The Empty Promise of a Brand New Day, Back Story Pt.1

Every morning the sun rises from behind the hills, and, glowing with warmth and life, lies to my face. A new day has begun, but within this day lives the same cynicism, the same egoism, and the same dim remorse as any other day. There are moments in the dawn that clang like trash cans spilled by strays that lurk just out of sight, and in those moments I bolt from my cot, I scratch and pull at my shirt, and I remember how the light in the bathroom was uncovered and harsh, smearing illumination across the stains on the sink and floor; lending unwanted dimension to the dried piss crusting the toilet seat as my head pitched forward and cracked against the side. Memories deep and mean like a quarry, red from rust and wet from rain. I see flashes of the evil twat once known to me as the Eternal Camile with her lips splotched and red, her tootsie roll nipples and velveteen heart, her scatter shot mind blasting me straight to jail. Camile, you rotten tomato, you Benji-fucking scum, you turn-coat whore of a slut, you master of disaster in your mask of angry zits. Oh…when next I see you, then we shall see…make book on it!

And now the bees rise like a cloud from the overturned garbage of the morning, and they descend into my hair and burrow into my ears, stinging and swelling and buzzing. I clench my fists and ask my friend the Wall to hand me some good news so that I might clear my mind of this shit storm, but the Wall gazes past me, unconcerned. My lost freedom itches like a phantom limb. My neck is already stiff with tension. An unseen screw is turned, tightening my skull. My cellmate Jody complains, “You’d better stop grinding your teeth, ass wipe!” I tell him that unless he wants to taste the bottom of my foot via the hard way, he’d better mind his own business, and he, as is his wont, punches his cot. “Damnit! I hate it here! I hate YOU!” I laugh and call him a baby, because that’s what he is: an over-sized, hairy baby, with no social skills. He flops around his cot like an frustrated trout.

And so the morning marches on.

People who feel they know me are probably looking for precious backstory: how did Pendel’s sorry ass land in the clink? The story is long, but I guess I have some time. When it all went down, it seemed so unreal to me, like everything was happening in a brain gone bad, as if, in reality I was lying strapped down to a bed in a mental institution at the top of a black hill, and the doctors were telling my dad that it was useless to talk to me, that I can’t hear him, that the strange things I was saying and doing were part of the brave, new world I had constructed in my mind, that I was not responding to medication, that I was never coming back. With the magic of hindsight, of course, I can now see that everything that took place is all part of the normal, natural order for any person who becomes involved in selling weed.

In my heart—my blackened cinder of a heart—I (justly) blame Benji and Camile for everything. It was their malice that turned my karma shit black. It was their corroborations that saved Benji from sharing my fate. It was they that flinched at the first sign of trouble, and turned Sugar against me with pitiable lies. If they hadn’t…oh, but I get ahead of myself.

******

So here goes nothing:

The nagging rain and dead gray sky notwithstanding, my day really turned to stone the moment I entered the old folks home. Debora Fanning immediately materialized from thin air and stepped—with more grace than a woman of her size deserves—into my path. “Pendel. A word?” I asked her if she promised that it would only be, in fact, one word she planned on sharing with me and her already thin mouth disappeared into the dough of her face. I was all like, hey man, give me a break. I’ve been helping Big Bill wipe ass, no complaints. She held a hand up to quiet me, which I freaking hate like death, but allowed it for now, because I am in control of all things Pendel. “There were men here again. But they weren’t the same men as the last time, Pendel.” She looked at me sideways as if I had something to spill, which I did.

Ok, I said, well, I need more information, Pilsbury.

“They had badges. They were detectives. They were narcotics officers.”

OUCH. But my face is unchanged, I am an ice sculpture of feigned confusion. I betray nothing. Debora, what did they want? Is it about my sister (I apologize to you Clare for having so cavalierly thrown you under the bus, but you know what a shit I am)?

“It is not.” Debora Fanning has a gaze as level as a gyroscope. It is fearless, but I am great and terrible. We are well matched, Fanning and I. “Pendel, I have had a lot of young people serve their community service with me. Do you know what that means?”

It means you’re middle aged.

“Pendel, it means that I’m no fool. It means that you might think you have me duped, but I can assure you that you do not. Narcotic officers don’t just come around asking for people. They ask questions about people. People they think might have reason to be up to no good. They check to see if people have jobs.”

So, I have a job. I love it here. Adult diapers and daisy chains.

“You realize of course that I cannot and will not cover for you. I do not know you. It’s not my place to trust you or rehabilitate you. This is not your job, it is your court ordered sentence, and I told them as much. Get yourself together, Pendel. I don’t know what you’re doing, but I don’t need the trouble, and neither do the other very good people who work here. Not to mention the poor souls who have come here to end their days in peace.”

