Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Vultures Descending

Every single word written here is an extraordinary exaggeration of events that have played out in my head... based on the stories I have heard from people I have met in jail or while I was dealing with my own stupidity and carelessness, resulting from my own addiction to alcohol and drugs. This is in no way a glamorization of drug use, but a tool to lend some humanity to a subculture that has been demonized and written off as a hopeless and worthless part of our human family. I do not condone or promote any of the behavior or activities herein.

Chapter Four

            Like I said before, so much about Bull was almost mythic.  After awhile I had kind of decided that some of the things I thought I was witnessing could be chalked up to lack of sleep, or overindulgence in our drug of choice.  From time to time I would see something that a normal person might find unbelievable, or might think them self insane for granting what their eyes had witnessed more than an instants distraction in their finely structured brain.  I had once seen him fall asleep at the round table with a lit cigarette in his hand and I watched it snuff out on his face…

            “Bull!  Wake up madman… that’s gonna leave a mark…”

“Wha… huh?”  He barely opened his eyes and folded his arms in front of him, extinguished cigarette still caught between two fingers, but clearly smashed.

            “Whackjob you just put your cigarette out on your face.”

            “What, this cigarette?” His eyes were closed but he held up his hand with the butt between his fingers.  “Fuck it anyways… I’m tired, man.” He threw the used butt on the hardwood floor.

            His face was unscathed.  I had seen people with scars from their stepdad, mom, or husband putting cigarettes out on their skin, but Bull’s face was unblemished where I had watch his head fall onto his hand and put that cigarette to rest. 

            “What the fuck, man… Are you the devil?  Are you impervious to fire?”

            “Ha!” Bull chuckled as he started to fall out into his folded arms.  “Fucker, don’t you know I’m mean enough to kill the devil himself?  What does impervious mean?”

            “Clearly it’s what your face is to fire.”

            “Hmph…yeah I knew that, I was just seeing if you did,” he mumbled through his makeshift fleshy pillow.  Impervious… I like that.”

            One rainy night I had also watched a pitcher of anhydrous ammonia freak out and rage up, spitting its 28 below zero contents into the watchful face and eyes of my friend, Bull.  He merely stepped back and fanned his hand in front of his face as if he had walked into an elevator where someone had cut and extraordinarily rank fart.  When he turned around his eyes were watering a bit, but for all other intensive purposes his pristine skin was intact, and he was still talking with his usual carefree southern drawl.

            “Well, I guess we need to get up there and patch the roof up a bit.  That, my friend, is why you never use any water around your anny.”  He pointed towards the ceiling where another rainwater drip was collecting on a wooden beam.  He didn’t know this, but several weeks before I met Bull I saw the aftermath of a similar incident.  That poor kid was coughing up bits of his throat and lungs, as direct contact with anhydrous ammonia immediately freezes and draws out any moisture, effectively killing the flesh of a mere human.  Bull barely had to wipe his eyes.

            I had my own opinions about Bull, and I shared them with him from time to time.  Mostly they were greeted by that fierce grin, and mischievous blazing blue eyes.  I think he toyed with the reverence I had for him, whether he was just getting lucky, or if there was something more at play.  He never outright denied any of my outlandish ideas that he was witch or incahoots with demons or devils.  But he claimed agnosticism constantly, which left me wondering what sort of magic he practiced, or if I had just started to completely lose my mind on dope.  Either way, I never once felt like I was in jeopardy or felt any imminent danger to my life or liberty.

            This brings me to the story of how Bull went from being just my friend to becoming my great friend and master of the human condition.  It was a brilliant day on the farm.  There was different music coming from all corners of his land, and the sun was shining.  The weather had not yet turned from tolerable crisp spring 60’s to the unbearable 90’s and intolerable humidity of the river valley summers.  Everyone who wanted to be was high.  Laughter was in great abundance, and conversations were deep and tolerated banter and debate on all levels.  The several mobile homes and campers that bull had stationed on his property to house his vagabond friends and people he had spent time in prison with were open and people were coming and going as they saw fit.  Then I met Roxy.

            Roxy was Bull’s second ex-wife and mother of three of his biological children, whose names were not surprising at all to me.  Andras, Jinn, and Samael were overall wearing, puddle-stomping, rock-chucking, bug catching (and sometimes eating, on a do-or-dandy double dare) kids, straight out of a depression-era farm family picture.  Andras and Samael were clean cut boys whose muscle structure was well-defined for boys of 9 and 13.  Jinn had a home-styled bob haircut and was a deceptively pretty little girl coming in at 7 years old with the mouth of a sailor.  I had come to know them from their infrequent visits to the farm.  They were always dropped off by Bull’s stepmom, who was the only grandma they ever knew.  When they would show up, all illicit work and activity would come to screeching halt and most everybody in our circle would pack up their toys and scurry off to wherever they called home.  I never hurried off, as my mysterious friend’s offspring fascinated me, as well as his immediate switch from Bull to Daddy. 

