Death in Bob’s Big Boy

Bob’s Big Boy is where I saw my first person die. As if there have been tons, like I served in Iraq or something. We were off 95 on our way to Walden Pond for an overnight high school field trip. Stopped for lunch at the oasis, Bob’s bright smile frozen in red and white checkered plastic. I had just finished eating a burger with fries and a coke, standing at entrance of the restaurant, waiting to get back on the bus, the grease still lingering in my mouth. Balding man, pot belly, sitting in a swivel stool, maybe 63. I saw him fall fast, tipped over like the last bowling pin, a french fry still in his hand. Heart attack, I think, but I wasn’t thinking. I looked at my friend Jon, we had been in CPR class together. How do we start, with a breath or chest compressions? I asked him, frantic, imagining my mouth hovering over the lips of the balding man. I don’t remember. Jon spoke the truth of CPR training, who really does remember? We gawked, immobile for a few more seconds until our bus driver pushed past us, deftly straightened the man, started compressions. Turns out our bus driver used to drive ambulances, witnessed the dying, the dead, dozens of times. Some of my classmates turned away, but we stared until we knew for sure that the man would never stand up again. Lifeless eyes, cold french fries, his plate of food half-eaten.

Hockey

frozen water holds the weight of winter
reflecting moon, scarred by skates
frenetic lines, puck glides without
a mark made
hard circular rubber, a speck
existing, cold on the surface
then slapped by wooden fiberglass
quick journeys forward and back
drops of sweat
melt the ice

Anthony Bourdain

I once tweeted @Bourdain, urged him to do a plant-based show in Malibu. Told him Rich Roll could be his local guide to the vegan scene. Rich liked the tweet, but I never heard from Anthony Bourdain. No surprise. Not that I’m a hardcore vegan, but I wanted to see Bourdain truly out of his comfort zone.

No, he was far more relaxed on the Congo River, skinning chickens, maybe eating their feet. I was never in man awe of Tony, he was too dark to be one of my guys, but I  admired the way his imperfect teeth smiled at people, all people. The Thai women stirring brains in a bowl, or the men serving aged cheese in the French countryside. He was a true food ambassador, simultaneously common and noble.

Suicide by hanging, people seem to emphasize, but to me death is death. We all go out; slowly, quickly, healthy, ill, sane, or not. The end waits for all of us. It is not how we died, but how we lived. But that might just be me. The Anthony Bourdain that I read and watched on CNN lived truth. Truth of love. Love of food, booze, exploration, humanity. He was once addicted to heroin and to life. I guess all addictions eventually end.

One Foot History

I remember being in front of the classroom; leg shaking slightly, the sweat was no longer just in my pits, there was a wet ring expanding to the size of a sand dollar, darkening my Arrow shirt. On the board in my handwriting, Violence is the answer. The words simply arranged to spur discussion, debate. We were moving towards studying General Sherman and the Civil War, the scorched earth policy. Weeks later we’d compare Grant to Truman, and the dropping of the A bomb, but I always started with probing student psychology, trying to get kids talking and thinking out loud. Still on one leg, Raymond was also sweating, we were 20 minutes into class, his leg was wobbly. Raymond was the center for the football team; he kept coming to class late, my pleas falling flat. 11th grade, 16, 17 years old, and they were all systemized, stigmatized; I was the face of the public school bureaucracy, handing out tardies. Raymond was a tough, kinesthetic kid; I needed to lose the script. “I bet you put your foot down before me,” I said when he came in late again. I wanted him to do push-ups, but that seemed like a step too far, now we were in this one-foot thing together. “Violence is the answer, if Gandhi got shot, he’s dead, then what?” said Patricia. I hopped over towards Brian who had his hand up. “People talk about peace, but what about us making nukes? Only peace because we might blow someone up,” he said. “How many of you could burn someone’s house down in front of them, watch a child’s teddy bear become smoke, you holding the torch yourself?” I asked. No one said they could do it, they’d almost forgotten about Raymond and me, we were all in the present moment, thinking about destruction’s role in history. “There are no rules in war,” Phil said. “So, if you could, you’d poison the water supply for the entire South? Kill all the toddlers, dogs and horses?” I asked. Phil started to squirm. “No, no, there should be rules against that.” “But why?” I countered. 35 minutes into class and Raymond was puffing, flushed, swaying, about to topple. He finally put his foot down, gave me a grin, and sat down at his desk. My face was dripping sweat, I jumped over, shook his hand, “please don’t be late again.” “I won’t,” he said. I stayed on one foot for the rest of the 55-minute class, the bell rang, they walked out still debating, I heard one of them say, “violence isn’t the answer.”

Flamenco At Home

wooden guitar, Paco de Lucia flat on a screen
the bitten apple underneath his frozen image
Iberian music partially fills the house

without speakers he is far from me
sitting at the center of our victorian
the dining room table, my desk where words appear
between my son belting out songs he learns from
tv, while my daughter talks about the dog
we’ve decided to have join our chaos
our domestic bliss

before baths and bedtime
they swirl and nip like moths chewing sweaters
devouring dusky light
energy wanes, finally they take the stairs up

I stand barefoot, wooden floorboards warm my toes
in Sloane’s room, above the oven
where the chocolate chip cookies were
just baking

I stare at her snow globe collection
Capri, Virginia, Asheville, The Nutcracker
Alexa playing songs that I don’t know

almost 30 years ago it was
TWA, me on a plane to Madrid from JFK
before I knew his name, before the Moors
and Hemingway, before phones in pockets

his voice, his Algeciras
dead 4 years now, wikipedia tells me

the cassette I bought that summer
a rectangle of non-compostable plastic
sitting in landfill somewhere

the house is quiet now
only black where he once was
sleeping children, the wind outside blowing leaves
like memories trying to take flight

Old Dominion Cleaners

The squirt of liquid soap mixes with my sweat as I push the hard brush bristles into the shirt’s collar. No breeze in the stuffy backroom of the Virginia cleaners on a July day, just the whir of plastic encased blouses, pressed pants and starched shirts as they creak by me on the ancient conveyor belt. During pauses I catch glimpses of the inked names of lawyers, lobbyists, and members of the FBI on cotton fabric; Gant, Ralph Lauren, Van Heusen, Arrow.

I only break the buttons of the assholes, the ones who shove the shirts at me, their garments reeking of dickness. One snap of the stapler and the circular plastic splits in two.

Danny, anything you find in the pockets under twenty dollars is yours to keep, anything more, we hold onto for two weeks, then we split it 50/50, Mary Lou the manager tells me on my first day.

Jack, Jack, Mary Lou yells out to her elderly white servant of a man. Jack drives the shirts back and forth an hour each way to Richmond to be cleaned off site. Jack will be dead by the end of summer, and to look at his shaking hands and wizen face, his countenance is a walking premonition.

One morning a blind man finds his way to the cleaners, I see him tapping bricks around the door. He dumps a pile of shirts on the counter; they smell like mildew and urine. I count the shirts, feeling moisture, wondering how many times he wore each one until he finally decided they were dirty. Thank you, thank you, he says, tapping outside into the darkness, as I watch him shuffle out.

Garments arrive in jumbled stacks, leave on hangers straight. We all do our part, Mary Lou, Jack, the facility down south, and me.