I was watching TV a little while ago and remembered an incident from my twenties. Racing down a farm road in the middle of winter; icy surface; snowbanks higher than the cars, and me and my buddy chasing each other and barely keeping control of those cars, glancing off the snowbanks, laughing crazily. Sounds irresponsible, I know, but it’s a real memory from my life, irresponsible or not.
When I was nine my parents moved back to northern NY, a place I did not remember and did not like at all. The kids thought I had a southern accent from living in the south, of course I didn’t, they just didn’t realize that all of them had accents instead from living in New Yak.
I got my sister and I dragged into the principle’s office at ten years old (Me) nine (My sister) when I volunteered in class that we were mixed race and had Native American blood, something that you weren’t supposed to acknowledge in those days (1966 – 1967). Good thing I didn’t find out until later in life that we also had African American blood too.
Mom and dad came to school and tempers flared, but we were allowed to stay in school. I apologized to my sister for being dumb and saying it, but when I told my dad he told me not to worry about it. He did ask me why I said it, and I told him it was because no one ever told me it was a bad thing. He said it wasn’t.
Dad was in and out of our lives, and if you notice many of the people on this page, my friends, call each other brother or sister, it is because we are. Many of us suspected, but none of really knew for sure about each other until just a few years ago.
I am the oldest, but not by much. Turns out I have a brother nearly as old, and of course my sister a little more than a year younger, and then the rest of us are scattered over at least fifteen years.
Embarrassing? Not really. I don’t think it bothers most of us anymore, believe me, even those of us who have done well have paid some dues growing up mixed race and fatherless, projects, trailer parks, and worse places. But one thing I have learned from all of us is the love that is there, and the ability to care about one another. It means a great deal to me.
Some of us had guidance, some of us didn’t. Some went to work, some went to the streets. Most of us have traveled everywhere trying to find home; that place that feels right.
I used to hate FaceBook. I have had an account for years and never used it. Hated it. Too intrusive. I just didn’t want anything to do with it, but if not for Facebook I would not have the relationships I have now with family and friends. I hate to give credit to Facebook, but it is true. All of us were able to do a better job getting to know one another because of this social app.
At 13 I was living in the mountains with an aunt and uncle. I mean real mountains, a kind of life that has forever stayed with me and is the base to the Earth’s Survivors series.
At 14 I was living on the streets in Western NY, Rochester: I mean in abandoned buildings and wherever else.
At 16 in was in the service.
At 20 I was married living here in the Northern part of New York and hated it, so I went back to Rochester which had always seemed like home and spent years working and living there.
I say all of that to say that for all my youthful wanderlust, that took me all over north america, Mexico, Canada, south, west, north, I wound up right back here, writing the same story that I was trying to write when I was a kid living here and had a dream about being a writer. I only read that story to my sister Connie * when we were kids huddled over the heat registers one cold, winter morning in the house we grew up in on Olive street.
Funny, I have been everywhere, done things that would scare and maybe scar other people and I am back where I started and finally content to be here, to die here eventually, when God is ready to have me. And I am just a few miles away from where I was born, where I grew up, the river my brother David and I fished is right behind this house. God has a plan for your life. I don’t know what it is or where it will take you, but I can tell you that family and friends are sometimes all that really matters besides keeping your relationship with God; so you should hold them close to your heart always.
A picture of me with my mom and dad in 1957…
The FB conversation is below…
Geo Dell So, this is Conversations With My Fathers. If you want to read it, by all means, have at it, but it is not pretty at all. Sometimes I think that the writing process was cathartic and the profit, for me, was there, and so why let anyone else read it. Other times I think maybe someone will read it and skip some of the mistakes I made, it’s possible, and so for that reason it is worth it. In AA, and I have spent literally thousands of hours in AA meetings, we share to help other addicts. We forgo any embarrassment we may have from our actions and we just do it, because sometimes, as addicts, we are the only one who can say something to another addict that they will understand, accept, acknowledge as the truth. This is not really payback for those thousands of hours of testimony, stories, encouragement, failures and triumphs that I listened to. It is more like an obligation to the fellow addict that I don’t want to see go the same way, take the same path…
Geo Dell It is there. If you read it understand it is stark. Bad language, sex, situations; rough to read? I don’t know. It made me upset to read through the journals it came from. There is a lot of bad stuff in it, and even more in ten years of journals and work that I extracted it from. So read it if you want to, but don’t feel obligated because it is hard core. The great thing about Andrea is that she is a writer too, a better one than I am, and so she was able to be objective where I wasn’t. She also gave tons of her personal time to read and suggest, but she never pushed. In the end I decided what went in and what didn’t. The book should really be free, but Amazon doesn’t do free, so occasionally I give it away hoping an addict will read it. I think what I will do is re-release it through Smashwords so that it will be free at Smashwords, iTunes, NOOK, KOBO and a dozen or so other places. The reasoning is that it shouldn’t be a for profit book. It was never intended to be. That is why the copyright notice is worded the way it is; stating it is free for any non-profit purpose as long as the copyright notice is intact. My sister Kathy * read it, my cousin Jane * read it, she is a film maker, and I think that is it as far as family or anyone that knows me. In any case it is at the link above, completely free…
Here is the first True short stories from my life that are less explicit and probably a little more palatable… Some of this may appear in Conversations With My Fathers…
True: True Stories From A Small Town
By Dell Sweet
Original Material Copyright © 1976 – 1984 – 2009 – 2016 by Wendell G. Sweet
* * * * *
PUBLISHED BY: Dell Sweet & independAntwriters
All rights reserved, domestic and foreign
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Cover and Interior Artwork Copyright 2016 Wendell G. Sweet
No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
This is not a work of fiction. I have changed a few names simply because I do not want to expose them to the critical view of the public. As with anything a person experiences in life, this is colored by the emotions I experienced during what was going on.
This Collection of Short Stories is Copyright © 2010 – 2016 Wendell G. Sweet.
Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
I am writing this revision because a few people asked me to write more true short stories. I have them, dozens of them, but I am not always eager to find them and type them into the word processor. That is not because I begrudge you reading them. I don’t. I hope you enjoy them. It is because I read them and I find myself right back in time to that day, place, event I am writing about, and some of it is rough to read. I wrote it out to write it out of me. Try that, it works well. But I don’t always want to read them myself.
Sometimes they are an embarrassment to me. They show my ignorance, at least in that place and time. Sometimes they speak to my circumstances of the moment, and leave me open, unprotected. At least that is the way I sometimes feel when I read them. What ever they show they also show my humanity. I am who I am. If you read something I wrote and it stops you from making the same mistake, or helps you to understand yourself or the world better, good.
I suppose I bared my soul in true 2, at least so far. And when I publish A-Minor that will say all the rest of it. All the things I have mentioned in my other writings. I will have written out all the poison for good. I don’t write it out for you to absorb it. I write it out to help me, you, someone I have probably never met and will never meet.
So here is the first revision. There is drug use. Sexual promiscuity. Death and more. I don’t approve of it despite how I may have felt back then. I am living proof that if you live that way you pay for it eventually. And I did. So this is not me approving of my behaviors back then. Not at all. It is me writing out the poison inside of me…
TRUE: True stories from a small town #1
Copyright © 2010 & 2016 Dell Sweet
All rights reserved
The morning was just under way. My Father drove the old pick-up truck slowly along the roadway. I think it was a 1960 Ford, something like that.
Fishermen: other vehicles; the road was crowded even this early. Galveston Bay was like a live thing. The saltiness of the ocean was in it. In the air, slipping up my nose as I stood on the seat top, balanced against the vinyl back as my Father drove.
The man’s body was at the edge of the water. My Father said, “Don’t look at that.” But of course he was too late. I’d already looked. I’d looked with my four year old child’s eyes that see much more than they are supposed to see. And, I saw much. Things that didn’t make sense to me.
“Why is that man in the water?”
“Why doesn’t he blow his nose to get some of that slimy stuff off himself?”
“Why are those men standing away from him? Why are they looking at him? Why does he look so funny?” But I didn’t say any of those things.
“Okay, Daddy. I won’t.”
I did though. I watched as my Father left the truck, with me standing on the seat so I could see over the dashboard, and walked to the men who stood starring at the man in the water.
Later in life I found out that my Father had worked in the Air Force as a Medical Corps man, picking up the bodies of dead service men… Retrieving the dead. At the time it meant nothing of course. Later in life though, it explained why my Father seemed so comfortable handling the man’s body, helping to place the body on a stretcher. While the other men seemed upset… Ghostly… White… Angry even.
But I was only four years old. I watched and wondered my child thoughts. Who he was. Why he was. I had not seen enough dead people to even realise that that was what he was.. I didn’t realise that the man had been dead until later in life.
At the time I realised something was wrong. Out of place. I may even have thought dead, but I didn’t understand dead. I only understood my Father, My Mother. My Baby sister who was not yet old enough to go for rides with my Father and stand on the seat and look out at the world. This man in the water, lifted out and placed on the stretcher that my Father helped to carry, was a mystery to me.
My father came back to the truck. “You didn’t look did you?”
He pushed the clutch in, the radio came on with a soft rush of country music. He shifted into first, pulled out behind the ambulance and we drove away into my memories.
It was summer, the trees full and green, the temperatures in the upper seventies. And you could smell the river from where it ran behind the paper mills and factories crowded around it, just beyond the public square; A dead smell, waste from the paper plants.
I think it was John who said something first. “Fuck it,” or something like that,” I’ll be okay.”
“Yeah,” Pete asked?
“Yeah… I think so,” John agreed. His eyes locked on Pete’s, but they didn’t stay. They slipped away and began to wander along the riverbed, the sharp rocks that littered the tops of the cliffs and the distance to the water. I didn’t like it.
Gary just nodded. Gary was the oldest so we pretty much went along with the way he saw things.
“But it’s your Dad,” I said at last. I felt stupid. Defensive. But it really felt to me like he really wasn’t seeing things clearly. I didn’t trust how calm he was, or how he kept looking at the river banks and then down to the water maybe eighty feet are so below.
“I should know,” John said. But his eyes didn’t meet mine at all.
“He should know,” Gary agreed and that was that.
“That’s cool. Let’s go down to the river,” Pete suggested, changing the subject.
“I’m not climbing down there,” I said. I looked down the sheer rock drop off to the water. John was still looking too, and his eyes were glistening, wet, his lips moved slightly as if he was talking to himself. If he was I couldn’t hear. But then he spoke aloud.
“We could make it, I bet,” he said as though it was an afterthought to some other idea. I couldn’t quite see that idea, at least I told myself that later. But I felt some sort of way about it. As if it had feelings of it’s own attached to it.
“No, man,” Gary said. “Pete didn’t mean beginning here… Did you,” he asked?
“No… No, you know, out to Huntingtonville,” Pete said. He leaned forward on his bike, looked at john, followed his eyes down to the river and then back up. John looked at him.
“What!” John asked.
“Nothing, man,” Pete said. “We’ll ride out to Huntingtonville. To the dam. That’d be cool… Wouldn’t it?” You could see the flatness in John’s eye’s. It made Pete nervous. He looked at Gary.
“Yeah,” Gary said. He looked at me.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That’d be cool.” I spun one pedal on my stingray, scuffed the dirt with the toe of one Ked and then I looked at John again. His eyes were still too shiny, but he shifted on his banana seat, scuffed the ground with one of his own Keds and then said, “Yeah,” kind of under his breath. Again like it was an afterthought to something else. He lifted his head from his close inspection of the ground, or the river, or the rocky banks, or something in some other world for all I knew, and it seemed more like the last to me, but he met all of our eyes with one sliding loop of his own eyes, and even managed to smile.
