Wednesday, May 18, 2016
My friend Dusty had a phenomenal personality. You felt good being around Dusty, and he made the world better. He was a winning kid -- small but mighty.
The first time I saw Dusty he was throwing a fit. It was 10 years ago and I was working at a kids' camp. Don't remember what the fit was about. I guessed this boy with blondish red hair and freckles was about 8-years-old, but I could tell mentally he was about 4. Later I asked him how old he was.
"Fifteen," he said.
Somebody told me he had been a fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) baby. When child protective services found him at four months old, he was lying in a dresser with whisky and Coke mixed in his baby bottle. The dangerous early exposure to alcohol limited his intellectual and physical growth.
Dusty was adopted by Phil and Kay Atterbery. The couple adopted several kids with special needs such as autism, but Dusty had the most severe condition of their eight kids.
I got to know Dusty and his parents through my job. I would pick Dusty up from Levy Special Education School and we would go to places like the YMCA near West Central in Wichita or West Acres Bowling Alley. We put the bumpers up for Dusty when he bowled and he was always happy when he got a strike.
Dusty and I also went out on Saturday morning walks around places like Riverside Park, WSU and Friends University. We'd go to the Wichita Art Museum where he liked to draw in the childrens' section, the library where he liked to play games on the computers and Old Cowtown Museum where he liked to watch people dressed like 1870s characters.
When I picked up Dusty at his home, he was always showing me Nerf guns he had bought with his allowance and costumes he wore -- Superman, Batman, Darth Vader... Dusty loved to dress up. One time he showed me a toy sword he'd gotten. He wanted to take it with him on our outing, but his dad told him to leave it at home and he could play with it when he got back. Dusty threw a loud fit and it was tough to get him out the door.
Later, after we'd been playing at the Y for a while, I said, "How 'bout we call your dad and tell him you're sorry for throwing a fit earlier?" He was up for that so I called Phil, told him Dusty had something to tell him. Long since cooled down, Dusty apologized for throwing a fit earlier.
"I accept your apology," I could hear Phil say over the phone.
Dusty was feisty. One time he got into some kind of argument with a kid around the pool table at the Y and said, "Do you want a bloody nose?" I had him apologize. Another time a kid didn't believe Dusty when he told him he was 18. I later took the boy aside and said, "Actually, he really is 18." The boy told Dusty he was sorry.
"I accept your apology," Dusty answered.
He loved to push the buttons in my car and activate the seat warmers. He loved Elvis, just as he loved superheros, Star Wars, Star Trek, Walker Texas Ranger and playing cowboys and Indians. Once we were listening to the Elvis station in my car on Sirius radio. One of Elvis's more forgettable songs came on and I committed the disrespectful, sacrilegious act of changing the station.
"Hey turn it back," Dusty said. "I like that song."
The accident happened Friday afternoon May 7 at the intersection of side streets, Young and Newell. A van from Starkey, a non-profit based group that cares for people who are mentally challenged -- was transporting Dusty and two other residents from a day program. An Escalade SUV reportedly sped through a stop sign and crashed into the van.Dusty and another Starkey resident, Dirk MacMillian, were killed.
It has not been established whether the driver of the SUV, Bret Blevins, was drunk. Authorities are waiting for toxicology reports to come back. What is established is that Blevins was a repeat DUI offender, had been convicted of possession of meth and of stealing a bronze Eagle statue from the Boy Scout Quivera Council. His driver's license has been suspended numerous times.
"I hope he lives a long, long life in prison," Kay Atterbery told the KWCH news.
Yeah, prison. Where he can't hurt the community any more.
Four days after the wreck, a candle light vigil was held at the scene of the accident. I had to drive an hour and a half to get there, but I was going to make my stand for Dusty and the other victims.
I would implore you, if you're impaired, please don't drive. If someone around you plans to drive while drunk, give them a ride, call them a cab, take their keys away, call the cops if you have to, but do anything you can to stop them.
Goodbye, my friend
My beautiful wife, Maria, and handsome son, Max, went with me to Dusty's funeral. He had a beautiful memorial service officiated by Pastor Cecil Brown of the West Side Church of the Nazarene. He talked about how Dusty was now in Heaven where there are no more problems, no more sadness. The mortuary was packed with family, friends and people who had been caregivers for Dusty.
Most of them had Dusty stories. Along with the sadness, there was a celebration of Dusty's life.
His aunt Nancy sang, "Amazing Grace." Elvis's beautiful gospel recording of "In the Garden was played. Dusty's niece, Jasmine, and Anna, a neighbor to the Atterberys sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children." The songs were appropriate -- children's songs you learn in Sunday school and those lyrics -- when the girls, one black, one white sang "red and yellow, black and white, they're all precious in his sight," I thought about how those words really meant something.