What could I say? All the braggadocio in the world cannot change the fact that I am, in fact, a hindrance to Debra Fanning and the Silver Fox Players. I don’t admit it to her and never would, but I am a gambler in a game of unquestionable consequences. It’s cliche, but the walls are, in fact, closing in around me. I feel it in my head. I find myself looking for escape routes where ever I go. I check outside windows for sturdy drainpipes or adequate cracks. I check stairways for roof access. I have written out and destroyed more than five different options for home emergency egress. I have a supply of non-perishables stashed in a certain park and I refuse to reveal to any of you untrustworthy harpies the exact location. The other day as I headed out the door, Sugar Bear asked me where I was going, and I told him I was biking down to the Taco Bell on East Main. Immediately I suspected him of everything bad in the world. I then proceeded to pedal my ass as fast as humanly possible to the shop across the street from the Taco Bell—some stupid little shithole with the inexplicable name of Artistic Sandwich and Pizza. I hid behind a car in the parking lot for twenty minutes to see whether or not I had been followed. Make sense? Fuck no. How would I know the difference between a regular customer and the cops? Why would getting a taco on that night be any different from any other? If I was being FOLLOWED, then wouldn’t they have seen me turn into this lot? All these questions mattered not because my mind was fried beyond belief with worry. Oh, and pot. Which also just so happened to make the fucking taco, when I finally purchased and devoured it along with two of its brothers, one of the best tacos I had ever had in my LIFE (for more on my past experiences with tacos, CLICK HERE).

I lamely suggested to Debora Fanning that perhaps these gentlemen with badges (and therefore guns) must have simply been trying to question me about a friend of mine, someone with whom I had most DEFINITELY cut all ties, as a matter of fact, now that I think about it DEBORA, I know EXACTLY about whom they must be curious.

I had my regular smoke with my new old friend Charlie Murphy, and I told him I didn’t know how much longer he and I would be able to hang out. He shook his head and sighed, “Goddamn you, you just couldn’t stay out of trouble.” I agreed that no, I couldn’t.

“When are they coming for you?”

I really have no clue.

“You even know they’re cops?”

I just shook my head and finished a beer, crushing the can on my head with a belch. Charlie shook his head again. I forgot the question entirely a mere two minutes after he asked it.

I’m pretty sure I wiped an ass or two before heading out the door, but seeing as I have blocked as many of these particular traumatic events from my mind as possible, it’s tough to say. I biked home in the dreary rain and had already pushed open the door of my faded abode before a frightening realization brought me to a halt. The door wasn’t locked, and that was a HUGE problem. I was just thinking that someone (i.e. that fucking asshole Benji—you rotten piece of fucking shit I can’t WAIT to tear you a new asshole) was going to hear it from me, because you simply DO NOT EVER leave our door unlocked for OBVIOUS reasons, when the fact that the door jamb was a mess of splintered wood bubbled up to the top level of my mind and set everything inside me on high alert. I wiped the rain dripping from my hair from my eyes and backed one step toward the street. Dim light spilled out onto the front steps, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember if any had been left on when I left earlier in the day. I focused my entire existence upon the crack made by the partially opened door and listened.

“Hey man, don’t be shy, get your ass in here. It’s fucking wet outside.”

The voice, which caused my cock to turn ice-cold and shrivel into nothing, came from inside the house, but the hand that shoved me forward most definitely came from behind. I tripped over the sill and nearly fell flat on my face before the same hand (I assume) steadied me roughly and then immediately began to drag me the rest of the way into the front room of the house. At first I was simply too shocked to do or say anything, I simply let the disembodied hand throw me into one of our dilapidated chairs.

“That’s it. Get comfy.”

The sound of the voice speaking again brought me back, and I looked around wildly and began to stand, but was hit on the back of the head with something not quite hard like a semi-thawed carton of ice cream (I never found out what it actually was) and found my seat again pretty quickly. Cold steel was at my throat and I became very still. It’s funny, really, how certain things can focus a person. Is it genetic? It must be. A young man who has never seen a woman undress, even if he’s never heard the tales, would become very focused the moment it happened in front of him. He doesn’t need anybody to tell him where to look or what’s important. It’s all reflex; nature takes over. In a very disturbing way, the knife pressing just below my adams apple produced much the same effect. I was a statue with five senses, baby.

I gathered quickly that there were two men in the room with me. They had turned on only one lamp, the living room was dim, and I couldn’t see much. It appeared as though none of the other rooms had been entered, or, if they had, the lights had since been extinguished. The men in the room—and you know, all this shit is very foggy now—seemed to both be around average size and…how else to put it?…of average hair. I don’t know. Like I said, it’s all foggy. Fuck you if you don’t like it. There’s lots of blogs out there littered with minutia if you want them. The weird thing though, the detail I won’t forget anytime soon (that and being ‘jump started,’ of course), are the cheap freaking Groucho Marx glasses they both wore on their faces. The ones with the fake nose, right? Oh my god. Creepy as shit and completely effective, because I couldn’t bring myself to center on ANY other facial detail. I was so fucking freaked out I almost peed.

