Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chapter 13

I drove around and checked out the neighborhood. Memories photographed by childhood take on a strong bond when you come back home.
The tire lady statue on Washington St. is one of them. In the winter they throw a dress on her. When summer hits, the dress comes off to show a bikini. I noted it’s a new suit this time around. There’s the Cedar Street Bridge for a view of industry or a mechanism for sure-fire suicide. There’s Harrison Homes, a place you wouldn’t pay me enough money to walk through at night fully armed and wired. They’ve been tearing it down building by building. I’ve had some close calls riding my bike along the street across the field from that place to get home. Going by there I’m reminded of the newlywed couple that wrapped their car around a telephone pole driving past the Homes on the way from their reception. They died instantly. Within 2 minutes after impact, the car was stripped bare, the corpses were stripped bare, and the bride’s corpse was raped.

It's hard to capture Peoria’s south side. Not because there aren’t images of desperation and beauty to be taken, because there are. But to accurately capture the feeling of the south end is to capture the people who live here, and I can’t shoot them without being some kind of exploitative asshole who lives 2 thousand miles away in a city of sophisticates. Not trying to say that the south end is a bad place. It is a bad place. But like my niece’s boyfriend said, Peoria has pockets. They live in the college neighborhood, where I’m staying. Here it’s just as beautiful as Portland’s NE or NW. But just down the hill, where Main becomes Western, it’s a totally different fucking story. I see so many characters walking around, sitting on porches, staring into my van coldly or pissed off. I can’t really take their photos on the sly, because I can’t hide the camera while I drive, and I don’t want to approach them and ask them for a photo, because there’s something demeaning about it, for them and for me, because there is no other reason I would ask to shoot them besides the fact that I’m further stressing their impoverished lives. And with my camera I can’t really capture the heaviness of certain parts of town, along with the fact that I’m a novice shooter, but not novice enough to where I want to risk literally getting shot by asking someone to shoot them, and I would undoubtedly come off as a racist prick.

I was born in this town in 1970. In 1976 we moved to Arizona. I spent quite a bit of time here, though. Summers to ride my bike after I was gone from home, or the times back in childhood when we’d pack up and move here for half a year or so in between other places back in Phoenix.

My brother, Bob, 57, has lived here his whole life. A dedicated bar fighter, drinker and meticulous home owner whose frosty, near mullet, perfectly set hair has been a source of humor, mystery and mild consternation for me, Bob has stayed in the south end while the rest of us scattered. He’s turned his home into what is easily the best place in the south end. Pool, deck, tiki torches and shit. My second oldest brother lives down the street in a half- way house, bitterly called The Mansion. He fell off a ladder at work and shattered his lower leg, which awaits amputation. That and other habits have forced him and many others into the recesses of pockets here. I roll into town once every 5 fucking years, get a taste of Peoria and I take off, so I really can’t say a lot about a lot that goes on in town, except that the older I get the more I like coming here and hanging out with the family. There’s a peace to it now.

There was a birthday party for Bob at The Eagle’s Club. Ages 1-91 hang out there. It’s been part of my visits in Peoria since the mid 90s. I spent the third night in town drunk off my ass, and Sunday I was useless, so I laid around and drank water. I spend my days here checking out old haunts, old haunts in stories I’ve heard, driving by old houses like the one where I was born. A gas station where I saw Bob walk out of with a freshly blackened eye will pop up in the corner of my eye line when I drive the hill up around Main St. I hear his slurred and gravelly voice: “I’m gonna find the cocksucker who slipped me this mickey. Total fucking sucker punch!”

Last night I sat in the backyard over there, next to an ex-sister-in-law. I hadn’t seen in over a decade. She had read my book back in November. I sat next to her.

“Hey, Joy.”

“Hi, Jeff. Well, you’ve gained weight. But that’s okay, you’re almost 40.”

“Awesome. How you been?”

“Good. I read your book, all in one day. I had to get it back to Bobby.”

“I didn’t know that.”

A long and uncomfortable silence followed us. I looked over at my second oldest brother’s wife, an alcoholic in the first stages of dementia. She’s about to set herself on fire with her cigarette as she fades into a sitting sleep. I go to move toward her but the cigarette falls and she snaps awake, reaches down and picks it back up. I look at Bob and shake my head. He looks at her and smiles off into space. Joy clears her throat. I give in to the game and ask her,

“Did you like the book?”

She looks off and kind of winces. I’m trying not to laugh. I know what she’s going to say before she says it. She says,

“I thought it was great. I mean, I know it’s partly fictional, or I hope it is, but is all of that sex in there really necessary? I mean, what’s the reader really supposed get out of that?”

“I never really gave the matter much thought.” I said.

My niece called me over to the table. I squeezed Joy’s shoulder and sat next to Andrew and Aunie. Last night we’d hit the town and Andrew shot me riding flatland. It was humid and I was sore there in the backyard. It had been the first time I’d ridden in a month or so. Pathetic. My youngest niece from Arizona was there with the Arizona family, and she had shot up like a weed since I'd last seen her. She jumped in my lap onto my bad knee. Hurt like shit.

“Get down, sweetie. You uncle’s hurting.”

I left with Aunie and Andrew and we sat in Jimmy Earp’s, one of the many neighborhood taverns. I drank water and listened to the one-man band.

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