Showing posts with label Lexington. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lexington. Show all posts

20 March, 2020

The undefeated: deadmachine retread fiction

In the spring of 1998, I called home this attic in a 131 year old house in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a decent place. I’d found it when the woman I was living with decided she’d rather fuck my friends and try to make money as a stripper than be my girlfriend. “You’re too moody,” she’d say to me. “You piss and moan like an old man, you read boring books, and you’re when you’re drunk, you get mean and grumpy and you can’t get it up.” I was heartbroken; she’d been my first real piece in two years since my marriage to Rhea’s mother fell apart. She was a full-bodied redhead, and every bit as crazy as people say redheads are. I was living at her place when she broke it off; she tried to convince me to stay and help her with the rent… to be roommates, she said. “I’ll have my life,” she said, “and you can have yours.” Now, I might have been heartbroken, but I wasn’t an idiot. She wanted me to stay because I was the only one of us actually working and earning a weekly paycheck, and she wanted to be able to fuck whoever she wanted while I paid the bills. I left that night and spent a few days with friends and realized that I needed my own space – if only so that I could get my shit out of her apartment before she abandoned it or sold it.

I found out later that my new landlord was schizophrenic and had nasty turns where she’d go through everybody’s apartments and steal things. She even stole a poetry manuscript that I was reading for a poet friend of mine. I’m not sure he ever forgave me for losing it, even though it wasn’t my fault. I don’t remember him giving me any manuscripts after that.

But the rent was cheap enough and mostly I dealt with Frank, who managed the property for her while she was “away.” (I later found out that when she was “away” she was locked in a padded room at Eastern State Mental Hospital.) Frank seemed like a good ol’ guy. He was a retired pipe fitter, and had known my landlady his entire life – his family and her family had been friends. He didn’t care much about what I did as long as I was quiet. A couple of times I was short on rent and he let me make it up. He was a stand-up guy. Frank knew Stanley from his long gone wild boozing days, the days before he found “God and the love of a good woman,” and he let Stanley move in to get him off the street and get him a regular address so he could draw a welfare check. When he brought Stanley in, Frank pulled me aside. He talked with a slight growl – the kind of growl common in men from the Appalachian part of Kentucky. “Watch out for him,” Frank said. “Now, “ he paused. “He’s a drunk. I won’t lie. But he’s HARMLESS. A good guy, really. I’ve known him for YEARS.” I looked at Frank and I saw what might have been a little sorrow in his eyes. “We’ve tried to get him to quit... but….”

My first conversation with Stanley happened about a week later when he bummed a smoke off of me. He bummed a lot of cigarettes in the little bit of time I knew him. I liked him immediately. Once, I was going somewhere or another… to work, I think… and I saw him walking down the side street.

“Where ya going, Stanley?”

He turned and smiled his goofy shit-eating smile. He was shaking and his face that already looked like road kill was twisted pain. “Up the way.”

“You want a ride?”

He hobbled over to the car and got in. Up the way ended up being the liquor store. It was eight or nine in the morning and he needed his morning bottle. The woman behind the counter at the liquor looked down at Stanley over the edge of librarian reading glasses, and she gave me one of those looks, too, that seemed to say How can you encourage him? I wondered if she gave the same look to broken down grandmothers who spent their entire social security check on lottery tickets. Stanley bought his bottle… a fifth of Stoli… and when he got back in the car he cracked it open and took a swig like it was water. The pain was erased from his face. He offered me the bottle. “No thanks,” I said. I have to get to work.” When I dropped him off, he bummed a smoke and hobbled back into the house.

I took him to the liquor store when he asked and when I could. I was working as a clerk at a convenience store and my schedule was flexible. Besides, I liked Stanley; he was a nice old guy in the way old drunks can be nice. He had his moments, usually when there wasn’t a bottle handy, that he could be a real asshole. But he was small and wiry. Eaten away. So even when he got in my face, it was harmless because in that condition a steady wind would have pushed him over. The short car trips gave us time to talk, and Stanley liked to talk. He was touched—afflicted really— with nostalgia. I’d be driving him to the liquor store and he’d point to trees that lined the street. “I planted them trees,” he said. “Had me this job, got paid fity cent an hour. I liked that job. Got to be outdoors, like when I was a kid and all this was open. No buildings. No streets.”

Once when I was bringing him back from the liquor store with his morning bottle, this old guy approached the car. He looked old and tired, too, but he was cleaned up. Shaven. Showered. He was driving an Acura and he wore the ugliest Hawaiian print shirt I had ever seen – which was saying something since they’re all uglier than sin. He knocked on my window. I rolled it down.


