Guitar Pickup

A vignette from the 70 hours collection

© 2016 Wayne Slater-Lunsford

The pickup that stopped in front of me was painted in turquoise house paint, showing brush marks and rust bleeding through, but the engine sounded smooth and strong. The miniature man who jumped from the passenger seat to the roadside had flames in his eyes, to match his tousled strawberry-blonde hair, and he shouted across the 15 feet between us “How much you wan’ fo’ dat guitar?” As he strode up to me, we were eye-to-eye, though I remained sitting on my back pack. His shabby, dusty clothes hung loose on a strong frame. I smelled some too-sweet wine on his breath.

I said, “It’s not for sale.”

He shouted over the whirr-buzz of the cicadas in the trees, “Everytang fo’ sale, hippie!  How much you wan?”

“I make my living off this guitar, and it is NOT for sale!”

“Ain’t nobody make a livin’ off a guitar, onless you Johnny cash or Pete Fountain.”

“Well, I do, and besides, Pete Fountain plays clarinet, not guitar!”

“Tooshay, so I’ll l give you twennyfi dolla fo’ the guitar.” (opening a fat wallet and fingering bills)

The hulking driver watched intently from behind the wheel of the turquoise wreck, but did not move.

“Mister, this guitar is not for sale!”

His burning eyes settled on mine, and the wheels whirred, and the cicadas whirred too.

“Well, then I gotta fight ya fo’ it.”

“Man, that ain’t right! You a thief?”

“No, HELL no!,” the eyes flared, then narrowed, and I swear that burning hair stood up on end, and his lip quivered. “If you win, you get de truck.  BOOdrow! (over his shoulder) Fetch dat pink slip from out de box!”

“Mister, I ain’t gonna fight you.  All I want is a ride.”

“No choice! (reaching for the guitar) now, han’ it ovah!”

When his fingers reached the guitar’s neck, close to my own, I grabbed that hand and yanked hard, standing up. The tiny, wiry man stumbled several steps past me, arms flailing and hot head bobbing, into ankle-deep swamp water. Then he stood looking away into the swamp, waving like a cattail in the wind, long enough for me to wonder if I could get my precious guitar into its case before he came back at me again, perhaps with a weapon. He slowly turned a beaming grin toward me, and yelled, “BOOdrow! Git down from dis hippie’s truck, an’ leave de pink slip onna seat! (staggering up from the water, nodding at me) We walkin’ now!”

BOOdrow didn’t stir.

“Man, I am tryin’ to tell you I don’ want no damn pickup truck! All I want is a ride!”

“Well, you can give yosef a ride, now, Hippie (the sandy eyebrows lifted) an’ mebbe me an’ BOOdrow, too?”

I began putting my guitar into its case, muttering, “I just want a ride however far you goin’ up this road.  I do NOT want a truck!”

The cicadas whirred louder as he contemplated the concept. His gait was steady and solid as he led me to the truck and held the passenger door for me, bowing low. I tossed my guitar and backpack into the bed, and took the middle seat.  BOOdrow eased the purring Dodge up the two-lane, and the breeze was kind to our foreheads.

“You shore now? Dis a damn good truck.”

“Yes sir, I am.  I don’t have money for gas to get me to Denver.”

“Well, can you swang a hammer and yank a saw? Me an’ BOOdrow just finished building a house, an’ got paid.  We gonna lay out tomorrow, an’ start another house Monday.”

“I am a carpenter and cabinet maker, and I can even do some sheet metal, But I gotta meet my girl friend in Denver.”

“No you don’t! You can marry my sister.  She cooks as good as she looks, an’ that is mighty fine!  You can stay wit’ us until we build you a house.”

“No, I mean it – I’m going to Denver, no way else.”

We bantered happily up the two-lane until BOOdrow took a right turn onto a narrow road that burrowed eastward, into the Cypress and moss.

“Well, this is my stop.”

“No; dis’ a shortcut!” He and BOOdrow exchanged mischievous grins.

“This road goes East, and I know damned sure Denver is North and West of here!  Let me down and on my way!”

“No; jus’ pause a little – you gotta eat! You taste my sister’s cookin’, you gonna think again about Denver.”

“Now, damnit, first you grab my guitar, and now you gonna kidnap me?”

I turned the ignition off and threw the key out the window, right past HotHead’s nose.

His grin broadened and he jumped out as the truck shushed to a stop. I jumped out too, and he said I had to help him find the keys.  I didn’t mind.  As we walked back to the keys he kept on about the fishing and the Crawdaddys and the Fay-Doh-Doh dance parties there, and I saw the keys first, and snatched them up quick.  He chuckled and followed me back to the truck.

