Brooklyn, New York // Impossible Project Film for Polaroid 600 // January 2014
Archive for the ‘Gorjus’ Category
I just stood there on the sidewalk for a minute, staring at the pastel reflection of the neon sign from the jeweler across the street. Tightened the scarf around my neck; hunched my shoulders. Years ago someone had carefully painted these letters on the store window, and now the sun and time and the sodium streetlights had revealed every brushstroke. Each letter was golden, a black shadow dropped to the left of each stroke, with pencil-thin white for highlights.
I leaned forward and pressed my forehead up against the glass. It felt like a Coca-Cola bottle in July, the kind you could get out of a vending machine at the Forestdale Pool, the bottles slender and green, yanked out through the circular grate with a dull and violent clank. It had been a few months, maybe even a year, since I’d been back. The wind burned my ears. A stubby white Christmas tree made out of plastic sat on a dusty wooden table in the window. It was decorated with a dozen red poinsettias, synthetic as the tree. I wondered who painted the sign, wondered what they looked like.
A car alarm throbbed in the background. It began to sync up with the pulse beating through my cheeks and face against the shop window. My phone buzzed once in my pocket, then again. Two text messages in rapid succession. I tried to remember what was even on the menu that I could eat. Did they even have an actual salad you could order, or was it just a trio of fist-sized bowls filled with creamed corn and asparagus and boiled potatoes? It didn’t really matter, I would just eat a few rolls and drink coffee either way. The alarm shut off.
The phone buzzed in my pocket again. I leaned back from the window. There were three little cartoon kids standing on the last letter, pulling another one up by a think brown brushstroke. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked down at it. Where r u? I looked at the sign. The car alarm started up again. The phone buzzed in my hand; incoming call from MOM. I looked at the little boy climbing on the letter in the sign. “SAVE OUR YOUTH,” it said.
Let me tell you a story.
It’s not the one about when you said my hair was ridiculously long and I said fine, cut it, and you called my bluff. I ended up on my knees leaning over the tub, giggling so hard I lost my breath, balancing a half-full aviation in my right hand while you jammed the clippers against my neck. You kept yelling THAR SHE BLOWS in like a Popeye voice, and hair kept getting in my cocktail, but of course I drank it anyway. We woke up with hair all over the pillows and I looked like I’d gotten in a fight with a bobcat.
It’s not the one where we met your childhood sweetheart on the side of the road outside Alligator. He’d texted and said he was back home, which meant he was sober, or at least off coke for a little while, and that he had a present for you, did we want to meet him, he was on his way down to deer camp. I wasn’t jealous because I always loved all your old boyfriends, I’d even been a little fond of your husband. I remember he bought me a shot when I saw him at W.C. Don’s one night after he finished that long slide from the bedroom to the couch to his buddy’s couch and back up Highway 61.
So when we made the drive down I didn’t mind and he was like all the rest, puffy in the face and carrying too much belly for somebody barely thirty but with a kind smile and lines around his eyes, just like me. We sat and talked about Ole Miss and how they were really going to suck this year, maybe even worse than last year, and after a little while he pulled the tarp back in the back of his Dodge and there was a case of Maker’s Mark, gleaming in the sun. There were two bottles gone—he said he took one, just in case he ever needed a little help, and he said the other one had gotten busted up when he got it from his buddy.
The case was made out of strips of thin white pine and the bourbon from the busted bottle had gotten all soaked up into the raw wood. We slid it into the back of the Tahoe and swear to God I thought we were gonna pass out from the fumes, until you said the only way to fight fire was with fire, and a few shots of Maker’s later we finally made it back to the house. You said you were going out with the girls and I said fine but there was no way I could hack it, and you kicked at me laying there on the bed, telling me to take off my shoes, and I threw them at you, trying to quote something Willie Morris said once about Mississippi women, but you were already gone, and I couldn’t remember it right anyway.
It wasn’t about the time we were at your momma’s house that Thanksgiving and I had the flu so bad I was shaking and you kept a cold compress on my head and read all the obituaries in the Commercial-Appeal to me in a funny voice, and made me a hot toddy, the smell of lemon sharp in my nose. Maybe it should be, maybe it should be. That might have been the sweetest you ever were to me, rubbing my hands down to the fingertips because you knew it made me sleepy, murmuring in my ear. It might have been the sweetest anyone has ever been to me.