The bike ride out to Huntingtonville was about four miles. It was a beautiful day and we lazed our way along, avoiding the streets, riding beside the railroad tracks that just happened to run out there. The railroad tracks bisected Watertown. They were like our own private road to anywhere we wanted to go. Summer, fall or winter. It didn’t matter. You could hear the trains coming from a long way off. More than enough time to get out of the way.
We had stripped our shirts off earlier in the morning when we had been crossing the only area of the tracks that we felt were dangerous, a long section of track that was suspended over the Black river on a rail trestle. My heart had beat fast as we had walked tie to tie trying not to look down at the rapids far below. Now we were four skinny, jeans clad boys with our shirts tied around our waists riding our bikes along the sides of those same railroad tracks where they ran through our neighborhood, occasionally bumping over the ties as we went. Gary managed to ride on one of the rails for about 100 feet. No one managed anything better.
Huntingtonville was a small river community just outside of Watertown. It was like the section of town that was so poor it could not simply be across the tracks or on the other side of the river, it had to be removed to the outskirts of the city itself. It was where the poorest of the poor lived, the least desirable races. The blacks. The Indians. Whatever else good, upstanding white Americans felt threatened or insulted by. It was where my father had come from, being both black and Indian.
I didn’t look like my father. I looked like my mother. My mother was Irish and English. About as white as white could be. I guess I was passing. But I was too poor, too much of a dumb kid to even know that back then in 1969.
John’s father was the reason we were all so worried. A few days before we had been playing baseball in the gravel lot of the lumber company across the street from where we lived. The railroad tracks ran behind that lumber company. John was just catching his breath after having hit a home run when his mother called him in side. We all heard later from our own mothers that John’s father had been hurt somehow. Something to do with his head. A stroke. I really didn’t know what a stroke was at that time or understand everything that it meant. I only knew it was bad. It was later in life that I understood how bad. All of us probably. But we did understand that John’s father had nearly died, and would never be his old self again, if he even managed to pull through.
It was a few days after that now. The first time the four of us had gotten back together. We all felt at loose ends. It simply had made no sense for the three of us to try to do much of anything without John. We had tried but all we could think about or talk about was John’s father. Would he be okay? Would they move? That worried me the most. His sister was about the most beautiful girl in the entire world to me. So not only would John move, so would she.
He came back to us today not saying a word about it. And we were worried.
When we reached the dam the water was high. That could mean that either the dam had been running off the excess water, or was about to be. You just had to look at the river and decide.
“We could go to the other side and back,” John suggested.
The dam was about 20 or 30 feet high. Looming over a rock strewn riverbed that had very little water. It was deeper out towards the middle, probably, it looked like it was, but it was all dry river rock along the grassy banks. The top of the Dam stretched about 700 feet across the river.
“I don’t know,” Pete said. “the dam might be about to run. We could get stuck on the other side for awhile.”
No one was concerned about a little wet feet if the dam did suddenly start running as we were crossing it. It didn’t run that fast. And it had caught us before. It was no big deal. Pete’s concern was getting stuck on the little island where the damn ended for an hour or so. Once, john, and myself had been on that island and some kids, older kids, had decided to shoot at us with 22 caliber rifles. Scared us half to death. But that’s not the story I’m trying to tell you today. Maybe I’ll tell you that one some other time. Today I’m trying to tell you about John’s father. And how calm John seemed to be taking it.
John didn’t wait for anyone else to comment. He dumped his bike and started to climb up the side of the concrete abutment to reach the top of the dam and walk across to the island. There was nothing for us to do except fall in behind him. One by one we did.
It all went smoothly. The water began to top the dam, soaking our Keds with its yellow paper mill stink and scummy white foam, just about halfway across. But we all made it to the other side and the island with no trouble. Pete and I climbed down and walked away. To this day I have no idea what words passed between Gary and john, but the next thing I knew they were both climbing back up onto the top of the dam, where the water was flowing faster now. Faster than it had ever flowed when we had attempted to cross the dam. Pete nearly at the top of the concrete wall, Gary several feet behind him.
John didn’t hesitate. He hit the top, stepped into the yellow brown torrent of river water pouring over the falls and began to walk back out to the middle of the river. Gary yelled to him as Pete and I climbed back up to the top of the dam.
I don’t think I was trying to be a hero, but the other thought, the thought he had pulled back from earlier, had just clicked in my head. John was thinking about dying. About killing himself. I could see it on the picture of his face that I held in my head from earlier. I didn’t yell to him, I just stepped into the yellow foam and water, found the top of the dam and began walking.
Behind me and Pete and Gary went ballistic. “Joe, what the fuck are you doing!”
I heard it, but I didn’t hear it. I kept moving. I was scared. Petrified. Water tugged at my feet. There was maybe 6 inches now pouring over the dam and more coming, it seemed a long way down to the river. Sharp, up-tilted slabs of rock seemed to be reaching out for me. Secretly hoping that I would fall and shatter my life upon them.
John stopped in the middle of the dam and turned, looking off toward the rock and the river below. I could see the water swirling fast around his ankles. Rising higher as it went. John looked over at me, but he said nothing.
“John,” I said when I got close enough. He finally spoke.
“No,” was all he said. But tears began to spill from his eyes. Leaking from his cheeks and falling into the foam scummed yellow-brown water that flowed ever faster over his feet.
“Don’t,” I screamed. I knew he meant to do it, and I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Don’t move,” Gary said from behind me. I nearly went over the falls. I hadn’t known he was that close. I looked up and he was right next to me, working his way around me on the slippery surface of the dam. I looked back and Pete was still on the opposite side of the dam. He had climbed up and now he stood on the flat top. Transfixed. Watching us through his thick glasses. Gary had followed John and me across.
I stood still and Gary stepped around me. I have no idea how he did. I’ve thought about it, believe me. There shouldn’t have been enough room, but that was what he did. He stepped right around me and then walked the remaining 20 feet or so to John and grabbed his arm.
“If you jump you kill me too,” Gary said. I heard him perfectly clear above the roar of the dam. He said it like it was nothing. Like it is everything. But mostly he said it like he meant it.
