Ghosts, Windows, and Rats of the Past
Continuing the story of Rhettie and Wally in the middle of nowhere as they work toward the musical meta-mockumentary that might save America or at least the galaxy.
Rhettie and Wally are meeting at Teay’s River Brewing and Public House in Lafayette, Indiana after having exchanged their “proposals” I described this past Tuesday.
It’s a warm Halloween afternoon, so they’re sitting outside. Wally had decided to get there a little early, but Rhettie was already there at one of the picnic tables. It was 3 pm, so no one else was there, and she was singing along as “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” played quietly over the outdoor speakers.
She was facing the building, so she didn’t realize Wally was walking up behind her. He felt a little weird about it, but he stopped and listened to her singing before letting her know he was there.
Wally: Hey. (Rhettie jerks a bit and stops singing). So you…sing too? You dance and you sing and you play the piano…so naturally you want to build places in the country where people pick tomatoes and feed pigs?
Rhettie: Well…everybody sings.
Wally: Well…not everybody sings…well. I know you weren’t really singing-singing, but you have a great voice. Do you know that?
Rhettie: It’s not the first time someone has mentioned they like how I sing. But what else are they gonna say? I know I sing o-kay, and that I can hold a tune, and that’s all I need to know. I just like singing, like most people do. My family is kinda musical I guess.
Wally: Your brother?
Rhettie: Britton…can hold a tune and read music. He doesn’t play an instrument though. Well, I assume he can still play the piano with one hand…slowly. He took piano lessons for a while. He didn’t stay at it. I did it longer.
Hey that reminds me, since it’s Halloween. You know how I like old buildings and I think the Resettlings could restore some…and not just pick tomatoes and feed pigs?
Wally: Of course.
Rhettie: Well, you know Brit does the restoration stuff. And it irritates him when people replace old windows. I mean, it irritates him that it happens, but he knows people don’t know and there aren’t enough repair people to repair…much of anything, besides cars.
Anyway, he’s kinda like Grandma, coming up with sayings, so he made up a couple things about windows. His first one was “If you love your old house, why would you gouge out its eyes?” Oh man…
Wally: I don’t get it. Well, okay I guess he’s saying the windows are its eyes. Okay but then houses are like monsters with lots of eyes.
Yeah, I don’t know.
Rhettie: No, it works, you’re just taking it too far. Restoration people talk about windows being the eyes of the house. And Brit says when they put new windows in, it’s like they have fake-looking eyes. It’s like the house isn’t as real anymore. I get it. I didn’t see it at first, but yeah, 100-yr-old windows, especially if they still have wavy glass, but even without that, totally different look. It’s warm. It’s reeeal.
Wally: I guess I can imagine that. I just haven’t thought enough about it or really noticed.
Rhettie: Well here’s what I was really gonna tell you, but I figured I needed to start with that so you’d get it. See, it was especially in October that he’d see people replacing their windows, which was annoying to him, and one Halloween he was working downtown in an old building and he came up with this for an ad or something, not that he’d ever do one.
“The ghosts can get angry when they can’t see outside.
And their vision is blocked when their building’s fake-eyed.”
Isn’t that good?
Wally: I think people might associate having old things with ghosts, and they know the saying isn’t true, but they’d still get the negative vibe of the ghost thing.
Rhettie: You know what I think? I think you need a beer before you say one more effing word. There’s something else I think too.
Wally: Fine. What are you having?
Rhettie: A coffee stout.
Wally: Me too then. Perfect. And a coffee. Okay, what’s the other thing you think. You said there’s something you think.
Rhettie: Oh nothing. Don’t you hate when people do that?
Wally: Kind of. But I’m kind of used to it, and I don’t think I should pry. I know there’s some things I do that can be annoying, and I can tell that people want to say something, but I don’t pry into it. I kinda get it.
Rhettie: Well I’ll tell you one thing I was thinking. I’ve told you half my life story, and all I know about you is that you were raised by rats, you said. Then you change the subject. Drink your beer rat boy.
Wally: Hm-hmh. I like that. Okay but I’m not rat boy. And my mom and dad weren’t rats, but they really liked cheese. And they liked different kinds of cheese, so Dad left when I was nine, to get his kind of cheese.
Rhettie: Awww. Did you still see him? I assume?
Wally: Yeah, especially at first. Everybody tried to make it okay and fine and normal and not special and not tragic and that sort of worked for a while, but sort of not. I don’t know. By the time I was twelve I decided that grown-ups were reading a different book than kids were. They were in a different movie.
Rhettie: And you were alone. I mean, I know you don’t have brothers or sisters.