“You fas’ on de uptake, Hippie. You could do good in dis parish.”

I gave him the keys at the door, and went to haul my stuff from the truck bed, but just as I got my pack onto my shoulders, BOOdrow gunned the engine and threw the old heap into gear. I didn’t have hold of my guitar yet, so I jumped into the bed along with it.  HotHead craned his little neck to look back, and burst out laughing to see me with my face against the window.  He hollered, and BOOdrow pulled over, and then HotHead smilingly helped me and my guitar down from the truck.

“Damn, you fast, Hippie! Sure you don’ wanna meet my sister? Can’t blame a man for makin’ one last try, can you?”

“Hell, maybe not… (fighting a grin) but you best get outta here quick, before I think on it too much.”

They disappeared into the moss, and I dug out a can of vegetable soup, opened it and ate it cold, and it was pretty damned good.

A guitar floating in the swamp

I was afraid this would happen.

Swamp Pirates

As we walked under another streetlight, I shoved my hands deep into the front pockets of my jeans, and squeezed my shoulders up high, while trying to pull my head in like a turtle, and looked over at Chauncey.  Grinning, he copied me, and we both stifled laughter and made goofy faces, sailing through the cool night air, thick, soft silence enveloping us, the sleeping neighborhood unaware of the fun being had by two bad boys out on a lark.  We approached my house with eyebrows raised, silently agreeing to see if we could get my mom’s beetle to start without a key, and quietly enough not to wake anyone. I popped the hood, exposing the luggage compartment above the gas tank, and Chauncey pulled out his flashlight. I deftly removed the cardboard that separated luggage from the back of the instrument panel, and saw the ignition switch, with bright red and black wires attached by spade connectors. What could be easier?

A few seconds and I had determined which wires needed to be connected to which, so we rolled the car out onto the street. We pushed it half a block away, so the noise of the engine starting would not be right at my house. Without letting it lose momentum, I ran alongside the nose, and made the connection, not to the starter, but just to the main electrical. A few panel lights lit.  Chauncey moved around to the rear to really give it a serious push, and I jumped into the driver’s seat. I put it in second gear, and eased the clutch out, and the little sewing machine turned over sweetly and began to purr. I slipped it back to neutral, and Chauncey ran up to jump into the passenger seat. Then with heads ducked and barely able to contain the laughter exploding inside our chests, we gently accelerated out of our neighborhood.

The hot-wired little beetle was lively and light, and soon we were flying through the night on larger and larger streets, past businesses shuttered or about to be, toward the expressway. Atlantic Boulevard was one of two main roads out to the beach, and we headed east toward the ocean, cool dark air rushing through open windows, and through our souls. For no particular reason, I turned south onto St. John’s Bluff Road, toward Beach Blvd, and the pavement soon gave way to washboard oyster shells. We made goofy faces at each other, pretending that our brains were being rattled out of our heads. On either side of us, berms of oyster shells divided the road from the Florida swamp, and the headlights created a warm yellow bubble, with a great black unknown of trees and creatures and foreboding to either side.  No houses along this stretch, but we knew Beach Blvd. couldn’t be too very far away… and what the hell was that on the right?  A trailer hitch pointed down and stuck into the roadway, from between two automobile tires… and a red primer frame that disappeared into the dark swamp on the other side of the berm. I braked hard, creating a cloud of oyster shell dust, and stopped only a dozen feet past the thing.

“Whoa! Hold up a minute!” We both jumped out and left the bug idling, to survey our find. It was a sand rail!  A dune buggy, left in the middle of nowhere, WITH THE KEYS IN THE IGNITION!?! I scrambled down to the driver’s seat, turned the key, and it started right up!  I told Chauncey to turn the bug around, so we could head home with our prize. He went to do so, using up a lot of road to do it, since he wasn’t used to four on the floor.  He would jerk forward, trying to find reverse, then jerk forward again. I chuckled at his antics and our luck. From my seat in the sand rail, whose nose pointed at the sky, I spun the tires a little to get it over the berm, but of course, the trailer hitch had it anchored. I jumped out, slogged through a few feet of green slime and up the berm, to dig out the hitch.  Chauncey was fifty yards down the road, finally headed back this way, and I knew that when he got there, together we could get the buggy unstuck and out of the swamp. I began looking around for a tree branch or something else to use as a shovel, and directly across the road – I mean perfectly straight before me – a porch light came on.  The buggy was aimed at the driveway of a trailer house about a hundred feet away, which we had totally failed to see. One thing I could see, as if in broad daylight, was the rifle in the hand of the bath-robed guy standing on that porch. My face fell off.  I launched myself toward the approaching beetle, waving my arms and shouting something stupid. Chauncey barely slowed enough for me to clamber in, and started off again, headed right past the trailer!  I screamed at him to stop, to turn around, but it was too late.  As we passed the trailer, the crack of the rifle hit us like a sheet of ice.  Each of us looked to see if the other was dead.  Both of us will swear to this day that we heard the whizz of a hunting round inches from our noses, zipping through the open windows of the bug. Chauncey just kept jamming gears until we were moving as fast as that little 1300cc bug could go on the washboard, rattling our teeth and dusting the whole swamp.  As we hit the pavement nearer Atlantic, we saw a police car heading our way. Too late to do anything but drive as normally as shaking hands, ragged breath, and exploding heads allowed. No red lights… no siren.  No deputies drawing a bead on us. They passed us, heading toward the scene of our disgrace.