It could have been the one about the wedding we went to that was somewhere outside of someplace, maybe Leland. I never got all the dang names and places straight. I mean I can get up and down the highways but I was always getting startled by beautiful names like Falcon and Darling and telling you we were going to move up there, buy a plantation in Minter City, we’d live off the credit cards until they were all cut off. Because we were going to a wedding we were in a fight, I had already gotten too drunk and you were fake mad that I was, and then I guess you talked yourself into getting real mad, and lit into me about how slow I was going. I told you we could pull the car over right then and live out of it, just shut it down right now, stake out a homestead, use the wheels as sinks and pull the backseat out for a couch. You finally smiled and rubbed your nose and sniffed and stared out the window. You reached over and poked me in the leg, patted my thigh until I placed my hand on yours. You said you’d rather die than live in Leflore County, mashed the button that slid back the sunroof, turned up the stereo, and croaked out “I kept fallin’ like a Rolling Stones song,” and squeezed my hand so tight it tingled.
It definitely wasn’t the time when we were headed to the condo in Florida and stopped in Mobile to get dinner, and I told you not to get the crab because it looked weird and gray, and you flipped me off and got the crab, and you threw up all night long so bad you couldn’t even sip down Gatorade, and we ended up staying the night in a Holiday Inn. In the morning you were still so mad at me for lording it over about you about the crab that you slapped the keys out of my hand and kicked at me like you some kind of feral child raised up by wolves, and got in the driver’s seat. When I told you we were going the wrong way you told me to shut up for once in my life, for Christ’s sake, and we headed right back up 98.
Let me tell you a story, I said.
I’d been to Jackson before but never lingered; it always had the impression of being closed down, like rolling into the drive-thru of a McDonald’s at ten thirty and seeing the slow nod of the man at the fryer, drawing his finger across this throat like a knife.
I was twenty-four and traveled from Starkville down Highway 25 for a job interview. My roommate drove us—he’d gotten me the interview and knew the fellow who was doing the hiring for the Attorney General. It wasn’t the first interview ever had but it was the first where I wore a suit. It was utility wear—black, pinstripe, wearable to both weddings and funerals. I wore the same red tie speckled with yellow that I’d worn to my sister’s wedding, picked out and slid around my neck by a Catholic girl from Ohio.
Most of the other jobs I’d ever had involved me using my arms, my shoulders, my legs to get by. This one needed me to sit in a chair in a converted hotel and type. All the man did was shake my hand and tell me I was hired. It was anti-climatic, but in a good way.
I hopped in a turquoise Saturn with my roommate, who was also my best friend, so he could drive me around town. I didn’t know anybody there. It was early Spring, but already warm; the Legislature was in town, and so we went to this real sixties style hotel where everybody stayed because it was across the street from the Capital. The sign our front looked like they got it right off the Vegas strip, an outtake from Ocean’s 11: a floating golden triangle split with a chrome boomerang and Mondrian rectangles. Some nights in college we’d sit around and listen to Martin Denny and sip Aviators and this place looked like how that sounded and tasted.
It was open on the inside, as best I recall, with the rooms all opening out onto a courtyard. We were going to see a friend of my pal’s who was a Legislator from the Coast. His name was all alliteration, with a French twist on the end, something-or-other ending in an “eaux.” As we tread up the stairs to the second level you could hear tvs and radios echoing out of the rooms. Folks had their doors open and were just walking from room to room visiting and talking.
We made it up to the Coast man’s room and I was surprised to see that he didn’t seem much older than me. In fact, he looked a little bit younger, but he had on an old man’s eyeglasses, square, real out of date seeming, with wire rims and a bifocal part at the bottom. It had a dizzying effect of him seeming like a character out of play who looked the part from the audience, but up close you guessed was just somebody’s cousin who had a flair for Arthur Miller who they needed to fill out a scene.
He was wearing suitpants, like we all were, but had taken off his shirt and carefully laid it over the back of a chair, the jacket hanging in the closet. He was in what folks would call his shirt sleeves, what I call just wearing an old undershirt. There was an open suitcase on the bed, filled with back-pocked-sized bottles of Jack Daniel’s and Taaka vodka. He offered us a pull and we graciously accepted. We set and talked about the Governor and what all was going on with the Democrats in the House. He made us promise that when we moved to Jackson we would get real active in the Party and sign up to be officers in the Young Democrats because they needed new blood. We promised about as hard as we could because that was why we had gone to school in the first place, although of course we both ended up going to law school because all that other is real hard work.
We didn’t stay long, and to be honest I don’t remember a whole lot of it. I was tired from the drive down and fuzzy with whiskey and pride and some real fear about moving to a new place and whether I’d be able to make it. The sun was down and it was cooling off as our feet crunched on gravel out to the car. We weren’t talking about anything at all when the guns started going off.
I didn’t know what to do—the only shots I’d ever heard were out in the woods, with men I knew shooting them, or aimed at beer bottles out at the old baseball park where my dad played softball for Sandusky Baptist. I went face down in my only suit into a mud puddle, hugging the ground, gravel on the side of my cheek.