And it was all going to get much worse.

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Dissolution of the Senses

The next day, upon my return to the old folks home, I was immediately accosted by the unassailable frumpiness of Debora Fanning. Her dark eyes flashed upon my graceful and sweeping entrance through the front doors of this palace of the damned, but they faded back behind the glow of her shiny skin soon enough, for nothing seems to keep Debora Fanning passionate for too long. “Pendel. Just the person I was looking for. A word?”  I knew it would be more than one, but I meandered over to the front desk anyway. “Pendel. I spoke with Bill Hardisty yesterday evening. He said you left him hanging with Arnold Tillerman the other day. You know anything about that?” Was she speaking of Big Bill the orderly, friend to all mankind? “His name is Bill Hardisty, and to my knowledge, he’s never left this state.” I said yes, I knew that Big Bill had been on his way to wipe Arnold’s ass, but after taking into account the size of Bill’s dinner plate-sized palms, I figured he had everything under control. Debora stuck her tongue into her cheek and looked deeply into a spot above my head. “He did not, and poor Arnold has been very itchy for the last 36 hours or more. It isn’t funny.”

Well, okay, and so I’m sorry, and so where the hell is Arnie, and let’s get those cheeks scrubbed till they shine, America. Debora Fanning clucked and frowned slightly, and scratching the back of her head she said more: “Some gentlemen were looking for you the other day. You left before I could talk to you about it.” Casually I say: Oh? Did they provide identification? Had she seen them before? “Why would they have identification? They said they represented your grandmother’s estate. It wasn’t your day to serve, and I have no clue where you go when you’re not here, so they said they would be back. Has something happened to your Grandmother?”

The funny thing about my Grandma is that she died about four years ago. And before you all fall over yourselves telling me sorry, save it. The woman never liked me anyway. Apparently I reminded her of her ex-husband, who was of course my Grandpa, who was a difficult bastard, if you believe the rumors. My Grandma, a grown—nay, elderly—woman with stuffed bears and porcelain dolls all over her country-morning-breakfast-themed house…I’m sure my Grandpa merely had to lift a cheek and fart for her to consider him an abomination. She LOVED my brother Matty, though. He was her sun. He provided her with warmth and light and made the crops grow and brought the promise of better times to come on winter mornings after the wind howled and the cold seeped into every bone during the long dark of night. Every Christmas, Matty’s gifts were larger, and always needed batteries. And after I opened my new bathrobe, when the hurt expression would betray my feelings as Matty—a child at the time and not to be blamed for his actions, I SUPPOSE—would gloat with his beeping, blinking, plastic fantastic, my Grandma would shake her head with an impatient frown and claim, “Your Grandfather was the same way. He never appreciated the things he was given.”

So, look, I plan on keeping this short, so suffice to say that I doubt very highly that anyone came around to talk to me about Grandma’s estate four years after her death. Even if there were something left to give, it wouldn’t come to unappreciative ME, unless it happened to be a box of old bathrobes.

The thing I found really disconcerting was the fact that they DIDN’T show a badge. So then what the FUCK?

I told Debora Fanning that if the men happened to show their face again, she should ask them what my Grandmother’s name is. If they don’t say Esmeralda (her actual name was Gladys), she should contact the authorities IMMEDIATELY. She furrowed her brow and opened her mouth to speak, but I touched a finger to her lips and looked about conspiratorially. Later, I said, and ducked my head low, b-lining my way to Charlie’s room.

Upon arriving, having not seen Big Bill, I closed the door and snapped my fingers several times in front of Wide-Eyed Wendell’s nose. I said aloud to him that if he could hear or say a fucking thing, now was the time to let everyone know. In response he merely breathed. I turned and faced Charlie, who was seated in his wheelchair and watching General Hospital on the television. “What’s the big goddamned deal, scaring Wendell like that?” he said. I told him time was short, and I only wanted to ask if the men who talked to him the other day told him who they were. “They didn’t tell me, but it was pretty obvious, so I didn’t ask.” So who were they then? “How should I know? Are you deaf, Pendel? I just said they didn’t tell me.” And with that he turned back to his program. Charlie is so damned cool most of the time that you forget he’s an old man, but there he is in his wheelchair, sucking on his lip, his left hand fidgeting restlessly at his armrest.

