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By Padgett Powell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA Copyright © 1991 Padgett Powell
All rights reserved.
Yesterday a few things happened. Every day a few do. My dog beat up another dog. He does this when he can. It's his living, more or less, though I've never let him make money doing it. He could. Beating up other dogs is his thing. He means no harm by it, expects other dogs to beat him up—no anxiety about it. If anything makes him nervous, it's that he won't get a chance to beat up or be beaten up. He's healthy. I don't think I am.
For one thing, after some dog-beating-up, I think I feel better than even the dog. It's an occasion calls for drinking. I have gotten a pain in the liver zone, which it is supposed to be impossible to feel. My doctor won't say I can't feel anything, outright, but he does say he can't feel anything. He figures I'll feel myself into quitting if he doesn't say I'm nuts. Not that I see any reason he'd particularly cry if I drank myself into the laundry bag.
I drank so much once, came home, announced to my wife it was high time I went out, got me a black woman. A friend of mine, well before this, got in the laundry bag and suddenly screamed at his wife to keep away from him because she had turned black, but I don't think there's a connection. I just told mine I was heading for some black women pronto, and I knew where the best ones were, they were clearly in Beaumont. The next day she was not speaking, little rough on pots and pans, so I had to begin the drunk-detective game and open the box of bad breath no drunk ever wants to open. That let out the black women of Beaumont, who were not so attractive in the shaky light of day with your wife standing there pink-eyed holding her lips still with little inside bites. I sympathized fully with her, fully.
I'm not nice, not too smart, don't see too much point in pretending to be either. Why I am telling anyone this trash is a good question, and it's stuff it obviously doesn't need me to tell myself. Hell, I know it, it's mine. It would be like the retired justice of the peace that married me and my wife.
We took a witness which it turned out we didn't need him, all a retired JP needs to marry is a twenty-dollar tip, and he'd gotten two thousand of those tips in his twenty years retired, cash. Anyway, he came to the part asks did anyone present object to our holy union please speak up now or forever shut up, looked up at the useless witness, said, "Well, hell, he's the only one here, and y'all brought him, so let's get on with it." Which we did.
This was in Sealy, Texas. We crossed the town square, my wife feeling very married, proper and weepy, not knowing yet I was the kind to talk of shagging black whores, and we went into a nice bar with a marble bartop and good stools and geezers at dominoes in the back, and we drank all afternoon on one ten-dollar bill from large frozen goblet-steins of some lousy Texas beer we're supposed to be so proud of and this once it wasn't actually terribly bad beer. There was our bouquet of flowers on the bar and my wife was in a dressy dress and looked younger and more innocent than she really was. The flowers were yellow, as I recall, the marble white with a blue vein, and her dress a light, flowery blue. Light was coming into the bar from high transomlike windows making glary edges and silhouettes—the pool players were on fire, but the table was a black hole. All the stuff in the air was visible, smoke and dust and tiny webs. The brass nails in the old floor looked like stars. And the beer was 50¢. What else? It was pretty.
She's not so innocent as it looked that day because she had a husband for about ten years who basically wouldn't sleep with her. That tends to reduce innocence about marriage. So she was game for a higher stepper like me, but maybe thinks about the cold frying pan she quit when I volunteer to liberate the dark women of the world.
I probably mean no harm, to her or to black women, probably am like my dog, nervous I won't get the chance. I might fold up at the first shot. I regret knowing I'll never have a date with Candice Bergen, this is in the same line of thought. Candice Bergen is my pick for the most good to look at and probably kiss and maybe all-you-could-do woman in the world. All fools have their whims. Should an ordinary, daily kind of regular person carry around desire like this? Why do people do this? Of course a lot of money is made on fools with pinups in the backs of their head, but why do we continue to buy? We'd be better off with movie stars what look like the girls from high school that had to have sex to get any attention at all. You put Juicy Lucy Spoonts on the silver screen and everybody'd be happy to go home to his faithful, hopeful wife. I don't know what they do in Russia, on film, but if the street women are any clue, they're on to a way of reducing foolish desire. They look like good soup-makers, and no head problems, but they look like potatoes, I'm sorry. They've done something over there that prevents a common man from wanting the women of Beaumont.
There are many mysteries in this world. I should be a better person, I know I should, but I don't see that finally being up to choice. If it were, I would not stop at being a better person. Who would? The girls what could not get dates in high school, for example, are my kind of people now, but then they weren't. I was like everybody else.
