I can see him, sitting there, judging me, knowing. My own creation, never to leave my side. Each bandage dripping with the knowledge of what I have done. The past soaks through, clings to the skin, waiting for someone to peel it away and expose whatever wound lies beneath. He is the physical embodiment of the realization that some wounds will never heal. No matter how much time may pass.
There I sit, legs crossed, stroking the probability of no tomorrow. Finger poised, resting above self destruction. How many times have I reached this cross road, how many times have I turned down the wrong path, how many times have I chosen to remain alone? Indecision and fear cloud my course. Helplessly hoping my soul will emerge from the remains of a former self. Peace has danced around me from time to time, teasing, showing its face and then turning away before it is recognized.
So many years adrift, I awake to foreign shores. Upon landing I take to foot. Soon, deep impressions in the sand open my dark eyes to a beauty never known to me. I trace each step, so careful not to break the rhythm. I walk for what seems a lifetime; and then the footprints stop. I raise my head to look around and suddenly I realize I have been here before. In fact, I have never left. The footprints followed have been my own. The newness, the peace, the beauty have all been an illusion. I have come round full circle, where I had begun, there I found an end. By allowing my heart to surface I have merely masked the truth. A truth I have known for so long, a truth I’ve been too afraid to change.
The truth is myself.
In all its ugliness it stood before me. My fear drew me to myself. I take my hand and together we walk back, trying desperately to avoid the impressions in the sand; but to no avail, each step falls perfectly in line, filling each hole with that which made it.
“So what’s all this about anyway?”
I peer over my right shoulder, I didn’t even notice him sitting there.
“What’s all what about?”
“That’s what I’m asking you.”
“No, I mean what are you referring to? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“All this . . .”
He waves his hand in front of him and then gestures to the television.
“I don’t know, I wasn’t paying any attention to it.”
“Exactly, that my friend is exactly what I am talking about. Don’t have a clue, do you?”
Is this the guy that was bitching about cleaning the bathroom the other night?
“You know, I like to think of myself as an amazing judge of character. And I’m sitting here, looking at you, and I can see something, something a little different from the masses. I really feel my friend that you can be a believer.”
Yeah, that is the guy. What’s the suit and tie all about?
“Hmm. Not much of a talker, are you? That’s o.k. That . . . is . . . o . . . k . . . because what you really need to do right now is to just listen. Open your mind, shield yourself to the mindless propaganda your government has been feeding you all your life and start to ask some questions. Don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault. They want you blind and stupid. Worried, distracted . . . SCARED. You are easier to manipulate that way. They keep you so wrapped up in your career, job, assets, family, that you don’t have time to stop and look at the big picture. You can’t stop to question why because you are just too damn busy and worried about how you are going to pay all your bills next month.”
Everyone has an agenda.
“I know what you are thinking, who is this guy and how does he know all these things? Good question. I, my friend, am simply a believer. A simple man who has found the strength to walk this world with his eyes open. I have shook free the governmental reigns and cast away the lies. I walk free among a world of ghosts and machines. And after years of searching, I have found meaning in my existence. I have been placed here on your world to help others to find the truth. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is not easy and what you will find is ugly and disturbing. If you can reach that moment of clarity, you will never again be the same man you once were. You will see things in a different light, you will finally see, for the first time. It is like being born again, only this time, you will be born free. Oh shit, there’s my brother.”
“You left the frickin’ mop water sittin’ in the bucket all night again. How many times do I have to tell you to dump it out when you’re done? How hard is that? Mop the floor, rinse the mop, dump the dirty water out back. How complicated is that? And this ain’t the man tryin’ to keep you down, it’s me asking you to do your job. Oh . . . oh . . . OHHHH! Did yellow number five make me this way? Too much fluoride and aluminum? I’m just a puppet, a puppet . . .”
He leans in close, too close. One hand removes his clip on tie and the other slaps me on the shoulder . . .
“I’m talking survival brother, survival. We’ll talk more soon, count on it.”
I really hate when that door slams.
“With or without you . . . WOAH . . . with or without you . . . OOH! . . . Oh shit son, are you still here? God damn bar stool’s got your name on it. See, look, right there, your name, look, look here . . .”
Mother fucker’s got his hands all over me . . .
“Need a drink brother?”
“Yeah, thanx. I’ll get the next round.”
“Sheet! It’s all good. I know you’ll get me back. Ain’t nothin’ but a chicken wing on a string . . . at Burger King.”
I don’t have anything to say to this guy . . .
“Dude, do you remember Hardee’s? What the fuck happened to Hardee’s? They started that whole Black Angus thing a few years back and then just disappeared.”
