Saturday, April 24, 2004

Sketchy Bill 12: The Crux of the Biscuit

OK, I know I should let that one sit and fester for a bit, but I'm stuck here at work, and it's Saturday, and it's cloudy, so there's absolutely nothing for me to do. Plus, I don't want you guys to spend a lot of time thinking that this whole mess is due to some crush a latent homosexual with lots of money had on me out in the desert six months previous to this.

I'll confess to being stuck on dialogue. It's a pain in the ass to type, I don't have any practice, and I'm not sure that it works well in this type of writing format anyway. But this is one of the weirder parts of the story, so I've got to figure something out, right?

Anyway, to clarify the last bit, Sketchy Bill had just absorbed that part of California culture that thinks it's OK to say "I love you" to another man that you don't know very well. Maybe he felt like he knew me that well. Maybe I was a bit shellshocked from the day, and the freakiness of Castro on Halloween. I didn't think I was about to be hit on by a Jersey mobster, but it did make some sense. After all, if he was going to fire up some sort of gay relationship, he would definitely have to keep it under wraps, right? I'm sure that sort of thing is still frowned upon somewhat within The Family, or whatever you want to call it, and he seemed to be under some suspicion as to his stability anyway.

But no, turns out what he meant to say was "I like you, and I trust you," which is still a little iffy to say to a guy you don't know very well, but it's far and above better than the L word, which is a bad word to hear out of the mouths of 99% of the world's population anyway.

After Bill parked the car in the garage, he didn't seem too anxious to go inside. We hung out, examined his car, and knocked back large amounts of whiskey, chased by beer. The garage was spotless, except for piles of dogshit on the floor. Commenting on this led to an introduction to his two dogs, which further calmed me regarding his sexual intentions, since they were both NOT small and yappy, but rather a Doberman and an old pitbull.

If I'd been still tripping, my own evil mind would have pointed out that while yes, small yappy dogs mean "gay man," big attack dogs might very well mean "seriously warped and violent gay man." Thankfully, that didn't occur to me til I got back to Oklahoma.

The dogs had been either locked in the garage or outside for the preceding day, since there was a party and they weren't particularly well mannered pooches. After muddying up my pants and shirt with pawprints, they were led back outside, and I got a chance to look at the back yard with him.

This is where you find out about people. The front yard is all about public perception, generally, as is the public area of the inside of your house. In Bill's case, even his bedroom was fairly public, since he had a fairly high turnover in girlfriends (remember the Armenian past, and visualize Nefertiti, the future). So it was his back yard that I was curious about.

I confess I might be reading a bit into this--remember, I'm a landscape guy, so I pay more attention to shit like this than most people. But Bill's back yard fit him and his lifestyle perfectly. It was empty.

I'm a guy who lives alone, in a house that's too big for him. I understand not having time to "make a house your home." Believe me, I know what cutting your losses looks like.

But it was still eerie to look out across that expanse of sandy loam to a set of railroad ties which bordered a more elevated area of nothing but more sandy loam. For me, it fit all my most paranoid dreams--that behind all the houses I pass on a daily basis, there's nothing. It's all props in some huge stage show, a show in which I'm an unwitting actor.

Remember, kids, this is the guy who suspected his parents were poisoning his toothpaste when he was a kid. I can't explain it, though, at least not in this post. Suffice it to say, an empty back yard unnerves me.

It was also kind of odd that he didn't seem to care about his yard. Most people whose back yards I visit either have questions for me, or want me to look at something. It took me a little bit, but I finally concluded that this area didn't really exist for Bill. Between socializing, caring for two boys, and doing whatever he did for work, he didn't have time to care. Furthermore, growing up there in Jersey, or the Bronx, or wherever the hell he grew up, there's just not a whole hell of a lot of back yard to be had.

We sat on the porch for a bit (beneath the balcony I'd so recenty stood on, marveling at the sunrise and how quickly life can change), hitting the bottle and shooting the shit. After a bit, Bill said he wanted to show me something, and we retreated from the dogs back into the garage.

Do you remember that song, four or five years ago, that had as its centerpiece a commencement address sort of thing that mentioned always wearing sunscreen? It was a forgettable song, for me, but for some reason it had become stuck in Bill's head--especially a part that talks about "the worst things in life blindsiding you on a Tuesday afternoon."

The bottle was probably 2/3 gone, which is a hell of a lot of missing whiskey. I could feel it in my system, but I could also sense that Bill was beginning to act funny, almost like a gale spinning up into a tornado. It's a strange analogy, now that I think back, but he seemed to be gathering energy and determination, instead of stumbling off drunk to sleep in the back yard. He began to talk, suddenly, in a strange sort of voice.

He told me about his life, which was a prototypical self-made millionaire's life, growing up on the streets of New York, getting beat up, and learning "what it takes to make it." He said very little about how he came to be where he is, except that clearly there was a crime, or multiple crimes involved. He talked to me about getting married, and how happy he had been, and how in the early days he'd felt alive and purposeful and good.

But one Tuesday afternoon some police had shown up at his door. They told him his wife was divorcing him and had filed a complaint of child endangerment. She was suing him for everything he had. His life was over, and he suddenly realized how fake it had all grown to be.

So, at age 45 (or so), he was stuck with nothing but money and work. Work wasn't even really work anymore, it was more signing documents and appearing at social functions. He didn't have any siblings, or parents, and his wife had taken his kids away except for the occasional weekend.

His life had become a high wire act, he said, because he didn't know who he could trust. His soon-to-be-ex wife knew where all the bodies were buried (whether this was a figure of speech, I don't know), and so he was constantly worried about police showing up again, this time with information.

"Jeff," he said, "you are the only person I trust. And I don't even know who the fuck you are."

Then he started crying.


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