Thursday, December 27, 2012

El Paso: Back Burner #2

This is a really rough first effort at a little metafiction.  I couldn't get a grip on it but due to the overwhelming response to "After the War Started"  I thought I would put this up for everyone to ignore also.  tj

At five AM in the early spring in the Ohio River Valley the grass is wet. It is wet and full of crisp valley dew and in March, you damn sure can see your breath as you squat on the corner where they make the drop and you whip those newspapers into that old time newspaper fold, hard and tight and the town ain't that big so the news isn't very large and the folded newspaper is just the right size to fit three hundred copies, folded tight and ready to throw. You stuff them into the big canvas bag that hangs across your handlebars. Man, you are out in the street before even your Mom is up and at five AM the cold bites hard, but what of that? You are fuckin' A twelve years old and a Giant in the Universe and these papers have got to be delivered; it is up to you and these papers have got to be delivered and you have done it through the hard Indiana winter and even when you were sick and now it is forty-five degrees and you fold the last paper and thrust it down into that big sack you got from Ricky Donovan back when he got his driver's license and then took off to St. Louis and got that job with the aluminum siding company.

You are a Giant of the Universe and as you stuff the last tightly folded newspaper into that bedraggled sack that you got from Ricky (that he got from his brother Reggie who got killed in Khe San) you look up into the Universe and say the Newsboy's Prayer: God, make me strong and let me ride swift and safe and deliver the News. I'm counting on you God and please, no rain today.

That's it and then you are off and fast and your bicycle is a 1967 Schwinn Stingray. You hit the first pedal stroke and that is all it takes; no longer are you a twelve year old boy in a small Indiana factory town. Now you are a Giant of the Universe and the cold dark Northern sky is deep indigo and yet filled with uncountable frozen lights that smile down on the Young Brave as he pedals furiously on his route. The chilled Ohio Valley Sun lurks just below the horizon. When this Stout Heart finishes his delivery chores there will be a Sunrise over glistening fields to behold; there will be morning hot chocolate laced with coffee and Mom in her giant rumpled bathrobe. There will be two little brothers to whom he is a God and then school. There will be school and good grades; for you have made a promise.

Promises should not be broken and in High School things seem easy and promises are easy to keep. There are girls and buddies and adoring teachers. But the lad is not typical. He is often seen far beyond the outskirts of town, pedaling smoothly and serenely while his friends are experimenting with drugs and sex and alcohol and some are already dead as a result of these experiments. As the dreadful teen years wash over him he rides. He rides his bicycle and works a night job and goes to school and manages to keep his promise.

Then comes the new bicycle and college to pay for and he is paying for it with his heart and his lungs and his legs. He is the only bicycle messenger in a bustling little college town where no one had ever considered the notion.

“I don't get it. I just don't get this whole bicycle worship shit.” It is 1973 and your tiny off-campus apartment is filled with books and talismans and lady's things and a bicycle and more than a little stress. The Lady doesn't live there, she lives in the dorms. But she has managed to fill your place with stuff, too.

“If you don't like it why don't you take all this crap and get out? Just get the fuck out! Jesus! I've got deliveries to make . I promised I would get it done and I really don't have time for this.”

The Lord of the Universe grabs his 1972 Schwinn Paramount. He carefully pulls it down from the hooks in the ceiling even though he is trembling with rage. Finals are only a few days away and this boy has been hitting the books. This little old newsboy has been hitting the books, alright. Astronomy ain't easy. But that old vaginal wrench has been tweaking his reality pretty hard and some of those faculty members that first noticed his abilities have now noticed the decline. They have noticed his distraction and some new odd lack of ambition. They might have understood better were they to see some of the books that crammed every free space of the little apartment.

Colorado in January is a very cold place. But if you have ever been there you also know it is worth the pain. The light from the nighttime sky is indeed a thing to behold. Even in summer, the stars have a brilliance that can dazzle and the mountains breathe down upon the lowlands a fragrant breeze that occurs nowhere else.

But our Hero never made it there. Wait! Take it easy, The Newsboy is fine. He never had any business or reason to go to Colorado. I just wanted to let everyone who has never been there in the Summer Time know that they should get off their asses and go. To the Rockies. At least once in your life.

The Newsboy? Hell, I don't know. He got all messed up somehow or another and ended up dropping out of school in his third year. His little brothers back in the factory town grew up to be factory boys. They did what all the other factory boys did in those towns that fell into decline: they got into the unemployment and then the methamphetamine and then the littlest one died. He was forty two.

