Sunday, August 14, 2005

What Voltaire Said Pt. II

(CONTINUED): When I stopped by the trailer I saw it'd been empty for some time. Weeds were grown-up in the yard, a rusted wagon that'd been left outside barely topped the bluegrass already gone to seed. I walked up to the door, gave a little push, and it swung wide open. Inside the memories flew at me, thick in the air, but what stopped me where I stood were the things: a matchbox car, a little shoe, a book about a cartoon train. All around were cast-off bits of a life that was once mine, that I’d come back to claim, yet in my gut I knew somethin' had gone wrong.

I drove to town, found a phone book, and looked for “McDaniel, Lois.” Nuthin'. I checked under “Harrison,” her maiden name. Nuthin'. I called information, but there was no record, not even a notice that the number was unlisted. I stopped by the city offices and asked the clerk if she knew how I might go about findin' a resident, a family member. I was referred to another office down the hall and then a second, upstairs. In the third office I was asked for some information, including my name and relation. “Husband,” I said. “And she’s my children’s mother.” The man typed for a bit at his computer, then glanced at me and excused himself. When he returned he introduced me to a social worker who led me to another office and closed the door behind her.

“Mr. McDaniel,” she said, “When was the last time you saw your wife and kids?”

“It's been five years,” I answered, looking away from the woman and out the window at the cars moving through the parking lot.

“You haven’t been in contact at all since then? With no one from her family?"

“No,” I replied, tryin' to remember just what it was I thought I’d felt five years ago in that other parking lot, the one at Eastbridge Mall. “Her parents been dead a long time and she’s an only child.”

“I see.” The woman took a short breath. “Mr. McDaniel, I’m sorry to tell you that your wife was killed in an auto accident two years ago.”

It was like fallin' through thick ice into black, frigid water. “I'm sorry?” I said, the words just a reflex, 'cause I knew in an instant that what I'd heard was correct.

“Your wife was a passenger in a vehicle heading eastbound on County Road 9 very early on the morning of June 2. At Beyer Avenue the car veered off the road and struck a bridge abutment. Your wife died at the scene. The driver died two days later in the hospital. His blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.”

I tried to catch my breath. I felt like I was gonna vomit. “My kids?” I asked.

“It says that your wife’s aunt took them in.”

I hadn’t known that Lois had an aunt. “Where’d they go?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. McDaniel, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that. You may wish to speak with a lawyer if you’d like to find out more.”

I ran a cold hand over my face. “Are they nearby?”

The social worker looked over my shoulder, toward the door. A large poster on the wall beside me read, "Be the Bridge." She shook her head slightly.

I stood up and swayed. The fluorescent lights seemed to flicker. I heard the woman say, “I’m very sorry, Mr. McDaniel,” but I was a million miles away.

Now I see those last times so clear. They run through my mind fast, like a movie that’s sped-up. Me burstin’ into the bedroom, Lois swearin’ and wavin’ that gun, that guy tryin’ to hide in the closet. Then I see the food court and Lois’s little fist, the mascara runnin’ down her cheeks. I see those times over and over and I swear I don’t know what it is makes people act the way they do to one another, tearin’ the one’s they love most to little bits. Sometimes it seems somethin’ mean and hateful just settles on a man from the day he’s brought into the world and he can’t tell right from wrong. I’ve heard people say that they have no regrets in life and if they had to do it all over again they wouldn’t change a thing. To me, that kinda talk might as well be from outer space. If I had to do it all over again I’d change most everythin’. Not EVERYTHING, but near enough. Try to make things right. My mama used to say that it was the times that made people behave so hard to one another. It was a sign of the times, she’d say. Well, right now I think I’d like to know some different times. Just some different times is all.

A COUPLE THINGS: I'll be disappearing into the north woods of Minnesota for the next month or so, on the hunt for moonworts and goblin ferns. There's a chance I'll get something up in a couple weeks, but it's likely that the next post won't be until late September. So, have patience, skim the archives, stop back occasionally, and eventually I'll pop up again (hopefully with lots of photos of northern Minnesota).

