Aug. 14th, 2010

Day 5

Aug. 14th, 2010 04:35 pm
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Day 01. Your favorite song - Peg, Steely Dan
Day 02. Your least favorite song - Takin' Care of Business, Bachman Turner Overdrive
Day 03. A song that makes you happy - Donkey Rhubarb, Aphex Twin
Day 04. A song that makes you sad - This Woman's Work, Kate Bush
Day 05. A song that reminds you of someone - Flakes, Frank Zappa
Day 06. A song that reminds you of somewhere
Day 07. A song that reminds you of a certain event
Day 08. A song that you know all the words to
Day 09. A song that you can dance to
Day 10. A song that makes you fall asleep
Day 11. A song from your favorite band
Day 12. A song from a band you hate
Day 13. A song that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14. A song that no one would expect you to love
Day 15. A song that describes you
Day 16. A song that you used to love but now hate
Day 17. A song that you hear often on the radio
Day 18. A song that you wish you heard on the radio
Day 19. A song from your favorite album
Day 20. A song that you listen to when you’re angry
Day 21. A song that you listen to when you’re happy
Day 22. A song that you listen to when you’re sad
Day 23. A song that you want to play at your wedding
Day 24. A song that you want to play at your funeral
Day 25. A song that makes you laugh
Day 26. A song that you can play on an instrument
Day 27. A song that you wish you could play
Day 28. A song that makes you feel guilty
Day 29. A song from your childhood
Day 30. Your favorite song at this time last year

He sort of glomped onto me in the seventh grade. I had isolated myself from all my regular friends by going to a different junior high school, so I thought, "Fuck it, yeah, I'll be your friend. What's your name? Bill? Hi."

Bill filled my days with high weirdness. And he introduced me to bagels.

"What's a bagel?" I said.

He looked at me, surprised. "You've never had a bagel?"

"Never heard of 'em."

He shook his head. "Man, you're killing me." So I had my first bagel. Split and fried, face down in butter, and then smeared with cream cheese. I loved it.

That's nice. I should remember the nice things too.

He was my straightfaced Dr. Demento, introducing me to all sorts of music that I would not have otherwise heard at the time. Zappa, Brand X, prog bootlegs like Awed Man Out, weird Beatles outtakes. He'd show up at my door, bouncing with excitement. "Man, you've got to hear this Zappa song called Flakes. It's so true." Then he'd give me a tape. He was always recording music for me.

Also nice.

None of us knew what to do with Bill. His parents tried grounding him, yelling at him, rewarding good behavior and ignoring the bad, counselors, the whole lot. Nothing got through to him. He just did what he wanted, and what he wanted to do was usually idiotic and destructive.

I tried to help. My warnings became such a predictable refrain that he waved them off before I even opened my mouth.

"I know, I know," he said. "I shouldn't do this. I get it. But watch this." And then he always did something stupid, like hurl his mother's high-carbon steel knives at the linoleum floor, trying to get them to stick, like a circus knife-thrower. He gathered them up to do it again, over and over, until the slashed floor peeled up like birds' tongues.

"Oh shit," he said.

"You think so?" I said.

"Naw, I don't care about the floor. It's a rental. But the knives. Look at them. All the tips are bent. We have to fix them."

I moaned, and we went out to the garage workbench, where he tried to hammer the knife tips straight again. But high-carbon steel is brittle, and all the tips snapped off. Every one of them. So Bill wrapped the knives in an apron and buried them in the garbage can in the driveway. Problem solved! Except that his mother found the sudden disappearance of every knife in the house dismaying, especially in light of her son's standard erratic behavior.

It was things like this that made me feel positively grounded about myself. So I guess that's another nice thing.

One time, I went over to his house and found Leonard, their lodger, installing a lock on his back room door.

"Hey, where's Bill?" I said.

Leonard turned on me, sweating and furious. "You tell that little fucking thief," he growled, "to stay the fuck out of my shit." He rattled the doorknob to make sure the lock worked, stepped into his room, and slammed the door behind him.

Okay, then.

Another time, Bill beat another boy unconscious. Walking home from school, Bill just leapt on him, arms flailing, screaming obscenities, until the kid fell face down into some bushes and didn't get up. As we walked away, I kept looking back over my shoulder. A crowd of children formed around the boy. He still wasn't moving.

"Why the hell did you do that?" I hissed.

"Because I hate him."

"Who was it?"

"I don't know," Bill said calmly. "Hey, want an ice cream sandwich? All we have left are vanilla."

Bill was epileptic. I didn't know if it genuinely affected his behavior, or if he just counted on it to excuse the things that he did. I do know that he used it to manipulate his mother's guilt, since he knew that she had taken drugs during her pregnancy and blamed herself for his illness. After he knocked out that kid, though, everything changed. Bill had to go. His mother couldn't deal with him anymore, so she sent him to Missoula to live with his father, where Bill might lead a more structured life. I didn't see him again until after high school, when he joined the National Guard and came down to stay with his mother before being deployed. He showed up at my deli job and waited around until I clocked out for lunch.

"Hey, man. I got you a game," he said, handing me a sleeve with a floppy disk in it. "I heard you like computers. I don't know anything about them. Here."

I took the disk, knowing that it was shoplifted. The game would eventually become a favorite in a few years, when I finally purchased my first computer, but anyway, it was a nice gesture. We talked a while, catching up. I asked him to tell me about the National Guard while I ate my sandwich.

"Man, I don't know. I just joined because I couldn't take Missoula anymore. Don't want to live there. I want to stay in California, so I'm ignoring my orders."

"You got deployed?" I asked.

"Yeah, but I'm ignoring it."

"So... you're AWOL," I said.

"Yeah, pretty much."

I marveled at this. "What are you doing, Bill?"

"Mom says if I'm not doing the Guard thing, then I should get a job. But fuck that," he said.

"So... what... are... you... doing?" I said. I couldn't believe that he'd joined the National Guard just to get a ride back to California. I couldn't believe that he'd gone AWOL. I couldn't believe that I had changed so much, and that he hadn't changed at all. He was the exact same Bill from junior high, still doing whatever he wanted, not caring where his idiot stunts were getting him, and how they affected everyone else.

"I don't know. Most days I just get on the bus first thing and ride it all day. I don't even transfer. I just stay on the same bus and ride it, back and forth, from one end of the route to the other. Then I come home when my mom's asleep."

I stared at him, with my mouth full of half-chewed sandwich.

"Sometimes I bring a book," he said.

I recently found Bill on Facebook. He married, had kids, and divorced. I hope he's doing okay, but I'm not going to ask him.

Runner-Up: Eardrum Buzz, Wire


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