Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Extra Extra

movie set

 

Wardrobe has me put my hair down, then slaps several leather bracelets and a tweed trilby on me. “You stick close to the band,” the costumer tells me. “What instrument do you play?”

“None.”

“No, I mean what do you want to play? What prop do you want?”

I say banjo to be silly, but she immediately radios to the set. “Props, put a banjo by the street band setup.”

When I get to permanent holding, the only stool I can find is one next to a striking South Indian woman. She’s beautiful to the point that I have trouble believing she’s real.

I’ve only ever seen women like her on TV, I think, then I remember where I am.

“What instrument do you play?” she asks me with a deep accent. She fingers a charm on one of wardrobe’s bracelets.

“Not a damn one,” I tell her.

She laughs. “The poor musicians,” she says, nodding to the people who brought actual instruments. “They’ll be playing to an audience that will only hear a soundboard.” She takes the hat from my head and puts it on. “How do I look?”

“A damn sight better than I ever do,” I tell her.

She laughs, and then the PA comes and ushers half the room outside for a crowd scene. My seatmate gives me back my hat. “Here I go!” she tells me.

I watch the crowd pour out into the brightening morning, then notice a woman looking me in the eye. She’s smiling, and luckily I smile back. I say luckily because my general instinct when a woman smiles at me is to look away in a stricken panic, and then spend the next eighteen hours cursing my inability to recognize basic flirting. Her smile widens when I respond, her red lips framing impossibly white teeth. She has blonde hair, the edges turning pale in the rising sun. Smoky eyeliner contrasts sharply with her creamy skin. The same PA comes back in.

“I need everyone on these two rows to come with me!” And Smiling Woman goes with them. I’m beginning to wonder if this PA is enforcing some obscure No Hookup rule I wasn’t aware of.

Three hours pass before the PA calls for the band. “Time to work for your money!” she tells us.

“Right,” I say to the cute acoustic guitarist, “because it’s not like we’re grownups playing make believe.”

She responds by looking at me like I just waved Mardi Gras beads in her face.

While I pretend to play banjo, a guy in his mid-fifties practices his pacing. He’s the wipe for the shot, an extra specifically designated to cross the entire frame. He works full time, with union benefits and a pension. Before today I had no idea that was possible for an extra. I seem to be alone in my ignorance.

For the final scene that day they sit me on a bench beside a woman whose neckline I’ve been making a serious effort to avoid examining. We pantomime drunken conversation while two women playing vampires run their lines in front of us, and between each take she tells me about her voice over work and her English boyfriend.

Everyone here takes this so seriously, and I’m treating it like a field trip. Whenever the horses for the scene clop by I gawk like a ten year old at the circus. I’m an extra among extras. Everyone here is so professional, but when I see the main actors I want to shout “ARE THOSE THE VAMPIRES?”

I find out later they’re actually playing werewolves.

The PA calls a wrap for all but twenty of us. While everyone else files out to validate their vouchers, I’m brought back outside for a pickup shot. The sun has set, and the French Quarter set is now aglow in strings of incandescent light. I’m paired with the pale-haired woman from earlier. We’re made to hold hands and touch foreheads, and with each take we have to sway like we hear music.

“This feel awkward?” I whisper.

“Little bit,” she murmurs.

“Is it strange that that’s a relief?” I ask.

“Probably,” she smiles back.

When we finally wrap for good she and I talk while we sign out. We exchange numbers as we head to the shuttle that will take us to our cars. The doors behind us flap, spilling the other dreamers into the night. They make me think of eyelids fluttering awake at dawn.

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Stride

old slide

 

There’s a park in my hometown that I frequented a lot as a child. It’s old but well-maintained. Most of the play sets are constructed out of heavy wood and steel, and the metal bridge spanning the ditch from the parking lot to the play area has a little heart scratched inside the green paint. Inside the heart it reads “J.K. & H.A. 1967.”

This place seemed gigantic when I was little. Journeying from the play sets to the baseball field by the road felt like an honest hike. Splashes from the pool carried like noise from some distant highway. The ditch beside the parking lot required careful climbing if one wanted to collect the tadpoles that always swam in the green puddles after a rain.

I could cross the entire thing in less than two minutes now, without the slightest effort. I’m taller than the jungle gym that used to feel so dangerous to climb. I used to sit at the top and daydream that I was King Kong.