I told Wendell to keep it real as I exited, and promptly smacked my nose hard into the chest of Big Bill the orderly. “There he is, ladies and gentleman!” he roared, and he slapped a one meaty hand on my shoulder as the other palmed what seemed like a dozen white towels. “Can I have a word with you, little buddy?” Rushed with no real idea why and with my eyes watering, I tried to tell this heavily browed man with the dark, curly hair and kind face that I knew what he needed to say, but that he needn’t because I was very sorry about Arnie’s rash-covered ass, but he silenced me with a serious look.

“Buddy, I can’t have YOU leaving me hanging when I’VE got to get something hanging out of a man’s butt, okay?” I repeated all my regrets, and stressed that it wouldn’t happen again, but that I needed to be on my way. “Where’s the fire, buddy? This is my point. There’s work to be done HERE. That’s why YOU’RE here. You screwed it up out THERE, so they sent you in HERE to learn about how what you do affects others. You see?” I said yes. He laughed. “No, you don’t. Look, you’re not so new around here that you don’t know what happens to an adult’s sheets after they shit the bed. It’s easily a two-man job, sometimes more. Sometimes MORE, you see?” Bill often repeated his words, adding weight to the things he really wanted his audience to grasp. “Now, that old man has about 500 hours left in him, maximum, and you just stole the dignity out of the last 40 or so. Does that sound like a person who knows what I’m talking about? Does it SOUND that way to YOU?” I said no, because it’s the truth. Bill took his hand off my shoulder and walked away.

I sulked to the nearest cleaning supply closet and shut myself inside the acerbic dark, and wondered morosely why I was made to suffer. This eventually tuned to self-reproach—inevitably, maybe—and the sheer depth of my inability to grow or learn sat on my chest—a lead gargoyle with a sharp, sneering eyes and zero remorse for my shortcomings. My stomach was killing me. My mouth felt watery and tasted of copper.

Eventually the dark grew kinder, and soon my raw nerves, deprived of stimulus, grew calm.

****

Sugarbear was in a panic about the strangers questioning the workers of the old folks home regarding my whereabouts. He wanted to dump every cube he had right then and there, but Benji and I convinced him to reconsider. I told him that I had no idea who was looking for me yet, and as far as I knew, the eternal Camile’s mother was hunting me down for my indirect role in trashing her house-cleaning business. We kept him from disbanding our little enterprise for the time being, but Sugarbear has been far less jolly than is the norm. If his old man ever found out about how he makes his spending cash, well, kiss Wittenberg University goodbye. I honestly think he frets over this more than he does, say, oh, I don’t know…JAIL TIME. That tells you right there how much simple approval means to a human. We are weaved into a social fabric at birth, the threads tight around our throat. Struggle but a little, and the grip tightens, choking off breath and weakening your resolve.

In all honesty, I think Benji and I are most worried about having to find REAL JOBS. A large part of me is happier than I have ever been. I seem to flourish on the underside of the ship, and the thought of being pried from the hull and dragged out into the sunlight to squirm in the plain sight of others leaves me hopeless and thin.

Personally, I think the horrible bitch that lives next door has something to do with all of this. I can’t prove it yet, but she’s fat and always complains about our music and has one nose out the curtains every time I walk out to hear the birds.

She’s going to find out what trouble is if I discover she’s fucked things up for me. Make book on it.

Ugh. Something tells me I should have apologized to Arnold T. for what happened to his ass. Oh well. There’s a lot of things I should have done.

Charlie Can’t Feel His Face

Debora Fanning runs the old folks home with the discriminating hand of a curator. Her face is often serenely blank with sparse robotic emotion pulling back the corners of her lips only sporadically, and while she is not at all an unpleasant woman—at times even attractive—it is this seeming lack of interest in the affairs of humans that leads me to fuck with her at every opportunity.

The old folks home is a place that could use the human touch. The air is thick with the shame of neediness, and even upon my first arrival to this stone castle—a gloomy fortress holding back the final army—I could feel the weight of their demands on my shoulders. With skin paper thin, they advance upon you at first entrance, some begging to be taken back to the outside world where sun and energy feed the soul against the onslaught of the self, others begging you to please ignore the pleas of the beggars; their spines creak as they lift their heads high, demanding acknowledgement for their rejection of your pity.

