Half breed

I am a half breed and it’s only recently that I realized it. What do I mean ‘halfbreed”? I mean that I have one foot in one world and the other in another world. It was Rick Bragg’s “The Prince of Frogtown” that brought me that revelation, thank you very much.

You see, Rick Bragg hails from the same corner of Northern Alabama that I do. And many of the same kind of kin that make up one world. Blue collar folks who worked in the cotton mills and the steel mills, the garages and in the cotton fields and on the farms of that patch of earth. Hard working, good hearted, quick tempered, hard drinking, plain-speaking, deep-in-the-heart-of-the-South people who would give the shirt off their backs if you needed it.

Folks who are saved by the Blood of Jesus kind of people. People who work with their hands and not their minds. People who dig their hands in the dirt and come up empty way too often and who are without two dimes to rub together way too much. Folks who are as common as dirt and damned proud of it. People who take pride in their great granddaddy and spend much time looking backward into the past as if it was sacred. People who are deeply patriotic and won’t allow nobody to say a mean thing about these United States within their ear shot, but don’t believe the government is worth a damn thing. People who are described in the song “I am a Way Faring Pilgrim” and who have a natural poetry about them if you look deep.

It is from this side of the mountain that I take my love of a good story and have a y’all vernacular. It is from these folk that I first came to love the Bible and its stories and its language, much like Eudora Welty describes in her memoir “One Writer’s Beginnings”. It’s from this side of the mountain that I have seen how hard life can be for the least of God’s children. It is from these folks that I acquired my sense of justice. And the belief that if Jesus was around he’d be on the working folk side of things.

Then there’s the other foot that seems to have very little in common with the first foot. It is a world where creativity and the mind matters. Where education matters and where there’s a whole big world out there to love and to see. The future is all filled with hope. It is a world where the government is a part of the solution. It is a world where science matters. It is a world of literature and art and music, not just country and gospel, but jazz and classical and rock and roll, and it’s a world of dance and theater.

Most of my life I have made my best effort to escape the first world and move completely into the second. It’s been a long, hard struggle. But there’s no fighting it. I am beginning to understand that both worlds make up the who I am. Somehow I think that this was much of the struggle D. H. Lawrence went through. He would always have that coal dust in his bones and there was never any getting away from it.

So my job is to bring these two halves together and make them into one whole, unique human being. Can I do it? I don’t think it’s done overnight and who knows the work may never be complete. But here’s to trying.

Have you ever felt you were apart of two different worlds?

Another Perfect Day

Pam: So when am I going to meet your father?

Carol: You don’t want to meet my father.

Pam: I don’t?

Carol: Take my word for it.

Pam: Why?

Carol: My father is old fashioned. Extremely so.

Pam: So what do you do?

Carol: I spend my life collecting perfect days. Like this one.

Pam: What would be imperfect about meeting your father?

Carol: It just would.

Pam: I’ll let you meet my dad if you’ll let me meet yours.

Carol: I don’t have a dad. I have a father.

Pam: Then I will meet your father and it will be a perfect day.

Carol: Would you do that for me?

Pam: I would do that for us.

The next morning the two of them drove the long drive south to see Carol’s father. It was a warm spring day. They did not run the air conditioner. They rolled down the windows and let the wind blow through their hair. They stopped and had lunch at one of the several Cracker Barrels along the interstate. Then they drove on, laughing and giggling. Every so often a little worry sneaked into Carol’s laugh. She tried to hide it from Pam but Pam could tell. Pam didn’t mention it. She didn’t want to spoil the perfect day.

Carol’s father, Marv, met the two women at his door. Later, after he grilled some hamburgers, the three went into the living room. Marv sat down facing the two of them.

Marv: So, Carol, you want to know what I think?

Carol (fear in her voice): “Yes, I do.

Marv: Well, Pam seems nice enough. But I am a bit disappointed.

Carol (under her breath): Here it comes,

Marv: I spent all that money, raising you, putting you through college. You go out and can’t even make a living with that major of yours. I mean, c’mon. Political science. You’re still working at that retail job you’ve had for five years and you’re only making minimum wage. Then you go and waste yourself by marrying a…“Your mother would be so disappointed. She expected better out of you.”

Carol: Go ahead. Say the word.”

Marv: What word?

Carol: You know, marrying a lesbian.

Marv: No, marrying a writer. I’m sorry but I won’t be able to support the two of you.

When she wore that dress

When she wore that dress, that dress of yellow and purple flowers, we walked for hours and hours around Hershfield Lake.  We admired that spring day.  Our talk went to thoughts of the future but we knew that was impossible.  Our fathers intensely disliked each other.

“Juliet?” I squeezed her hand.