It seemed like they argued and struggled forever, but it was probably less than a minute, maybe two. The waters were rising fast and the whole thing would soon be decided for us. If we didn’t get off the dam quickly we would be swept over by the force of the water.
They almost did go over. So did I. But the three of us got moving and headed back across to the land side where we had dropped our bikes. We climbed down from a dam and watched the water fill the river up. No one spoke.
Eventually john stopped crying. And the afterthought look, as though there some words or thoughts he couldn’t say passed. The dying time had passed.
We waited almost two hours for the river to stop running and then Pete came across…
We only talked about it one other time that summer, and then we never talked about it again. That day was also a beautiful summer day. Sun high in the sky. We were sitting on our bikes watching the dam run.
“I can’t believe you were gonna do it,” Pete said.
“I wasn’t,” John told him. “I only got scared when the water started flowing and froze on the dam… That’s all it was.”
Nobody spoke for a moment and then Gary said, “That’s how it was.”
“Yeah. That’s how it was,” I agreed…
It was June, maybe it was even July. I truthfully couldn’t tell you, any more than I could tell you what happened the rest of that year. It’s a blank in my mind. June or July is only a point of light in my mind because I heard about it, not because I lived it. But because I was told about it. That is, all but the one part of it. The absolute memory that I’m sure of from that day. But the details… The rest of the year… I have no clue.
It was June or July. My brother was supposed to go to the fair with his friend Star, but he had instead taken off with my sister. I never did know why, and I’ve never been curious enough to find out either.
It was June or July. I was in the front yard lining up some Matchbox cars, running them around the base of one of the huge Elm trees that grew in our front yard. The sidewalk ran right between them to the front steps. The trees took up what yard there was. I have been back to that house later in life. The trees are gone. Cut down because of Dutch Elm disease. And the yard seems to be huge. It seems to go on forever. But back then the Elms owned that yard on either side of the sidewalk and my brother and I had a perfect place to make roads and run our matchbox cars around. And there I was running my little cars around when I spotted Star from far off. I thought maybe he would pass by. After all he was my brothers friend more than mine, but he stopped.
“Hey,” Star said.
“Hey,” I allowed. I’m pretty sure I didn’t look up from the cars, at least not at first.
“Where’s Dave,” he asked?
“Fair,” I answered.
“He told me he’d go with me,” Star said.
“Huh,” I answered. “Maybe he forgot ’cause he left with my sister… Awhile ago… Like” I tried to think of how long ago it had been but I was unable to come up with it. “Like… I don’t know. Awhile I guess.”
I hadn’t gone because I didn’t like the Fair. The year before I had gone, ridden the roundup, and puked as soon as soon as I got off it. I had been sick all night too. I hated being sick, specifically being sick enough to puke, more than anything in the world. No way did I want to go through that again.
“You gonna go,” Star asked?
“Uh uh,” I answered. I pushed the Batmobile back in line next to a green metallic tow truck..
“I got two bucks,” Star said.
I looked up, “Well, I ain’t got only fifty cents,” I answered. That was the other reason I hadn’t gone. The Batmobile had called to me from the toy car rack at Woolworth… Batmobile? Fair? Batmobile? Fair…
“That’ll get you a couple of rides,” Star broke in. “I’ll buy you a Coke.”
I looked at him. “Okay,” I agreed instantly. My rock solid reasons I had against going had flown out the window at the promise of a Coke. “But first I gotta take care of my cars.”
I have no idea what happened to that shiny black Batmobile with the amazing bubbled windshield. I never saw it again.
The County Fair grounds were on the other side off the city. A long walk.
The Tracks, our name for any of the many sets of railroad tracks that bisected the city of Watertown, would take us most of the way their. We walked them balancing on the rails as we went. When we came to the Coffeen street crossing we left the tracks and walked the side of the street to the outskirts of the city and the Fair grounds. I was thinking Double Ferris Wheel. No puking, just sight seeing. You could see almost all of Watertown from the top. And if you were actually lucky enough to get stopped at the top for a few moments, and I had been, you could actually pick out landmarks. I recalled that from the year before. Before the Roundup and the puking.
After that I would get the Coke Star had promised. Then I could stop at Majors Market on the way back and buy a second Coke with my other quarter. I had the whole afternoon mapped out and it seemed like a good plan to me.
The fair grounds were crowded. I saw my sister once, but she seemed to be avoiding me so I didn’t press it. We were less than a year apart and it was never really clear to me whether we hated each other or liked each other on any particular week. I saw a girl from school, Debbie something. One of my friends had referred to her as a Carpenters delight… A flat Board that had never been nailed. I didn’t really get the joke, I was always a little slow back then, but I did think she was cute. She smiled at me and I smiled back thinking I had no chance at all, wondered briefly about the board and nail remark, and then turned my attention back to the Fair Grounds.
I went with Star to the ticket booth, paid my quarter, and we headed to the midway.
“I gotta try the Double Ferris Wheel,” I said.
“I was thinking about The Roundup,” Star said.
“No way,” I disagreed. “Puked last year.” I was only too glad to tell him the story.. He ended up agreeing with me on the Double Ferris Wheel ride.
I guess I do remember some of that day. Sitting here writing it all out brings a lot of it back. Maybe it was after that day that I have trouble with. Even as I write this my next clear memory is about a year later. I know I do remember all of the next immediate events, but I mean the feel of that day. I remember the feel of that day too. The smells of Cotton Candy… Buttered Popcorn… Cooking Sausage and Hotdogs… The crowds and the noise… Not long ago I smelled Popcorn and it took me right back to that day. All the way back. For a split second I was standing on that Midway once again… The crowd was moving around me. I was Happy… It was high summer. Watertown was a beautiful place to live.
