“Jesus Christ. It’s two days before Christmas.”
Lou spins the cap back down on a red plastic thermos, snorts and spits out the open window of the cab and shrugs into his coveralls that had been bunched up around either side of his ass during the drive over.
Brandon tosses the clipboard onto the dash, “But it’s a blood bank. At a church.”
Unfazed, Lou stuffs his scarf down into his collar, zips the coveralls the rest of the way up and opens the door.
“Then they ought to have money for a cab.”
In the rear view mirror, Brandon’s eyes trace the unnaturally punctuated trail that the couple’s walkers left in the new fallen snow. The banks on either side are almost waist high.
Lou’s voice disappears around the side of the truck, “I love handicapped parking spots. God damn, so much room…” then the truck jolts and the flatbed begins to lift up and the rear view mirror goes black. The whine of the flatbed’s gears are loud enough, Brandon is almost unable to hear himself say, “What a way to spend Christmas break.”
In the side mirror he finds Lou lighting a cigarette with one hand while the other works the levers to lift, tilt and lower the bed, sliding it up behind the sedan.
Lou makes eye contact, glances at his wrist, which means to get a move on. Brandon pulls his hat down and gets to work, mumbling “I don’t believe in karma, I don’t believe in karma” while Lou sardonically growls through his own version of Have Yourself a Merry Fucking Christmas.
With the car now up on the flatbed, they’re working the chains beneath the rear axle and neither of them hear the church doors open. Then a hunched shadow silhouetted beneath the poorly lit awning shouts, “Hey, they’re stealing the car!” and the door rattles shut.
Both men catch a glimpse of the figure as it darts left toward the side lot, then two others hobble toward the door from inside. One of them leans heavily on a cane but the other is running and blows through the doors, shouting, “Hey, hey you!”
Lou tosses the remaining chain onto the flatbed and says, “Good enough.”
Brandon’s already in the cab as Lou slips on the step, recovers and jumps in. The engine grinds into gear first and Lou stands on the gas, sending snow and blue curls of diesel fumes to wrap around the handicapped parking signs.
From between the signs, an old man is waving his cane and shouting, unheard over the diesel engine.
“Uh oh,” Lou chuckles, “looks like grandpa’s gonna whoop us now.”
What sounds like tires screeching echoes around the lot but it’s too hard to tell from which direction. Lou flicks the headlights on and aims for the exit when a blue pickup slides across the lane and stops, blocking them in. The man jumps out of the cab.
Brandon says, “So much for the getaway.”
Lou only laughs, “Fuck me, everybody’s got a cane.”
He hits the brake and looks in the side view, people are filing out of the building to watch. As the man from the blue pickup gets closer, his shoulders jolt unnaturally, sending out a ka-klack! that seems to make all the other noises fade away, inconsequential.
“That ain’t no cane.”
Lou straightens up in his seat, kills the headlights and puts up his hands, notices Brandon is panicking, shouts, “Hands up, Brandon. Just do what I do and don’t say anything. Been through this before.”
After a couple seconds, time enough for the man with the gun to start moving around the cab, Brandon puts his hands up as well.
His cigarette hangs from his lip as the gunman taps the side mirror with the barrel of the shotgun.
Lou winks, ”Show down at the First Baptist Corral, eh Brandon?”
The man opens Lou’s door and motions for him to get out of the cab with the gun’s barrel.
“First of all, we’re Catholic. Now take this slow, son.” His accent places his upbringing somewhere near Texas, and his demeanor reminds Lou of the way a highway patrolman might call anyone son to establish dominance in a situation.
Brandon stays frozen while Lou, calm as ever, turns slowly in his seat and sneers, “Son? Hell, I’ve got kids your age. One of ‘em sitting right there.” He nods to Brandon.
“The kid stays put. You, get to putting that car down where it belongs.” Still pointing with the gun, now at his hip.
Lou shrugs, “Well how about you put the gun down, show of good faith and all that?”
The man steps back and pulls the butt of the shotgun to his shoulder again, “Let’s get moving.”
Lou backs toward the levers, considering how far that loose chain might reach if he slung it out toward the gunman. Would he even be fast enough, or would that just put Brandon in danger?
Lou decides to make conversation, bring his guard down, wait for an opening. ”So, what brings you up to Minnesota this time of year?”
“Just unhook the car.”
“I’m just saying, I’d put you in or around… Dallas.”
The gunman pauses, “Fort Worth.” The rifle doesn’t drop, but his right arms seems less tense.