Also, August 10 marked the one-year anniversary of City of Dust. There's been 73 posts, just a little over one a week. City of Dust was originally supposed to be a photoblog documenting the back alleys of the Central Savannah River Area, USA, but I soon started to add historical information about the places I'd shot. Then I just started to add historical information that I thought was interesting, even if it was barely related to the photos. Then I ran out of photos of the CSRA and started putting up photos from all over the place with any variety of text: song lyrics, fiction, street encounters, and whatever else occurred to me. It's been fun, but I feel like some focus has been lost. I'd really like to get back to photographing decay, abandonment, and lost places. I think City of Dust was strongest when it had a nice, tight focus, as documented in the Photoblogs Magazine feature earlier in the year. So, I'm gonna think about what I want to do over the next month and see where I think City of Dust should go. Not that it really cares what I think. Thanks to everyone that's stopped by and sent me their stories and words of support over the last year. It's really been great to hear from so many people! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What Voltaire Said Pt. I

My mama’s name was Mary and my pa’s was Joseph, but I don’t believe my conception would’ve been immaculate. When I think about it, I imagine that there was some screamin’ and some cryin’. There may have even been a little blood. It’s not healthy for a grown man to think too much about the day he was made, but I admit that I think on it a fair bit and a good deal more than I’d like. In fact, when I consider my parents, or even my childhood, I’m always drawn to that event, an event of which I have no recollection and for which I may or may not have actually been present. Voltaire said that “madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast or of one thing exclusively.” I think that’s ‘bout right. Of course, he also said that “every man is guilty of all the good he did not do” and that’s a load of bullshit. It’d be more accurate to say that every man is guilty of all the good he thought he was doin’. Now, that’s a lesson it might take a man his whole sorry lifetime to learn.

Years back I had a wife, Lois, and two kids, Mikey and Rebecca Ann, and I loved ‘em more than I loved my own life. But I was dogged by somethin’ inside and drinkin’ hard to shut it out. One weekend I was coming back from a run to Clearwater, makin’ good time ‘cause I was poppin’ black beauties to stay awake. I made it into town just after midnight and stopped by the bar to have a few drinks before headin’ home. I remember leavin’ the bar after it closed and climbing into my rig, but I don’t recall much else ‘til I stumbled into the bedroom and saw my old lady in the sack with some other fella. I started yellin’ and screamin’ and Lois started yellin’ back, tellin’ me that I was a drunk and why didn’t I go back to town and find one of my whores. I tell her I’m going to kill the prick she’s with and then I'll slit her throat from ear to ear with my pocket knife. She opens the drawer on the night table, takes out her pistol, and shoots me in the left shoulder. The bullet went in one side, out the other, and into the wall. I remember lyin’ on the floor bleedin’ and watchin’ that other guy, his pants half on, tryin’ to crawl into the closet. See, me and Lois, we was a lot alike, and neither of us would back down from a fight. If I’da been that guy, I’da stood my ground and protected the woman I was with—I’d done so before. Thinkin’ of Lois with a coward like that hurt me more than the hole in my shoulder, and I moaned, “Aw, baby, why?” just before everything went black.

Well, I got fixed up but had to stay away for awhile. It was then that I made a decision. I was finally gonna do somethin’ good, somethin’ that'd hurt me but save the people I loved. I had a friend of mine get ahold of Lois and ask her to meet me at the food court at the Eastbridge Mall. She agreed and on the day we were to meet I put on my best clothes, shaved, and combed my hair just right. I was doing somethin’ important, more important than getting’ a loan at the bank or goin’ to a funeral. This was my family.