That is why I think my memories are real, not just things suggested by people who were there. And, of course, afterwards, I remember all of that clearly. There was no one else there but me to see it, feel it, hear it. And all these years later it is just as real as it was then…
The Double Ferris Wheel was really the coolest ride I had ever seen. I was in front of Star as we wound our way through the line. I could see the guy running the ride. One of those typical Carney guys. I had cousins who were Carneys. I knew the look. And this guy was old school Carney. Dark, greasy hair. Cigarette plastered in one side of his mouth. Arms bulging. Crude tattoos covered his exposed chest and arms. Dark, almost inky, Gypsy eyes. He held the long steel handle that controlled the ride in one hand. The cigarette was unfiltered; Camel or Pall Mall, pumping up and down as his lips moved. His smile was cocky. His eyes bloodshot. He was none too steady on his feet. Bumping the handle occasionally. Rocking the steel cages that held the seat buckets as he bought them around for loading and unloading. Letting kids on and off.
The long line wound it’s way down. I gave up my ticket and stepped forward and that was the end of my summer. It ended up being the last carefree childhood thing I ever did. It’s more than forty years later now and I can say that as a fact. The rest of the real world part of that day came from Star’s testimony at the trial years later when the ride operator was sued.
The guy took my ticket. I stepped forward to get in. The cigarette jumped as he took a deep pull, jiggled the handle, lined up the wheel, and my leg swung into the open seat bucket. That was when it all went wrong. He did one of those unsteady joggles on his feet, bumped into the lever with one thigh, and kicked the ride into full operation.
For some reason, I couldn’t tell you why, I hung on instead of letting go when the bucket lurched forward and rapidly climbed up into the sky. Maybe it was simple instinct, fear. Whatever it was it probably seemed to me to be the smart thing to do until I hit one of the struts about thirty feet up and got knocked off the bucket and down to the ground. I ended up under the buckets which kept coming around and hitting me because the ride operator was too drunk to turn the ride off. Too drunk. Forgot, Froze. Whatever it was I was stuck until another Carney ran over and shut down the ride.
No body knows what was up with him. At the trial he claimed that I had ran through the line and jumped at the ride like some crazy kid. It wasn’t a good story. The jury didn’t buy it. And it didn’t explain why he was drunk or why he didn’t shut the ride down. The jury came back with a ten thousand dollar judgment. A great deal of money for back then. But that is secondary to this story and didn’t happen for a few years. What this story is about is what the next few weeks were like for me.
I put my feet into the seat bucket and the whole wheel seemed to lurch. The next clear memory was absolute darkness and God speaking to me. Comforting me. Not hurried. Not sounding Godlike, just sounding like an ordinary, reasonable man who for some reason had nothing better to do than talk to me. A little kid.
God was behind me. I never did see him, but I still knew it was him.
When my sight came back to me I was far above the Fair Grounds watching the ambulance weave it’s way through the crowds as it made it’s way to me. The next thing I knew I was inside… The siren warbling, and I was on my way to the hospital. God continued to talk to me and comfort me as I looked down at my broken little boys body
I don’t know what they knew then, but I had a laundry list of injuries. Broken neck, broken vertebrae in my thoracic spine. Broken vertebrae in my lumbar spine. Broken left scapula and joint damage to the shoulder. My upper back had been hit so hard that the muscles that attached from my shoulder blades to my spine had been torn free. I don’t know if I was still breathing or not. I stopped at some point in there. But it really didn’t concern me.
I watched as I was unloaded and rolled down the hallway of the emergency room. My mother ran beside the gurney, crying. The nurses cut the clothes from my body as they ran. I was filthy. Either the filth or the nudity embarrassed my mother, but the nurses did their work as they rushed my body along that hallway. And although I could feel their thoughts, hear their words, it did not affect me.
The next few weeks went by fast. God never once left me. Talking to me. Answering my endless questions. And I did have endless questions but he had endless answers. Everything… All the knowledge of the entire world… Universe… Universes, was mine.
She tricked me this way: The nurse was young. Pretty. Even to me, a little kid. She took my hand and began to talk to me. She had no idea I was busy talking to God, so I forgave her, at first anyhow.
But then she began to call my name. Call me Honey. Tell me to wake up, and it began to bother me.. I couldn’t concentrate on God if she didn’t leave me alone. I wanted to tell her to shut up! Stop! And so I imagined my mouth opening to say the words and that was it. I was back in my body. Stuck in my body. God was gone. The pain was everywhere. Huge. Unyielding. I was stuck. And, worse, everything God had told me was gone. It was like it was some sort of top secret knowledge. Top secret God knowledge that could not exist outside of death. You could know all of it if you intended to be dead, but none of it if you intended to live.
I hadn’t intended to live, I remember thinking that. Who in their right mind would leave the company of God to come back to this world? Not me. But, She had tricked me. Tricked me, and I had fallen for it…
I was about thirteen when this took place. By that time I was already alcohol dependent, had tried and liked Speed, a drug that would twice come close to killing me before I was twenty one, had pretty much dropped out of school even though I was legally there and on the rolls, and I flirted with the idea of suicide on a daily basis…
“I don’t really know him at all,” Dick said.
“Neither do I,” I admitted. “But, everyone says he’s the guy, so I called him and asked him.
“Yeah,” dick asked?
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s going to meet us down at the Olympic.” The Olympic was an old run down theater on the edge of downtown.
“When,” he asked?
“Now, I guess.” The truth was I hadn’t asked. I had been too nervous. We were up in my bedroom. Dick was my most recent friend. John Gary and Pete, my early childhood friends had fallen by the wayside.
John moved away after his father nearly died. One day the whole family just moved out of state.
Gary was older and had finally found older friends. Pete just drifted away. I got into drugs and alcohol, skipping school and working towards that first prison bid I had in me.
As I said, at thirteen I had more than a passing acquaintance with alcohol and speed. I did both whenever I could get them. I drank every day, or at least the days when I didn’t drink were rare. I was already at a a point where I didn’t really get all that drunk anymore, no matter how much I drank. And I was just a few weeks away from a serious accident at the county fair that would come very close to taking my life. Ahead of me, although I didn’t yet know it, was recovery from that accident, suicide attempts, life on the streets and near death there more than once too. But today I was trying to find my way in the drug world. Today was acid. I had two joints in my pocket and Dick and I each had a couple of bucks. Two dollars was the price of a hit of what they called blotter acid back then.
