Poets and writers drink more intensely. Smoke more intensely. Worship God more intensely. Poets and writers fuck more intensely. Poets and writers give more willingly-- spilling the alphabetical marrow of their souls out into the albino sonogram of hope that is the page, hoping some stranger whom he or she has never before met turns to his crafted syllables in time of dire need and somehow finds solace, finds laughter finds a friend.
Mike’s stand up which for years was stag
and served cold brew from an oak barrel cask
Champs West where the poets’ congregate
to drink beer while songwriter’s carol, basking in
Folk songs, while Gavra Lynn and Shannon
Moore will serve you twice and not wince
The (seedy) Getaway and Jimmy’s where
nothing beats drinking a Black and Tan compliments of good ol’ Vince.
And all the girls at the Tartan Inn who are
admittedly good lookin’
Friday nights at the Owl’s Nest where
(everyone is family) you just can ‘t beat Joe’s cookin’.
For my overtly overpriced college degree
ferried on laurels, impotent tassel useful as burnt Halloween plastic-ring spiders,
And for those days I just want to watch
sports, drink cheap beer and eat (inane) amounts of White Castle Sliders
And whileit ended up heaped in frivolous streams of
plutocratic lies and political controversy
I’m so blessed for the time I spent
teaching, reading, working and writing at Bradley University
Who fired me claiming my prose was
fraught with obsessive allusions to ass and tits
And how humbled I was when Natashia Deon
invited me to be a part of Dirty Laundry Lit
Partying in Hollywood drinking a beer while
carousing down the noted Boulevard of noted Fame
And God damn after twenty years how blessed I
feel to come into contact with the ravishing Sarah St. James,
Who touched my hand in a bookstore
aisle, presaging that a writer one day I would be,
I’m thankful for my readers’ and that
I’ve been granted the opportunity to entertain my glorious souls such as cool Kristin, ravishing Suzette, numinous Brian,(can’t stop licking my husband)
Becky and my poetic brother Larry Bradley.
For radiator heat, pissing hot showers,
a shave with lots of lather,
And even though he’s been gone now ten
years I’m so blessed that I got the opportunity to really know my father.
I’m thankfulfor artistic ambitions, wayfaring wishes and
dreams that perhaps will never come true,
And how the highlight of my life (baby)
was when I buckled my arms around yer waist and was granted the privilegesimply to park bench hold you.
So this Black Friday while indulged in
the materialistic neon rash that is commercial living,
Take time remember that it is not only
the thanks, it is also the giving
To something greater than ones
individual (intellectual) druthers
And to know somehow that its not about
you, but it’s about “The Other”
Emptyingthe interior of ones chest dry while asking for no return
Like Kerouac’s Roman candles, “the only
people for me are the mad one’s who deeply burn burn burn!!!”
So happy holidays to those people who always inspire Me to write every day, you are the forever flicker in mycreative fire…
You are twenty-three years old, half drunk, and you find yourself running down Heading Avenue at four-thirty in the morning. You have sloppily sauntered around Peroria all night searching. Your friend was supposed to be home but no one answers his door. You tried sleeping outside for an hour, using your book bag as a pillow. You have twelve pages of a novel, a work in progress tucked inside your book bag.
You are so damn proud of those first twelve pages.
It is late October 2000 and you are running. Your limbs are flailing, circulating, gyrating. You can feel sweat; little beads of bourbon begin to accrue on the top of your brow, lining up the way football defensive men line up at the line of scrimmage prior to the hike.
You find yourself running, thinking about her. Your entire body is pedaling. Every muscle tucked beneath your flesh is exerting a commanding forward presence. You pass the flower shop and the cemetery and for a moment, beneath the hushed dim glower of the arched streetlamp you see your shadow, an elongated fabric of joints that seems to spindle and bulge into a quavering blanket before it vanishes, between streetlamps, between increments, between silences and botched years. Between trying so adamantly hard to become that person, that individual, that man that you feel should be.
And you are running, sprinting. You've spent the entire night downtown, combing the hard sidewalk avenues named after dead presidents, seeking her face. On the corner of Adam's and Jefferson, across the street from the police station, a middle-aged man with a waterfall mullet and a jean jacket with his collar up-turned accosts you and inquires if you would like to "fool around."