Phil and Kay Atterbery are white but several of Dusty's adopted siblings are African American. Dusty never knew racial divisions.
Kay stroked Dusty's hair one last time and sang to him as she had so many times.
Hair of gold, eyes of blue
skin so fair, freckles too...
How I love my little boy,
how I love my pride and joy.
Close your eyes,
now go to sleep...
my precious child.
I worry about how Kay is going to do without her boy. I wish the man who caused this accident could see all the damage -- all the sadness he's created.
Nobody knows what happens after we die, but I'd like to think we go on somehow, that there's more than just this life.
I remember one day. Dusty and I were at the Donut Whole in east Wichita. There was a picture in the window of a man with a guitar.
"That's God," Dusty said.
"No Dusty, that's a picture of a man who's going to be performing here," I said.
"No, it's God."
I get a good feeling knowing Dusty, my friend, may have looked into the the face of God. No more pain or sorrow. Just joy and love forevermore. I hope he met Elvis too.
My beautiful wife, Maria, has been a blessing to me through all my sadness and bereavement. She knew Dusty was special.
"You'll see him again," she told me.
The family has set a gofundme page to help pay for Dusty's funeral.
Monday, February 29, 2016
The hallway was steel and glass, narrow with turns like a maze. I could almost feel the sex acts before they cleaned up and sanitized the floors with Lysol. My head was wanting more drugs and the radio wires in my brain were on the brink. But it's okay okay okay. I used to have bad dreams about inquisitions, star chambers where judges in powdery wigs fixed steely-knived eyes on me. I never knew what my crime was, but there had to be one. You see, they could penetrate thevetromedial prefrontal cortex of my brain in order to maximize the guilt they were pulling out of me like large & small intestines. Nasty, harsh guilt let down god, family, country Penetratin' mean like a penis.
As I turned the door knob with my hand, I shut my eyes tight and quickly prayed that Mookas wouldn't be there. I pushed the knob inward and the first face I saw was that of Mookas, her dark caramel skin and arms folded in godfather style.
"He's very well read," Mookas said of me as if I weren't there.
"Dr. Mookas, I'm an idiot savant," I said.
A week earlier I'd received a nasty email from Mookas. "You used to be so good. Now you're bothering everyone in the organization. You're a drain. Your insecure act has gotten old....."
And all it looked like to me was, "You cocksuckin' piece of fuck...Go rot in hell, you phony bastard."
As I paced frantically, the young dancing woman who had once met Stephen Sondheim told me, "You're raising your blood pressure."
It was institutional here. "Sometimes I think Franz Kafka designed this organization," Ervin said to me. Ervin was a playwright, read Aristotle's Poetics to get the feeling and wanted to teach Heidegger, Bertrand Russell, Schopenhauer, Sarte. I don't know that he was a phony. Just a bastard. He had a smell, an odor that like everything else about him just said "bastard" but it's all good.
Back in the room with Mookas, Longhoeffer, Briggs, McChokumchild and the rest. They all wanted to meet with me as one unit to show me they were all "on the same page." I hate that cliche'd phrase. I had to make quick decisions about what my future with the institution would be. Would I meet the requirements or have to be dismissed. It was all women in the room but I knew they'd get a big man if they ever needed muscle.
"This is like the mafia," I said. "Everyone in a room confronting a guy."
Then I became pensive. "It's just that I've never been one to give up," I said. "When I was a kid I'd willingly endure all kinds of sadism and punishment before I'd give in. My kids -- they were born in a different world. They've known comfort. They give in easier"
"What are their grades like?" McChokumchild asked. Then Briggs. "How do they respond to authority?" "Do they have any learning disabilities?" "What do their teachers say about them?" Then Mookas: "How do they get along with their peers?"
"What'd'ya wanna know Mookas? Are they fucked up like me?"
"Watch your mouth."
I have no ill will. I can forgive everything they ever did at my expense. The byzantine rules. The wires. The mindfucks. But fuckin' with my kids -- that's the one thing I don't forgive.
"Fuck y'all" I said and walked out, never to see them again.
I took the elevator down. Below there was a car, a girl and sex waiting for me. No something deeper because it wasn't all about the sex and any expert will tell you a true, healthy relationship is grounded on more.
I was twentysomething, reporting on a story about the newest cars on the market for a newspaper in a dusty Oklahoma town. A Dodge Viper. Girl driving. I was a passenger then too, had bad dreams about the star chamber but it was okay. She wore this short, tight skirt. "I can rock your world with this stereo," she said. i'll be her plastic toy
And the legs and blond hair of yesterday drifted like a reverie as I looked deep into Maria's dark hair with the sunlit highlights.
