Monday, December 30, 2013


Two nights prior, I played music with a Grammy winner and a mutli platinum producer. I also played with my long time bass player. No one outside this city knows him, but he could play with anyone. The music is deceptively difficult. Little subtleties that hardly anyone would notice, but they all add levels of texture, that would otherwise diminish the songs. I should be over the moon, but really, I just want it to be over. I live in mortal fear of missing the next syncopated claymore. All ends well. I actually play the only tasteful drum feature of my life. A raised eye brow from the Grammy winner, a knowing smile from the bass man, and a nod of acknowledgement from the Maestro....better than applause or money. Still, all I can think about is getting to the bar.

"Irish handcuffs please. Thanks. Again. Thanks."

 Finally, a breath taken at room temperature and not from the open door of a furnace. 

Saturday; four hours sleep, lunch with my girl, nap, stationary trainer torture, movie, bed. 

Sunday: Tuning drums for a session with the Maestro. All the while twitching like a worm on a hook. The bike is on the car. Munson is surely prefect, gripping, damp clay and white under belly. I escape two hours later than promised. Something with the files and the pre-amps, and a ringing noise in the snare I couldn't eliminate, while maintaining the pitch the Maestro wanted. 

Scramble out of clothes, forget glasses, triple check the car doors. Hammer into paper cup way to fast, way to anxious, and way too pissed off. A thought occurs that, the current meth like state of mind, could lead to a few PR's on Strava. I am full cry in the big ring, railing a corner when I see him. Jeans, flat pedals, no lid, holding his phone attached to his ear buds. Off I go into the thicket to the left of the trail. Thank god it is full of thorns. He says; "Duuude". I ride away from him. Two corners later I run into a couple of riders I know, faces full of teeth, having the ride of a life time. They force me over a berm and yell my name as they blaze by. Instant Karma. Not stoked. I am less than a half mile into the ride. 

I finish the lap and it is getting colder by the minute, but also dark and the lot at the trail head is nearly empty. I try to hit the reset button. This time there will be no traffic. I will hammer out a clockwise lap in total solitude. I can feel my center coming back. The sky is an airbrushed license plate from 1985. I cross the power line to a long set of curving climbs. Still in the big ring, still have legs. Just before coming down the to cross the power line for the last leg of the lap, I see him. His bike is upside down and he is looking at his front wheel like he found a piece of alien technology. He has no tire irons. To my surprise, I don't either. I get the stiff tire off with a screwdriver from my multi tool. I put his tube in and its bad too. I try for ten more minutes to get the tire off, so I can put my spare tube in, but it will not budge. He mumbles something about how he could have walked to the car by now. I hand him his wheel, and ride off.

"Some days you can't do good."
He says. I wish him luck.

I fumble back to the car, in the dark, with no lights. It's the first time in years that the ride was not the cure. It was like running on a trampoline. 

Tour de Felasco looms on the horizon. I should be over the moon, but really I just want it to be over. 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Wild Horses

It's 5:30, I wake up to the alarm in complete state of forget. It is a haze I stay in for less than two seconds. I rise quietly, grab my phone and head out of the room. The dining room table is covered with a grid work of bike clothing, food and accoutrement's for the Spaghetti Dirt Epic; 62 miles of clay and paved roads. I am ready. I know it. I have done the completely undramatic work. I am surprised by how confident I feel. Fear still walks with me though, and it knows better than anyone all my secrets; How badly I tend to handle mechanical failures, how panicked I change tires, how childlike I become during asthma attacks. It whispers to me at moments like these when I feel good about myself:

"What if you have an issue? What if you have a migraine or asthma attack? What if you get too excited and blow to pieces in the early chaos of the start? What if everyone sees you bent over and retching for breath?"

I have a new answer for all those questions: "Fuck it, I'll ride alone. That's how I got here." Because riding alone was what I have feared most, that's what I have been doing. Long rides on the road, learning to navigate, intentionally getting lost, and making it back, which in many ways describes my life in a perfect little nutshell. I just want to be good enough to ride with my friends. I don't want to beat anyone, or prove anything, I just want to be part of story, instead of hearing the recount.

The start is the typical  mock opera of knuckleheads. Mountain bikers moving to the front and causing all kinds of expansions and contractions in the school moving upstream. Twice I have to speak up to people fighting for Big Worms wheel (which is the most valued piece of group ride real estate in cycling). They want me to give it up and that is not an option.

We turn onto the first section of dirt, the one that Ricky Silk called; "kinda sandy and soft". He said it with raised eyebrows like it was a secret. The underscored subtlety was not lost on me. Once he described Oak Mountains Blood Rock section as "kinda technical". When a guy that can ride anything says something like that, its noteworthy. We hit the sand, I am on Worms wheel, about twenty five people from the front. It's Braveheart on bikes. People and bicycles are performing a dance that would make sub atomic particles blush with envy. The yelling starts behind me as things begin to go wrong. I follow Worm into and ankle deep section of fine brown sugar. Worm shoots far left into a hard part of a little ditch and powers though. I put a foot down and Fred Flintstone for dear life. In the process, I stop roughly fifteen riders behind me. Fifty yards away I see Worm out of the saddle on the first dirt climb, no sign of looking back, no sign of stopping. I am on the edge, breathing like a whipped plow horse, and start running in the brown talcum, with all I have. It is like a bad slow motion dream. I jump on and attack the hill, knowing that if this keeps up I will not stay with the group. I crest the hill and make the catch. We settle back into a hard pace with a little more organization and no talking. There is only heaving breath and the wheel in front of us. As I realize I am going to have to give up and go off the back, Worm tells me, we need to start riding smart and let the leaders go.