            Bull never ran me off either.  Instead he assigned me a child to entertain.  Jinn was rarely without her daddy, as she instigated a twinkle in bulls fiery eyes and I could tell he favored her, as his youngest daughter.  I spent a great deal of time with the two boys, and quickly learned that they had been pre-destined for the names Bull had decided to give them.  He had given them the names of biblical demons.  No small feat for a man with a seventh grade education, proclaiming agnosticism.

            One of the favorite activities that the boys participated in (and sometimes Jinn) was the unadulterated demolition of a random vehicle of Bull’s choice.  Bull prided himself on having 247 titled vehicles in various states of disrepair and decay on the farm, and from time to time he would pick out a half-buried, vine-ridden, ancient relic with the windows intact and rust-eaten body for the kids to wreck havoc upon.  The tools of destruction were carefully picked by Bull; usually heavy sledge hammers, gigantic pipe and crescent wrenches, aluminum baseball bats, and there were always gigantic rocks neatly stacked in a pyramid-
style pile.  I have no idea when he would arrange these fantastic displays of destructive potential, but those kids never had a dull moment when they came to visit him.  I was fascinated with them.  These children were very well behaved despite Jinn’s affinity for four-letter words, but when we would round the corner and they would see the tools and rocks stacked neatly by an ancient Oldsmobile, screeches of primal joy would pierce the air and their passive, respectful behavior would abandon them for a half-hours worth of Lord of the Flies style debauchery.  It was truly something to behold.

            This particular day, Roxy appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and she had none of the children in tow.  I could tell she had been a pretty girl at one time, petite yet scrappy and nearly 20 years Bull’s junior.  She was wearing a fresh shiner on her left eye and cursing like a pirate.  Her face was wet with sweat and tears, eyeliner running down her cheeks in narrow smudges.

            Bull and I immediately stood up from our chairs situated in front of a particularly large pile of primarily old bottles and tin cans.  We were discussing how such a pile came to exist in this particular location and debating which bottles would make the coolest bongs.

            “What seems to be troubling you, Roxy?”  Bull asked nonchalantly.  I could tell he was sizing her situation up, and had already inventoried her shiner and ragged appearance.

            “Who is this fucking guy?”  Roxy shook her fist in my direction and I could see that her knuckles were bloodied and swollen.

            “He’s a friend of ours.  The kids love the shit out of him.  What’d you do?  You look like something the coyote ate and shit off over the cliff!”

            She blatantly cast her eyes up and down in my direction, perhaps deciding if I was friend of foe.  I was neither at the moment, but I also realized Bull had made a decision in this matter for me before I could jump to any conclusions.

            “He looks like a deer in the headlights, man.”  She laughed in spite of herself and fell to the ground.

            “What seems to be eating you, Roxy?” Bull persisted and turned his chair around and sat in it backwards, elbows on the backrest, fists under his chin.

            “Fucking Beecher…”

            “Beecher wore you out?  I know from experience that you can probably hold your own against him…”  I could see Bull’s expression changing from amusement to distaste.

            “Well, no shit… but, you never tried to dot my eye!”

            “No, that’s not the way I do things.  How is he looking?”

            “No worse for wear I suppose.  I was dumbfounded when he sucker punched me in the face, goddammit!”

            “I suppose you were.  Do you need a place to stay?”  Bull asked, and pulled at his chin in a gesture of second-guessing his question.

            “Fuck no, we tried that once… and you’re old lady would pitch a fit… she’ll probably blow a gasket when she finds out you’re out here talking to me without her here.”

            “Nah… that’s what this guys for… chaperone.”  He jerked his thumb in my direction, to which I held my hand out, palm up in his direction to affirm wordlessly what he had volunteered me for.

            “Fuck… I don’t know what to do anymore, Bull.”  She was exhausted and started sobbing softly.

            Up until this very moment, I had never realized the great sense of compassion that existed inside of Bull.  I had become comfortable with the razor sharp wit, and devil-may-care attitude he had always exhibited around me.  I was completely unprepared for the events which transpired over the next several minutes, and I’m not sure I understand exactly what it is that happened to this day.  I only know that I understood in that moment that whether or not this woman had suffered Bull a divorce and dismantled his family, there were still some things you didn’t do to the mother of his children.

Immediately I could feel the air change around us.  My feeling of anxiety and pity changed to a feeling of serenity and calm.  I was so surprised by the mood swing that I looked around, searching for whatever had settled over me.  Bull stood up from his chair and walked towards the pile of bottles and cans we had been debating minutes before.  He bent over in front of the pile and retrieved what looked to me like three different size steel bearings from the dirt.  He walked towards Roxy, polishing the bearings in his flannel shirt with one hand and placed the other hand on her shoulder in a gesture meant to comfort her.