We met outside Burger Time and I could tell Lois was excited to see me. She asked me why I was so dressed up, then started talkin’ a mile a minute about what the kids was up to and how her boss was pissin’ her off again. It made the tears well in my eyes to hear her go on like that. Then she started talkin’ 'bout us takin’ the kids campin’ soon. Finally, I had to say, “Lois, I’m not comin’ back.” She put her hand to her mouth. “We’re not buildin’ no kinda life for our kids and they gotta have a chance. I know it’s me that’s the problem. I believe it's best if I go.” Lois started to cry. “But the kids need you,” she said, frowning. “I need you. I know we had some bad times, and this last was the worst yet. But we can work it out. We can be good to each other, maybe get someone to help us. I want you to come home.” She pounded the table with her tiny fist: “I want you to come home now!” I shook my head. “Baby, I’m sorry. I love you and the kids but I just think it’d be best if I wasn’t around.” I started to stand up. “Bastard!” she hissed. “You selfish bastard.” I was afraid she was gonna make a scene and I started to back away from the table. But she didn’t get up, just looked at me, her make-up running down her cheeks. I couldn’t read what was in her eyes: sorrow, fury, fear, hate, or love. As I walked across that hot parking lot outside the mall I thought I’d just done the most noble, strong-hearted thing of my life. I figured that must be true because I hurt so bad I felt like I was gonna die. For a second I turned and looked toward the mall; Lois hadn’t come out yet. I almost went back inside but instead I got in my truck and drove away.

Five years later I was a different man. Things had gotten rough and I’d learned a good deal. I‘d fought myself some and studied on the battles of other men. Finally, I thought I’d earned some love and came seeking the forgiveness of my family. I didn’t know that what I’d need—what I’d spend the rest of my life lookin’ for—would be forgiveness from myself. (CONTINUED)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Tub Shanty

I've developed a pilonidal cyst. I'll spare you the gory details, but part of my treatment is soaking in warm water and trying to drain the puss and goo out of a small hole in my lower back. Swell. As a grown man, sitting in a tub makes me feel like a chump. To boost my morale, I've composed a shanty to sing while soaking. Now, with some bubble bath, my favorite toy boat (HMS The Congaree Queen), and some rum, things aren't so bad. So, I thought I'd share my shanty with everyone. I apologize for its length, but I have to soak for long stretches. I also apologize for some of the expletives, but I've heard that life at sea can get a bit coarse and I wanted the song to be authentic. Without further ado, ahoy!

The Captain stumbled up to me; Said, “Aye, my lad, we’re fucked; The first mate, he’s been keel-hauled; The lieutenant’s gone off drunk; The hold is full of water; And the mast’s gone by the boards; So, now’s the time to kneel down; And pray out to the Lord!”

‘Cause we’re goin’ down! Goin down! We’re goin’ down! Goin’ down! We’re looking for the shoreline; But there’s water all around. We’re goin’ down! Goin down! We’re goin’ down! Goin’ down! Without some kind of miracle; The men will all be drowned.

I ran along from stem to stern; And a bell rang on the deck; Somebody yelled, “The Captain’s dead!”; So I went down to check; There below the Captain hung; His wings all shorn and clipped; “What a fuckin’ way,” I screamed; “To go down with the ship!”

‘Cause we’re goin’ down! Goin down! We’re goin’ down! Goin’ down! The men all jumping overboard; And no hope to be found. We’re goin’ down! Goin down! We’re goin’ down! Goin’ down! Wind and fear and blood and brine; The ocean’s ghastly shroud.

On for days and days we tossed; So many I lost count; Around me there lay dying men; But I dare not look about; From each great wave, we’d bottom-out; And then another swell; I heard a voice beside me moan; “Dear God, this ship’s in Hell!”

I opened my eyes and swore I saw; A strand up through the rain; But without no food or water; I was sure I’d gone insane; But, no, I spied a tattered man; There standing on the beach; A crowd came forward and then they roared; As he began to preach:

“There you see a frigate smashed; With one lone man aboard; In due time he’ll find this beach; Or be dash’d upon the shore; Let’s stay a bit and watch him come; Perhaps throw him a rope; But if at last the ship it sinks; We might as well go home.”

‘Cause he’s goin’ down! Goin down! He’s goin’ down! Goin’ down! “He’s sailed ‘cross many miles; Just to run a-ground.” He’s goin’ down! Goin down! He’s goin’ down! Goin’ down! “There’s cadavers in the crow’s nest; And a corpse there swingin’ ‘round.”

‘Cause he’s goin’ down! Goin down! He’s goin’ down! Goin’ down! “There may be one more corpse to swing; So let’s all gather ‘round; There’s one last soul upon that ship; Who prays that he’s been found!”