White T-Shirts, Faerie Princess and Dead Grass
Blissed-out New Age Christian women wearing matching white t-shirts had occupied the Bryant Street overpass, holding paper signs of goodwill against the chainlink suicide barrier. Primary colors screamed Be Happy!, eliciting one lonely horn from the snarled parking lot of I-5 a smashed skull below. Their kids had called it a day and were splayed out across my path assaulting coloring books. They don’t teach law and order or lines or awareness of others at home school. I hopped off my bike to walk it.
This sect of hugs not drugs fouling my path was overseen by a solitary male, also in a matching white t-shirt but clearly not drinking the same Kool-Aid as everyone else. He paced across the narrow caged walkway screaming over the phone at fellow Be Happy! ambassadors who had failed to arrive. Spreading cheer and goodwill is serious business.
On the far side of the causeway a white van was parked, vandalized with construction paper shapes and Love Life scrawled across the side in bouncy lettering. I checked the bumper for anti-abortion stickers or other religious hatred. Nothing. Nothing inside but Cheerios and cookie crumbs and the dazed air of people who feel good for a living. I wanted to be annoyed and offended.
* * *
Otto, you sonofabitch, let me in. Otto wouldn’t leave his pillow. Wayne! Wayne! Open the fucking window! Wayne batted at my finger and licked the pane. Cats are useless creatures. So are my friends. I’d come to grill fifty cent oysters and the bastards were running late. At least I’d had the presence of mind to stop for beer on the way over.
Drinking was popular. A couple guys in dresses and body glitter were across the street committing acts of theater on The Old Lady’s steps. It was here, it was right here. It happened right here, on these steps. I swear to god! Eyes were shielded from the afternoon sun to better see where it happened. Arms traced wide arcs through the sky to convey the gravity of what had happened. Someone not wearing a dress or body glitter entered from stage left to remind them that serious cirrhosis was to be had further down the stereo, then led them stumbling and slipping and babbling out of view.
When the coast was clear The Old Lady who lives where it happened, right here, snuck outside to beat rugs all over the steps where it happened, right here.
Cars stopped for the light, then drove on. The Old Lady finished her chores and returned to the dark solitude of her dying years. A couple meatheads in backwards baseball caps, gold chains and one pair of sunglasses with the tag attached made their way slowly up the street, hamstrung by sagging jeans. Some serious shit just went down and they’re busy relieving a moment of glory. Their manhood was endangered by men in dresses and body glitter, but masculinity was preserved against extraordinary odds. God they would hug each other if that wasn’t so totally gay. When they reach the old lady’s house I stand very still, trying to blend into the porch or fade into the window Wayne is still licking. I don’t want people asking me for cigarettes or beer or trying to bond with me over casual homophobia.
Half a block behind the Aftershave Twins comes a quiet sniffling. A skipped step. A stumble. A broken harp string. Snowflake tears. I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it. A Faerie Princess stumbled into view, not across the street but at the foot of the steps I was standing above. The men in dresses and body glitter had rolled out of bed, hit the pipe and threw on whatever dress wasn’t stained with puke. The Faerie Princess had spent hours in front of the mirror preening and combing and carefully applying make-up, selected the perfect outfit which had been ironed the night before and gone out into the world. But the sun had frayed perfect locks, and now tears smeared mascara. I held my breath and wished myself invisible. He didn’t see me. He didn’t see anything in that haze of misery and noontime drinking and pills and lunacy. How could they? I can’t believe it. The Faerie Princess was dragged up the hill on splintered limbs, at the mercy of a cruel puppeteer.
My head, my terrible head, constructed a scenario. The Aftershave Twins had just survived an altercation with men in dresses. I checked the Faerie Princess for signs of trauma but saw no black eyes, no split lip, nothing beyond the chemically induced emotional tailspin. An emotional tailspin brought upon by misplaced affection, a prince charming dishing out domestic abuse? The sniffling and confused mutterings disappeared up the block and I waited, straining to hear any sign of confrontation, epithets, a crunch of cartilage. My stomach tightened into a ball of cheap beer. I don’t want to get involved. Please don’t make me get involved. But I’m the only one here. If not me, then no one.
I sit. I listen. I hear nothing but passing cars.
* * *
The House of Dead Cats issues visas to Americans, but not their neighbors who aren’t allowed to park in front of their dwelling without getting an earful. No surprise there, Americans get whatever the fuck they want and the patriarch does mow lawns and clean gutters and spend five hours vacuuming out cars for money.
He’d just finished such chores and was heading back across the street while I happened to be out front:
American: How’s it going?
Me: It’s alright. How are you?
American: Hah! That’s funny.
American: You guys fought and mowed and fought and mowed and now it’s all dead.