Here Comes a Regular

Novel Excerpts by Dave Boeckhout

Here Comes a Regular
What strange habitations does genius choose among men.
Walter Hines Page

A NEW DAWN BREAKS. The haze is fine mesh gauze. Steam rises, loitering as round a geyser field. It is felt, implied, seen. The magenta sphere labors as it lifts off the muddy horizon, a new day smoldering, belabored asphalt smoking like tarpits. Flaming, festering, the daylight draws a mute breath ... Eyes open on this morning, a day staunch in its mid-summer promise; August arising, mercury aspiring, sucking mist through indolent filters of humidity. It hints at the broiler to come, the fight ahead ... Kudzu runners claim a copse of pine, curtained vines draped as organic gothic sculpture. Fields of the weed swallow parkway buffers. Once detailed in low arbor, bounded by flagstone, they have been rendered historical beneath rotting steppes of convenience-culture litter. Urban canyons fossilize the wrapper, the bottle and can. Vine fields swallow it all ... W.P.A. era stonewalls border the nearby city avenue, mortar flaking to dust. A rain-sluiced knoll erodes fat red flats baked to cracking by the vengeful southern heat. The city sidewalks, once knit of precise hexagonal blocks—once solid, unquestioned—are now upturned by the steady ambition of a century-old catalpa, fire ants boiling up from the voids of sidewalk block... It is here, within this roiling stew, where the city wreaths a homegrown prodigy—a wandering guru down in the haze, hunkered within its sweat-stained penumbra.

To one Marvin Goodspeed, this here is home.

HE SHIFTS IN HIS seat atop barstool, a lean-to-sinewy build weighed down by an epic hangover. He locks a gaze on his nemesis and stews. A nonchalant simmer boils up into something resembling a care, in the presence of one who has done him wrong.

"Damn you," he mutters, upgrading his stare to a glare in glowering at a fifth of bourbon one splash above empty.

"Had you dead to rights, fucker; dead—to—rights."

He wants to pour its remains in a urinal and piss on it. It is a hate that runs deep, sinew-deep; but is in vain. There is no revenge to be had here, the beguiling spirit insured from retribution. It is the devil's own.

"You ... have not conquered me," he stutters, despite proof to the contrary; for our man ain't lookin' so hot. And yet beneath the pallid guise, he is flush with a smoldering inner resolve; is somehow strengthened by the futility of this fight. It is strange, dutiful. His stare projects a wish to shatter bottle glass, the nemesis behind the bar in line with its brethren. Sure of itself, he will swear it is mocking him. A yawning answers his threats. "I just do what I do. It's just my nature, s'all."

"Damn you," he steams, projecting the spirit's mocking of his empty attempt to create of it a dead soldier, the emptied portion of that bottle having signed-sealed-delivered a sidewalk awakening just that morning. A soupy haze floats his seething.

"Damn you!"

"Marv, what in the hell ya gettin' so hot about?" Howard, barkeep / proprietor, having watched the mild madness from afar.

"Nothing, not talking to you, H; just wishing ill will on that bottle 'a bourbon did me in last night; swear on a stack it's tauntin' me."

"Talking bottles? Eustace rubbin' off on ya? I told ya to take it eeeaa-sy last night, Marv," Howard punctuating the replay of his petition with outstretched hands, the authoritative gesture of trust me on this one. "But then ya ain't ever been one to listen to my reason."

"I know it. I know it. You know how I get when the parasites show up, H; gets me hot, gets me to redoubling my efforts ... fightin' em because they're down here, in here."

"A true warrior. Ya even make it home last night?"

"Make my home where I lie, H." Goodspeed stretches out his arms, an all-encompassing span. "It's all home to me."

"How convenient. Another'n?"

"You bet."

Howard slides out a second screwdriver, Marvin Goodspeed's late-morning power drink of choice. A desert thirst best describes his sucking it down. The tall cool refreshment of orange juice hides vodka's tooth. He sets the empty glass on bartop, exhales contentment, the drink's mojo a timeless folk remedy. Freedom from pain guaranteed. A grin lights his vacant gaze, recollections wandering the haze soup ...

