At night when the kids aren't here I do my thing. Some nights I make my salad or whatever. Other nights I push my fingers deep inside the fridge-cooled carcass of some long dead chicken with one hand while I work the remote with the other. Flicking through the stuff on my DVR I have to laugh at all the movies I've recorded over the last year or so.
There's so many good ones, but what am I doing?
I never watch them.
I've been dragging Slumdog Millionaire around with me for so long that it feels like I've seen it just by looking at the damn title night after night, week after week, month after month after month.
I've never seen it though. I might never watch it at this point. I get off on not seeing it. We get so turned on by edgy denial. Some art hits you all strange like that. The best sex has never ever happened for real. The most epic shags are ether and mist. Slumdog Millionaire and me, we have that. We get off on not getting off. We are fuck-me eyes across the bar and then back home alone.
I miss the kids on these nights. Lately Henry in a certain kind of way.
He never leaves me alone when he's here and so even though I refuse to tell him this outright, the fact of the matter is that I've quit trying to keep him away. There was a period last winter when I wanted him to stay upstairs as each evening came and went. But no matter how much I begged him to respect my 'Grown Up Time' or told him I was going to be watching a "Grown Up Show'. No matter how much I lied to his tiny ass about how I was going to be pissed off if he came back downstairs after I'd set him and his sister up with the Netflix on my computer, his resilience proved too much.
His little heart was set on me.
It took me a while to get that, but I get it now. After a while I began to understand that I was trying to shove a lousy half hour of come down silence/peace/quiet/bullshit lies into a space the universe had already long ago reserved for a 4-year-old to come thump sliding down the stairs on his ass despite my selfish pleas.
Back around June, as the summer began to slip in all around us, I started seeing that the whole time alone thing for me wasn't even something I really needed or even wanted for that matter. I don't know how Henry figured that out. I will never know. But he did, he zoomed in on the truth. And so he kept coming down. And I stopped stopping him. And right away fifty elephants were chopper lifted up off my lame chest.
Now I play the same stupid game with him but I have no idea why. I get Charlie to sleep in the damn Pack-n-Play I still use for him and then I go through the same old drill with Violet and Henry.
Wipe toothpaste spit and water off of sink edge.
Wipe toothpaste out of kid mouth corners.
Cup water in my hand for them to rinse out their neon blue Avengers candy crap toothpaste since they seem to dig me doing that for some reason.
Tell everyone to stop jumping around like wild animals ripping high on toothpaste. "SHHHHH! Charlie's sleeping!"
Hand out pajamas.
Have my pajama choices refuted and refused for infinite reasons, mostly in favor of near nakedness.
Hook up the laptop to the speakers and mess around with it until I find the Netflix.
Ask them what they want to watch.
Warn them that it's an early night. "We have to get up early in the morning." No one listens. No one cares. I'm a potato chip bag blowing down the street.
Listen to them refute and refuse each others cartoon choices.
Put on something, anything and tell them that's it. "Watch Wild Kratts. It's a good show. There was no Wild Kratss when me and Uncle Dave were growing up. We had to watch Tom and Jerry or nothing else. And that was only on for a few minutes a day. You guys are lucky. Watch Wild Kratts or go to bed now."
I slip away then sighing the sigh of the battlefield wounded. But as I exit that room each night of my half of the week with them, I get slammed by love. Annihilated by love. Roadside bombed by something truer than truth despite the string of lies I tell myself all day long.
I move down the stairs, hit the bottom in the pale light of the bulb back at the top, pass by the school bags and lunch bags and the wooden box of shoes and open the door back into the kitchen alone.
Then I wait.
I make my dinner, look at the clock. It's 8:22pm or something close to that usually. I look at my phone, see if anybody called/anybody liked any of my shit on Facebook or Instagram. Nothing. I look around my house, my small house, old house, my small old rented house glowing in the Christmas lights I hung up and leave lit up all the time even though it seems so tacky and bullshit. I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I imagine Christmas lights will make the kids happier. I want them happy and that's pretty much all I want, I tell myself, which is also a lie by the way.
I look around and I walk over to the TV and flip it on and it's Monday so I know there's a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives marathon on and that's where I aim the entire living room. I aim it at diners. And drive-ins. And dives.
In the fading moments of some fading moment I aim my whole life at a taqueria joint in Minneapolis where they still make their own salsa verde in house, every single mother fucking day.
I pop the cap off a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I only ever have one anymore. I might even stop that. I just can't be sure where I'm headed, you see.
I glide/float/walk/fly over to the coffee table and I thump my food down, the chicken still parked there in the same plastic container I bought it in, parked there in death, its stupid brittle bones dipped down into the gelatinous goop of its own demise. I thump the hummus container down next to the bird. I bring over the cutting board with the slices of red pepper and the cheap jar olives and the cut-up tomato on it.
