1. The Smothers
Brothers’ slang meaning “I set the scene, now
it’s your turn.”
the Naked Bacon?" he asked. "It's
uh, when people get naked and like roll around
on the ground like they're having an epileptic
fit and shit."—Jake, modern-day American
hobo, as reported by Paul Demko
3. Seize the
moment, take the opportunity, turn the situation
matter how hard you try, everything you do goes
way awry. Sometimes, this is due to someone else
lending a strong hand to the other side. Sometimes,
you can pinpoint the exact moment when it all
turned bad, and you can impotently watch it in
your mind over and over in slow motion. And sometimes,
you might wonder why you didn’t muster your gumption
and wrestle it all back.
Some people do
just that. But an awful lot just don’t, preferring
to cry over a beer or be swept along or bitch
about it until it loses all meaning.
This is the world
I first met Jeremiah
one night after a little spat with my girl over
whether leaving a 75 kilowatt bulb on for a year
really uses 11 gallons of oil and thus helps
the terrorists, or whether turning it on and
off causes the filament to expire sooner, heightens
the risk of electric shock or possibly a fire,
and thus poses a more immediate and tangible
danger to the people who are real to us, or whether
the whole thing’s moot and we should just have
sex by candlelight, which naturally led to a
heated discussion over who makes candles and
whether they’re exploited children in third-world
countries or machines that replace American labor.
Well, let’s just say as it all turns out, any
points valid or not were obviated by her hanging
up on me and my going out back to smack around
some empty beer bottles with a baseball bat.
Nice thing about
beer-bottle baseball is it feels real good, plus
sooner or later you run out of empties and have
to make more. Nasty thing is you gotta clean
it up sooner or later, else you end up with glass
embedded in inexplicable places and held there
with clotted blood, and you usually don’t remember
about that part until you wonder where all the
damn cuts came from. Also, it sometimes makes
sober unsympathetic neighbor-folk call the cops.
Anyway, I was
out back trying to pace myself, as I didn’t want
to pass out drunk making empties before I’d gotten
myself to feeling better about our little discussion
and beyond being able to screw that girl and
I back into the pre-argument state of the relationship,
when one of the bottles made way more clatter
than a proper empty should.
I figured I’d
go see what it was in case it was one of those
things that tells me I’m not as clear-headed
as I think, so I headed back to the alley.
There was a guy
there, rooting through my garbage. He had the
requisite dirty plaid flannel layers, the torn
pseudo-khaki cotton pants, the pissed-on half-worn-through
boots, the Vet cap, and the cum- or tobacco-stained
beard of one of those alley rats you see all
the posters about. You know, those ones from
the government telling you to use a certain kind
of garbage can, and then telling you to keep
it closed, like decent folk needed to send in
their money to ensure that all that is properly
“HEY!” I said.
He started to
leave, but I saw he’d taken an old birdcage from
my garbage, so I inquired again, “WhayouDOin,
He emitted a high,
whiny, raspy sound: “Imtakinyouwonthis!”
I cringed, but
walked closer, in order to facilitate our communication.
“Dude, what is
He started to
hurry off again, so I decided to ask for my birdcage
back before he got too far with it. He told me
I could most certainly have it for one dollar.
So I countered him: “HEY! Thas already mine!”
in what proved to be his whiny raspy way, about
the mechanics of American capitalism, which he
posited to be the best system in the world, as
well as some legal issues like habeas corpus
and possession and such, and the duty of a Christian
to do charity. I thought about his argument,
talked him down to a quarter, took the birdcage,
and invited him back for a beer. He seemed like
good people, and smart, too, but he came back
just the same.
It was a nice
evening, little crisp, but clear, just the kind
of night for a little sit-down and maybe some
whiskey. I began by telling him about how stupid
my girlfriend was, as that’s always a nice icebreaker,
and tried to elicit his opinion on the light
bulb issue. He skirted it all by inquiring as
to the nature of my purpose that fine evening.