The sun's cellular split from the horizon had reared up red just that morning, Goodspeed having awoken to the steaming blur on the sidewalk where he'd passed out. One could have expected disorientation / discombobulation. ("What the ... shit, really?") But it was not the first time, and it will not be the last. The routine of it all had made of it just another morning, the bloodshot orb having pried open slits—Goodspeed's first glimpse of this new day.

"Well, up 'n at 'em," having sold himself on motivation / conviction despite the pile on of defeats; working his way to his feet, moving beyond the stonewall running the length of city avenue and puking. Only the strict regimen of devotion, dedication and fidelity could fuel such an instinct to persist, a long foggy walk having found him here in time for opening: 11 a.m. He doesn't even own a watch, just the timeless hallowed instinct of routine.

"Boy howdy, that there's the stuff." Goodspeed savors the tingle of restorative juices penetrating deep. "That there'll restore you some faith in a hapless world."

"Take it where ya can get it, Marv."

"A slice of heaven on earth, tell you what." Goodspeed and his screwdriver: perfect harmony, freedom in a glass. "How 'bout some joyful noise, H?"

"Now you're talking, son. FM radio or the compact-disc jukebox?" Howard, very proud of his most recent (if not so technologically recent) entertainment upgrade.

"Don't take to music shoved down my neck with a side of the bastards' ads."

"Right. Of course. Well, let's see ... got Loretta queue'd up in the jukebox."

"That'll do, H. That will do."

Loretta Lynn lifts his dour day. Goodspeed's grin draws a drawl. He is content here in this place. It is his place ... Welcome all, to the Asa Inman Blue Ribbon Buffet. Stale and stoned, it is a living apparition, its walls sealed in a film faded the color of old newspaper. One could accept Sputnik or TET as the day's headlines, the bytes of world events mired in bar-side inertia. For time (we will find) is rendered irrelevant in here, relegated to just another amongst the calcified patrons drowning a thirst or a doldrum. It's a Victory! of sorts, regulars giving time the slip, if only for an afternoon or an evening. In here, the ubiquity of the daily grind is reduced to reviled curiosity. In here, the good regulars are free from the chattel-like shadow of corporate slavery, of manipulative marketing, of the whining mosquitoes of moral judgment and the bald-faced lies of political hacks. In here, freedom reigns. This is a place where regulars can gather within environs that require no explanation, no interpretation. It is what it is and has been that way since its start as a clandestine stop for the bootlegging-trippers back in the '20s. Hence the name, best not to advertise your sinful wares back when the drys held sway.

Our man's mood lightens, his rumpled brow smoothing. Loretta and vodka, works every time. He has reconciled with his near-empty tormentor, it just doing what it does. The truce will hold, for now. But so personal a slight is long remembered. Slow to anger, once burned our man's pride tends to smolder. A wrong lives long.

Goodspeed looks beyond the nemesis and its brethren (for now), looking himself over in a wall-length mirror behind the bar ...

"You is one sexy devil," he mutters with the half-cluck of a laugh, self-amusement / self-absorption favored tactics in this daily battle with time. Goodspeed raises a fingered V (as in Victory!), gains Howard's attention. Howard nods, fixes a sequel to the empty glass and serves up the potion. It is a popular tactic. The few others at the bar–Ez, Jude, Boo, Victor, Chuck–employ similar strategies. It is their time to waste. It is freedom. It is noon.

HAVING BID HIS BRETHREN good day, Goodspeed strides up Austin Avenue. An artery dating to the neighborhood's original design, its unkempt wilds have it coming up short of the parkway it once was. Hints of said grandeur remain: overgrown ornamentals, once precise sidewalks and flagstone medians now smothered beneath an urban jungle of vines and weeds. It is the valley of summer. The listless air hangs like a slow lynching, full humid heat. No worries. Our man savors it, a therapeutic sauna minus the added bonus of fat-naked comrades. Distant ground planes gyrate in the liquid heat. Our man walks into it unfazed, questioning the rhythms of nature as heinous a waste of time as a “yellow bottom feeder” invading his business with softball queries such as ...

"If not quite lighting the fuse of revolution, your works want to, at least, shake down the establishment? That's a crowded field ... curious if one influential figure stood out as inspiration?"