Lou begins reaching under the car, one chain falls free with a clank. He works toward the back of the truck, where the loose chain is laying under the sedan’s front axel.
“Fort Worth, alright. Can’t imagine you’re here for the weather.”
“My folks are on hard times, so I’m up here to see them through it.”
“It’s a good thing to-”
“Just keep working.”
Lou grabs the end of the chain, begins pulling it through his hands, slowly measuring off what he figures is about three feet at a time as if it were rope, all the while estimating the distance between himself and the gunman.
He grips the chain in his right hand, the four and a half pound steel hook in the other. From the crowd a voice shouts, “Robert,” and the gunman’s eyes dart over his shoulder for a moment but when he looks back the hook is on its way.
The gun fires but Lou is already diving toward the man’s legs. One of the tire’s explodes on the sedan and sparks fly as the buckshot ricochets off the wheel arch and fender. The hook glances off the man’s forehead, he goes limp, and the shotgun skids across the lot as Lou crawls up to the man’s chest, grabbing for the chain, his mind racing for what to do next, but the man lies motionless on his back, out cold. Lou gets to his knees, clutching the large metal hook as he surveys the bruise forming on the gunman’s forehead. He shrugs and stands up.
The old man from the church shuffles from between two cars, still repeating, “Robert, Robert.”
Lou begins reeling in the chain, “He’ll be fine, old man. The car… well.” He nods to the scattering of dings and holes that cover most of the front fender.
The way the old man kneels down next to the gunman, Lou figures they’re related. Which might make this his car.
For a moment the only noise is the diesel engine churning and an occasional gust of wind. The man on the ground coughs, his eyes roll, but he’s alive. The old man crawls a few paces and reaches for the shot gun. Lou stiffens up and drops the chain, thinking, “Can’t clock an old man like that. Might kill ‘em.”
The old man shakes his head and turns back to his son, getting to his feet as people crowd closer, most asking if the gunman is alright, how’s he doing, how many fingers, a few people shouting curses at Lou.
The old man turns, gun hanging in the crook of his elbow. “You know, if you people didn’t call my wife all hours of the day, cussing and threatening the woman to tears, I’d have taken that damn car back to the bank months ago. You can,” he pauses, his face red, lips quivering, “You can all go to Hell for all I care. I’m doing a good thing here, trying to help keep this church together.”
Then a man in a casual blazer and priest’s collar pushes through the crowd, people now shouting at him what has happened, what should be done. He looks at Lou, then back to the man on the ground, the old man with the shotgun. He strokes his stubbled chin like it’s a photo opportunity for Philosopher’s Weekly, and eventually raises his hands, cufflinks glinting in the lamplight. The voices dwindle into silence.
Lou says, “Look, folks, I don’t work for the bank. I don’t make any phone calls or harass anyone.”
Someone in the back of the crowd yells, “Bullshit.” This seems to spark the old man’s anger. He runs his hand along the pattern in the wooden stock, his breathing now puffing out heavily.
“Easy now. I just pick up whatever cars need picking up, take them wherever they need taking. I don’t know a thing about your personal…” What? Issues? Problems? Too negative. “… personal lives. None of my business.”
The old man raises the shot gun, but the priest moves toward him, speaks quietly, smoothly. The man hands over the gun and the shouting tapers off again.
Lou straightens his collar, re-tucks his scarf, his voice quivering slightly.
“So… what do we do now?”
The priest raises the shotgun, pumping it once, twice, three times, emptying the shells onto the ground before he leans it against a parked car.
He nods to the old man, who reaches into his pocket and tosses over the keys.
The old man says, “Can’t imagine that thing’ll run all shot up like that anyway. Just take it and get on your way.”
Lou nods and stuffs the keys into his pocket, but before he can climb into the cab the priest approaches, “A moment of your time, my son.”
“Okay, shoot.” Lou winks to the old man.
“Now, I know you’re just doing your job. Truth is I didn’t even know they were behind until a couple of weeks ago. Eunice, that’s his wife, she always handles the money and she’s been getting forgetful lately. But then…”
“None of my business.” He fights the urge to call the priest “father” because to him, respect is something that must be earned.
“Well, anyway. I can’t imagine this is an easy job, especially this time of year.”
Lou clears his throat, “It’s honest work.”
“Sure, it must be done, but taking people’s cars, it can’t be easy. And especially now, during the holidays, well…”
Lou looks over to the spot marked RESERVED.
“Then I imagine you must feel the same way.”
The priest tilts his head, pushing his glasses up his nose a bit, “I’m sorry, I don’t-.”
“Is that your Beemer over there?”