You ignore him and continue to walk. Your ebryonic novel, all twelve single-space pages heavily fonted pages (the longest script you have ever written) is tucked under your arm like a flag after a military ceremony. You walk continue to walk You are looking for her. In between the snycopated-electronic din and butterfly flutter of strobe lights, between dank bars with tufts of cigarette smoke levitating into the ceiling; couples rhymatically biting each others torso, groping on the dancefloor, between old men hunched over the barstool like wooden question marks, dribbling beer off their cidert chins when they talk about their ex-wives; between all of this, you are seeking the outlines of her perfect face.
You run into Jenane and her girlfriend Jen inside a dyke bar. An aged Queen wearing mascera and pantyhose and talking with her wrist offers to give you a ride across town and for some reason you accept. You get into the vehicle with her and she begins to sob as she tells you about her childhood. She parks in front of a fire hydrant facing the opposite direction on a One Way street. She removes a bag of weed and begins to roll a blunt. You are in a neighborhood you have never seen before. You hear the cackle and authoratative squeal of a cop car zip past. The Queen holds out the blunt in front of you like she is at the make-up counter. She tells you not to worry. She calls you honey. She tells you that she used to work this section of town and that the cops know her, honey. You want to leave but you don't want to offend her. In a way she seems just like you. All alone in an overpopulated planet trying to find her identity. All alone with no one left to hold.
It is the year 2000. Things have not changed too much. Things have changed completely. You are a student, an internet adress, a bobbling Christian, a cavalier drunk, a lover, a philosopher, a writer. You are a human being. You are nine digits and three slashes on your blue social security card. You are sinner. An american, A world traveler. You are a citizen, a dilletante, you are in debt. You are an employee, a boyfriend, a bastard. You are the digits on your discover card, the digits on a cell phone number. You are a person who wants to change the world. A person who wants to be remembered after your remains are pocketed in a seven foot casket and planted into a fresh slant of earth.
You are arrogant. You are a smoker. You are a dickhead. You hurt people sometimes. Six months ago, when you found out that the love of your life was boning the roommate across the hall, you ran a red light and was broadsided by a cement truck. You should have been killed. Glass splattered all around your upper chest and forehead coating your upper frame with a chandelier bib. You were taken to the same hospital where you stayed at a week before you graduated from High school. It would be the same hospital where, in less than two years, you will watch life slowly drip away from the lids of your father's eyes.
You are lonely. You are searching. You are complicated. You are curious. You want to experience everything. You want to read everything. Drink everything. Smoke everything. Kiss everything.
You study Hinduism. You drink lots of coffee. You read Carl Jung. You worship James Joyce. You want to write a novel like Ulysses. You want to precisely capture what it feels like to be a human being in an age where everyting is marketed; where every covert kiss becomes a global commodity.
You get pissed off with your parents when they talk about their son like he has no future.
You work third shift. You entertain people. You hang out with bohemians. Your best friend, the one who isn't home, is a folk singer. You think his song "Merry Monday Happenstance" seriously rivals Bob Dylans best work.
Tonight you want to see your girlfriend. You want to see Brook. You want to see your own face in her eyes a second before she blinks and smiles.
After the car accident the love of your life, the one who left you for her roommate comes into the library and gives you an embrace. For a second you hold each other like lovers. For a terse moment you hold each other like you are one teething creature. You like the way her skin feels around your skin. You like the way her mouth contorts when she says your name. You still haven't had that talk indicative of closure.
She comes in the next day with a VON MAUER bag. She has it adeptly packed. Inside there is the quilt you wreathed around her shoulders the last time you kissed her goodbye in your old apartment. There are old videos and old shirts. The variegated autumn-colored sweater; the shirt you were wearing the day you kidnapped her from Creative Writing class. She is wearing her new boyfriend's jacket.
Everything you have ever given her, she is giving back to you.
You have almost died but it hardly seemed to matter. You seem to have felt already dead and draft cold for quite sometime now.
It is late October 2000. Either Armageddon or Jesus was supposed to accompany Y2K. The bookstore where you worked at for four Christmasses closed in early January. The Yanakee's beat the Mets in the Subway series. A vote for Nadar is a vote for Bush. Napster is a no-no. The World Trade Towers still salute the New York skyline. 9-11 is only something you call in an emergency.
Boy bands and glitter are seemingly sprinkled everywhere.
The night of your father's death two years later, your mother will tell you that she was grateful she still had two weeks with your father after he was diagnosed.
"Those people in the World Trade Towers never had a chance to say goodbye." Mom says. The room is white and circled with tears.
After your accident your mother filled out an application for you to leave. You find yourself in Normal, Illinois. Inside Manchester. None of your previous classes appear to have transferred.
