“You know how you’re always chasing the first one?“
“Well, I found it,” he said.
I chased it for forty years, I told him, and then like the old cowboys say, the horse died and it was time to get off.
“I found it,” he said again, a small lost smile on his lips, “and then the next thing I knew some paramedic was slapping the shit outta me.“
“Yeah, well, I guess paradise ain’t what it used to be.“
He didn’t look so good. Across the road the big trucks kept rolling in the winter rain, the running lights like neon dreams disappearing in the spray and blackness, like the nightmares that keep calling your name; all noise and spray and gone, as real as yesterday’s box score. But each one of them takes a little piece of you, doesn’t it? He keeps staring out at them like they could carry him to some better place, like deep down he truly believed there was a better place and my guess is he does.
I know I once did. And maybe there was; maybe any place was better than here, in Nowhere, Texas with the ravenous guilt, and the wife and friends who were clean and the end of meeting chatter and the “I can’t do this again” and all that useless remorse.
I almost died is what he was saying. But I didn’t. He wasn’t saying that. He didn’t have to.
I know something about where he’s been, about waking up under the glaring lights and figuring out that it ain’t heaven and that something went wrong. But really all that I could remember was that it felt good; no, it didn’t feel good – it felt like it feels when you come around the last turn and the hill drops away and there’s nothing left but down and air and everything speeds up and the wind picks up and then the air goes away and the silence comes in and wraps you up, the peace of it grabs you and maybe you’re alone or maybe not and maybe the feeling gets you in your nipples or your dick; suddenly you know that you have been coming here all your life, that all the nowhere games are gone and all the called third strikes and nowhere Saturday nights are over; they never happened. It feels like it’s all yesterday’s news; it’s quiet and getting a little cold because that air and that rush is starting to slow: you feel it a little and finally you realize that it was this moment you were looking for on the other side of the rainbow after the bluebirds sang and all the lemon drops were gone; just you and the endless cold beyond cold , death beyond death called life looking for more junk.
You ain’t done yet; it still looks like freedom and no junkie ever dies, not really, not in their deepest hearts and like the big rigs running in the rain it doesn’t matter where you go or how long it takes, you will still keep going because it’s still raining and there is plenty of road in front of you and there is still one more first time out there.
“Call me if it gets too bad.”
“Yeah, I will. See ya around.”
Jed wasn’t likely to call. At least I didn’t figure he would. He was too scared to ask for any real help. I didn’t know him but I knew a lot of guys just like him. I got high with a lot of guys just like him. Hell, I was just like him. Scared to ask for help, scared not to, paralyzed like always except when it came to getting high. That we could do.
“Yeah,see ya, Jed.”
Hope ya don’t die, this to my self.
I left the meeting and headed down the road, heading east back to the house. I live in a little place over by the river. If you look out the back door you can see the north fork of the Trinity, just a creek really, no fish or anything but nice enough to look at. The post oaks nearby give some shade in the summer and look austere in the winter gloom. Tonight it’s pewter gray and the rain keeps coming in from the southeast, up from the Gulf, maybe a hint of a winter storm in the air. The cabin is a renovated garage built of brick with red tile on the roof and windows all around. With a light on it looks inviting in the rainy night and it is, quiet and clean inside and big enough for one.
Inside, the place is wood-paneled with stained pine on all the walls, floor and ceiling. It has an overhead fan and is heated by a gas heater, so it has the aspect of an old-timey cabin with a fireplace in winter and a shack in the summer. It is easy to live in the one big room which has a bed and an armchair, several bookshelves and the big desk that I write at and use for a dining room table. There is a kitchen and a bathroom with a claw foot tub and a toilet with a wooden seat and sunset in the window. An easy place to live in and a refuge for a tired old hustler like me.
Folks here call me Charlie. It wasn’t always my name but it will do for now. I showed up here a couple of years ago with bicycle helmet and gloves, a blue backpack filled some lightweight clothes, a baseball glove and some poetry by a Vietnamese monk. I had meant to go to the coast of Oregon down near the California border, maybe Gold Beach, but it didn’t work out.
It seemed that a lot of things didn’t work out at the end and finally I just had to pack up and go. After twenty years in the same town there was a lot of packing up to do but when there is money owed to the kind of guys I owed money to and the deal is dead and there is no story left to tell, the last flight going east is a guy’s best friend. It felt like a forties movie but there is no romantic hero in this one, just a guy riding a mountain bike in the rain, with a head full of dope and a mouthful of lies.
It was time to get gone, get out of Dodge. No west coast sunsets, no rain forest, no swelling music, just the big sky and brown grass alongside the north fork of the Trinity on a rainy night in Texas.
