by William Michaelian
Lord, thereís nothing like getting up at dawn after breaking your back on a rotten mattress in a flea-bag motel. You limp to the nearest coffee shop with your eyes half shut, praying for decent coffee and a waitress willing to smile, but you get diesel and a batty man-hater who blames you for her last divorce. Like, I canít be everywhere at once, Missy, go lean on someone elseís horn.
Iíll tell you whatís wrong with the world. Just give me a minute. I need my coffee first. And then I need to hit the road. Thereís a lot of shit out there, and I aim to see it. Weird cats camping under dented tin roofs with the sun baking down in the middle of cactus country. I see wires, so they must have juice. They probably have computers. Hell, theyíre CEOs for all I know, running their puny empires by remote control. Except those kind of people donít like the heat, because they know theyíll get plenty of it later on ó after. Or the ones I see mowing their damn lawns on the quiet streets of Happytown, U.S.A. Idiots. Plant a tomato, for Godís sake. There are enough cemeteries as it is. Grow a damn carrot. Eat. Live. Back and forth, back and forth, first the fertilizer, then the weed-killer, then the mowing, over and over and over. I got bugs! Lord, help me, I got bugs.
Speaking of bugs, last night I had a guest. But I squashed it. I was wondering what those splotches on the wall were. Now I know. And then out into the parking lot, the sun not quite up, paradise. Another day on the highway. Another day to call my own. To count my money three times, just to be sure, thinking Thursday, itíll have to be Thursday, if I live that long, which I will, because God ainít through with me yet, I give him too much entertainment. I will work. I will wield my trusty hammer. I will build something or tear it down. Paint a fence, mop my brow, be polite, smile at the kids, wave, and be gone. Or something like that. Something poetic I can play on my guitar. And howl at the moon with a warm pint pinned between my legs on a lonesome back road.
If you need a reason to live, I got a dozen of íem. The first is, you only get one chance. Second, you owe it to yourself. Number three, you owe it to the world, even if the world doesnít know it. Fourth, living is the only way to find out anything. Five, you never know what you will find out. Who knows? It might even be the answer. Six, somewhere in the deep dark night, someone is waiting for you. Seven, someone has got to tell the bastards to go to hell, and youíre just the person to do it. Eight, youíre a genius, whether you admit it to yourself or not. Nine, someoneís got to keep track of whatís going on. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded ó that sort of thing, but on a cosmic scale. Or a comic scale. You be the judge. Ten, if you decide against it, the rest of us get the last laugh. Eleven, who you are matters. It doesnít matter the way you think it matters, but it still matters. And twelve, I need all the damn help I can get.
How I got here is an interesting story. My daddy was a drunk. For the first ten years of my accidental life, I rattled around with him in his old pickup. The only place we went to was the bar ó any bar. He knew íem all. So did I, because when I got tired of sitting outside in the heat, Iíd go in after him. I swear, the faces I saw in there, I will never forget. All together, they were the sad happy pathetic free shackled miserable lonely victorious blind brotherhood of man, and I loved them. And the women. Some were hard as nails, others wanted to be my mother. My daddy knew them, too. Bless his pickled heart.
I guess what happened is, I got stung ó not by booze, so much, though Iíve certainly guzzled my share, but by the open road. If youíve never been in flat country, youíre missing out. There are roads out there that do not bend until Mother Earth takes them over the horizon and rocks them in her cradle. I know, because we followed them. And stood in the hot sun thumbing a ride because we were fresh out of tires. Keep moving, my daddy said, or the buzzardsíll getcha. Every stick, every weed, and every damn beer can was more real than real. The dry air turned our elbows and heels to leather. It even made me think the shade was wet.
And then, just like that, he was gone. My mom and I buried him, with the help of his sister, Louise, and Louiseís husband, Fred. I tell you, that was the oddest moment in my life, hearing those dry clods landing on my old manís casket. It was like he was inside, knocking to get out. The rest of the day, we ate cake and drank lemonade and sat. What am I gonna do, Mom said, what am I gonna do? Well, woman, youíre gonna do the same damn thing youíve always done. Youíre gonna get up in the morning and go to work, because we still gotta eat. Thatís what youíre gonna do. Nobody said that, of course. But everybody knew, including me. As for what I was going do, Iíd already made up my mind. I wasnít going to die. I would live forever, even if it killed me.
Funny thing is, it just about has ó many times. Thatís the thing about life. Itís a killer. But when youíre twelve or fourteen or sixteen, you donít know that. When youíre that age, youíre invincible. When youíre that age, you hold your hand up in front of your face and you say, Behold, Lord, this is my flesh, there ainít nothiní you can do to take it away from me, and piss on Sunday school.
The other funny thing is that Iíve also died many times. At least I was sure of it at the time. Or maybe I was just wishing for death, because I was tired or defeated or hung over, or lonely or rich or broke, or so damn delirious I didnít know what I was doing. Because, as it turned out, I didnít stay sixteen. Pretty soon I was eighteen, then twenty, then twenty-nine, and the face in the gas station mirror looked like a country song gone bad.
Two wives and three kids later, I knew Iíd made a mistake somewhere. Each of my girls begged me to settle down. Each of them tried. And so did I. I just didnít try long enough or hard enough. Six months doesnít count. Neither does six years. Youíre either in it for the long haul, or youíre a selfish bastard who doesnít give a shit. And that goes even when youíre bouncing a pretty little daughter on your knee, or reading a bedtime story to a blue-eyed boy whoís your spitting image.
I left anyway. Thatís my official statement. Because I didnít know then what I know now. And when I tried to go back, their mamas wouldnít have me. They wouldnít even let me in. And so I told them to go to hell and headed for the road, my one true salvation. All I had was my hammer and saw, and my tape measure and level. And my foolish pride. But you know what? That pride served me well. It enabled me to look people in the eye. Nowadays, thatís pretty much a lost art. I never cheated anyone, either. But I could have, and quite a few times should have. As I see it, the way some people treat you, they deserve to be cheated ó but by someone else.
A little at a time, I hammered my way all over the West. Between jobs, I remembered my daddy at the local bar, or bought a bottle and sat out under the stars. I made friends with women by telling them straight out that I was worthless and didnít have one damn thing to offer. The truth had a strange effect on them. They thought I was Jesus come down to earth. And I said, Love, the only difference is, Jesus was a better carpenter. Later, when they found out I couldnít set them free, they skedaddled.
One ripe dawn, I climbed up on a mountain that looked out over the mighty Pacific Ocean. For a good five minutes, I stood there shivering and thinking. Okay, I said. Enoughís enough. Iím tired. Iím forty-eight years old. What have I got to show? I drive a dented rust-bucket. I donít have a bank account, or insurance, or even an address. I donít pay taxes. My father and mother are both dead. My family either hates me, or has forgotten me. If I die right here and now, nobody will know and nobody will care. What does it mean? And then I heard a voice. It might have been Godís, but I doubt it, because it sounded too much like my own. And do you know what that voice said? It said, Good morning, Pete. Welcome to your life. Well, I just had to laugh. And Iíve been laughing ever since. See these tears running down my face? Laughter. See the lines here, here, and here? Laughter.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Itís been fifty-nine years since my last confession. Please keep in mind, this is only my first installment. Give me your tired, your poor, and your severely downhearted. Lift up your eyes and look at the sun. Okay, now close them. Thereís your answer. All you have to do now is ask the question. Ask, and ye shall receive ó more than you know, more than you can imagine.
William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.