Friday, January 11

On a Wing Without a Prayer - Chapter 3

Asphalt Escapees

Love it and Leave it

Signs of Hard Living on Today's Frontier
Shameful Opportunist

The Last Straw Saga
Chapter 3

I thought of the last time I’d seen Bert. It’s been two years now. He was on his Honda Goldwing  motorcycle,  sitting tall with his big toothy smile and no helmet, so proud of his machine, untouchable, immortal. He rocketed onto Highway 1, going north toward LifeWay Christian Store. He wanted to pick up a little something-somethin for his wife, Shauna.

“Bye Cletus! Just takin her out for a quick trip to paradise,” he yelled, biceps bulging, spitting bugs out of his teeth as he sped into the mid-afternoon traffic. I knew he’d be alright and I realized that I never for one minute worried about Bert. He has always been the most solid person in my life, maybe because I really don’t know much about him except what he projects – limitless confidence and strength. He’s straight edged and righteous. A perfect soldier and patriot. Married to Shauna for a little over three years, at that time, with a baby born and one on the way. He was the poster boy/man for reproductive health.

Bert, the missing brother and absent husband and father. Bert, government owned and operated. One thing I’ve learned over the years, though: Bert does not like to share. Next to Shauna, his most precious possession is his bike and a little lower down on his precious possessions list is his vintage collection of christian rock mp3s. I now have both. I love the Goldwing and am tired of the mp3s with their never-ending rapturous climaxes. Each song seems to be an advertisement for redemption through reproduction according to a lord jesus, manufactured and for sale in the 21st century. I should have left them in Shreveport with Shauna, the mp3's that is. Even though the guilt was biting me hard, I rationalized 24/7 that without these wheels, I'd be locked up as a pervert for not following the Louisiana reproduction code. The bike had been in storage. Bert was off the grid for now. I needed it and had the keys, so that's that. I just hope that Shauna never needs it.  The lame letter of half-truths explaining that I was borrowing the bike to visit Aunt Rebbecca was burning a hole in my pocket.  I'll drop it in a working post office box  to buy some time while I disappear. Ever since the Postal Obstruction Act of 2020, official letter receptacles were hard to find. The government expects us to communicate digitally or not at all. Probably how we lost word of Bert who was really missed.

Shauna. Sad, sad, wife and mother. The last time I saw her was for little Ronnie’s third birthday, almost three months ago. Her baby girl, Trudy, was over a year old now and still sucking on her mama’s tits. Although the christians and Division of Reproductive Health people dictated that each child be breast fed and weaned no sooner than six months after birth, Shauna’s attention to these rules seemed over the top, but who am I to judge, single, unmarried, a DRH outlaw and bad influence. I winced at the memory of  the birthday boy rampaging through the cheerful decorations, stomping on balloons, shredding streamers, tearing open presents before the birthday cake showed up. Ronnie was such a hell-raiser, running around the tiny back yard with his new plastic bat, thanks to grandpa Ron. He almost killed their cat and managed to beat down an entire rose bush before Shauna brought out the cake for the smattering of neighbor kids and relatives. Before leaving the party, I asked Shauna about Bert.

“They’ve got him somewhere in the Sudan. I think I found where he’s stationed, and tried to send him a text but the only communication that ever got through to him is twitter and that’s been taken over by the trump dynasty, so ordinary people can’t use it anymore. Did you know that, Cletus?” and I had to look away while Shauna blinked back tears and wrenched little Ronnie’s bat away from him. I held baby Trudy, the sweetest smelling human ever. Her little face wobbled and then she gave me a grin that looked just like her Dad’s. It hit me like a laser beam, her new teeth gleaming backed up with huge dimples and merry black eyes. “Give her to me, hon,” said Shauna as she passed me cake and ice cream. I passed my niece back to the arms of her mama and sat down next to little Ronnie who was winding up to fling cake at the little girl across from him. I disarmed him, dusted crumbs and glitter off of him, set him free to rampage some more and left the party feeling the disturbing combination of relief and sadness I always feel after most family gatherings.

Bert. My brother is missing and I want to be missing too, I realize. Lucky bastard, a marauder in some shithole in Africa while the rest of us either knuckle under to the craziness of this season’s christian/corporate money-making scheme; or, find a place to hide-out until the next bureaucratic idiocy passes.

Another memory breaks loose in my brain. It's a scene from the movie Catch 22, my Dad’s favorite. It was the scene where US Air Corps Lieutenant, Nately, is talking with a very old man in an Italian whorehouse. The Lieutenant, a rich kid from Long Island, is trapped in Italy during World War II with desperate opportunists (Captain Yossarian and airman Dunbar). Nately falls in love with a whore and while in the whorehouse asks an old man nearby how he survives. The man explains that he always complies with those in power – the only way to survive – and by doing so has no moral compass. Whatever keeps him alive is okay by him.

“You're a shameful opportunist! What you don't understand is that it's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” expounds Nately.

“You have it backwards,” says the old man. “It's better to live on your feet than to die on your knees,” and he claims that the proof of this excellent advice is that he has survived to be 102 years old, living in a whorehouse. 

Dad pasted this quote on our beat up refrigerator door soon after he was fired from his job at Red River Courier. Somehow this concept was supposed to excuse his thievery and destructive selfishness, and as I continued to drive Bert’s motorcycle down Interstate 49 toward Texarkana, encased in kevlar and leather, I understood the selfishness of survival. Every man for himself, seems to be my family's motto. The wind changed direction, interrupting the draft caused by the Red River moving van ahead of me. I moved into the fast lane feeling the drag of increased power needed to push through air currents without the shelter of  14,000 pounds of mass.  The new wind currents were not only stronger but wetter and I cursed as rain slicked the pavement soaking my pant legs. I would be stopping in Texarkana to charge up in about 20 minutes. Aunt Rebbecca's son, Trent, was managing a 24-hour RV/campground and I was certain, he'd find me a dry spot.