"I'm really proud of you, Jeff," she said. "A year ago something like this would've made you suicidal and unable to get out of bed."
"What's the use in that?" I said.
"And you just went in ripped jeans and an AC/DC concert shirt. You didn't bother dressing up."
"Not much point in it, baby."
I was for bringing back sex, drugs and rock n' roll. Had a connection with a roots band that had jammed with Bobby Blue Bland.
And I was ready to taste it like honey, to face the future
___ with Maria
___ with Maria
___ with Maria
"Nothin's Gonna Hurt You Baby" -- Cigarettes After Sex
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
"If you ever need a friend, give me a call," a friend private messaged me. He left his phone number. We've known each since childhood. One night I called him.
"If I tell you what the problem is, will you just keep it between us?" I said.
"Absolutely," he answered.
I believed him. We played together as youngsters. I don't think I would've trusted him with a secret when we were kids. But we're grown men now, we're different people. And I know he kept his word. I would've felt the blow back if he didn't. It was good and unselfish of him to reach out with friendship.
Then there's others.
You know what I really hate? Gossipers. People who get a little dirt on you and can't wait to run & tell your family, friends, co-workers. Haven't they ever heard of "off the record"? You think you know someone and you don't even ask them to keep it private because you figure that's a given.
I've been wrecked, okay? The devil has gotten into me at times. I think he was laughing when I was suicidal from the sect. Satan has hooked into my unknowing mind and heart. Once like never before or since. I lost myself & when I found who I was again, it was always among the familiar homes and trees, the sidewalk path that led to the door of the house where my wife and children were. Their faces. those faces Voices. God. The key.
But those who would threaten my happiness, whom I trusted with private revelations about my guilt, moral failings and private hell, only to be betrayed -- they're worse than slime. And maybe you think you're still in the J. Guy circle. Keep on thinking it. Believe it.
And I know who you are.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Can this song really be 25 years old? Whatever happened to youth? So elusive. Somewhere around 1991 I was at my friend Steve's house in Rushing Waters, Kan. He played me two cassette tapes he'd recently bought -- Smashing Pumpkins and Screaming Trees. They both rocked.
Iris Dement. You may have heard her version of "Everlasting Arms" in the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. But she's been around since the early '90s. I think the above video is an Austin City Limits performance from 1995 where she sings about a philandering, dead beat dad husband who let his family down. But hey, he found religion so he's a new man and she should take him back. The song's title tells you how she feels about that. "God may forgive you but I don't, yes Jesus loves you but I don't." She's come into her own as a woman and there's no room for him.
Night time. I was on U.S. 254, driving home from a late night at work. I flipped the radio dial around, landed on this woman's show. Don't remember her name. I would later read some article saying she was a cross between Oprah and Sex and the City. Women called in and talked about being women. The woman's husband cheated on her. She discovered him in his car in a parking lot. The stylist who cut his hair was going down on him. "Just empty your bank account and let the bastard rot," the radio host said. (Silence) She played this song. I was nearing that turn on the highway that would take me home. I cried loudly and uncontrollably. There was that time when I fell in love (or thought I did) with a woman other than my wife who found out. I think I subconsciously set myself up to be found out. I was in hell, my lying, unreliable heart going against my morals. How could I have ever entertained the thought? What if I made love to another woman? What if I hurt my girl, my lover, my best friend, the woman of my life? Made her feel hallow, like living...half a life? That's what the singer is singing about. What if I killed her soul like this? The man in the video is toxic and full of lies and poison. I don't want to be that man. It's a beautiful video. Like a ballet. Artistic. I love the way it borrows from West Side Story.
My latest favorite song. I wake up early in the morning to it. Love the way it sounds on my phone. A classic from 1979, a year that saw a lot of great music. Love those original Gerry Rafferty lyrics. "He's got this dream about buying some land. He's gonna give up the booze and the one night stands." Dave Grohl sings, "He's gonna give up the crack..." It's hard edged, the signature saxophone sound of the original version duplicated by loud guitars. I love when newer artists take on '70s classics the way Sonic Youth did with the Carpenters' "Superstar" or Radiohead with their covers of "Nobody Does it Better" and "Rhinestone Cowboy." Foo Fighters has gotta be my favorite of the newer rock groups (and Radiohead). Yeah, they've been around for 20 years, which ain't really new until you think about the world's greatest living rock n' roll band, the Rolling Stones.
