DESERTS OF GLASS

Machine gun shots rang out from the intro of  Nonphixion’s 14 Years of Rap. The song blared from the CD player in Billy’s car. The stock speakers on the maroon Nissan Maxima could not handle the volume, but Billy did not turn it down. You could hear the speakers strain on every drum beat. Ill Bill’s New York accent came out tinny over the sound system,

 

...walk the subway platform with gats drawn,
like a postal worker coming home drunk and just lost his job.
That’s what we dealing with in Roman times.
I never liked schools, fucking devils always told me lies,
and try to brainwash, but read the value, everybody fucking hates cops,
and if you blast at one you gain props…

 

Billy sped beneath trees with no leaves under a pale blue sky. A lady walking her dog shook her fist at us and screamed words that were inaudible through the windows of Billy’s car. She wore a powder blue Columbia jacket and the clenched fist she shook at us held a bag of fresh dog poop. 

The tires screeched as Billy turned left onto 15th, the song ended, and a Micranots song played next. I yelled over the radio,

“Did you see that lady yelling at us? I think she wanted you to slow down!” 

“Yeah, what a fucking bitch. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m a hella good driver.”

“Yeah, what a dumb bitch.” I said, nodding my head to the beat.

Billy whipped the car left onto Ravenna Boulevard and zoomed around its curves like a stunt driver in a James Bond movie or a car commercial. It was early afternoon and there weren’t many other drivers on the road. Billy made another left on 20th and parked his car before the barricades across the 20th Bridge which arched its avocado-green steel structure across the Ravenna ravine. The bridge was closed to cars. Giant rocks painted white dotted the lawn in front of the bridge to prevent people from driving over the grass onto the bridge.

Billy popped the trunk to his Maxima and we got out of the car. Billy grabbed a skateboard from the back and we made our way towards the bridge. Billy skated slowly ahead of me popping half-hearted ollies and shuv-its. We stopped in the middle. The tops of evergreen trees poked over the gray guardrails on either side. The gray paint lay thick on the metal guardrail from years of painted over graffiti.  Marker tags yet to be buffed out dotted the handrail and lampposts. The main jogging trail lay about fifty feet beneath the bridge but it seemed like a hundred.

I leaned against a guardrail and pulled a blunt I’d rolled earlier from behind my ear. I handed it to Billy and he lit it with a cheap transparent purple lighter.

He took a long drag off the blunt and started coughing violently. He was trying not to cough and his cheeks stretched out like a blow fish every time he coughed. He covered his mouth with a fist and held the lumpy thin cigar forward. I took it from him. Billy coughed one more time before regaining his composure. He spoke,

“Nothing like getting hella baked before Thanksgiving dinner, dude. Shit is about to be so bomb.”

I nodded and said, “I know, right? Hella crackin’.” 

I took a pull off the blunt. The cigar paper made the smoke sickly sweet. The smoke hit my lungs like a car hitting a brick wall. I coughed violently, gagging. I thought I was going to throw up. My eyes watered. I hacked and pounded my chest with my fist before hawking a loogie on the gray pavement. Billy did some jumping jacks, and you could feel the whole bridge move beneath us.  I passed the blunt to Billy. We repeated the process until the blunt was a speck of brown paper. We coughed less with each successive drag, and by the end we weren’t coughing at all. Billy dropped the remnants off the bridge and I watched it flitter slowly downward until it was invisible to the eye. 

“I’m geeked foo.” I said.

 

***

Tom Brokaw was on the TV, talking about Saddam Hussein and the war in Iraq. Images of the war flashed on the screen. Soldiers in desert camouflage. Iraqis yelling. Stock footage of Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush giving a speech. It didn’t make any sense. Why are we attacking Iraq when it was Osama Bin Laden who had attacked us? I thought he was from Afghanistan? I thought to myself.

I shook my head and chalked it up to a grown-up world I didn’t understand yet. Basement Dude was holding his bong, eyes squinty behind his wire frame glasses. His friend and business partner Basement Guy was working on the Thanksgiving dinner he was preparing for all of us. My Mom was upstairs. I had been chilling with Basement Dude and Basement Guy since Billy dropped me off after the blunt session at 20th, watching a movie marathon, drinking beers and taking bong rips. Basement Dude put his cheap plastic bong to his lips and lit the bowl. The water bubbled as the chamber filled with smoke. The water looked black inside the dirty bong, it hadn’t been changed in weeks. Basement Dude pulled the bowl out of the bong and cleared the chamber. He gestured to me with the bong, and I shook my head, then he tucked the bong out of sight behind the couch.

“Those A-rab fuckers want a holy war? I’ll show them fucking holy war. If I was in charge I’d nuke those fuckers back to the stone age. Turn the desert to fucking glass, that’ll show them fucking holy war.” said Basement Dude shaking the remote at the TV like it was a weapon.

“What do you mean, ‘turn the desert to glass’?” I asked.

“You see Joey, glass is made from sand. The heat from the nuclear explosion would turn the sand in the desert to glass. Peace in the middle east, baby! For the next million years. Wipe those filthy goat fuckers off the face of the earth.”

 

“Isn’t that kind of extreme?”

 

“Fuck no, those fuckers have been at war since the fucking Crusades, man. Probably longer. They’ve had at least a thousand years to straighten their act up and play nice. I for one am sick of it.”

“Oh.” I said before taking a sip of my Budweiser.

Basement Guy was stirring a pot of something on the stove, lip synching to a song that only he could hear between sips of beer. Dancing and gyrating his hips. The nightly news ended and the KING5 local broadcast came on. Basement Dude pointed the remote at the TV and flipped through the channels at high speed. The channels skipped in front of us. Snippets of commercials, home shopping networks, news channels, kids programming, and crime dramas flashed on the screen before us. Basement Dude saw something in this swirl of cable television that he liked and backtracked three or four channels. It was the Count Of Monte Cristo, and we watched that as we waited for our Thanksgiving dinner.

I got up and grabbed a beer from the fridge.

“Hey toss me one, Joey.”

I took the beer I had grabbed for myself and tossed it underhand to Basement Dude before grabbing another one for myself. I walked back to the couch, sank into my seat and allowed myself to get lost in the plot of the movie.

 

 ***

The dining room table was in the middle of the kitchen my dad had built a few years before he died. Sleek black countertops and light cherry cabinetry.  Shiny black appliances that matched the counters. The table itself was heavy and built of mahogany and had been in my family since the 1940’s.  A gold tablecloth lay across the top of the table. I had set the table for four people. Basement Dude and Basement Guy carried up steaming hot dishes they had been preparing all day in the basement apartment. The turkey y was placed on the table last, already carved. We took our places at the table. I led the table in prayer,

“Dear Lord, thank you so much for this food, we hella appreciate it. I’m so thankful for all the amazing people in my life. I’m so thankful the guys in the basement can be here with us. Thank you for my wonderful mother. Bless this food to our bodies and be with us lord, this I ask in Jesus name, Amen.”

I burped a tiny burp and could taste beer in my mouth. It was a quiet burp and my mom did not notice. I made myself a heaping plate of food and drowned it in brown gravy. Thanksgiving dinner had never tasted so good. My mom spoke,

“I don’t know what I’d do without you guys.”

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