You are running. Sprinting. Heading Avenue is a runway for your spirit; an emotional launchpad blasting your anchored spirit into the atmosphere of your dreams. Your mother works at the end of the street, in the catholic orphanage. 100 meters from where Brook lives. The nights you stay at Brook's apartment you park your station wagon four blocks over, in a different manor, so not to alarm your mother when she arrives to work in the morning. Your last night in Peoria before you left the two of you went dancing. You found her body flailed around your limbs at the Red Foxx Den, in between shots of single malts, Boys with short haircut and manicured smiles flame in front of you telling you how gorgeous the two of you look together for a straight couple.
On the dance floor her innate poisonous rythmic sway finds your animal rythm. Her movements find your movements. Your body is pressed up into her body and your lips and tongue find solace in her breath. When the two of you stumble out of the bar and get into her convertable you tell her "fuck it." You tell her that this is what you want. You want what you have next to you right here. Even though she is ten years older than you are. Even though she has more baggage than an international terminal at O'hare, you the want the girl with the velvet hair and smooth forehead and gemnii constelation smile. You want the girl, the woman, who stopped you after class and invited you out for Guiness. The woman who is ten years older than you are, the woman who is sheerly academic, who is the subtle clack of rushed heels stirring in the jaundice hallways of Bradley Hall.
This is what you want. You think that you are sure of it this time.
You get down on one knee and tell her this and swear to her that you will be there for her no matter what, swear that you will protect her, swear that she is the most important thing in your life right now.
Brook bats her eyes like she is changing the channel when you ask her to marry you.
"Do you realize that you just propsoed to a married woman?
Your ears register the gnawing bark of her huskie when she answers the door. She seems nonplussed that you are here. You want to ask her the status of her dwindling marriage. If her husband is considering moving back in after all. You want to ask her about the "other man." She is wearing your old Pearl Jam t-shirt and panties. She invites you inside and sleepily invites you back into her matress and when you try to hold her your body titters and cowers and shakes and you tell her that you can't. The thing you have sprinted towards is in you arms and you have never felt more lonely. Never felt more disparate and empty than you do right now at this moment.
This is how you fall asleep. Your body spooning her body and then shaking and then holding her and freezing.
"If you don't like what we are then why did you come back to me." She says.
"Because you were the only thing inisde my chest I could hold and believe in." You say, only it sounds differently when it escapes your lips. It sounds like a tear.
It is late October 2000. You are twenty-three years old. Nothin' changed brother.
It is 1996 and you are all alone. You find yourself fueled by copious amounts of caffeine, flickering cigarette's into an ash tray, staring out through a windex-tinted translucent reflection of yourself across the desert of the dashboard. The velocity and confusion of youth has manifested itself in front of the toll-booths of adulthood. You grasp the wheel so tightly that your knuckles seem to crack free from your tenacious grapple as you harness the curved reins of the wheel. Your hair is cut short and stylishly gelled. Your girlfriend Kristina is in the passenger seat next to you, smoothing out the bottom hem of her denim skirt with her smooth palms that look like twin doves. You have just graduated from High school, spending the last week of secondary education tucked into a hospital bed in Methodist Medical Center; plastic tubes threaded through your supine posture, offering your enervated, dehydrated late-teenage body nourishments.
High school was an emotional-taxing four year sty that swelled and inhaled and eventually festered, spreading juvenile puss on a four year period that you have successfully blocked from your memory. Like most people you admire, you never found your niche in high school. The school you attended had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country you live in and the lowest standardized test scores in the state that issued you your Drivers license. You got in trouble for writing an article about a teacher who manipulated grades for athletes. You got praised for publishing a poem on a teacher who died; an old aged English teacher who accused you of plagiarism sixth months before his death. You got lonely and depressed. You listened to more Morrissey than is both humanly sane and salubrious. Your parents tell you to do what their notion of God wants you to do and then they ferry your siblings across state to compete in musical competitions. Your GPA bobbled and dipped your senior year. Once an athlete you quit running altogether your senior year to work on writing, but mostly found yourself bussing tables and discussing your foibles in front of a Christian psychiatrist who's been telling you since sophomore year that "you have a bad case of senioritis."
You battled an emotional incubus, an empty academy and searched for meaning, scribbling out ink-chipped stanzas of poems, reading everything, imbiding any libations sealed in bottles that scream of non-mathematical proofs. You quadruple your valium intake and wake up days later, the word POET vertically carved into your chest, a broken bottle of Jack Daniels shattered around your bathroom floor; shiny shards of glass that look like diamonds strewn around your lap and shoulders like crystallized New Years confetti.