I thought I was the first piece of sliced bread to come wrapped in plastic then. Who didn't. To me it is really comical, how people come to realize they are really a piece of shit. More or less. Not everybody's the Candy Man or a dog poisoner. I don't mean that. But a whole lot of folk who once thought otherwise of themself come to see they're just not that hot. That is something to think on, if you ask me, but you don't, and you shouldn't, which it proves my point. I'm a fellow discovers he's nearly worth disappearing without a difference to anyone or anything, no one to be listened to, trying to say that not being worth being listened to is the discovery we make in our life that then immediately, sort of, ends the life and its feedbag of self-serious and importance.
I used to think niggers were the worst. First they were loud as Zulus at bus stations and their own bars, and then they started walking around with radio stations with jive jamming up the entire air. Then I realized you get the same who-the-hell-asked-for-it noise off half, more than half, the white fools everywhere you are. Go to the ice house: noise. Rodeo: Jesus. Had to quit football games. There's a million hot shots in this world wearing shorts and loud socks won't take no for an answer.
And unlike high school, you can't make them go home, quit coming. You can't make them quit playing life. I'd like to put up a cut-list on the locker-room door to the world itself. Don't suit up today, the following:
And I'm saying I'd be in the cut myself. Check your pads in, sell your shoes if you haven't fucked them up. I did get cut once, and a nigger who was going to play for UT down the road wouldn't buy my shoes because he said they stank—a nigger now. He was goddamned right about the toe jam which a pint of foo-foo water had made worse, but the hair on his ass to say something like that to me. I must say he was nice about it, and I'm kind of proud to tell it was Earl Campbell wouldn't wear a stink shoe off me.
Hell, just take what I'm saying right here in that deal. I'm better than a nigger who breaks all the rushing records they had at UT twice and then pro records and on bad teams, when I get cut from a bad team that names itself after a tree. Or something, I've forgotten. We might have been the Tyler Rosebuds. That's the lunacy I'm saying. People have to wake up. Some do. Some don't. I have: I'm nobody. A many hasn't. Go to the ice house and hold your ears.
This is not that important. It just surprised me when I came to it, is all. You're a boob, a boob for life, I realized one day. Oh, I got Stetsons, a Silverado doolie, ten years at ARMCO, played poker with Mickey Gilley, shit, and my girlfriends I don't keep in a little black book but on candy wrappers flying around loose in the truck. One flies out, so what? More candy, more wrappers at the store. But one day, for no reason, or no reason I know it or can remember anything happening which it meant anything, I stopped at what I was doing and said, John Payne, you are a piece of crud. You are a common, long-term drut. Look at it.
It's not like this upset me or anything, why would it? It's part of the truth to what I'm saying. You can't disturb a nobody with evidence he's a nobody. A nobody is not disturbed by anything significant. It's like trying to disturb a bum by yelling poor fuck at him. What's new? he says. So when I said, John Payne, you final asshole, I just kept on riding. But the moment stuck. I began watching myself. I watched and proved I was an asshole.
This does not give you a really good feeling, unless you are drunk, which is when you do a good part of the proving.
I've been seeing things out of the corners of my eyes and feeling like I have worms since this piece-of-crud thing. It works like this. I'm in a ice house out Almeda, about to Alvin in fact, and I see this pretty cowboy type must work for Nolan Ryan's ranch or something start to come up to me to ask for a light. That's what I would have seen, before. But now it works like this: before he gets to me, before he even starts coming over, see, because I'm legged up in a strange bar thinking I'm a piece of shit and a out-of-work beer at three in the afternoon in a dump in Alvin it proves it, I see out the corner of my eye this guy put his hand in his pants and give a little wink to his buddies as he starts to come over. That's enough, whatever it means, he may think I'm a fag, or he may be one himself, but he thinks you're enough a piece of shit he can touch his dick and wink about you, only he don't know that he is winking about a known piece of shit, and winking about a known piece of shit is a dangerous thing to do.
Using the mirror over the bar about like Annie Oakley shooting backwards, I spot his head and turn and slap him in the temple hard enough to get the paint to fall off a fender. He goes down. His buddies start to push back their chairs and I step one step up and they stop.
"What's all the dick and grinning about, boys?"
On the floor says, "I cain't see."
"He cain't see," I tell the boys.
I walk out.
Outside it's some kind of dream. There's ten Hell's Angel things running around a pickup in the highway like a Chinese fire drill, whatever that is. In the middle by the truck is a by-God muscle man out of Charles Atlas swinging chains. He's whipping the bikers with their own motorcycle chains. He's got all of the leather hogs bent over and whining where he's stung them. He picks up a bike and drops it headfirst on the rakes. Standing there with a hot Bud, the only guy other than Tarzan not bent over and crying, I get the feeling we're some kind of tag team. I drive off.
That's how it works. Start out a piece of shit, slap some queerbait blind, watch a wrestling match in the middle of Almeda Road, drive home a piece of shit, spill the hot beer I forgot about all over the seat and my leg.