There’s a “nature trail” that leads through some trees in back. In this small town, “nature trail” means that you can just barely see the houses through the bushes on either side. Here I remember the thrill of autumn games of flashlight tag, and noticing with excitement as the sky turned dark and the moon began to shine. On those nights, when you had an hour of night before the park would close, the dark figures behind the flashlights could be anyone you wanted them to be.

I walk along that trail now, and there’s nothing here beyond my ability to control. Rustles in the leaves are simply scared chipmunks. The trail is now paved, and comfortable to follow. Children no longer issue cryptic warnings about things seen in the brush. They see me for what I am: a grownup, separate from whatever threats lurk in their imaginations.

This expansive land shrinks beneath my footsteps as I walk it. I can’t pretend I don’t hear the sounds of sprinklers and power tools behind the foliage. Once limitless days are shortened and frittered away. Sweet crushes have become lost loves, or, worse, just forgotten.

I walk to my car. It used to be a hero’s journey to enter and leave this sandy, leaf-strewn land. I climb into the driver’s seat. I am in the street and headed home within ten seconds. Later, it will take me longer to do the dishes than it did to stroll the length of my childhood continent.

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Scoutmaster 

  

Today I’m going to the funeral for my late Scoutmaster Chuck Smith. It generally surprises people to hear this (for whatever reason), but I’m an Eagle Scout. I almost wasn’t. Scouting was fun but also kind of hard for me. I was good at it but I didn’t fit in. I was poor. I had shaggy hair. I listened to death metal. I didn’t like church. I liked to be by myself and read in my free time. Other Scout leaders weren’t shy with criticizing me, and they were downright reticent with acknowledgement of what I could do. I nearly quit Scouts a dozen times over. 

Mr. Chuck was entirely the reason I stuck with Scouts long enough to make Eagle. He didn’t care how shaggy my hair got or that I didn’t believe in God. He praised what I got right and took the time to explain how I could get a handle on what I got wrong. He went far out of his way to make sure I could fully participate in the Scouting experience, and my life is richer for it. To paraphrase the cliche, he was a great Scoutmaster and a better man.

And now he’s gone. Rest in peace, Mr. Chuck. I’m really going to miss you.

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Bridge Over Troubled Youth

old bridge 2

I never met my great-grandmother, but from what I hear, she was a decent, hard-working woman. In photos of her she’s small and stooped from a lifetime of hard farm labor. They say she was a loving woman and had a beautiful voice, the kind made for singing and laughing. Everyone who speaks about her does so with love.

She was a patient woman, from what I hear, and in the few instances she let herself become annoyed she usually let it pass with a quiet “shit” of derision, and then she was right as rain. She was of a generation where people farmed because that was the only way they would have food. She raised nine children between two husbands. Large families were the best way to staff a farm in those days, but none of my great-aunts and great-uncles doubted her love for them. My grandmother would get tears in her eyes whenever she got nostalgic for her mother.

For extra money, she would watch children from across the county, and she was considered to be a woman who naturally commanded the respect of the youth. Kids adored her, and often cried when they had to go home.

There was one boy, though, who could not endear himself to anyone. He enjoyed throwing himself on the ground and bawling when he didn’t get his way. Great-Grandma wasn’t opposed to a switch, but it was only ever a method of last resort, and even then she didn’t believe in switching the children of others. The child was not predisposed to any real form of reasoning, and would break things unless he immediately got exactly what he wanted.

My great-grandmother needed the extra money watching the boy would bring her, but could not afford to have him break things she couldn’t replace. So one cool day in November, while the other children helped out in the fields, Great-Grandma put on her apron, slipped something inside the pocket, and told the little boy to walk with her. Unusually agreeable, the little boy took her hand and began to walk.

About a mile from the farmhouse she and her late husband built themselves, there was a wooden bridge crossing a rocky stream. It’s long gone, the bridge made into an overpass, the stream diverted through a metal pipe, but the willows that hung across it still stand. The way I heard the story, on the morning when my great-grandmother arrived at the bridge, the little boy in tow, it was foggy and threatening to rain. This could be dramatic flair on the part of my relatives, but I choose to trust them anyway.

She and the little boy were halfway across the bridge when my great-grandmother stopped. Holding his hand to keep him close, she asked him if he knew where they were.