"Jim Beam, asshole," that encounter from the previous night having made it clear to our man, Goodspeed, that Victory! on that night would require steadfast dedication—a radical devoted inebriation, our man having continued ...

"George Dickel, Jack Daniels, Evan Williams (on which he'd finally settled); how's that? A quartet of spiritual inspirations. What is it with you all? Expect me to give ya bullet points? Disconnected context-less quotes for the masses numbed by the yellow bullshit masquerading as culture these days?"

"Hey, just question-and-answer, man."

"How do you know I don't lie? For all I know, it might even be ol' Evan doing the talking for me; could just be my subconscious talking itself into a lie so I can look myself in the mirror each day. There's the character we are and the character we want to think we are. You think I'm able to tell which is which? If you ever cared to notice, you'd recognize that we aren't exactly the best arbiters of own truth. Want to know what makes me tick? Do the legwork, chump, and stop murderin' my time, hear?!"

"Crystal clear."

"Good! Now I'm suggestin'—strongly—that ya move along and let me be. Another'n, H. In fact, best just give me the whole damn'd bottle."

* So, right out of the gate, a signal fact has been uncovered: Compromising his free time for the "whores of yellow journalism" is right up there with this regular's need for a hole-in-the-head. Duly noted. (Okay, can sense what you're thinking: I have to read a few hundred pages devoted to a caustic drunk? Well, we warn you now that we cannot assuage that worry. For we will not unearth heroes in the pages to follow; at most, some shallow graves revealing what they will. We're afraid that this will demand of you too, dear reader, and we do apologize for that ... That said, we set to work observing our specimen in his natural environs awhile. If game, let us let it all come out in the wash of, say, a few hundred pages? Trowels in hand—a sly grin, a squint-eye?—we set to the painstaking fieldwork ahead. What say? Game?)

Goodspeed dons sunglasses. It's an anonymity he's had to work hard for of late. As we'll find he didn't set out to achieve fame, or status, or the endless invasions of his private drinking. It was freedom he was after.

And he is well on his way this afternoon. Having hid the haze of morning behind the ruse of firewater, he figures a good sweat couldn't hurt either. Goodspeed sets a sturdy pace. He pounds the pavement, tacking N x NE up Bass Avenue. Beads crowd his brow. A car idles by, carving a hole through the afternoon haze ...

* And so, discouraged of pursuing chump-like softball strategies, we begin a studied look at our man. It's hard to know where to start. Waking up on a sidewalk half-drunk offers much to go on. But we can't be let off the hook so easily, as our man would seem to imply. Simplicity masks complexity here. However, starting modestly, observation does help establish one simple / central point: Goodspeed's every day is lived within a particular brand of irreverence, a life choice that runs against the get-up-and-go grain of this city. As mentioned, the notion of time and society's incessant demands on it (a sprawling list featuring: “corporate slavery, traffic-copters and those whores of yellow journalism”), are levied like a colonial tariff on the man. The tyranny! A defiant backwoodsman—in the regional tradition—he is following in the steps of Scots-Irish ancestors who skedaddled for the hills, sinking roots deep on the Appalachian frontier and far from the reach of uptight lowland puritans. The hills were a place where they could pursue their time and the business of freedom as they saw fit. In Goodspeed's case we need only substitute Appalachian with urban and lowland with suburban, and our analogy is up to date. Out here on the urban frontier, Goodspeed can pursue his deviance from the expected norm as he sees fit. It is the pulse of heritage that drums inside his ribcage. Live free or die! A one-man Whiskey Rebellion he takes to the “pious bring down” and federal revenuer with verve.

(Be we so bold to state that after only a couple of trowels full we are already making progress? Let's err on the side of bold, folks. Onward!)

The street wanderer, Eustace, passes Goodspeed across the avenue. Schizophrenic (the best count to date runs to about half-a-dozen-distinct personalities), yet to date harmless, he's as much a neighborhood fixture as our man. This here is his home too. Another car passes, presents all the evidence required for its desperate need for a new muffler. Eustace, does what he does:

"This is, This is, This is 'da problem with 'da demands 'a physics! They don't add up 'n get broken to bits, to bits. Bite the bullet! See?! Shut up! Just shut up! I hate you! I hate you! ... No! No! Man, I'm sorry. I love you, man! ... Hey Marvin, Marvin, will you tell 'em to shut all them damned cars off please? They's just too loud f'me; This is all I'm askin' of ya, man."

