II

II

A Chapter by HighBrowCulture

Why this memory and why Charleston is still beyond me.  But Charleston would have been proud.  He always took a sucrose liking to Sully.  You see Sully was the kind of balm-faced boy he expected to catch sitting under my awning in a pin-striped Polo and beltless pre-torn jeans citing Tucker Max.  Or maybe the type of kid who was Spartan at everything on the pitch- baseball, surfing, Parkour, biochemistry, viola.  Or that kind of angular guy who garnered audiences during Happy Hour because he spoke in Merlot and drooled bon vivant.

But he wasn’t. 

Perhaps at one time or another Sully was or could have been all of the above, but Sully no longer meddled in trends.  He chose to be an outlier.  The why to that only I really know. 

For Charleston it was simply a matter of Sully treating him like a human being just because.  Nothing less.  Nothing more.

Had I told Charelston right then and there that this was the memory Sully landed on, he would have said something like-

            “Sully, is it true!?”

            “What?”

            Vanilla froth forms cotton fields around the rims of Charlie’s flower pot nostrils.  He picks it off with his sleeve.

            “You dropped out of college?”

            Sully doesn’t like to talk about himself.  He edges away and eyes the coffee machine as it hacks up grated sounds like a nail against a copper wire. 

            “Well, is it?”

            “So it is.”

            “Why’d you-”

            “I just did.”

            Here’s one reason why.

            Three months, four days, three hours in, twenty-nine minutes ago, over a span of one second in five human-less digital words, Sully was crushed into blown powder by a pestle of a powder room dame who no longer found his lyrics enthralling, his paprika humor amusing, or his beatnik body sexually potent. 

‘I can’t do this anymore.’ she told him casually in a text message.  He crushed his phone and crawled down the sidewalk with his ball and chain and piss bags for tear ducts.

            I remember her reason why.  She told it to what she would call a close friend and what I would call wall putty for self-inflicted drunk bruises.

            ‘He’s just-’ She began over a low-calorie vanilla mocha while squirming around in the same booth she used to sit at with Sully.  ‘He’s not who I thought he would be.’ 

What she thought he would be, of course, was mounted on what she’d been taught to expect out of a man from Hollywood basements and Lady Gaga songs.  She preferred, as did the commercials and consumer industry, the dud who wore baggie pants from Hot Topic that cost forty-five sheets of processed tree pulp in America and only three sheets of processed tree pulp in Indonesia where children were tube-fed dreams of dancing to hip hop on Broadway if they stitched trend-setting pants.

            Nash’s Equilibrium: All is fair in exploitative idealism.

            Sully was no skater kid who memorized Chris Brown lyrics and played drinking games during the NFL playoffs.  That was his first mistake.  His second mistake was realizing that the rap industry promotes the facade, alcohol is a consequence of the human trying to repress their animalistic hunter-gatherer identity, and the NFL generates billions of green sheets of paper for tossing pigskin down grass fields while children starve in Africa.

            Minor details, Sully, minor details.

His third mistake was that he read too much Ovid and loved too deeply and when trench warfare ignited somewhere underneath his turnip heart after a shallow break-up, he decided to start working my cash register so he could save up and run far, far away.

Sully wrote his first coping poem about land mine love on the belly of that booth table he and his girlfriend used to share three days after he started working for me and two weeks after she left him.

 

“What happens when a Number 2 Pencil leaves regret under my booth table?”

 

It’s Tunis and salt

When someone takes a pick axe to your heart

All because they want some monkey of a diamond

To thread and wear like an acolyte’s necklace.

Well damn you love!

I starved my nightmare

And hoped you might dress your sleeve with feeling!

But you only embroidered mine with six points

And baked me into imperfection.

 

That same night Sully made the mistake of drowning his waking life in a bottle of burgundy while listening to the burned CD he and his ex-girlfriend made together before a weekend trip to a lakeside house.  Sully apologized to the memory of her for being so crazy and depressed and decided to scratch out the first poem the next day and replace it with one of saturated guilt and not trying mercy.