 I am saved.

We settle into a rhythm, and the drama resides. Worm  and Storman are pacing us and I recover. We chat about the melee, and laugh about how Cliffy couldn't resist going with the leaders after swearing he was going to "take it easy, have fun and ride with us" (so generous of him). We see a lone rider ahead going the wrong way. The sight of the bright yellow vest, and barbaric beard, sets all laughing. Cliffy comes into view talking to himself as we fly by. He turns and catches us with out any effort we can detect and now the ride is shaping up like we planned. We make lunch, and roll out with a few more strays heading into the second leg for home. I know now, I am going to be alright. I even do a little work at the front (a first in my career on this type of ride, where I hide from the wind for fear of death or getting dropped). Back in the first dirt section after lunch, I am again defeated in the powder and this time I take Jim Smart out. We fight our way through and I pull as back to the group, pissed and exhausted. *I really need sand skills on the cross bike.

Nearing the end of this ride (as all endurance events) when the pack smells the barn, the alliances break and the stronger gently move ahead. The talking devolves to grunts and communication via expression. Future TMBA President, Mike Yaun, stays just off the front of Worm and I and the others are specs in the wavy distance. We are almost home. The three big dirt climbs, come and go, with Worm and I cursing our way over the tops. Back on pavement, we pick off some low hanging fruit from the forty mile ride. I help on the climbs and Worm turns the pistons on the descents and flat tarmac.

We arrive in three hours forty five minutes, a time Worm and I both agreed would be a great number for the day. Beers are opened, spaghetti is eaten and for the first time in four years I am hearing stories about a tough ride, I was actually on. It all seems fine and completely mundane. The best mundane I have ever experienced. A mundane I remember from old days before the storm, before I chose to let anger steal my life. A mundane I hope to keep as long as I am able.


*Photo Brian Pierce (my nominee for "rider of the day")

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Time Flies

I hate getting ready to ride. I grumble and hope for rain and dig out clothes and cuss when there are no clean water bottles. I hate my old pump and I am out of tubes. My gloves smell like a dead body. Somehow I mange to throw a leg over.

There is no way in or out of my hood with out a climb. It is a bitch at the beginning of a ride. Crawling up to the Thomasville Road light where the cars always pinch off the curb on the right turn. People come over the hill there at warp factor seven, running from the jobs they hate, rushing home to the television. I am a pissed off cyclist but at least I am not them. I hop up on the curb and then back down at the front of the right turn line. Stink eye from the lady with too much hairspray. I spot a little opening in traffic and in a supreme act of faith, drop onto Thomasville road and hammer towards Hermitage. I catch the light and lean into the great right corner with no traffic. You can hold all your speed going wide and stay around twenty five miles per hour, to the base of the hill. The missing twelve pounds in my jersey are the difference between now and the last time up this hill. I got dropped by my son here in a wheezing stagger, two months ago. 

Over I-10 and into the safety of Kilearn Estates. Drink water. Trying to ignore the smell of food I can't eat. The A.J. decent is next. A van follows me into the the first sweeping left a little too close. I drop him. The scary corner is more blind than ever with fallen trees blocking the vision of potential cars coming up the hill. The climb up to Shamrock isn't bad. Drink water. I have a line from a song I can't stop repeating in my head: "but after a while, you realize, time flies...."  

At the top I see a cyclist go by. I am still half way up the climb. I speed up involuntarily. By the time I get to the stop sign he is a half mile away. He doesn't know it, but we are racing now. He is a fake rabbit on a stick. By the church I am closer to him. He looks over his shoulder, as he starts the fast section. I get out of the saddle. On the fast climb, he is fifty yards away. By the bricks I am on top of him gasping, but I don't come around. I don't have to. It has been a very long time since anything like this has happened. I turn right on Bayshore and disappear. 

A couple climbs and a I am dropping into Hermitage. No traffic. Forty two miles per hour at the base of the descent, I sit up and ease onto the sidewalk and back up the last hill to home.  

The dog is happy to see me. I smell dinner. I want to write. I want to sing. I never thought I could feel this way again. Nothing in the future is written. 


Friday, August 23, 2013

Don't Crack Up

You ride too much. You quit riding. You come back but don't commit. You start playing music again. You turn fifty and question every decision since the summer of 79. You remember who your friends are and that they will not wait forever. You write a story (you are not sure why or what it meant). It takes a year, and runs off the folks that like to read about how shitty you ride bikes. You are blessed but you struggle.

The calm returns one day on a solo ride, to the coast and back. It is a ride born from anger. You are angry with yourself, for not being able to ride with your people. A dusty switch flips and a rusty machine churns in the wind, on the burning lanes of Capital Circle. You are out of water, food and grinning, at the ride you didn't think you could finish.