“Yes, Romeo,” she answered, her eyes large and round staring at me as if I had all the answers in the world.

“Let’s get married anyway.”

“It would try our families greatly.”

“They’ll get over it.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of white cotton, we stood before the priest and we committed our lives to one another.  We had not told our families yet.  That day would come soon.  We spoke our I dos with hope and faith and a lot of love that day.

“I pledge thee my troth,” she looked into my eyes and said.

“I pledge thee my troth,” I said, happy as I’d ever been.

When she wore that dress, that dress of bright orange with the brown belt, we went to her father’s house.

“Wait in the car,” she said to me, then kissed me.  She opened the passenger door and slammed it behind her.  She crossed in front of the car and came to my window.  “Say a prayer.”

She entered the house.  A few minutes later I heard yelling and screaming from the house.  I reached for the door handle to open it. I saw her run out of the house, her father behind her.

“You married that bastard!” her father screamed.

She opened the passenger door and got in.

“Let’s get out of here.  He’s crazy.”

I started the engine, backed out of the driveway, turned and headed down the street.  In the rearview mirror, I saw her father coming towards us with a rifle.  He aimed at us but we were three blocks away and already out of range.

When she wore that dress, that dress of light blue, we drove to my parents.  I softly entered the house as she followed me, her hand in mine.  Dad sat at the kitchen table, his back to me.

“Dad?” I said.

He turned to me and smiled.

“This is Juliet, John Hazlewood’s daughter.  We’re married.”

A stunned look came over his face.

“Married?”

“Yes, sir,” Juliet said, her soft voice filled with hope.

My father looked at me, then her, then me, then he went back to his beer.

He said to me, “Go upstairs and get your mother.”

Afraid, I hesitated.

“Go ahead,” he said.  “It’ll be alright.  Nothing’s going to happen to your Juliet here, Romeo.  After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of navy blue, we drove to the funeral home.  Turning onto the drive where the funeral home stood, I drove silently.  My father was dead.

“He was a wonderful man,” she said, sitting there in the passenger seat with tears in her brown eyes.  “I liked him a lot.  And he loved you so much.”

She turned and looked into the backseat at our five-year old towheaded boy.

“And he loved his grandson too,” she said.  “Right, Horatio?”

“Yes, Mommy,” Horatio said.

When she wore that dress, that dress of yellow daisies, we walked for hours and hours around Hershfield Lake.  We admired that spring day.  Our talk went to thoughts of the past.  Ten years of marriage and never a fight.  The fights always seemed to come from elsewhere.  Her father, my job, our son’s illness.  But we never spoke a harsh word to each other.

Tears in her eyes, she squeezed my hand, then said, “I miss Horatio.”

“It’s been a year now,” I said, “and I miss him as much as I did the day we got the news.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of gray and green, we met in the doctor’s office.  She came out to see me in the waiting room.

“The doctor wants to do some tests.  I have to go in the hospital.”

“Is it going to be okay?” I asked, fear in my eyes.

When she wore that dress, her dress of maroon and yellow, she lay in the open coffin.  I looked into her dead eyes and thought about what we had together.  But now she was with Horatio, and I felt comforted.

“Goodbye, Juliet,” I said and turned to face her father, no anger on his face, no bad will in his eyes, just pain and desperation.  He took my hand and, with a tight grip, he shook it.

“If I can do anything,” he said.

“Just love your other kids.”

I passed this hard man who had fathered the gentle spirit I knew as Juliet.  I turned back to him and took his shoulder and turned him gently around toward me.

“And thank you, sir,” I said.  “For your daughter.”

Blue

Linna always looked good in blue. Everybody said so. Blue was her color. So, of course, she wore a blue when she went to have her portrait taken.

She sat in front of the camera, posed with her smile, waiting for the photographer to come back. But she was thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? Is this really what I want to do today? But it’s what Robert and David want, so it must be what I want.”

Her two sons stood behind the camera and watched her as she posed in her blue suit and blue shoes.

“Had she been a good mother?” The question flittered through her mind. Of course, she had. Just look at the two of them, standing there, smiling back at her. They seemed so happy.

Robert, the older, now worked in a prestigious law firm and pulled in a great salary. He took after his father, her first husband, even walked like his father in that plodding kind of way he walked. He was walking back and forth, impatient for the photographer to return from the bathroom.

What about her younger son? He was more like her than she wanted to admit. He leaned against the wall, hands in the pockets of his jeans, and watched her watch him as she posed.

David. Son of her second husband, that sad bastard of a son of a bitch.

Three husbands down—all bastards—and here she was, posing in blue and thinking about them. Couldn’t get them off her mind. They were always with her. And they all insisted that blue was her color. Damn them!

