opened his mouth to apologize but the hand jerked at his hair, stretched his neck, slammed his jaw shut.
"Whaddya tryin to do," the voice said, "get me mad? Get me angry? Ain't pukin’ on my shoes enough? You just shut the fuck up, hear? Else I'm gonna make you eat them shoes, puke and all"
But it seemed important to tell the voice how sorry he was so he tried anyway. His efforts were rewarded by another sharp tug, followed this time by a gentle slap.
"Yo! You ain't hearin’ me, man? You don't seem to understand: what we have here is a precarious situation." The voice--it was a man’s--pronounced it "preecarious," with the accent on the first syllable. It didn't seem wise to correct him.
"Very precarious," he repeated. "Cause, see, I'm just this far from really bein’ pissed off over my shoes and all, and you ain't doin’ nothin’ to make me feel better. And I don’ think Harold likes you much either."
A very large presence swam into view, a broad expanse of tight black shirt over what seemed acres of chest and belly. A second voice, deeper than the first, said, "Man! Yore shoes is a mess. I wouldn't put my feet in those shoes for money."
Colin couldn't understand why they wouldn't let him say he was sorry. He'd replace the shoes, buy the man a new pair if it made him feel better. He tried to move his hands, to show he understood how the man felt, but his wrists seemed to be tied to... He was seated straddling the torture machine from Wards. Belts held his wrists to the crossbar, which was loaded with every weight plate he owned.
The deeper voice said, "Maybe the man's got a pair you can take. Looks to be about the same size feet."
The first voice bristled with disgust. "You want me to wear white man’s shoes? You crazy? Put my feet in some sorry fucka’s shoes that’s probably got some sort of white foot disease? Rot your feet off or something. Naw, man, this boy’s gonna buy me a new pair o’ shoes.”
A hand groped at his pockets, removed his wallet. There was the small tinkling sound of something metal hitting the floor.
“Yo. What’s this?” Howard held the large brass coin up to Colin eyes.
Colin said, “Chip.”
Howard held it up to the light. “Worth anythin’?”
Colin tried to shake his head. “No. Chip. AA chip.”
Howard addressed Harold. “Now the man’s stutterin’. A--a chip. A--a chip of what?”
With his free hand, Harold took the chip from Howard. “AA. Alcoholic’s Anonymous. That’s what this is. Whoo! Looka this, boy’s got seven years of no drinking. My dad had one like this, only it was for one year, and I know the sorry motha lied, he was nevah sober that long.” He handed it back to Howard.
Howard asked, “So it’s ain’t worth nothin’?”
“Not to us.”
“Well, sheeyit.” Howard tossed the chip away, it hit a wall, bounced on the floor. “So how’s he gonna buy me new shoes?”
Harold grunted, said, "Let's forget the shoes, awright? Let's just ask this nice man a couple of questions, find out what we wanna find out. Cause I got other things to do than stand around in a room that smells like puke."
The hand holding Colin’s head up found a new grip on the hair, pulled at it painfully. "OK, lissen up. Watcha wanta know about the Zulu’s lady friend? Why you asking all these questions? You ask us questions, we can probably tell you everything you want to know..."
Colin croaked, "Josie?"
Harold said, "Yeah, Josie. The white girl. You been all over town asking about her, about that dumb fucka Herbie. What's you're problem?"
Colin took a deep breath. His ribs hurt. His eyes were still looking at the first man's sullied shoes. "Herbie? He’s dead."
Harold dropped to a squat so his face and Colin’s were on the same level. "Well, no shit. Course he's dead. If he weren't dead, we'd be someplace else than here and Howard's shoes wouldn't be all messed up. What I want to know is, what do you want with poor old Herbie? He done something to you? Owe you money? Owe you dope, maybe?"
Harold and Howard. For some reason that sounded ridiculous. Black people aren't supposed to be called Harold or Howard. Especially not black thug type people. Colin shook his head. Every word he uttered seemed to leave him breathless. He wondered if he was having a heart attack, decided he wasn't but probably did have a cracked rib or two. He remembered the dull ache from martial arts. "Her mother’s a friend. Josie, I mean. That's all."
"Oh, man," Harold said. "Oh man oh man oh man. This guy's a hardass. Lissen to me, Mr. Marsh. You ain't in no position to be no hardass. Look at you, all those muscles and shit, probably work out a hunnerd times a week and look where you be? You got two plain ol’ street niggers who just took you out, tied you up and you puke all over their shoes? There's somethin’ here you don't understan’."
"A friend. Really. Didn't even know Herbie at all." It came out hoarse, between a croak and a whisper.
"No man, no man. I think maybe you did. And I think I'm losin’ my patience with this shit, it's borin’ me and I got a whole shitload of things I'd rather be doin’.” To Howard he said, “Gimme that thing.”
Howard and Harold exchanged something silver, square, solid. Colin braced himself. This was it. He was going to die. A few wet drops hit him in the face.
Harold stood over him, pulled back hard at his hair until his face was upturned, jaws forced open. Harold smiled slightly, neither benign nor evil. In his free hand he held a slim glass flask. Colin recognized the label. Harold tilted the flask.
Colin saw the clear liquid move gently to the flask's opening, pause there. He saw the slight curve before the vodka's surface tension burst. He saw the stream fall in slow motion towards his lips, felt it bounce off his nose, into his eyes, into his mouth.
It burned.
He gagged.
He tried frantically to close his mouth but Harold held his hair in ones fist, pulling, pulling, tearing the scalp from his skull. Colin whipped his head back and forth, retched, spit, tried to rid his mouth of the saliva, of the taste, of the elation.
Howard leaped back. "Mothafucka! You think you gonna do my shoes too?"
Harold guffawed, loosened his grip slightly. Colin jerked his arms up as far as the belts allowed, felt the Ward torture machine lift slightly, pulled harder. The machine swayed. Harder. It tilted. Harold's hand abandoned its hold, went to protect his face as the butterfly bars flew toward him. The machine was at a forty-five degree angle to the floor. It stayed there forever for a second and slowly crashed to the floor taking Colin with it. Weight plates scattered. A small one, a twenty pounder, came off the high side, sailed like a frisbee and hit Howard just behind the ear. Howard crumpled. His head made a nasty sound as it hit the floor.
The butterfly bar had caught Harold squarely across the nose and flattened it. He held two fingers to his upper lip as if trying to hold back the blood that already flowed past his chin and down onto his chest. He said, "My shoes! My dose! Now you fucked up my dose!"
The fall had torn loose the belt on Colin’s left wrist. His left hand scrambled to free his right one. His mouth was still watering and he sprayed spittle across the room. There was a moaning sound it took him moments to identify as coming from his own throat.
He scrambled to the kitchen, the two men momentarily forgotten. He lunged for the sink, batted the water open, grappled with the dish sprayer, aimed it full at his face. The water was stunningly cold. It ran into his mouth gagging him and he vomited again, felt his stomach muscles roll and heave.
Howard was in the doorway. He was laughing. "Mothafucka! You are a piece of work, ain't you?"
There was a knife in the sink. Colin’s hand reached for it. His eyes didn't leave Howard's. Howard was still smiling. The gash behind his ear had bled more than it should have. He touched it with a tentative finger, rubbed the blood between thumb and index.
"Piece of work," he repeated.
Then he turned away. Through the door Colin saw him grab the back of Harold's shirt, lift him effortlessly to his feet. "C'mon, boy. Let's go home." At the door, still holding Harold, he looked back at Colin. "Man, you leave old Herbie in peace, OK? I really don't want to have to come back here." He shook Harold like a puppet. "And my man here, I don't think he's got another pair of shoes."

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