            “Everything is going to be okay, Roxy.”  Bull looked in my direction and said, “Watch this man, this is gonna be cool…”

            He bent his knees and lowered himself to Roxy’s level and produced the three steel balls.  One was the size of a marble, one was twice that size, although a bit rustier than the first and the third was at least twice the size of the second and it looked to weigh at least three pounds.  Bull was squatting on a concrete slab that looked to be a piece of sidewalk from somewhere.

            “Let me show you something, Roxy.  You see these three things?”

            “I see ‘em… yeah, what about ‘em?”

            “Well, let’s just say this little one here… that’s you okay?”  He looked in my direction and flashed a wink that only I was meant to see.  “This one is small, and shiny... we need to hold onto this one because if we're not careful with it we could drop it and lose it."  He grabbed her unbloodied hand and carefully deposited the steel bearing in her palm.  “Let’s say this next one is me.  It’s bigger, and beat up a little bit so if we drop it, well… no big deal.  It’s already beat up and rusty and it’s way too big to fall through a crack in the floor or get lost underneath the refrigerator or some lousy piece of furniture.”  Bull dropped his ball onto the concrete and it promptly rolled back down into his hand. “Okay?  I’ll keep this one.”  Bull put his bearing in his front pocket.  “Now, pay attention.”  He held out the last and biggest of the three balls and said, “for the
sake of this story, we’ll call this one Beecher; being that he thinks he’s the biggest out of all of us.”  Bull dropped the third ball onto the concrete slab he was squatting on, and to mine and Roxy’s surprise it shattered into pieces.  I was awed by how this story was coming together on such short notice and with such random props.  “You see, the biggest always fall the hardest, and Beecher won’t be any different than those useless pieces of junk metal shattered underneath me.  You’ll see.  Put that shiny in your pocket.  That’s my present to you.”

            I heard a car door slam in the distance and Bull pulled himself back up to a standing position turning his ear towards the sound.  “Wait for it…” he murmured under his breath… anticipating…

            From the house we all heard a door at the house slam and Dayna started hollering, “Bull!  Oh Shit… Buuuulllll!!!  HURRY UP BULL!  BEECHERS UP HERE HAVING SOME KIND OF FIT IN THE FRONT YARD!!  BULL?!?!”

            “WE’RE COMING!”  Bull held his hand out to Roxy and helped her to her feet.  I was confused and startled, but I was on my feet and moving towards the house with them.  I was several paces behind Roxy, who was struck dumb along with me.  We both kept pace several steps behind Bull, who leisurely put his hands in his pockets and started watching birds fly back and forth between the trees while he walked as if nothing was happening.

            When we made it to the front of the house, we saw what had caused the commotion.  I assumed this was Beecher sprawled out in the front yard, frothing at the mouth having some sort of seizure.  He had pissed himself and was awkwardly stiff and writhing around in what looked to me like great pain.

            “Oh fuck me!” Roxy shouted, exasperated.  She ran to Beecher and knelt down by his convulsing body and grabbed his hands.  “Beecher, you piece of shit, what the hell is wrong with you?  Oh God!”

            “I’m not sure God did this…” Bull mumbled slightly above his breath.  I can only assume this was an attempt at sarcasm, as he said it to himself, loud enough for all of us to hear.

            “What?” Roxy’s head swung back in our direction.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “I dunno… you guys bangin’ dope today?  Looks like an overdose to me.  Unless Beecher’s epileptic and forgot to tell you.”  Bull was still looking skyward, now watching a pair of turkey vultures circling each other far above our heads.

            Roxy pulled up her shirt sleeves in denial.  “Sober as a fucking judge, Bull.  Honest.”

            “Most judges I know don’t spend a lot of time sober.”  Bull retorted.  “Check him.”

            Roxy pulled up Beecher’s shirt sleeve and exposed a busted vein on his left arm and what looked like a good thread of track marks.  “Oh!  You motherfucker!  What the fuck do I do with him now?”

            “If I were you, I’d drop him off at the door to the county hospital and get the fuck out of there.  Whatever you do, he needs to get the hell off this property.  I can’t have an OD here.  I’m a felon, Roxy, a lot.”

            “I’ll help you get him in the truck, Roxy.”  I finally found my voice and moved in to help her slide him into the bed of his truck.

            “He’ll be okay.”  Bull said.  “Biggest always fall the hardest, Roxy.  Drop him off and get out of there.  Somewhere somebody will see him.”

            While she was fumbling for her keys I saw her look at the small, shiny bearing in her hand, then she looked at Bull.  Bull patted the large bearing in his front shirt pocket.  “Keep that one safe.  It’s small and easy to lose.  It’s kind of pretty to look at too.  Hurry up, Beecher needs a valium or something.”

            As I watched the truck speed off in a cloud of dust on the gravel road, Bull pushed me on the shoulder blade.  When I turned around to look at him he pointed skyward. 

            “Guess those turkey vultures didn’t find what they wanted here.”

            The giant birds had lowered their altitude and were keeping pace with the distant, speeding truck.      

This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo

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