Friday, July 27, 2007
It's not like I expected anyone to camp out like they did for a certain other novel released in book stores last week, but here it is without further fuck-up: Chapter one of Handmade Heart.
Chapter One - The Honey-Wagon
“And in the end we will achieve in time the thing they call Nirvana and all the stars will shine for me . . . ”
There he was in a clearing by the road with a brooding wall of forest on either side of him— the man and his mullet. He was clothed in dirty, gray overalls, like an escaped convict after tunneling out of the joint. He was squatting, bent at the knees, his ass jutting out toward me in greeting, struggling with a red metal valve on the side of his truck. He grunted and cursed in a way oh-so-familiar to me. It took me back to a place before the recording of time- well, our time anyway— a time when we’d been young and full of possibilities.
He’d been fairly svelte when I’d known him back then, with just a bit of a paunch for a belly. However, to see him now, he’d really let himself go, trading in the Greek god for the fat Elvis and exploding in his dungarees with no prejudice to direction. He began to rap on the handle with a wrench he had pulled from a red tool box. The metal case was now currently on its side vomiting screws, nails, linchpins and a solitary hammer.
The truck itself, was a mishmash of knobs, hoses, and metal winches jutting out of the flatbed of a Hino amid twin Honda motors, the bookends for a huge steel tank. It looked like someone’s skewed vision where the future meets the disintegrating, rusted past. A gentle breeze brought a waft of its sun baked reek in a concoction of grease, oil and something disturbingly human. There was a bumper sticker holding the left taillight to the whole mess with the assistance of duct tape. It said “shit disturber,” and I knew right then, it was him. It had to be.
He hammered away at the valve. “Cum-mon ya frickin’ bastard-of-a-thing. Oooh . . . what elks can go wrong?”
The man ceased his grunting, his actions, and slowly stood up turning to face me. A full growth of beard hugged his mouth like a fungal infection. He shielded his eyes from the sun to place me in shadow as I approached. “Sparky? .... Is that you?”
“None other, Wally.”
I advanced on him cautiously, not sure if I should shake his hand. Who knew where it had been? Besides, he was also disheveled and sweating profusely giving him a translucent, sticky glow.
“Shit. Well I’ll be. John Sparky Malveen– Haven’t see you for . . . ”
“Along time Wally. Let’s just leave it at that . . . and shit is right.”
He extended his hand and I took it, dispelling my earlier thoughts of the man and his occupation like he was a leper, or an accused pedophile. I was suddenly struck with the need to tell him everything— My reason for being there right down to the last detail— but I couldn’t– not yet. I had been through much already just to get this far, but that would come out in time. Right now, I needed to suppress the sordid details. I needed to accept the moment in its simplicity. I needed him to just be Wally.
“I hardly recognize you without all your hair.” He snickered a wheezy laugh, grinning through his tanned, weathered skin and bush of beard. “ I bet you made some barber happy?”
“I needed a change. Cut it off in a fit of depression if you must know. Still have a lock of it tucked away in a drawer somewhere. Hey I didn’t exactly recognize you either.” I thumped his drum-tight tummy like a ripe watermelon.
“You know me Sparky. I always loved to eat.”
“And I see you still do. I think there’s entire countries that eat less, Grizzly Adams....I’m just razzing you Wally. Like old times.” I tapped the side of the tank on the truck that said, Gristle & Son’s Sanitary Services, and gave him a cockeyed look. “What the hell do you have your nose into now?”
“Don’t look at me like that. It pays the bills. I’m out here by myself. My own boss. Nobody at the office bugs me. I get my route and I’m gone. It’s not as bad as it probably looks.”
“Sucking the crap out of outhouses, could it look any better? So I guess that makes you what, a Fecal Wrangler or a Stool Vacuum Technician, maybe?”
“I prefer Waste Retrieval Engineer if you don't mind?”
“Just what the world needs, Wally, more engineers, to balance the scales with the lawyers I guess.”
“It’s people like me that keep your Johnny-on-the-spot sanitized and ready
“That’s all right Wally, I have indoor plumbing now,” I said.
“It’s not a glamorous job I’ll admit, but it pays all right and the fishin’s good up here– ”
“– and you don’t have to go far to get your bait, I’m sure?”
“It’s not like I get in there with a shovel, you ass. God damn it. It’s all done by the old Honey wagon here . . . ” He lovingly stroked the trucks’ main tank. “ . . . with pumps and hoses, now days it’s a lot cleaner, a lot neater, and a lot more practical.”
“I can see that. When everything’s working.”
“Exactly.” Wally looked at the valve and kicked it. “Son-of-a-bitch Mother-scratcher seized up on me. I won’t be gittin’ any more work done today.”
“Don’t worry Wally. If someone is in such dire need to use one of your . . . uh . . . plastic phone booths, I’m sure they’ll still make the call.”