80 Proof Engine is a folkish accoustic bluegrass-punk band out of Newton, Kan. in the spirit such Wichita staples as Split Lip Rayfield and Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy. They regularly play at Sadie's in Newton and they'll be playing at Kirby's in Wichita this weekend. Unfortunately, I have a commitment this weekend and will not be able to make their show. Hopefully, next time. I wanted to show a video of them playing in some cellar, but this is the only one I could upload through YouTube on Blogger. Their new album is called Nastygrass. Upright bassist Dustin Nesser told the paper, Newton Now, the band is"an eight-cylinder alcohol-fueled machine."
Saturday, January 2, 2016
My job writing and investigating for a secret underworld society keeps me jumpin' like Jack Flash. Stuck in Grossmont County, Kansas again. Some kind of blues brewing within my soul like the piercing guitar solo at the festival somewhere in the spirited 196_.
The last time I did my laundry here was around 25 years ago. Had a job waiting tables at the country club here in the great town of Beulah. Waited on the upper crust during the lunch and evening hours. I remember late nights too, serving food and drinks to get-togethers of the Beulah Realtor Association, the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the board of directors of the local community college from which I'd graduated.
Late nights I'd cut out with friends I'd worked with at the plastics factory before I got the uptown job. We'd go bar hopping, cow tipping, smoke a little dope, play some rock n' roll. But those lost nights are all an opaque haze now, some fog of life that occurs as you're jetting and jaunting from station to station and sometimes
Dirt and sudz
"Get over here, Gunner, don't be a buttface," the woman yelled at one of the three boys running and crawling over the concrete floor. She's wearing a fatigue jacket over her slightly overweight frame, her dark hair in a bun. She's called those kids "buttface" about 10 times.
There's a pudgy bald guy, a woman (the only attractive one in the bunch) wearing a pink jacket and a gruff man in a fading red shirt, his long gray hair giving him a look like a tougher, countrier version of Frank (William H. Macy). Looks were all he had in common with the user loser character. This guy at Country Queen Sudz was in control of his clan.
"If you make another comment, you're gonna make my decision for me," the old man told his son, definitely not a model of fealty as I'd seen John Gotti, Jr. to be toward his mob boss dead father on a recent 60 Minutes.
A woman in a dark vanilla hoodie was mopping a leak under one of the washers cleaning my clothes.
"I hope I didn't cause this," I told her. "Did I do something wrong."
"Nah," she assured me. Machines there do that shit all the time.
That family comes into the laundromat once a week, she told me while swooping the mop over the water and soap. They live in Cash.
"Cash?" I said. "Shit, that's 30 miles away. There's no laundromat between here and there."
Nope. No place to go
The grandparents are raising the three boys and the baby in the carrier set on a table beside folded underwear, jeans and flannel shirts.
"So they were taken away from their mother?" I said.
"She gets supervised visits, but yeah they were taken away. She's on drugs."
"Yeah," she said as she placed the "Caution wet floor" sign down. "Those little boys know their daddies but they're no better than she is."
The last time I was in that laundromat (it wasn't called Country Queen Sudz then, don't remember what it was) I had washed my clothes at around 7 a.m. in the morning before work. I heard this woman on the pay phone, crying and pleading with somebody, sounding down on her luck and short of hope.
After my clothes were washed, dried and folded, I went into the broom closet-sized bathroom and changed into my country club uniform, black slacks, white shirt and black bow tie. There was a knock on the door. Less than a second later, I answered it, ready to go.
It was the woman who had been crying into the phone. Her eyes were still red with tears. I noticed she was holding a basset hound. "I'm sorry," she said tearfully to me as if she had disturbed one more person in life.
"It's okay," I said. I tried to sound compassionate regarding whatever she was going through, but I was soon gone. I wish I could've comforted that girl way back then but I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to be a life toucher.
I could never reconcile the poverty and sadness in Beulah with my job, serving rich (they seemed rich to me) -- guess the right word is upscale -- people at the country club. Today I would say I'm just doing my job, trying to get by like everybody else. These days I know everyone has problems. Strained marriages. Infidelities. Drugs. Alcoholism. Those well-to-do people had it to, but it's taken time, a lot of time for me to figure things out.
"I'm gonna get the fuck 'outa Dodge," my fellow waiter friend Keith said after each shift. One evening, he didn't show up for work. Four, 4:15, 4:30 p.m. No Keith. He'd been at Schmoochie's bar all day where he'd gotten blasted on gin, Jack, vodka, beer. I knew he did Coke, pills and other shit I had a healthy fear of ever trying. I didn't judge. If my friends wanted to get drugged and snorted out, that was cool for them, but I wasn't going there. I was a beer, weed and Jim Beam man.