"I'll see what I can do, Eustace."

"That's kind 'a ya, man. See, now why can't you be more like Marvin?! ... Because I'm for war! ... Prick! Jerk! Asshole! I'm for peace! ... War! Peace! War! Peace!"

Goodspeed shakes his head. He understands all too well that the membrane separating us human folk from our own peculiar strains of madness is but a thin permeable veil. This legion of wanderers, harbored within the dementia of a place having evolved equal parts by chance and by choice. This here is home ... And it is home to deep heat on this afternoon. No worries. It rejuvenates our man, a good sweat helping flush the cirrhotic pallor of the binge.

Goodspeed bends up onto Washita, is heading for Highland Avenue. It's a familiar course, just one of the dozens within this rare (anymore) collection of late-nineteenth-to-early-twentieth-century villages that we'll come to know, and love. It is all predictable, comfortable; like the windless heat of August ...

* And so we begin a look at the environment of our man, the symbiotic interplay between character and place. Again, hard to know where to start. A locale having exalted the preacher, and moonshine-runner? An incubator for the rights of African Americans, and the Klan? A land of extremes sealed beneath a thick veneer of contradiction, at best. But for the sake of our study, let's give it the ol' college try ... This here is a land that harbors bitter memories of commercial exploitation, political tyranny and want, a history offset by a rugged pride in the ability to fight through the hardest of hardships and all that which would otherwise be haunting and devastating to experience. This land—this city—they are offspring of the fabled New South; but their roots dig snug into the Old. A glance reveals the depth to which this dichotomy still drives all things. It is its kerosene, its fuel—the old and the new in tandem / in conflict. Its rending coercion often sputters in Goodspeed's ears as little more than a background hum. But the reader should not be not fooled. It's his fuel too; and it burns white hot. Springvale Park, home base, the grand old ward of this New South city. Once the crown jewel, it is now an amorphous in-town 'hood hunkered within the DMZ inherent to major metro areas—that zone separating the immaculate staged snapshot city leaders wish to portray from the cordoned-off shitholes no one outside them needs know exists. Out here lay the frontier. We need only substitute backwoods shack amongst piney woods for moldering white-flight vacancies (the Queene Annes, the bungalow fixer-uppers) and our analogy is up to date. This city blows through busy days, a commercial circus worked like a mule but for those exerting an anonymity tooled by design. Irreverent, reticent, their defiance has been honed to perfection, out here. It is Goodspeed's true art.

Hunger roars in with the afternoon. The truce has halted an insurrection within his queasy guts. He knows well enough to take advantage of it. Like the Arabs and Jews, it promises future conflict. But for right then the peace stands, Goodspeed unable to hate and grateful to vodka's numbing skill (praising it as easily as he might curse it). It is the spirit's niche talent, the ability to minimize the iron-fisted regime of summer. The despot is being held at bay, its red flags hanging limp beneath a broiler. Just a few drinks to help deaden the aches, that's all it takes. A little Victory! A little lunch couldn't hurt either, the earth's mirage melting before his steps.

He turns onto Highland Avenue and strides up to Lou's New York Pizza at Colquitt. A calzone with Vidalias will set him right. It is his time to waste. He enters, the jangling door.

"Hey y'all."

"Hey, Marv. Sit where ya want," greets the waitress.

"Can I bother you for a domestic in a bottle?"

"Be r'hat out with it, sweetheart."

THE SUN REARS UP, an ocular orb riven from the horizon. Ascending with effort, it pries eyes to slits. Goodspeed breathes hard, exhales with an audible groan. He works massaging fingers down from temples, an exploration searching for new crevices and creases hanging from cheekbone and jaw. He pushes up facial skin into a joke pig face, releasing it, exhaling.

"Man, oh' man ... what a night."