I’ve wondered about that myself on occasion . . .
“Yeah, I don’t know, I just remember they stopped making their fish sandwich so I quit going there. They went all beef or something. Pretty weird.”
If we aren’t careful, we may just accidentally find ourselves in the middle of a conversation that could change the world. I fear it’s only a short dialogue away . . . I know it’s there, if only we can get this Hardee’s dissertation out of the way. . .
“Do you remember their roast beef? Damn man, just put some barbeque sauce on that shit and only heaven awaits.”
“I remember the ham and swiss. That swiss cheese was fucked up. It was totally liquefied. You tried to unwrap that shit and it was totally pasted in with cheesy goodness.”
“FUCK!! The ham and swiss, you are totally right on. I can’t believe I forgot about that shit. It was like a big ‘ol pill that just dissolved in your mouth. God damn, that was good.”
“I’m hungry. You hungry?”
“Nahh, I’m good. I don’t like to eat when I’m drinking.”
“Then when do you eat? ‘Cause you’re always drinkin’.”
I don’t drink that much.
Reality is so soft in this place. There are ten’s and then ten times that much but it all seems to equal the beginning. Nothing ever gets past where it starts. There are no stupid questions here, only answers that lead to more stupid questions. The clues lead only to the clueless. And if all that seems too deep, then just look to your right, then look to your left and embrace the shallowness that lies within and slap your money down on the bar and kick back just one more before you remember there is something really going on here.
“I think those three people in the back of the bar are talking about killing somebody . . .”
Did I just say that out loud?
I’d look around but I’m afraid I might recognize something . . .
This is not where I brought you. These were not my intentions. You choose to remain lost, how clearly must I clear your path? Should I hold your hand through all this?
I never asked for any of this . . .
But you did.
. . . Remember.
This is indeed a dangerous place to try and learn something. There is nothing simple about this journey. Do you really want to find what you are looking for? I have my doubts about your vision. How clearly do you really see? Don’t you have to run away from something in order to run to something? Is there really a clarity in all this? Are you really naive enough to believe that something is waiting for you? Do you believe? Really believe?
I have about as much faith in your answers as you have in my questions . . .
There is a strange repetition in all this. The swinging doors close slowly, then an abruptness, almost a closure, but still an emptiness that sometimes follows.
And I know there is a tiny something which you think is cause for concern.
And then your concern takes you to a moment that leads you to question what is real.
Try and take comfort in this moment my friend, because yes indeed, all of this, is real.
“You know what else I like? Fuckin’ Cheetos man. Fuckin’ Cheetos.”
“You talking puffs, balls or the old school crunchy kind?”
“Fuck, I like ‘em all, but if I had to choose . . . I’d say the old school crunchy shit. Fuckin’ awesome.”
“Brother, I have to say, I suddenly have a new found respect for you. Crunchy is definitely where it’s at.”
Enough about food already . . .
“Do you see that dude at the end of the bar?”
“What . . . where?”
“No man, over there . . .”
“Yeah, what about him?”
“I was in here the other night, well actually it was the middle of the afternoon, but anyway, I could have swore I heard him talking to the bartender about fucking killing his wife or something. I could just hear bits and pieces but I’m pretty sure that’s what they were talking about. Fucked up man, what do you think?”
“I don’t know brother, better be pretty sure before you say something like that.”
“You know what? Do you have a fucking brother? That dude looks an awful lot like you.”
“I had a brother but he died . . . a long time ago. Who are you talking about? Which guy?”
“Over there . . . look . . . mother fucker could be your twin.”
All I see is the man in red . . .
“I don’t see anybody man, who are you talking about?”
“Right there! Over there . . . the fucking guy at the end of the bar with the black hat and flannel shirt.”
I’m not gonna look . . . no way . . . not tonight . . .
“That dude, shit. Are you fucking blind? I’m telling you man, minus the beard, that could be you.”
Take it all away . . .
Finally, something breaks this . . .
“My friends. How are you doing this today?”
Not yet . . .
“I say, this is nothing more than the finest of evenings.”
“. . . but I have to be honest with you . . . my friends . . .”
“I have been drinking since the day past yesterday. Or the day before today, I cannot remember.”
“Well shit brother, pull up a fuckin’ stool and take a load off.”
I have nothing to offer, only a glance . . .
“Oh my friends, I have something to tell you. It is not, how do you say. . . easy for me. The past few days have been nothing more than a chore for me. I know the Virgin Mary has been watching over me but I have never faced more trials and tribulations than I have these last days before today. It has been. . . how do you say. . . humbling . . . to say the least.”
