tape 1, sides a & b
If you set aside love and friendship and the bonds of family, luck, religion, and spirituality, the desire to better mankind, and music and art, and hunting and fishing and farming, self-importance, and public and private transportation from buses to bicycles, if you set all that aside money is what makes the world go around. Or so it is said. If I wasn’t dying prematurely, if I wasn’t dying right now, if I was going to live to ripeness or rottenness instead of meeting the terminus bolted together and wrapped in plaster in the Madera Community Hospital, if I had all the time in the world, as they say, I would talk to you first of all about the joys of cycling or the life of the mind, but seeing as I could die any minute, just yesterday Dr. Singh himself said that I was lucky to be alive, I was unconscious and so didn’t hear it myself, Carmen told me, I’ll get down to so-called brass tacks.
First of all, ignore common advice such as a fool and his money are soon parted. Parting with money is half the pleasure, and earning it is the other half, there is no pleasure in holding on to it, that only stiffens the vitality, especially in large amounts, though the world will advise you otherwise, being full of people who would make plaster statues of us. Second, I haven’t made knowledge of my life yet, I’m only twenty-eight years old, when you get to be my age you’ll know how young that is, and if you’re a man of the world by then I salute you, the road isn’t wide or straight. Everything you need to know is contained in my experience somewhere, that’s my philosophy, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to make the knowledge out of it yourself. The world operates according to a mysterious logic, Juan-George, I want to illustrate some of its intricacies, so that you can stand on the shoulders of giants, not, as Paul Renfro used to say, the shoulders of ants.
For the first twenty-seven years of my life nothing happened to me. I rode my bicycle into town every day from our patch of wilderness, I rode into Madera and asked my friends if they had any work for me, everyone called me Mayor, even Tony Adinolfi, who was the real mayor, called me Mayor. Then came my so-called mistake. On the day in question I was working a construction job in Madera, or rather it was a demolition job, I was carting wheelbarrows of drywall out of a house, it is a strange thing to remove the walls from the inside of a house. At some point I noticed that my bicycle, this was my blue-flake three-speed Schwinn with the leather saddlebags, a fine machine that made the softest burring sound along the asphalt roads of Madera County, I noticed it was missing. It had happened before, it was fine with me, except this time whoever took it didn’t return it to the job site by the end of the working day and so I had to head home on foot. The construction guys were going to a bar, and I avoid bars, when you’re six and a half feet tall, drunk people always want to fight you or try to take your binoculars. Our patch of wilderness was some miles outside town on a road that didn’t lead anywhere good, there was never anybody to hitch a ride from. I walked with my hands clasped behind my back, you should always walk with your hands behind your back unless you are carrying something. People who walk with their arms swinging look like apes, my philosophy.
I noticed some gnats zigzagging over a culvert, a nearby tree let some sunlight through, it carved a cube of light out of the shade, the gnats seemed to like having it to themselves. I was watching the gnats when a vehicle appeared on the road, coming the opposite way, it was the Alvarez brothers’ pickup. Hector and Mike were two of my oldest friends, still are. Whenever we saw each other on that road we played a game called chicken, but usually I was on my bike, usually it was me and my bike that ended up in the ditch. This time Mike saw me in the road and even though I was on foot he steered that truck toward me and gunned the engine. He drove straight at me, he stayed on course until Hector’s grin turned into a look of terror, Mike’s stayed a grin, and I leaped into the ditch just in time to avoid getting hit. I dusted myself off, Greg Yerkovich and some girls were laughing in the back. Once Greg saw that I was okay, once he saw that I’d gotten up just fine, he flipped me the bird, which was our traditional hello and goodbye gesture. He tapped the back window and Mike spun the tires, gravel pinging the wheel wells like crazy. Then they were gone, leaving behind only the smell of burning oil, that head gasket was done for. I just kept on walking home. We had been playing chicken so long it had become a matter of routine, I mean no matter what happened I always ended up in the ditch, there was no real game to it, I was always the chicken.
It was getting late, the sun was dipping behind me so that my shadow grew larger and larger in front of me until it became one with the general darkness. Eventually I saw the house, or I saw the blue glow of the television in the front window, the roof was a black line dividing it from the stars. I don’t like watching television, you’re always bouncing around from one person to the next, back and forth and looking at everything from all angles, I don’t know how anybody can watch television, it seems like they made it for hummingbirds, but your grandfather George loved television, especially when he stopped leaving the house, he was always trying to convince me to watch television, he said it was my ticket to the world, he always talked about me knowing something of the world, he said you can go everywhere with television from the comfort of your own chair. I’ve never been able to watch more than five minutes without getting a headache. I should be clear that it was his body that decided to stop leaving the house, he was only a passenger in his body, his words. After he stopped leaving the house he watched a lot of television and worked on a Letter to the Editor, and I brought groceries and supplies home on my bicycle. I became a sort of caretaker to your grandfather, though I never thought about it that way until he was gone and people began to worry that he wasn’t going to be around to take care of me. As usual, they had it backwards.
I walked toward the glowing light of the television and tripped over something in the tall grass, namely my bicycle. Everything was in working order, the grass was wet but the bicycle was dry, meaning it hadn’t been sitting there long, so I knew who had taken it from the construction site, mystery solved, and as I rolled it to the porch I thought about what I would say to the Alvarez brothers, starting with they should check to see if I’m still in town before going through the trouble of returning my bicycle to the house, which was why I was distracted, which was why my thoughts were turned inward as they say when I walked into the house and saw your grandfather George’s chair empty with only his impression in it, like an invisible man. He was, or his body was, lying on the floor, the side of his face was on the carpet, one arm was under him and the other was straight out to the side. I touched him to make sure he wasn’t sleeping but it was obvious his body lacked what Scott Valdez of the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship later called a soul, the visible form of a soul being muscle tone. I got a spoon from the kitchen to be sure, held it under his nose, no fog. I left the spoon right there on the floor and went upstairs to my room. I crawled under my blankets and breathed my own air for a while, which Dr. Armando Rosenkleig later called an impressively effective homespun technique for processing feelings, his words.
When I we...