Things You Spot Alongside the Road
The car gently curves inward, leaning against the shifting weight of the narrow strip of the dirt road. Its hood is an eggshell white whose shine is dimmed when compared to the blurred peripheral sight of the slow-passing clouds adrift in the pure blue German sky. The sun beams basked in the glow of your champion hands — those two huge sturdy mountains crafted from your blistering palms, red frozen knuckles and sore fingers that once gripped life by the throat only to set it free at the very last second; laughing in face of your own fears when most would cower from the certainty of loss. But those days were just a fantastic dream that you awoke from all too quickly; all the colors of life were drained from that precious body abandoning you to the pale, faded reality that is this. As you continue to drive the car your father’s voice howls in your head trying to remind you that need to get a grip now, that it is better to forget that another life.
And now, now you are your own chauffeur manning the wheel of a broke-down chariot that was once graced the name Mercedes. You a fallen knight with stubby freckled fingers that are swollen now taking the shape of fat worms that writhe and cringe under the grips of arthritic pain from the early morning cold, Everyday is cold here even in the spring and summer! They barely move with your arms anymore each day getting harder and harder to even lift the bottle up, each day getting harder and harder to press the open mouth of expensive Goldwasser to your eager, chapped lips your left hand that shakes a quivers a bit as the libation makes it trek down your ash ridden throat. You roll down the window to get a feel for the on coming summer chill that stretches itself across your blackened knuckles that once aligned themselves across the top of your hands like stout bloodied soldiers. And the ghosts of your short lived youth flood back into your brain, of how you readily held the prized pigskin before sending it out like a rocket across the playing field before the enemy would come by the thousands hitting you with all the force of a tsunami. And you don’t mind the flashing lights of the autobahn traffic camera snapping your picture today — Oh, was I speeding? As the Goldwasser trickles into your veins drowning out your father’s voice until it is a barely audible cry of agony, or was that just the sound of a dying insect buzzing in your ears?
You try to swat it away be it keeps trying to come back as if it were trying to tell you something but you ignore it just like you ignore the pain thumping in your fingers, like a pulse. The pain never mattered then you were a hero, and the crowd was around soaking up the smell of your sweat, your blood, your spit, your piss, your tears, like a cheap, wet cotton towel. The sound of their shouting, and their kicking, their screaming was an overwhelming ecstasy, that poured over you like showers of rain, gushing like one giant orgasmic river of wine so good, so sweet that it made you blissfully drunk every time you heard it, the feeling taking you higher, higher, higher until you exploded and fell back to the earth. And it was so good that you wanted it around all the time from everyone everywhere, from women, from men, from children spewing it out of every opening they had all for you, I love you, I love you, I love you, we all love you so much that it was gobbling you up inside and you couldn’t stop them from loving you, they didn’t have any names or faces or homes to go to?
They were just restless zombies all of them! And you would have smile in front of them every day and every night cause your PR rep says So YOU wanna keep the endorsement and the big bucks right? Right! While your fuel gasket’s reading too close to empty, but you can’t stop because winners never, never quit so you go on as long as the road keeps going, because you can’t stop on the autobahn the fastest lane in the world and you’re a winner so you have to keep up with the rest of the cars — with the rest of the team so you do what you have to do with so many needles and pills and training a day — Doc’s gotta gimme somethin’ to take the edge off, so much so that you can sleep anymore without it, and when you do sleep the hunger appears in your dreams choking the shit out of you with clammy, cold hands, are those witch’s hands? They quiver and shake like rattles, when the wind blows in through the hotel windows, when ever you laid down in a new bed with white silk sheets surrounded by salty, sweat soaked bodies and your hotel rooms smelled of thick hot amorous sex that clings to every thing like slimy ooze dragging you down, down, down.