“That’s what I thought. How many of these,” Lou pats the pock-marked fender, “do you think that Beemer of yours might be worth?”
The priest furrows his eyebrows, taken aback, “I’m… doing the Lord’s work.” His eyes fall to the pavement, maybe waiting for some reassurance, maybe searching the new fallen snow for meaning. The wind whistles across the parking lot.
Lou takes advantage of the priest’s momentary reverie and jumps into the cab. He slams the door shut, addressing the priest through the open window.
“Well, so long as you’re doing the Lord’s work, I’ll be here to pick up the pieces.”
The truck’s transmission grinds into reverse, the beep-beep-beeping growing muffled as the window slides up.
“Alright, Brandon, where does this chariot of fire need to go?”
Brandon only says, “Shit,” under his breath then picks up the clipboard but can’t seem to make sense of it, of anything. Lou takes surface streets to the on ramp, waits until the click-clack of the uneven highway jostles Brandon back to reality.
“Ah, there we are.”
“Sorry, I’m still reeling, uh,” he flips two pages, a third, “Uh, take this west to 494, then,” his voice falters.
“Jesus, relax.” He takes stock of the look on Brandon’s face. “Okay, yes, I’ve been shot at before. No, I’ve still never been hit. I usually just show them this,” Lou smacks the glove box open and a .357 Magnum nearly falls into Brandon’s lap, “but with you in the cab, I figured I’d rather draw his attention elsewhere.”
A moment passes in silence. The gun sits heavy in Brandon’s lap. He pushes it back into the glove box as quiet and calm as possible. A few more moments pass, the road click-clacks beneath the cab, Lou cracks a window and lights another cigarette.
“Never been shot at in front of a church, though. That was a first.”
They both laugh now. For Lou it’s just another story for the guys at O’Donnel’s, but for Brandon, the laughter helps to melt away much of the tension. He takes a deep breath, “So back there, you said…”
“It’s just that, you’ve never told anyone I was your son.” And to himself, Brandon thinks, I’ve never called you dad, either. Something like resentment comes loose in Brandon’s chest, some of the smaller pieces seem to fall away like kicking salt and snow from a pair of boots. Almost inaudible over the sound of the cab, “But I guess you take care of mom, so…”
“Oh, now.” Lou busies himself checking the mirrors, the gauges, pats himself down like he’s looking for his cell phone or reading glasses, like he has anyone to call. Anything to read. He busies himself to avoid the proverbial Kodak moment, but it’s alright. Brandon grins with his face turned against the fogging glass.
A few miles later Lou sets the thermos between his legs and works at the cap which breaks free with a familiar squeak.
“Want me to pour that?”
“Yeah,” he hands Brandon the thermos.
“Rather you just focus on the road, you know what I mean? No need to go scalding your nuts.”
“More like thawing them out. Shit.”
They both chuckle, and after another moment, he says, “Makes you wonder. I mean, there’s only two businesses that do better when the economy goes to shit. Repossession and religion.”
Brandon thinks a moment, “You’re forgetting bars.”
“Hehehe, ain’t it the truth.”
Then Lou clicks on the radio, smiling and singing his vulgar alternate lyrics along with the Christmas carols as the truck rambles down 94 West, kicking up a light dusting of snow in its wake.
* * *
© Anthony David Jacques MMX
Life is Shit : A Story About Beauty
* * *
I hammered out those final projects in a couple days. I didn’t care, and I figured most of the teachers wouldn’t have a clue whether I’d tried or not. Anything was art to them.
For my figure drawing class, I zoomed in so close in my reference photos that all I had to do was some mild shading and voila, it’s a square inch of the small of a woman’s back. And this one is an ass cheek. The inside of the curve of an elbow. That entirely black canvas? That’s a mole.
They were all done on standard 11 x 14 paper, but they were nothing more than smudges and a few hairs or wrinkles. That earned me a B plus.
For 3D Concepts, I’d just taken pictures of a handful of sculptures, four shots of each, then cut them out and pasted them to the outside of plexi-glass cubes. I called it ‘Cubism in the Twenty-First Century?’ as if even I wasn’t sure, because that’s oh-so artistic. I got an A minus.
The fact that I’d lost my syllabus for 3D Concepts didn’t even matter. Like I said, anything was art with this lot, and the requirements for their assignments were so open it was hard to believe anyone could fail.
Except with Mr. Geler. More than half that class had dropped by then because of his anal-retentive megalomania. Isn’t it funny how a God complex really means a person acts like a complete asshole? Anyway, I decided the rest of the class was right. Mr. Geler was about as evil as they come and it’d be a waste of time to even attempt making him happy.
