Sunday, January 24, 2016

Perfect Mark

I am gullible. Always have been, always will be. I will believe almost anything at least for a while. At seventeen, I moved to NYC and got a job as a messenger my first week. The man who hired me asked, “You know the city, right?”
            I lied.
            At the end of the week, I received my first paycheck for something around $79. I promptly lost it to a Three Card Monte dealer in Times Square. I was certain I knew where the queen of hearts was. So certain, in fact, that I returned the next Friday and lost half of that week’s paycheck. Then I figured it out. I was never going to win, no matter how many times the other guy standing next me wins. That guy was in cahoots with the dealer.
            When I was around 13, Susan dated a boy who bagged groceries. He drove a jacked up Cougar with something called “glass packs.” Whatever they were, they made his car unbearably loud. This was a time when young men would park their cars in Memphis’s Overland Park and work on their cars. They’d dump the oil into the drains and stand around smoking and leaning against car hoods and trunks in wife-beaters and jeans. Just being incredibly cool.
            When I was around him, there was one question that had bothered, and I finally screwed up the courage to ask. “Why is the back of your car jacked up like that?”
            “Saves on gas,” he smiled, “cause I’m always going downhill.”
            I believed him. It made sense to me. Why else would someone do that to their car?
            I was even more gullible a year earlier. That was the summer Dad has kicked us out of California and we had ended up back in Memphis. For most of the summer, we lived with Uncle Ben and Aunt Emmaline in their mansion. Uncle Ben was one of the original developers and owners of Holiday Inns. He was also Mom’s older brother.
            By the end of the summer, we had moved into a townhouse rental about a mile down the road from Uncle Ben’s mansion, and we made friends with the other kids in the neighborhood. On the weekends, three or four of us would go camping on the abandoned King Plantation. But first, we’d hang out in front of the liquor store and beg people to buy us bottles of Boones Farm Strawberry Wine, one for each of us. It cost a dollar a quart. Then, we’d hop on our bikes and ride down to the Christian Country Day School where the trail head to the plantation’s woods was located.
            We’d ditch our bikes in the brush and march into our campground. Then, we’d proceed to drink until we were too drunk to move. Sometimes we had a campfire. Other times, we never got to it.
One time, or rather most times, I got so drunk I passed out. This time, however, I woke the next morning and went over to put on my low top Chuck Taylors. They were sopping wet. I felt the ground, but it was bone dry. It hadn’t rained and there didn’t seem to be any morning dew.
            No one else’s shoes were wet.
My friends laughed and whispered, but I didn’t understand so I ignored them.
            I couldn’t figure out how my shoes could have gotten so wet. It was a freak incident. It wasn’t like we had bottles of water or canteens and they were poured on our shoes. It wasn’t possible that any of us would have poured out Boones Farm. The wine was just too precious.
            So I put on my shoes and we all retrieved our bikes and rode home. My mom put my clothes and my shoes in the washing machine. As she emptied my pockets, she found a pack of Marlboros. These weren’t the kind of cigarettes she smoked so she gave them to her mother, my Granny. She gave me a lecture on smoking, but her heart wasn’t in it.
            It wasn’t until my twenties, thought, that one dark night I woke in a sweat and realized how my Chuck Taylors has gotten wet. My friends has pissed all over them. That was why they were laughing. They thought it was hilarious. It was also around this time that I also realized that Susan’s boyfriend had lied. Having a car jacked up in the back would never save on gas.
I still have those moments late at night, when I’m half awake, struggling to dig deeper into unconsciousness, that memories like these rise up out of a fog and startle me awake. They’re like that jolt you have when you’re dreaming that your falling and falling and then suddenly you jerk awake. And you know. Everything that you thought was true is actually a lie.

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