A broccoli piece rolls off the thing as I try to balance carry it the six feet I have to travel from the kitchen to the coffee table.
"Fuckin' fuck," I say. I don't know what else to say. It's a piece of broccoli. What do I say? Whose fault is it? It's on the floor now so to hell with it. I'll still eat it/I don't care. I eat shit that falls on my kitchen floor all the time, dude. I don't go in for any of that kissing it and holding it up to God or anything either. I just pick it up and pop it in my mouth and I can taste the whole world for three miles in any direction. My kids and me, we track it all in here and I turn around and dredge/marinate stuff I drop to that world and so yeah: every single day I eat dropped broccoli dipped in dog dirt/tick spray/gravel dust/kid foot fungus/whatever.
I dare that shit to kill me or to make me sick. I don't worry about that. You can't die from eating dirt or small amounts of horrible chemicals. It adds flavor. I probably eat and digest upwards of two or three ounces of squirrel shit a year if I broke it all down. My insides are a forest, babe. My guts right now? They're this overheated museum of Pennsylvania summertime. Dig that if you can. And you can if you want.
I wait til Henry shows up before I eat now.
He has this sixth sense. The entire thing has been scripted for probably the last three billion years, me and Henry dining together after I tell him to stay upstairs. It's as if our fates were sealed many many moons ago and I feel that in my bones, yo.
He shows up underneath his blankie. I hear his muffled ass thumps on the stairs as I sneak an olive and stare at a Waco burger joint where they're kickin' out some fuckin' FlavorTown righteousness.
All of my world falls away from me everyday. I sense her holding me in the embrace of a lifetime only to loosen her grip on me at some point so I can be fed to wolves, shoved gently out into the open pit of my own panic or fears, my whole future down there slithering under the weight of a thousand mean mountain rattlesnakes.
And then Henry. Here he comes pretending he's a ghost, making his ghost sounds the moment he enters the kitchen from the stairwell. He saves me every night, I guess. That sounds so stupid to say that. It seems like lazy writing for me to carry your heavy ass over to some soulful point where my little kid saves me from my own blue haze, but there it is. So there you go.
You need to recognize real beauty when you see it, man. It isn't ever someone's face either. That kind of beauty is nothing. That's happy hour whore makeup, dude. Faces and bodies and your body on my face or whatever, that's not what I'm getting at here. I'm talking about castles, you're thinking about cheekbones or whatever. Beauty, true true tried-and-true beautiful beauty doesn't live out in the evening sparkle of some lover's green eyes or blah blah blah. True beauty, the real McCoy shit, the literature stuff that makes you lay the book down on your chest and stare at the ceiling in awe of the moment you just lived through, that stuff never comes from any obvious place.
It's born unexpectedly. It's a free fucking car slamming through your front room.
And then, if you're lucky, that kind of beauty comes back on a regular basis for a spell. Maybe it comes back for a few nights running. Maybe for a hundred nights or even a thousand nights, I don't know. No one knows. We take everything for granted. We are blinder than bats. We are bats wearing blinders. Oh damn, we miss so much.
Beauty knocking down our doors. And then/gone.
Eventually, you see, one night you sit there waiting for it, your fat finger sliding up and down the wetness of a single bottle of beer/your half-baked teeth chewing down slow and hard on some floppy sliver of some factory farmed shitty life chicken's dead body/your eyes on the Denver mom and pop joint where they're still making deep fried onion rings in their own house special secret batter like they have for the last seven motherfucking years now/ you sit there waiting for it, expecting it, counting on it, dreaming of it in ways you never dreamed you'd dream of a thing but that's what you're doing, amigo, on the very night when- POOF: it doesn't come.
It stops showing up.
The ass thumps go quiet.
The ghost peering around at you stops showing up.
The loveliest beauty just leaves you hanging.
And look, my man, it's nobody's fault. It's just the way the script was written. Written way back when the sun was a stone and the sky was the ocean and the stars were all dinosaurs licking each others assholes and bones in a galaxy far, far away.
Not tonight though. Or not tonight if the kids are here with me anyway. If they're here, me and him will act out the scene there at the coffee table. Or at least: God I hope we will.
Show up, boss.
Steal my cheese and talk over the TV, a-mile-a-minute, you beautiful soul.
Put your finger in the plastic thing of hummus even if you've been picking your crusty nose with it. I don't care, man. I swear to God. I. Do. Not. Care.
I'd eat all your boogers if you asked me to.
I can't tell you that outright, bro, but if you asked me to, for almost any stupid reason in the world, I would eat your beautiful late summer boogers out of your skull like sweet relish from a picnic jar.
It is what it is.
And on the nights when I'm alone here/and you're nowhere to be found/that's the kind of stuff I'm realizing/as I sip my one Pale Ale/as I stare fifty mile prison spotlight holes through a pizza joint in Milwaukee where they're cooking up some good old fashion motherfucking calzones with a very Midwestern twist.