So with the final projects thrown together, ready to turn in, all I had left was to come up with a concept for an exhibition. Keep in mind, this wasn’t supposed to be a real exhibit. We were just supposed to come up with a concept, write the proposal and jump through a few formalities, maybe have a piece or two of conceptual work to accompany it. The foul mood I’d been in probably had something to do with it, but it was Mr. Geler’s words I decided to throw back into the art program’s collective face.
“Life is shit, and then you die.”
Alright. How about an exhibition of nothing but shit? I dropped the bit about dying in order to focus on the here and now, to make it seem more ‘urgent’ or ‘relevant’. Artists love that sort of terminology.
My proposal was that I, the artistic genius, would fast for a day, then go to a fine restaurant. I’d take a picture of whatever I ate, I’d write down the menu items and later have that printed up in some nice, professional font. About eight hours later, the real art would happen with me taking a dump on a piece of fine china.
“Here’s your sixty dollar steak, and that splatter over there was a crème brulee. Sorry, I’m lactose intolerant.”
I’d eat anything and crap it back out onto an appropriate table setting. And it didn’t even have to be food. As an ongoing exhibit I even suggested we take this concept into other areas of life. Maybe I’d drop a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets into a blender and see how that came out.
My basic premise, the unspoken joke, was that since art had become whatever anyone wanted it to be, they were turning art into crap. With the exception of control freaks like Mr. Geler, who wasn’t doing fine art so much as commercial or consumer driven art anyway; just about anything you see in a gallery these days is senseless, emotionless, talentless junk. If art had become shit, then I may as well make that statement into a physical installation.
So I stood there for a good fifteen or twenty minutes in silence as they read through the proposal and paged through the sketches. I expected either of them, at any moment, to throw me out or shout in my face or, well, I don’t know what. I figured they’d get the joke. That the joke was on them.
The problem was, they loved it.
I wish I was kidding, but Miss Maloney and Miss Strop both liked the idea enough that they considered helping me refine the proposal to look for a gallery willing to show something so ‘edgy and controversial’ with ‘such a refreshing, gutsy take on social commentary’.
As I walked out of their gallery space, the place where we all had to give our presentations, for just a moment I wondered if I had the guts to go through with it. I wondered if I could serve up my distaste for everything those people stood for on little silver platters. I decided against it.
They’d each handed me a card, saying they’d be in touch, and I saved those numbers in my cell phone, which was a good idea. I keep the numbers of all the people I don’t like stored in my phone for two reasons. First, so that when they call, I know not to answer. Second, I get a small tinge of satisfaction when I hit that little red ‘reject’ button. It reminds me of all the little victories from my past.
Anyway, that day marked the moment I quit caring about other people’s opinions on art. Some things just aren’t beautiful. I’d been waiting all this time, paying all this money, hoping to finally get around to doing some real art. It finally hit me it wasn’t going to happen in a classroom. Art isn’t something you learn, and beauty isn’t something you can fake. You either have it in you or you don’t. Too many people don’t know what to do when real beauty is staring them in the face, or pinning them down on their roommate’s bed, as the case may be.
If you need a twenty thousand dollar piece of paper to convince people you’re an artist, well, you’ve already lost. So sure, I saved the numbers, but I threw those stupid professor/student gallery/art connoisseur business cards away. Cause it’s just like people have always said. Those who can’t, teach.
* * *
© Anthony David Jacques MMX
Life is Shit : A Story About Beauty
* * *
She was wearing a white tank top and white tear away track pants with black stripes down the sides. Her toe nails were painted a strange hazel green, and when she pulled her hair out of her face I could see the color matched her eyes almost exactly.
She said she needed something special for her next tattoo.
“I can handle that. What did you have in mind?”
Mike was out on a beer run so I’d been sketching some new ideas of my own. I brushed them over to one side and she sat on the edge of the desk.
“You know I’m half-Asian right?”
I nodded. However, the thought had never crossed my mind, which was instead completely fixated on the way her raven black hair draped gingerly over her shoulders, the way she kept playing with it around her fingers, pulling it through her teeth.
“So, do you know the Chinese symbol for …” she bit her lower lip, “Seduction?”
I think I must have dropped my pencil.
Here was a perfectly fit dance major, cheerleader for the football team, sitting with one leg up on the edge of my desk. So… did I know the symbol? I didn’t want to say no, but Mike was the calligraphy guy. What could I do? My mouth was already moving. What the hell was I saying?