You remember that you ride bikes. It's not what you do, it's who you are and not doing it makes you an unbearable, bi polar, fuck face. You start riding more and have a couple small victories: Complete a group ride with the crew. Finish a Chaires ride (thanks to luck and a friend that pulled your carcass home). You get invited to a ride that you normally would have been on the "no call list' for. It starts to come back a little. You get the shit kicked out of you at Munson for the uncountable kabillionth time. It's not supposed to be easy.

The cross bike is aptly named, it is the crucible of truth and the revelatory place where the spirit was waiting. It is the cave where the visions come. The trip you hated that you can't wait to make again. It's "the fucking bike" you are going to ride back to the fold.

I cannot promise I won't start some convoluted story here again (if the ghosts start talking, I must write) but for now, I am back on the bike, and blah blah blogging about it.

Tell your friends.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tired of Being Alone


The Reverend Al Green was singing as Roscoe diced up the vegetables. Onions usually gave him heart burn, but tonight he was not concerned. He shelled the shrimp and set them off to the side. The rice was almost ready, and he did a little side step dance as he moved away from the stove. He put the veggies in the pan and poured the olive oil into the mix in a high exaggerated stroke. A loud sizzling noise erupted from the pan, and Roscoe yelled; "Thank You!" His head was bobbing back and forth as he pointed to an imaginary crowd and sang into the bottle. He spun on his heals and dragged his left foot back to his right and held his hands out like he was stopping traffic. He took the honey and orange juice, and did his patented "chugga choo choo" shuffle over to the pan. He poured in some honey with his left hand and then the orange juice with his right.

"I am so in love with you, whatever you want to do, is alright with me..." Came out of the speakers.

"Sing It Al!" Roscoe shouted as he tossed some fresh garlic into the pan. He did a little James Brown foot work and as he jiggled the saute pan.

"Oh Baby leeeettttttts, lets stay together!" Roscoe sang with the music. He slowed down his pace a little and slid over to the counter. He swayed as he pulled the cork from a bottle of wine and let it breath on the counter.

 Gretna crossed St. Augustine and clicked her walking stick with every left step she took. She made her way through a spot she cut out of the old fence and walked down the ancient clay double track. She thought about the happy days she spent out west in her youth, and for the first time considered retracing some of those steps. She was getting in shape for the first time since her twenties. She had lost nearly sixty pounds and had even given up her morning cigarette. She showed her age but she was an attractive woman. A hawk flew by her and landed on a tree sounding out to another across the field. A distant reply came back and the hawk surveyed the field as if he was the lord and master of all he saw. Gretna watched him and didn't move. The bird showed no sign that he feared anything and even in total stillness was more alive than anyone Gretna knew.
Kerry found an application to Nursing School on the passenger seat of the old Toyota her mother and her shared. She assumed Roscoe was making subtle suggestions after a talk they had. She tapped her finger nails on the counter and then typed in the address to the website. Springsteen's song; "Be True" came on Pandora. As the sax solo played, she began filling in the spaces on the lines of the application.

Roscoe finished washing and drying the dishes, and gently returned them to the cabinets. He closed the doors slowly and wiped down the black walnut with the dish towel. He threw the towel over his shoulder and looked out at the sun setting behind the tree line. He grabbed three envelopes addressed to Kerry, Gretna and his lawyer. He walked over to the desk and set the envelopes out separately putting the bus keys on top of the one marked; "Gretna". He looked at himself in the mirror, and straightened his tie. He folded the broken money clip Lilly bought him into a bandanna and placed it in his pocket. He surveyed the house, the yard, and his shop. Everything was as neat as a pin.

The orange morphine pills were curious to him. They looked like candy and they said "M" on one side and "60" on the other. He ground them all into a bowl stopping briefly to get the stereo remote and turn it up a little. When he finished making the powder, he poured it all into a wine glass and dragged his finger around the bowl to get all the dust out. He licked his finger and winced at the bitterness. He washed the bowl and placed it back in the cupboard. He placed two thick towels folded in half, on the seat of his recliner and began to pour the wine. He lit two candles and shut out all the lights. Roscoe took a deep breath and sat down. The powder danced in a swirl and he watched the dust spin in the candle light. He drank it in slow sips as the warmth swept over him like a breeze. He took the last sip from the glass and wiped his mouth on a white linen napkin.

Roscoe, blinked slowly and labored to open his eyes. He could smell rose water in the room as he focused to see Lilly standing there in the kitchen. He couldn't move or speak. She had a patient look on her face he had seen countless times throughout their life together. She was wearing a flowered dress and the patterns of the fabric swayed in soft light of the candles. She smiled at Roscoe as he looked into her eyes. He clutched the white napkin a little harder and the fabric wrinkled in his grip. He started to feel his eyes close and he felt Lilly's hands on his shoulders. He was so tired. As the candles flickered, Roscoe's hand opened softly and the napkin fell to the floor, like a leaf.

The End


Friday, August 9, 2013

My Girl


Roscoe got in the old bus, put the key in the ignition and slid his hands over the creamy white steering wheel. He had never driven a bus before. When he turned the key, the motor sprang to life and idled like a sewing machine. He felt an instant recognition between the bus and other V.W.'s he had owned. The connective thread of their linage felt so familiar, that apprehension left him with an exhale. The Wolfsburg crest on the wheel, and the low back seats all felt like home. He gently put it in gear and nudged it down the drive with a little gas. The bubbly sound of the motor and the smell of new paint, rubber and vinyl, made him smile as he looked around the inside of the bus.

