EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND
“Every day above ground is a good day.” – Big Kat Kaylor
JAN 1, 1985, Tuesday
Outside this apartment window, New Year’s morning stirs still wet behind the leaves. The sky above is eggshell blue. The clouds toddle curly and wispy. A small airplane grumbles overhead. Sunlight dives right down into a pool of water rippling and shimmering on the roof below, and then it somersaults onto the backs of the parked cars and it lounges.
I hear the soft shuffling of powder and perfume and the careful clicking of lipstick. She is a shadow’s touch behind a nearly closed door. Goddess of the moon and the hunt, I am forbidden to look at you.
Outside this apartment window, birds pip and cheep. The willow trees slouch but do not weep. The red tiles on the slanted roofs grow green moss, like long ruddy faces unshaven. Shadows glaze the white houses. The brick wall is veined in ivy. An orange cat in white padded feet nuzzles and noses the ivy leaves.
The Rose Parade replays on TV. I see again what I unclearly saw first lifting my head from our “bed of roses” at eight o’clock A.M. The 96th Rose Parade marches into 1985. For breakfast, so far, spring water, coffee, banana nut bread, and now rosé wine, and chocolate.
We had a guest for late afternoon, New Year’s Eve. I heard a cat yowl in distress. I looked out the curtain and across the apartment courtyard I saw the big orange stray cat I named Gonzo. He was walking with a hop and a hobble, holding his left front paw in the air. His hair on his tail and on his ankles was matted and grey. I went out the door and downstairs. I walked right across the vivid green grass. The wind blustered and forced the trees to bow. I stood on the dark damp soil of the replanted garden, stroking Gonzo’s big orange head. He was smudged in grease, his hair was knotted and tangled, and I could feel the jagged lumps of scars. I looked up. Behind the sliding screen door to the balcony of the mysterious apartment I saw the vague form of the lady in blue. She turned away. I picked up Gonzo. He did not struggle. I carried him over beside the swimming pool where I could examine him.
The lady in blue was at her screen door again, discreetly glancing across at all the other balconies. I decided to carry Gonzo up to our apartment.
I put Gonzo on a blanket near the fireplace. Twice he tried to limp away and explore the apartment but finally he rolled on his side with me stroking him. He turned his face up to me, his eyes closed, his needle-like teeth resting on his pink lips. I rolled up a corner of the blanket near his head and he accepted it as a pillow. He slept for awhile and when he rose I fed him milk. His tongue lapped up and down like a yo-yo, curling up all the milk in the bowl. As I sat beside him he scoured the bowl and then abruptly hopped up and took my chair.
Gonzo licked his paws and rubbed his forehead repeatedly and then he settled down to nap, stirring occasionally to lick the pads of his feet.
Gonzo awoke again and this time he headed toward the curtain near the balcony. He paused beside a box in which a Christmas gift had been. His tail stood up, his fur fluffed out, and when his body began to quiver I grabbed him and trotted downstairs. I deposited him by the hedge at the foot of the stairway. There he did his little shiver-dance and marked his territory.
Then I noticed how much better Gonzo looked than when I first saw him yeow-ling in pain. His fur now looked like it had been brushed. I followed him through the courtyard as he galloped, checking the outposts of his territory, mending his “fences” with a wag of his rear end. I had envy for his toughness. Not even an injured leg could keep him away from his “duties”. He could have remained wrapped in attentive luxury that night but he chose the cold night trail.
In the back parking lot there is a tall brick wall. On the other side is a canal where the wild Great Blue Herons feed. I watched Gonzo disappear under a truck parked against the ivy-covered brick fence. I thought he would soon hobble back after marking this limit of his territory. But suddenly I saw him in the air and then he was atop the brick wall and then limping quickly along! I lost sight of him as he entered the limbs of the willow trees, climbing down to the wild side.
We drive to the beach on New Year’s Day. We buy pizza and a cabernet. We spread a blanket on the sand near a concrete fire-ring. We dub it “The Pits”. My Swiss pocket knife bores the cork in the cabernet. The cork slides out stained with the dark wine. I pour liberal libations into large blue plastic cups.
The pizza is revealed: a mosaic of sliced Ortega chilies, discs of tomato, puckered rings of black olives, and slivers of green bell peppers; all snuggled into a layer of melted cheese sprinkled with Parmesan. We balance the heavily laden slices of pizza on the fingertips of two hands. We bite, closing our eyes, and letting our lips settle onto the feast.
