Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One hard-ass, workin' Texas gal, a story

This story is fiction only because the names have been changed and all the facts can’t be verified. So, this story is about as true as reporting is on the most important stuff. You know, secret prisons, what’s behind the influence of the CIA, etc. Just like that. True as hell; try and prove it ain’t.

A guy named Bill told me it in a bar. If we hadn’t ended up in a booth with no one nearby he’d have never told me, especially the part about one event that happened when he was a child that he seemed to be over within less than a year, but which now he claimed ruined his entire life. I mean, compared to, say, having a drone sneak up on your uncle’s wedding and killing your entire family except for you and you’re just eight years old - compared to that this is just whining, but I found it compelling – I was spellbound for nine beers.

“ So, ok,” Bill begins, “This is too complex if I try and separate all the parts that I saw happen, that I was a part of, from the parts that I figured out later. And then there’s the stuff that preceded this, ok, so it’s more like a snapshot of a moment. But in that snapshot you can see lot’s more, you know? Like a Diane Arbus picture, you know? Like, what we were just talking about JFK and Bobby and Martin, you know? That moment when it hits you like a punch in the gut and you go, ‘Oh my God, the government killed them all,’ you know.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got you. You know I had a cousin who just died of some kind of heart disease. It’d been diagnosed over a year before. The doctor told her she could die at any time, right? Now, get this. Her husband is a Baptist preacher, right? And this is a small Texas town. Everybody knows everybody. So I hear from my sister, ‘She died in her sleep. And the autopsy showed it was her heart.’ And, in the moment, you know, I just want to finish up the conversation, ok? I got the news, sorry to hear it, well we all knew it was coming, thanks for calling, would you mind putting my name on your card? You know. Then I hang up and it hits me. Autopsy?! What the fuck they need an autopsy for? Did someone think her preacher husband had killed her in her sleep?”

“Yeah, I hear you. What is this shit with autopsies? Cutting up bodies. It only makes sense when you suspect a crime has been committed, you know? You know what, talk about a punch in the gut. You know how every time there’s a plane crash they conduct a thorough investigation. Spend weeks, months if they have to. Finding the black box, looking at this, looking at that, right? So, it hits me. 9/11. Bush ordered the mess cleaned up as soon as possible, right? He fucking ORDERS that there will be no real investigation, right? And barges haul all this debris, which is the evidence, right? Barges haul it to secret locations and places that are off limits, classified sites and shit, you remember?”

“Oh, yeah,” I answered, “I’m with you. So, the most important plane crashes in American history occur. By the end of the day, they say, ‘We know who did it. We know how it all went down. Here’s pictures. It was Osama Bin Laden.’ And they’re flying his relatives back to Saudi Arabia, right? But, this Baptist preacher has to have his wife’s body invaded before the burial?”

“Yeah,” Bill says. “And Bush says. It’s too distressing for Americans to see all this. We’re going to clean it up pronto. Get it out of sight. You ready?”
“Yeah, I’ll stick with Bass. I gotta go to the little boys room. I’ll get the next round.”
“Sure.” Bill gets this look. “And when you come back you’ll be seeing a man about a dog?”
“ You go. And if it doesn’t bore the hell out of you I got a story to tell you about a dog.”
“Ha. Gotcha. Be right back.”

So I’m not a bar kind of guy really. I always looked at it like hey, I can go to the store and buy six beers for the price of two in a bar. But now, I’m gettin’ up there. I’ve most always done my drinking alone while I was playing guitar. But now, fuck it, I’m lonely. You know, I got no male drinking buddy. My wife won’t drink. Doesn’t like me to drink. So, it’s worth it to go to a bar. I always talk to somebody and once in a while I hit it off with some stranger and I end up getting stuff off my chest that I wouldn’t, or couldn’t tell another living soul, you know?

So, Bill and I settle in. He starts in, “I was just thinking. This story may bore you to tears. So just tell me, ok, and I’ll stop. I mean, we’ve never seen each other before and I may never see you again. And I want to tell somebody this thing that hit me in the gut. Well, I’ll know if you think I’m a nut and I’ll stop the story. Or you just …”

“Yeah, yeah. Go ahead. I’m into it. Tell me before I’m too drunk to listen, ok? I do this, too. Go. Tell me about the dog.”
“Ok. I’ll just start with the whipping.”
“You whipped a dog?”
“Hell no. My momma was whipping me.”
“Ok, I’m like eight years old. We just moved into a nice brick house in the suburbs.”
“Amarillo, Texas. I grew up there. It was nice for a kid, you know? Both my parents worked. It was, let’s see, I was eight. It was 1958. We left our doors unlocked, you know? I could walk to and from school. I’d get home, I could ride my bike. In five minutes I’d be out of town, out in farmland, pasture land, you know? I was really into riding that bike man.”
“Ok, got it. The dog?”
“Ok, was he fat”
“No. I can’t remember why I named her Pudgy. She was a cute little cocker spaniel. Not a pure-bred, but she was a cocker spaniel. For the first time we had a nice fenced in back yard so I got a dog. My first memories about her are me, like, tickling her chest. I was sure I made her hair go curly there from all the tickling. She was … you like dogs?”
“Oh yeah.”
“So you understand me when I say I loved her more than anything? I mean more than ANYTHING. If you said, ‘Bill you can either ride your bike or stay home and play with Pudgy,’ there’d of been no contest. I’m with the dog.”
“You ever see “Old Yeller?”
“Oh yeah, cried like a baby man.”
“Me, too. And I read dog books. I remember “Big Red” and “Lassie Comes Home,” right? We had a World Book Encyclopedia, man, and when I looked up dogs they had pages of dogs. Neat pictures. Hunting dogs. Working dogs. You know.”
“Oh yeah. Don’t tell me the internet is ever going to replace looking through a good encyclopedia.”
“No way. So, anyway, I loved her. Thinking now I think I loved her more than I loved my family, but you’re a kid, you’re only eight. You don’t think about that, you know? They’re your family, right? You think you love ‘em. And you do, but it’s, what? It’s a … it’s a conditional love, you know? We were Baptists. I believed I was bad, you know? ‘For all have sinned …’ stuff.”
“So, my parents would spank me with a belt sometimes. And this one day, I don’t remember why, but my Mom was wailing away at me on the back porch. I’d put my hands back there, but she kept on, hurt my hands, so I moved them. And then, there’s Pudgy, man. And she was barking and snarling, scratching at my Mom’s legs, you know? Protecting her master, it’s just instinct, right?”
“So my mom had just gotten in from work. She worked in an office and she liked to dress snazzy, you know” She wore nice, I guess silk, stockings, and Pudgy was tearing ‘em up. I remember laughing, like right from crying and going, ‘No, mommy, no’ to laughing - kind of hysterical I guess. So she takes the belt to my dog, but Pudgy stays in there, man. I don’t remember her biting mom, just scratching up her legs and snarling. Man, to me it was like a book or a movie. That’s what dogs do, right? You don’t have to train ‘em. They love you to death. They’ll die for you, man.”
“Oh, yeah.”
“So, I don’t know. I’ve got a vivid memory of her spanking me. My butt, my legs, my hands, whatever. And I remember laughing and then everything changed. Her expression. I don’t even remember if I had got down to protect Pudgy or if she just stopped. I think she just stopped and went in the house, Pudgy still going for her legs.”
“Wow, that’s a dog, man.”
“Yeah, and I stayed outside. Me and Pudgy hugging and her licking me, you know?”
“So, I don’t remember how things went down when my Dad came home. He probably whipped me some more for good measure. Inside the house. Anyway, all I remember is the next day I get home from school, the back gate is open and Pudgy is gone.”
“Pudgy is gone. But you know, Lassie comes home, man. She could have gone out, but she would have would have come back in, too. She knows where home is.  But she’s not in the alley. I spend the whole afternoon walking up and down the alley, calling, ‘Pudgy, Pudgy, reet, reet, reet (he was whistling), here Girl, Pudgy.’ But she’s gone, man. My parents get home about the same time and say, “Well, did you leave the gate open when you threw out the trash?” Man, all my life all you had to do to get me was lay a guilt trip on me. So that turned my mind to blaming myself, then there was some speculation. She looks like a pure bred. I bet someone took her. Maybe someone opened the gate from the alley and left it open when they left. Anyway, I was just a stupid kid. It didn’t hit me until I was middle-aged with two out of three kids grown up. All these thoughts like, if someone came into our yard they could have come on into the house and stolen SOMETHING. You know, and a lot of other things it’d take too long and whiny to get into, but one of them was remembering so vividly that look on my mother’s face when she went from  being mad as hell, whipping my ass, to just stopping. Oh yeah, she said, “That dog ruined my hose,” and just went inside.” So one day it hit me like a punch in the gut, “My mom had my dad take Pudgy away. I wonder if he shot her or just took her so far away she couldn’t find her way home.”
“But Lassie comes home.”
“Yeah. Every day after school I came home and looked for Pudgy. On foot, on my bike. With binoculars even, ha. I remember going out in a snow storm looking for her. Man, I just knew I’d find her. I just knew she’d come back. I didn’t give up for months, man.”
“Pudgy was dead.”
“Yep, I think so. If my Dad didn’t do it then I’ll bet she got her daddy to.”
“ So before we both start crying here let’s get set up.” So Bill got the beer and I took another leak, thinking. Feeling bad for that little boy looking for his dog. Then it hit me like a punch in the gut.
We settled down again and, what the fuck, if this had been a friend I might not have had the guts to handle it this way. I said, “Bill?”
“Tell me quick without thinking one good thing about your mother.”
“Well … That woman worked her ass off. Her good job is the reason we got by. My Dad was a salesman all his life and he either got a good commission, a bad commission, or nothing at all when things were bad. Oh, and she was in the union, man.”
“Which one?”
“Communications Workers of America.”
“Telephone company, huh?”
“Oh yeah. That’s pretty good, huh, for Texas? A union woman from the 1940s when she was a telephone operator. You know, plugging in those wires.”
“Did she cook?”
“ Damn good meat and potatoes. Not much on vegetables. From a can. Oh, except for fried okra. And you know what? Every Saturday morning for a long time she got up on Saturday morning and made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Hey, I see where you’re going with this.”

“You remember, about two hours ago when we first met we were talking about that damn Keystone Pipeline?”
“We talked about Rick Perry and how he wanted a mile-wide line all the way through the United States? And how the damn Democrats would probably open the door to that by okaying the pipeline? And how that’d be the thin wedge that, after that, why not lay down some train tracks along side, and a highway, and electrical lines, and the damn Democrats would end up making Governor  Rick Perry’s wet dream come true?”
“Well, yeah. Now, I don’t see where you’re going.”
“Well, excuse me, but you know I told you I was a songwriter? And I’m drunk and I’m going to go poetical on you.”
“Ha ha. Go man.”
“Well, that Pudgy thing? I understand it broke your heart. I bet your Mom did it, too, but you know what? That thing is your own personal Keystone Pipeline and …”
“Oh, brother, you are drunk.”
“I know. Fuck it. But man, that thing is like the Keystone Pipeline in your heart, man. It’s the thin wedge that took you down the road into forgetting all the good stuff and the more you dwell on it, the wider that pipeline gets.”
“Fuckin’ corny man.”
“ So are some of my songs. But they make a point.”
Bill looked at me, kinda opened his mouth, then shut it. I think his eyes got a little moist.”
“If you’ll shut up, I’ll buy a last round.”
We got our beers and Bill held his up. I reached mine over and we clinked glasses.
Bill said, “Burl, to my Momma …” I could tell he had more but couldn’t get it out.
“To your Momma. One hard-ass, workin’ Texas gal.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Hey Bill.”
“ How can we convince those damn Democrats not to open the door to Rick Perry’s wet dream?”
“I think we’ll have to meet tomorrow and figure that out.”
Damn, it was good to have a drinkin’ buddy again.

                                                      Aillen Gilliland Dunn, 1923-2012
My kids would be appalled that I called her "hard ass." They remember a sweetie. Sure, she was that, too. The story is fiction, however.

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