I didn't always feel this way, who could afford to? When I was fifteen, my uncle, who was always kind of my real dad, gave me brand-new Stetson boots and a hundred-dollar bill on a street corner in Galveston and said spend it all and spend it all on whores. It was my birthday. I remember being afraid of the black whores and the ones with big tits, black or white, otherwise I was a ace. In those days a hundred dollars went a long way with ladies in Galveston. I got home very tired, a fifteen-year-old king with new boots and a wet dick.
That's what you do with the world before you doubt yourself. You buy it, dress up in it, fuck it. Then, somehow, it starts fucking back. A Galveston whore you'd touch now costs the whole hundred dollars, for example, in other words. I don't know. Today I would rather just talk to a girl on the street than fuck one, and I damn sure don't want to talk to one. There's no point. I need some kind of pills or something. There must be ways which it will get you out of feeling like this.
For a while I thought about having a baby. But Brillo Tucker thought this up about fifteen years ago, and two years ago his boy whips his ass. When I heard about that I refigured. I don't need a boy whipping my ass, mine or anybody else's. That would just about bind the tit. And they'll do that, you know, because like I say they come out kings for a while. Then the crown slips and pretty soon the king can't get a opera ticket, or something, I don't know anything about kings.
This reminds me of playing poker with Mickey Gilley, stud. First he brings ten times as much money as anyone, sits down in new boots, creaking, and hums all his hit songs so nobody can think. He wins a hand, which it is rare, and makes this touchdown kind of move and comes down slowly and rakes the pot to his little pile. During the touchdown, we all look at this dry-cleaning tag stapled to the armpit of his vest. That's the Pasadena crooner.
I was at ARMCO Steel for ten years, the largest integrated steel mill west of the Mississippi, a word we use having nothing to do with niggers for once. It means we could take ore and make it all the way to steel. Good steel. However, I admit that with everybody standing around eating candy bars in their new Levi's, it cost more than Jap steel. I have never seen a Japanese eating a candy bar or dipping Skoal showing off his clothes. They wear lab coats, like they're all dentists. We weren't dentists.
We were, by 1980, out of a job, is what we were. It goes without saying it, that is life. They were some old-timers that just moped about it, and some middle-lifer types that had new jobs in seconds, and then us Young Turks that moped mad. We'd filler up and drive around all day bitching about the capitalist system, whatever that is, and counting ice houses. We discovered new things, like Foosball. Foosball was one of the big discoveries. Pool we knew about, shuffleboard we knew about, Star Wars pinball we knew about, but Foosball was a kick.
For a while we bitched as a club. We were on the ice-house frontier, Tent City bums with trucks. Then a truckload of us—not me, but come to think of it, Brillo Tucker was with them, which is perfect—get in it on the Southwest Freeway with a truckload of niggers and they all pull over outside the Post building and the niggers whip their ass. They're masons or something, plumbers. A photographer at the Post sees it all and takes pictures. The next day a thousand ARMCO steel workers out of a job read about themselves whipped by employed niggers on the freeway. This lowered our sail. We got to be less of a club, quick. I don't know what any of my buddies are doing now and I don't care. ARMCO was ARMCO. It was along about in here I told my wife I was off to Beaumont for black chicks, and there could be a connection, but I doubt it.
As far as I can really tell, I'm still scared of them in the plain light of day. At a red light on Jensen Drive one day, a big one in a fur coat says to me, "Come here, sugar, I got something for you," and opens her coat on a pair of purple hot pants and a yellow bra.
I say, "I know you do," and step on it. Why in hell I'd go home and pick on a perfectly innocent wife about it is the kind of evidence it convinces you you're not a prince in life.
Another guy I knew in the ARMCO club had a brother who was a dentist, and this guy tells him not to worry about losing his job, to come out with him golfing on Thursdays and relax. Our guy starts going—can't remember his name—and he can't hit the ball for shit. It's out of bounds or it's still on the tee. And the dentist who wants him to relax starts ribbing him, until our guy says if you don't shut the fuck up I'm going to put this ball down and aim it at you. The dentist laughs. So Warren—that's his name—puts the ball down and aims at the dentist, who's standing there like William Tell giggling, and swings and hits his brother, the laughing dentist who wants him to relax, square in the forehead. End of relaxing golf.
Another guy's brother, a yacht broker, whatever that is, became a flat hero when we got laid off because he found his brother the steel worker in the shower with his shotgun and took it away from him. Which it wasn't hard to do, because he'd been drinking four days and it wasn't loaded.
Come to look at it, we all sort of disappeared and all these Samaritans with jobs creamed to the top and took the headlines, except for the freeway. The whole world loves a job holder.
Excerpted from Typical by Padgett Powell. Copyright © 1991 Padgett Powell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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