Sometimes, sometimes it is necessary to break your wings so you can learn to fly again. The pain and the healing can bring you back to a place thought forgotten. Or sometimes, our wings remain broken. And we never fly again.
How can we find the strength to do what must be done? If we are fortunate enough to find the moment of clarity in which we finally understand what must be done, are we ever willing or able to follow through? Isn’t it easier to look away from our responsibilities? Isn’t it easier to remain blind? Not to see . . .
Remember . . .
I do remember. Sometimes. But it always seems to fall away before I can understand. Can something be so broken that it can never be repaired? Can the pieces ever again fit? Yes, I understand, you are broken, but I have been shattered. The fragments are so small and scattered, I doubt they will ever again amount to anything. Might be better off to break the pieces more and try to build something new from the remains. Or it might be better to just walk away, and try to forget what is left lying there.
“I knew it! Mother fucker always has cash. Tries to make everyone think he’s broke so they’ll buy him drinks and feel sorry for him while he’s got a wad of twenties in his pocket. Fuckin’ cheap mother fucker!”
“What do you mean? I have no money. This is not my money, it is for the rent on my mother’s apartment. It is not belonging to me.”
“Bullshit! You pull this crap on me all the time. I buy you drinks all night long and the whole time you have a bunch of cash in your pocket. You know what? Fuck you, you metal listening piece of Spaniard shit! I’ve had enough, I’m washing my hands of you right now!”
“What is it you just called me? You have no right. I will fight you right now. Ohhh, with the Virgin Mary willing, I will beat you right here. I will break those words against your thick American head!”
“IS THAT RIGHT!? Bring it on you fucking free drinking piece of shit spic pimp bitch.”
For whatever reason I feel the need to intervene . . .
“Hey you guys, chill the fuck out. You don’t want to start any shit in this place. I’ve seen that bartender fuck up bigger and badder guys than the both of you. Don’t start no shit in here. You will regret it. This shit is none of my business, I’m just trying to save you some hassle . . .”
“Who, that guy? What the fuck is he gonna do?
“Man, he’s got a club right there under the bar and I’ve seen him use it. He don’t fuck around. This is his place and he takes it very personally when people try to start shit in here. You need to just chill the fuck out, you’re in his house right now.”
I give a glance to my foreign friend and I can see he is having some second thoughts . . .
“Fuck it. I have not been brought to this place on this night to kill you. And that is what may happen. I have not yet lost the control. I am alright. How do you say . . . mellow.”
“You know what? Yeah, that’s right, fuck it. It’s all good. We’re just here to try and have a good time. I’ll tell you one thing though, and leave it at that, you are buying your own drinks from here on out. Simple as that, enough said.”
“That is fine with me my friend. I don’t need your charity. My father and mother give me all I need and I then need nothing more from you. That is all I have to say.”
“Well good . . . shit, fuck it.”
Suddenly it has grown very late, the place is empty except for me and a few silent regrets. The bartender looks to have something on his mind and he is heading my way. Where is this going to lead?
“Hey, I’ve been thinking, can I talk to you for a bit? Run a few ideas by you, see what you think of the whole thing?”
“Sure man, what’s up?”
“You know, business isn’t too bad around here, but I’ve been thinking, it could be a whole lot better. I came up with a couple ideas last week and I want your opinion. You’re in here all the fucking time, almost mistake you for a bar stool some days.”
“Yeah, well, where else can I go for flat watered down drinks, insults and the weirdest fucking clientele I’ve ever come across?”
“ Now why do you have to go and say such things? Here I am, opening up to you, asking your opinion on my business affairs, making you part of things . . .”
“Man, I was just messing around. Go on, what do you have to say?”
The bartender sits in silence, looking like a whipped dog.
“Seriously, I’m sorry, I was just breaking your balls a little bit. Tell me what’s up. Please . . .”
The bartender shoots up straight and leans forward.
“Alright, I’ll tell you.”
“Hang on, shhh. I think I hear something.”
We both look around the room . . .
“I didn’t hear anything. What did it sound like?”
“Shhh. It came from over there . . . right outside the door, by the jukebox.”
I don’t hear or see anything . . .
“Hey, ehh, I hate to bring this up right now, but whenever we figure out what’s going on here, I really need another drink.”
In a whisper . . .
“Do you realize, right here, now, there are forces at work against me?”
Getting louder . . . Face grimacing . . . Contorting . . .
. . . Points a finger in my face.
Finger starts to tremble . . .
“All you can think about is what you want. You need another fucking drink. Let me get right on that shit. Yess massa’, right away massa’ I get your drink massa’, ohhh massa’ please don’t whip me, I’ll be good . . . I’ll do right.”
