Blue Fish
Red Fish

ON HE RODE — Chapter Twenty-Three

I White-Ox toast a second glass of beaujolais across the room toward a

table already lost in conversation and imbibe faster than I probably

should. Outside, the sun blasts, its harsh effects alcohol-magnified

impressionistically to a bright agrarian netherworld. Lethe and

Nepenthe. My watch cap protects my naked pate as I fumble with the Key

to Greater Value, the door handle so hot I can feel it though my

gloves.

I’m surprised to hear my chuckle. What’s to laugh about? Oh yeah, I

forgot my sunglasses, ha ha. What a card. Jacko Dimounds, I cry. Tex

Ritter.

Eventually I get the doors open and the windows rolled down, the

driver’s seat hot but tolerable, hot butt accommodating. Oh, I’m hot,

I am! Ignition key straight up and down, I wait to push the starter

button. What if she won’t turn over? The starter grinds slowly, but

the engine catches, leaps, lags, teases, then coughs to life. Yee,

hee, hee, here we go. Thank You Lord, thank You Jesus. No joke. I mean

really.

The wine cushions my worries, and I float easily through an

all-embracing dreamscape, the car driving itself, anticipating each

curve, each hill, steering, braking, accelerating exactly as I would

have. For no reason, I dangle my hand out the window and instantly,

painfully brand the inside of my forearm on the hot door. It’ll

blister, no doubt. Then I realize the car has stopped driving herself,

and before I can get her to stop fishtailing she’s raised a dirt plume

a quarter-mile long and fifty feet in the air.

Where’s a cop when you need one? Thanks, God, for taking my side. Just

what I really don’t need, a fucking DUI. Would the State of California

lock me up? Why not? No end of trouble.

One time I got locked up in the Kitsap County jail overnight for

underage drinking and for something to do with saying threatening

words to the carney running a game of chance at the county fair. Not

threatening words exactly — more like smartass words from a drunk

teenager. He did me the favor of calling Hey Rube! and letting the

cops take me away. Wiry, hard-muscled guy. He could’ve torn my head

off. “Hey Rube!” he called instead. They grabbed me from both sides.

Saturday night in jail and home free Sunday. Bailed out early by a

friend.

The worst part was when Whitey read Monday’s news and found out his

son was famous all over the county for certain fairground exploits,

details in short supply. But Whitey made up his own details, didn’t

like them, and didn’t want to hear anything contrary from me. Or

anything of me, period. Ever again, it seemed, though he did say I

could still live there if I couldn’t find anyplace else. Gulp.

But Thursday night, family pinochle night, Whitey’s brother my Uncle

Don settled things. “See you made the honor roll again,” he grinned

and tapped my shoulder with his stubby of Oly beer. Instant

knighthood. Even Whitey laughed. Anyway, he was tired of being mad.

That was the end of it.

Or maybe it was the beginning of it, coming at the very start of my

second year of junior college, a time eventful beyond belief, perhaps

prophetic, certainly compelling, ultimately totally out of wack, and

during that time I was introduced to the essential genius of White Ox

gloves, like the pair holding my steering wheel as I mosey through

lush, overheated verdancy somewhere in Central California.

The gloves do not have White Ox stamped in black on their back. It is

stamped in red. I was mistaken earlier. And the cuffs are not red,

they are cream-colored. (I acknowledge my use of the dreaded comma

splice. It feels ok there.)

Eventually I find myself all alone on a paved but twisty two-lane road

winding around bouldered cliff faces, hearing what must be cicadas,

and imagining a trickling stream in some hidden ravine and a boy named

Pepe. “The water is sweet to drink but difficult of capture,” he might

say. Steinbeck country? Sure, why not?

Sneaking a look at myself in the rear-view mirror, I glimpse mostly

eyes and nose, hood ornaments of the soul, the quintessential I,

tucked between watch cap and aspirationally stubbled chin, the

permanent me: I everlasting.

When I was about seven, I took a closeup of myself with a box camera,

just held it at arm’s length and clicked the shutter: Snapshot.

Someday the world might invent a silly word, like “selfie”, for such

pictures. Mine turned out surprisingly well, and my glance in the

mirror brings it to mind.

It also brings to mind a time at the kitchen table, dinnertime at our

log cabin homestead, always a contemplative occasion celebrating the

luxury of perfectly prepared, garden-fresh meals. Earlier in the day

Carrie would have identified the five or six likeliest ears of sweet

corn for that day’s harvest. At five o’clock, when Whitey came home

from work, she would pick, shuck, and drop those ears into a pot of

boiling water, and, by the time Whitey’d washed off the shipyard,

they’d sit steaming on porcelain at the center of the table. Pat of

butter. Pinch of salt. Garden-fresh.

I was ten or eleven. Children could be seen and heard at the table,

but we were expected to mind our manners. You can think seriously deep

thoughts while quietly ruminating with people you love and trust. My

prevailing deep thought was some variation of who am I, where am I

from, and what am I doing here? The usual.

I’d fastened on “Where am I from?”, investigating and exploring my

closest antecedents, my parents. There they were, quietly, amiably

chewing their food, sipping their coffee. Why? Who told them to? What

brought us together here?

Who the hell were they, anyway, with their strange clamshell things

called ears and those obscene probosci called noses that dominated

their faces? Carrie had black hair, brown eyes and Whitey was blond,

blue-eyed. They had come together to produce my sisters and me. Why?

Considered good-looking by others, they were pretty strange-looking to

me. Who and what the hell were they? And, the sixty-million-dollar

question, who and what was I?

Suddenly I realize I have been too obvious in my rumination, staring

long and hard enough to make them really uncomfortable. They look at

me and each other, questioning, self-conscious. But silent. Finally I

get it. They’ve been wondering when I would.

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