Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (10 page)

BOOK: Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood
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Nothin’ Harder Than a Preacher’s Dick

Two
weeks later, Grant was shaking teeth in my face, again. I screamed, again. Something about a bunch of disembodied old teeth rattling around loose in a jar, making plinking sounds against the glass like a demonic musical instrument, is just
spooky
. What’s Grant going to find next? The
rest
of the body boarded up in the windowsill?

“Oh, it’s nothing to be afraid of,” said Grant, who planned to frame the teeth in a shadowbox and display it in his new home. “When I was four, we had a maid named Flossie who pulled out all her teeth and kept them in a jar.” Grant didn’t say why Flossie the maid pulled her own teeth out, but some things I guess you don’t question. Young Grant used to share a bedroom with Flossie, who slept on the bottom bunk and was too afraid of ghosts (which she called “haints”) to leave the room in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, so she kept a pot by the bed. “I used to wake up and
look over the side of my bunk and there’d be big old Flossie peein’ in a pot,” said Grant. “I think I was traumatized,” he finished, laughing in a way that showed he definitely was not.

Now he and Daniel have opened a store that features porno-religious cha-cha. And when I say “porno” I am simply attaching my own personal interpretation to the works, even though I can’t imagine what else you would call a crudely painted plywood sign that proclaims “Nothin’ Harder Than a Preacher’s Dick!”

“You call it
art
,” Grant insisted, adding that whatever meaning I chose to attach to it was my own trip. So, in other words, if I see porno when I look at Sister Louisa’s art—and let’s face it, she doesn’t paint
pictures
or anything, just words—then it’s only because my own brain is a festering cesspool of tawdry thoughts that I’m projecting onto everything.

“It says ‘Preacher’s Dick,’” I emphasized, pointing to the sign. “I’m not making that up, it’s
right there
.”

Grant ignored me and stayed busy covering the interior of his new shop with white paint. “Everything, just
white
,” he’d said earlier. “A blank slate. Are you not
loving
this idea?” Of course it’s great, why wouldn’t it be? Just
white
. If you’re going to spend a lot of time projecting meanings onto things, what better surface color is there?

I wonder when it starts, this need for meaning. I can remember when I didn’t have that need, when I used to catch blowfish at the end of the pier in Melbourne Beach, Florida. I am almost positive I was damn happy then. I had a rich friend who lived in a riverfront house, and a group of us would go there and play spin-the-bottle. Only we used the plastic baby Jesus from his parents’ Christmas nativity display instead of a bottle. It spun really well, and those baby Jesuses are inevitably reaching out with one hand—toward the heavens or whatever, or maybe toward all that gold, frankincense, and myrrh the wise men brought him, who knows—and that little hand made for a perfect pointer. It pointed at me to French kiss a
kid named John Carnegie, a kiss we accomplished with lots of slobbering and lethargic pawing of each other, in perfect imitation of two groaning zombies from
Night of the Living Dead
.

Another school friend fancied herself something of a psychic, and one day at recess she told me about her vision—a vision of an angry river of blood. Among the flotsam and roiling debris was my favorite shirt, the shirt I happened to be wearing right then. “I saw that,” she said, pointing to the little embroidered sailboat on the front of my tank top, “I saw that shirt in the…in the
blood
.”

I realize now that display was meant to frighten me, but nothing frightens you when you are someone who has no need for meaning. My brain didn’t even go there. “River of blood?” I responded cheerily. “How cool is
that?
” I bounded happily away, leaving her with her little key chain pentagram charm jingling.

It was sometime around then, though, sometime between fishing
barefoot off the pier and being busted for smoking some very poor-quality pot in the restroom at the skating rink that I became more attuned to a need for meaning. Something turned when I was twelve. I can date it to the time when my friends and I were in the midst of our ritual routine to terrorize the insane old lady who lived in our neighborhood. She used to walk out in her underwear and knock us off our bikes, and holler about how we were such Satan spawn. When she got in those moods, her husband would have to come and fetch her, and when he did we would flee, chanting “crazy lady” as we receded into the distance.

