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Thursday, March 26, 2015

THE SHOVEL

The Shovel

The numbers 3, 8 and 22 can lick my asshole clean.

I

Three is the number of sisters I have. All of them older. They dressed me up as a girl until I was five years old. Danae was closest to me in age, only a year older, but she still treated me like a kid. I’m 38!

 As she drove me to get smokes she confessed, “I’m addicted to yoga.”

Her kid Rory, was about to enter kindergarten and couldn’t pronounce his own name.

“Lol-lee, my name is Lol-lee.” It was painful to watch him try to form an R in his twisted mouth. “Roar- Ree,” I said slowly. “Roar-Ree.”

“Lol-lee” he repeated. Kid spent his days staring at the cat while his mom scooted off to yoga class to downward dog her way to spiritual enlightenment.

“I feel more connected with my goddess when I do my practice daily,” she continued.

“Danae, your goddess wants you to get your kid a speech therapist before he starts kindergarten or he’ll be a lamb to slaughter in public school.” She looked at me over her sunglasses hinting at a smile. Even though it was mid-January it was hot as hell.

“Michael believes Rory chose his impediment and will be stronger by overcoming it on his own,” Michael is her doughy husband. His has an atoll of long hair just above his ears, which he pulls back in a pump handle ponytail. He smokes a ton of weed, writes a conspiracy blog with half a million followers, and wears sweat pants and superhero T-shirts every day.

“That makes no sense whatsoever.” I said, staring out the window at the generic strip malls of sprawling Phoenix. Block after block of uninspired entrepreneurial spirit store fronts. Nail salons, liquor stores, check cashing places. Only the occasional taqueria with its hand-painted windows showed any sign of soul. “Does Michael still think he has a chip in his head?” Danae focused on the road, ignoring my question.

As I tamped and unwrapped the smokes, I handed her one as she said, “I’m worried about you. Are you still gambling?”

“Christ Danae, remember when you did so much blow your heart stopped and I had to jump up and down on your chest to get it to start again?”

“You’re projecting Tom,” she said. “Are you still gambling?”

“Well fuck yes I am,” I reclined the seat to get my eyes out of the sun. “And not very well, hence me sleeping on your floor. Did you know I spent the holidays at the Waldorf Estoria in New York City? I was up big, Danae. Private jet from Barcelona big.” I paused to light a cigarette. “Shit, did I tell you about Barcelona?”

“When were you in Barcelona?” She asked.

“Like two months ago. I had to swim ashore from a casino boat, buck ass naked. I lost my good suit in a hand of blackjack.” This was why the number 22 could lick my ass. “These two Saudi dudes stripped me and threw me overboard. I swam to shore, fashioned a loin cloth kind of thing from a plastic grocery bag and headed to La Rambla.”

“What do mean ‘fashioned a loin cloth from a grocery bag?’ Like a diaper?” She asked.

“Yeah, like a diaper, I stuck my legs through the bottom and synched up the waist. Then I went to La Rambla.”

“In a plastic diaper?”

“Yes,” I said. “Well, that and a tattered blue tarp that I found next to a construction site. I tied it around my neck, cape-style.”

She was looking at me again over her sunglasses with a full smile. I knew she loved these stories.

“Go on,” she said, ashing her cigarette in a lidless sippy cup with apple juice molding in the bottom.

“So yeah, I start walking up La Rambla and it’s packed with people, shoulder to shoulder. There are some buskers hustling money. I spy this skinny fag named Rory, oh weird, I mean ‘Lol-lee.’” Danae laughed up and punched me in the shoulder. “He and I were at a few parties together. He was hanging around this old coke dealer dude…”

“Like Dwayne?” She asked referring to this gross old dude that would give Danae eight-balls of coke if she’d go to parties with him.

“Yeah, like Dwayne. Rory sucked his cock though.”

“I never touched Dwayne,” she said. “Gross.”

“Whatever. Anyway Rory had obviously fell from grace because he was on the street beat boxing into a loudspeaker.”

“Was he good?”

“Yeah, really good. He could make some crazy beats.”

“So you started dancing. Right?” Danae guessed, knowing the trajectory of the majority of my stories.

“Exactly,” I said, sitting up in my seat. “I started doing my pop and lock routine.” I demonstrated arm moves.

“In a plastic diaper?” She asked.

“And a tattered blue cape.” I reminded her. “Yeah, we killed. We split 50 euros after only an hour of our routine.”

“Oh, the poor deprived citizens of Barcelona only got an hour of your dance routine.” Danae rolled her eyes and laughed.

“Rory took his earnings and scored blow. I took mine to a hardware store and bought a spray bottle, which I filled up in their bathroom with tap water, and a little pilfered glass cleaner. I also bought a 3 euro squeegee. I took my tools down to the corner of a busy intersection just off of La Rambla and started washing car windows.”