People who have never had the pleasure of visiting a dump like this have no idea what I’m talking about. They’ll say I’m waxing dramatic. But dig this: on my first day of court-ordered compassion, I walked into the lobby and was immediately assaulted by a dusty old fart with pleading eyes and a brain as soft as the dawn outside. She began calmly enough, but something bubbling inside her set my teeth on edge, and I waited miserably for the bait and switch. She did not disappoint. “Hello,” she began simply enough.  I said hey. “Why are you here?” Strange for someone to ask such a simple question, but by now I have grown used to the bluntness of seniors. For them who have nearly run out of time, there is little need for social finesse. It just gets in the way of finding out information; suddenly the economics of time takes on real weight. And hey, I get it. I appreciate the lack of ceremony. So, instead of becoming hostile, I say to this woman that I’m looking for the front desk, and with hardly a pause she says to me, “You know, they keep me here.” Ahhhh, yes, of course. I repeated that I was purely looking for someone in charge, and her face stretched into a parody of melancholy. “I need help. I don’t want to stay here. They are terrible to me here. They treat me like a child. They treat me like I’m already dead. Like a dead baby. I can’t stay. Please call my daughter and tell her I need to come home. I need her help but they won’t let me talk to her they keep her from me please help me…”

“Don’t listen to her bullshit! None of it’s true!”

Startled, I swung around to find another old woman with stubborn steps and a surly face advancing upon me. She was wagging her finger in a very old-person way, and scowled at me as if it was my fault that the first old bat was spouting paranoid nonsense. The corners of her mouth curled down so far that they almost disappeared under her chin, and I wondered what came first: her bad attitude or a long, shitty life? Probably the latter, but me being who I am I tend to believe in both.

The first senior turned to face her: “Don’t you come near me!”

“She’s a liar. Her daughter doesn’t come here because she’s sick of listening to crazy bullshit!”

“No! Not at all! She doesn’t come here because they all told her I’m dead!”

“You ARE dead.”

“Young man, PLEASE. If you see my daughter, tell her she has to come and get me, tell her I don’t want to be here anymore. They take my money.”

The second old woman, the gruff truth teller, turned to address me: “She doesn’t have any money.” After she spoke, she looked away from us both, and dismissed the first woman with a wave of her hand. Finished with us, she crept back down the hall from whence she came. From somewhere, a disembodied voice confirmed, “It’s true. She doesn’t have any money at all.”

The first old woman with the gloomy outlook took my hand. It was like being grasped by a ghost bird, and reminded me of a great aunt that used to live somewhere in my past. “They all hate me because I have a daughter who loves me,” she whispered. “That woman who was yelling at us? She hits me when no one looks.”

Eventually I found the front desk, and with it Debora Fanning. Her dark hair was bobbed around her head—sensible with minimal flair. With arresting blackberry eyes pressed flat into a plate of white dough, she looked as though she could do some damage if she could only manage to drop a few (but people in this neck of the woods NEVER drop a few). Of course, now I know better. Without a complete emotional overhaul, the only thing Deborah Fanning will be doing any damage to is a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. As I approached the desk, I immediately sensed her authority and handed her my paperwork from the judge. She glanced at me coolly and said, “What’s this and who are you?” I told her the paperwork had all the answers she might be looking for—I mean, you know, FUCK her. I’m not getting paid to be here, and I don’t plan on finding a new perspective on life during this time with my elders, so pull teeth, bitch.

Debora looked at me unenthusiastically, and browsed the forms she had been handed. Without looking up, she says to me, “Are we going to have a problem?” I explained to her how I plan on setting an example for all of the young people here at the nursing home, and if possible, her look became even drier. Ten minutes later I had a mop in my hand.

And now I am ensconced in setting up board games, slinging soup, wiping chins, and pushing oldsters from point A to point B with stolid efficiency as they curse my ever being born and spit insults from denture-filled mouths. They ask for my help constantly, all the while hating themselves for asking, and hating me for giving. The whole place smells like death if death could be picked up with thick rubber gloves and scrubbed with pink industrial cleanser. Isn’t life wonderful? Isn’t GOD great in the gifts he bestows upon all of his blessed children? Is it any WONDER I am asked at every goddamned turn to fall upon my knees and thank him for all of his glorious mysteries? Well, just you try and stop me, all you little darlings of the starlight! Maybe if I try my best and always tie my laces tight and smile at every face I see then one day I can piss through a catheter of my very own and beg every passerby to set me free and wonder why my children forgot.

****

Charlie Murphy sits in his wheelchair with sunken lips resting against exhausted gums.

Charlie Murphy wears flannel shirts everyday; bolo ties with pewter buffalo skulls adorn his neck.

Charlie Murphy calls to me from across the common room and asks me to push him into the sunlit garden nearly every afternoon. My bushy hair and denim vest don’t seem to alarm him in the slightest; he gives none of the glaring disapproval that his peers have reserved for me. Charlie and I sit in the sun and he tells me about his trips to the city when he was a young man and how his parents hated his fascination with jazz and the smoke-filled clubs and coming home at dawn. I tell him he ought to give the hella-fucking awesome rock of Mayhem a try, and he says to me, “I’d never listen to that crap. I’d die of an aneurysm.” I push the others into the sun and they tell me I’m wasting my life. I think of my afternoon and its promise of bloody toilets and a grimy sponge, and I must agree that they may have a point.