He talked past me. “Stanley? Stanley, that you?”

Stanley looked up and smiled.

Then the Hawaiian shirt guy talked to me. “I love this guy,” he said. “I’d heard he was living here.” He looked over at Stanley. “We used to run together, didn’t we Stan?” Stanley kept smiling and nodded his head. “Yeah,” the guy said. “I knew Stanley back when I was on the street. Good guy, Stanley. A real good guy.”

I looked at the gold-plated watch hanging on his skinny wrist. “So how come you’re not on the street anymore?” I asked.

“Settled out,” he proclaimed. “Found me a good woman with a nice house and warm bed. She doesn’t care what I do so long as I don’t fuck around and I drink at home.”

Class act, I thought. “Cool.”

“Listen,” he said to me, “you take good care of this guy. Stanley’s one of the best.”

Stanley smiled. The Hawaiian shirt guy got in his pearl colored Acura and drove off. “You know that guy?” I asked.

Stanley nodded. “Yup. He’s WEIRD, though.” Stanley rolled his eyes a little. “WEIRD. If you know what I mean.”

I didn’t ask any more questions. It was the 90’s after all. Don’t ask don’t tell was still an acceptable social concept.

On another one of our jaunts he saw a book laying on car seat next to me. “You read?” he asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “I like to read.”

“You been to school?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I went. Don’t know that it did me any good, though.”

He looked a little sheepish. “I never learnt to read,” he said. “Dropped out and ran away from home when I was a kid.” He kind of shook his head. “fity-five years old, can’t read shit.”

The only thing that surprised me more than the fact that he couldn’t read was that he was only fifty-five. He looked much older, but a hard life will do that. He’d spent forty years drinking and working odd jobs, failing at relationships and living in alleys and homeless shelters. He never once mentioned trying to sober up. He never once indicated that stopping had ever crossed his mind. I never mentioned it because I didn’t want to be a judgmental prick, and well, it wasn’t like I had any room to talk. So I kept taking him back and worth whenever I could, let him smoke my cigarettes, and when I had a little food left over, I offered it to him. What the hell, I figured. He is who he is.

Eventually he drew some friends. Frank had apparently figured out that if he moved people into the house who drew a check and controlled their money for them, he could actually start turning a profit. He moved in another old buddy from his wild drinking days, got him in the system. I later found out that all the checks went to Frank and Frank’s wife, who “kept” their money… paid the rent and gave them each a weekly allowance, so they wouldn’t “drink all the money up.” The new tenant’s name was Clarence. Clarence was a big ugly drunk, and something of a bully. He liked to push Stanley around when they were drinking, and it bothered me, but I didn’t interfere. He and Stanley were old friends, had done a lot of drinking and sleeping in alleys together. I figured if he wanted Clarence to stop, he’d handle it himself. They even drew a follower – some dark haired kid whose name I never bothered to learn. He tried bumming a smoke from me once after he’d seen me give one to Stanley and I told him he could when he was old enough to buy his own fucking cigarettes. They would give the kid money and send him on errands for booze or food or whatever. They started hanging out on the front porch. Stanley didn’t need a ride from me anymore, but he still bummed smokes when Clarence wasn’t looking.

I started working a regular white collar job – I’d dug myself into a clerical job at the University, the first job I’d ever had with paid vacation days, PTO (paid time off) plus medical and dental. I saw Stanley less and less… mostly because I was working during the day and hanging out with friends at night, spending my new money in the bars. I passed Stanley on stairs sometimes when I’d be stumbling home, and we smiled at each other said hello. I saw him trying hobble down the street towards the liquor store on crutches once or twice. He went through two bouts of TB, one crazy skank who followed him home from the bar, and a few tumbles down the stairs. I was spending less and less time at home because the summer turned the attic into a sauna.

I came home from work one afternoon in late August and Clarence, the kid, and Frank were all standing on the front porch. They had been crying. Or at least, Clarence had been crying. As I approached Frank asked me if I’d heard.

“Heard what?”

“Stanley,” the kid said.

“What about him?” I was expecting to hear that he’d either gotten arrested or had settled out with a nice woman who would dress him up in ugly shirts.

“He died,” Clarence said.

“Huh? How?”

Clarence couldn’t answer me because he was too broken up. The kid was clearly high. Frank broke the silence. “He was walking to the liquor store, and he tripped and fell into the street. He was run over. Dead.”

“Dead?” I repeated.

Frank nodded. Clarence looked at me with deep baleful jaundiced eyes. “Did they get the guy who did it? The car?”

Frank shook his head. “Nope. Probably not going to either.”