Me, I dropped out also. I got into the construction business and did all right. There were pretty good times during the boom years and a sailboat and a house on the river. A wife and kids and all the trimmings. Of course, nothing lasts forever. Things slowed down and then stopped and the stress and the booze were too much and then the world was split asunder and the promise was broken. I also was broken and found myself contemplating a sad trail of loss, but I try not to dwell on it overmuch. Mostly I ride my bicycle.

The Moon is rising full and strong on the horizon and this nighttime desert highway is fully illuminated. It reminds me of my time on the open ocean when I was amazed to see how the nightime sea was as illuminated as a magical dream. The pedal strokes have become my mantra in the night and to tell the truth, I no longer know who I am. But these pedal strokes are my mantra into the night and I will pedal until it ends.

Does the salvation of one brother pay for the loss of the other? The God is huddled on the side of the road somewhere outside El Paso. Mom died a little while back but brother number two seemed to be okay. He was working and he was happily married and he was doing fine. But not now. Now he is whimpering into the telephone about being physically abused by his wife. It is three o'clock in the morning outside El Paso. Texas is a vast and lonely place. The night is very cold and the Universe and the Smiling Moon are shining down on their Little Darling. They are not mocking him; he really is a favorite of the Gods.

“This is the Evansville Police Department. How may we help you?”

“I'm calling from my cell phone in El Paso, Texas. But stay with me. My brother is being assaulted in his home in Evansville and called me for help.”

“Sir, why didn't he call 911?”

“Because it has always been up to me. Listen, right now you send a patrol over to that old saloon on the West Side by the railroad tracks that got boarded up. It was called the Crooked Angel. That's where they live now.”

“Sir, we need an address.”

“You listen to me. You get on the radio and tell them what I just told you.  They will know the place. Quickly, or whatever happens will be your fault.”  He clicks off his phone.

I can see Mexico. It is only a mile or so away from here. Mexico. Maybe I will go to Mexico.

The smiling moon and the deep blue stars are laughing now as the Newsboy climbs back on board his bicycle and resumes his pedaling mantra into the West. The cyclist rides alone, but not really. He is never really alone. He knows this to be a true thing and he rides his bicycle into the West as a faint glow washes over the land behind him and another day begins.


  1. TJ,

    Just checked in for the first time in a couple of days - when I'm not sitting at a desk in front of a computer I don't spend much time online. And I've been off for five days so I tend to get out of touch with my e-friends.

    Your first story - it didn't sound like you somehow. Don't take this wrong, but it almost sounded like someone else wrote it. This second story though - yeah, that is the stuff. Right to the f**king bone - real, straight and true, but with your twist to the phrase that makes it seem to flow, smooth.

    Glad that you made it back from LA. With my anti-social, anti-city streak I really don't know if I could even be forced to visit LA at gunpoint. Honest to God. Sorry it was a bittersweet reunion.

    You need to take your wanderlust and do a couple of touring road trips. Even just an overnighter or weekender. Pick a destination where you think you can stealth camp and ride there. I don't know if there's any real Florida left, or if it's all tourists and old people fleeing winter. But if there is still an authentic part of the country down there, wander on out and say hello. You're in a strangely unique situation, with little to hold you back, and the will and strength to get out and go. What the hell, you may even get a story or two out of it. Zen and the art of bicycle touring anyone?

    Have a good New Years.

    Steve Z

  2. Steve Z said it - S24O it man - doesn't take much. Great story Tim Joe, I said before and I will keep saying it - you got a book of short stories in you Velo Brother. Thanks for sharing with us.

    1. BTW, Roadie, when I click on your name it goes to your profile...ya might want to post as Ryan's Rebuilds for awhile so it links straight to your new Blog. Just an idea.

      I was waiting to give you an official welcome to the Blogshere when I got back to my regular programming but that may never happen if I don't get my act together.

      For now I'll put you on the Blogroll and wait for an effective opportunity to tell the world. tj

  3. Tj-
    It's raw and beautiful. Keep it coming. You are teaching us (the readers) how to read your stuff.Because like all great writers you have a rythmn all your own. You keep writing and we will try to keep the count.
    Your bro-
    Fellow hammerslinger from Texas

    1. In this case I ended up needing to teach MYSELF how to read my stuff. But it has a certain haunting quality that I want to explore further. I am after a picaresque character that I might use in a series of stories like my LA series. I kept that one as short as possible and it went eleven episodes. The Newsboy has possibility...but as I said elsewhere, I am not happy making stuff up. This page was slapped together from real things from my life, enhanced.