“I suppose. It’s too hot today anyways. The heat’s really kickin’ up the stench.”
I waved my hand frantically in front of my nose. “I hardly noticed.”
“Besides, damn kids got in this one here,” he said. He thumbed to a blue plastic cube with a yellow roof. It was leaning slightly to the left beyond the tail of the Honey-wagon. “They set the turlet-paper on fire and nearly burned the frickin’ thing down. It’s all charred black on her insides.”
“It’s not like we didn’t do stupid things when we were younger.”
Wally reached down with some effort and more inaudible cursing to collected his tools. He picked up a hard-hat that had been laying out of sight behind the rear wheel carriage. It was more of a pith helmet really. Wally said it was all part of the uniform. “Just make sure you don’t pith into the wind,” I told him. A poor joke at best I know, but my weak attempt at humor was lost on him anyway.
I said, “So what happened to the electrical trade? That’s what you were doing when you left the band weren’t you? The struggle between ohms and amperage get to be too much?”
Wally informed me he’d quit being an electrician to start his own business when the 90's were coming to a close. “If you’re not working for yourself, you’re working for someone elks,” was the way he put it. He’d started a little thing called, Millennium Outfitters. It was a company providing emergency supplies to people in the event of catastrophes. “You know, water, non perishables, camping gear, small weapons that sort of thing,” he said. But when Y2K never emerged and the world continued to spin with ceaseless regularity, Wally was left with a garage full of gas generators and sling-bows, as his business went south and folded. It actually sounded like one of my birdbrain ideas, which started with the best intentions, then crashed in a fireball of ruin.
After, he’d looked for the easy ticket, driving around in old cars- Beaters, he called them- getting into accidents, trying to sue someone for restitution. He’d even worn neck braces in court like it was some cheesy court drama. But the money he’d picked up in the insurance settlements had been lost in the aftermath of three brutal divorces.
“Are you sure you’re not up here in the wilderness hiding out?” I’d asked him.
Now here he was, away from any remnants of those days, driving the Honey-wagon and wiping his ass on the alimony checks every two weeks before firing them off in the mail.
“So you see . . . I just got tired of it all. I traded in the Electrical Cherry Picker for the Ol Vac-mobile here and moved out to God’s green pasture.”
“Hell’s half acre’s more like it Wally. There’s nothing around here. What do you do for excitement . . . other than fish that is?”
“There’s not much to tell Sparky. It’s a simple life, I don’t need a lot . . . and there’s no stress. But enough about me, what brings you out here? Wha-chu been up to? The last I heard you were at that place . . . ”
“– It burnt to the ground.”
“I didn’t do it. There were plenty of people in line in front of me with matches for that business. But you know what Wally? You want to hear something strange? I worked in that damn fruit store for years. I could have whatever produce I wanted and never felt the urge to eat a damn thing. Now that it’s gone . . . I miss the taste of a Bosc pear, which is really screwed.”
“Why don’t you just buy a boss pear somewhere elks?”
“Bosc! Bosc! The brown ones!” I said, as if telling him the color would suddenly change his pronunciation. “Do you understand what I’m saying Wally? I hate Bosc pears. I absolutely loath them . . . the gritty texture. It’s like eating sweet sand....You know, If that place was still standing I’d probably still be there.” It was more of a statement to myself than for Wally’s benefit. “Can you imagine me at my age still doing menial tasks like taking out the garbage?”
Wally looked at the tank on the truck full of human waste.
“Sorry,” I said. “No offense.”
“That still doesn’t answer the million-dollar question; what have you been doing Sparky Malveen?”
“A little of this, a little of that. Right now I guess I’d say I’m an author. Wrote a couple of books.”
“Really. Anything I’ve read.”
“You read now Wally?”
“They’re not published yet.”
“I thought you said . . . ?”
“I did. I’m an author . . . just apparently not a very good one. I felt inspired, so I did it.”
“So are you here to do some research on Honey-wagons, you know, for your next uh . . . unpublished book?— God, the stories I could tell you. There was this old woman with fifty cats, a duck, a turtle and her outhouse was— ”
“— Seems intriguing Wally, but no. I’m here for a different purpose, a mission if-you-like. I’m interested to know what you think about it, in fact, everyone from the old band?”
“The Oral Blondes?”
“Uh huh . . . and you’re a hard guy to track down.”
“You drove all the way up here to see me first? I’m touched.”
“No. I said you’re a hard man to track down but I’ve already talked to everyone else. Doc, Skunk, and Grub. I just need to know what you think about what I have to say? Perhaps, even give you an opportunity to come out of the wild and back to civilization if you’d like.”
“So if I’m so hard to find, how did you know where to look, Sparky?”
“You mean besides Gristle & Son’s telling me you’d be here? A chance meeting with someone we used to know. Come on, let’s get something to eat and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Wally rubbed his stomach with admiration. “Now, you’re talking my language.”