You awake surrounded by beautiful dolls of all colors — green light, red light, 1,2, 3, 1,2,3, of all races your body covered with their skin on top of yours clutching at you as they slept while you were ensconced in your own fear and piss and blood, blood why is there blood? Because your nose was bleeding in your sleep and it oozed all over your face and chest and all over the pillow cases and sheets that were no longer white because you stained them, you stain everything with your sins! your mother keeps yelling her face red and fat like a balloon waiting to pop, covered in cheap eyeliner It’s not my fault he left you, stupid bitch! And the world is no longer pure and green and victory doesn’t smell like roses anymore but the shit they grow out of, and the sky isn’t blue no more it grey, and the weight on your back is too heavy and the pain stabs its boney fingers into your skin, your head, your neck, your back, your legs, your hips, your thighs, your knees, your feet, but nothing hurts more than your hands! Especially when throw the pigskin ‘round, and when you put to the tip of your face under your nose and swish your index around your mouth sucking in the white powder like a Hoover Vacuum just to make the zombies shut the fuck up and stop whispering — We still love you, we still love you don’t worry you’re a winner still, fuck me doggy, fuck me raw, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me and you sniff and exhale and the world seems to stop for a while.
After that, it’s like being underwater. The world is above you; you can hear everything but not in the same way it all sounds like the way whales speak to each other in sonar or radar or whatever! No it’s more like your back in the womb again, it almost feels the same as the womb — except it’s not black all around, it’s all just white. And you feel yourself flying through the air, like you’re a ball being thrown by steady hands like yours and you know where your gonna land because these hands never waver or ache with pain that squirms underneath your skin like cold, invading fat worms that laugh at you all the time as you steer the car — no, no more of that right now! you command. You decide to take another sip so you whip the bottle up to your mouth and the taste goes down so smooth that you cough. Now your get off the autobahn and decide to take a slow drive through the German countryside.
You can smell the manure all along the tracks of the strawberry fields This makes you laugh cause you know only good things come from shit, people try to forget, but you know. And the smell and the open air it makes you a little dizzy so you take another swig of the Goldwasser just to keep up instead of just closing the window. You remember the smell of shit in your high school locker room as your face was shoved on the floor, because you were too little to stop the rest of the boys from fucking with you all the time and your growth spurt hadn’t kicked in yet. Back then you hated yourself because you had skinny hands –with fingers the size of long brittle pencils that couldn’t even make a fist so you couldn’t throw any real punches and the smart thing would have been for you would be to sit back and take ’em. But your mother always said that you weren’t too bright, so your knuckles were always the first to bleed when they connected to another guys face. In the end you wouldn’t bandage them right away. Instead you would stare at them as they were covered in your own shimmering blood. So kept on doing it again and again until you swore that either you would never use them again or they would leave you the hell alone for a while.
You loved how strong they looked now under the scars, the cuts, the scratches, the scraps, and the calluses. You still love how they glowed in the small ray of warm golden sunlight how they were no longer pale, white boney hands, but a pair of man’s hands that you have stretch out every morning to stop your fingers from swelling to the size of fat, pasty worms. You knew by the way the light hit them that this was all a sign from God, that he was telling you your place in the world, that you were meant for greatness! And so you took your father’s dusty pigskin ball and practice until everything was sore — pain is just weakness leavin’ the body! and you kept on even then until your body was so sore that it was numb to the pain. And when it came time your tried out for the team and proved that you were more than some snot-nosed little punk that cries everytime a hit was comin’ to ‘em!
Every time that ball fell into your hands you swore that every one would know that you were blessed to be the best that nothing in the world could take that feeling away. And you would dig into the grass with your shoes with sharp cleats that gripped the earth like two strong hands and you would toss the ball to anyone on your team that screaming I’m open, I’m open! Give it to me! And you did and it was beautiful. That was the beginning of everyone loving you, even those who hated you. Like the father who walked away from you and your mom when you were seven years old. The same father who used to toss the pigskin at you on those long summer days, at least when he was sober. The same father who was your own personal coach that always motivated you — by telling you that your hands were small and soft like a girl’s and getting up close to your face so you could smell the beer on his breath. And he would whisper it in your ears and he would make you hate him. And then he would just get angry back say Good, that’s how a man is always supposed to feel! So you let that feeling flow through you with all the strength in your body, until it reached your fingernails. You started biting them off until they bled a little, so they wouldn’t make your hands look like a girl’s. You’d sink your teeth into your lower lip, as he would make you toss the ball back at him, both of you determined to win.