Wares from the Sister Louisa store

He was always quiet when he came to get her, murmuring “Now, now, Mabel” in her ear as she shrieked at the kids who buzzed around her like fruit bats. One day I was about to join the melee when I saw him take her arm and gently place his hand on the side of her face. She looked at him, and her anger immediately melted. Her eyes became lucid and knowing. “George,” she said, smiling. “It’s so good to see you.” And then he hugged her.

What is this?
I thought.
Old people don’t hug
. But there they were, clinging to each other like lost children. Something happened to me then. Something inside me changed at that moment, and from that moment on I began my search for a reason—a reason why an eighty-year-old man would stand on the street in a small town in Florida embracing his wife of fifty-five years, burying his face in her hair so we wouldn’t see his tears.

Bad Vision

I’m
sure I’m like most people when it comes to my friends, which is to say I love them dearly but sometimes I wonder how they got this far in life without someone driving a spike through their skull. Take Grant. And before I say what I’m going to say, you should know I’m only saying it out of jealousy. And before I even say that, I want to say this: Here’s a guy who one day decides he’s tired of being fat (and he wasn’t even fat—teddybearish would be more accurate), so he goes on the Body Ecology Diet, which has so many rules about mixing and matching foods you have to be an alchemist to understand it, and he drops sixty pounds faster than a sack of maggots. But here’s the thing: He didn’t even
really
follow the rules. He just used them as guidelines from which he made up his own rules, which worked better for him than the original ones. If you or I tried that…wait, I
did
try that. I went on that Body Ecology Diet for two weeks, and it worked fine for me until I fainted flat out at the Frankfurt airport
and woke up in a wheelchair with no color in my lips and my carry-on luggage in my lap.

So there you go. Grant makes up his own rules, only you can’t copy him with any success. He plays with the world like a drunk kitten would play with a geriatric parakeet: He pounces on it and doesn’t care where the feathers fly, but none of them seem to land on him. As far as anyone can tell, he doesn’t even have a
job
, but he makes more money than I do. “I got no dreams, no goals, no aspirations,” he says, and there’s that grin again. “I’m the happiest man alive.”

It wouldn’t be so bad if Grant were at least sympathetic to the lost lemmings like me out there, but he’s not. Take, for example, my longing for a home of my own. As I’ve said, I’m not like those women who yearn to spawn, moving through life with their uterus on their sleeve hoping someone will inseminate them before cobwebs cover their ovaries. I don’t have a biological clock. What I have instead is that “property clock,” and I’ve begun the ritualistic preparation for the inevitable home-loan process. For example, I just replaced my cushy new Honda with a vintage 1974 International Scout, so I won’t have a car payment clouding my loan qualification. I love my Scout, I think it is quite possibly the coolest car outside of the original
Apollo
moon buggy, and I don’t want to hear anything bad about it or about my decision to make it my primary mode of transportation, period. Yet Grant, my dear friend, sat in the backseat while I drove around house hunting the other day and, like a big Buddha of bad Karma, let fly a constant stream of ill portents:

“I smell a new transmission in your future.”

“Is that the sound of metal against metal?”

“I estimate those u-joints will last another month, max.”

“Is that a toddler on a tricycle stuck in your car grille?”

When he’s not torturing me he pretends to feel my pain. Just how empathetic he really is is suspect, however. It was five months ago that he bought the crack house in Peoplestown with a pile of dehydrated human crap in the living room. He has since renovated
it into an impressive home-decor folk-art enclave that people from all over the state come to see. He gives
tours
. He makes art out of the crack lighters that people in the neighborhood bring him by the bagload. Already three newcomers have bought homes in this neighborhood just to be near him, which means that he is almost single-handedly increasing the property values in Peoplestown. Sometimes he takes me on tours through the neighborhood and points out a few crumbling nailed-shut shacks that I swear must have a few bodies boarded up under the floors, and he says, in all seriousness, “Look at that! Move-in condition!”

My response is lackluster, because I know there’s no way I can do what he did. He shakes his head and says what he always says, “Honey, you gotta have vision.” I take another look at the shack he’s pointing at, but the only vision I have is of myself being eaten alive by black widow spiders.