Charlie Murphy looks at Debora Fanning and shakes his head sadly. “You could have been a beautiful woman,” he tells her. She looks through him and if she feels slighted by his comments, it doesn’t show. She simply hands him a small paper cup filled with variety. “Please take your pills, Charlie.” Charlie tips the cup into his hollow mouth, and only then does Debora hand him his water, as if the old man before her could not process all the objects at one time.

Charlie Murphy never met a bottle of suds he didn’t like, and he’s taken to sharing his secret supply with me every Thursday at 4PM in the room he shares with a comatose named Wendell. We toast the decline of Western Civilization and hope for the collapse of American Express. Well, I couldn’t give two shits about American Express myself, but it seems important to Charlie, and since he’s got the beer…

Charlie Murphy is a man of memory but not ceremony. He lived life like an actual human being, and from what I can tell, never relied on the false pretense of societal mass self-deception or rationalizations to form a picture of himself. He knows what he is, and he knows what he’s been, and if Debra Fanning, or my mom, or Dr. Duchenheimer, or any other fucking asshole for that matter doesn’t like it, they can kiss Charlie Murphy’s skinny ass.

Charlie Murphy is an old box full of new toys found just days before the house burns down.

****

I was searching the halls of the old folks home seeking out Big Bill the orderly When Charlie waved me over. “Wheel me to my room, Pendel. We have business to discuss.” I replied that Bill needed me to distract Arnold T. while Bill wiped his ass out, and Charlie said, “Arnie can go to hell or wipe his own ass. We’ve got bigger issues.” I told him I was more worried about Big Bill than Arnie, and was told, “Bill can blow air on his balls. That’ll distract Arnie, I guess.” So against my better judgment I ducked my head low and pushed Charlie to his quarters.

The rooms at the home fall somewhere in between a hospital and a hotel, with muted colors, wall-to-wall carpeting, full-length curtains, TVs bolted to mounts high upon the walls, and plenty of oxygen tanks. Staff members scuttle to and fro with tempers barely contained. Dim conversations regarding various aches and pains flood the open hallways like a college dorm jacked-up on Geritol. Most of these rooms have little-to-no personality, as the residents have largely turned their backs on individuality in favor of keeping watch. The occasional moan makes the hairs on my neck stand up.

Wendell stared at the ceiling without blinking and Charlie handed me a beer even though it’s Tuesday. I said, what’s up? It’s not like you to hand out beers midweek. He said, “What would you know about what I’m like? If you don’t want it, give it back.” I kept it. He cracked his beer and blew on the top, which is something he always does. It’s a mystery to me, but I suppose I must not care that much because I never ask him why he does it. Then he says, “Let’s get right down to it. You know my great nephew.” I said I’d have to take his word on that. “His name is Martin. He went to your high school. He wrestled. He was good. Not ringing a bell?” I did remember the guy, and I said as much. Thin and short, he did very well in the light-weight classes (so they say), and was one of the only male anorexics I had ever heard of (so they say). I told Charlie that I saw the guy standing around spitting into a can in the lobby of the school all the time. “Well, yeah, it’s a way these guys drop weight.” I asked if the dehydration made them weak for matches, and Charlie became impatient. “What am I, a doctor? The point is he told me about you.”

Oh really.

He must have read my face because he scowled and shook his head. “No. Come on. It’s nothing bad. If you’re a killer or screw little kittens, I don’t know and I don’t care. Well, I guess I would. Look, Marty says you’re the guy.” The guy for what? “You have something people want. Or at least, you can lay your hands on it.” I sat mutely. “Look, I have GLAUCOMA, okay?” By now I of course knew what he was getting at, but chose to continue staring blankly. Charlie became very agitated and exclaimed, “Goddamnit! Haven’t I spelled it out?!”

I said okay, okay. Maybe I knew how to help him (which made me feel a tad nervous because Sugarbear often says he’d rather we not make deals out in the world) but what the fuck did he want with that kind of trouble?  He sighed deeply. “All you guys,” he said, nodding unhappily, “you think I’ve always been old.”

****

The next time I came to the home, I had Charlie’s cube. Amazingly, he produced a small one-hitter that looked exactly like a cigarette from the inside of his shirtsleeve. I told him he was full of more surprises than anyone I had ever met, and he says to me, “We’ve only just begun. Wheel me outside, Pendel.”

The sky was a cloudy mess and the sun nowhere to be found, but it was for the best. Most of the seniors were deathly afraid of the rain, and stayed inside at the slightest inclination towards precipitation. Charlie and I had the courtyard to ourselves.

“Over there. Behind the tree.”