We leave two pieces of pizza uneaten in the box. We set all our belongings on the concrete fire-ring and with her lying full-length beside me I wrap us together into the blanket. The sun warms our faces and turns our wine into dreams.
When we awake, the air is turning chill and my arm is numb asleep. We slice the remaining pieces of pizza into several strips and dump them from the box onto the concrete fire-ring. Down the beach a gang of gulls loiters. Into the air I toss a tiny scrap of pizza. All the gulls hop into the air, wings springing into action, heads down and beaks open. They all land beside the fire pit but it is a minute before the first gull snatches food from the concrete ring which is eye-level to them.
She and I watch from yards away beside the yellow trash can. Some of the gulls shovel three gulps of pizza strips before the next gull forces his own turn.
Back in the car we sit warm. She pulls the sun-visor down to use the mirror on the flip side. Where to now? We are changing. We must change. She doesn’t want to go home yet. I want to see the sunset. How about ice-cream? Salad? Coffee? Let’s just drive up Beach Boulevard and let’s just see.
The ocean horizon has been erased by bright haze. Inland we see hills, homes, and refineries. Behind high green fences herds of hammer-shaped oil pumps bob for crude oil. Some are idle and seem to peer over the fence at the passing cars.
Nothing satisfies us. Between used-car lots and shopping centers no restaurant for coffee and salad will appear to us. Sure, lots of pizza places, fast-food joints, a coffee shop in a bowling alley, a Mexican restaurant…. We turn West on Warner Avenue. What the hell. Head for ice-cream.
The girls behind the counter at the ice-cream parlor look tired and sullen. We don’t want to eat there so she takes her chocolate sundae and I take my cup of two scoops mint chocolate chip and we drive to the park down the road. There we stop and throw our ice-cream out into the street. Let’s go home.
JAN 2, 1985, Wednesday
My dad; When I was a kid I would run down our block in the late afternoon to meet Dad driving home from work. He would stop and I would get up into the driver’s side and I would sit on his lap and he would let me “steer” the car home up the driveway.
It is Wednesday and Dad has brought me a model airplane kit. I would rather build the model than eat dinner and besides, I know I won’t like what we’re having for dinner. But I must sit at the kitchen table until I eat and after everyone has gone I eat my dinner and I am sad because actually I do like the food. I then go and hide under the living room table.
JAN 5, 1985, Saturday
Dad takes me and my two best friends from the next block to the beach. We play Army in the sand dunes. We charge, fall, roll, die and hold tender scenes of touching loss.
JAN 11, 1985, Friday
Where am I? I’m 36 years old and out of school more than 10 years, no career, no money, deep debt, too old to rock ‘n roll. It is depressing reading Want-Ads. Lots of work for engineers. But I’m just a Temporary State Worker typing cancellation notices to people who speak no English. How did I end up like this? Fuck me.
Dad comes home angry. They are holding up his check. He comes in the front door and Mom is in the kitchen and he begins yelling, “They told me that the State doesn’t have to follow the rules!”
Dad had nothing to eat all day. Mom makes him the last of some pasta noodles and we carefully sprinkle a little salt, a little pepper, some Parmesan cheese, a bit of paprika here and there, and Mom recommends some lemon juice on the noodles so it will seem like more, with more flavors.
Dad eats fast and he says “I don’t know if I have enough gas to get to work on Monday.” He rubs his temple. Mom comes over to sit on his lap and Dad yells, “My toe!”
Mom asks, “What’s wrong with your toe?”
Dad answers, “I think I broke it. I kicked the wall of the elevator when it went down instead of up.”
We all search the house for pennies to make a 50-cent roll; searching in drawers, in the file boxes, in the ashtrays, on shelves. Dad looks in all his secret hiding places. With the 50-cent penny roll we can buy milk. We have a little chocolate and we have a little coffee.
Mom says, “I have a job interview Wednesday.”
Dad is reading the Want-Ads and he just nods.
Dad says, “People at work are asking me what’s wrong. They say I’m not myself. Darlene just started telling me ‘When it rains it pours. When my first husband was killed in a car accident my daughter couldn’t cope and I had to put her in a mental institution for a while. My daughter’s psychologist stole money from me and my daughter ended up pregnant. But I believe the good Lord never gives you more than you can bear.’”
I watch TV news. Dad sits in his bathrobe at his desk, rubbing his temples, staring. There is a breeze and the white curtains billow.
Mother asks me, “Don’t you have homework?”
I answer, “I did it at lunch. I have mustard stains on my paper to prove it.”
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