One of Those Nights

Did
you ever have one of those nights when you thought you were going to check out a new Mexican restaurant with your neighbors but they took too long getting ready so you figured you’d duck back into your place real fast in case someone left a phone message? Not that I was expecting anything special, what with how my life, one day about two years ago, suddenly became a social wasteland—I never thought it would
stay
that way, but there it is. Even so, by some stupid Pavlovian pull, I still check my messages thinking I might catch a cosmic break and the light will be blinking, and there’ll be a message other than the one I left myself the last time I checked my messages.

So anyway, all I’ve got on my mind is the hope that this new restaurant I’m about to visit will break the curse of crappy margaritas Atlanta seems to be suffering from. Maybe they’ll be able to mix one that doesn’t taste like battery acid, and since I once lived in a trailer two miles north of Tijuana, I consider myself an expert on all
things Mexican, right? Anyway, I walk into my home and I see that, hey, looky there, the little light is blinking, but I still don’t think anything of it because I figure it’s probably that “editor” I met at a writers’ junket who turned out to be a closet Amway rep.

So I push the button on my answering machine and I hear the voice of my little sister’s husband calling from Arizona, the person I used to unkindly refer to as “the drunk walrus,” and I think to myself, Why is he leaving me a message again so soon after the last message he left thanking me for those fashionable pretzel-printed Bermuda shorts I sent him for Christmas?

And then I hear him say, “…little Monica has been in an accident…”

And I just stop. I stop everything—breathing, thinking, living—everything. Little Monica, who just three years ago peeked up at me like a little blood-smudged kitten as I held her minutes after being pushed out of my little sister’s loins, and who, just by waving her tiny wrinkled fists and blinking her dark, almost cartoonishly huge eyes, elicited from me in that instant a lifelong slavish devotion, has been in an accident.

And so I’m stopped, but my bother-in-law’s message isn’t. It goes on. He’s saying stuff like “car door,” “crushed,” “medical helicopter,” “intensive care,” “spine,” “liver,” and “lacerated.”

The words actually seem to fly like evil bats out of the answering machine and down my throat.
Jesus God
, I think to myself,
lacerated liver?
She’s three years old, so her liver must be like, what, the size of a silver dollar? Right then I would fall to my knees if I could, but I’m stopped, and then Daniel comes through the door, laughing.

“What’s taking you so long?” he asks, and then he sees my face.

“My niece,” I say, and I really don’t have to say much more, because he sees my face.

And so, exactly one hour and forty minutes later, instead of spending the evening being overly critical of Mexican food with my friends, I’m on a plane to Phoenix saying “no” to the flight attendant
every time she offers me something from the bar, wasting the first-class upgrade the gate agent was kind enough to give me after hearing my circumstances. And then I’m in a rental car on the way to St. Joseph’s Hospital, and for a second I’m amazed at how efficiently I’m accomplishing things, considering that I’m stopped.

Then I remember: After Sunday school, little Monica, in the church parking lot, got stuck between the door of a roll-away car and another car, and the word “crushed” was used when I later talked on the phone with my sister, my little sister, Kimberly, who used to make mud pizza and whose fingers used to be too short to reach the last morsels at the bottom of the bag of M&Ms.

“Can you come be with me?” Kimberly had asked me over the phone, and since then I’ve been on autopilot to close the distance.

And suddenly I’m there, and my sister and I are clinging to each other. And I’m crying, but not because the news is bad. The news, so far, is good. There was no spinal damage, no oxygen loss to the brain, not even any broken bones (“A three-year-old’s bones are like rubber,” the doctor told us. “If she were a few years older her entire chest cavity would have been crushed”). There’s just those nasty internal lacerations caused when Monica’s ribs poked into her liver, and there’s a chance those will heal themselves without surgery. Kimberly leads me to the crib in intensive care where Monica lay sleeping with so many tubes sprouting out of her it looks like her little body is resting in a nest of giant albino spiders, and I reach down to smooth a strand of hair away from her beautiful little forehead. Suddenly she opens her eyes, looks at me, and smiles. With that, I am started again.

Ever had a night like that? Me too.

BOOK: Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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