The following is an excerpt from my novel The Healing of Howard Brown,
published by Baby Bingus Books, Aug. 2016.
Now giving away e-books in exchange for reviews!
Now giving away e-books in exchange for reviews!
I can picture what happened next as if it happened yesterday. I was just about to head north off Sir Francis Drake onto highway 101, but to fetch Tripp I had to go south. I looked in the rear view: there was just enough space to cut over a couple of lanes and get to the southbound exit, so I put on my blinker, shoved my gorilla arm out the window and hit the gas. Still, there was no way to avoid cutting off a couple of drivers, who started honking, naturally. Then I saw this one driver – a red-faced Fu-Manchu dude with mirrored sunglasses and an Oakland Raiders cap in a junior-sized blue Ford Ranger – getting really pissed, shouting and flipping me off violently. So, like I always did when I upset a fellow driver back then, I blew him a kiss. This was a bad idea: Mr. Fu-Manchu got so close behind me on the freeway onramp that I thought he was going to bump me. Then he pulled up alongside, shouting unintelligibly through the open passenger window. He was so close I could see the throbbing blue vein in his red forehead, but I just kept blowing him kisses like I was Marilyn Monroe on the stairs of an airliner, bidding adieu to her adoring fans. What the world needs now is love sweet love, right? Well, I was giving it to Mr. Road Rage, who I could now see had a shaved head under his mesh-top Raiders cap and was just getting more and more infuriated. Then he made his move: he cut in front of me diagonally so I had to swerve to avoid him in the heavy Saturday afternoon traffic: brake lights flashed, horns blared, tires squealed and I could see several vehicles fishtailing behind me to avoid a pileup.
“Holy motherfucking shit that fucking cocksucker almost killed us all!” I hollered, dropping back in traffic until the blue pickup was out of sight. Feeling like I was having a heart attack, and realizing that I had been out in the big, bad world very little in the five years since my retirement – driving around Marin appeared more dangerous than ever – I took the next exit and pulled into a parking space beside a Chevron Extra-Mile mini-mart, thinking a beer or five on top of a little oxy would calm me down.
“Dad!” I heard Trip’s tiny voice. He sounded like the little boy that couldn’t seem to scream “DAD!” loud enough. “Dad are you there?”
“Buddy! I can’t find the phone!” I shouted in the general direction of where his voice had come from under the driver’s seat. All the swerving around on the freeway had dislodged the phone from its harness. So I opened the door and, knees on the pavement, fished around under the seat, then did the same under the passenger’s seat. No phone.
“Dad, I’m over here!” I could hear him chuckling as I peered between the passenger seat and the center console. There it was, wedged in snug and cozy. I lay my plus-sized gut across the driver’s seat with my gargantuan ass sticking out the door and tried to liberate the phone while Tripp reported on fishing conditions at the Yuba. “The water is pretty low, and it’s been a pretty dry summer up there, so we’re gonna wanna look for pools with deep channels where we can just swing a fly right across the bottom.” With the mention of “bottom” somebody gave my ass a powerful, violent shove that pinned me against the seat.
“Hey! What the fuck?” I shouted, trying to get up, but whoever it was had squashed my crotch against the electric seatback control. Suddenly, my wiener was in charge; a little shift against the button I could recline or incline the seat.
“You’re some hot shit race car driver, ain’tcha?”
Oh for fuck’s sake, I was thinking. It’s the shaved-headed Oakland Raiders fan, Mr. Road Rage. He has tracked down my custom-designed Saab and is going to chop my balls off, then jam ‘em down my throat.
“Hey, Buddy,” I said, bemused. “There’s a fella here trying to buttfuck me in the Chevron parking lot.”
“Shut the fuck up, fag!” growled Mr. Road Rage, shoving me even harder. He stunk of beer, gin and vomit so powerfully that I felt a sympathy barf welling up. I also recall worrying that the asshole had a gun trained on my bald spot, which I was told existed but had never seen.
“That’s him, the buttfucker,” I reported.