 

 

“What happens when a Number 2 Pencil replaces righteous Doolittle Raid anger with palaver guilt?”

 

I was looking through my memory yesterday

When I came across you-

Sitting cross-legged in the passenger seat,

Smoking my last Tahoe and laughing-

(Because it’s all hocus pocus anyway)

When I realized my mistake wasn’t falling in love,

It was leaving yesterday for today.

 

            “Sully.” Charlie takes another sip.  Froth borders his mouth again like shoveled snow along pavement. “It wasn’t because of her, was it?”

            The door to my café jingles and clanks.  Sully turns rot red and looks to the door out of the corner of his eyes.

            Lucky for him and lucky for me it’s only our second favorite outcast.

            Augusta.

            He’s got one wrinkle… or maybe it’s a birthmark.  Anyway, it runs like the equator straight through Indonesia, straight through his cantaloupe nose, except it doesn’t camel overtop the rampart.  He’s wearing a Gap undershirt custom cut with pinking shears.  Collars he considers a nuisance.  Doesn’t matter if it’s Albany, Buster Brown, Pierrot, Y-shaped, or starched flat.  Some say it’s because his Putnam feature is the backyard patch of Algiers dry on the skinny dorsal side of his neck.

            “Augusta!” Charleston caws, but Augusta’s too caught up in anxious backwash to notice.  He walks into my café like a Mormon prosthelytizer through a Baptist neighborhood with falcon eyes sticking out between every window blind.

            Sully quickly hides the condiments, creamer, sugar, thin straws, and napkins.  Augusta suffers a bout of pillaging complimentary items.  He swears they’re all drugged with mind-altering chemicals that keep people addicted. 

            “Charlie, didn’t know you’d be here.” Augusta eyes the room and types jargon into his iPhone.  He usually keeps tabs on everybody around him every five minutes on the dot.  The basic details of course. Quantity. Color. Purported gender.  Just in case something odd starts to happen, a metamorphosis perhaps, a changeling, because-

            “If it happens in a video game it can happen in real life.” Is his reply every time Sully asks why.

            “Well, either you’re pathetic because you think that’s possible or the world today is pathetic because it’s a possibility.”

            “You can martyr caution Sully.  I choose to keep Smokey at bay.”

            Physically Augusta is pathetic.  He’s shaped like an Erlenmeyer flask.  His cheeks sag like wet bath mats the color of nicotine patches.  Thin strands of squid ink hair and bangs that remind you of spider thread in a vacuum cleaner grace the noggin where a crown will never lie but all the mental fecund roost and genius blossom.

            “What do you want?”

            Augusta tugs on his radish bud facial hair and scrutinizes my products. “What’s new?”

            “You always ask me that and what do I always say?”

            “You always say ‘you always ask me that and what do I always say.’”

            “Damnitt Augusta.  Why do you think I say that?”

            “I don’t know.”  Augusta eyes his iPhone clock.  Three minutes, forty-two seconds til. “Because that’s what you always say.”

            “I’m saying nothing until you pick something.” Shotguns Sully as he stomps off to clean a table.

            “What haven’t I had before?”

            “Nothing.” Sully reiterates.

            Augusta scrolls through his iPhone.  He keeps a table with every restaurant and café he’s ever gone to and every food and drink item he’s ever had at each one.  The tab titles are cryptic.  The organization an interwoven mess of programming loops in a sequence only he understands.  The language.  Augusta’s invention.  A hybrid of Nahuatl and Java.  The table is probably more secure than the door to the queen’s personal powder room.

            “Why don’t you try something with cinnamon?” Charlie cranes over Augusta’s shoulder and eyes his iPhone, froth still clinging like damp cotton candy around his mouth. “What’s that?”

            “You can’t say anything if I tell you.”

            Charlie gives a childish grin like a teeny bop in the Truth part of Truth or Dare.

