BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the house vibrated with each beat.

Jane cocked her head, startled.

“What’s that noise?”

I told her it was a car speaker booming somewhere close.

“A CAR SPEAKER!” “WHAT??”

I walked out on to the porch and the next door workers were blasting from a truck as they threw trash into the bed. my triangle neighbors across the street came out, too. Left angle neighbor said that her twin toddlers woke up from their naps. Right angle neighbor came out barefooted, hair all askew, throwing up her hands.

“What the fuck??”

I jerked my thumb over to the offending house. Dude, they shaking the house. She said her windows were rattling. She shouted over in Spanish to cut the music down and they ignored her. We talked for a few minutes and went back in. I texted the PD and said the neighbors were raising the dead over here. I came back outside and the music was turned down enough that all you could hear was quiet little booms, like a cockatoo that’s been told to shut the fuck up but he mumbles just enough to let you know you are not his mother and he doesn’t have to listen to you.

Right angle neighbor came back over and we smoked and talked about her casino trip the night before. She said her old man was gonna shit when he pulled up and heard what had happened. Not that he’s a crazy guy or anything, but he is the opposite of little man syndrome. And he’s a short guy. I know good and well he won’t start anything but he will sure finish it. Couple of weeks ago, he was outside raking leaves when he heard another neighbor, elderly, yelling at some dogs that were chasing her out of her backyard. He ran over with his rake and they turned on him. He made them turn around and hop over the back fence to the crackheads’ yard, which is probably where they came from in the first place. He told me to keep an eye out for the dogs when I came outside, and sure enough, as soon as I got back in the house, they came running into my yard and charged at the storm door where the cats were looking out. I yelled so loud that they stopped and ran off. The cops called me that day when they finally had the dogs cornered and I could hear them barking like crazy as the cop told me he thought he had found the right ones.

My neighbor told me she had called the cops earlier, so we watched for them, and sure enough, they came rolling by right after boomer left. They chatted with us for a few minutes and were the epitome of polite and even tweaked me a little on my ballcap.

This neighborhood is small, one way in, one way out. It’s a mixed, diverse neighborhood, with a trump supporter at one end, hispanics at the other end, and every color of the rainbow in the middle. The town itself is small, just a dot on the highway, but less than ten miles from a good sized urban area. Hundreds of brand new neighborhoods are getting thrown together by a builder of dubious reputation, but people don’t care. They are desperate for affordable housing and this is where they will find it. The older neighborhoods here are getting top dollar for shitholes, even though there are no bad neighborhoods to speak of, but Texas is cursed with soil that moves. Foundations crack. They can get so bad that a house can look like it’s broken in half on the inside and still command a premium price because of the location. So, this settled little subdivision is mature, quiet, where little kids ride their scooters and big wheels up and down the street under shade trees big enough to cool the yard but no so big they will send limbs into the neighbor’s roof the next little tornado that skips through.

The cops ride through and don’t mess with anybody. They didn’t say anything when we, four middle-aged adults, sat at the edge of the driveway to watch the fireworks down at the park and smoked a blunt and drank beer. They just waved at us. You know what happens when the Policia roll up on people reliving their bad old days:

“Shhh! Shhh! Be cool! Shnork!”

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He kept his eyes averted and fidgeted when he talked but something I said touched something in him because he came alive with words that tumbled out in a halting, insistent rush to tell me a story he had held on to like a talisman for more than thirty years.

“I used to be the head technician for when the cable company first got big in _____

and I, uh, made good money in those days”

Here he paused and looked away, his sad old eyes seeing far beyond our sight. I waited for him to get to whatever point he was trying to make and he apologized for not being able to talk so good, because of botched anesthesia, and another story he needed to tell after this one.

“So I was going home one morning and I was in the right turn lane and this cement truck, this truck turned left and he took the corner too fast and he turned over and all I saw was green, because that was the color of the truck, and he stopped about three feet from a gas pump and all the cement came out and it stopped about an inch in front of my truck, and all I saw was green.”

He stopped and looked away from his feet directly into my eyes. His voice shifted in tone, gained strength.

“So I jumped out and ran around the cement truck and the driver climbed out and stood on top of his truck yelling and beating his chest, ‘Yeah! That was awesome'”

“There was a grandmother, a baby, and uh, the mother underneath that cement truck and you couldn’t even see the car.”

He never looked away from me and I felt the hurt and the guilt hitting me in waves. He had to tell this story, job be damned, stuttering be damned.

He climbed under the truck and a cop pulled him out as he tried to get to the people underneath.

“The cop, he yelled at me and said nobody was underneath that truck but I pointed to the headlight that popped out on the ground and the taillight that was laying there. And the cop said it was done and over with, and they put a big tarp over that cement truck all day.”

“That boy, that 19 year old boy, got eleven years in prison for uh, manslaughter, and I testified and everything.”

His sad old face looked broken, fault lines of grief opening up from hairline to jaw. I said nothing at all, just stayed with him in that place. He refocused on me and touched me on my shoulder. I suppose he was making sure I was real and wouldn’t disappear after the telling.

“I used to skydive, scuba dive, you know, uh, climbed Yellowstone eleven times, and, uh, . . .” He looked outside and squinted, relocating himself again. I felt his confusion. I felt his despair at no longer being the vibrant young man he remembered. And I didn’t move. Not a muscle.

“I’ll never amount to anything.”

“My whole life has been a failure.”

“I’m no good at anything.”

“Screw it.  Might as well drink a beer and wait to die.”

 

How many times have I had that creepy negative refrain playing in the background of my brain?

How many times have I NOT had that shit burbling in the background?

Funny how it starts with childhood and kind of grows, like mold, for years

until one day, I’m coughing and choking on the noxious fumes

I gotta clean this shit out, once and for all, but how?

How?

Knowledge.  Learning something new that will kill that moldy thinking once

and for all.

I can’t tear down the house, but I can start in a corner and kill one thought

at a time.  Kill it forever.  Replace it with a shiny new thought that gives

me comfort instead of grief.

One section at a time.  One goal met at a time.  One new step at a time.

Stop painting over the mold with platitudes.  It just comes back.

Understand that I will not be the best at mold-killing, but I will be the

best at killing mine, and that’s all that matters.

Every night now

I wake up at 3, 5, and finally, at 7:30 am

Of course, at my age, that’s not so bad

But the reasons for each startled wakefulness vary with the hour

but each time has the same feeling of dread

the same balloon of anxiety in my stomach, so I turn on the light and listen

listen for breathing in the next room

listen for cats galloping down the hall and across the furniture

listen for a rattle of a doorknob, a slither of foreign fabric creeping down the hall

I read for a few minutes until the words blur and I slide back into dreamland

the last wakeup is more a silent alarm of my fat boy jumping on the bed and aiming

for the window sill above my head

Sometimes, he slips out and falls, scrambling away to my startled invectives

as the blood starts to ooze out of the scratches dotting my arm like a roadmap of pain

His thinking is simple.  She’s up. I’m hungry.  My work is done.

So, Im getting a slew of new devices today and the rush of getting new things will be eclipsed by the realization that once I get home with my cool toys, my IQ is going to drop by at least 50 points. This always happens, and I always swear I can figure it out this time and become a pro by next Tuesday. Once again, I just have figured out the bare minimum to answer calls, write emails, check social media. The voice assistant is a gremlin that randomly speaks to me, earnestly imploring me to ask a question, any question, so it can show what magic it conjures out of its virtual trunk of tricks.

OK, how do I get health insurance that won’t cost me a cow and a calf?

Cows and calves are commonly found on farms. The nearest farm to you is 3.2 miles. Would you like driving directions?

Ack!

I did not understand your request. Please try again.

One week later:

I have found that repetition of videos and simple tasks helps me retain at least a little info concerning the five thousand cool new things I can now do with my devices. If I were an outdoorsy person with unlimited energy, I know I could make full use of all the features. As it stands, I feel fairly competent with simple picture staging and light note taking. That’s a start.

I do like learning new things even though it takes more effort these days. As it is, learning today doesn’t carry the same sense of accomplishment it once did. Now it feels more like getting the kitchen cleaned and the dishwasher running with a full load. It’s done. By the weekend, I will be doing the same thing again, albeit a little more efficiently. Such is the dilemma of learning new things and new ideas for an older person.

I can understand why so many people become calcified between the ears; it is so much easier to throw up one’s hands and declare that engaging the brain just plain hurts anymore. Sure it does. But it doesn’t mean that it is impossible.

I am going to wrap this up and try to start a new poem that was percolating all day yesterday. If I haven’t forgotten the actual words and the actual premise.