“Uh, well, Mike’s the expert on the actual… characters, but I might-”
“I’m not interested in Mike.”
She popped one button along the waist of her tear-aways, revealing a swath of almost invisible lace. Having been basically single my whole life and resigned to the idea of dying alone, this was something I had no idea how to handle.
“Let me get some reference drawings and see…” I had to breathe deep, “see what I can come up with.”
She smiled, and the “Mmm” that followed could have a simple, affirmative, “okay”, or an invitation to rip her clothes off and get down to business. I knew nothing about business, in so many words, so I tried to play it cool and collected. I pulled out some sheets Mike had done and quickly scanned for anything remotely related to ‘seduction’.
I looked up and she must have read my mind, since her next gesture was to trace a line across her chest to wear her name was embroidered on the standard issue cheerleader workout tank top.
“Holly, that’s lovely.”
She shifted on the desk and another button popped. She smiled.
“So the first thing I always ask is, where do you want it?”
She stood up and popped a third button on her waist and her fingers slid along her hip bone, just below the lace. She traced a circle just to the left of her pelvic bone.
“I want it down here.”
“Uh, also, it helps to know… uh, how big… are you comfortable-”
“Oh my god, you’re so bad.” She brushed her finger down the bridge of my nose.
She then sat on the bed and crossed one leg over the other. Suddenly I had no idea what we were talking about, so I brought a couple sheets over. It was my only defense.
“Well, here’s sexuality,”
“Uh… and here’s sensuality. I think we’re on the right track.”
“I think so, too.”
She hadn’t even looked at the drawings. She pushed me down on the mattress and slid halfway down my body. The door was open a crack and, honest to god, she pushed it shut with her foot and flicked the dead bolt with those hazel-green toes.
With her hands on either side of my waist I was trapped. I might call it something else now, but that’s what went through my head. I was worried that we’d ended up on Mike’s bed, not mine. Would he care? If the situation was reversed, would I? I couldn’t get out of my own head.
As she slid back up her eyes traced a line up my chest until our faces almost met. She paused, then moved forward until her cheek brushed against mine and began to whisper something in my ear. I don’t remember now what she said, because the next moment she bolted upright to her knees, shaking her head at the wall, saying, “This is all wrong.”
“Oh, no, its fine. Mike won’t-.”
“No, this is completely wrong.”
“We could move to mine if-”
“Not you. Not this.” She ripped a drawing off the wall and shoved it in my face. “This!”
She began pointing symbol by symbol, “This isn’t ‘dragon’, it’s ‘pride’. And this one here, the one labeled ‘strength’ is really ‘butterfly’. Did you make these?”
“No. What? No. These are Mike’s.”
“Well they’re completely wrong.”
When she tried to unstraddle me and stand three or four more buttons popped loose and her pants fell to the floor but she was so dumbstruck at the artwork she didn’t even notice. She stood with her back to me, like I no longer existed, poring over sheet after sheet, shaking her head, but I couldn’t help tracing the near-invisible lace along her waist until it angled down and disappeared completely.
Then we heard the sound of clanking bottles followed by a somewhat muffled, angry version of Mike’s voice. He’d run into the door.
“Why the fuck is the door locked?”
Holly was so out of her wits that she flicked the lock open without a thought to her wardrobe situation.
Mike’s face flushed and his eyes bounced between Holly’s lacey underwear and my face. I shrugged.
Finally aware of herself, Holly slipped her pants up and began fastening them like nothing had happened, which I suppose was the truth anyway.
“Either of you… want a beer?”
I buried my face in my hands, “Shut up, Mike.”
“Oh, so you’re Mike? This Mike?”
She shook one of the sheets in his face.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Where did you learn Chinese? Because some of these characters are completely wrong. Fuck, some of them aren’t even Chinese.”
Mike opened a beer, plopped onto the bed and took a long drink. It was his only defense.
“Some fuckin’ artists you turned out to be.”
She’d snapped the last button and, sadly, that was the last I ever saw of Holly’s lacey underwear.
She eventually agreed to help us make the whole situation right, so Mike and I spent the next few days pawning whatever we could to repay the tattoo shops who’d bought any of our flash that had a mistake. There were a total of three sheets out of twenty we’d done that were error free, and I was at least glad that two of them were mine.
But now I was back to square one, and worse for wear. Investing so much time in this tattoo venture meant I was nearly failing most of my classes. Now that I was at the top of every tattoo shop’s shit-list, getting an apprenticeship would be next to impossible. Worse, if I wanted to not fail completely I’d have to start hammering out a half dozen final projects and come up with an exhibition of my own. In less than a week.