 It was unusually cool and he drove with his elbow out the window. He took at look at the sun rising behind him, in the small chrome rear view mirror. He rolled slowly into the small gravel lot by Chaires Cross Roads and parked the bus in the shade. He reached across to get a small bouquet of flowers and let her run as he got out. The bus was sat purring and glistening in the sun. He could smell the paint burning off the new muffler, and it reminded him of how V.W.'s smelled when they were new. He smiled as he walked around her. She was everything he'd hoped she'd be. The fresh white interior was perfect. He gently glided his fingers along the new chrome trim as he walked down the length of her. Above the left tail light was a tiny Lilly hand painted by a local pinstripe artist. He squatted and admired his reflection and the flower. It was a good day. He walked over to a weathered wooden cross and straightened it up as he gently pushed it back down into the earth. He pulled the grass and weeds away from it and set the flowers down.

When Gretna heard the bus pulling in, it triggered a flood of memories. The sound of the motor and the tires on gravel surprised her. When she first saw the old bus in it's original colors, she felt like a time machine had arrived to pick her up. Roscoe, in his knowing way, stopped in front of her and smiled, letting her take it in. He knew she had traveled a long way with this bus, and he assumed everyone grew attached to their cars as he did. She walked around it in wonder. She touched it, opening and closing it's doors as though she was seeing on old friend. Roscoe was so pleased with her reaction, he broke into a stuttered laugh, as the expressions of joy met her face, for the first time since he had met her.

"It is just a dream! I don't know how you did it but it is perfect. Roscoe, how on earth did you do this? It's just a dream!"

"I'm going to see Kerry, you want to go for a ride?"

Gretna didn't lock the door to her house. She didn't get her purse or her keys, she just stepped into the bus in a haze, and bounced involuntarily, in her seat. Out on old St. Augustine Road, all the colors seemed brighter to her. The fences, farms and the old growth of the road, all looked new. It was a bright day and the sun shot though sections of the trees, making striped shadows on the road before them. Roscoe turned the ivory nob on the radio and "My Girl" came through the little speaker in the dash. Gretna tapped her leg and looked out the window completely lost in a nostalgic trance. Roscoe watched how uninhibited she had become, and smiled at her innocent expression. They sailed down the old road in the bus, having sensations neither had felt in years.

They parked the car on an old loading ramp across from Cabo's restaurant and it seemed as though the entire Friday afternoon lunch crowd was transfixed at the sight of it. A few people came out and looked at it, each with a story about a bus or an old bug they had owned. Gretna just stood back and watched them walk around it. She simply could not take her eyes off of the the resurrected bus.

Inside Kerry brought out a plate of food to him. He was eating chips slowly and peering through the blinds. He was smiling slightly and he thanked her as she put the food down.

"It was you wasn't it?" She asked out of nowhere.

"I"m sorry?" He said, not understanding.

"It was you that left that medicine here for me. You come here every Friday and sit by yourself." She said leaning on the corner of the table. He looked up at her and waited. He never knew how people would react. She had always seemed tragic to him, but today she was secure and full of purpose, unafraid and brave in her movements.

"Well, I'll pick up your check today, Mr. Friday lunch special."

She spun and walked away and he was relieved. He continued to watch the man and lady by the bus and he recognized him. He'd seen him driving that old 56 bug to Cabo's. They came inside and he watched as Kerry sat them in the booth next to him and he leaned over as they settled in.

"66 thirteen window?" He asked Roscoe.

"You got it. It's my first drive since I restored her." Roscoe answered.

"I had a 71 bay window but I always wanted a late sixties split. Well, you did a great job, she looks like she just rolled off the showroom floor."

"This is Gretna, she was the owner of the bus before me, that's her daughter over there." Roscoe motioned towards Kerry and she walked over to them.

"Weren't you at the hospital when we were there?" Roscoe asked.

"Yes sir, I had to get a sonogram of my heart. I had some health issues back in August 2010. Every so often they like to poke at me to keep me thankful." He said and laughed at his own joke.

"What day in August?" Roscoe asked

"August twenty first, worst day of my life." He said, and his face showed the weight of it. He wished he hadn't said it. He wished he could not bring it up in conversation so much. He wished he could just let it go, but he couldn't it was part of who he was now. It had changed him forever, and the reminders seemed to find him all the time.

"That's the day I fell and broke my legs." Gretna said.

"It's my wedding anniversary and the day I lost my wife." Roscoe said with a solemn tone.

"It's my birthday and the day my husband died." Kerry added.

They all sat there looking at each other until finally he laughed and said;

"This kind of strange coincidental stuff has been happening to me lately. I spose there is a meaning in there somewhere. Now that Y'all freaked me out, I probably won't leave the house on the twenty first!"

They all laughed a little as the Friday lunch special guy got up, said his goodbyes, and walked out to his car. He paused to peek in to the bus, and headed back to work.