“In your Sanford and Son superhero get up?”

“Yep, it’s like dad said, ‘Never let an opportunity pass you by.’ Made 600 euros before the sunset. Bought a cheap suit got back on the casino boat and won over 10,000 euros from those Saudi bastards.”

“That’s like $15,000 US dollars?” Danae wondered.

“Something like that. I turned that in to $175,000 US over the next month. I chartered a jet, flew to New York and spent a month at the Waldorf Estoria and ordered room service every day. Best Cobb salad I’ve ever had.” Danae turned left at the light and started heading toward downtown. “Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to the bus station.”

“What about my bags?” I asked.

“You didn’t bring any.”

“Oh yeah.”

We rode in silence. “Michael is weird and so is your kid,” I said stepping out of Danae’s car in front of the bus station. “I love you though.”

“I know they are. I love you too, Tom,” she said, reaching out for another smoke.

II



The number 8 can suck my ASS!

If someone lifted the rock off of America they’d find Greyhound busses filled with a conglomeration of repeatedly wronged single moms ignoring their sugar-amped kids rotting their brains with eyes glued to screens. Seats filled with veterans telling war stories to heal the wounds that nobody wants to acknowledge, and broke widows whose farm has long been repossessed knitting sweaters for ungrateful mid-western grandkids on meth. And me, a hot and cold gambler who was currently cold. Dammit! I forgot to ask Danae for Xanax, I thought as I made a donut out of my jacket to sit on. A twenty-three hour bus ride from Phoenix to Denver without pharmaceutical aid and flaming hemorrhoids was made only slightly more bearable by way of a dirty hippy kid named Slug who was packing some incredibly powerful weed. We smoked at every stop.

“What peyote dancing, shoeless voodoo wizard named you Slug?” I asked as we duck behind a dumpster to smoke a bowl outside of Tuba City.  

“I earned my name at the Burn,” Slug said choking on smoke. “Have you ever been to Burning Man?”

“Fuck no. I have no interest spending a week watching oppressed professionals dangle their gentiles while hula-hooping in a sand storm.”

“You wouldn’t watch, you’d participate. It’s one of the ten principles of Burning Man.”

“No I wouldn’t. I’d sit there, judge the hell out everyone, and be miserable.”

Slug looked at me for a while. “Yeah, maybe you shouldn’t go. It’s not for everyone.”

When we got back on the bus, sitting in seat number 8 was my ex-girlfriend Alex.

She looked at me standing in the aisle next to Slug. Both of us reeking of pot, eyes as red as taillights. “Hi Tom. Who’s your buddy?” She asked, giving me the same half smile Danae gave me.

“I’m David Cohen,” Slug said. I looked at him and shrug my shoulders.

“Are you going to Denver?” I asked her.

“No, Albuquerque.”

“Good,” I said walking past. I was too stoned to chat. I felt so stupid. I sat in my seat next to the bus driver who just got off shift. He was eating a can of sardines in mustard sauce and slugging back Old Grand-dad. He had to weigh over 300 pounds. The seat next to Alex was open. I stayed put.  

III

The bus arrives just after midnight depositing Slug and I on to the quiet, snowy streets of downtown Denver. There is at least 6” of fresh snow covering the streets and sidewalks. My nylon jacket, thin socks, and penny loafers provided zero insulation from the biting cold. After two steps my loafers fill with powdery snow. “Well this sucks,” I say looking to Slug.  “Let’s formulate a survival plan.”

Slug is walking down the sidewalk toward a black Cadillac Escalade. “It’s my dad,” he says. As he walks away, he transforms from a slimy invertebrate into David Cohen. Opening the back door, he disappears into the warm interior.  He may have waved goodbye, I’m not sure. The windows are tinted.

When you are broke and alone in the bitter darkness of a strange city there is only one thing to do. Walk. If you are walking you aren’t loitering. If you have your eyes open, and your standards are low enough, you can always find what you need to survive on the streets and in the alleys of any city in the US.

By the time I get to the corner, I find a nappy wool balaclava under the eaves of the bus station. No cootie can survive this freezing cold so I didn’t worry as I pull on the facemask.

Tower cranes are the true bellwether for the economic growth of a city. From my downtown vantage point I count seven jutting out of the Denver skyline. The boom before the bust, I thought. Mid-western cities never quite grasp their own disposable nature. When times are good they build as though the nation depends on them and can’t believe when everyone returns to the coasts when times are lean. Denver, upon first impression, seems like it was getting all dressed up in knock off designs for a dance that will surely get cancelled. 

I walk in the direction of the state capital. Its huge golden dome radiates a halo of rainbow splinters in the cold air — the opulence of the gold in stark contrast to the emptiness of my wallet.

