Sunday, March 04, 2012

Death Be Not Loud

Far from the shining night lights of the big city lies Dark America, safe in rural seclusion. Sustained by a connection to the salty earth, imagination is left to roam freely across the plains of wheat and rows of corn to places long strangled from the confined mind of industrialization. To some this is a blessing of fresh air, to others a curse of life unexplored. But to most it held the communal bond of their most prized and possessive gift: the life unexamined.

Chester the Molester was happy with his unhappy life. He lived in a sagging trailer five miles outside the city limits of the farming community of White Deer, Texas. Drivers zooming past his humble abode gave it little notice but if they did most were grateful to not be its surely condemned occupant. Between the scattered shacks of rust and farm implements left to die in open fields, Chester's place blended into the landscape with chameleon-like efficiency. In fact, if asked, many who drove by would swear they had seen nothing at all.

But in Chester's mind, he was king of the world.

Working off and on in the oilfield, he got enough money to get by but a mountain of cash was never his goal. To live by his own rules was. He bristled at the hooks society demanded, making your business their business. Ruling his domain in lazy rot, nary a man alive intruded upon his kingdom, and that to Chester was life itself. If misery he was then misery he be. Don't like it? Go fuck yourself - and find your way off the property. The trailer, the land, the free air around him, he owned them all outright. To rest on your own land, staring up at the sky while secured by a sea of surrounding high pampas grass was a feeling beyond compare.

Chester pitied anyone who died never knowing that feeling.

Sarcastic Sam was a running mate of Chester. While the oil fields had bulked up and burned Chester's beefy skin through his tank top, Sam was a scrawny pale white with pasty ambitions. Unlike Chester, he was bitter about his unhappy life, venting with barbed wire words every chance he got. The tiny town had three main restaurants, each of which Sam had worked in due course. He worked a split shift as a breakfast cook, coming back in the evening as the line fry cook. Sam had long coveted the fry cook position and once having achieved it found it to be just another fucking dead end.

Since everyone else drove an American pickup, Sam gravitated towards a small Japanese car. He never wanted to be one of them. They were mere hicks, trembling in fear of the big city and its foreign ways. The idiots dismissed anything as different as bad. That's what drove Sam the most to be different in as many ways as possible. He proclaimed himself a champion of the liberal and open mind, superior to his rural brethren who slogged their way through life in unfounded conservative fear.

But a fly lay in Sam's vaunted ointment: his own fear to leave, to be exposed has a poser with no real convictions. Easy to be a liberal among the shit-kickers and Bible thumpers, but life in the big city meant facing the big time.

Charlie 'Barley' Couts walked as a human see-saw, his shoulders dipping from side to side in his highly distinctive gait topped by his John Deere perma-cap. His father walked that way and in Charlie's mind, it's his successful father whom he must be. Like any closed mind, he needed That Which Is Unquestionable. That his father was a Successful Man and that he can be no less was the absolute religion of Charlie. His life's path had been laid out for him, taking over the farm and doing the Lord's work of cultivating crops and feeding the masses, carrying on the no doubt envious tradition of his family.

But having never have had to find himself, Charlie lived in a hell of unperceived self-loathing. What if he were to face himself and find himself wanting, not up to the expected task? He'd be forever branded by his father and family a loser beneath contempt. At best, they might bear him in polite disdain as Charlie imagined they secretly wished he'd die and save them the embarrassment of association. He truly believed the glorious life of his father was out there, but to reach it seemed as far as the stars in the blinking night sky.

Around the clock these insecurities ate on Charlie in devilish mayhem, alcohol his only escape. They also led him to say what he was going to say next as the evening news came on the television.

"Goddam, I can't believe we got a nigger running this country!"

Charlie and Sam had come over to Chester's trailer to help him seal his windows with some heat-shrink plastic he'd bought, but mostly the pair just drank beer, watching Chester and his satellite TV. Charlie's parental household contained much political talk. "Washington is ruining this country!" "Godless heathens want to tell us how to live our lives!" "All they want to do is take away our guns!" Charlie loved the opportunity political, of the sweet surrender of calling out someone as full of shit - the same shit he knew was full to be.

"There's some great political insight!" smirked Sam, always ready to goad anyone into anything.

"Four more years of that and you can kiss this country goodbye! What I wouldn't give to get the chance to straighten his black ass out. That boy don't know nothin’ from nothin’!"

Sam in his old Bill the Cat T-shirt was swimming in it now. "And people say country folk are racist!"

"Fuck you, smart mouth. You know I eat lunch with Freddy all the time and I'd call him better friend than you if I had to."

Chester turned around from the blow dryer he was using to seal the plastic. His opinions were almost always reactionary in nature. "I don't know. I think he's got some good ideas, about rebuilding the infrastructure and stuff. What's wrong with that?" Chester didn't know if he was a racist or not but he knew he didn't want to be called one. Sam - Chester's version of a man of the world - would know a racist when he saw one and it was to Sam whom he secretly had addressed his reply.