"Roscoe, I am glad you fixed it up. It's like you got all the bad memories off of it. Mama, I get off in a minute you want to ride home with me?" Kerry asked and Gretna nodded. Roscoe stood up, hugged Gretna and Kerry and made his way out to the bus. He started her up and waved as he drove off.

When Roscoe pulled up to the doctors office, his heart felt light. He had forgotten what happiness felt like and he had a satisfaction he had finished something for once. He had the feeling that had eluded him for years, like finally, all his work was done. He giggled as he watched the nurses stand and point at the old bus and even Doctor Reynolds stood, looked out the window and gave Roscoe a thumbs up. He came into the waiting room and the nurse was waiting in the open door with his chart.

"C'mon back Mr. Roscoe, we are ready for you."

He sat down on a chair next to an examining table and heard the familiar knock before the doctor entered.

"Well, ya finished another project I see. You are something else Mr. Roscoe." The Doctor turned and looked at Roscoe, with reverence and affection. He tapped his fingers on the counter and tried to compose himself.

"Well old friend I have your films." The doctor brought the images of Roscoe's brain up on the computer and highlighted the one with a spider like growth on the left side.

Roscoe, turned his hat in his hands but he felt no sadness. He felt like he was going on a long trip after the war. Like he did with Lilly in Germany, like the hard part was over. His faith was returning to him and he thought of Lilly for the first time since she had died, without sadness.

"Well here is the tumor. It's much bigger than before, like we knew it would be. You will probably start to notice some symptoms and a slow loss of faculties. Your speech may begin to slur over the next weeks. Are you feeling any discomfort?"

Roscoe shook his head and looked out the window. The colors seemed so bright out there. He was aware of every leaf and bird and the sun was so strong. He made little mental notes of how vivid his vision was, like he was seeing for the first time.

"No, I am fine" Roscoe said, still in a quiet awe of how calm and relaxed he was.

"I have some Morphine here and instructions for the nurse. Have you made arrangements with hospice?" The Doctor asked?

"Yes, yes, I have everything I need. I want to thank you for taking care of me this last four years Doc."

Roscoe left the office and headed for home. He was happy to be back in the bus and he took the long route out to Moccasin Gap. He drove along and sang along with the radio. Today had been a great day. He made his way through his gates and back onto the gravel drive. He parked the bus sideways by the front window so he could see her while he made dinner, listened to music, and shuffled in a little dance around the kitchen floor. He wouldn't be alone much longer.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Never See It Coming


Floyd's Music Store, May 3, 2003: The young opening band for socialburn just finished their set. They are elated. They high five each other, in front of a sold out crowd. They start wave to their friends and family. A loud, rude voice comes from behind:

"Hey what the fuck are you guys doing? Get your shit off the stage!"

The young guys scatter like recruits in boot camp. They are grabbing hand fulls of cables and guitars and pushing gear off the stage as fast as they can move. I look over at Neil Alday (the socialburn singer that I manage) who is laughing so hard, no sound is coming out of him.

Tallahassee, April 18, 2013: I am rolling an old road cases off of the red and blue rubber mats of my garage. This area was for bikes and a work stand for the last fourteen years. Since the day I gave up playing music full time. Since the days I stopped managing bands. This was the sanctuary where the arsenal was kept. The weapons that kept all my demons at bay. The desire to play music and sing was beaten back with sweat, bikes and tools. This shop was kept spotless, the vigil was never forsaken, the watchman never slept and the past was a distant dream. 

Now the space was full of road cases. Cases that had been flown around the world, and dragged into every rock bar in Tallahassee. The old blue drum set inside was beaten and chipped. The cobalt piano finish was pale compared to the day they were new 1988. But they are cleaned, lubed and wearing fresh drum heads. A horn beeps from the van out front. I smile and roll the bass drum case down the driveway.

One year ago this week I had taken my first ride after breaking my right collarbone. A year and a half before that, I had heart surgery. One month before that, I'd had a stroke. I had trouble talking. I couldn't write my own name for a week. I thought I would end up on disability. Slowly it all came back, but no matter how hard I tried, I never felt right on the bike. I felt funny around my friends too. It wasn't anything they did or said, but my world had changed and nothing was the same color anymore. Some part of me never came back from the hospital. August twenty first, and that tiny blood clot changed me forever. The Bike Chain Crew were all different too. Life had caught us all unaware. The difference was, they could still ride. I still rode too, when I could, but it wasn't the same. I had to accept the fact that cycling was not the central thing in my life. I look at my BC jersey, hanging on the bike stand, as I load the last case and shut the garage door.

The light guy tells me to wait for the fog. I hear the intro music start. First the sound of flipping through radio stations, a few seconds of a socialburn song, then "You'll Have Time" by William Shatner starts to play with the opening lyric: "Live life like you're gonna die...cause your gonna!"

"Amen Brother!"

I say under my breath and walk out a little ahead of the rest of the band, to put in my in-ear monitors. I start playing the drum intro to "Save Me" the first song of our set. Eight hundred people stare up as we go from song to song. The applause increases after ever tune, and slowly the crowd warms up. I see the silhouette of Neil, my old friend. I watched him play for huge crowds from the side of the stage as his manager and now I am playing with him. Life is strange. I never saw any of this coming. I count off the last song and look over to see the drummer and bass player from Blackberry Smoke watching. Their arms are folded and they look tired and unimpressed. The drummer is tapping his foot. We finish the song. I give some drum sticks to a few people that ask for them. Blackberry Smoke's stage manager is screaming at us to get our gear off the stage. I start laughing.