Are you fucking kidding me?
“There, there’s your fucking drink. If that’s all you care about, then just take it. Ob La di, Ob La Da, life goes on, right?”
“Man, come on with all this. I just ordered a drink . . . in YOUR bar . . . am I really being that out of line? I don’t know what you’re freaked out about, or what you think you heard, but give me a fucking break, huh?”
“Everybody wants something from me.”
“It’s all the same, somebody always wants something. I just don’t know where to go from here. I give you a little and then you take a lot. Over and over . . . it’s always the same.”
“Alright, o.k., what the fuck is going on? I’m through playing games with you, walking on egg shells, always trying to figure out which way you might move next. It’s all bullshit! You always tell me you don’t need this shit, all this aggravation, well guess what? I don’t need this either. You got something to tell me, then tell me. Or else just serve me my fucking drinks and then just leave me alone.”
“Man, why are you getting so bent? We can work all this shit out. Take it easy . . . “
“It’s just that you’re always freaking out on me, I’m just sitting here, minding my own business and then here you come, getting all over me for no fucking reason. I’m just getting sick of it, you understand?”
“Ohhh . . . easy . . . sounds to me like you’re the one who is freaking out. I think somebody needs to take one of these . . .”
The bartender’s outstretched hand cradles a small blue pill. I can read the dirt coloring his palm, his lifeline stained in a way the color won’t wash away.
Don’t you know, I can wash all this away? Take it all away? It doesn’t have to be this way. I promise. It will all end soon, I promise you.
But for now, take comfort in this moment, for this is all that is real my friend. This is all you will know. For now.
. . . And my outrage is clean, like a fire that burns just right . . .
And sometimes we adopt these casualties like they were our own, in the darkest of times, during the only thing we know as real. And finally we struggle to give it away but the most painful of realizations is the moment when we realize this is ours to keep. I will open your eyes to the death of innocence. There is a truth in my anger, an outstretched grasping hand. There is little sympathy in this place, and even less understanding. We are all washed as clean as we can get. But save the dirt and praise tomorrow because it all makes no difference. We make no difference. Yet, we all lead to change . . .
“Get that fucking pill out of my face. I don’t need that shit . . . I self medicate. “
“Alright man, yeah, but I had a point to all this. I had a point . . . what the fuck were we talking about?”
“To which point are you referring? Your thoughts on improving your business or the little green men running around outside, making noise, searching for the mothership?’
A slight bite of the lower lip . . . blankness . . . then suddenly . . .
“Oh yeah, right, the improvements.”
“The improvements. Tell me all about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been thinking. What do you think about dancing girls? Nothing sleazy, no stripping or anything, just girls dancing. . . Dancing girls!”
“In here? Where are you gonna put the pole?”
“No, no, no, not a pole, nothing like that. Just girls dancing.”
“You mean strippers?”
“No, not strippers, just a couple girls dancing, maybe on the tables back there.”
He gestures to his left . . .
“And maybe one over there.”
Gesture to the right . . .
“Just girls dancing, in my bar. Think about it.”
“Dancing girls . . . well shit, I think you might be on to something there. Do you need a permit or anything to have dancers in here?”
“Damn, I don’t think so, just as long as they don’t take their clothes off.”
“So, if they don’t strip, then what is the appeal? What’s the point?”
“People can just sit back and have a few drinks and watch some pretty girls dance. Like go-go dancers.”
“Damn, go-go dancers?”
“Wow, what else were you thinking?”
“That’s right, t-shirts. The bar’s logo on some fucking fruit of the looms. Think about it.”
“That’s not a bad idea, you gonna have the girls wearing the shirts while they are dancing?’
‘OH SHIT!! I hadn’t thought of that. They could have them all tight and shit, tied up in a knot in front . . .”
“So what do you have for a logo?”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t really have anything yet. I’m thinking about it though.”
‘You gotta have a logo brother. Even in a place like this, presentation is everything.”
“You got any ideas? Do you draw at all?”
“No, but I tell you what, I have a friend who just happens to be a graphic designer and I’m sure if I talk with him, he can help you out. Probably give you a good deal too.”
“No shit? That would work. Get him in here, we’ll talk about some shit.”
“Yeah, I’ll run it by him, he’s always up for some freelance work. Especially if there’s girls involved.”
Eyes close . . . head bows . . . now I hear something. I recognize that sound, something just broke. Something had to give. It was only a matter of time. Everything has a point, everything has a destination. Sometimes it takes some time and sometimes it takes no time at all. And what do we have but time, time to wait, time to crawl, time to pray and then no time at all. It all ends soon.
I promise you.