It's the final countdown for #wirehousedaily in 2016 and our time with Luke Wiget, so of course we've cooked up something special. For the last post of this year, Luke has shared with us an entire chapter from his forthcoming debut novel, and we're sharing it to y'all in three parts! Astute readers will notice that "it's the first story, Once it Hits the Air, worked into the narrative" of this larger work. Full circle.
We hope you enjoy and that you all have a joyful and safe holiday... See you in 2017!
My Spanish was always too slow to impress my father, Jonny said and spun a beercan slowly in place on the tailgate of his truck. I tried not to learn it to spite him, Jonny continued. But that was like not swallowing a fucking loogy in your mouth when there’s no place to spit it out. I don’t know. I remember never really understanding why my dad dragged he and I and my sister down to Mexico. I hated it there, but the Spanish took anyway.
I asked Jonny, who was tall and longhaired and a decade older than me, if there was ever a time when he thought in Spanish. Where your thoughts weren’t in English, I chased the first question with.
He didn’t think so, he said. He said he thought maybe his thoughts had stayed put in English.
It was more like, son, you’re gonna do beaner work, Jonny said, so you might as well get to know the language of your people. And it’s not like he wasn’t right, but I’ve tried not to let on with my own son, he said. He can still choose what it is he wants to do. You have kids? he asked.
No, just me, I said and leaned back into the bed of the truck to reach into the case of Hamm’s. I think I was close, I said, sitting back up with a beer. Really close, actually. I just got divorced, but I think if we’d stayed together.
We sat and drank and looked out at the ocean but couldn’t see it through the dark. The beer wasn’t cold but that was fine, it went down fast and that was fine. It was early New Year’s Eve night. I was supposed to return to my parents’ before the ball dropped. Half the church had RSVP’d to get to the house and try and stay awake with only the help of some Folgers and new New Year’s resolutions and possibly a few rounds of Taboo. I’d told myself to pace myself but Jonny and I were new friends and there was everything to talk about and nothing to avoid and Jonny had swiped this case of beer from a convenience store where the owner told everyone he worked so much so he could send money to his family back in their country. But Jonny and everyone else knew that the owner didn’t have a family, it was just he and his brother, they’d invented a family so we’d remain loyal to them for our beer and our cigarettes. So what we were doing, Jonny and I, was a lot more than drinking a case Hamm’s in the back of a Ford Ranger above the beach. We were making the world right.
The DJ on the radio inside the truck explained the strange, long year we’d all had and he was mostly right. He said there were thirty epic songs he’d piled up to bring us on to the other side. Imagine next year this time, he said. Imagine a black president. Imagine another new America, he said and in rolls “Desolation Row,” from good old Bobby D and it’s all postcards and passports and some version of America and Dylan’s version of time and all I could think was how tired the guitar player on the left speaker must have been by the end of the song, with all this push-and-pull between Dylan’s rasp and story and the stream-of-fingers sort of thing the guitar player was pulling off.
Jonny walked me through a lot of the jobs he’d had to take over the years.
A guy’s always gonna have to work. You’ve got to, he said. But actually I just quit my job and there’s nothing better than quitting.
We knocked our beer cans together and he told me about some grocery store janitor job that was good until, like so many things, it wasn’t. He’d painted houses, done prep and cleanup for a surfboard shaper. Trimmed trees. The tree work was the best money, he said. But it was dangerous and his son’s mother worried and nagged him until he quit. His most recent job had been with Phil’s Septic. He’d been there three years and counting but it had ended suddenly just before Christmas, right as his kid had turned eighteen and the child support stopped. Fortuitous timing, I guess.
You know, you can’t let that shit get to you that way, Jonny said and bobbed his head back at the bar. That’s a good way to get in trouble.
He set his boot up onto an empty can and pressed down until the can flattened and he leaned over for it and dropped the can into a paper bag he’d staged in the back of the truck.
I don’t know, you’re right, I said and passed him a fresh beer. It’s harder to ignore sometimes than others, tonight was sometimes.
We’d started in the bar, Jonny and I, but separately, both early, figuring to beat the New Year’s Eve crowd of part-time drinkers, amateurs is what Jonny called them. It was an hour of power before amateur hour, we later told ourselves. He had come up to the bar and ordered a beer and I could hear him telling Lee he wasn’t planning to start drinking again. His kid had just turned eighteen, and he had decided he was only going to drink beer this time. I was down at the end of the bar with a double whisky trying to outrun a few conversations coming off a few separate tables of people talking about money the way I’d once talked about music or art or god.
The market is just a hobby at this point, a healthy-looking guy in a suit coat told a big-lipped girl who couldn’t figure out where to put her hands. They were younger than me and talking about stock indexes and replication and returns and even retirement. It wasn’t only because I didn’t understand what they were saying or that I was feeling left out, but it was how sure they were about what they were sure about. I owed more than I would ever make back. I was sure about that, but otherwise I knew I didn’t know anything.
So I drank and I tried not to pay attention to the guy and his big clear-skinned face but a Nirvana song came on, and I’m some super fan, but I guess I care. I think Cobain probably did his best and we were still understanding what that meant some twenty years later. The girl was moving her leg up and down and in little half circles to the beat but explained how Kurt Cobain was a selfish, drug addict fuck. She says how she doesn’t get it, and I agree, she doesn’t. The guy says he couldn’t agree more with the girl and rearranges his large shoulders around his tight, tan neck and the two of them take a moment to listen. He looks like he’s thinking about what he looks like and finally says, Yeah, I don’t get it either. Anyone could have written this shit.