"Calm down Sparky."

I say to the twenty something manager.

"This ain't our first rodeo."

I move him out of the way with my left hand and walk by with some cymbal stands.

The gear is all cased and in the van. I am drinking a beer outside the back stage door, soaked in sweat. I  look up and see Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke.

"Y'all have a good time? The crowd treat you right?"

"Hell ya man. Thanks for letting us play the show. We are huge fans."

I stop talking because I know the drill. The singer was just being nice. Headliners hate talking before they walk on stage. They want to be left alone. I tell him to have a good show and walk over to our van, sitting in the shadow of a forty five foot Prevost Touring Coach. I change my shirt next to a dumpster and climb in the front seat.

"Well Eddy?"

I say to my old friend and sound man.

"Sometimes you are on the bus and sometimes you are in the van."

Eddy turns and laughs out a cloud of cigar smoke.

"Ain't that the fucking truth!"


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ain't No Sunshine


"Tell me about your wife..."

Gretna asked, having no idea what the question would bring up. It hung there in the bright afternoon and she noticed immediately that the easy posture of Roscoe had changed. It was like the bones in his face were struggling with the muscles, like they might pull from the skin all together.

People don't die like they do in the movies. They don't leave this earth with a perfect last statement. There is no angelic moment of clarity. There is only confused looks, lack of breath and a desperate gasping in fear and disbelief. Roscoe had seen people die in the years he spent in the Nam. He had seen a few more stateside, when he found himself at roadside accidents that seemed to find him like a curse. He wished he could drive by, but the medic in him made him stop, and made him help. It was a sore spot between he and Lilly. She hated stopping for stranded motorists and she detested how her life was disrupted by Roscoe's crusade. She had been a nurse in the war and when she came home she vowed to never have blood on her hands again. She never worked as a nurse again, and she never went back to school like she had dreamed as a girl. She wanted to live a quiet life, without the screams of young men echoing in her head. But Roscoe couldn't pass by anyone in need. He would forget whatever was going on in their life. The day would been spent getting parts for broken cars, ferrying people around that they didn't know, and on a few occasions, giving C.P.R. or keeping pressure on a wound.

"She was my angel."

Roscoe said as he looked out the window.

"You know all my life I always wondered about men that complained about their wives. Men that couldn't wait to get to a bar. These guys that say their wives gained weight, or nagged. I never tired of looking at my Lilly. Our lives weren't perfect and Lord, she used to get mad at me, but I never tired of looking at her. I never fought back when she got angry. Maybe I was just simple minded. Maybe I should have fought but, whenever she got upset, I just couldn't ignore how child like she became. I never forgot how much I loved her. I never forgot the good times. I couldn't get angry. Even when she was mad as the devil, I was still happy to be near her. We used to go hours without talking, we would sit and read or make dinner, we were always together. We would put on music and when a song came on that we loved, we would dance a little, you know? Just for a minute or two. No matter what was going on in our lives, she would look up at me and I'd remember those great days in Europe, driving around with nothing but a day and a map in front of us. She wore rose water perfume. I loved the way she smelled."

It was a beautiful day outside and Roscoe clinched his eyes together as hard as he could. The trauma always lurked right below the surface of his skin, just out of sight. Working on old things and making them run, held it all at bay. He would work himself into a walking coma and at the end of the day he'd eat, have a glass of wine and drift off to a place where he could still take Lilly for a turn around the dance floor. He would wake in a fog and move into another day.

"It was August twenty first, nineteen eighty five."

Roscoe gripped his hat like a rope and his hands twisted the fabric into a crumpled knot as he spoke.

"There was a lady standing next to her car on highway twenty seven. It was drizzling like it does ever summer day around three or four in the afternoon. We were on our way to a restaurant, it was our anniversary. She wore a special dress with flowers on it. I can remember it waving in the breeze, as we drove with the windows down. She held the dress in place with her hands and pushed the material down between her knees. She saw the car before I did and her face showed she was mad before I stopped. When I pulled over she asked me to just keep going, but the lady looked so lost and her hood was up. It was starting to rain harder and I told Lilly it would just be a minute. She slapped her purse against her legs when I got out. Her car was half in the slow lane and I told her to get in while I pushed it out of the way. I was preoccupied with trying to get her situated when I heard the tires sliding on the pavement. It was a weird sound like a fingernail on canvas, and then I heard the crash."

Roscoe pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his eyes. His head was down and his other hand held onto the hat for dear life. Gretna wished she had never asked, she wished she could pour them a drink, she wished she could get away. She stared spell bound at the man she hardly knew, lost in a story he didn't want to tell. He was powerless to stop it from running over the levy, and it spilled out of him like a violent wall of water that nothing could hold back.