And Mike was basically in the same boat as me. We stripped our walls bare to remove any reminder of our massive communication failure. The day we’d reclaimed the last of our flawed artwork we sat in the dark and killed a fifth of cheap vodka. Holly stopped by for a shot, which felt somewhat cathartic. It’d been a long day for us all.
And the only thing I kept hearing in my head was the voice of my Graphic Design teacher, blowing smoke rings into the projector’s light and whispering, “Life is shit, and then you die.”
And I said to myself, “I can work with that.”
* * *
© Anthony David Jacques MMX
I’d just bought a dark green sixty-seven Plymouth with a 318, an Edelbrock four-barrel carb, headers and dual exhaust, original interior, original hubcaps and dice on the wheels; the kind of car where it felt profane to listen to anything but classic rock.
I would often joke that I needed to find a couple hula girls for the dash. I don’t know if I was serious, but this guy Ricky just loved the idea. He swore he’d show me around to a couple places where he’d seen them.
From the beginning I wasn’t sure about this Ricky guy. He seemed nice, if not a little eager. We’d met at a church function, so naturally I had my reservations about him the same way I had reservations about church. But we had a shared interest in Johnny Cash, which is usually a sign of good character, so I let it slide.
The plan was to head south on the 101 until we came across an auto parts store or two where he’d seen the hula girls. My only condition was they had to be the kind where the hips moved, not the ones made like a bobble head, cause that was all wrong. On those, the upper body wiggles and the legs and grass skirt stay put, which is exactly the opposite of how it should look. I wanted them to look right or I would just skip it all together.
I picked him up at his office building around four and we took off toward the coast. Then he said he had a couple stops in mind on the way.
“I thought we were cruising, man.”
“We are cruising, buddy.”
“I mean, the hula girls would be a nice touch, but let’s just roll and enjoy the ride.”
So he started talking fast, like we were old friends, like it was no big deal, and in the spirit of new friendship I agreed to the detour.
He directed me inland a few miles, and after about a half hour of rush hour traffic we pulled off into one of those well-manicured neighborhoods where every street felt like a boulevard and a side street at the same time. There were wide lanes and street lamps on both sides, palm trees down the center, but there were speed bumps in the middle of every block that I had to take real slow and even then the car would bottom out about half the time.
I glanced over at Ricky, doubtful, maybe a little annoyed, but he just kept feeding me the next turn until we were finally in front of a house.
“Dude, we’ve been going back to the listing page online like twice a day, the wife and I, just looking at the pictures.”
The house was at the end of a cul-de-sac near the top of a hill so you could just see the ocean past the trees. They’d been looking for a house a few months and this is one they were considering very seriously, he told me. It was much bigger than their current arrangement, a two-story condo with a tiny backyard. This place had four bedrooms, three and a half baths, a three car garage with am extra spot for an RV or a boat, “and a view to end all views.”
He sat with his chin on his palm, elbow hanging out the car window, imagining all his stuff in and around the place, and it finally struck me I was supposed to say something, to share his happy moment.
“You have no idea.” He stared. “Alright, let’s go up this way.”
By that time we’d been gone an hour already, but it felt like he was just getting started. When we got to the corner he pointed right, which meant further into the neighborhood.
I gave him a look that he pretended not to register, so I took the turn. He lead me a couple more turns up through the neighborhood until we were on slightly higher ground in another cul-de-sac directly behind the house in question. He wanted to get out and walk around, so I left the car running. I had to enjoy some part of this trip, and the sound of that dual exhaust would have to do for the moment.
The backyard was dominated by an enormous patio that Ricky had already decided to remodel so the kids would have more space. He also wondered if he could make the RV spot a little longer, to get it more beside the house which would be less obvious. And he was concerned about establishing a path near the back corner of the yard since there was a park up the hill which he imagined the kids could walk to. He’d only made the offer last week, and already he’d started to move in.
The thing that bugged me was he kept saying ‘the offer’. He and his wife had talked over ‘the offer’. He’d really prayed about ‘the offer’. He felt peace from Jesus or God or something, confidence that he’d come up with the right amount for ‘the offer’. It finally dawned on me, he wanted me to ask how much, and finally I couldn’t bear it, so I asked.
“Well…” even now he played coy, “just about three-fifty.”
Three-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars. His face said, ‘Now that’s a lot of money. Just wanted you to know.’
He went on and on about the house as we walked the property line, saying things like, “But is it three-fifty nice?” or “Now there’s a sunset worth three-fifty, easy.”.