But that is in the past. That is sealed. Two days after you are released from the angelic white sheen of the hospital-wing you don cap and gown and find yourself surrounded by strangers. When you receive your diploma the principal (the one who edited your articles for the school paper; the one who impregnated a student teacher) gives you a hug.
But now you are free. You are emancipated. You are reading Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and you can feel your thoughts stretch out heavily in front of you, like the strip of road you plough your vehicle across; like that bullet-hole sunset you strive inside for. You are nineteen years old and your body procreates creative thoughts; your body produces exertion; your body aches to not be tethered to the past, to that hollow place you have just escaped from, that place you will never go back to again.
Every muscle in your body has an impulse to action, you think, as you adjust the nub on the tape deck, grope the clutch and breeze off into the orange shafts of light. Every muscle inside of you body has a purpose. Every thought that fleetingly tugs at the creative reels and pulleys inside your skull has a significance; has an predestined place reserved in the orchestrated diagram of the inscrutable cosmos.
The world has changed since your freshman year--each year of high school contained a decade worth of personal growth and self-actulaization in themselves. Buildings are being "wired" connected; the elusive stream of invisible traffic has formed a global goassamer known as the world wide web. A staticky yawn like morning breath grouses from the top of the modem when agitated. What once was Alternative rock is now mainstream commercial fizzle. Coffee stands are everywhere. Human beings are seemingly engrossed in a rushed string of motion. Life is one bussiness transaction. A receipt sloppily printed out for a rash, unexpected purchase for an item that no longer fits.
You work. You stock empty shelves at Barnes and Noble. You get phone numbers of females with their i's doted in little hearts. You make car payments. Fish out rent. Hook up the occasional bag of veggies.
You attend classes at the local community college, where you feel ashamed to have gone, mostly because it seemed that your parents, who never really took an interest in your own endeavors, are now completely divorced from your dreams.
Your write. You study your ass off. You dream of leaving. Leaving and not returning ever again to that place you have already left.
Then one day, in mid October, you leave and everything you have leaves with you. There is the napsack with the poems and images. There are three shirts and two pairs of jeans. There are socks punched into a tight white fist and boxers and a vial of JOOP. There are four packs of cigarettes and there is the impetus to fly. There is the impetus to see the bald spot on the ground where you are currently standing.
You find yourself at O'Hare and you find yourself boarding a plane with her head heavily sifting inside your chest. You find yourself flipping open the plastic drapes for miles above surface and watching as the winged vessel leaves; abandons everything you have ever known. Jettisons every background set you are all to familiar with.
The sound of an airplane is the sound of sex. It is the heavy aerial-gruff of mankinds technological procreation. The swift still-life strokes. The feeling of anxiety. The feeling of being wedged in a heated aisle with total strangers. The feeling of being above and knowing you could die. The feeling of putting trust in the palms of a navigator whom you have never met. And the landing when you wake up in that golden place, exhausted, adjusting the plastic limbs, peering out only to see her reflection. Only to see her--the person whom you have abandoned all categories of logic to meet; that person whom you have come to see once again, that person who will add meaning to your life...you see that person know, behind a giant tint window and from where you see her she appears golden. Like her smile could generate an entire thermonuclear planetary systems that orbit around her unblemished countenance.
You read her poems. You meet her parents. You take pictures. You show her pictures of your family and ex-girlfriend. You sit under a golden tree next to a pond and read Rumi. You feel her body gravitate towards your body and then slowly slip away.
She shows you a picture of her boyfriend who lives in Minnesota. She plays songs for you on the piano. She tells you that it would never work out between you. That you went out to find her for all the wrong reasons. That you went to this place wielding too much expectations.
Then see tells you to kiss her every part of her.
Then you leave.
She stands in line next to you at the airport. Stands next to you. When you embrace her before you get on the plane there is no kiss. There is only a slight tug; the paws of a child yanking the unsuspecting pant leg of their guardian.
Back on the plane your body falls apart in tears. You find out only later that she left without watching your plane slowly skirt of from the runway. She had a prior appointment.
Your heart is a loose brick that has just broken off some place inside your chest; someplace inside of you that you never realized totally existed until now.
You will find her again at a moment when you least expect it.
You will find yourself, in a moment you least expect.
It is autumn, 1996, you are all alone. You vote for Bob Dole because both of your parents are registered Republicans, mostly because of abortion. When you arrive back home you find another job at another book store, just in time for the holiday rush.