Goodspeed rubs his eyes with forefinger knuckles, props himself onto elbows. He takes a look at this new day. It runs through a vaselined lens. Hard prolonged blinks of eyelids work to clear the blur. A humid tone advocates carelessness, its haze holding weight—an ogre's hand on the chest. He dares not fight it, lays back down, closing eyes. Damn that ogre! This morning, rued as if closing time.

A red light turns green. Traffic rolls up the avenue like the sleeves of the hardworking. The pack motors by, funneled waves of wind trailing pickups, diesels, fleet vehicles, a bus. The whine and decline of acceleration trails their passing. A discarded styrofoam cup jumps up and over his legs, coming to rest amongst wrapper / newspaper flotsam. Just another morning, a routine no less than reading the paper on the toilet.

Goodspeed looks up as cruiser wheels bank onto the curb. A lumbering idle introduces headlights and grill before his view. Its grumbling clamor throats dissatisfaction. The door opens. The officer's form fills the frame. Door closed, riot club slid into hip-side eyelet, gun on the belt as the very law itself. A two-way radio clipped to shoulder-strap—chatter, static, chatter—cackling like a murder of annoyed crows.

The officer stands over him with arms crossed, shakes his head. The silhouette hovers as shape-only to the sight-stymied Goodspeed. But our man knows the shape well. It looms gloom and doom, the personification of bad-ass cumulonimbus threatening lightning and downpours. But then, it's still morning. Must be the city's finest. Goodspeed leans his head back down. He grins, the half-cluck of a laugh.

"Now that I know I don't have to call the morgue, how 'bout gettin' up?" the officer hard-kicking Goodspeed's sneaker; "c'mon, Marv; get y'ass up."

He'll receive no special favors (despite having made a name for himself). He is too real a character, too many having been forced to pick his half-dead carcass up off the sidewalk. Most all Zone 2 cops know Goodspeed by name, out here; for many a step has this regular tread / stumbled through the remote urban wilderness. He is predictable, like the snap-clap of thunderstorms in the afternoon ...

* So, seems a good point in our "dig" to mention what may come as a surprise ... There was a time, not all that long ago, when our man's day revolved around routine work-a-day ways; long hours served up in hope of the paltry raise, barrel-bottom insurance benefits, a lifetime bled on the whims of CEOs and COOs and VPs he'd never met and never would ... But all that had changed.

"Okay, alright, Pete; just messing with ya there, Mr. Civic Duty ... I'm gettin' up, I'm rising." Goodspeed knows all the cops by name, out here. "What's with the riot club? Tryin' to scare me straight?"

"What's that? No, no, just habit, s'pose; all y'all good-fer-nothings."

Pete extends a hand, still shaking his head. Goodspeed declines the offer with gratitude. He rolls over on his side, props up to a knee. His body creaks as an old staircase under fat feet. He rises slowly. Several years of hard drink have wrung him out, muscling out the fading traits of youth. A pallor consumes him. Standing, he seems beaten, the humid broth set to stew that day's kettle of smog. Breathing itself is enough to crowd Goodspeed's brow with sweat. He doesn't look so good.

"Not lookin' so hot this morning, Marv."

"Well ... just gotta get motivated s'all. Up 'n at 'em, right?"

Goodspeed continues to ramble in a low tone, Pete hearing something about freedom, hard work, before advising the regular: "Why not take it on home for a while."

Goodspeed places his hand on the officer's shoulder, tries to focus, nods. "Ya, think I might just do that."

"And speaking for all of us, take a shower; ya smell like Old Parn."

"Really? Fairly certain I didn't piss myself last night."

The officer grants the situation its leave, climbs back into the idling cruiser and jumps it off the curb. His right of way is smartly unquestioned.

Goodspeed, meanwhile, is about to pass out—the closing arguments of a collapsing equilibrium. Guts churning, head pounding, he moves to a terrace of the stonewall running alongside city avenue and slumps to a seat. Hands on knees, head slung heavy and slack between shoulders like a wet shirt on a laundry line. He grapples with consciousness, cursing it. Another pack of commuters motor by ... It is 82˚ @ 7 a.m. and you are listening to The City!