"She looked fine, there was just a little goose egg on her head. When I got to her she was so confused and she looked up at me like she didn't understand what happened. The man in the truck that hit her was yelling at me and for a spilt second I thought we would be fine, she tried to say something, but the life ran out of her and she stopped breathing. I got her out and started C.P.R. I could hear her ribs breaking as I pushed on her chest. I gave her breaths and and pushed and checked her pulse. It went on forever until the fireman pulled me off her. I fell down there in the gravel next to the road. There wasn't any room for me in the ambulance. I could see them working on her. I prayed to God there on the side of the road. The last thing I can remember was seeing her dress move in the wind as they closed the doors. Those little flowers, white and purple, the radio was still playing. All she wanted was a nice dinner. She was all dressed up."

Roscoe let the tension leave his hands and he wiped his eyes. His chest rose and fell slowly as he returned to his world as it was now. He sighed and stared off to nowhere.

"August twenty first was the day we married, the happiest day of my life. The insurance company settled out of court and I got more money that I ever dreamed of getting, enough to live on forever. That's the joke God played on me. I didn't have to work anymore, but it was all I could do to stay alive.  I had to keep living. So everyday I get up, I try to fix something, I try to make it up to my Lilly. It ain't ever enough. The grass grows back, the dishes get dirty, the house gets painted and Lilly's still gone."

He hit his hat against his leg and a small cloud of red dust drifted away from him in the breeze.

"I'm sorry Gretna. I know you didn't.....I have to go."

Roscoe pulled open the screen door, walked through it and let it slam. His big feet dug into the gravel as he strode away to his car. She heard the old V.W. start up and he drove away, without waving.

Gretna plopped onto a stool and let out a deep breath. She pushed the cold coffee away from her, hit the counter with her hand and shook her head. It was such a nice day, a few minutes ago.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Diamonds and Rust


It was the scraping sound that Gretna noticed first and then the birds. Sounds you miss when in hospital. She smelled coffee on the stove and noticed chairs askew at the kitchen island. The house was a marvel. In the dungeon of bitterness she had built, she never dreamed that light could return to this house. The sun was beaming through the trees across St. Augustine road and she thought of the old days when she walked the old dirt paths. She wandered those fields with Kerry when hope of his return still hung in the air like a kite. She poured coffee and walked painfully to the porch supporting herself on furniture as she moved, to see the source of the sounds, coming from outside.

Roscoe was working a soft block sander on the curves of the old bus. The inside was gutted and transported back to his house piece by piece. The motor, rear end and transmission were nearly done. There was nothing left but to sand and massage the body. Roscoe lost himself bringing the old bus back to the smooth curvaceous beauty she was when she left Stuttgart back in 66. She was sea foam green with a white seats and matching door panels. Roscoe checked the numbers on her and found her whole story, just like him she had a long journey. He stood upright and stretched his aching back looking for low spots in the panel he had sanded.

Gretna lit her one and only cigarette for the day. She allowed herself one, and only one when the boys were not around. Life with no vice is no life at all, and so she hid a pack and kept one little secret connection to her former self.  She looked at the new railing and porch, and briefly thought of her fall back to grace. She was eating right, not drinking and her family was around her again. She went to physical therapy twice a week and met with a nutritionist once a month. She was thirty five pounds lighter and able to walk a little everyday. She had awakened from a spell. Fifteen years of bitter torment at her own hand had ended with a fall in dog shit. The dog looked like a show winner, after that Roscoe man nursed it back to health. Rooney sat wagging, waiting for an invitation to be petted. It was as if he had forgiven her, but still remembered the fire she used to spew at him. Dogs move forward, and Gretna had too. Being broken into pieces had afforded her the opportunity to be put back together again.

Roscoe was finally down past the body line, below the windows. All the corners were repaired, sanded and the floor was finished and primed. The fender wells were tough,  but now nothing stood between this bus being done and Roscoe except the vast expanse of sheet metal below the windows. It was mostly flat and easy going from here. Then the she would go to the body shop for paint rubber and windows. Roscoe heard Gretna calling from the porch and wondered how this would play out. They really hadn't spoken in the hospital, and he worried about what she might say. Kerry had told him a lot about the woman and most was not good. He clapped his hands together and a cloud of maroon dust expanded in front of him.

"Mr. Roscoe? Roscoe?"

Gretna called out to the garage and finally he appeared into the sun light. He patted his overalls shaking loose what ever dust that still hung to him and wandered out toward the porch.

"Thank you for the swing. And all of this."

She motioned around her and up into the air at all the improvements he had done around the house and property.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?"

He nodded and walked slowly to her. He used to get a lot more done when there was nobody around. Now he'd have to get to know her, and the solitude of working on the bus would be harder to find. But is was only a few more days and then the trailer would come. Once it was painted, it would be brought back to his house and he could put her right, in the silence of his shop. Just the Reverend Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, and Roscoe doing work. Roscoe liked it that way.

"I guess I have you to thank for amazing transformation around here, are you working on that old bus?"

Gretna poured the coffee while Roscoe rotated his hat in his hand in the doorway.

"Come in and sit down. Cream and sugar?"

Roscoe nodded yes and sat in the chair by the counter.

"How'd she pay for all this? I know Kerry doesn't have any money."

"Well, some of the wood came from the part that fell down, and there was some lumber out there in the garage. I had some things around my house, shingles and some paint. I never throw anything away that's useful. Kerry got some insurance money for some of it and I guess the money I paid her for the bus covered everything on the inside. She never told you about any of this?"