You walk out to the courtyard of the mall where you work during your lunchbreak. You watch all the old people walk very fast. They seem to be doing laps around the mall. They wear cheap rockports and pants that come up to their chin. Some have bee-hive hairdo's seemingly constructed from bolls of cotton. You watch as the old people navigate their collective years around the courtyard of the commercial mecca where you are employed and you wonder to yourself "Is this all? Is this all that life has to offer?"
They have hard-candy flavored foreheads bearing cardboard wrinkles and they continue to orbit your thoughts like plastic ducks in a childhood swimming pool. They continue to walk around the center court of the mall. They move their limbs and huff their gait until eventually one day death plucks them; fingers them off of this corporeal carousel. They walk until finally, there are no more hard tiles to strut across and no more shops where they can exchange their rash purchases.
It is 1996 and you've been dreaming cognitively for almost two decades.
It is autumn 1992 and the world is opening up. You slumber out of your bed at 4:30 am every morning, streaking down a.m. arteries of Moss and Sherman Avenues in sweatpants and sneakers, inserting inky headlines into the unsuspecting sleepy screendoor hinges shielding neighborhood door knobs, beneath the pre-dawn buzz and insect whorl of glowering street lights. A bloodshot sun reminiscent of the Japanese flag lumbers heavily in the East and you find yourself toating a brick-heavy backpack across the ammonia-scented tiles of Manual high school, in the south side of Peoria. You stand in front of an faceless jambed sentinel and finger a combination near where his navel might be located. The nasal harsh shrill of the tardy bell escorts flocks of flannel-shirted students into wooden doors. Your day commences early with p.e, followed by algebra, Coach Mannioni's World History (which you excel at), Slacker Thomas's Biology where the acidic and ill smell of formaldehyde is never far from your nostrils. Your favorite class is English, where rubicund-faced Mister Reents (who rumor has it is gay) plays classical music, jazz and opera and brews coffee and sits on the front of his desk jiggling his legs, smiling, relating the antics of Edith Hamilton and classical greek mythology to the pending '92 election, where Ross Perot has just re-entered the race.
Your afternoon consists of one study hall and one French class. You scale the hallways between classes, your shadow looming amidst a sea of bodies and clicks and swirled dialects. You smell the faces of the popular girls, their hair long in back and sprayed into a crimped bow above their foreheads. Their bodies attired in short-skirted cheerleading uniforms on the Friday of football games. They huddle in an amoebic mass, floating, nonchalantly, pass homecoming banners and no-names, into the fleeting confetti of juvenile identity.
The day begins for you at two twenty-five, after your palette has skipped through a verbal-swoop of French conjugates, the final bell of the day alarms your body into motion. You find yourself in the heavy-sour athletic stench of the locker room. You peel off your jeans and unbutton your shirt, conscious not to look at your fellow unclothed athletes, less you be labeled a "fag," although it's hard for you not to stare with open lips the first time you see Joe Lontippi naked. He was born in Europe and is uncircumcised. It looks like there is a deformed clamp dangling between his thighs and for a minute you consider pulling him aside and inquiring if he realizes that his body possesses such a deformity, naive that he uses his gentalia as an optical magnet at the age of sixteen.
The heavy prattle and towel thwaps echo deeply in the din of the lockerroom. There is boisterous chatter about girls. Which cheerleader puts out. Which cheerleaders parents are never home. You step into your shorts and lace your sneakers into double-loops and jump and stretch. You are an athlete, a runner. Last year as an eighth grader you clocked the second fastest mile time for your age category in the state of Illinois, skidding just above the elusive five-minute mile barrier. Now, as a Freshman in high school, you already are the second fastest on a varsity squad consisting of mainly Hispanic and African-American athletes. They give you shit about your age. They tease you about being a virgin. But overall, they give you long-complicated "gangsta" handshakes at the finish line.
You wait for Joe Lontippi, the other white boy, to suit up and the two of you gallop your limbs into a steady jog, gliding behind the football field and the abandoned baseball dugout. With your elbows and forearms indented into geometrical right angles, the two of you mount the "HILL" that separates social and economic classes, arriving at Madison Golf course, where Coach Ricca awaits, along with Jose Munoz, team captain, Randy Peacock; gang-bangers Quaynar Thomas, Leatric Spires and Gabino Martinez. Many of the athletes are on work-study so they get off early in the afternoon. Only yourself and Lontippi will later attend college.
