Last May (after being dapperly drunk for the previous 8 years) novelist David Von Behren endeavored to go 40 days sans sipping an alcoholic beverage...he made it 38.5 days before gloriously capitulating in craft beer defeat...this January he's giving up a lot more...
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
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
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:
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