When we got back into the car there was still more to cover. All the fees had to come out of savings, and the down payment would as well.
“We figure twenty percent will tell the seller, and the bank, that we’re serious, you know?”
He’d rested his chin on his arm, aloof, staring out at the ocean from a view that doesn’t quite belong to him yet.
“Twenty percent of three-fifty… It’s just nice to know we can put that down without making things tight, you know? Gotta live by faith.”
I didn’t understand how it was living on faith if he had the money on the bank, but I kept my mouth shut. I suppose it could be ironic that right about then the engine started to sputter.
“Shit, no. Not now.”
I pressed the gas pedal. When it died Ricky looked at me like I’d somehow not held up my end of the bargain by providing reliable transportation. I turned the key and the engine coughed smoke up through the carburetor and out the hood.
“That doesn’t look good.”
“Nothing I can’t handle, I’m sure.”
But when I opened the trunk, I realized I hadn’t yet put my tool box back there.
Now I’ll save you the drama of the next few days listening to a couple confused morons at the triple-A approved shop who’d never worked on a classic car. All it really took was to adjust a couple screws on the carburetor and the engine was running like a scared rabbit. She’d been getting too much fuel and that was it. Simple fix.
Anyway, at the time my heart was sinking. Without my toolbox, I didn’t know what to do but call a tow truck, and I was happy for once in my life to be fully covered, but Ricky’s face sunk.
“Dude, but my car’s still at the office.”
“That’s no big deal. I’m sure triple-A will swing by there as well.”
He looked at his watch, did the math in his head and started talking fast again. His logic was that waiting on a tow truck, then going to a shop, then his office, then my place (which was the furthest away) would take several hours in traffic like this, so if I could get it back on the road and drop him off, that’d be best for all of us.
“Otherwise neither of us will get dinner before, gosh, eight o’clock.”
I don’t know what I was thinking but I agreed. We could coast out of the neighborhood, going mostly downhill, so for a few minutes I felt confident his plan could work. But once we were out into traffic things got ugly. Every time we stopped (and the engine was getting bogged down with too much fuel) the Plymouth just died. It’d take several minutes to get it started again, during which time dozens of cars would screech by, swearing and gesturing, and a couple cars nearly rear-ended us.
Well, forty minutes later we got back to his office without further incident. He wished me good luck, hopped into his SUV and went on home.
I waited for the tow truck as the sun disappeared over the ocean and the breeze took on a coolness from the moisture in the air.
The car was dropped off at a local shop right as they were about to close, and I back got to my place about nine-thirty. By that time Ricky had probably already eaten and relaxed and played with his kids and looked at those real estate pictures online.
I have no idea if he and his family ever moved into that three-hundred-fifty-thousand dollar house, and to be honest, I don’t care. I never did get any hula girls, either.
* * *
© Anthony David Jacques MMX
Life is Shit : A Story About Beauty
* * *
Mike, the pen and ink guy, had started making extra money drawing Chinese characters as tattoos for people, mostly girls at first. He’d caught the beginning of that Asian craze and could hardly keep up doing one design at a time, so he wised up and started making sheets of them. They call it Flash in the tattoo industry. I’d tried my hand at it, sold a few sets here and there, but since I’d never really hit my stride with that right combination of subject and presentation I didn’t pursue it. I was happy for Mike.
At the same time, my interest in Graphic Design was dwindling. It wasn’t the drawing classes or the art lectures, since those were general art requirements. It was the Graphic Design classes themselves. The first year was alright, but then I met Mr. Geler. He was this wretched, thirty-something nihilist who (besides looking fifty-something due to his habits of heavy smoking, drinking and not giving a shit) was way too in touch with the meaninglessness of it all. He taught my second semester Graphic Design night class.
The first big assignment was two weeks into class, and the downward spiral began with Mr. Geler at the front of the room as the slide projector warmed up.
“Okay people, play time is over. In your next project, and for the rest of the semester, I’m going to be the client you hate,” he said as he pulled a cigarette from a package I didn’t recognize. Maybe nihilists had their own brand of cigarettes.
“You can’t smoke in here, Mr. Geler.”
He dropped his head and closed his eyes.
She hesitated, “Yes.”
“You’re the one who won’t work on a Mac computer, is this correct?”
“I already have all the software on my IBM.”
He slammed his fist down.
“We have thirty two brand new machines in the lab across the hall. No excuses.”
“I hate Mac computers.”
“Then you’re going into the wrong business. You have already made my life hell with your constant-”
“I thought you didn’t believe in hell?”
The cigarette stuck to his lip as he turned to face her.
