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Scene from Quentin's Amerika

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Mike Lee

Class of 1981
Posts: 200
Location: New York City

PostPosted: Tue Mar 16, 2004 9:55 am    Post subject: Scene from Quentin's Amerika Reply with quote

This is from the "Austin High/bad punk rock kids" novel that now resides in a hard drive. The scene is at an abandoned church the characters use as a party house.

It's set in August 1979, though it could have been last week.

Power was fickle, which unfortunately I was old enough to realize. Just because a few slightly younger and seriously neurotic kids saw me as some sort of tribal chieftain didn’t assure me of a damned thing. But it’s wonderful to have somebody pour a beer for you without asking. And so, I acted accordingly. When in power, do what the powerful do--indulge the populace. Tomorrow I could be a bum.

Took another sip and ambled through the church doorway. Temp wandered in behind me. I spotted Antonio, who was chatting with Clarence and Chuck, who looked like he belonged back sleeping on a bench in the Capitol basement. Antonio smiled and pointed at the brown winkle pickers on his feet. I could see that Clarence and his buddies making a pathetic attempt to fit in with this mainly older crowd. Everybody hungered for acceptance at an early age these days, something more than bottle rockets in mailboxes.

Light danced on the walls and the ceiling by the flames of a dozen kerosene lanterns. No band, so the generator had failed to work. Stared up at the beautiful sight. The shadows on the wall reminded me of specific nightmares I’d had as a child like someone waiting to jump me from the wings.

Decided it was vital to circumvent this sudden rush of paranoia and try to have a semblance of a good time. After a day like this, I was ready to get myself righteously plastered. Looked forward to sleeping in the back seat of my Plymouth, alone. Or with Laura, though I doubt that she’d show up at one of these things.

Saw Miriam first, standing near the choir corner with a couple of girls I didn’t know, but assumed was from some high falutin’ Austin High social circle.

Miriam Carver was a neo-goddess of the first order. She was five-three, thin, with banana yellow hair, shoulder-length with dark roots that would always show, and she never cared. She kept it parted on the side, falling over her face.

Her light gray eyes and very dark, almost black eyebrows, a calculated frame for her narrow triangular, almost outer-worldly face, calling attention to her very sharp, pointed nose. Her lips were full, smeared with red lipstick, an angel slumming as a two-bit tramp.

Wearing a pure white low-cut cotton dress that came to her knees, she was a miraculous vision of tawdry loveliness. The dress was something she had borrowed from Carol. It looked better on her. A lot better.

She greeted me by flipping the bird and sticking her thick tongue out. I operated under the assumption she wasn’t too happy to see me. Miriam is Carol’s best friend, though from how they complained about each other, it was a relationship hinged on mutual self-loathing.

Spotted Thompson and Dayboy right away, hiding out in a far corner, wearing their usual lurk look, leaning back and talking excitedly. In the dim lantern lights Dayboy reminded me of sepia tintypes of Union Civil War soldiers, the really haunted ones who sent some of my ancestors to hell. Below his semi-crew spiked hair his dark caterpillar eyebrows furrowed toward the center of his face, signaling he’ll wrinkle young. Close set blue eyes added some color to an otherwise bleak facial cast which included a short, down turned nose protruding above thin, curled lips along with a couple of picked at pimples smeared with Miriam’s prescription zit cream finished the picture. He had a workingman’s build, not stout, or really muscular but square shouldered enough to prove he could do his share of heavy lifting. For instance, when we were busboys, Dayboy could carry three bus tubs filled with dishes.

He claimed a black Irish heritage, descendants of the Spanish survivors of the Armada who shipwrecked on Irish shores four hundred years before—a questionable historical “fact” I found no less real than all the stories everyone told about themselves in this liars paradise. He didn’t look all that dark to me, and he burned under the Texas sun. Ergo, Dayboy was a white boy. Moreover he was the first I met who was ashamed of it.

Dayboy played the part of a background noisemaker, a perpetual conspirator. His loony communist politics didn’t surprise me. He needed something to get him in trouble with authority and the old hammer and sickle routine pissed off many here.

It worked precisely because Dayboy looked sincere. In the shadows he could give the uninitiated the creeps. Thompson and I, however, shared some doubts. While he carried the bus tubs he whined all the way to the dishwasher. I wondered if Dayboy’s whole persona was some kind of put-on.

He also reveled in his role of being my rival, trying to horn in on my friends with varying degrees of success. This was a good reason why I constantly had to keep a wary eye on him. Though with the goonball politics and tendencies to be a crybaby, I never worry about dear Dayboy. His innate ability to insert himself into my personal problems causes some trouble but he has never deserted me. All I ask for is loyalty and he gives it. He’s also effective in taking some of the unwanted attention from me. I’m quite comfortable as not being the only weirdo at Stephen F. Austin High School.

Behind them I spotted Sod, who was attempting to look cool, hoping anyone would bother to notice. Usually it was the same situation at these awful parties. Never anyone new worth meeting--always the same old crowd--and the surprise guests, like I said before, were of the jerkwater variety. Lucky for me, I wasn’t a true social creature, anyway, even though my closest buddies begged to differ.

The tombstone lay on the riser in the back, surrounded by wild flowers tossed helter-skelter along with a jumble of objects from someone’s childhood--a GI Joe, broken record albums, a Peanuts lunch box, a Ranger Rick pencil set, a Barbie carrying case and a mildewed copy of a Kammandi comic book. Sloppily wrapped around the personally disturbing tableaux was an unplugged string of Christmas lights.