Neither of us had ever done acid before. Never had seen it. Never sold it, and we did sell pot so we could smoke some, or at least Dick did. I couldn’t smoke pot. It made me sick every time. So I used my money to buy Boone’s Farm Apple wine, or Strawberry Hill, Colt Forty Five Malt Liquor, cigarettes, diet pills (AKA Speed), and all the other stuff we shouldn’t have been doing. We knew, in short, nothing at all about acid, except you tripped. Whatever that was. It was supposed to be intense.
We left the house and headed toward downtown and the Olympic Theater.
For most of my childhood the Olympic theater showed adult movies all week long, and then cartoons and kids movies on the weekend. At one time it had been a grand theater. But that time was a long way behind it.
I saw it later in my life, a few years later really, and it was boarded up, ceilings fallen, and then I moved away for the first time and when I came back it was gone.
That place had always bothered me back then though. I would pass it on the weekends and the little kids would be lined up to go in and sit where the perverts had been sitting the day before doing God knew what. It made no sense to me. And, the perverts didn’t really go away on the weekends. They hung around. I know. I saw one there one time that I had encountered as a younger child. One that had abused me.
Despite that parents sent their kids to the Olympic Theater all weekend long. Probably to get them out of their hair. Have a little down time. Who knows. It was a small town. It was supposed to be safe. And I suppose it was for most kids, but I never liked it. I never felt at ease with it.
So the little kids went to the Olympic all weekend long, just like we were doing, and the pervs were not the only thing out front. Drugs were sold right there at the sides of the doors nearly all of the time. That was where we were going to pick up our purchase.
There was always a crowd, and it was easy to disappear in that crowd. Of course the pervs watched you, sometimes even propositioned you, but I didn’t know anything about that world yet, and wouldn’t for a few years until I ended up on the streets. Ironically when I sold pot, I too always had the buyer meet me in front of the Olympic. Funny how I could feel the one way yet justify that in my mind.
We walked the eight blocks to the Olympic. It was early fall, cool but not cold yet. The leaves were turning, but they were still on the trees. There was a wind. More like a breeze on steroids, but you could smell winter on that air.
Smell it. It was like that. Just like any kind of flower reminded me of death, that particular fall air reminded me of winter. And really, winter and death were always the same thing to me. It evoked depression in me. Summer was over… Dead… Gone away at the least. Gone for at least a year. And a year was almost a lifetime at that age, so it may have well have been dead. At least it seemed that way to me then.
I saw Jeff standing in front of the Olympic. A leather jacket. Jeans. He practically screamed tough guy. We idolized him and imitated that look ourselves. It wasn’t more than a handful of years that he had left to live. He didn’t know it. We didn’t know it. He was going to be on the bad end of a drug deal in the near future. Get stuck with the time and then get stabbed to death shortly after that in prison over a bad drug deal there.
It’s funny, thinking about it now, where blocks of time, five years, ten years, seem to slip by so fast. What he had left to live was next to nothing, but back then, if we had known, we would have thought it was forever.
Right then, at that time, he was about to enrich out lives. Acid was the big time experience. And he was the way to score it.
I walked up like I belonged there. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” Jeff threw back. He looked at Dick and Dick nodded. “Hold this for me for a second, would you,” He asked? He handed me a small slip of paper.
“Sure,” I said. I took the paper.
“So…” He looked at each of us. “You got the money?”
“Sure,” I agreed. I pulled the two dollars from my pocket and passed it to him as we pretended to shake hands. The he shook hands with Dick too. Some old Grandpa was checking me and Dick out, I threw him a finger. He looked away with disgust written across his face. I turned back to Jeff.
“Cool,” He said. “Well, I’ll see you. Let me know if…You know.”
“Uh huh,” I agreed. I watched his back as he walked off into the downtown district.
“What the fuck!” Dick said.
I looked at him. “What,” I asked?
“Where is it,” Dick asked?
“I figured he gave it to you,” I said, surprised that he apparently hadn’t.
“I can’t believe he screwed us,” Dick said. “I thought he gave you something.”
“He did,” I said, remembering the small slip of paper he had given me. I opened it in my palm. A cartoon Micky Mouse printed on a small strip of thin, white paper. Nothing Else.
“It’s just a cartoon… A cartoon… It’s nothing,” I said after looking at Mickey for a few minutes. “He didn’t pass you nothing either, I guess,” I finished.
“Great,” Dick said. He shook his head.
“Well, we got the joints,” I said.
“Yeah, except they make you sick almost every time.”
We were both dejected. We had maybe another two bucks between us. We could try again, but who could we call? If Jeff had stuck it to us, wouldn’t the next guy too?
“Well, we could stop by the doughnut shop. Buy some day old doughnuts and coffee. Then go get some wine, you get high, I’ll buzz off the wine, we’ll eat the doughnuts later and the coffee will keep us up.” It actually seemed like a pretty good alternate plan to me. I had been more than a little nervous about the acid. I had heard about bad trips. Maybe this was for the best. We walked away back up State Street.
I was still holding the slip of paper in my hand. It amazes me that I didn’t crumple it up and throw it away. But, something about it bugged me. We walked about a block in silence before it came to me.
“Hey,” I said. I came to a complete stop on the sidewalk. “Remember how some of those guys the other day were talking about blotter acid? How it was just a spot of color on a piece of paper? And those other guys were talking about Goofy and Minnie Mouse… Donald Duck? … “
“Cartoon heads made out of acid… Like in the ink or something.”
Dick had continued to walk a few steps after I stopped, so he was stopped slightly ahead of me… Standing… Listening… Looking back at me.
“Huh,” he said and nodded his head.