So I elucidated further on the fruitless discussion
my girl and I’d had, and tried to explain the
therapeutic benefits of beer-bottle baseball.
I noticed he kind of cowered and grabbed for
my birdcage whenever I swung the bat around to
illustrate a point, so I decided to toss the
bat over closer to the house. He kind of jumped
again when it cracked off some siding, but then
I’d already seen what a jumpy little fuck he
was, so that didn’t really worry me. I’m the
sort that’s a hospitable host.
He was just standing
there all stupid and looking at me, which caused
me to realize that I was remiss in my duties.
So I told him to take a seat and get himself
comfortable, while I tried to locate the promised
beer. I fished around the yard some, cussing
whenever I encountered a shattered empty. Then
I remembered how I’d put the stash by the garage
so I’d know where it was, and I got him one from
I’ll be damned
if that fucker didn’t swallow it all down like
a cornered jailbird, lending more credence to
my theory about the contents of his beard. But
that didn’t bother me, to each his own and all,
and I rapidly procured for him another now that
I knew where it all was. We commenced a pattern
of him chugging and me procuring, and then he
finally slowed down and seemed to really relax.
I didn’t have
to try to come up with topics for civilized conversation—he
just plum started right in on whatever was on
his mind. I felt the stroke of flattery that
all good hosts do once their guests are at ease,
and so I just sat on back and listened.
Now Jeremiah had
a special way of talking where I didn’t always
know exactly what he was saying, and I never
could get his name, but I could usually catch
the gist of the conversation. So I just called
him Jeremiah, after that song about the bullfrog
and the wine. He kept referring to me as Jim
or Bob or Ted, although none of those are my
name, but that was all right. I’m not one to
be critical about things of that nature.
So Jeremiah started
telling me all about his life and times. Now,
like I said, he wasn’t the most comprehensible
storyteller, but his story, as I gathered it,
He was in the
Marines in World War II. He flew a plane, so
maybe he was actually in the Air Force or something,
but I don’t keep up on all that, as all I know
is that my dad was 4-F or a student or something
during Nam and my grandpa was estranged, and
it really never came up for me. After all, it
is the duty of the fathers to impart this stuff
to their sons, is it not? Anyway, he had this
girl in high school who everybody figured he’d
marry, and he figured it too, but he didn’t really
have any particular passion for her. She was
his girl and all, but it was more like she was
his Saturday night squeeze than anything, and
he never popped her cherry or got anywhere with
her. So he went off to war, and she wrote him
for awhile and then she stopped. At first he
was fine with it, and hookers abounded, so while
he didn’t pop any cherries, he did all right.
But then one day what started out as a little
itch, a little discomfort, turned into a horrendous
situation. He found out he had some disease,
maybe gonorrhea or leprosy, and his dick started
to rot off. Take a moment to fully appreciate
the facts of the case: His fucking DICK rotted
Anyway, even though
she had stopped writing him, he had come more
and more to appreciate the value of a virgin.
So when he got back, he had his mind firmly set
that he wanted this pure, honorable girl, because
maybe then nobody’d know about his dick and he
could have some sort of normal life. He found
her, beat up the guy she was dating, and persuaded
her to marry him. On their wedding night he drank
a shitload, thinking that would either help his
cause or else he could beg off. I thought this
was actually quite clever, as I had read somewhere
that over 60% of all marriages are not consummated
on the wedding night. So it was their wedding
night, he was drunk off his ass, and he was thinking
maybe it’s all still there and everything is
going to be all right. I mean, the lust was there,
just not the Johnson. They were in the honeymoon
suite, he’d made off with it all, and he was
all full of vigor and bloated balls. He grabbed
his virtuous victim and with no decorum whatsoever,
threw her on the bed, ripped her clothes off,
and started trying to get his nub in her. She
was screaming like crazy, but he didn’t care.
He pushed, then he stopped. It turned out she
wasn’t a virgin. And she was screaming about
her dress. It turned out she thought she’d got
knocked up, but she wasn’t sure by WHOM, and
that’s why she married him.