Nearby, a decrepit battery-powered cassette deck that Sod and Aaron had looted during one of their suburban hunting-and-gathering forays blasted “Bingo Masters Break-Out” by The Fall--a freaky choice for a tune. The damn receiver was utter junk. Lots of scratchy guitar and too-reverbed vocals that, on this nasty old system with its cruddy speakers, sounded like banging oil drums from the inside, which now that I think of it probably would sound better. Thought about demanding to have it turned down, or put on another tape, but reckoned that I could take this noise for a while longer.

“Het. Het. Hooey,” Thompson hooted, doing his war chant. “Hey man, we’re a happenin’ thang tonight.”

Silently decided to forgo the male-bonding backslapping episode.

“Sure enough,” replied Dayboy. “There must be a hundred people here.” Dayboy was off by at least thirty, give or take a few. He’s not known to be good with numbers.

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied without interest. “Have you seen Carol? I’d like to be warned.”

Dayboy shrugged and stared beyond me, probably to watch Miriam, who I guessed was still blabbing away with her friends. “Haven’t seen her since Miriam and I dropped her off at her house a few hours ago.”

Wondered if he was lying. With him, it was always hard to tell.

Thompson turned away and hocked a loogie into a tissue.

“Don’t lie to me, Dayboy. She’s already messed with me once today.”

“No, really. I haven’t seen her here,” Dayboy said, a touch of plaintiveness rising in his throat, settling like a hairball somewhere between his teeth and his tongue.

Yeah, he was lying like a rug. Glared at the mass of faces. Suspected that Carol was outside, probably lying in wait with an ax cradled in those underfed arms of hers. Wished I’d never met her, but then again, she had introduced me to endless possibilities.

Temp came over, looking like he wanted to leave. Sod sidled up, his slack mouth ready to catch flies. He grunted a stoned hello.

As I returned his lackluster greeting, Sod arrived.

“About time you arrived. We were worried about you,” Dayboy said, picking his nose, then flipping gunk somewhere to my left. “We thought maybe Carol found you.”

“No need to do the rosary on my behalf. Not yet, anyway.” I was already getting annoyed. Hoped that Dayboy wasn’t planning to dole out the friendly advice. One can only lift one’s eyes to the ceiling, my mother always said.

Searched for a flash of insight between us. We’re always doing that, the two of us looking for a spark of reflected brilliance when, basically, we just needed a subject we could both understand.

“Started that Kerouac biography. Really dense material,” I said.

“Intellectual shoe polish,” Thompson said. “White Negroes never have trouble shaving without pain.”

“Yeah. I read the book last month,” Dayboy said. “He gives underachievers a good name.”

“You should know,” I said sophomorically. This cheap teenage angst smacked of one of those after-school specials--full of the watered-down triteness that propelled most of our thoughts.

“Look who’s talking,” he said finally. “You’re not exactly class president.”

Dayboy was always ready to cast stones for every occasion. But he loved beatniks. It figured. Like them, Dayboy genuinely lacked discipline. Nevertheless, who cares? The Beats were just another bunch of losers trying to be something they were not, which in their case, was Black. Thompson’s right, intellectual shoe polish. Why should anyone with my genius feel sorry for a bunch of jughead alkies? Taking pity on them was like feeling sorry for my father, and I’d rather not.

Crossed my arms, scratched elbows and tried to change the subject to cars and music, two areas we can usually agree on without stepping on each other’s sensibilities.

We never talk about my writing. He couldn’t understand why I’d attempt anything so painful, especially when I was depressed. I did hate it. Inscribing words on a page after one of life’s awful events was almost as difficult as the event itself. No one wanted to be reminded of someone else’s bad day, but writing about my own was somehow worse.

All work was boring, anyway, no matter how enjoyable you thought it was while you were doing it. Shaving was a drag, taking a shower was time-consuming, and driving down a lonely Texas ranch road was like sitting behind a typewriter.

There’s no romance in this hellhole. I needed a muse.

Wanted to say all of this to Dayboy, but he was being too obtuse. He certainly had some weird ideas himself. That’s what happens when you’ve never had a balanced breakfast. In Dayboy’s case, living on chemically laden Pop Tarts and Tang had permanently damaged his brain.

During our conversation Miriam came over, slipping her arm behind Dayboy’s back. The sneer she wore matched the arrogance of her boyfriend. She silently eyed me, attentive to what I was saying. I thought that she was trying to distract me, since I was engaging in verbal combat with her man. It didn’t bother me, what we talked about was more banal than the usual. I was impressed at how protective Miriam is of Dayboy. In my life I never had that.

Thought about Carol again, knowing full well that she was around here somewhere, probably in the shadows with Miriam.

If there was ever an obvious moment to screw with me, this was it. Took another swig from my beer, already warm in my sweating hand and hunted for a sign of intelligent life. Began to have a familiar sensation. Carol was nearby, damnit.

I was getting depressed, and there was nothing to do but stand around and look handsome.

A little personal note: Found the spiral notebook with the original dialogue--dates from 1980/81. The things I did to avoid graduation, LOL. Wouldn't be at all surprised I wrote this during that make-up Biology class.
It is about seeing what is in front of you.
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Reeta Adler

Class of 1990
Posts: 1

PostPosted: Thu Jan 23, 2014 4:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That is beautiful. =) Thank you for sharing.

I've gone back and forth over the years on whether or not I wanted to attempt teaching. This year I've been working with an after school program and next year I'll be training to teach myself, and just with my experience so far with my kids in the program your poem really speaks to me. I love how you identify each child and can see beyond the "name" or mask they present.
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