“So… Maybe this is it,” I said looking at Mickey’s small head on the piece of paper.
“So how do we get it off,” he asked?
I shook my head. “We’ll eat the paper,” I said finally. Before we could think about it I ripped it in half and handed Dick half of Micky’s head. I shrugged, put my piece in my mouth and swallowed it. Dick did the same.
We stood in the shadows of an alleyway there watching the traffic pass us by.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Me either,” He agreed.
“I don’t know, Man,” I said.
“Yeah. Maybe he did get us… If so, we won’t buy no more pot through him,” Dick said. The guy we bought our pot from bought it from Jeff. Just about all the drugs in our little town came through Jeff who had a cousin in Syracuse that got them from somebody else. Who knew how many times they changed hands on the way to us. We didn’t.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Plan b?”
“Yeah, plan B,” He agreed.
We made our way to the doughnut shop just a few blocks further along and decided to modify our plan.
The doughnut shop was a cop hangout and the way we dressed, and our long hair, always pissed the cops off.
So we decided to buy doughnuts and a coffee to go, but to have a coffee there too. Just to sit there and piss the cops off. We were kids, I don’t know how else to explain how something like that seemed like entertainment to us. It was like we liked to tease them. A, ‘I know you hate us, but you can’t get us.’ or, as Dick used to say, ‘A big fuck you right at them.’ I have since come to have a great deal of respect for law enforcement. I didn’t in my youth though. It was good guys and bad guys. And in my screwed up thinking I was the good guy.
There were three or four cops in there when we arrived, spread out along the curving counter top, eating doughnuts, drinking coffee and reading newspapers. It really was like another office for them back in those days And, I have never been able to figure this out, but they didn’t talk to each other. They didn’t sit side by side and shoot the shit as we used to say, as they ate, drank, read. No. They staked out little territories of their own. A little something on this side of them so someone wouldn’t sit there, a little something on the other side. It was weird to me as a kid, because I figured they all hung out, joked, and talked about catching the bad guys. Maybe they did, but they never did there.
It may be cliche in some cities when they talk about the cops hanging out at the doughnut shop. And really, now, it would be more than a little hard to do, there are no places like that, and they have an office right there in the car. Go through the drive through, pull out back and eat. But then, in my town, cliche or not the cops ate and hung out at the doughnut shop. No matter what time of day or night, if you had a problem just run down to the doughnut shop and get a cop. There would be one there.
We went in, picked out a bag of day old doughnuts, got our coffees, and sat down at the counter to drink. Like I said, we did that mostly to piss the cops off. It was their place. We looked like bad kids. Hell, we were bad kids. No way did they want us in their place.
We weren’t looking for trouble exactly, we just didn’t want the establishment, read that as any kind of authority, to rule our young lives.
We were sitting for less than five minutes when the acid hit us. It hit us both at the same time. We turned and looked at each other. Then, also, at the exact same time, we both became convinced that the cops were on to us. They knew without a doubt that we were tripping. In fact one cop kept looking at us non-stop. The paranoia was just starting.
We left, which was probably a good thing, and headed for my house. The hallucinations grew worse as we went. The tree limbs above us turned into leaf covered hands reaching down to snatch us from the street and eat us. And the worst, freakiest part of it is that we both had the same hallucinations at the same time. There was no calming influence from the non hallucinating party.
To make it even worse our girlfriends, two sisters, discovered us at some point on the walk home and knew something was wrong with us. I was alternating between laughing hysterically and crying. My girlfriends face kept turning into a pig face each time she tried to kiss me or came too close. Eventually they left us alone and we got ourselves under some sort of control and decided to go to my house and lay low until the high became more manageable.
My mother was cooking dinner and listening to Walter Cronkite do the evening news as she did. She would pop into the living room doorway from the kitchen every few moments to see Walters face.
“Hi, Boys,” she said.
“Hey, Mom.” I was amazed how normal I sounded.
We sat down and tried to watch TV, but it quickly became apparent that Walter somehow knew we were high.
He kept looking at us. Winking, saying things only we could hear. Smirking at us. He knew alright.
We left the living room, went up to my bedroom and ended up listening to the Black Sabbath Debut album and the Stones. Good music to trip by. It seemed as though the bands were playing in our heads.
I tried to lay down but the knotty pine bunk beds drove me crazy. The knots kept turning into eyes. Staring me down. I couldn’t look away, they followed me.
Time passed. Somewhere around five in the morning we began to come down. We drank the coffee and buzzed a little again on the caffeine, we left the house, met up with some older kids. Traded one of the joints for a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, then made our way downtown to Peanut Park where Dick got high on the other joint while I drank the wine and watched the sunrise…
It was early in my shift. I owned my own taxi so I could pretty much pick which 12 hour shift I wanted to drive. I drove nights so that I could be home with my son during the day while my wife worked. I’d told myself for most of the last year that I should stop driving taxi, settle down to a real job and be more responsible. But then a Conrail contract came along and then the opportunity to work with another driver who handled the Airport contract, and suddenly I was making more money than I could have reasonably expected from what I would have considered a straight job.
The hours were long, but there was something that attracted me to the night work. I always had been attracted to night work. Like my internal clock was Set to PM. It just seemed to work and after a few failed attempts to work day shift work, I gave it up and went to work full time nights.
I was never bored. The nights kept me awake and interested. They supplied their own entertainment.
Conrail crews, regulars that called only for me, the assorted funny drunks late at night when the bars were closing. Soldiers on their way back to the nearby base, and a dancer at a small club just off down town that had been calling for me personally for the last few weeks. Using my cab as a dressing room on the way back to her hotel. It was always something different.
Days, the few times I’d driven days, couldn’t compare. Sure, there was violence too but it rarely came my way and never turned into a big deal when it did. At six foot two, two hundred and twenty pounds most trouble looked elsewhere when it came to me.
It was Friday night, one of my big money nights, about 7:00 P.M. and my favourite dispatcher Smitty had just come on. He sent me on a call out State street that would terminate down town. Once I was down town I could easily pick up a GI heading back to the base for a nice fat fare and usually a pretty good tip. My mind was on that.