Later your mother’s voice called to you — come back inside champ! As you tried to follow him down the road and up the next street. You paid her no attention thinking that she was just a dumb bitch like your father always mumbled under his breath in between drinks of Goldwasser. And he’d keep on mumbling about his parents’, parents and all the relatives that he knew in Germany as a kid, and no matter what happens that they would always take you in even when you didn’t deserve it because their home was your home as long as you were family, not like in America. When a man loses face in America, no one wants to speak his name ever again, no one wants to remember him the way he was or wants him to be his hero.
You wanted to prove your father wrong even though he wasn’t there for you anymore and when the sunlight would hit your hand in just the right light, as you held that pigskin tightly, its freckled brown skin gripped hard in your fingers that were no longer boney but rather huge for a seventeen year olds hands! The college recruiters always managed to say to your mother and she would smile because she knew had a winner on her hands, and you knew that she knew that you were fully aware of it. There was a gleam in her eyes when ever she spoke of you to her friends — and you felt like a winner, especially when the women would look at you and they wouldn’t mind it if you took their daughter’s out and fucked them as long as you get our little Julie, our little Kathy, our little Sandy, our little Susan back home at a descent hour! You knew then that their father’s whispered to their wives that they don’t like the way boys are wearing their hair these days it makes ’em look kinda of faggy and that their wives wouldn’t pay their husbands no mind, because they knew that they’d picked a star for their daughters whose gonna take care of them better than their old man ever could! Their mothers knew that you would never let them down, that those hands of yours can keep their little princesses safe and secure and never, never-ever wanting for anything!
You remember all these things as your lead foot hits the gas and the car accelerates. You forget the self you are now and pick yourself up again as if you were a hitchhiker alongside the road. You remember it all your head drunk with the feel of the road underneath you, with the Goldwasser inside you, with your father’s voice behind you, with your youth ahead of you. It feels like you’re on the field again running with the boys on the dry grass baked in the sun, on the wet grass that was either covered with rain or snow the day before. Then night comes ‘round and you are in a trance dizzy with happiness from today’s practice. The years they fold into themselves becoming one long endless stretch of road. There’s was never any telling when the games would all be over for good, but it was a good day as your teammates patted you on the back and you felt like you felt when you played your first game.
Then they were all waiting for you, the press, the fans, the cheerleaders — especially the cheerleaders, but for the first time in a while you didn’t mind. So you followed one of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed zombies to her car. She reminded you of all the times, before football when those types of girls never gave you the time of day; a surge of anger creeps up into your veins and you pop a little blue pill in your mouth to shut it off for a while — Save it for game day…your mind keeps repeating over and over and over while she starts kissing you and that takes your mind away from the anger of girls like her ignoring you — turning their backs on you. You can hear the crowd roaring again, cheering your name — No! That’s just your muffler dragging itself against the cobblestone road stupid! But your mind shoots back to the zombie as she caresses your face and whispers in your ear that she wants you to touch her with your strong hands.
She guides your head to her breast and you start to suck on them, while your hand is underneath her skirt filling up the “hungry little mouth” — you overheard your dad call it that one time, when he was in the room with your mom. The headboard of their bed always banged rhythmically against the wall of you room, and her moaning — you couldn’t tell if she was in pain or not, but you never bothered them because you knew that they would both be mad, since they were fighting about you the hour before their bed started its usual tap dance against your bedroom wall. You studied the sounds in your sleep, always taking invisible notes as if you had your own playbook, secretly waiting for the day that you would make a girl sound like your mom did. All those times she was locked in the room with your dad they were always loud, but they just forgot that you were there — Uh, oh! Time to take another swig.