I sat down beside him on the ground, and made some kind of nonsensical chatter about the seasons. Charlie told me to shut up and handed me the CIGARETTE. After a little while he laughed and wiped something from his nose. “This shit…it’s crazy, but since I had my first stroke back in 92, this shit always makes my face go numb. But it’s not bad. It’s just different.” I said I never knew he had a stroke, and he said, “I’ve had three. Small. Very small. Miniscule. This big.” And he held his fingers out in front of his face just an inch apart to indicate just how small the strokes were. Then he grinned his toothless grin and laughed. I said, so okay, I didn’t know he had three small strokes. And he patted me on the shoulder and smiled. “Everyone in here has had a stroke. Don’t worry. You’ll have one too someday.” He laughed again, even more than before, and clapped his hands. He seemed happier than I had ever seen him, which was also happier than any of the other old people trapped inside this final stop before the great end.

“You know, you’re a nice kid for a punk.” I said thanks. “I’m…uhhh…smoking this with you now because it’s a courtesy.” What was he talking about? “I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten my manners, is what I mean. But after that I think I’m gonna have to keep this to myself, son.” He had never called me that before, and it was curious. I told him no worries, I understand the old folks are on a budget, and he shook his head and interrupted. “No, it’s just that I’m too old for trouble of my own, or to deal with yours.”

?????

“There were some guys the other day who came around here asking questions about you. I said I had no real contact with you. I said you were a punk and look like trouble and I’m too old for trouble. All of which is true, by the way.” Needless to say, this information knocked me off my precarious center. GUYS coming around and asking QUESTIONS? Well, that couldn’t be GOOD, could it? When GUYS come poking around asking QUESTIONS, it usually leads to people running manically and breathing heavy and flushing shit down toilets and climbing down fire escapes and all sorts of other crazy bullshit that I simply had no desire to find myself doing. What did these men LOOK LIKE?? “Jesus, Pendel, they looked like the kind of people that come around and ask questions about other people. They didn’t smile when they talked. They were serious men.”

I stood up and said I had to GO, but standing made me dizzy and I had to pause. “Look, you need to be careful. It’s probably nothing. I just wanted to warn you about this, and I wanted you to know why I can’t be sharing more of this with you. I shouldn’t have gotten it anyway, but I’m glad I did. I feel great. Even if I can’t feel my face.”

I said I couldn’t feel mine anymore, either, and old Charlie laughed and said something else, but I was already on my way out of the garden and didn’t hear him clearly. I had to go and talk to Sugarbear. If this was about what I was AFRAID it was about, well, you know, I didn’t sign up for that kind of shit.

How fucking stupid am I though? Of course I did.

Pendel the Great and Terrible Finds Gainful Employment

One of the more bizarre ironies of living in a culture built on fear is how surprised you find yourself when the worst of those fears is realized. Seems fucking nutty. Either we never truly expected our fears to scuttle out from the dark corners left dusty and cold when we turned our backs to them, or we never really believed in our fears in the first place; rather we thrived on the thrill of being completely amped and strung-out on distant possibilities, our runny noses sniffing madly in pursuit of blessed distraction. Craving simply to fill the minutes, hours, and days until they toss dirt upon our lips and eyes, we scrape at the wall, never expecting a hole to crumble forth, never realizing just how weak the wall is until it starts to fall.

Lousy contractor. We entrusted this dick with our LIVES, and he with his shoddy workmanship doomed us all to the crushing weight of reality. And to see the other side of that hole in the wall—well holy hell. Who knew?

But we can’t talk about all that yet. First, the Move Out: It was pretty simple. I packed a box and a suitcase and threw that shit in Sugarbear’s dirty Volkswagen trunk. Easy as freaking PIE, fellow motherfuckers. When in doubt, travel light. You’re really not going to need any of the shit you’ve collected while whiling away the hours pondering the greater good, so leave it; cut it loose and let it find its next big hero.

The hard part being over, Sugarbear accompanied me back into the house where I USED to live for one last dose of disparity as my family members congregated to wish me well.

I shouldn’t be so flip. The look in Clare’s eyes tore at my heart. I asked her what the hell her problem was in far more of an irritated tone then I meant, and she flinched—which of course made me feel like even more of an asshole. I was like, hey man, I am sorry, but you are making me feel like a complete and total fuck-face. She was all like, “How can you leave me here with these weirdoes?”—meaning my mom and dad, of course—and I could tell she was seriously stricken by the thought, but I found that to be incredibly unfair. I pleaded with Clare. I was like, hey man, come on, lest we all forget, THEY kicked MY ass out. This was not my idea. “Pendel, you didn’t even ask them to reconsider. They don’t know you the way I do. They don’t know that you could get hurt.”