Before it went bad for the last time I was running a stock deal, an Internet tech company with a couple of local techno wizards. Stan Forge and Jack Diller were a strange pair. Stan was poet turned businessman, a stocky brute of a guy who looked like your worst memory of the guy who terrorized you on the way home from school. Make that who terrorized me on the way home from school. He knew every book ever written or so it seemed and he made it clear that you were a couple behind no matter what the subject. He was physically threatening but inept and intellectually a bully of the worst kind. In other words, a perfect guy for the technology age.
His partner Jack was a professor at the local University who had created a program that mapped web navigation. Gentle in demeanor, he was the more difficult of the two since he was stubborn, fiercely protective of his design and a tenured professor, an impregnable combination.
Stan brought me in to get the money together to launch the company. I was good at that kind of thing. And it looked like it could be done pretty easily since tech companies were flying out the door every day it seemed. The stock markets were skyrocketing on the backs of technology stocks and tech startups were doubling, tripling their debut prices on a regular basis. It was the new national pastime to get rich on internet dot.com stocks and Stan and Jack were like every other dreamer out there. They knew they were smarter than everyone except maybe Bill Gates and he had been lucky; anybody was getting rich and since their stuff was really good they were a lead pipe cinch. All they needed was a lousy little million or two to get started, along with a little viral marketing, and the cover of Time was the next step.
I had met Stan years before when I was running a movie deal and in love with a poet. The movie got made although it turned out badly and the poet went home to San Francisco. I hadn’t seen Stan since. I ran into him again at a book store opening on a rainy Tuesday night when I was accompanying Peggy Macleod, an editor of a local magazine, known to one and all as the writer’s best friend. Since I was trying to get her to send my writing off to her publisher boyfriend the least I could do was take her to the opening when she asked. Her guy was out of town. He was out of town often so that Peggy and I slept together several times a week but so far no book deal.
The party was dull although the store was large and well lit and the liquor was plentiful and free. It had been a bad day at the writing desk as had so many in a row and the thing with Peggy was not showing my best side even to me. Tuesday meant that I was just about recovered from the weekend and ready to start the excesses for the upcoming weekend. Slick had called with good news about a new shipment and I was going to get together with him as soon as I could get free of my obligation to Peggy and the party.
I was looking at a Fitzgerald translation of the Odyssey when I heard someone suggest the Lattimore translation.
“It’s much more precise and in general, the one Blaser prefers. You know Robin don’t you?” I turned and there was Stan.
“Stan. How are you? I haven’t read the Lattimore. And yeah, I know Robin. I met him with Laura, back in the day. Same time I met you. How is …? Mitsuko?.”
“Fine. And Laura? Do you hear from her?”
“No, can’t say that I do.”
“Yeah. Well… Yeah.”
“What are you doing, you know, here, Charlie?”
And that was Stan, lord of all he surveys. Maybe it was just me, out of place everywhere I went.
“I came with Peggy Macleod.”
“Oh, Peggy. She’s an interesting girl. We do some work with her.“
“Yes, we’re on the Arts committee together.”
And so it went for a few minutes in which I found out that Stan knew everybody in town, worked with everybody, thought ill of nearly everybody, ran his own media empire and was in the process of taking over several well known technology companies. The thing about the Laura stuff was that she and I hadn’t spoken in ten years. I knew that they must have so I wondered what the game was. Stan did not to appear to have changed much from the arrogant guy he was years ago, so I was surprised when I heard him ask me what I was doing these days.
I heard myself tell him that I was doing some writing.
“Are you still making movies?”
“No, I gave that up a few years ago and went into telecommunications companies for a while.”
“And what happened?”
“I got married and moved to an island thinking I would live there forever and write the Great American Novel. After a while I remembered that the only island I really liked was Manhattan. It didn’t work out so here I am, no island, no marriage and no novel – you might say I’m traveling light, but hell, the liquor is free.”
I’m wondering what the hell am I saying since telling Stan anything is a mistake. Given what he’s been saying about everyone else it is a good bet that everything I have just said will be around sometime soon. I must be tired. He’s saying something about am I interested in talking with him about an idea he has for a company and he has a knowing smile on his face. “What is that, Stan?”
“I have an idea that might interest you. Here’s my card. Call me and we can talk about it.“
“What kind of idea, Stan?”
“An Internet idea that I have the rights to and I think you might be the right guy to help me put together. Look, I have to go. Call me and we’ll talk. You’re free, right? Yeah, it’s good that I ran into you.”
And off he went, nodding as if in conversation with a higher power, striding down the Classics aisle like Ulysses coming home to Ithaca, ready to take all that is rightfully his, everything that the gods have promised him.
Photo by Michael Lebowitz. All rights reserved.