An old man in a blue jacket came running out of the lobby. He was wearing what looked like a badge. A car screeched around the corner just like it was carrying a group of toughs from a Magnum, P.I. episode. It was almost completely dark outside the 1960s glow of the hotel. He helped me and my buddy to our feet. “Dang kids,” he mumbled. “Always going around shooting off they guns, trying to scare folks.”
I moved to Jackson a month later.
I don’t remember if it was one of the cold parades, and if it was, we’d burned it out by 10 a.m. through a true dedication to the spirit of Mardi Gras. I look over and your Krewe of Southdowns cup is empty, only a trace of orange swirling around the bottom. I’m frankly dizzy, a lovely cotton candy headache pushing up against my fake Vegas Elvis sunglasses. A float scrapes by embedded on the back of a bright purple 18-wheeler, thumping a song that sounds like a robot rapping. It’s the kind of music I normally say that I hate but right now it’s the best thing I’ve ever heard. I can feel the beats tremble in my stomach.
I look over and you’re waving your hands in the air, Saints jersey already half covered with pink and green beads. “I’M’A BUY YOU A DRANK” scream the fifty people jammed around us, I’m startled and laughing, I love Spanish Town but have never been in a crowd of poets and painters starting to grind on each other before. I almost drop the antique camera I’m hauling around when the hail of beads comes—and I snag the best I’ve ever gotten, a rope of footballs with a Bud Light badge. The robot song dopplers down the street. The football beads clatter onto the golden dice and neon plastic fruit already roped around my neck. A trickle of sweat runs down my brow.
I look up at the sky and it’s so pretty, off to my right is a girl dressed in hot pink 80s prom dress mashing up on a boy with a brown suit coat straight out of a 70s detective show, I cock the shutter on the Land Camera, squint through the lens, the sun comes out and I hear cheers start up behind me as “Don’t Start Believing” screams down the street, and I like the way there’s all those busy wires and equipment strung overhead, hundreds of pounds of copper and steel and oil nailed to great shafts of wood and swaying gently as the beads begin to scatter and fly.
3734 E.P. Blvd., Memphis, Tennessee 38116, Polaroid 600, film expired July 2007, Photo taken November 2013.
YOU ARE TWENTY-ONE YEARS OLD and on Beale Street. Just like every other 21 year old in the history of Memphis who is 21 and on Beale Street you have been drinking whiskey and dancing to the blues and sweating even though it’s wintertime. There was an hour of R.L. Burnside and then J.S.B.X. screaming about how now they got worry. Between the two bands there is a century of blues. You’re pretty sure they ain’t got the heat turned on in the burned out old theatre you’re dancing in.
Christina from Boss Hogg is there amidst the busted Budweiser bottles and she is impossibly tall and wearing a floor length white mink coat. She is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. There might as well be a forcefield around her, a ten foot invisble cordon. After the show you shake Judah Bauer’s hand and it is a massive paw, your hand like a little kid’s in the middle of this great rhythmic device of calcium and cartilage.
You are with your two best friends. One is a drummer and the other a singer and sometimes you will make fliers from cut-up bits from 1960s DC romance comics and then pull on a pair of your girlfriend’s fake leather pants and put on a lot of makeup and plug in a knockoff Les Paul and drink Colt 45 and make a lot of noise. You are 21 years old and drunk on whiskey and you want to be in a band so bad, the only thing you really believe in is holy blues, sacred rock and roll. It is the only thing anyone on Beale Street at midnight truly believes in.
Sweat freezing on tender young necks, y’all load up in the van, drive ten minutes South, wind down McLemore and Mississippi and spit out onto South Bellevue—that’s what they still called it when you were little, even though they’d changed the name a long time ago—and there you are, he’s long gone, long gone, Johnny Bye-Bye. But when you put your hands on the rocks and blue suede Converse scrape against mortar you can just believe, cutting your hand on the stone, you can just believe that if you make it to the top of the fence he’ll be standing there, and in the dark you can see the long limbs of the Weeping Willow sway, if you just make it to the top everything’s gonna be okay.
I can’t stop from overhearing the couple in the booth next to me. I just want some fettuccine Alfredo, and it’s murderous here—like, can’t reheat it, there’s so much butter, it’s amazing. If you put it into the microwave the next day it just turns to pretty swirling yellow grease, and the cheese clumps up. It’s never worth it, but nobody could eat the whole thing, plus bread. I can’t, anyway. And this is after years of fettuccine being basically the only thing on the menu somebody that avoids pig and cow and chicken can get a hold of. Al dente noodles and a creamy sauce, what else do you want.
Anyway, this woman with tired eyes and brown bangs is telling her friend about how she got a new phone number after her ex got crazy jealous and threatened to kill her German shepherd, which I agree is super aggro behavior, I’m not sure what self-help manual she’s reading but “How to Kill Her Dog to Get Yr Girlfriend Back” is probably not a real reputable title even at the worst strip mall Barnes & Noble. So she gets a new phone number, and apparently it belonged to somebody who owes everybody in the world money, plus has a friend with a deer camp or something in East Arkansas. So there’s a dozen Citibanks and Sallie Maes and Imperial Credit Companies calling every hour, plus some goon texting her night-vision pictures of deer with glowing green eyes and “BOOM BOOM” as the caption.