IT IS EIGHTY-FOUR DEGREES @ 8 a.m. and you are listening to The City! the DJs byte tumbling in a Doppler curve from a truckcab-radio blowing past. In obedience to the routine—to tradition—Goodspeed had figured a long walk might help shed the previous night's residue of excess. It hasn't. Having plotted a circular route out past Candler Hills, he nears its end where he began. He ambles up onto a footpath bordering the city's parkway-connector. The air gloats rush-hour exhaust, preaching of Progress! (Here we see the responsible masses, the morally fit turning out to make our city great!) The air is acidic to the taste, stewing of commuter dread. (Here we see the miserable chattel dragging ass to another day wasted on douchebag executives they'll never know!) The gloating, the dread, breaching the embankment alongside him and bankrolling his miserable mood. (This miserable mood brought to you by Prozac. Pop one and misery is done!) Goodspeed tramps the winding wend of the footpath undeterred, resolute. He has his duty. He is in the moment. Buck up! Every step lands as on the very ends of the earth: anxious, but with a touch of bravado. The morning fails to follow suit: windless, a touch of dank. Our man marches on, this soldier emerging from the smoking husks of dawn.

Goodspeed veers onto the worn groove of a short-cut. He walks beneath a line of juniper, a DOT attempt to pretty-up the inherently sterile. The six-lane parkway-connector is seething. Connecting the north / eastern metro suburbs with the roaring twelve-lane confluence of two interstates downtown, its stalled exasperation subsidizes the daily grind. He breathes deep and hard, traversing a peninsula of DOT land carpeted of kudzu and trash. He closes the circle, emerging from a bamboo thicket back onto the length of sidewalk bordering city avenue. Once grand dwellings hunker on sullen plots across the street. Some are in the process of renovation and renewal. Most are not (yet). The once elite status of the old ward is everywhere evident, though it may require a piece of imagination these days. One such example: Imagine if you can, north and west of Highland Avenue, fifty-five emerald acres of parkland having opened in the year-of-our-Lord, 1898. Once known as Auburn Hill, it is now run through by the parkway-connector, construction having obliterated the actual hill. The only realized piece of a grand pet project pushed by multiple governors during the '70s to drill an access-highway from the vote-rich 'burbs straight through to downtown, the so-called Downtown Connection left angry scars throughout Springvale and its sister in-town 'hoods. The path Goodspeed takes traces the worst, he'll claim, what is left of the Springvale side of the park, and hill, now a mile-long overgrown slope leading to a levee of embankments. The long stonewall, built by legions of W.P.A. laborers in the '30s, traces Highland's run through Candler Hills into Springvale and is the only reminder of the park's southern boundary. Once adjacent to the prominent hill, a knoll erodes thick red sandbars of delta'd earth; the once neatly knit sidewalks of hexagonal stone broken, jumbled. But then these latter facts can be explained by the simple proceedings of nature just doing its thing. "The New South bastards and bigots are to blame for all the rest," he'll proclaim.

Goodspeed burps. The chalked vapor of alcoholic bile seeps into his mouth. He exhales, his tongue out:

"Could use some Alka-Seltzer ... or maybe just a round in-the-head."

* Or how about a bit of fucking restraint?! Okay, alright, keeping to objective observation here. To understand our man is to acknowledge the insignificance of codified society. Restraint, guilt, the moralistic value placed on delayed gratification and the economy of appetite, these are all concepts as foreign to Goodspeed as the Ukraine or Micronesia. The daily reckoning he faces with the bottle as bayonet. It is war out here, as he'll often tell you. And though the cost seems a reckless waste to the casual observer, this regular presses on. To him it's a matter of freedom. This fight is about rights, a “sacrifice” his heritage points at being instinctual. To pussify oneself with moral qualms before the voracious jaws of the invaders (they being legion) is to accept Appomattox at face value. This here is about duty, an underdog role he embraces with fearless devotion—however fatalistic. For the odds of defeat are of no mind when a life choice comes down to a simple matter of squint-eye conviction. Once wronged, hate simmers long.