            “Course not.”

            “I make sure I don’t develop any patterns or routines.  No one can track me then.  Or drug my drinks. Poison my food.  So I keep tabs of it all in this table.”

            Charlie see-saws his eye brows and thinks it over.

            “What if someone steals your iPhone?”

            “I have a backup copy on my PC.”

            “And if they steal your PC?”

            “Thumb drive.”

            “And if they steal your thumb drive?”

            “Google file.”

            “And if they-”

            “No one but me understands it.”

            “Oh, ok.” Charlie shrugs and sits back down.

            Augusta shuffles through his digital table and compares it to everything on the menu until he finds a gap.  Cranberry muffin. Check. Meringue tart. Check. Baklava. Check. All assorted coffees. Check…

            “Sun Chips. Jalapeño Jack.”

            “Finally…” Sully collects the change and Augusta grabs a bag off the chip rack.

            “Hey Sully.” Whistles Charlie. “You know Augusta’s got a table for everything he eats and drinks so he doesn’t develop patterns?”

            “That explains everything...”

            Augusta looks like a self-conscious pea caught naked out of his pod. 

            Understandably so.  Augusta is a conspiracy theory cashew.  In an unorthodox sense.  Not only does he believe in conspiracies, but he believes conspiracies are conspiracies.  Why else do you think we think they’re conspiracies, he would argue. 

            What makes Augusta an even more peculiar conspiracy nut is his belief that even what he thinks of as a conspiracy must have been somehow planted by a conspirer.  A contradictory nature, however, isn’t necessarily a wet canvas.  It saves you from yourself.

Augusta was born in an old refurbished firehouse in Maryland on the Ides of March some time before the Falklands War.  It was an illegitimate, unauthorized birth not only from a Judea-Christian perspective but a Federal Government port hole as well.  Hence, the approximation of his birth.

Augusta’s father, Herb, was a covert agent and the CIA couldn’t afford such a birth to cost them one of their most talented assets. Gifted in the art of blending into any society under any circumstance around the world, Herb served as a political changeling. 

Ironically, Herb’s talents can be attributed to his mother who was addicted to Robitussin, an appealing market label for the actual tongue twister baptismal name: Dextromethorphan.

Dextromethorphan cheats when it combats coughing by ho-humming the yarn ball of brain mash responsible for autonomic actions such as coughing.  That yarn ball is the medulla oblongata.  When little Herb was sprouting in the womb, his mother’s excessive consumption of dextromethorphan shifted growth in the medulla oblongata to the left hemisphere of the cerebrum.     

            Before he could tie his shoes Herb learned to speak Spanish, Latin, Arabic, and English.  While other kids shot Sparrows in corn fields with Red Ryders, Herb was attempting to outdo the palindromic novel Dr. Awkward & Olson in Oslo by Lawrence Levine.  Undeterred by the initial common onset of self-insecurity, compliments of puberty, Herb was courting Moroccan girls who thought he was Berber and dating Peruvian mujer who swore he was Peruvian because he could speak Quechua.    

            Herb didn’t need to spit more than a foot to land a full-ride to Georgetown.  The CIA started grooming him to become a political changeling before he even graduated.  At the age of twenty-two, Herb was a maestro in the political changeling profession.  No one could blend into, learn, evaluate, and alter a foreign culture and society better than Herb.  He infiltrated Guatemala to gauge local perceptions and rouse the more sociopathic side of society against the Russian bear during the Cold War.  His initial success and talent for faking sincerity landed him assignments in Romania, Indonesia, Turkey, and Jamaica where he spread sincere disgust for communism and helped capitalize the ‘C’ in capitalism.

            After nearly two decades of playing knight on the Cold War chess board, Herb took leave in Maryland where he met the woman who would give birth to Augusta only to scarper off the day after taking whatever sanity Herb had left with her.  That was in 1979.  One week before Herb’s final assignment and a reunion with an old friend he met in Turkey named Ruhollah Khomeini.

            “Augusta, put that damn thing away.”

            Four, three…

            “How come we never noticed it before Sully?”

            Two, one…

            Augusta spins around the room.  Middle-aged woman, peach hair, cardigan. Check.  Couple.  Matching cyan chucks.  Still sharing a box of Hot Tamales.  He, comb-over, She…Wait… did her hair grow? Negative.  Only removed her hair-tie.  Sully. Still Sully.  Charlie.  Sadly. Still Charlie.

            “Because.” Augusta pockets his iPhone and clears his throat. “I used to go into the bathroom to update it.   But sometimes I forgot details.  Better to compromise maximal secrecy in this case.  Besides, I think there’s a camera in between the wall tiles above the stall.”

            Augusta’s mother was a reincarnated version of Livia and her name, Salome, couldn’t have been more biblically appropriate.  She had falcon features with bull whip black hair and thin lips the color of wet sulfur that seemed to wire words out of woody blandness into wisp white iron.  Virtue, morality, and anything from a Stoic vocabulary she treated like ice cubes in a glass of fine Port.  To dilute a sense of being with the abstract, she resolved, was a coward’s decision to abjure the better points in being alive.

            Salome was born under a stripped billboard that barely read ‘The only paradise is paradise lost’ on the shoulder of a forgotten stretch of route 66 somewhere in eastern Arizona.  Her father, who went stir-crazy when he saw fly guts caught in a fly swatter, barely caught her in a marigold purse when she popped out before vomiting all over the back seat. 

            ‘Eustace, you’re such a sheep!’ Barked Salome’s mother.  She was a meaty piece of machinery in the most paradoxically acceptable sense.  An absolute knock-out who grew up on Stanton Island to Jewish stepparents, she learned to box at the age of 11 and earned the nickname ‘Atalanta’ after clogging a boy’s head, 2 years and 3 feet superior, in a urinal. 

Why she ever married Eustace, who barely weighed more than a loaf of rye bread, stammered, and suffered a phobia of everything from spider monkeys to red lights, was a riddle and a rage to every stallion that ever tried to court her.  Truth be told, she was an apostle of astrology who arrested Eustace’s love because of her Pisces sign and his Sagittarius and the passing of Venus between the two.     

At the end of route 66, Eustace somehow landed a fortune in a random truck-stop game of craps against a successful Rand protagonist who was a more successful absinthe addict.  In a drunken stupor the man bet his entire trucking line that he built from scratch against Eustace and lost.

‘I can barely drive a car manual-’

‘You won it. Keep it.’ Salome’s mother rattled.

‘I can’t just take this man’s business.’

‘Jus’ take it, jus’ go on now and a take it!’ Howled the drunk.

‘He’s an a*s. Take it.’

So Eustace took it and his wife ended up learning the gas, gears, and oil behind the whole show while Eustace managed the sugary tasks.

Salome grew up on the road with her mother.  As a kid she would sit in the back of the cab and read The Boxcar Children or practice long division on yoke yellow ledger paper.  Her appetite for knowing why this or why that was a catalyst in her learning and the one strength her father had, a forever memory, the only trait of his which she fortunately- or unfortunately, depending on which corner of the sty you’re kneeling in- acquired, a steroid for her academic capabilities.  Salome’s mother encouraged her learning, advocating education on the grounds that it bettered her chances at being able to exploit those around her to her advantage.

‘Dagny Taggart.’ Her mother would stencil through thin webs of smoke, her asp fingers spinal-boarding Virginia Slims in a cig holder. ‘A proper woman.  Unrelenting.  She would have burned Scarborough Fair to the ground.  Eradicated those petty notions of femininity fettered.  She’s an example.  Education, her secondary weapon.’

Outside of schooling on the floorboard while cruising from coast to coast, Salome’s mother taught her the art of seduction and sanding word and action into darts and daggers.  In Detroit diners Salome learned to allow boys to balloon their pride, buy her a strawberry shake, and leave a fat tip of which she would slyly scoop into her sleeve before taking what they assumed was a temporal leave to the powder room and disappearing into the scalene night.

‘Who they want you to see them as is your best weapon.’ Salome’s mother would remind her as she climbed into the cab and handed over the tip money.

As she grew older, her game escalated.  In Omaha, Salome teased farm boys and played them against one another, pooling bets on the combatants when Camelot fights broke out between them, always knowing who would win based on her own exceptional talent at brawling.  In Boston, naive yuppies would give her college rings as promise rings and some nights she’d walk out of a piano bar with each finger graced with ounces of gold.  In Portland, beatniks would try and slick her down with rhymes, flashing first editions of Ginsberg and Bukowski which would end up tucked under her low cut sweater by the end of the night and a second hand book store come morning.

‘Weak women bend themselves in an effort to seem appealing.  Flash your wings.  The butterfly is what it is.  The predator only assumes differently.’

            Salome would tell herself in the pocket mirror before every mantis ploy.  She stayed loyal to her mother’s axiom.  Never deviating from her purpose, never letting herself lose sight of what she came to do, always reminding herself constantly that she was Matari Hari in the hot-house- ravishing, serpentine, and capable of luring any Adam to the green apple without ever taking a bite.  

            However, Salome’s mother gradually became a pitiful sight to her, aged, jaundice in color, eyes knotted and short sighted, wrinkles like furrowed fields cat-scratching the bits of youth still left in mango and satin.  The petty games and petty theft and petty boys and petty cardboard bars likewise no longer amused her.  She wanted to entice a retired general over Maker’s Mark on the rocks, become lionized by a Liverpool bassist, wake in the neoprene moonlight next to a Sassoon millionaire in a penthouse in Upper West Side and scarper off with forged checks.  More than anything else, she was fed-up with trucking.

            ‘Why are you still doing it?’

            ‘Child...’ Salome’s mother detested questions.

            ‘Trucking.  Why are you still trucking?  Why are we still trucking?’

            ‘Pass me my cigarettes.’ Nicotine turned her into an orator.  Salome wanted a conversation. 

            ‘Tell me.’

            ‘Pass me my cigarettes.’ Wooof! Salome pitched the carton.  The pack pogo’d off the dashboard and caught the slipstream, skiing off onto the highway.

            ‘Godda-’ Her mother caught herself before the banshee broke.  She never cursed.  Cursing was a lack of linguistic creativity and precise expression from her perspective.  No different from hollering or batting a wall out of frustration.

            ‘I mean you could do anything you want ma, right?’

            ‘Child.’ She started. ‘You can be good at anything.  The hard part is committing.  I’m committed to this.’

            This startled Salome.  To hear her mother spout something she read in ethical literature came off as absurd.  Perhaps that’s what tore the rope for Salome, realizing her mother wasn’t the libertine she always thought she was.  After all, though her mother never spoke of loyalty to Eustace and marriage, she never once caught her having an affair or playing the seduction games she’d taught her daughter.  A fool, she decided, her mother flaking out on all those could-have-been fleeting romances with rugged easy riders on Harleys for cash and sexual satiation.

            ‘Commitment is an excuse for fear.’

            ‘What?’

            ‘Committing to something… it’s a white word a hierophant echoes at the altar to opt out on the now, for what? Why? Hope for safe produce tomorrow?’

            ‘Don’t talk in Voltaire with me child.  You read and remember and question too much.’

            Salome knew she’d get nothing out of her mother and resolved that night to get away for good.

