Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day 34: He arrives to work an hour early to do stairs

He arrives to work an hour early to do stairs.

In another lifetime he could be John Henry, thick bones, six-foot six, eyes that look like caricatured cue-balls ferrying heavy sadness and loss. He arrives an hour early to do stairs. Quoting bible verses with decimals about shepherds and lights and a Kingdom that somehow is to come as he vertically clambers the chamber of slants at the stairwell where he works, launching the pedals of his anatomical girth into the layered rungs below him.

He arrives an hour early to do stairs.

 He can tell you all about Cabrini Green in the late 80’s, how he played center for Chicago King in the public league and how it was his ticket out and how he blew up because all he was was a gummy bear trapped inside this large body. How he couldn’t get to class on time. How the Vice Lords hooked him up with his first hit of crack, chalky, like grade school calcium, taking intermittent red-eyed hits before hitting the corner, drinking malt liquor out of a brown paper bag.

“Man, I could’ve been an NBA center or at least gone to college for free.” He extolls his own body, before talking about crack, which he calls rocks, speaking about it as if he minored in geology, talking about how it was ubiquitous, how it was more readily available then solid plumbing in the Chicago public housing in the early ‘80’s.   

He’s had years of abuse. Years of financial straggling. Years of failure. The caps of his knees are the size of twin softballs and one night, after a binge, he capitulated, he down on his knees, tears bleeding from wither his brow or his socket, acknowledging to something inscrutable that he felt was in the room with him at that moment that he just can’t do it on his own anymore.

And he arrives to work an hour early to do stairs.

One night after coming back from doing stairs his A chip fell out of his pocket, like he was making a wish in an empty well of promises called life. The chip had a pyramid and the first letter of the alphabet repeated twice in capital letters adorning one side. The chip had the mantra ‘One day a time,’ and a quote by Shakespeare on the converse about to thy own self being true.

His co-workers are twenty years younger. After work they go out and get hammered and fall down and buy alchemical shots of alcohol mingled with energy drinks and sleep with women they have naked pictures of in their phones, holding their phones out like highlighted passages in a Gideon bible, telling each other that they hit that shit last night. They laugh at the side of the coin. One makes a joke about tossing the coin up in the air and calling heads, tails or drunk. 

When the coin falls out he is carrying a bag of spinach and a bag of baby carrots because he has made a new year’s resolution to eat right.  He smiles at his co-workers’ banter. He ignores their taunts. On Saturday night he goes down to a building with a neon cross down on Adams with the Words JESUS SAVES forming an acrostic in the center of the plus sign He speaks with people are homeless. He tells them his story. He prays with them, closing his eyes, looking up at the ceiling with his eyes closed, looking up at the ceiling with his eyes crunched closed, his think fingers splayed atop stranger’s heads like a yamaka made out of thumbs, blessing the person, asking the inscrutable force he calls God to avails his bountiful grace.

He’ll be fifty next year and he will tell you himself that it took him half a century to feel this young and have this much promise in his life.

And he arrives to work an hour early to do stairs.


She worked in the library getting her master’s in education while her husband was off fighting a war no one they knew believed in. He never sent e-mails. He never wrote letters. When he did contact her it was usually about money. They both got married when they 25. She was bubbly. A big girl. She had big boobs. She always had a smile tattooed above her chin. She had blonde hair and dimples and a husband who proposed to her then went off to fight a war no one understands.

When her husband came back they were strangers. You would see them at the Chinese buffet shoveling heaps of bartered lard on their tray. He was always aloof. You could tell that he didn’t like when she talked to people of the opposite sex. He looked like them the way he was oriented to look at other species sharing this planet who wore a turban instead of a football helmet.

 He looked at them as the enemy.


They moved to California. She taught English in inner city schools. They went to marriage counseling.  He didn’t like working in that vector of town. Callled all her students niggers. Said he didn’t like her teaching them niggers. They were already on public aid. They were already sopping up enough of his taxes.

Finally after two years she left him. She left her body. Stepped out of her old self like stepping out of a Babushka doll or a sarcophagus. She started running. She started lifting pink weights while listening to motivational videos. She became a vegan. In two months she lost fifty pounds. She became a different person. When the writer whom she was friends with when  she worked at the library saw a picture of her on facebook he hardly recognized her. She kept her boobs. She blossomed into the body that was somehow always there.


When the writer sends her a message, tells her that being involved in literary fiction we are always  looking to invest in a protagonist whom you can register a palpable change on a neurological level and boy, does she fit the caliber of a person vaulting over tumult enacting positive change in one’s life. She sends me back a poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca:

"...I continually find myself in the ruins
of new beginnings,
uncoiling the rope of my life
to descend ever deeper into unknown abysses,
tying my heart into a knot
round a tree or boulder,
to insure I have something that will hold me,
that will not let me fall."..

A year later she gets married again to a stud. Her wedding is at Yosemite park.

She asks me if I could send her a poem on love they could read in the ceremony.

I address her as sister.

I tell her sister, it would be an honor.
After the inopportune death of her husband she found herself all alone in the world with two kids and a house full of Disney movie toys, she’ll joke later, that the reason she never thought her son was gay because he chose, ‘Buzzlight year over Woody.’ She worked menial jobs. She babysat the kids across the street. She volunteered as a girl scout leader. The house was always full of kids bearing summer Kool-aid moustaches.
When the kids are at school she unwinds by going on long aimless drives, chain-smoking across the dun-flavored chess board of the Midwest after harvest through a stubble of corn husks, a ploughed field enveloping into the tingling peach of the eastern horizon.
When her writer friend resuscitated the blog where he writes about going without she decided to join him even though he never asked her to. The first time since she was 13 she goes a month without a cigarette. She goes cold-turkey on caffeine. She sacrifices up dairy, no more spicy bricks of habanero cheese or farm fresh eggs for six weeks.  She starts cooking vegan. She’s never purchased a pack of Tofu in her life. It turns out she can do things with Tofu that should be illicit. When the writer decides to delve into Indian philosophy, chatting about chakras and water-fasts she discreetly joins him, going five days as well. She lost weight, notably. She looks good. Her parents who are in their 70’s and lost everything they own to the Tornado tells her that they are proud of her.
Later she will tell her writer friend that she is down to pre-pregnancy weight. That the last time her body registered these digits on the bathroom scale was 23 years ago.
The writer smiles. He misses coffee. He misses cold beer. He thinks about his co-worker pushing his body up the slats of stairs ushering a sweat. He thinks about his friend in California who became a completely different person after she left her husband, He thinks about going on a long drive this country road and cracking open a beer in the passenger seat, chasing the sunset, never knowing when to stop, wanting to fall into the overhead ribbons of a winter sunset, the winter that never seems to end, snow melting in charcoal gobs like lead from melted pencils forming gravy puddles on the side of the road.
It spring, baby, we still have so much more yet to say.


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