Chapter Thirty-Five (I-5)

Okay, that’s it. That’s all I’m saying. I’m done. Now all I have to do is get my sister to stick the sucker up on a website for me while the interest in elephant polo is still at its zenith. Have I said everything I need to say, though? Man, I hope so. Do I still want someone to sue me? Not really, no — I mean, they can if they want, sure, anyone can sue anyone for anything, but you have to be hurt in some way in order to win. There have to be damages. So, did I say anything that hurt anyone? I don’t see how it could have, besides it’s all true — and the truth is an absolute defense. Ha!

I guess there’s an off chance that Barbara Kalinowski might have construed my depiction of her as an invasion of privacy, but from what I remember of Barbara Kalinowski, she used to kind of like having her privacy invaded — the more someone invaded her privacy, the better she liked it.

As for Ginny, I heard recently that after she died her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered on Mt. Tamalpias. It comforted me to think that some of her ashes might have been blown by the breeze or washed by the rain down to the house in Kentfield where she and Elliot and I all lived for awhile — the house with the fishpond. I figure the fishpond is probably filled up with dirt again by now — dirt, ashes, twigs, dead birds, whatever — time for someone new to dig it out, no doubt, paint it blue, fill it with water, throw in some fish. Start fresh. I don’t know for a fact what happened to Elliot; I’m sure his mother saw to it that he got buried, but I don’t know where.

What about Melanie, though? Have I said everything I need to say about her? She’s still around, getting by from one day to the next. She’s still shy, not given to saying much more than needs to be said. We don’t live with each other anymore, no, but I still like her a lot. We went our separate ways. She became a Buddhist. I see her sometimes when I visit Wendy and my four darling grandchildren, each of whom I still, to the best of my ability, spoil rotten and dote on to distraction — Melissa, Amber, Caitlyn and…god damn it. What the hell is that other one’s name? I’m so fucking senile, I still can’t remember. She’s a cutie, though. The last two are twins, not quite four years old yet. I can see them in my mind’s eye — all curly headed and cherubic — but I can’t for the life of me think of the other one’s name…

Rachel!

Ha!

Okay, that’s really it. If I think of anything else to say, I’ll maybe write a whole ‘nother book some day, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. I’m totally out of my settlement money. I’m totally out of everything. I seriously have to go get a job. I’ve already checked this morning’s Medford Mail Tribune, as a matter of fact. McDonald’s is advertising for a “Shift Supervisor.” I circled it. I’m going to go there as soon as I get done with this. I’d be the boss of a bunch of high school kids. How cool would that be? Way cool.

I’m happy. If I had to explain why, I couldn’t do it in a million years — all I know is that after telling Ginny that I was going to write a book about her someday, after threatening to write a book about her for longer than I can remember, I finally just sat down and wrote the fucker. Now I can go get that job at McDonald’s in peace. I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to it. I hope I can start first thing tomorrow morning. In fact, if you’re ever on I-5 going through Medford, Oregon, stop by the McDonald’s on Biddle Road and say, “Hi.” Tell me you read my book on the Internet and I’ll see to it that you get extra pickles on your Big Mac — anything you want, relish, onions, ketchup, say the word. I’ll be the shift supervisor. It’ll say so on my nametag. I’ll have some authority. The high school kids will hop to it when I tell them to.

“Yo, Jimmy, extra pickles on the Big Mac for my buddy, here. He read my book. Is that slick, or what?”

Holy shit. I haven’t even applied for the job yet; I don’t even know who Jimmy is, and he’s right here in the room with me. Past, present, future, it doesn’t matter. All kinds of people are right here in the room with me. T. S. Eliot is over by my mother’s Christmas cactus, reading “Cats.” He’s reading aloud. We are having a PARTY! We are! The neighbors must think I’m off my rocker. Ginny’s here. Elliot’s here. Thulin’s up in the back yard by the horseshoe pits, smoking dope with Ralph and Wanda and Popeye and John White and Dick Joseph. Nicki and Murph are shaking their heads. My poor dead dad’s running around like a gadfly, flipping everybody off.

There are all kinds of people running around, real people, fake people, you name it — Edmund, Edgar, Bartholemew Cubbins. I half expect that crazy old coot, the king himself — ay, every inch a king — to show up. Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Who’s that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door? I have to stop. I have to stop. I can’t stop.

The feeling I have right now is the same feeling the crazy old king had toward the end of the play there where he’s sitting by the side of the road, dazed and amazed and whacked out of his skull, with flowers and thistles and brambles in his hair like he’s on his way to a free rock concert in Golden Gate Park and he says what he says. What was it, though? Fuck. He says something really extra slick, but I can’t remember what the heck it was. Son of a bitch! I forget. I fear I may not be in my perfect mind. I have to go look it up.

Okay, okay, check it out. Act Four. Scene Six. Here’s what the old coot says, word for word:

“None does offend, none, I say none. I’ll able ‘em.”

That’s not a bad way to feel. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve done things you thought you’d never do and have had your heart desiccated and ground down to around the consistency of talcum powder and suddenly it somehow gets itself, like, reconstituted or some damn thing. You like people again. You can’t help it. You love people; you love people no matter what. And that makes you happy. It’s like what Ginny said at the end of one of her letters:

“I love and am good.”

That’s it! That’s what I feel like. I love and am good. I’m sure there’s probably some fancy Greek word for a feeling like that. If I had any kind of decent education, I’d probably know what it was, too, but thanks to Mrs. Miller, I don’t got no decent education. Yeah, well, I’m glad I don’t got no decent education. I don’t want no decent education. Once you start reducing everything down to a bunch of fancy Greek words you don’t know what you even feel anymore. I’m grateful to Mrs. Miller. I love Mrs. Miller.

How long the feeling might last, I have no idea. Probably not long. Oh, well. Something else is bound to come along to replace it — some other feeling, some other thought, some other thing — who the fuck knows what. Not me.

Okay, god damn it, that’s really, really it. I quit. Well, except maybe for just this one last tiny little thing. It’s something I wrote a long time ago. It might even have been part of that so-called journal I used to send Ginny back when I was trying to get her to like me. I might have read it out loud in Gordon Lish’s night school writing class at the College of San Mateo when I wasn’t quite twenty-one yet and still had my whole life ahead of me. Those are the kinds of things you think about when you’ve got your whole life behind you — the things you used to think about when you had your whole life ahead of you. It’s all I’m saying is all I know. It’s the end.

“I killed a bird once. With a bow and arrow. I killed it on purpose. It was a starling. Its wings looked like oil slicks. I snuck up on it from behind a tree. The starling didn’t move. I couldn’t miss. I didn’t. The arrow stuck in the ground with the bird halfway up the shaft. Still alive. You could see down its throat. Its pointy tongue and jagged pink gullet were coming up with such bloodcurdling shrieks I didn’t know what to do. I took it into the house. My mother was doing dishes. She turned around and saw the bird flapping on the shaft of the arrow and screamed. That made the bird screech all the louder. They were a duet — screeching and screaming, harmonizing with each other like dog whistles in my ears.

“I took the flapping bird back outside and dug a hole in the ground and pushed the arrow into the bottom of the hole and covered the bird with dirt, buried it alive, and stood on its grave with both feet and pulled the arrow out with both hands. Dirt stuck to the shaft where the bird’s blood had been — and if we went back there right now, just you and me, if we hopped on a plane, flew to Detroit, got ourselves a Hertz Rent-A-Car, drove to Royal Oak, found the same spot and dug it up, that bird would still be there, still alive, still squawking…”

Ashland, Oregon
February, 2004