“Hey, you shut up, asshole!” Tripp shouted, picking a fight from the cell phone stuck between the seats.
“Turn that fuckin’ phone off, dickface.“
“I can’t! It’s stuck between the seats!”
“Yeah, can’t you tell, shit-for-brains?” Tripp yelled. I could imagine the sneer on Tripp’s face.
Then I felt this giant upwelling of superhuman power as I shoved my angry wiener against the seat control, inclining the seatback as forward as it would go, which enabled me to get a grip on the sides of the seat. With a bloodcurdling war whoop, I pushed myself back against my attacker who, with one foot on my ass and the other on the ground, lost his balance and fell backward, his acrylic Raiders cap bouncing on the pavement. I spun around, ready to blanket him with my immensity, when two uniformed mini-mart attendants blasted out of the double glass doors side-by-side like Butch and Sundance, arms waving and yelling “Stop! No fighting here! No fighting! You must stop!”
Instead they stopped, about 10 feet away from where I stood over the vanquished butt stomper. The station managers were looking at us as if we were combustible materials.
“Why for you like fight?” one of them shouted, almost melodiously. My rage was draining and my crotch was throbbing.
“Dad? What the hell is going on there? Dad?” Tripp yelled. The station managers were now studying my Saab, marveling at the odd configuration of the driver’s seat.
“Sir,” one of them said, “your phone. Somebody is talking.”
Mr. Road Rage was snickering and hissing like a Disney anaconda.
“I’m sorry about this,” I said to both of them, avoiding the gaze of Mr. Road Rage, who was probably fifteen years younger than me and pretty good sized, a kangaroo to my grizzly bear.
Mr. Road Rage hopped up from the ground and brushed himself off, glaring at me while he hissed, “You are such a fucking fag. You wanna kiss me now, asshole?” His sleeves were rolled up over the elbow with a dragon’s tail stretching across his freckled arm. His face was still fire engine red. I paused to retrieve the phone, telling my son that I couldn’t explain it all at the moment but would call back later.
This was not how I had planned to re-enter the world. After five years in relative hibernation – on
I went running back to my car, which waited with the keys still in the famous between-the-seat Saab ignition. “Hey Buddy you won’t believe what is happening here.” I described the scene, which, as I pulled out of the Extra Mile, had developed into a sort of scrum with Mr. Road Rage Fu Manchu getting the shit kicked out of him by a half-dozen beefy teenagers. By the time I turned into the freeway entrance, the kids were peeling out of the Extra Mile and the station managers were attending to Mr. Road Rage on the ground who, I supposed, got more fight than was originally planned when he followed me into the parking lot, as had I. And the real search for Sisi hadn’t even started yet.
I drove back into the flow of freeway traffic, headed to Tam Junction and the Shoreline Highway that would take me out to Bolinas. Soon I would lose cell service. I scanned my rear view for the blue Ranger, paranoid as always that some random nut case out there would pull up alongside me and blow my brains out with an assault rifle, or toss a grenade into my lap. “I’m gonna lose you in a little bit,” I said as I crested a hill past Muir Beach and met the broad aquamarine expanse of the Pacific, but Tripp was already gone.
That particular stretch of Highway One, after the road climbs out of Muir Beach to the ridge, revealing the craggy cliffs that fall into the seething foam of the ocean, has, in its arresting panorama, always forced a moment of reverence and reflection. Instead, on that particular afternoon, I found myself imagining how I would have loved to pop Mr. Road Rage’s bald, red head like a big pimple. Terrified by my own violent visions, I started to wonder: what am I getting into here, and why? Was leaving my patio, my chucker, Mr. Booper and my wife’s broad, creamy bottom worth a harebrained boondoggle for the sake of fostering some final family harmony?
Then, as if Baba Ram Dass had started dancing on the hood of the Saab chanting “be here now,” I finally came back to where I was, gazing across breathtaking blue-on-blue stretching across the Pacific Ocean into infinity. I wished my father could see it. I wished my son could see it. I wished my wife could see it. Most of all, I wished my sister could see it. At least then I would know exactly where she was.
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