I stood there for a couple of minutes. I didn’t know what to say. Death, as an inevitability, usually invites comment – but only because nobody knows what to say. I turned and went upstairs, and took a shower. Then I opened all the windows. Then I sat down at the kitchen table with a bottle whiskey I’d been saving for no particular reason, and drank until it was late into the night.

04 February, 2012

Baboon in the Bluegrass, Part 4: Joyce

I could tell she's lived in the area nearly all of her life by two things: by the friendly way she greeted when I stepped on the 20-30 seat bus that passes for public transportation in Morehead. The university has been using similar short buses for years to transport students back and forth from the outlying parking lots. To ride the MorTran locally costs $1. (Passes available.) What's really interesting, however, is that the bus offers service to  both Lexington AND Ashland... a detail I wish I had known before I asked George to drive into Lexington to pick me up in front of the Starbucks. (I should point out that I offered to ride the bus to Ashland and save him the trip, but he would have none of it.)

The other way I could tell that Joyce has lived here a long time is from the gravelly Appalachian accent she spoke with. (People who are either ignorant or dismissive of accents tend to confuse the Appalachian growl with   the Southern draw. They are not the same.The Southern draw has elongated vows, soft consonants, and reminds the listener of molasses pouring on a cool autumn morning. The Appalachian growl is harsh, sometimes difficult to understands, and is, to the untrained and uncivilized ear more akin to riding a rough back road  in the back of truck with no shocks or power steering.)

She asked where I was going, and I told her I needed to head back to campus, or somewhere near it. What took me out to the library was a car, owned by an old friend I hadn't seen in many years. When I met Joy, she had been a college Freshman. I was a graduate student. She had these big blue eyes, a half sarcastic smile like she was silently judging everyone and everything around her (including me), and a well informed home schooled brain. Not home schooled because her parents were religious freaks or because she was a freak; they were just that smart and so was their kid. Also, Kentucky public schools -- at least in the eastern part of the state -- aren't known for the quality students they pump out.

Joy was one of those girls that left me confused, but it wasn't her fault. Girls in general have always confused me. (And no, I don't feel any wiser after two marriages. I just feel more stupid.)  Joy confused me because there was something about the sight of her that made my heart stop. Literally. It's an odd sensation, and one I have felt rarely; though I've been told the fact that I feel it at all, let alone more than once, is a gift.  It was confusing because I knew enough to know what it didn't mean, but not what it did.

And then it got kind of nuts. But that's another story for another day.

Seeing her again was good. Really good. Seeing her made my heart stop, ever so briefly. And for the same reasons as before... not because it was anything, but because it was something... even if it was just a flash and then it was gone. We talked briefly that day but she had to work; so I rode up to the library with her and when it was time for her to work, I left, intending to walk back to town.

Which was when I noticed the bus driving down the street. It stopped right in front of me and I stepped right in.

That there is something in Morehead resembling public transportation -- and that is not, I might add ... at least as far as I know... associated with the University -- intrigued me. So I told her I was a former student and that I was visiting. She asked when I graduated, and I told her. Then I asked her how long the MorTran had been in existence.

She told me she wasn't sure. "I've only been driving with them for a year." But, she added, she thought it had been around for three or four years.

Joyce -- she eventually told me her name was Joyce -- is one of those people you run into a lot in Eastern Kentucky; and I mean that as a compliment. She's trying to get by in the world as honest as simply as she can. For all the bad press PR Eastern Kentucky gets -- from the "This is California not Kentucky" crack in Clueless to every single stereotype on record... some of them encouraged by Kentuckians who would rather be thought of as a stereotype, and some of them encouraged by well meaning outsiders who make tragic documentaries, win awards and then leave, changing nothing -- I have to admit that some of the best, kindest, most honest people I've ever met have been from Kentucky. So there.

I prefer the PETA Alica.

Batgirl wasn't bad either (Geek Flag flying)

And here's some of what I mean by that. I asked Joyce what she did before she drove the MorTran and she said she used to work at Wal-Mart. She worked at the OLD Wal-Mart (the one I knew was here, that moved in when I was doing my undergrad work in the early 1990's and effectively destroyed the local-based economy) as well as the NEW hyper Wal-Mart that they widened the road for. She worked for them for 14 years.


She was working in the dairy department, she told me, when she hurt her back. In response, they made a greeter.... you know, those geriatrics who wave like automatons when customers walk in.  I asked if they offered her any kind of Workman's Compensation. She said no, they didn't. Making her a greeter was Wal-Mart's version of Workman's Comp. Eventually, she said, they just pushed her out.