Now here she sat in blue, a middle-aged woman with her middle-aged smile, with three ex-husbands and two grown sons, and she didn’t know what had happened to her life.

She had always worn blue, even as a baby. Guess that was because her dad wanted a boy.

Her blue strapless gown had caused such a stir at the high school prom, had caused all the boys to turn their heads her way and stare. She’d liked that.

Her first car, a mustang, it was an almost blue—a bit of a turquoise—but it drove nice. She didn’t mind that it wasn’t completely blue.

The gown at her first wedding was white. But she’d had a blue corsage. Everybody said she made such a beautiful bride. So why had she felt so shitty inside when she said her I dos that day? Though it had been a clear blue sky of a day that day of her wedding, it had rained all through their honeymoon. And she’d given up a promising career as a singer to have babies and be the perfect wife and mother Bruno wanted her to be. Course that was what her mother told her a woman did in those long ago blue days.

Five years to the date and one kid later, she woke up to the phone ringing. It was four o’clock in the morning and Bruno’s side of the bed was empty. She picked up the phone.

“It’s Bruno,” the blue phone said. “I’ve been arrested.”

In the next week, she lost everything—her blue car, her blue house, her blue life. She was on her own with a four-year old-son to feed and care for and a husband who was going away to prison for embezzlement and a whole lot more. So much that she’d forgotten all the charges. She didn’t even like thinking about the stuff the prosecutor had thrown at him. And that was not counting the things the feds had on him. The day of his sentencing was a real blue day.

After that, she moved on with her life. She started selling real estate and found that she was good at it, showing the clients around in her light blue suits.

She winked at youngest son. David smiled back. She tried to wink at Robert but she couldn’t bring herself to it. He was much too serious for winking. She tried not to play favorites, but she knew she had a favorite. It was David, son of her second husband Charlie.

Charlie may have been a bastard, but, at least, he was a lot of fun. And the sex had been great. With Bruno, it was slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Charlie’s lovemaking lasted all night long with lots of romance and lots of foreplay. Just thinking of him gave her goose pimples still.

She’d met Charlie when a coworker, Joan Vargas, insisted that they go to Vegas and get in a little gambling.

“Sorry,” Linna said and took a last sip of her coffee just before showing a house, “I’m just not interested. I’ve got way too many houses to show to take time off.”

“It’s been five year since you divorced Bruno and you’ve been working your ass to the bone. It’ll do you good. And the kid too. He’ll love being with his grandma. She’ll spoil him like crazy. Grandmas do that, you know.”

“But I can’t,” Linna said.

“You’ve been working like since forever. You need a break. It’s just a week off. Doug can show your houses. You still get in on the take if they sell. All work and no play…well, you know.”

She was right, of course. But Linna wasn’t sure she wanted to go off with Joan and her don’t-give-a-shit attitude. Linna wasn’t sure she was ready for the kind of time Joan would show her. If there was a good time, Joan would find it. After much coercing, she decided a trip to Gambler’s Paradise might be the thing she needed to get her out of the blue funk she’d been in lately.

She left her nine-year old with her twice-divorced mom, and off to Vegas she and Joan went. They’d only been there for one night when she met Charlie. Tall, blue-eyed Charlie with that killer of a smile of his. She should’ve known he was trouble. He was wearing a blue suit with a blue tie when she met him, throwing dice at the craps table. Three nights later she woke up in bed with Charlie and a wedding ring on her finger and a wad of hundreds in his pocket.

Charlie was a professional gambler. Lately he’d been on the winning spree to end all winning sprees. It seemed he couldn’t lose. That is, until two months later when they were dead broke and in hock up to their asses. She left Robert with her mom and followed her second husband from poker game to poker game, living in cheap motel after cheap motel, always broke and on-the-bum. It got so bad that they would’ve been living in his old beat-up Buick, except he lost that in a crap game.

One night, she found him in an alley with a knife in his gut, almost dead from loss of blood.

“I really fucked up this time, Linnie,” he said, looking up at her leaning over him. Then he closed his eyes and died.

She was six months pregnant. She went home to her mother’s I-told-you-so’s and Robert.

Lloyd came along a year later. He was Robert’s Little League coach. Though she didn’t love him, he seemed like a stable guy, a secure bet. He had a job, he was a real gentleman, and he would get her away from her mother’s constant nagging. It was a whirlwind of a courtship, three dates, and then they were married. He even wore a blue suit to the wedding at the justice of the peace.

Three days later he came home drunk and punched her in the gut. Linna grabbed her two kids and left him on the floor, vomiting from the booze. She jumped in the car he’d just bought and off she went.