            An hour later her mother croaked the code words for an old road game they often played to stall the other truck lines.  The game was simple.  It involved Salome’s mother chiding the nearest trucker over the band radio for being a slow poke and challenging him to a heat.  When the trucker would pull up beside them, Salome would flash him and he’d goggle over her little caviar tits, slow down, and hug the lane behind them.  After a dozen or so trucks were flashed and lined up, Salome’s mother would call them all to pull over at the next truck stop.  Once there, the two would tease them prudently, the truckers doggedly horny and hopeful, gradually forgetting their jobs and getting sloshed off canned beer, all the while Eustace’s trucks would keep trucking and catch a heavy lead on the rest.  After all the truckers were drunk and rowdy enough, Salome’s mother would tap her and the two would casually slink back to the truck and steal away.

            This night, however, Salome decided it would be different.  She prodded the truckers more than usual, learning of all their routes, until finally deciding the lemon drop sop with a lop-sided jaw and flannel button-up on his way to DC was the best bet.

            ‘Ma, just going out to playing wrangler.’ Salome winked, her mother assuming she was off to intercept a trucker who tried to sneak out and get back on the road. Which was half-true of course.

            ‘DC right?’ She asked the man again as he sat on the curb out front, a wad of chew saddled between his gum and lip.

            ‘Yes ma’am.’

            ‘Let’s go.’

            ‘Go?’

            Her glare told him to get in, buckle up, and go.  He asked nothing more.

            As the seconds slugged into minutes, the minutes dripped into hours, and the hours flooded far into the morning with nearly all the truckers sobered up by now and gone, Salome’s mother’s concern brewed into wildfire distress.  She sat on the side rail of her truck, pale, emotionally chopped, and gnomically gnawing on her nails, the polish flakey and gangrene.

            For a week she waited, knowing the whole time that Salome had not been abducted, rather absconded from the nest.  Eustace heard the news from another trucker and caught the next ride out.  He found Salome’s mother still perched on the rail.

            ‘Come home darling.’ Eustace whispered in honey, lifting her up off the ground for the first time in either of their lives.  A man with pants he’d finally become. 

The bird has flown, Eustace thought, and oddly, smiled.

Salome’s mother complied and burrowed into the leather seat before casting a last glance at the truck stop, Salome’s silhouette still charcoaled into the memory of a moment gone, gone, gone, and spoke for the first time in five days.

            ‘For a long time, I went to bed early…’

 

            “Jesus Augusta, really?”

            “Don’t blaspheme Sully.” Charlie notes like a nunnery boy to a rascal.

            “I can’t eat these chips.  They might be poisoned.”

            “You already opened them.”

            “But I didn’t eat any of them.”

            “Son of-” Sully is fuming.  He mallets the open chip bag and shotguns crumbs across the table.

            “Now what was that for?” Augusta looks sincerely clueless as to why before glimpsing at his iPhone.

            Ten, nine…

            “Really Sully he’s right to ask.  Now you’ve got a mess to clean up.”

            “I hate you both.” Mutters Sully as he scoops the crumbs into his hand and trashes the bag of chips.

            Six, five…

            “No you don’t!” Charlie is beaming.  “Besides, it’s only another bag of chips and a tiny mess.”

Sully eyes the table coated in chip fragments and thinks forward to closing the register and taking inventory and having to conjure up another excuse for why he had to shell out two bag of chips to a customer.

At times, Sully despises Charlie because he’s the type of kid who could suffer a mass seagull shitting, shrug, and believe that it’s only marshmallow fluff.  Dumbness, Sully decides, it’s a discredited gift.

            Three, two, one…

            “At least help me clean up Augusta.”

            “Hush, he’s doing his table thingy.”

            New customer.  Capri pants, Lavender in color, Teddy bear socks.  Oddly male.  Age fifty.  Leave it at that.  Couple still present.  Eating Oreos now instead of Hot Tamales. Group of-

            “Here’s your other bag of damn chips.” Sully rattles and pops a bag on the table. 



© 2011 HighBrowCulture


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Added on June 3, 2011
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HighBrowCulture
HighBrowCulture

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About
Writing to create public disorder. Even if it means crucifying a Messiah. more..

Writing
I I

A Chapter by HighBrowCulture