I know some about the way Wal-Mart works... one, because I pay attention, and two, I worked for them -- briefly -- back in the mid-90's. Wal-Mart is anti-union, anti-worker, and, as far as I can tell, anti-humanity. But they are FOR PROFIT, so I shouldn't expect anything else, I guess.


I mentioned the wonderful three day orientation -- the first day and a half which consists of watching movies about how unions are bad and how Sam Walton is God.

Joyce laughed. "I remember that. But my ex-husband worked for GM; so I know unions aren't ALL bad."

[I need to extend my thanks to George and Laura Eklund, along with Waylon, Tommy, and Fiona, for their kind hospitality at Willow Drive.

If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I write about them enough. They should be helping me help them. Right??
Thanks for reading.]


28 January, 2012

A Baboon in the Bluegrass, Part 1: Lexington

[This is dedicated to the cute artsy girl in the purple plaid coat who smiled at me in the Starbucks this morning for no particular reason]

My Life is a vast inconsequential epic with a thousand and a million characters...” -Jack Kerouac

Sitting in hole in the wall Mexican restaurant drinking Modelo Negro and eating enchiladas (she had tacos) with my college friend Stephanie, I was beginning to reassess my feelings about Lexington. Having lived here before – the next in a string of places I consider familiar – I sort of took certain things for granted:

  1. That my mental map of the place would help me get around; and
  2. That my initial sense memory of the place was the only memory of the place I needed.

But first thing I noticed about Lexington when the bus pulled into the Depot was that I had forgotten where the bus depot actually was. My memory had confused it (as I would later find out) with the main hub of the Lexington Transit Authority – the metro bus hub behind the downtown library.

Prior to deciding to take this trip... or rather, prior to the circumstances coming together in such a way that not only is the trip important, but also necessary... I had no reason to come back to Lexington for any length of time. And as I got off the bus and surveyed my surroundings, and after I realized that my memory had reorganized the entire city incorrectly, I realized something else.

I had managed to forget almost everything about Lexington.

I don't know if it was deliberate. I used to live here. For three years in the late 90's Lexington, Kentucky was my home. I thought I'd gotten to know the city pretty well. As city's go, Lexington isn't really large. It's more like a small town that got too big to fast and never really came to terms with it. It's a town that probably felt like it had to ACT big because the University of Kentucky main campus was there; and more importantly, the UK WILDCATS are there... and there's nothing in Kentucky more important than UK sports. Specifically, basketball. Particularly, Men's. So in a way, Lexington is, as a cities go, like a teenage girl who has to buy a new pair of shoes because her friend has a new purse.

Nearly every association I have with Lexington – mental, emotional – are bad associations. I think about the girlfriend I had who fucked all my friends; I think about working as an office slug at the University of Kentucky and hating myself just a little bit more every day; I think about one particularly psychotic husband who believed I was brainwashing his wife... when in fact, I was really just fucking her. I remember walking to work at Wal-Mart on Man O War Road and I remember also working at Target and Meijer. I remember working the counter at the Dairy Mart. I remember getting arrested for reckless operation of a vehicle because a Lexington City cop couldn't get me to blow into the breathalyzer enough for a DUI.

I remember first moving to Lexington from Cincinnati. To make the move happen in a more expedited fashion, I more or less pushed myself on a friend of mine from college, Phil. Phil is also a writer, and a respectable one at that. He's one of the mad poet varieties – probably because he's technically legally insane – but he's also a voracious reader, sometimes astute critic, and a good chess player to boot. He claims no political opinions, but he does have his thoughts on the matter of the human endeavor to rule over one another. Last I checked – and yes, it's been a while, but bear with me – he pretty much thought the whole thing was pointless, and probably doomed to failure. (He very well could have changed his mind by now... but given the state of things, I don't see how he could any way but vindicated.)

After I was able to find regular work and save money – I'm fairly sure that didn't happen nearly fast enough for Phil – I moved into my own place, off Versailles Road. Not long after that, I convinced another college friend, Jerry, to move down to Lexington, saying he could sleep on my couch until he got up on his feet. It didn't seem to matter to me at the time that Phil and Jerry had never gotten along; all I figured at the time was that it would be cool to have all of my college friends together in the same city... presumably to continue the same semi-dysfunctional but still comfortable social dynamic we had all been a part of in college. (Back then, I still believed it was possible to hold on to people, just as they had been when I first knew them. I hadn't yet realized that in order to keep friends, you have to accept that they, like everything else, have to go through necessary changes or else get dragged under.)

As you might expect, the whole lousy sit-com... because what else could it turn out to be... ended in disaster. Now I'm not really friends with either Phil or Jerry. I lost my friendship with Jerry because of a girl... see, how the sit-com becomes bad melodrama...and I lost my friendship with Phil because I was a raging, arrogant ass.