The car loses its bearings for a second — but you catch it, you steady it…reassuringly letting everyone knows that you still got the moves — you can drive this fucker! The sunlight hits you hands just right revealing that God still believes in you champ, even though your knuckles are blue, black and brown and they have little long, thin gray hairs growing out of them like tulips at the Palmgarten. So you let your hands do the talking “below the equator” — your dad had a million of them, with every finger you can shove in until she squeals. You follow her to her hotel room and after that everything gets blurry, until you wake up covered in blood again. Only this time it’s not your own, it’s hers! Now she is no longer a girl or a zombie she’s just a blood soaked mess upon the hotel floor with the green marble tiles. You don’t even know how it all happened, and you cover your own face with your champion hands, as the maid comes in to turn over the sin stained sheets and beginnings to shriek so loud, that the sound engulfs the entire room into white noise; you just get swallowed by it, and ever thing turns black and silent, as it was once in the womb were you were warm and safe and free from all the evil-eyed stares. You return to the yelling except this time it’s not millions of your fans, its just two disappointed faces and twisted mouths from the coach and the General Manager, The owners are not gonna cover up for anymore of your fuck ups! My God, she was a fucking cheerleader for Christ sakes…
After that the lights come back even brighter than ever before, except it not from the sun. This time it’s from the reporters, and the photographers, and the TV news cameras, and the fans — Uh oh, you just sped past a traffic camera that took your picture! They once loved to crowd around you and chant your name. This time they were calling you a murderer — Already? The cops kept talking about you for hours, and yelling at you for hours before they would let you see your lawyer. It was a strange thing, under the yellow of the florescent lights that you saw that one of the cops who grilled you kinda looked like your dad did. When was the last time you saw him with his army crew cut? Your hands began to shake, but your lawyer told you that you didn’t have to say shit, You have your rights! And you knew that it would be smart for you not to say anything, so you don’t — even though part of you desperately wants to say…something. As he escorts you to you car — There goes another traffic camera, catching you in the act again, all the flashbulbs surround you because of who you are — no were, and they knew you were guilty — no are guilty! They knew it even before the trial began, even before you stepped in the courtroom with your $500 suit and shoes and you tried to sit up straight, as the judge berated you throughout the whole ordeal. You still remember the judge’s face; it looked the same as when your father used to stare at you, both of his eyes blacker than coal not even seeing you anymore; just some puppet standing in the space that used to belong to a winner.
Your lawyer, with skin slicker than a wet salamander, manages a deal that gets you out on bail and lets you keep your passport. He makes his empty promises on your behalf — Honestly, your honor my client’s mother died six years ago from cancer, his dad has been out of his life since he was seven years old; he has no family left, there’s no where for him to go. And the judge with his all-powerful gavel grants you “leniency” — set at a million dollars, and smiles a shark tooth grin, knowing full well that he’s got you and there nothing you can do about it.
But he was wrong. For about three years your German family has been sending you letters. They all knew about you, even all the way on the otherside of the world! They all knew they were related to a winner and that was your ticket out and you didn’t even tell your lawyer, you just got a ride to the airport, paying off a few people here and there and you were going, going, gone! Far from the green longevity of heaven, the roar of the crowd, and the feel of the dirt against your fingers as you let the pigskin fly each time — like an empty Goldwasser bottle flopping out the window leaving it to as it shatter against the cobblestones. As you drive off it sounds like finger bones being broken, like the time some punk drug dealer and his goons came to your fucking house and stole all that you had! You couldn’t even report the theft to the Polizei, because they would alert the FBI to your whereabouts, even though it had been over two decades since you left and Saddam was on the news everyday.