huntinground

At Atlantic Boulevard, I told Chauncey to turn right, toward a small tract of houses just a half mile east of us. Somehow that seemed to offer the best cover, in case the cops came after us.  As we wound through the small streets, toward the back of the tract, the houses thinned out until it was all empty streets with weeds growing between them. Finally, in a cul-de-sac surrounded by tall grass and littered with rubbish, we had to turn around. Because it was so obstructed, Chauncey had to do a three-point turn, and I helped him find reverse. We cringed at the loud thump from the rear of the car, and the way the rear end lifted up and then crashed back down.  Stopping, we jumped out, to find a four-foot piece of lumber stuck to the left rear tire by A NAIL, jammed up into the fender well, holding that wheel up and preventing it from turning.  Pulling and cussing and kicking at it did nothing. I got back in the driver’s seat, and with Chauncey pushing and lifting, we eased it gingerly forward until the board was flat on the pavement again. I dug around the nose of the car for the tire iron, and bent the nail away from the tread, and there was no hissing, no deflation of the tire.  We both almost fainted.  The ride home was long, slow, and very, very quiet.

 

BEFORE WE DRAW THE LINE

seriousChris

Christopher Slater-Lunsford, who will never draw the line.

Wayne Slater-Lunsford Spring, 1991

The World is both within us
and without us
Before we draw the line.
When we have not yet slowed
our rising forward fall
up into life.
We still trail clouds of glory.
We still own all that we perceive.
We permeate our universe
and grow diffusing
through the ether of experience.

Clear jello with little colored spots
spreading out toward each other
each color cloud another life.
You’re East to me, I’m West to you
our colors mix in the middle
and there’s a new shade in the rainbow.
We as children many selves perceive
other than the ones that elders see
those elders call us make-believe-
the persons that we know ourselves to be.

Taint

WayneSL 2013

In the morning we go out to hunt
to gather and to bring home stuff
and if that stuff is in another’s hand
then there will be negotiation
a battle
a process.

and if it is Gaya herself
and she should oppose us
there is still
a process.

That process may be thorough yet
still the stuff  brought home with us
carries a trace of its former place
the fingerprints of other hands
a tint of blood on the diamond
a twinge of cyanide in black or yellow gold
though refined it still retains
signs of its source: a stain remains.

We bring stuff back to the nest
to feed our young
to please the Queen
Then as they open stuffed mouths
to praise us
the poison cuts them off

And we
are indignant.

What Is A Dog

My wife thought she wanted a dog.
She wanted what she thought a dog was.
She envisioned a kind of animated plush toy
that would play or cuddle or go for a walk by her schedule
and then it would hibernate while she was at work
or busy with chores or friends
or just not feeling like fooling with a dog.
It took actually having a dog for her to understand
that a dog has a lot of needs
a lot of characteristics and habits
some which need changing
and some which cannot change and must be accommodated.
After a trial period of caring for the sweet young animal
she realized that she was not able to spend
the time and energy required
to afford that real dog a good life
and that making our home a good home for a dog
would also be impractical.
She knew intellectually that dogs pee and poo
and need to be trained where and when to do it.
She knew that even when trained
a dog has a biological clock that may override her plans
and that accidents are almost guaranteed.
She knew about feeding and watering and medical and grooming concerns
but it was vague head knowledge
not the pitiful whining and yelping in the night
the tired rising to the smell of urine and feces
or coming home
to barricades toppled and possessions shredded
by a bored, too-intelligent pet left alone too much.

I had insisted that we were not ready
to outright adopt the beautiful, intelligent and sweet-natured young bitch
so we kept her for a month, until someone who knew dogs well did adopt her.
When my wife realized what a dog really was
It became plain to her that she did not want a dog
but her former inaccurate idea of a dog.

This pattern can apply to
a child, a car, a house or a lover.