The server brings me by another Diet Coke in a tiny green bottle. I have no idea how much they cost and don’t really care. She starts to set down a little water glass stuffed with blurry cubes, her hand shaking a bit, and I wave it off. The pleasure of a carbonated beverage in a real bottle with a thick lip on it is not to be missed, and certainly not to be avoided altogether, and then blunted by pouring that fizzy fake sugar drink over Jackson ice. A Caprice thumps by outside playing a Big K.R.I.T. song, the one with Ludacris doing the verse at the beginning, that was on like everybody’s mixtapes a couple summers back.
“So I get tired of fighting with all these folks and telling them I’m not the person who had the number before,” she goes on. “I try that for like a month, but it’s a nightmare. I’d end up in all this conversations with CSRs and they are just plain crazy, they always wanted to know my Social and when I wouldn’t give it to them they’d say that proved it was really me—I mean, that I was really the person who used to have the number.” She took a long pull off her sweet tea. “Kafka.”
She tilts the screen towards her friend. It’s a contact with a dozen dollar signs as the name. “So I just started threading all them numbers into this one thing, like alternate numbers for my mom or something, and then when I see a dollar sign come up I know to go on and mute it.” Her friend pushes around some mystery fish on her plate. “Nobody worth anything is calling me with any money anyway,” says brown bangs. I drain the rest of the bottle; the thing must only hold like five swigs.
“Deer camp, her I texted with for a while. I figure there’s a deer camp, might be fun to go out there one weekend, a few cases of Miller Lite in a refrigerator. But she couldn’t spell at all and Lord knows I can’t abide misspelling.” My fettuccine finally wanders back from the kitchen, hot white curls on porcelain.
I am standing in front of the stone walls of Graceland. They’re covered with names from all over the world. I wasn’t going to take a picture but there’s a Weeping Willow. I love Weeping Willows; I don’t even know if there’s one in Jackson. When I was little I liked to run through them, and feel the gentle fronds brush against my face. I thought of them as a character in a book: capital W, capital W. They weren’t necessarily sad, just ancient, majestic, filled with knowledge: like Aslan. Weeping Willow. Even the name is beautiful, like something I would name a plantation or a mansion if I ever made the money, bought up an old place outside of Minter City. I mash the big red button, but there’s just a dry click, and no whirr.
I am sitting in the stands of Bryant-Denny. I’m laughing because my Pop won’t use the crimson and white shakers they put on all the seats. Men of a certain age won’t; it’s unspoken but well understood. I have decided that I will give in a jump around to all the dumb songs that I was sick of even back in 1992. When “Thunderstruck” comes on, Pop starts to cheer, and I say “don’t you feel bad for grounding me from this concert now?!” He throws his head back and laughs, and the tall guy next to me who looks like Vince Vaughn starts cracking up, he can’t help it. He really did ground me, but Amy Leath brought me a fake dollar bill with Angus’ face on it, one of thousands they dropped from the ceiling during “Money Talks.” I’m just as happy 20 years later with being able to say I got grounded from seeing AC/DC as to remember the show. I wish I knew where that Angus dollar was.
The Vince guy is wearing one of the rented radio earphones, which lets me know that he is both hardcore and also probably a guy I like. He wants to hear what Eli Gold is saying about the game. He is not afraid to use the shaker. He also flips it around and uses it to stir bourbon into his co-cola. He’s got the same flask I have: heavy pewter, with his initials stamped into it. Every groomsman in America probably has one. I jacked the top of mine up at a Drivin’N’Cryin’ concert one time, couldn’t get it open. Mine has sat empty and cold for the better part of four years now. Maybe I should give it to somebody who could use it, but it feels like giving somebody an obligation, or a bomb.
There is an older couple in front of us. The man stands, gingerly; he’s wearing a khaki coat. We’re in section N, high up, just under the overhang, so the driving but gentle rain rarely reaches us. The wife doesn’t stand so well. She has the close cut white-gray crewcut of a cancer survivor. Maybe she just likes it short. It looks good; like an Emmylou Harris color, silvery shot through with dark gray. After Bama scores in the 4th on another run by T.J., the man leans in, and they kiss very softly, very sweetly.
The picture from Graceland didn’t turn out, but I kept it just the same. I’m going to smear an inky red thumbprint on the blank lemon-colored front, scrawl an apology on it, and mail it across the ocean. I don’t even know where yet. A bottle in the ocean with the same message on bloody parchment, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, it was all my fault.