He was just terrible, the girl says. He was a bad person, she adds.
Drugs, and he was a father. I just don’t understand people. And to do that to a kid.
I stood up and downed my drink and dropped the glass on the bar and walked to their table and anchored my foot up on the top rung of the guy’s stool. I asked if it might be possible for them to keep their thoughts down a little, I was trying to celebrate 2008 before it was over, plus I was the one who had chosen the song on the jukebox, even though it was Lee or someone else at the bar. I told this nice-looking couple about my art degree and attempted to explain my refined yet authentic taste, but I hadn’t had enough to drink, I wasn’t very articulate. I think I was actually getting pretty upset. How about The Crow’s Nest? I suggested. It’s a bar and a grille. Maybe you go put your names down for a table there, they have seafood, I told Sports Coat and spoke for the girl saying how she’d love some fresh caught lobster.
Jonny interrupted with shots of whiskey Lee had poured and I turned to the guy in the coat and he looked down, embarrassed, but not about him, about me, I knew that much and it didn’t help. I was nowhere, I wasn’t sober and I was having a terrible time getting drunk and I say, Well, good talk and happy new year, and give his stool a little push with my boot so he has to jump off to avoiding falling.
Fuck you, he says and I agree, yeah, fuck me and peel away from the couple and take my stool and look at gothic, brooding Lee. She smiles and shakes her head and kicks the trashcan back under the counter and turns to an older couple who’s just walked in.
Cheers, Jonny said. I’m Jonny, Lee said to…
Yeah, I know, Wade, I said and hit my shot glass to his and threw mine back.
The amateurs eventually overtook the regulars and our hour was over. Jonny mentioned the beer in his truck and we left Wars and drove out around the hardware store a few doors down from the bar and backed down to where grass met the sand and parked.
Jonny was telling me how most people needed a full half block between them and the smell of an opened-up septic tank, but he got to where he could stand right there with the hose in one hand and a half-a-sandwich in the other. By the end, you’d more or less formed to the work like a fucking mitt around a couple baseballs, he said. It’s the way anyone conforms to forty hours of anything.
I thought about it and it was true.
Jonny had this long pockmarked face and a poetic way of speaking. Even on the most pedestrian topics he used his voice in a way that it sounded as if he had been recorded and was being played back to you through an old tube amp and hi-fi speakers.
There was a new song on, one I should have known but was too embarrassed to ask Jonny about. It unraveled only to build up again and find its chorus. The lighthouse made its rounds, throwing white over the water and gray along the cliffs on the north and showing up gray-green along the rocks on the south and then we were in the dark again.
It was always the same shit, Jonny said and spun another can around on the tailgate and acknowledged that shit meant shit and shit. You know, with Phil’s, there were always so many more invoices for emergency visits rather than scheduled ones, everyone was always in some kind of panic, he said and slowly recalled his three years with Phil’s.
The way he described it, everyone earned cash and bought food and drinks and shit their collective brains out into la gran nada, into nothing.
There was one time, toward the end of his tenure, a pack’s worth of stranger’s condoms ended up in another man’s septic tank. He was sterile, the man whose tank it was, Jonny explained, so he didn’t need condoms.
The man asked Jonny if that’s what he was really seeing.
Jonny peered down into the tank. Yeah, you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing, Jonny told the guy.
The man pulled out a cigarette and probably tapped the filter-end against the hard pack and started back toward the house and turned and tried to stand the cigarette in the palm of his hand but it fell. He returned to the tank and looked in and said something about trying to get to that first cigarette feeling with every subsequent cigarette the whole rest of the day. He waited and then lit his first cigarette and Jonny pulled out on of his own, not his first, and lit one of his in solidarity and the two men smoked and watched the hose work its way down to the silt. Jonny thought how somewhere his son tugged the pull-string from a pack of Camel Lights. Somewhere he smoked his first cigarette as his mother told him how cancer kills. Everything is dangerous. Everything’s got teeth, son, his mother says. She worries like that. Like all women do, Jonny says.
I don’t know if he ever confronted her, his wife, Jonny said. I know I would have, Jonny said and poured half the beer in his mouth. I also know I’d have fucked it up. Talking to a woman, especially a smart one caught in a lie, is like handling a snake in a paper bag.
There was nowhere to go. They stood and looked in. The wind smoked the man’s cigarette. There was nothing between the man and the truth about his wife and it was easy to forget what the truth could do. The day moved around Jonny and the man as they waited in the sun and fog and smoke. Jonny thought about his father driving the family into Mexico without so much as a word. And then they were there in a blank apartment with water-stained walls and the next day he would start learning his unsacred mix of Spanish and English.
In the dark, in the back lot above the beach, Jonny says how a new year always brings out the old years in him. He goes for a beer and continues to remember how some years work and others don’t and I tell myself this will be impossible to forget and I thank god for that. Jonny tells me this is the year he’s going to work for himself.
If you think about that man standing above his septic tank you know there are no questions because one would have bled into another and another. So you keep your mouth shut. And he never says anything either. He shakes as the truth works through him. He lets it deep into himself where it’ll stay until the truth turns to fear and the fear voids out choice and then there will be only the hunger for a time when he didn’t know. Maybe hunger was all a person can hope for. Either way, forgetting was about as likely as gathering the pollen from the air to put back into a flower.