Sugarbear snorted and smacked my shoulder, skyrocketing my level of irritation. “You hear that, you pussy? The real world’s gonna chew you up.” I scowled deeply at both of them—why must I be underestimated at every goddamned turn? I said to Clare, look here, sister: I am made of fucking steel, get it? I cannot be broken. She just shook her head. “I know you,” she said. What the hell is that supposed to mean? I wouldn’t get the chance to find out—down the hall came the clumsy love of my mother and father. Clare clammed up and simply continued to scowl in my general direction until I left home forever.

“So this is it, yes?” asked my dad. He patted my shoulder in a very ‘now-you’re-a-man’ kind of way, and I felt absolutely no remorse whatsoever seep from a single one of his pores. My mother, on the other hand, was beside herself. Her hands bothered themselves with incessant wringing, and her eyebrows were a study in sorrow. “Oh Pendel, I think this is all wrong,” she bemoaned. Please. After everything—after she more than any other member of our sad kin made me feel like a bother and a hindrance to her happiness—she has the balls to tell me it’s wrong that I should leave. In my mind I was smashing everything dear to her into tiny bits, but outwardly I chose to be as tall as the redwoods, and I simply gave her a hug. My dad tipped me a knowing wink (though he knows very little) and comforted my mother, “This is the way of things. There’s no other way for him to become a man.” Dear lord. Really? That’s what you’re going to say? Of course he’s wrong, I could maybe get fucking LAID for once. That would help a hell of a lot more than starving to death in the back of Sugar’s shithole.

My mother took my hands, “Come over for dinner as often as you want, OK? Please? Help me not to worry.” I said fine. Realistically, coming over for dinner might be the only time I eat. “Sugar, keep him out of trouble. Keep him INSIDE.”

Sugarbear gave me a nudge. “No worries, Mrs. Haight. I got bars on the windows.”

“Oh Lord. OK. Oh boy,” worried my mother, and she turned and hugged Clare, because Clare was far more receptive to such things than any of the men around her.

My dad walked Sugar and me outside, cause that’s just the kind of fucking stand-up guy he is. “OK, ladies,” he joked. “Look, Pendel. I know you’re gonna take a couple of days to get the feel of all of this new-found independence, but after that, come by, OK?” I said fine. Then he took me by the shoulders and looked me square in the face. “I will be right here, son.” I got the distinct impression that he was not only giving me reassurances, but also warning me of his continued vigilance—which is a complete joke. Although my parents did much in the way of keeping me alive in regards to caloric intake and clothing, when it came to guidance and structure…but this is horseshit. They tried, I resisted, and the world spun restlessly on and on.

So basically, my leaving home was a complete non-event.

That night I celebrated liberation with Bear, Benji, and Hugh—Hugh being the name we gave to the wizard-shaped ceramic bong belonging to Benji. As I have said before, Bear’s old man is letting us crash cheaply at a property he owns near the corner of Rubsam and Race. Kind of a shit-hole, but I’m not really complaining. The gray paint is slowly giving up, the lawn is the color of hopelessness, and the cracked driveway speaks of a world long after the death of the last man as nature once again claims the spots we had worn thin. Nevertheless, the bedroom I have on the ground floor near the kitchen is my own, the living room has a television and cable and the promise of a life free from lectures and suspicion, and my roommates seem to genuinely enjoy my company (for the most part). The jabbing tip of springs as they force their heads out from nearly every cushion of every ass-related surface is barely noticeable when you spend as much time rocking the skull of Hugh as we do.

How do I afford such luxury, you ask? It’s a great question. I do have work, but the work is tricky to talk about, if you get my meaning. Basically, I work for Sugarbear. Benji and I both do, really. We single-handedly run the sales and delivery department of Sug’s fantastically lucrative plastic cube business. Suffice to say there’s a certain amount of glamour involved. The client makes a call to my man Sugarbear, who places the order in the hands of the raggedly loyal Benji or myself, and off we go on our various modes of transport with a generous supply of cubes, each one full of it’s own special brand of magic.

With sincere purpose I pedal into the night (or day, I guess…whichever), nervous but free from it all, and I visit all parts of town, delivering Sugar’s flawless product. I climb sagging steps and cross gated paths unhindered; I am welcomed warmly into hovels of sand and gilded halls; I am given Mountain Dew and I am offered red wine and everywhere around me there are smiles which are unique purely in their genuineness. I leave strewn behind me a trail of happy people. Hell, if I could only get the crabby bitches in the old folk’s home to feel the same way, I would have been tempted to think I’m entering into an honest-to-god period of renewal.

And to think I dreaded the working world.

Yes, times seemed to be quite high, but of course awakening must soon break a dream realized. After just a couple of weeks of living with a smile, I began to see the dark sedan parked innocently in front of our house, and thought nothing of it. Hindsight is a useless appendage.