“Get out of my class. You’re time is done here.”
She stood up but couldn’t get a single word out before he slammed his fist down again.
“In this room, I am god. I make the rules. I make your lives hell so you know what to expect in the real world. You do not make the decisions. I do. You talk this way to a client, you get fired. You talk this way to an instructor, you are out of the class. Simple as that.”
As she stumbled out of the room, he went on.
“Perfect segue to the project actually.”
He lit his cigarette,
“I am your god. I choose the subject matter. I choose the color palette, the font face, the design direction. I commission you.”
He took a drag and blew the smoke across the beam of light from the projector.
“And I will choose the worst of everything.”
We all shuffled in our seats.
“Your first years as a designer, most of your clients will be idiots. They have all the ideas and none of the direction or taste or style that a good designer has. Most of you probably won’t, either, but that is beside the point.
“You will have a great layout, and they will want to change the one thing you centered everything around. You will have the perfect logo, and they will ask you to put Comic Sans or Palatino lettering around it for the company name.”
One guy in the back said, “What’s wrong with Palatino?”
“People like you. One more stupid question like that, you’re gone too, Mr. Brautigam.”
There were a couple giggles.
He waited until only the hum of the projector remained.
“As I was saying, this will test your ability to come up with something that isn’t horrid when the person calling the shots is an idiot. I am clearly not an idiot, but I’ve worked with enough to play the part.
“If you want to eat, if you want to survive, you will take these jobs. For most of you, it will be all you ever get before you quit to take a job pushing buttons all day, still taking orders from idiots, selling plasma to pay for liquor. And sex.”
He blew a final smoke ring and snubbed out the cigarette. Under his breath, almost like a deeply held mantra, he whispered, “Life is shit, and then you die.”
* * *
That class quickly took on the character of an endurance race. I didn’t care what things looked like in the end, I just wanted to survive. Every class it was something new, something awful. Every week it was a bigger project with more specific parameters and lengthier requirements.
Mr. Geler would circle us, smoking and saying things like, “This is the life of a designer. Sixty-hour weeks, minimum, no personal life. Just enough time to eat, shit, masturbate and fall asleep in your cramped studio apartment.”
Hoping for a light at the end of my tunnel, I started looking into internships for my junior year. I’d work in questions about working with difficult clients at each design firm I visited and the story was basically the same everywhere. Until you had some recognition, a lot of your jobs will be small time morons who want what they want no matter what.
The hardest part was that Mr. Geler’s class would compose the largest and most recent projects in my portfolio. It was brutal. With each successive project, my body of work got more and more strange and at some point I cracked. He had us designing tampon boxes, anti-smoking ads, religious materials; the most annoying things you could imagine. By midterms, half the class was gone, fired, as Mr. Geler called it, and even I was losing my grip.
I’d also struck out at nearly every design firm within forty minutes of the school. Aside from the scattershot portfolio, most of them said they had waiting lists for interns. Turns out the Graphic Design program had doubled in size over the last several years, and the surge of interest had created a groundswell of new designers hitting streets running just as I was enrolling two summers ago. There were no design internships, and likely no design jobs, to be had. The market was saturated.
The only person I knew having any success was Mike, so I asked if I could partner with him on some tattoo flash, maybe work in some stereotypical Koi fish or dragons around his calligraphy. He said alright, and it was easy to fall into the rhythm of not doing your projects or going to class. The drawing was all fairly steady where college had become sporadic and unpredictable, thanks largely to Mr. Geler.
But working with Mike started paying off within a couple weeks. And since he was overloaded with requests for artwork other than Chinese characters, he referred them to me.
Soon I was sketching a dozen tattoos every weekend. I could hardly keep up. My roommate actually switched rooms with Mike so we could work together, and most afternoons we hung out at one of two tattoo shops downtown. One year earlier, Milwaukee had finally legalized tattooing within the city limits, which meant there was a large demand for artists and long waiting lists to get appointments. Finally I found myself on the right side of the supply/demand equation. We were getting in on the ground floor and making a killing.
Maybe Mr. Geller was right about Graphic Design, but when it came to tattoos I found people listened to you a little more. There were still a lot of bad ideas, but when you told someone this is permanent, and it’s going to hurt, once in a while they listen. Sure, I did some awful tattoos that I wouldn’t dream of putting into my portfolio, but the demand grew so fast, that was short lived. Soon we were both turning people away. I couldn’t wait for the semester to end so I might pursue an apprenticeship at a local shop. I only had to last one more month.
* * *
© Anthony David Jacques MMX