And on that, let's call up a classic source of Old / New South mythology to help amplify our point ... In his 1941 epic: The Mind of the South, Wilbur J. Cash attempted to define the unique (if odd) faith that drove Lee's gaunt lines of non-slaveholding citizen-soldiers to make the charge at the core of southern legend. Before a skeptical, yet curious world (think southern gothic) Cash wrote:

The poor farmer (amongst what was an army of poor farmers)... the thing that sent him swinging up the slope at Gettysburg was before all else nothing more or less than his conviction, the conviction that nothing living could cross him and get away with it ~

Now if this isn't Goodspeed's guiding decree, we'll find ourselves hard pressed to define what is; for our man lives it with gusto. Obsessed with ignoring the expectations of a societal order that piques his nature, crosses him at every turn, this regular marches on; defiant, irreverent, a one-man Pickett's Charge giving sure oblivion the finger.

Goodspeed seeks the running length of the avenue's stonewall terrace as a bench. Sweat forms at his forehead. It is cold and trickling. He curses silently, downlooking. He exhales.

"Phh'uh ... man, oh' man," his tongue out.

He wipes forehead with the back of his hand, is pale as bleached bone. A bead of sweat tumbles down his spine ... And it begins, physiology's instinct in retrograde. Vomiting twists his guts like a pretzel. He has to stand up. It's a violent jerking motion. Acidic, the burn a writ of habañero. He coughs, gags, spits, vaguely recalls performing this pleasant exercise the previous night, as well. A pedestrian passes across the way. Sickened, she steps through; a final repulsed over-the-shoulder look. No, nothing to see, nothing new here. It's all part of the routine; just another day in the life.

Goodspeed hawks up saliva in an attempt to clear the burning bitters from his mouth. He sits back down, savors as if tortured release the delusion of feeling better. He peers across the avenue.

"Well, okay then."

Views cascade into the swirling mist, boil up from the vine fields and storm drains. The glib asphalt and cracked hexagonal block cloak the ground strewn steaming beneath his feet. He casts an appreciative look at his favorite sneakers, worn soles held on with shoe-goo. The old soldiers, doing their duty to the last. Goodspeed sees the day through a new light. Amazingly, he's not beat—not yet. (Is it a sense of duty inspiring resolve? Is it trowel time?) Optimism and strength dive deep to prod conviction. He calls it up and lurches off into its open arms.

On with the day!

IT'S TEN MINUTES LATER. Goodspeed is at his apartment and in a bad way with this day. He has no key, no need for locked doors, entering a soul-bearing hovel that would prove disheartening to any thief, anyways. It's a basement dwelling, a rarity in these parts, the unintentional studio layout pure happenstance: a functional kitchen space, a small footprint living space, bed in the corner farthest from the door. The outside wall-load bears the weight of handmade bookshelves packed to overflowing, book piles crowding the living space itself. It is a place designed to maximize the pursuit of his business, whatever phase of said business happens to be ascendant at the moment. The space is a statement itself, tells us much about our subject: the “commercial power” urging hyper-consumption, the “moral power” paternal acquiescence, Goodspeed living it stripped-down to the beat of his own R&D.

A camel cricket scatters as he scuffles to the kitchen sink. He plugs and fills the sink full of cold water, plunging his face for a soak. He grabs a towel from a sink-side rack, dries crevices and creases alike. A light-hearted sneer draws up the corner of his mouth.

"Naw ... no way."

Goodspeed grabs the crotch of his shorts, reluctantly smelling his hand ... Negative, over. Roger, over ... Not pissing himself while blacked out, always a positive. He mulls a shower. It has been days.

"May just get around to that, 'll be my contribution to society."

The good philanthropist slumps into one of the two chairs in the place, elbows on knees. Sweat clings to his back as condensation on an iced glass. There's no escape from the valley of summer, even at an early hour. It's of no mind. It does not invite longing for alternate climes. It is just doing its thing, the deep South as much a piece of Goodspeed as the notch at the bridge of his nose.

He clicks on a Westinghouse three-speed oscillating fan resting atop one of two TV trays. All were found in a roadside garbage heap. (Add "scavenger" to his resume.) Fat metal blades bring the whir-whir-whirrrrrrrr relief of moving air. The motor housing skips in a familiar hitch; a good cleaning and a few dabs of 3-in-One oil have it running like a champ. Goodspeed looks at the fan, pulls up close and hums, amused by the vocal oscillation in a way not unlike a ten-year-old and his fart jokes. He thinks: amazing what a little oil can do, can bring the dead back to life. He wonders if the same could be true of his own state, right then. Possible. Probable, in fact. He opts for sleep instead. Be this a sign of restraint? Hardly. A quick scan of his in-house liquor cache atop countertop reveals it dry, five dead soldiers to be exact. It's all about going with the moment. For this brief moment he is forced to sobriety.