No one remembered your champion hands in the street as your gripped the bottle neck of your Jack Daniels with the fat worms you called fingers, shuffling through life, looking only at the ground as if you lost something, but couldn’t tell what it was that wasn’t with you anymore. Yet you always manage to keep walking, until you bought the gremlin off of a cousin, of a cousin a few years back. That was the last you ever heard from any of them, because the rest of the money ran out. The party was over and you were always tired — ’Cause you got old champ, and everybody knew that you were washed up, and therefore no fun to be around. And the loneliness here was worse than all the loneliness with the all zombies combined, because it was always there. Even when you slept, you were awake and there was nothing that could numb the pain this time. You just lived with it, when you drove to your job fixing up cars alongside one of the exit ramps of the autobahn — Which exit, I don’t fuckin’ remember! You just lived with it, in a town that looked like all the other towns in Germany ’cause you read German too good, plus you couldn’t live in the city for fear that someone would recognize you. But no one ever did, because it had been over thirty years since your troubles began. But, you still were careful — had to be careful…never could tell if you had a reward on your champion hands. Meanwhile, across the ocean your name was still on the FBI’s wanted list as number 3,345 –Congratulations, at least you still were on top somewhere in the world!
You found ways to live out each day without the feel of the pigskin, without the roar of the crowd, without the long stretch of green heaven — but its alright, because you are safe and secure, especially when you’re on the road, when you can feel the wind on your face and your hands, and sometimes even let yourself get caught in the rain, and sometimes the snow, you can pretend — it never happened…No, that you’re back on the green every time you pass the strawberry fields, ’cause you know that good things can come from shit — even though everybody else wants to forget that, but you don’t. You press on the gas and, let it fly, like it was a pigskin ball in your champion hands. The wheels of chariot are giving way again, but you don’t want to let it go this time, so you ignore the coach’s warning.
You pull the pigskin even closer to your chest and you try to run it against the tall stout men that are your enemies, because they are bigger than you, because they can take you down and shove your face on the bathroom floor, and shove your face into the grass and the dirt, because they can walk away from you with their backs turned away — Not this time! You’ll make them listen to you! You grip the ball, harder, harder than you ever have and maneuver left. No right. No left — No, turn the wheel harder damnit! Then you see it, the hole in their human barrier, you can see the opening and you go for it, you go for it! And you can hear the crowd cheering, as if they know you are gonna do — A Suicide Blitz, yes! Nothing else matters now, not the crowd, not the money, not the girls, not the endorsements, not the police not the FBI, not the fuckin’ judge, not the fuckin’ lawyers, not the press, not the fans, not your dumbass mother, not your fuckin’ lowlife, asshole, dad. Just the game, just the sunlight, just the feeling that you are a winner without any of them, that you can fill the holes, the ones in your life, the ones in the play, if you were given the chance to change — Oh no, the car is out of control! You try to swerve and you hit a gray concrete wall. Your car gets crushed as if it were made of aluminum instead of steel. This is because it, just a cheaply made Benz. In Germany, they’re made worse than Toyotas, even the taxis are Mercedes Benzes so all rumors of their grand, opulence are false. Since everybody has one, they’re all worth less than nothing. Those were the sum of your last thoughts. You hear an ambulance siren in the distance, and you wonder whose it for, forgetting that your entire body just went through the windshield of your car, staining the sidewalk with blood into as if it were a black dot on an otherwise white sheet. Ten days later the FBI gets a fax confirming your identity — your real name, your real age, your real whereabouts. One of the agents get to meet the press, reporting of the news of your death, joking I thought he actually died sometime ago, but it is him we confirmed his time of death through the fingerprints and dental records.
They do not let the rest of the world know where you died or that your blood alcohol count alone should have killed you, had you not had the tolerance that you had. But none of that matters as your hands quiver with bits of glass that have embedded themselves inside you skin like red-army ants. Your blood becomes a blanket over your eyes, as you fingers as you try to lift you head — Don’t move sir please, help is on the way! Would it be great to see the blue sky once more? To feel the sunlight, to hear silence?
In your mind you see a brown pigskin football floating high into the air, transforming itself into a black crow that flaps its wings without regret. You die right there on the foreign road knowing full well after your death no one will ever want to speak of your name again.