      Did you see any of the off-line stuff I sent your sister? I don't remember now what I sent...that "Smiling In the Sunshine" stuff, I think, with Blix and Cromwell. I'm thinking of serializing it on here, to see what people think...all three of you.


    2. Tj,
      I heard and was promised a viewing of what was sent offline, yet they have not yet been forthcoming.

      I would love to see some more writing in whatever form you wish to write in. Personally I have always found the truth way more exciting then complete bullshit to read even if it's been enhanced.
      The truth enhanced with a touch of mythological bullshit suits me to a tee. In fact it reminds me of a favorite novel/movie called Big Fish. I trust you have read or watched it but if you have not please do me a favor and do,its pretty powerful story about the often complex relationship between father and son.
      Three readers that really care is way better then 50 just killing time...

    3. Thanks Tohner. Big Fish was great. I am enamored of magical realism as well as metafiction and was writing in both forms before I knew they had names. The first time I read Brautigan I was hooked. I probably draw more from him than even I realize. Actually, my readership has almost tripled since I started that series, and as always, most of the referrals come from your site, One Tree Woodworks. You must have a huge silent readership. tj

  4. I'll just respond to both of you guys at the same time. There are plenty of places in Florida to visit, really cool places and quite a few that I have not been to and many that I would enjoy revisiting.

    I am at this point just not equipped for camping: I don't even own a sleeping bag. And in the land of the mosquito, sleeping out without some kind of protection is foolhardy. I have done it by accident and it is not fun.

    But it is a situation I hope to remedy in 2013. And yeah, every time I get on my bike and leave the Park I get material. Longer trips would certainly result in new stories.

    As far as these two samples: Thanks, Steve! I agree with your assessment, although I have many voices to use when I write, it is the voice of "El Paso" that I prefer myself and the one that seems to strike a chord. That voice dwells in the here and now, and in a non-fiction environmental; although without tempering, it can start to sound tiresome, or overwrought. In writing El Paso I got so twisted and tangled in what I was trying to do that I lost track of what I was trying to do.

    Ryan, thanks for commenting favorably on "After the War Began." I have become extremely fascinated (and alarmed)with the increasingly automated and privatized nature of the machinery that supplies the essentials of life: food, water, petroleum, communication...any of which could be taken from us at anytime by the flip of a switch.

    That draft was really more of an outline. But that last line about Jeb broadcasting from Saudi Arabia sounded so possible and even likely that I stopped writing and set the piece aside until I decided to dump it on you guys.

    I really value comments. I would rather here it from my friends here than in the form of rejection slips from heartless editors.


  5. Ok, my excuse is that I thought there was going to be more on "After the War began". I didn't quite get the short story concept.... I was wondering if the messengers were good or bad guys. and, Jeb broadcasting from Saudi Arabia....I was waiting for the twist on that.

    I liked today's story much better, plus you have some meat here to expand the character on.

    I have a big reading list of things to get to but I will put "Big Fish" on the list. I am about a quarter into "Cloud Atlas" right now.
    I love the S24O. I try to get a couple of them in during the summer months here. I might be able to fix you up with some camping gear that I have extra of from three boys going through scouts. Let me know on a shopping list.

    No heartless rejection here.

  6. Jim, I am no doubt confusing a lot of readers and I should strike that "to be continued..." from the bottom. I'm just tossing stuff out there while I get up the energy to return this stupid keyboard to walmart. Damn thing died on me now I am back to typing on my past-its-planned-obsolescence laptop. The "Y" and the "U" keys are missing and typing these comments is bad enough...there is no way i can get into a rythym to do any creative work right now. Plus I start job hnting next week.

    As far as the camping gear goes, I don't know. It is a kind offer but why not just save the shipping costs and donate it back to the Troop? I'll find my way soon enough once I start working.


  7. I like the different voice you write in, TJ. Furthermore, I love the stories and the way you spin them. Keep spinning, my friend.

    Brian in VA

    1. I'm going to re-do this one, Brian. I can't let it go, for some reason. But Thanks!


  8. Thanks for making my 2012 a little more interesting, Tim Joe - keep 'em coming. And best wishes for a great 2013 for you.

  9. Hey TJ
    You continue to amaze me! You have brought back fond memories of my Schwinn Sting-Ray. And of once being a proud and hard working Detroit News delivery boy :)
    Cheers, Hugh

    1. Hugh! Sting Rays were great. My first one was a custom job. Bright red and purchased with lawn-mowing money. Later I had one of those five-speed stick-shift jobs. It was purple.

      But you never forget that first bike, do ya?

      Delivering papers in Detroit must have been character-building.