He moves through rays tumbling in through the apartment's single window. It is the only sign of day. Light banks against the legs of the TV tray. He collapses to the bed. The frame creaks as he adjusts. His head aches, stomach in revolt. But sleep comes easy; his snoring coarse, nasally.

It is hours later, Goodspeed jarred awake by a pop-country hit blaring from the backlot. He opens one eye, is royally pissed. He sits upright, simmers, both eyes now open. His left eye ticks, the music and its source clear. He drags a hand across his face, groans.

"That freaking ass."

Goodspeed swings his legs to the side of the bed, upwardly motivating with balled fists and straight arms his 175 pounds onto legs. He stands, releases a surl-of-an-exhale. He shuffles over to the door, opens it, folds through the bear of thick air and out onto the back-landing. He stares at a school bus painted matte green (its left rear axle up on blocks and naked) that lately took up residence in the gravel backlot behind his hovel. He casts a squint eye at the tapestry-curtained interior, sees no one. He picks up a fist-size chunk of broken cinder block and hurls a tailing fastball. It strikes the broadside of the bus with a hallow rattling K-LUNK!

"Daing! what the ... what the fuck!?" jumps in a spasm from behind a curtained veil. A hand pulls it back to reveal a freaked-out look pasted to an angular head. The deadbeat son of the brain-dead cabinetmaker in residence just down Austin, he'd driven that bus into the backlot about a month prior, the dualie-left-rears flat and riding rims. He'd tapped into a line on a nearby utility pole without electrocuting himself (a feat that still astounds Goodspeed), and has lived in it since: a green metal oven called home. A multi-generational redneck who fancies himself a next-generation hippie, the freak gathers up the situation, music still blaring,

"God damn'd, Goodspeed! What the fuck!?"

"Turn that shit off, busboy!"

"C'mon! Thought ya liked country, Marv"

"Hank, Lefty and Buck are country. That crap is Top-fucking-40. Now turn it off before I come out there and bust y'up!"

"Fine! A'right! Bet ya dented my damn'd bus."

"Gonna dent more'n that in a second!"

"Fine, a'right," he says, disappearing into the living quarters at the backend of the bus and cutting the music.

Our man rubs eyes, massages thrumming temples. The pallid tone of his skin is tangible, pasted to cheekbones like cheap wallpaper. He is not looking so well. He releases a deep exhale, scratches the sandpaper at his jaw. Annoyed, awake, what to do? He looks up; the sun's hazy blur.

"Is it eleven yet?"

As mentioned, he owns no watch, instead setting great store by the sundial of genuine importance: opening and closing times ...

* And yet, as we have mentioned, there was a time not all that long ago when his days were spent slaving to secure his daily bread, the '”life-sucking parasite'” of a corporate hotelier flushing his minutes, hours, days down the toilet. That job was the final straw, had set him on his course. He really should be glad for it, but years later can only recall the whole experience inside a roiling hate—the gnashing of teeth, steam slow leaking from ears, the tedium of others' agendas ... All of which he'd shitcanned for freedom.

Since then it's all been so clear (or so it would appear), the significance—if not the very existence—of time having settled into bivouac. Though not obvious at a glance, a trowel-full here / a trowel-full there will uncover what looks an awful lot like a methodical plan to the madness. We may in fact find ourselves tempted to consider: Goodspeed, the engineer? Focused, honed-in on the vibrating chaos of his nature, it is a blueprint for success. The reward for his hard work? The freedom to do what he wants, when he wants. Live free or die! And he exercises his right to waste said freedom sleeping off a hangover. Sleep comes easy, busboy smartly silent.

About the Author

Dave Boeckhout

A writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, historical studies and poetry, Dave lives on the hip east-side of Atlanta with his beautiful wife, dogs, cats, guitars and 1000s of well-worn books.