I got out years ago, but I've made peace with Beulah like I've made peace with God. God's all perfect. Beulah has some shit, good and bad. There's no reason for me to do my laundry here. I can do that at the hotel I'll be staying in tonight. Guess I just came here 'cuz I wanted to write. Things are getting better.
I've found ways to comfort the afflicted, other human beings, you know.
"Something on My Mind" -- Karen Dalton
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Two girls who looked to be around the same age as my daughter sat in a booth with laptops, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. They looked to be creating beautiful pictures on Instagram.
"Wow, you can just sit here and do that?" I said. "You can do your homework here?"
They told me they could. I asked them if they had ever tasted the great malts or shakes from the soda fountain.
"I've never had any shakes because my parents can't afford them," she said.
I felt such pity for the girl I wanted to buy her a malt, but that would be a bad call. I didn't want to look like a weirdo. Then I wised up and remembered the kind of bullshit my parents used to play on me. She might've asked for a malt and her parents probably gave her that line so she wouldn't bother them about it. Close the case. I live a hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck existence and I scrounge up for a soda fountain malt at least once a month.
When my mom was a little girl in Jett, Kan. (pop. 3,000 in the '50s), her family was poor. She was embarrased about living in a shack and didn't want to bring friends over to see it. The McElroys were one of only two families in town still using an outdoor shitter. The other family, the Whites, lived a hop, skip and a jump from them near a place the poor neighborhood kids used to play around called "the hill."
For Mom's family, ice cream was a rare treat. Every New Year's Eve, Vickie (Mom) and her brother David (Uncle Dave) got to stay up past midnight and celebrate with root beer floats. It may be the only time they'd get a root beer float 'till the next year.
I'm in my 40s so I've seen a lot of New Year's Eves. I've had great fun at parties with my filmmaker/sportscaster friend Adam Knapp and the Roger Sterling of our gang, Russ Thomas, at New Years parties.
I remember one New Year's Eve in Beulah, Kan. where I'd attended Grossmont Community College. It was the early '90s. I was around 21. I was at Centerstage night club when I wound up at a table with my old college journalism teacher, Bill Bidwell, and his friend Bev Beaman. We all counted down as the ball on the TV above the bar was about to drop in Times Square. Dick Clark was on TV, smiling like he was born with a microphone in his hand. The bar served us all free plastic cups of Champagne.
Bill died back in 2003. Bev died this year.
I've been forced this year to think about what really constitutes being rich and poor, about how I want my life to end, which I hope won't be for a long time.
My brother, Jimmy, and I see Mom at Homestead in Jett at least every weekend. It's a home for people with dementia-Alzheimer's. We usually visit at different times, but both of us have taken Mom out to McDonald's for their McFlurrys, which are to die for. Even though Mom's lost a lot of weight and doesn't eat that much anymore, she sure devours those McDonald's shakes.
We're still not rich, but it's a vastly different world from the family shack near the hill. I hope to do better as a person this next year (only my family knows my deepest flaws) and bring joy to Mom's life. (It could be five more years, it could be 10.)
And I hope in 2016, that I can touch more lives. Behind all the drinking, pissing, screwing and fighting of my young life, at the core, I think that's what I really wanted to be -- a life toucher.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
On this day 53 years ago my parents were married in the Bible Baptist Church in Jett, Kan. (pop. 3,500 in the '60s.) There's pictures of them feeding each other wedding cake. They divorced 10 years later. One night -- I was 3-years-old -- they told me they didn't love each other anymore. I kept walking back from Dad's chair in the living room. "Daddy, do you love Mom?" "No." Then to my mother's chair. "Mom, do you love Dad?" Shaking her head. "No." I tried to be such a little man, not to cry. I think I barely did.
I almost cursed God and told Him where to go this morning, but I remembered when I was a little boy in the early '70s and I had nowhere else to go.
I asked Dad last week, "How did you feel when Mom left you? You must've been in hell." He didn't say much. Just, "been there, done that."
I could say this is gonna be a bad day, but I'm going to press on. I might crack some jokes. People like my jokes. I feel a little like Don Draper in the episode of Mad Men where he revealed in a client meeting that he was raised in a brothel and used to go through the John's trousers, looking for money and loving the sweetness of the Hershey bars he found.
Some friend of mine has given me tough love. He always did. I better get to work now. I write and investigate for a secret underworld writing society that takes me away from home a lot. There are a lot of secrets to my job I'm unable to reveal.
But then there always have been.
"Lord, This Time You Gave Me a Mountain" -- Elvis Presley