But Chester's openness to accepting a "nigger President" was an arrow Charlie could not endure. Charlie viewed politics in is most pure form: as voting on who should be loved. The idea of a black, big city boy who went to Harvard held up as the example of who he should be blinded Charlie with rage. He rebuked Chester as an "uninformed idiot" but his tone was clear: That's a person I can never be!

Chester was pissed, he'd just gotten out of the racist frying pan only to be called an idiot. If only he knew the elusive correct answer no one could dispute! But Sam had been cut to the quick with Charlie's claim Freddy was a better friend. He liked Freddy too but Freddy was black and listened to rap. They all three hated rap! But since Sam was rarely his own friend, he fretted over Charlie's charge and pined to strike back.

"Don't worry, Charlie, one day you'll grow up to be an educated black man speaking in complete sentences in front of large audiences wildly applauding. I can see it now. I is Charlie Barley and I grad-ee-ated sixth grade! Vote for my weenie!"

"Fuck you. I ain't no racist..." Charlie was fighting too many demons to say more. His father was a classic racist, fearing a man for the color of his skin - or even the length of his hair. Charlie hated the fact he never stood up for himself, never stated his true feelings - never doing what he knew he truly needed to do to become a man. And how would his father react when he found out he was no man?

Chester saw his chance to come off as peacemaker, swinging his opinion the other way to shore up Charlie's needs.

"You gotta admit, Sam, he's not gonna look out after us. He makes fun of us and not only that you know for sure the man don't hunt. No black man ever gonna hunt!"

"Black man get hunted," blurted Charlie, momentarily coming out of his inner battle, impossibly hoping his father could hear him. Sam would have none of it.

"You just want someone more like you, eh, Chester? Big white hunter, not meaning nothing, just a good old boy?"

"Yeah! Everyone votes for the guy most like he is. What's wrong with that?"

"You mean some ignorant, backwards ass barnstormer who doesn't know shit from shinola mindlessly shooting everything in sight?"

Charlie mindlessly responded. "Hell, yeah! Fuck 'em up!"

"We are already had one of those," Sam dryly observed. He imagined how big city liberals would cheer him if they could see him now - but would they really? He longed to know.

"I'll take anything over some black bastard blaming us for all his problems!" Charlie regained himself with a fully approved remark while not treading too heavily on his own feelings.

"This country's going to hell!" Chester authoritatively interjected, fearing to fall behind. He'd heard the claim too many times not to believe it. It's what People In The Know always said - even though Chester had no idea what exactly was bringing the country down. You work, you get paid, everything works out OK just like it always has. What's wrong with that? But it wasn't until after he imparted his pearl of wisdom Chester realized he had no follow up.

"Someone should put you two parrot heads on TV. Not an original thought between you." Sam said this knowing he'd never have the balls to show own his face on TV. "Catch the new comedy act: Oral and Barley!"

Barley took exception, in essence to make fun of him was to make fun of his father - and he knew that was wrong.

"You're a frickin' fry cook! Like you know shit. This country needs farmers like me to keep going. Needs oil workers like Chester too." Chester straightened up. "What you got anyway, Sam?"

"World needs fried chicken too!" bravely bluffed Sam, who inside was crestfallen. It was true: he offered nothing to no one. If he ever thought he could he'd move away in a pounding heartbeat, the very fact he lived in Dark America proof of his loserhood.

The trailer was silent except for the sound of the TV no one heard. Chester was left in the same fog all political conversations left him. He hated that feeling of inadequacy. Sam still smarted from the charge of worthlessness on his contribution to mankind. No one's going to love me for my political views. Charlie ached for a drink to settle the now heightened inner conflict between being himself and being his father. All three saw no way out.

Sam prayed to seek redemption with news to re-bind their friendship. Please, please, please don't look at me. Look at that over there and bless me as the messenger. "Guess who I saw in the restaurant the other day?" He made sure the other two looked over to recognize the seriousness of his announcement. "Julie fucking Steel!"

Julie Steel - one of the famously gorgeous Steel girls of the Steel Ranch - was as exotic a creature as any Hollywood star coming to town. She was an Untouchable from their shared high school days, the head cheerleader about whom one heard myths and legends, dreaming them to be true. Just the thought of her presence an elixir for their tainted souls to be a vicarious light in their lives.

Chester and Charlie responded as Sam had hoped: coming to life and no one asking internal questions anymore. Sam also relayed the breathless rumor she was here to stay. But unknown to the boys, if the rumor proved true, all their paths would be altered, never to be the same again - dreaded and feared Change upon the horizon.

Read the exciting conclusion in part 2!

1 comment:

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