Wally: I had a dog and a cat. Rick and Razzle. And I had friends.
Rhettie: You had a pet named Rick?
Wally: Yeah. Our dog. A mut dog. I thought it was funny. And then SpongeBob had that snail named Gary, so I always thought that was funny. Having people names for pets is funny. Well, it was.
Rhettie: It still is. Rick and Razzle. Oh man. So what did your dad do?
Wally: He wrote ads. Copy. Pitches. Then he wanted to write a book about writing copy, and other stuff. He was always about persuading people and persuading people to persuade people. He wasn’t dishonest really. And when I say rat, I guess I said this already, I just mean they were both very much into chasing whatever cheese they were imagining. Dad had other issues. We should talk about this project. I’m kinda thinking it’s emerging into reality. Or it could. It’s kinda big, but there’s a mood in the air. I think its time is like, now. It hit me hard last time we talked.
Rhettie: Well wait. You call your dad a rat, just a hungry rat, I get it, but then you’re doing what he did, right? That’s your world, right? I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it’s interesting, right?
Wally: Okay, yeah. Two things. I can’t go into his whole story, but when Dad was in his, like early thirties, his dad got Alzheimer’s — at sixty. And then Dad found out he had another relative that got it at fifty. So he looked into it and he got convinced he would get it young too.
Rhettie: My great-grandfather had it.
Wally: It’s on both sides of my family. Anyway, that and some other stuff kind of explains why Dad left. He wasn’t really big on meaning-of-life stuff anyway. I mean, that ad writing and persuasion stuff all the time — that’s not meaning-of-life stuff. He was a classic early 70’s kid. Graduated in 1973. Hippie thing for a while but that was ending, then he used his gift, he called it.
When I was a little older he’d always say, “Don’t take to git. That’s wrong. Give to git. And they’ll love you.” He kinda took on this country persona when he was talking about sales stuff. It’s funny, because he also had a saying, “Sincerity sells, so talk yourself into sincerity if you have to. You can’t fool them until you’ve fooled yourself.” Or sold. Maybe he said sold.
Rhettie: Did he write his book? What did he call it?
Wally: He actually finished it mostly, but he didn’t try to get it published. Your Harvest. I always remember that name. It was creepy to me, but it was true.
Rhettie: What do you mean, “It was true.”
Wally: It was creepy because it was about how he’d learned how to get what he wanted from people, starting with hippie girls, and he was passing it on. Not the hippie girl thing, but getting people to like you then do things for you. And then how that’s what everybody does, so there’s nothing wrong with it. It makes you think. But it’s creepy too.
Rhettie: And that’s what you kind of do? You want another beer?
Wally: Yeah. I mean the beer. I’m kind of in the middle on that thing, I know. But he didn’t publish the book for a reason. He told me about it when he started to get sick.
Rhettie: He got sick? He’s still living right?
Wally: Yeah, he’s still living. So, he came back for my graduation, about seven years after he left mom, after he left us, and he wasn’t around much then, not like the first few years. Anyway, he said he was working on something, and he apologized, and he said he was writing a different book. Mom had told me how he was and how he saw the world. She always said “You had to be there.”
Rhettie: What’s that mean?
Wally: Dad was really smart, and so was Mom. And she said in the early 70’s they’d all realized that anything could be true, and real. You could always find a book by some smart person that made things make sense. And then you’d always find smart people following that person. So Dad ended up using his…well he was kind of a philosopher, well he’d dropped out of college, but he could make anything, everything, make sense to people. He had a way with people and with philosophical stuff.
And that’s what she said he was doing when he left us — making it okay and making it make sense. But he’d changed by the time he came back for my graduation. I thought he and mom were gonna get back together even. He told me to forget most of what he’d ever said, and that he was working on a new book.
Rhettie: Hey, let’s sit down by this tree. This is what my grandma and I used to do. She called it talking like the guys. You sit there and I’ll sit here, and we lean back against the tree. See, it’s like old guys talk, looking out instead of at each other. And trees make me feel connected to something, like this is.
Wally: You mean what I’m talking about? It’s making you feel connected?
Rhettie: Yeah, because grandma talks alot about Mom and Dad back then. They’re just a few years younger than your mom and dad, and she talks about this stuff from a different perspective, like as a parent watching the 70’s happen. But go on about your dad.
Wally: He ended up saying he’d realized something. He’d been thinking, he said, that everything was true and nothing really mattered. And he was relating that to, like spiritual and religious things. And then when his dad got Alzheimer’s so young, it kind of validated that nothing really mattered, so he was like, Eat, drink, and be merry, he called it. He owed it to himself, was the thought. And that’s partly why he left. But then something weird happened, like right before I graduated. And this is gonna sound strange.