And then there's Lynnie. Lynnie, who was the reason I rode a Greyhound in the first place. But that's probably another story for another time.

As I was sitting with Stephanie, talking the way we have always talked... topics ranging from politics to literature to teaching to life, spirituality... I found myself having to re-evaluate my thoughts about Lexington. Not that I think I'd ever want to live here – there are other places I am much more comfortable and where I would feel more welcomed overall – but it's not such a bad place.

The thing about Lexington is that it's impossible to get around it's inflated opinion of itself; this isn't a town that wants people to look too scruffy or too poor or too downtrodden. When I lived here before and worked downtown (I was a file clerk, briefly, for Bank One... which was eventually bought out by Chase Bank.) it struck me odd that nearly everyone, regardless of where they worked, sort of dressed the same. Khaki pants and a green shirt. Jerry and I used to laugh about it. Lexington is, regardless of whatever else it is, an entire city with a Wal-Mart employee attitude.

One of the other things I've noticed... there's not many cops, but a lot of “security guards.” For example, when I was at the downtown library yesterday, I saw at least five private security guards. Five. Now, while on one hand I think it's a step in the right direction that they take their library so seriously, I do wonder about the purpose of a private, taser wielding brigade of black polo shirt wearing bullies in what should be an open, public, and non-threatening place. (Stephanie explained that after the current mayor was sworn into office, the first thing he did was slash the police and fire department budgets. This, as you might imagine, makes him popular with the libertarian horde and the underlying criminal element. Don't worry, though. The increase in crime is only really happening where the poor and the blacks live. And no one here gives a damn about them, anyway. One look at someone scruffy... say, like moi … people here feel compelled to run and check their credit rating to ensure that their hubris is justified.

When I was killing time at the library yesterday, I noticed I wasn't the only one. One of the ironies of Lexington is that it has such an inflates sense of itself, but it has – and did, even when I lived here – a steady homeless population. And one of the places they go to get out of the elements... whichever element happens to be seasonal... is the downtown library.

At one point, I was sitting at a reading table on the second floor, next to one of the large windows facing Main Street, on the far side of the fiction shelves. Other than needing someplace to chill until I could meet up with Stephanie, I also needed a place where I could charge my cell phone and tie into some free wifi.

(Yes, yes. The problems that face a techno-hobo. It could be worse.)

Of course, a library security guard walked by every 10 minutes or so. Always a different guard. One guy, at the table in front of me … that had been occupied by a cute blonde girl who looked too sad to be anything but a runaway. The dirty old letch who found her and complained that he'd been looking for her all day sort of completed the picture.) seemed to be used to the patrol pattern. He unpacked his sack, tried to air out his clothes,and packed it all back in less than five minutes. Two tables up, a couple of the older guys were talking. One was mentioning a place he might spend the night... some guy who lets him in to take a shower. From the conversation, I gathered there was some give and take that I probably didn't want to know about.

One of two of them eyed me suspiciously. Generally they paid me no mind.

But none of them asked me for a cigarette or spare change, either.

Guess they knew better. An easy mark in Lexington isn't difficult to find. They all wear khakis. And green shirts.

The thing is, even in a place like this... and while I feel less antipathy towards the city, I do, nonetheless find that I can't forgive the overall lack of humanity... it's encouraging to know there are good people with good hearts and good souls and solid heads on their shoulders. Stephanie is one of those people; because even though I haven't seen her in probably ten years, she still opened her home to me. Her little house in Nicholasville reminded some of the house in Mount Carroll... except that it was in much better shape, and probably only dated back to the 1940's, not the 1910's. It has older house issues, which she's working through. But she's also not willing to go into debt. She's a planner and a doer. She dreams of maybe selling the house and moving to New York. She thinks maybe she might just stay where she is. But there's always been this thing about Stephanie... this thing I've always's liked. She doesn't compromise on her vision. She's not afraid to take risks (including home ownership... more of a risk than those vulture-like realtors would have you believe). 

And that's really, as far as I can tell, the only way to walk through the world. Without compromise and in the face of enormous risk.

Here in Lexington, though, if you are a bit scruffy looking, remember:

It's probably best to avoid eye contact. And please: Do not feed the khaki-ed animals.

[I need to extend my thanks here to Tina Stretton, who found the correct number and name contact at Greyhound Bus Lines in order to convince them they ought to be letting me ride for free. In addition to some piece of my immortal soul... which admittedly, isn't worth much... I also owe Tina my eternal gratitude. Or an overall percentage, whichever is less. 

If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. 

Thanks for reading.]