"No, I guess she wanted it to be a surprise, and she didn't want to argue about it. Well now, you have seen me half naked and I hardly know anything about you!"

Roscoe howled and laughed at her directness. He hadn't laughed in a long time and had a little trouble stopping. The vision of her and the comedy of errors when he found her was a fresh memory. It was all funny now that she had recovered. 

"Well I am sorry about that, it was a windy day and I am afraid that dress wasn't made for rough weather. I hope you are not embarrassed. I used to be a medic in the army and it's all just the human body to me. I must say I have seen some people that were tore up pretty good, but I don't think I ever saw someone covered in dog mess before!"

And he began to laugh again and this time Gretna joined him. She shook her head and looked out toward the yard.

"I must have been some sight all sprawled out like a turkey waiting to get stuffed! Dear Lord what an awful thing that was."

They began to talk and filled in the blanks in each others stories. They told the simple stories people tell when they meet. The easy stories that don't hurt. The stories that require little effort to bring up. They eased into the cold waters of their histories, each knowing the other had deep scars and long journeys that led to this little moment in a kitchen. A red bird landed on the new rail Roscoe built to replace the one Gretna fell through. It lit there for a moment outside the open window and twitched its head from side to side. They noticed the bird in unison and smiled as is flew off in a dart. 


Friday, April 26, 2013

For The Love Of You


Kerry fussed with little picture frames on the table. She looked at herself in the mirror and rolled her lips together so the color was even. She lit two candles and opened a window. She had put an Isley Brothers record on the turntable. It was the last record she could remember her mother playing before they gave up on her father coming home. Since then the music stopped, the light couldn't penetrate the curtains and laughter left this room never to return. The walls were decorated with photos from Gretna's past, intermingled with photos of Kerry, her children and one photo in the back of the father of her boys.

"A house with no fathers." She said to herself.

The walls had been painted a mint green and Roscoe helped her put new fabric on the old couch.  She liked the old kitchen counters and they cleaned up nice. Despite the burnt circle in the center (Kerry called the tattoo) it was still in good shape and the old maple had a deep honey color. The cabinets looked better after Roscoe put new hinges and hardware on them and they worked fine. She was afraid to make too many changes for fear of overwhelming Gretna. She made all her decorating decisions based on memories of happier times and how it looked in her mind. Kerry paid for the gravel drive and most of the material's with the money Roscoe gave her for that old Bus. She gave up her rented house and moved here with the boys. Her mother was going to need help and Kerry held out her last scrap of hope that this was the one chance had at being a family. The grass was starting to come in and the tress and bushes were all trimmed back and manicured. The front of the house stood proud and painted against all the heartache it had held behind the walls inside. The walls of wood and plaster sealed in trauma that never aged, healed or lost its energy to torment the holder of the memories.

She wished Roscoe was there but he had decided to be absent for Gretna's first day. How could anyone do so much good and not want to see the moment when the gratitude came? He was always there working on this or that in the morning and he hummed old songs while he worked. Every three days or so he would ask Kerry if he was in the way, or if she minded him coming the next day. Kerry would laugh and tell him she hoped he would. They made little decisions based on paint they found or the old wheel barrel they turned into a planter. Even the old mangy dog had recovered at the hands of Roscoe. He sat for his first bath without struggle and looked up as Roscoe sang to him and poured water from an old cup. He trusted Roscoe and followed him around the property, always staying within petting distance of his savior.

Kerry took a Lexipro pill from the bottle she found on a table at Cabo's. She was in dire need the day she found prescription bottle, with the name scratched off. She thought it was that guy that ate alone all the time. The band guy that never said anything except what he wanted to eat. He always seemed to be watching people in the place, or surfing on the TVs. He wrote in a blue note book and tipped well. He always came early and usually left in a half hour. The same guy from the hospital. He was funny sometimes too, but mostly he just sat and ate. She found a note by the bottle:

"I heard you say you needed these. I do not take them anymore. I hope they help."

The note was written neatly on a napkin in all capital letters. There were fifty pills in the bottle enough to last her for almost three months. The label had the presciption number scratched off but the dosage and drug name were still there, as if to put her at ease they were safe.

"For The Love Of You" came on the stereo, and Kerry fell back into the old couch. Why couldn't she ever get over anything? She still missed him after all these years. She still felt the cold chill run down her stomach when she saw her boys watching other kids with their Dads. She had moments of pause where the burden left her, but then a song, smell, or distant memory would hit her and the great weight returned again. She danced with him in her mind, in that little house, before he left, before the plane went down, before the light went out inside her. There was a part of her that never wanted the sadness to abate. The aching was the shadow of her old love and she didn't want to let go of the dark outline of what she once had. It was the last silhouette of him, and she held vigil in private silence. It was a haven and a prison she retreated to, as a way to hang onto the last of him. She wondered if it was killing her in little pieces, and if she might fade away entirely.

She heard the gravel crunching under the tires, and saw the van from the hospital. She lifted the needle and moved it back to the beginning. She scanned the room, and hung the dish towel over the sink. She was moving forward, and she hoped maybe Gretna would too.