The snow falls in flakes as fat as the white washcloths in the Waldorf Estoria washrooms, soft terrycloth washcloths being thrown from rooftops by a demigoddess in an herbal mask. Only two blocks from the bus station and my head and shoulders are blanketed. Passing a construction site I spy another tattered blue tarp, which I tie around me more like a shawl than a cape.  I line my loafers with two grocery bags to keep the snow out.

Another inch of snow falls by the time I pass the Capital and cross on to 13th Avenue. The scent of fresh baked treats holds me fast in front of a bakery window made opaque from the steam and warmth. Inside are silhouettes of worker bee bodies pulling trays of baked goods from hot ovens. In the windows reflection I see myself in the nappy facemask and blue tarp and reluctantly move on.
                        

IV


From underneath the cloud cover a band of silver blue appears on the low eastern horizon illuminating the underbelly of the clouds pregnant with snow. The dawn brings winds that sweep the snowstorm across the high plains, turning the soft flakes to needles, which ricochet off the western wall of the Rockies, sending them back into a frenzied spiral through the deserted streets of Denver. Each flake an assault on my exposed flesh. My toes and fingers are in distress, my teeth begin to chatter. I need shelter quick.

Pushed against the wall of an alley, a mere twenty yards from the bakery, is a quarter round awning about six feet long and three feet high and wide. I remove the snow that is piling up against it. Painted on the front and sides is a wide-eyed, smiling, cartoon chicken holding a drumstick. Chester Fried Chicken. Pulling the awning away from the wall I shimmy my body and some cardboard boxes I procured to make a pallet on the asphalt underneath the awning. As I reclose the gap between the wall and the awning, I am enveloped by darkness. The wind whips and drifts snow outside as I remove my wet clothes, light a cigarette and wrap myself in the blue tarp. Moments after my last drag, I lie down and sleep the sleep of death.

So total is the darkness that there’s no difference between eyes open or shut when I awake, maybe hours or days later. It is silent. Absolute quiet, absolute darkness, absolutely alone. I stay perfectly still and enjoy deeply the situation I find myself in. Goddamit, I have to take a piss — a reality that would not be denied much longer. I’ll be damned if I’m going to lie in my own filth even for continued solitude. My escape from underneath the awning is thwarted by the immense weight of the snow that accumulated since my arrival.  Try as I might, the awning would not budge.  I panic. Premature burial has always been my greatest fear. My screams are absorbed by the insulation of snow. With my feet against the wall I shove against the awning to no avail. I pound in vain on the canvas fabric of the awning. My breath becomes shallow as I imagine the recirculation of my own toxic gas and no fresh oxygen to replace it.

Pulling out my pocketknife, I make a thin slit in the awning fabric between the ribs of the structure. Crouching beneath the opening I begin to claw my way through the drifted snow. My hands turn new baby pink as I scoop away over three feet of snow. Packing the tailings into the corners of the shelter, I am quickly running out of room. Finally I breach through. A shaft of light, refracting off the tunnel of crystalline snow, shines upon me. On my knees, hands uplifted I bask in that shaft of light, deeply inhaling the crisp air from outside.

More digging as I wrestle my head and shoulders through the small slit opening and up through the canal of snow. My forehead bleeds profusely from a cut receive from the rough edge of the metal frame. By the time my head pokes through, the surrounding snow is stained red. “Yarrrrghhhh!” I yell as I tumble out of my frigid womb into a landscape so white I can see no deminsion. Mounds of fresh snow soften every angle. Cars look like ski moguls and tree branches droop and crack under the heavy blanket of snow.

A pole sticking out of a dumpster catches my eye.  In my penny loafers, lined with thin socks and grocery bags, I make my over to the dumpster and shake the snow off the pole. It’s a snow shovel. Its only dysfunction is the D-handle had broken off. Like Arthur the page-boy I pull the shovel from the dumpster and hold it forth like Arthur the King. This shovel is to be my salvation.

I begin to shovel the walk in front of the bakery and receive two cinnamon rolls and cup of coffee for my efforts. The ladies in the bakery suggest I continue shoveling the walk in front of the restaurant for which I received $15. Within an hour I had cleared the walk in front of all the shops on the block, earning over $150, and I begin to make my way to the residences near-by.

As I shovel a walk in front of a simple brick home, my mind and body at peace with the labor, I hear the sounds of children laughing. I clear a step and sit to smoke a cigarette and watch. A young family is setting about to build a snowman. The father clad in a wool pants and sweater begins the foundational ball as the mother, rosey cheeked, exhaling great plumes of breath fiddles with the children’s mittens and hats. The youngest child sucks on an icicle while the elder helps her father roll the giant ball.  The scene is joyous and pure.


I watch them play as I take slow drags of my cigarette. I remember my wife. She hates me now. I remember my wife and remember why I hate the number 2. 2 will break your heart.

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