“Yeah,” the little boy said, in a time when most children didn’t dare to forget the “ma’am” at the end, “we’re at the bridge that goes to my house.”

“This bridge goes to a lot of people’s houses,” my great-grandmother told him. “Do you know what’s special about this bridge?”

The little boy said “This bridge ain’t special.”

At that my great-grandmother reached into her apron, and pulled out the biggest carving knife she owned. Holding it tight, she pointed it at the boards beneath their feet and told the little boy:

“Every man I ever killed, I killed on this bridge.”

The little boy froze up, and Great-Grandma let him stand there a minute before asking him:

“Will you be good for Missus L now?”

The boy gave a little nod, the whites of his eyes flashing, and Great-Grandma tucked the knife back into her apron.

“Saints be praised,” she said. “Let’s us get on home now.”

She took the little boy back, fed him milk and cornbread, and from what I was told, she never had a problem with him again.

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Fade

IMG_1268

 

There’s an alley in Macon where you can see the word “EVERYBODY” scrawled in faded paint along the side of an old, red brick building. I have no idea what it used to advertise, though I imagine it wouldn’t be very hard to find out.

There are old advertisements like that all over downtown. Macon’s not a big place, but it’s an old one, and it’s always had a substantial population. I think you can almost measure spikes in growth by the number of painted ads you find along the sides of buildings. Right now Macon is at the cusp of a minor boom, and murals praising it as a hub for history and music are slathered all over. In a few decades, the paint and prints will fade into sun-bleached ghosts. People will photograph those old hustles, and imagine the atmosphere the ads tried to promote. The product will be long out of date when it finally sells.

 

old advert

 

I’m reminded of the “EVERYBODY” ad when someone who is shockingly rude to me is inexplicably gracious just a few moments later, a look of anxiety telling me they fear being written off by anyone, even inconsequential twentysomethings they don’t know. I think of the ad when exes leave voice mails I’ll never return. I think of it when I text friends in Nashville, and we pretend there’s a possibility we’ll hang out again one day.

 

kessler

 

In nearby Rose Hill, there are graves so old the lettering has been nearly ground away by rain. There are whole tombs you can only reach if you climb down embankments and weave your way through brush. They are built of brick, and they are faded pink by time. In the stillness of those alcoves of kudzu and camellias, where whispers are nearly shouts, it is impossible to believe that moving hands ever laid the mortar that holds those vaults together. I think of the ad even then.

 

tomb in alcove

 

The ad pops up in my mind when I hug my parents after a visit. When my cat is asleep in my lap. When I see reports of terrorism on the news, and when I throw out homophobic pamphlets I find littering the post office.

 

get on out

 

The ad says more than the capitalist who commissioned it ever meant to say. It’s an accidental message, one that could only emerge when the old message washed away in the sun. Even that adds to the telling.

 

Dren's Museum

 

It’s neither melancholic nor optimistic. It simply is. The meaning transcends mood.

 

Everybody Fades Away

 

Everybody fades away.

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Comfort

bed of nails

I have a weird habit of sitting on the floor. I enjoy overstuffed recliners as much as the next American, but I’ve noticed that even if I’m the only person in the house, I’ll usually opt for sprawling across the carpet when I feel like getting comfortable. Walk into my place unannounced, and you’ll catch me stretched out across the living room, all three of my cats resting comfortably on the couch above my head. They’ll probably look at you and shrug. Hell, don’t look at us. We don’t know what his problem is either.

I once drunkenly missed a come-on because of this habit. Given the choice between a friend’s loveseat and the carpet after a night of drinking, I opted to pass out on the floor.

“You sure you’ll be comfortable down there?” the girl I was sharing the living room with asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

She propped herself up on the couch she’d taken and leaned over me, her face close to mine. Her breath still smelled of the moscato we’d passed between ourselves for an hour, after everyone else had gone to sleep. Moscato, and a few of the cigarettes she’d bummed from me. “This thing folds out into a bed, you know…”

Naaaah,” I said, like the drunken idiot I am. “I’m fiiiiiine.”

Annnd…sex didn’t happen. Suh-prize.

***

This habit of mine is so regular my longtime friends don’t bat an eye when I abandon my Laz-E-Boy to sit cross-legged for hours on the linoleum. Given the option between park benches and the ground, I’ll usually opt to saturate the ass of my jeans in grass stains.