Gabino smiles and makes vulgar gestures during squats. He dates Corinne, a girl who just graduated with you from junior high three months ago. In another month 'Beano will leave her when she tells him that she is five months pregnant, claiming that the child isn't his.
The group of athletes kick down Sterling Avenue, onto Heading, where Coach has instructed the boys into 800 meter drills. They do seven rotation. They sprint in a single-file locomotive burst. Each rotation a different member of the team leads and each rotation is expected to get faster and faster until the last one is an all-out ass-surge. Joe Lontippi leads first, followed by 'Beano. You lead the sixth of seven and by the time your rotation has arrived strips of sweat coat your forehead and back like a shower curtain.
Coach Ricca has just pressed the pause button on the timer. The electronic lashes blink 2:05. The team is worn out. Leg and calf muscles are beginning to gradually stiff. Beano and Laetric fall over at their waist and inhale thick tufts of the early autumnal atmosphere. The group forms a pyramid near St. Josephs grave yard, where two green-tents are pitched in the cememtary today. Across the street is a flower shop, the same flower shop where last summer, you stopped in and purchased a rose of Dawn-Michelle, your girlfriend.
Dawn-Michelle was a reigning State Speech champion. She was a senior and attended Richwoods High, by far the most opulent and academic-oriented of the four public high schools in Peoria. You met Dawn last summer, doing community theatre. You had the part of Charlie the anvil salesman in THE MUSIC MAN. Dawn was involved behind the scenes, doing make-up. The first time you sat in front of her blonde hair her entire face squinted in a puzzle.
"You know who you look like?" She said, to your dismay.
"That guy off of Blossom. Not Joey Lawrence. The other guy. Blossom's older brother. The alcoholic."
You look back at her wondering what she has just smoked. It's not been the first time someone has made this comparison. Later in the year in Chicago, when a "fan" accosts you on State, you will learn to smile and say "Thanks for watching." But for now, your attention has averted totally to the short haired blond who wears cool hats and pantyhose underneath her jean shorts. She listens to the Cure and Concrete Blond and only dances at Stage Two when they have retro night and play "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode. She sounds like a harp every time she speaks; the acoustic of her mouth rivaling that of a European concert hall.
"Ready," You look at Jose and Joe and Justin on Heading Avenue. It is your turn to step ahead of the locomotive burst. It is your turn to lead.
Looking back, you think the early 90's was the greatest time ever for music in your life. In the summer of 1992, Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten, U2's Auctung Baby, GNR's Use Your Illusion's and Metallica's "Black" album were each under a year old. You have a copy of a little known pianist named Tori Amos album called "Little Earthquakes" in your CD player and feel emotional riveted and sentimentally flushed everytime you listen to a song called "Winter." You first bonded with Dawn Michelle with enya's "Shepard Moons" tingling falsetto organic chimes in the background.
"She has the most beautiful voice," Dawn Michelle said to you, in between button kisses at Nortwoods Mall.
Your play was directed by a feisty, smooth skin African-angel named Pam. Pam never called you David. She only knew you as Charlie, the part you played on stage.
"CHARLIE." Pam would screech. "Sugah, baby. You've gotta give the audience a lil' sugah. Give 'em a little something sweet!"
Pam never disses you when you stutter across your lines. She never chides you. She encourages you to be crazy. She encourages you to let loose. In the big scene where Marilyn, the Madame Librarian flirts and kisses you so that the antagonistic Charlie doesn't sully and trump the antics of Harold Hill, the musical's hero, Pam interrupts you on the dress rehearsal.
"Cut!!!!" She screams. "Charlie. QUIT LOOKING AT HER BUTT!!!!!"
The cast and company immediately erupts in sprinkled giggles.
"But I'm suppose to be checking her out." You say, very honestly, propping up the scrolled annotated script from your back pocket and pointing. There is more laughter.
"Yes," Pam cackles. "Your absolutely right. If this was a solely adult production it would be different. But this is a CHILDREN's production and the park district might not be too happy if we're portraying leerers and oglers on stage."
More laughter. You remember the meeting when rehearsals were going late. The set seemed to be crumpling. Before you met Dawn Michelle you were in love Amanda Haste who was grounded for staying out late in a parked Chevy driven by Harold Hill himself.
"Why do people come to the theatre?" Pam asks the question. There is a gravid pause. The husked-dusty smell backstage props mingles with the intermittent still-life buzz of stage lights. There is silence.
"People come to the theatre to escape." She says. " You all might not realize it now, and I hope you never fully do, but it's a HARD world out there. A hard world. People come tot the theatre to be entertained and to escape. Escape the harsh drudgery and sadness of their lives."