At this point
in his storytelling, Jeremiah was in a rather
frothy state, so I recommended we commence the
whiskey course. Since he was wet all over and
crying, I took the liberty of assuming he was
agreeable and slipped into my abode to grab the
ubiquitous bottle of Jack.
Upon my return,
I noticed he had a photo album out, and he was
drooling snot all over it.
“Dude,” I offered
gently, “Dude, that’s harsh.”
He took the bottle,
and I mean he took the bottle like it was that
long lost innocent bride. It was obvious that
the hitherto untouched held great meaning for
him. I admonished him to show a little tenderness,
and finally he abated.
I took a good
long swig myself, grateful for Big Bad John,
and thought about my girlfriend’s ass.
stopped leaking and whimpering and began feeling
loquacious again. After the commotion of the
wedding night, with disappointment abounding
on all sides, a bit of a truce emerged. By largely
mute and mutual consent, they tolerated each
other for awhile and found the springtime of
their love in outdrinking each other and passing
out in doorways with packed bags, awakening too
hungover to continue the action. This didn’t
last too long, as in short time she thickened
around the middle and it became apparent that
she really had been pregnant, and she pumped
out exactly the kind of son Jeremiah always wanted:
strong, healthy, and whole-dicked. He loved this
boy. The boy loved him. The wife was a drunken
harlot, but at least nobody produced any more
issue. They continued on, albeit with markedly
less alcohol, and gradually he learned he was
a casualty of that situation wherein one finds
love based on the reliance of another’s keeping
one’s secret, a love based on despondent circumstances.
I said, “Dude,
don’t they have surgery or something?”
And he replied
something about the Stockholm syndrome.
So I decided to
change the subject, but I believe at this point
I truly was touched by this harrowing account
of events, and the whiskey, because I stupidly
asked, in reference to the album, “Whatcha got
was pictures. A blurry shot of a small fry with
a lady. A picture of a lad in a suit standing
next to a DeSoto. A shot of a clean-looking young
man in a uniform. A photo of a stunning brunette
with a big red-lipped smile. A whole lot of dressed-up
uncomfortable-looking folk at a wedding. Another
blurry shot of a small fry with a lady. A photo
of a smiling dark-haired man with an empty carton
of beer that had a laughing baby in it instead.
A ton of pictures of a blonde burr-headed youth
with and without a bicycle and a puppy. Same
youth with a birthday cake, and a smiling brunette
bombshell squeezing him between her breasts.
Same youth standing in shorts and a white shirt
holding a book bag in front of a white house.
It was his life,
“Sho, wha happen?”
the whiskey asked.
The blonde burr-headed
ill-produced offspring, it callously seemed,
met with a calamitous incident involving a three-martini
lunch coupled with an after-school bike ride.
Jeremiah and his slut-wife persevered for awhile
in their mutual grief, but ultimately she disappeared
in a drunken haze a couple decades back. He showed
me one last shot in his album: a tan heavyset
fifty-ish woman in a yellowed white bikini, holding
a cocktail, a cigarette, and a cabana boy. That
was the last photo he had of her, and the one
he held most dear. That was the way they finally
were, and the way they finally learned to love
each other as they were, down in Florida somewhere,
near as I could tell.
“Jesus,” I commented,
and offered him the last bit of whiskey.
He shook his head—it
was his birthday, and he wanted to spend some
time with it before it left.
I looked down
the alley after him a long time. I thought about
all the stupid arguments me and my callipygian
girlfriend had had, and wondered about them.
A lot of them were insipid. I thought about calling
her and agreeing with her on our aforementioned
topic of discussion, but it suddenly also seemed
to me that life was too short and precious and
valuable for that sort of thing.
matter how hard you try, everything you do goes
way awry. Sometimes, by letting things happen,
they work out OK. Sometimes they really, really
don’t. Sometimes, you have to take hand in your
I concluded. I tossed the birdcage back into
the garbage, picked up the bat and the now-empty
whiskey bottle, and hit it for a home run.