- DOWNTOWN UNDERGROUND: Crossing Under
- DOWNTOWN UNDERGROUND: Banana Jello
- DOWNTOWN UNDERGROUND: The Banner of Ultimate Ouchies
This is the conclusion of our coming-of-age serial memoir. It was an experiment, and took much too long between chapters. Please, go back re-read the preceding three chapters if you have the time and inclination. It will help the following make much more sense.
Nauseous, disgusted with myself and the flagrantly corrupted nature of man, petrified of closing my eyes and glimpsing again in the dark the low-flying crippled panty bird crash-landing into the deep garbage pits of my scuttled imagination, even sitting up out of the sour soup was a victory.
Only a minute had passed, but it seemed hours. Mike had already availed himself of my JanSport and was pouring Wheaties down his flexing gullet. Once in a while, reflexively, he’d chew.
Kyle’s eyes had found a civilized island somewhere off in the middle distance, and judging by his lack of movement and slack jaw, he’d moved there — mind, body and spirit. He’d seen the bird, and it was pecking at the threads of his soul.
I’d had it.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” my garbled voice bounced off the wet walls all around us.
“Dude, what?” Mike said, wheat flakes sputtering out of his mouth like the teeth of a leper.
The bizarre set piece of us three dazed and morally bewildered in Satan’s water park was shattered by the crackle and static of a radio. I heard wings beating.
All eyes turned toward the entrance tunnel.
Two roving flashlight beams were feeling their way along the edges, making their way through the rough corridor, soon to emerge into the cavernous hall where we three felt the blood leave our bodies, and the adrenaline rush in.
I flapped my trap several times before the suddenly booming voice kicked in — “Run!”
For want of a destination — at first, there didn’t seem to be an exit — we ran around circles, into one another and swearing loud enough for the approaching police to hear every blue word.
Finally, Kyle somehow spotted a point of light off to our right. He pointed and we made for it. The narrow passage led outside, to a breezeway along a fence. We took several turns, shimmied over a dumpster, ran through some wax boxes used for storing seafood, then bounced along a rotting segment of dock that appeared to be near its last days, until we squeezed again between two buildings and tried to worm our way back toward Old Town and safety.
Instead, we emerged into a fenced lot. The last one in, I’d seen two blue-uninformed police officers trailing us and as we filed into the strange yard, stuffed to the absolute brim with dead appliances, what appeared to be ancient washers and dryers of every conceivable make and model, I knew our sojourn into Old Town underworld was just about over.
Instead of just turning around and giving up — what had we done all that wrong except jump a fence? — we buried ourselves amid the dirty white machines, scattering like rats on sinking trash barge, staying low, hugging the Maytag and Whirlpool chassis, hoping like hell the police would give up and move along rather take the time to hunt us out.
Again, the crackle and static on the radio.
“Alright kids — you got two choices,” said a woman’s voice, barely winded.
I could barely breathe — ooh, the resentment.
“Either you come out on your own, we talk this over and most likely we call your parents,” she said. “Or, if we have to look through all these machines and waste a bunch of the city’s time when we could be doing more important work, you guys will spend the night in juvenile hall.”
She held her hand over her head so we could all see it. One finger went up.
“One,” she called out. “Two.”
“Here I am,” Kyle said, standing up and brushing off his knees. “This wasn’t my idea,” he said. Despite the filth all around, Kyle appeared hardly the worse for wear.
She looked him up and down and pointed at a spot on the ground. He sat.
A second passed and another finger, then another. Finally, Mike stood up.
At least he didn’t throw me under the bus, I thought.
I wanted to go home. I was glad I had a home. I remember how sorry I used to feel for myself when my Dad was alive, when he was sick and refuse his medications — he’d fly off the handle at stupidest shit, wipe all the dinner ware off the table with his forearm and scream at my mom because the food wasn’t cooked right, or thought someone was out to get him.
The time he yanked me out of bed and demanded I drink with him.
“You too good for it?”
I was a little kid. I almost pissed myself.
Things eventually got better, way better, yet I clung to those feelings, those bitter remnants, and felt sorry for myself, so resentful. And seeing that girl’s panties, all crumbled up, mud-stained, left out in the rain for months or even years — what the hell was her story?
Here I was in a wasteland of machines meant to agitate the filth out of you, then blast you dry with hot air and friction.
I have no idea how her story unfolded, and will never know. But there’s at least a fair chance that her story is at least as bad as mine. Probably far worse. Who the fuck am I, anyway? I’m not the center of the universe.
“This is your last chance.”
“C’mon, James,” Mike said. “Quit being a dumbass.”
For months and months my mom used to hide her cigarettes in the washing machine. Dad had decided it was time to quit smoking, so of course that meant she had to quit, too. She’d sneak a cigarette out in the backyard when doing the laundry — when she wasn’t working 40 hours a week wiping old people’s asses, or cooking for our family, or cleaning the house, or one of the million other things she did without complaining throughout my childhood and Dad’s disease.
The cigarette was her way of taking a little break.
One time, she snuck a cigarette in the yard, and inadvertently stepped into a gopher hole. Snapped her ankle like a dried twig. Crumpled up in the grass, in pain and sobbing, she called out for my 17-year-old brother Greg.
“Greg! Get out here! Help me up!”
Dad heard her first, and came out onto the back porch in his slippers and jeans then immediately came to his wife’s aid, helped her up and carried her into the house. The butt was left smoldering in the grass.
No one cared about the cigarette, though we teased her about it. But my Dad was quietly torn up I think that my Mom called for Greg when she was hurt, and not her husband. One more piece of what made him a man was left smoldering in the grass.
I know why she called for Greg. She didn’t call for Dad because she didn’t know which Jerry would show up. She had no idea if he’d be helpful, loving, or righteously pissed off and throwing dinner plates. This was the reality of life with a crazy person.
Life is hell for everyone, sometimes. We all hide behind washing machines, now and again. The lesson I should have learned that day in Old Town was, with misery always out there waiting for us, why hide when we don’t have to?
“Who are you calling a dumbass?” I said, standing up. “It was my idea to jump the fence, I’m sorry about that.” I felt wind ruffle through the tear in my shirt. It gave me a chill. “We were just looking around, and then we got scared.”
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.