Pam says, before going over notes, not realizing that she has formed what will later in life be your literary aesthetic.
That summer Pam instructed a poetry class at the high school where you will attend earlier in the fall. The high school where you are expected to be a top athlete. Ironically, Dawn Michelle was in that poetry class.
"Poetry, I hate poetry." You say. "Hate everything about it."
"Someday you might not say that," Dawn says to you, pushing up her glasses as she thumbs through a copy of Leaves Of Grass."
"Let me see that," You say, snatching the tattered sleeves away from her light grasp. You adjust your voice to a high-pitch squeal and begin to read."
"I celebrate myself and sing myself, And what I assume you must assume That every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you."
"Don't you feel it?" Dawn Michelle tells you. "Don't you feel what the poet is trying to say to you. Can't you hear it in his voice what the poet is trying to say to you; to your soul?"
Being a smart-ass, you lift the collected volume of Whitman's life works to your left earlobes and pretend to be listening attentively.
"What the hell are you doing?" Dawn says.
"Shhhhhhh." You respond back to her in a whisper, your ear pressed against the tome. "I'm trying to listen to the poet speaking to my soul."
"Give me that," Dawn says, snatching the book from the side of your face before she swats the book in your direction.
"You men have no culture whatsoever."
"What's that honey," You say, as she flaps the book open. "I was just going over baseball stats in my head."
"Pmfdffffff." Is Dawn's reply, wiggling her chin in contempt.
Coach Ricca sets the timer and presses the plastic nub. It is your turn to lead the runners down Heading Avenue. The group bunches up close. As was expected, Peacock ran the last rotation too fast and the troops are exhausted.
"Suck it up boy!" Leatric yells from behind. " Man, suck that shit up."
At the corner of Heading and Waverly, Beano and Quaynar begin to drag behind followed closely by Poynter. The men are slowly being sliced apart from the boys.
"Fifty-seven" Poynter yells out, reaffirming the 400 split before falling behind even more. You lead the group in a steady gallop. Munoz and Peacock seem to be riding your shoulders. Lontippi lags not far behind.
"Come on, bro. " Munoz says. "Suck it up."
The world around you, that golden habitual place where you have spent fourteen previous autumns elevates past you in a tugged blur. You can feel your chest and lungs begin to burn. Your limbs continue to excel, continue to thrust.
"Almost there yo!" Peacock hammers out. Lontippi lags further back. You can feel Jose, the team captain, continue to push.
"Don't worry about the split just focus on running through the finish line. Just focus on breaking through that."
At the corner of Heading and Sterling there is a gated fence of a house you will one day live inside of and there is Coach Ricca, blinking at a timer in his palm. With forty meters less it is just yourself and Jose, stretching out the legs, headed through the finish line."
"Damn." Coach said, clicking the top of the stop watch with his thumb. "You really butchered that split, didn't you."
"The harder I train, the better I run coach." You say not looking your coach directly in the face before hawking and then allowing a loogie to fly. You see the tail end of your fellow teammates scrabble across the finish line. Beano is last, walking, holding his side claiming to have a cramp.
There is a hard slap on your sweaty back. It is Jose. He is up next, It is his turn to lead.
"One more gentleman." The coach says, clearing the digits on his stop watch. "Just one more round and then we can all go home."
"And do what, Coach" Quaynar says, " Die in our sleep?"
About an hour before the first production of Music Man Pam shepherds the entire cast and chorus (about seventy kids, ages 8-19) into a giant circle backstage.
"Now is time for us all to take a deep breath and just relax. " Pam says. Everyone in the circle grasp hands and squeezes.
"Clear your mind." says Pam. "Clear out everything that's in your mind and just focus and relax." Pam says, her eyed welded shut. See seems to be breathing on a very metronmic caliber.
There is silence. The entire cast of your production looks like a crop circle from overhead. You are flanked between mayor Shinn and a Townsperson and the next thing you know Pam is praying.
"Hello God." Pam says, with her brown eyes still melted into their respected sockets. She prays. She asks God "The fingertips guiding the artist's touch."
"No matter what denomination you are from. No matter where you are on the planet. No matter what you have been through or what name you address it--everyone, at some point in their lives, believes in a greater being. In a force greater than themselves as individuals. To this force we pray."
Pam continues to pray. He face glows. there is an electric current that swooshed between the clasped limbs of the cast and the chorus.