My mind was also on that dancer who would be calling sometime after two AM and who had made it clear that I was more than welcome to come up to her room. It was tempting, I’ll admit it, and each time she called she tempted me more. I figured it was just a matter of time before I went with her.
I really didn’t see the lady when she got into my car, but when it took her three times to get out the name of the bar down town that she wanted to go to I paid attention. Drunk. It was early too. Sometimes drunks were OK, but most times they weren’t. This one kept slumping over, slurring her words, nearly dropping her cigarette. I owed the bank a pile of money on the car and didn’t need burn holes in my back seat.
I dropped the flag on the meter, pulled away from the curbing and eased into traffic. Traffic was heavy at that time and I pissed off more than a few other drivers as I forced my way into the traffic flow.
I had just settled into the traffic flow when a glance into the rear view mirror told me my passenger had fallen over. I couldn’t see the cigarette but I could still smell it. I made the same drivers even angrier as I swept out of the traffic flow and angled up onto the side walk at the edge of the street. I got as far out of the traffic flow as I could get so I could get out to see what was up with the woman in the back seat.
I was thinking drunk at the time, but the thought that it could be something more serious crept into my head as I made the curb, bumped over it, set my four way flashers and climbed out and went around to the back door.
She was slumped over into the wheel well, the cigarette smoldering next to her pooled, black hair. In her hair, I realized as the smell of burning hair came to me. I snatched the cigarette and threw it out the open door, then shook her shoulder to try and bring her around. But it was obvious to me, just that fast, that the whole situation had changed. She wasn’t breathing.
I reached in, caught her under the arms, and then suddenly someone else was there with me.
He was a short, thin man wearing a worried look up on his face. Dark eyes set deeply in their sockets. His hair hung limply across his forehead. He squeezed past me and looked down at the woman. He pushed her eyelids up quickly, one by one, and then held his fingers to her lips. He frowned deeply and flipped the hair away from his forehead.
“Paramedic”, he told me as he took her other arm and helped me pull her from the back seat.
We laid her out on the sloping front lawn of the insurance company I had stopped in front of and he put his head to her chest.
He lifted his head, shaking it as he did. “Call an ambulance,” he said tersely.
I could feel the shift in his demeanor He wasn’t letting me know he could handle the situation, like when he had told me he was a paramedic, he was handling it. I got on the radio and made the call.
The ambulance got there pretty fast. I stood back out of the way and let them work on her, raising my eyes to the backed up traffic on occasion. The paramedic had torn open her shirt. Her nudity seemed so out of place on the city side walk. Watching the traffic took the unreal quality of it away from me. I watched the ambulance pull away, eased my car down off the curb and back into the sluggish traffic and went back to work.
I got the story on her about midnight once things slowed down and I stopped into the cab stand to talk to the dispatcher for a short while. His daughter knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone at the hospital. The woman had taken an overdose. Some kind of pills. It was going to be touch and go. He also had a friend in the police department too. She did it because of a boyfriend who had cheated on her. It seemed so out of proportion to me. I went back to work but I asked him to let me know when he heard more.
The night had passed me by. The business of the evening hours catching me up for a time and taking me away from the earlier events. I was sitting down town in my cab watching the traffic roll by me. It was a beautifully warm early morning for Northern New York. I had my window down letting the smell of the city soak into me, when I got the call to pick up my dancer with the club gig.
“And, Joe,” Smitty told me over the static filled radio, ” your lady friend didn’t make it.”
It was just a few blocks to the club. I left the window down enjoying the feeling of the air flowing past my face.
The radio played Steely Dan’s Do It Again and I kind of half heard it as I checked out the back seat to see if the ghost from the woman earlier might suddenly pop up there.
The dancer got in and smiled at me. I smiled back but I was thinking about the other woman, the woman who was now dead, sitting in that same place a few hours before. The dancer began to change clothes as I drove to her hotel.
“You know,” she said, catching my eyes in the mirror. “I should charge you a cover. You’re seeing more than those GI’S in the club.” She shifted slightly, her breasts rising and falling in the rear view mirror. We both laughed. It was a game that was not a game. She said it to me every time. But, my laugh was hollow. Despite her beauty I was still hung up on someone being alive in my back seat just a few hours before and dead now. Probably being wheeled down to the morgue were my friend Pete worked. I made myself look away and concentrate on the driving. She finished dressing as I stopped at her hotel’s front entrance.
“You could come up… If you wanted to,” she said. She said it lightly, but her eyes held serious promise.
“I’d like to… But I better not,” I said.
She smiled but I could tell I had hurt her feelings. It was a real offer, but I couldn’t really explain how I felt. Why I couldn’t. Not just because I was married, that was already troubled, but because of something that happened earlier.
I drove slowly away after she got out of the cab and wound up back down town for the next few hours sitting in the parking lot of an abandoned building thinking… ‘I was only concerned about her cigarette burning the seats.’
I smoked while I sat, dropping my own cigarettes out the window and onto the pavement. A short while later Smitty called me with a Conrail trip.
I started the cab and drove out to Massey yard to pick up my crew. The dancer never called me again…
Wendell (Dell) Sweet wrote his first fiction at age seventeen. He drove taxi and worked as a carpenter for most of his life. He began working on the internet in 1989 primarily in HTML, graphics and website optimizations. He spent time on the streets as a drug addicted teen as well as time in prison. He was Honorably discharged from the service in 1974.
He is a Musician who writes his own music as well as lyrics. He is an Artist accomplished in Graphite, Pen, and Digital media. He has written more than twenty books for the Earth’s Survivors series, many of which are unpublished, and several dozen short stories.
All music, lyrics, artwork or additional written materials attributed to characters in the novels, unless otherwise noted, are Copyright © 2009 – 2016 Wendell Sweet.
Dell Sweet’s Amazon Page: https://amazon.com/author/wendellsweet