She drove for three days until she came to Florida. She pulled up alongside a small motel and walked in and told the lady behind the desk that she needed a job. She had two hungry boys and no gas for the car.

Now here she sat twenty years later, waiting for the photographer to come back from the bathroom. During those twenty years, she’d scrubbed floors, sold real estate, sang back-up, even worked as a bartender at several of the Disney resorts. Her Robert was a hot shot attorney and David had just been hired on as a graphic artist. She was proud of them. Proud of the way she’d raised them. Proud of all she’d done to get here.

It was her fiftieth birthday and the boys were treating her for the day. But, first, they insisted they wanted her portrait done.

The thirty-year old blond-haired photographer came back into the room. She looked into the lens as he snapped the camera several times. Then he instructed her to change poses. As she moved from pose to pose, she wondered if blue was really her color. Maybe she should take up green.

The session ended and she noticed that he was wearing a green tie and had green eyes to go with it. He smiled a very nice smile and winked at her. It had been a while since she had been with a man. Perhaps a younger man was what she needed. And this guy had a head full of blond curls she suddenly wanted to run her fingers through. She winked back.

The boys left her behind in the studio to gather up her things. The blond approached her.

“This was a good session,” he said. “I’ll have the photographs ready for you to choose from in two days. Would you like to go out sometime?”

After thinking about his question for a minute, she leaned over and lightly brushed her lips against his. Then she whispered in his ear, “I’m not interested. Blue is my color.”

A High School Sophomore’s Book Report on “The Metamorphosis”

I have a report to do on a book by this Franz Kafka guy. It’s called “The Metamorphosis”. But I just can’t focus. My mind’s bouncing off the wall, running hither and thither, and from here to there. Every time I try to concentrate on this story, my mind goes off and does its own thing.

Here this Kafka guy has his main man, waking up and finding himself a stinkbug. I’m thinking what stinkbug worth his salt as a stinkbug would want to wake up as a character in a story like this. None, I’m sure. Not that I know any stinkbugs personally.

Now I have to admit my Uncle Griffin looks like a stinkbug. Smells like one too. When he came over the other day. Mom said he hadn’t bathed in a week. All I know was that he was p.u.-ing all over the place. So she made him take a good long shower. I googled stinkbug in Google Images. Yep, there was Uncle Griff.

Back to the story. Guess this stinkbug guy’s like the Penguin in Batman. It ain’t Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot’s fault he’s got flippers. He just does. Clark Kent doesn’t have normal guy underwear either. You ever see him in his Fruit of the Looms?

I’m thinking maybe Kafka’s stinkbug is not a stinkbug at all. Maybe he is a fellow with the DTs. That would explain his strange behavior. I looked it up and yep, that’s what my uncle has alright. It’s short for something called delirium tremens. Mom’s got Uncle Griff locked in our guest bedroom and he’s calling out for help. Actually he’s not calling, he’s screaming, “Marge, Marge.” That’s my mom’s name. Griff is her younger brother.

I have to say that his screaming sounds pretty good. I been getting into the scream scene myself, grooving to a band called the Screaming Marbles. Uncle Griff could be the lead singer. Come to think of it all five guys in the band look like stinkbugs, so my uncle would fit right in.

Seems all this DT stuff started with something my mom calls “An Intervention”. Mom says it’s where a bunch of people get together and tell a drunk what-for and he’d better get “the cure”. They did that day before yesterday at the house after Uncle Griff’s shower and clean-up. Before they started intervening, they sent me off to the movies. I wanted to see that new X-Men movie but this intervening sounded like a lot more fun. But I did what I was told.

“Your uncle will be staying with us for a while,” my mom said when I got home from the movies. Then she explained, “Your uncle is sick, and we’re going to make him well.”

I smarted off, “You mean he’s a drunk.” My mom slapped my face for saying that like she never slapped my face before. Think it’s ’cause she’s all stressed out about Uncle Griff being an alcoholic. That’s what mom calls his sickness. I ain’t saying he’s a drunk anymore ’cause I don’t want to be slapped no more. But he is. Still a drunk, that is.

Anyway things been getting a little Kafkaesque around my house these days as you can see. One thing I sure hope. That my Uncle Griff don’t croak the way the stinkbug did in that Kafka story. He’s a really nice guy when he ain’t drinking. My favorite time with him was when he taught me how to ride a bicycle. He sure had a lot of patience. Every time I fell on my keister, we laughed. Once I rode my bike a whole block, he ran up side the bike and told me we were getting an ice cream as a reward for all the hard work. So you can see why I hope Uncle Griff don’t die.

By the way, Mrs. Hastings, I hope you don’t ever get them DTs. They ain’t nice.