The first night of the play went smoothly and we received a standing ovation. The next day all the kids formed a circle but were not allowed to pray. Word had gotton around via a 'concerened' parent and protestant mother called and complained that she didn't want any New Age crap to interfere with her child's notion of faith.
That was the last year ever Pam conducted the summer musical for Children's Community Theatre.
As you get older you realize that Peoria is the type of town that slowly masticates dreams prior to swallowing youthful ambitions. Two weeks after coach lines you up on Heading Avenue Jose, your team captain, would be kicked off the team and would later drop out of school.
"I gotts myself a family," He says. "My girls pregnant. I gots to work, yo."
Slowly your teammates would gradually dissipate. A ziplock bacg of cocaine would be found in Quaynar's locker; Peacock would get in trouble after school for slapping a kid with the bill of their baseball cap switched to the wrong direction. At the end, only you and Lontippi, the kid with the fleshy anchor between his legs, would be the only to members left from the original squad.
At the end of the season, Lontippi comes up to you and shakes you hand.
"You know Dave," He says, in his towel. "Even though a lot of shit has happened and we didn't make it as far as we thought we would as a team this year and everything, it still hasn't been that bad. The two of us still have had a pretty good season."
"Yes," You say, nodding your head one time in an empty locker room that smells like old socks.
"It hasn't been that bad at all."
It is autumn 1992 and you are fifteen years of age.
Woods behind 2503 Heading Avenue (ie, 'The Nuclear Woods')
It is 1988 and it is autumn. The world is changing like your body is changing. The temperature of the planet drops off considerably in mid-October. The gym-shoe squeaky, prepubescent rasp of your own voice begins it's steady tonal plummet towards the baritone verbal pluck of near adulthood. Oily bushels of hair have begun to foam whorled islands across your body. Sprinkles of hard acne dot your forehead with feelings of self-consciousness. And dreams....spangled slips and subtle nocturnal gyrations...you can feel the bubblegum breath and feral movements of fellow classmates Holly Lyons and Angela Passages, girls who all but ignore your pulse at the lunch table now comb your entire body, cartwheeling limbs into a moist orchard of eternal spring.
It is autumn 1988 and the world is golden . Everywhere you look there are wooden stems, political placards sprouting up from the patches of thoroughly groomed lawns. Signs trumpeting the antics of Dukakis and Benson. Bush and Quayle. It is 1988 and you are in fifth grade. The world is opening up the way a book opens up; with a stiff spine and sticky pages. You attend a Lutheran school where God exists above the hard-yellow ceiling lights. Where the world is six-thousand years old. Where you were born a sinner. God is a Republican, according to the beliefs espoused by your parents and your church.
Cedric Dockery wears hand-me downs from the mission. Part of his house was torched by a fire last week. He raises his hand and requests that the class pray for Greg Louganis the day after the Olympic diver hit his head twirling off the high-dive in Seoul. Mrs. Reinhardt assents her chin and complies, praying ardently for a man with tainted blood.
There is DARE and there is BOOK-IT. There is learning how to just say no and there is learning how to properly install a filmy, oval-centered diskette into the classroom Apple. The thick white-handles of the soccer goal in Logan Field is stapled into an earth littered with golden sheaf's; leaves skirting, dancing, swirling into a thick spool; the dance of time.
Your best friend's name is Patrick. He lives down the street from your sister's friend Shannon, a little cul-de-sac called Downs Circle. His father is a professor at Bradley and in mid-august, the two of you straddled the thick petals of your BMX's across campus hurtling water balloons at college girls who worship the sun with their cinnamon skin, poofy hair scrunched in side-pony tails in bikinis flanked by boom boxes.
After school you follow Patrick into the woods behind Heading Avenue. Patrick fires up a cigarette he filched from his mother's pocketbook earlier in the week. You take turns firing his BB gun at posum's dangling upside down from dead-tooth limbs. You skip rocks into the orange-rust that slivers through the SKIPPER, where the names of heavy metal bands who purportedly worship Satan are spray-painted on the gravel siding, next to expired initials of high-school couples.
"Some day V.B" Patrick tells you. "We'll be shooting the shit down here and we'll find a body of someone really famous and then we'll get allot of cash for it and be set for life." Patrick says, between copious drags.
"Some day V.B., it'll just be the two of us. And everything will be alright."
The two of you marshal the bb gun back and forth between your grasp. The sun is a heavy nerf-orange nuclear glow that burns almost 100 million miles above your heads. Burns and burns and then when it finally sets you realize that everything it once gave life to is no longer here.