Rhettie: Good. Tell me. I wonder why we’ve never done this before.
Wally: He didn’t tell me this. Mom told me. He was smoking weed and decided to listen to some music he liked from his like, early twenties. He’d actually used some of that music to get girls interested in him. He just liked the sound and that it sounded kinda deep, so that meant he was deep, and romantic in a way, and the kind of girls he liked…liked that. It’s actually how he and mom got together, she said.
Rhettie: Guys suck.
Wally: But listen. He was paying attention to all of the words for the first time. Okay? He’s like 48 years old and listening to his college music, seriously, the words, for the first time really, at least as a real adult, and it hit him hard. He knew, like, the protest stuff and those words, like what Neil Young was saying, and Pink Floyd and all, but there was an album he had, that Genesis album, you and I started to talk about this once, and he did kind of a reset, like you say. A reset.
Rhettie: Lamb Lies Down? The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway?
Wally: Yes. I couldn’t believe it when you mentioned it a while back.
Rhettie: It might be my parents’ favorite. Definitely my dad’s, at least of their old stuff. So…what happened?
Wally: Hm-hmh, well she said he listened to it again when he wasn’t high, and it struck him the same way. So he called mom and told her about it. It, and I guess just…life, made him change his mind about a lot of things. He didn’t think everything is true and nothing matters anymore. He felt like that was a spell, she said. Not like a real spell, like woo-woo, but, you know.
Rhettie: And that’s probably why he didn’t get his book published. But your mom and dad didn’t get back together?
Wally: Yeah, he just forgot about that book. He’d already been wondering about it. And his whole life. Yeah, he started another book. He was gonna call it Seeing It.
Rhettie: “It” is the last song on Lamb Lies Down. That “It”?
Wally: Mom thought so, actually. But Dad and I started talking again after that, quite a bit for a while, and he told me more. I won’t get into it all, a lot of his…I don’t know, compulsions, had to do with thinking he was going to lose his mind young. He felt like he made a big mistake, leaving and all, but that makes it all make a little more sense. Maybe I just want it to. I don’t know.
But no, the title, Seeing It, was really from the T.S. Eliot poem. You’ve heard it. We will not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.
Rhettie: (Looking over at Wally) That’s…my grandma’s favorite quote. (Eyes shiny)
Know the place for the first time. It sounds like he didn’t finish that book though. What’s going on with it. With him and your mom?
Wally: No, he won’t finish it. Sometimes he tries though. And he and Mom aren’t really back together. He started the book, but he was right about the Alzheimer’s coming. It started coming on the next year. And he knew he wouldn’t be his…his new self much longer. And he didn’t want mom having to see him get worse, so they just started staying in touch again then, but he lived alone for as long as he could. He’s in assisted living now.
Rhettie: I’m so sorry…
You still talk?
Wally: We do. It’s nice.
Rhettie: He knows you and your mom still?
Wally: A lot of the time.
Rhettie: But he can’t work on his book probably.
Wally: It makes him sad. It makes him cry if he tries to work on it. I don’t know. So do things matter? I don’t know. Hey, listen to what’s playing again.
Rhettie: Awww. I guess we’ve been here a while.
Wally: Dad wasn’t ever a pop music guy, but he liked “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” I think it made him wonder if he should have said Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road. There sure is a lot of British music in our backgrounds. Oh that reminds me, I wrote you a piece of a poem — just for this.
Rhettie: Oh funny. I guess I’m not surprised. You have pieces of poems for everything. Okay. Then I guess we’d better go.
Rhettie on the River Teays.
She stays and prays to break the haze,
of rebel yells and rebel hymns,
from Sussex sloughs to the River Thames.
That British enough for you? Got some of Bug Stu’s history in there too.
Rhettie: Aww. Sussex sloughs. That’s awesome. Bug Stu would love that.
Will you send that to me? I want to send that to Brit and Mom and Dad.
Wally: Sure. Not your grandma?
Rhettie: Grandma’s not real big on the British thing. I’ll work it in when I tell her about this thing we’re doing. Okay, Matches next week?
Wally: Yes. I’ll send you some times. Well…thanks for today.
Rhettie: It was awesome. We’ve gotta do this again.
Rhettie had kind of tilted her head and smiled in a way Wally hadn’t seen. She seemed truly happy with what they’d shared, or broken into. It was as if she’d been waiting for it. Wally still looked as if he was thinking about something else, as usual, not that he hadn’t enjoyed their two hour talk. It was mostly about him, and that’s what he was wondering about now.