At parties, if there’s a dog or cat in the room, I’ll drop to knee-level and sit until the little critter curls up beside me. Despite the risk, I’ve managed to avoid what would seem like the inevitable, punishing rain of beer slosh and cigarette ash this course of action would lead to. At a shindig in the woods once, I petted a fox after chilling in the dirt for half an hour. A toad the size of a thumbnail hopped on my knee and bellowed surprisingly deeply. A mantis crawled over one shoe, walked across some leaves, and crawled atop the other shoe. For a moment it looked at me, then seemed to turn its head to the circle of chairs by the fire. It looked at me, looked at the chairs.

Seats are over there, fella.

And then it was gone, its wings chopping the air like helicopter blades.

***

My cat’s a rescue, or at least seems like he should qualify as one. He was born feral, but at six months old he was hit by a car and suffered a broken hip. We saw him dragging his hind legs and brought him inside. The vet set the bone, gave him a shot or two, and told us all we could do was wait for him to heal.

He was wary of us, so we kept him in a little cat bed beside some food and water, and put a litter box in a close corner. Even with the injury he immediately took to the routine, and so he spent his convalescence hidden in a calm and quiet back room.

Sometimes when I’d pour food or water, or scoop his box, I’d reach out and let him sniff my fingers. Sometimes he’d lick me, or rub his nose against my knuckles. I started petting him on his head when I came and went, and it took a while for me to notice that he’d started to purr when I came into the room. I’d sit for longer periods of time, stroking his back, until he’d doze off or start cleaning himself. Then I’d leave for the day.

A few weeks into this routine, I was leaving the room when I heard a sudden thump behind me. I turned and there he was, following me, dragging his hind legs like luggage. I crouched down and stroked him behind the ears, and he lied down and started to purr.
He fell asleep, and eventually, sitting beside him in the hallway, leaning against the wall, so did I.

***

I spend many a weekend night at a married couple’s house, which sounds unsavory except that I’m friends with both of them. A few other friends are usually there too. There’s drinking and laughing, and somehow I always end up with food stains on my clothes, even if I never actually eat anything.

By two or three in the morning we begin to drop off. I usually volunteer to take the couch. It’s leather and cool to the touch, and shifting position on it is like adjusting a pair of silk boxers. By that I don’t mean to say it’s easy to masturbate with; I’m saying it’s comfortable.

Their dogs seem fond of me, too, so when I begin to sleep, they’ll hone in on me until their owner shoos them into her bedroom for the night. The little one will hop on top of me, but the big one, a German shepherd that a horse could ride like a horse, is somewhat hindered by his size. He’ll lick my face a couple times, then drop to the carpet. The Chihuahua, not willing to abandon him, will hop back and forth, torn in his loyalty, until exhaustion forces him to join his comrade on the floor.

They’ll sit like that until they’re called away, occasionally whining for company. And hindered as I am by social norms, all I can do is drop my hand down to scratch their chins, an arrangement that satisfies no one involved.

***

When I go to bed, my cat and my sister’s cats will all hop in with me. There is little in life that delights me more than to have three plush boat motors rumbling around me as I nod off. Unfortunately, I sleep like a ninja with an inner ear problem, and the cats have learned to abandon ship as soon as I lose consciousness.

But sometimes my cat’s hip will fail him, and while Boots and Charlie snuggle in beside me, Magpie is relegated to sitting by my bed, looking up at me with the look that says he wants either attention or canned meat byproducts. Boots would yowl for attention, but Magpie sits quietly, gathering himself into a cat loaf as he settles in on the carpet.

While my sister’s cats doze like adorable alcoholics, I’ll carefully lower my pillow to the floor. Taking a loose blanket with me, I’ll slide off the bed, leaving it to the other felines, and stretch out beside Maggie. Thus situated, I’ll close my eyes and drift to sleep. I will feel my cat work his way beneath my arm and lay his head upon my chest. His purrs will then fill the dark, reciting the definition of comfort.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Temporary Story

So I posted a story today that I’ll only leave up until tonight. It’s one if those tales I’m particularly protective of, ya see. Anyhow, it’s available in the post below. For anyone interested, catch it while ya can!

Read it here: https://seanganus.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/original-fiction-ziz/

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction