The Falls: Chapter one
The story below is from my youth. Names have been changed, and events have been altered…somewhat.
Figurative beginnings, Literal endings.
Memories are tricky things. They evolve and take on new meanings, but you must ask yourself if truth lay in the details, or in the broad strokes. - Minick.
There are many things that make a summer day hot. The sun beating down on the north Texas dirt so hard that when a gust of wind hits it just brings the hot open air beneath the shade tree you are squatting under so that super heated air burns your skin. The heat of an overcrowded, dysfunctional home, that is being semi-cooled by window units driving you out into the scorching sunlight. The heat of a pubescent body burning for action and movement.
On summer days like this my Irish heritage betrays me, and even though I have dark hair my skin remains as white as my red headed cousins, so I am forced to monitor how much time I spend in direct sunlight. I am perched on my hunches avoiding the laser light of today's sun beneath a tree on a corner in my neighborhood. It seems appropriate to call it MY neighborhood as it is the opinion, right or wrong, of the kids I hang with, and myself, that we with run things.
Through squinted eyes I can see the twins making there way up the street. They are headed in the direction of where I am squatted underneath the shade tree. They are twins, but look nothing a like. One with light, fluffy, almost blonde hair, and the other with straight dark hair that looks plastered to his head as if pressed on by a machine. One of normal stature for his age, and one so short he looked as if he was the younger brother by three to four years. One that looked like he would be athletic and capable of running from dawn until dusk, and the other unbelievably skinny, and one might think he had a terminable disease. These brothers of the opposite slowly work their way up the block towards me, going from yard to yard, kicking anything that gets in their path, and pushing each other back and forth as brothers of thirteen do.
The twins live with their grandparents. Their grandmother is the preverbal grandmother, full of love, doing anything for her grandchildren, and totally incapable of raising, and keeping up with two young boys. Their grandfather had a stroke some years back and is confined to a wheel chair. He now spends his days peeing into a Folgers can because he could not get up to go to the bathroom, and hurling insults at anyone that gets near him. The insults are not too biting as no one could make out what he was saying through his slurred speech, and when we talk back to him we garble what we say into nothingness, further inflaming him. You just know when he raises his voice at you and speaks his mush mouth talk that it is something bad about you or your mother. I was told that before the stroke he had been a really nice man, but that the chair, the coffee can, and the total loss of his former dignity had remade him, and forged a new him in the fire of humiliation. Maybe he was actually saying, "Nice to see you again, hope you are having a good day", but the fact that he was generally throwing a pair of scissors or a roller skate at me when I saw him made me doubt that.
The twins house was a place were we could rest up between shenanigans in the neighborhood, and get some much needed air conditioning on days like today, all the while having a seventy year old man rage at us, while his dong hung out of his pants because most of the time he forgot to put it back in when done peeing into the can.
I took my attention away from the twins and refocused it on the house that sat catty cornered across the street from my shade tree that offers no comfort. It was, far and away, the oddest, most unique, and attention grabbing house I had ever seen, in my neighborhood or any other. The entire house, all sides and the roof, are shingled in wood, which is now grayed and degraded from years of rain and the unrelenting summer sun beating down on it. The house sits on a corner lot, and the next lot in from the corner was also owned by the same person, but had a tall dilapidated wooden fence that ran around the perimeter instead of a house on it. Within the fence sat a lifetimes worth of tossed aside items. Old refrigerators and swamp coolers. Unused building materials and car parts. If someone were to look over the fence they would see something that was a cross between a junk yard, and that closet that everyone has in their home that contains all the useless items that a person accumulates during their life, but can not seem to part with.
On the front-left side of the house a sailing boat had been tipped up against the house and built into the home and was now part of the main living room. Towering over the house from the backyard stood a three story wooden pyramid that was built for god only knows what reason. Next to the pyramid stood a huge tree that had to be hundreds of years old, and was the only thing in the neighborhood that was taller than the pyramid. Conjecture as to the reasons that the pyramid was built, and to what purpose it was used was for years the main topic at the dinner tables of the neighborhood. Only one person knew that answer, and he never told anyone.
The front entrance of the house was never used, and instead the side entrance that led to the side street was the only door that anyone ever saw open and close. The side door opened up onto a small portion of yard strewn with lawn chairs and industrial wire spools turned on their side in order to hold ashtrays and beer cans.
My attention was taken away from eyeballing the house for the millionth time by my name being yelled from down the street in the opposite direction of the plodding twins approach. I turned around to see Luke several front yards away. Luke was a gregarious kid that I had known since I moved into the neighborhood in the third grade. Luke's father was an ex-preacher and now led a life of beer, work, and letting his kids do whatever they wanted. We spent many afternoons at Luke's house watching porn and trying our first beers, while talking like we knew anything about girls other than what we saw in Luke's dad's porn movies. We had watched all of the big titles; Behind the Green Door, Debbie does Dallas, and a myriad of others.
Luke walked in a way that you could tell he did not have too many daily cares. Other than waking up in the morning, hanging at his house while his dad was at work, running the neighborhood, and eating, Luke did not have too many things to worry about, and if he did, he did not worry about them. That was just Luke's way. All the mothers in the neighborhood loved Luke and his impish style. No matter what trouble Luke stirred up in the neighborhood, he was never in trouble.
"Hey retard, what are you doing sitting under that tree?" yelled Luke.
"It's fucking hot and I am waiting on the twins, what are you doing?"
"Oh, yeah" says Luke squinting up at the sun as he walks up to me. "I am just walking around seeing what's up. Why are you waiting on them?" I just point to the house with a boat on it and Luke understands.
Behind me I can hear the twins approaching and they are, as they almost always are, fighting and cussing each other. Suddenly Lonnie, the sickly twin, flies into my view and explodes in a cloud of dust on the ground in front of me. His brother, Donnie, has given him a particularly hard push and knocked him down and is now laughing himself silly.
"You fucking asshole!" Lonnie says as he rises to his feet and does not bother to dust himself off, "you want me to do this or not?"
"You will do it or you are going back down on the ground." says Donnie smiling to himself. All of us have our attention focused on the house across the street. We are looking for a sign of stirring, some indication that our plan can be put into action, that we will get accomplished what we have set out to do this day…that Lonnie will be successful.
We do not wait too long before our anticipation is satiated when the screen door on the side of the house begins to creek open, and a figure emerges from the house. This figure is mythical in our neighborhood and legendary in our young minds. This figure is Minick.
Minick is a mixture of sage and shaman, of recluse and witchdoctor, of maniac and prophet, of psycho and tutor. Minick is a retired barber, who at the end of his career had attempted to kill himself by jumping off of a bridge into the Red River. The attempt failed due to the fact that the Red River rarely had enough water in it during the summer to be deserving of the moniker of river and Minick had smacked onto his back into wet sand and broke his spine. The injury had left him stooped over and he had to walk with a cane that was more shalaylee than walking stick. His head was always tilted up in order to give him a more natural field of view from his stooped position as opposed to looking down at the ground. He had a curly mop of hair on his head that was half grey and half black. His eyes flickered dangerously around from behind a pair of coke bottle glasses. Minick rarely spoke to anyone in the neighborhood, but when he did it was almost always some confrontation started by Minick that only he knew the reason for. All the adults that spoke to him were left with the impression that he was insane, and dangerous, and thus all of us kids in the neighborhood were strictly forbidden contact with him.
We had always gone against our parents wishes because Minick was intriguing, one of the few interesting people in a neighborhood of working stiff, beer drinking dads, and he was the only source, that we knew, or at least would sell to us, of weed in the neighborhood. Even so, few of the gang of kids that I ran with had any real contact with him other than dodging the sticks and rocks he would throw at us as we walked by, or had a conversion with him other than being berated with a mixture of insults, poetry, and prophecy as he threw the sticks and rocks at us. The one exception to this was Lonnie. For some reason unknown to anyone, probably even including himself, Minick had taken a liking to Lonnie and this allowed us a steady supply of weed, so we were willing to forgive both Minick's insanity, and how annoying it could be hanging out with Lonnie as he spent much of that time trying to pick fights with one of us and getting his ass kicked.
There were so many stories of Minick's antics and actions that a person could never relay them all or even know them all. You were always hearing new stories of something Minick had done back in the day, or just last week. You never knew which ones were true, half truths, or entirely made up, and this caused a mythology to build up around Minick.
There was the story of Minick being caught in his front yard during the middle of the day having coitus with one his German Sheppard's. This dog was later shot by a woman police officer that had been called to the house for some disturbance. Minick had sicked this dog and another dog on the police officer and she had promptly shot them to pieces in his front yard as half the neighborhood had looked on. This had prompted an endless array of jokes and ponderings as to what it must be like to watch your lover gunned down before you.
There was the time that a bunch of us had been walking down the street heading from one misdemeanor offense to another, and had by chance walked by Minick's place just in time to see him begin to beat his only friend in the world with his walking stick in the middle of the street. Minick gave him a really good beating and the guy was unconscious in the middle of the street with blood all around him, but Minick still had enough of his wits about him to sell Lonnie, and thus us, some weed before the cops and an ambulance got there to retrieve the unconscious man from the street, and arrest Minick.
The stories go on and on.
"Get to getting son." chided Luke at Lonnie.
"You just sit here and watch a master at work, retard." Lonnie murmured as he strode off across the street.
"Think Minick will kill him?" I asked.
"Only if we are lucky." tiredly answered Donnie.
Donnie was very tired. We were all tired. We had been up most of the previous night in the backyard of the twins trying to knock each other off of a king size waterbed mattress that we had blown up like a balloon with a hair dryer and duct taped the hole shut to hold the air in. We were playing some sort of king of the mountain were the king stayed on top of the mattress until someone else could run and slam their body into the blown up mattress hard enough to knock the king off onto the ground and then they became king. So on and so fourth. We had been joined that night by a rare outdoor appearance of Danny. Danny was a rather odd older kid that had a weak chin that was so weak it appeared that his bottom lip just ran into his neck. Sometimes, Danny would have everyone over to his house to play pool and watch the homemade porn movies that his mom and dad shot.
We snuck out almost every night during the summer and we were always up to no good. We did various and sundry things ranging from shooting out all the street lights in the neighborhood to breaking into gas stations at night in order to get the change out of the registers so we could afford to go to the movies the next day. We had a freedom at night we did not enjoy during the day. This freedom was both literal and figurative. Freedom to roam about without adults asking us what we were up to, assuming we were up to no good, which we generally were, and yelling at us to get the hell out of wherever we were, or calling the cops on us. And most importantly freedom from the unrelenting sun and heat which where were now suffering through.
We watch as Lonnie converses with Minick. Minick likes to negotiate the deal as if he is a used car salesmen, but the price and amount of weed never change. I think it just gives him something to do for a bit.
The times that people misunderstand you are when you understand yourself the most. –Minick.