7-Eleven

My longing to go to 7-Eleven had nothing to do with Slurpees. Most of the time, they just gave me a brain ache and a short lived sugar buzz that I really didn’t need in life. From an 628x471early age, my quest to conquer the bike-to-7-Eleven barrier ranked right up there with seeing a naked woman. And, as fate would have it 7-Eleven accomplished both feats at once.

In school, I excelled in memorizing pointless crap. We’d learn Bible verses for an hour each day in our class where other kids might be doing art or some other elective. But I did something else during Bible. Sure, I memorized all the verses and chapters, recited them dutifully beside the teacher’s desk each Friday, and then proceeded to forget them within moments. But I did something more sinister. I’d read the other verses. I’d skip to the chapters that we weren’t reading. By the time I was ten, I could tell you where every naughty part of the Bible was. Genesis 19: 30-38 was one that stuck with me for quite some time. Nothing like Lot and his two daughters sleeping in a cave where the girls get their dad drunk and sleep with him. Of course, in school, we never read past the tenth chapter of Genesis; this information was only something that I could learn for myself. And we always got the Disney version of Samson, but I made sure to read the juicy details.

The idea of sex, or the notion of it, kept a separate space in my mind and I visited it often. I had no idea how it worked, and if the Bible was to be believed, it happened by “pleasing” each other. Whatever that meant. No. Sex was naked. Nudity was the sex that occupied my life. Breasts. Coy smiles. Flirtatious eyes. And 7-Eleven provided it.

All I wanted to be was like all the other boys on my street. I wanted to swear. I wanted to wear an AC/DC button on my shirt–even though I had no idea what they sounded like; all I knew was that my parents called them evil and that was good enough. And I wanted to ride my bike with all the other boys to 7-Eleven. My parents had promised that this summer I could join the other neighborhood kids and ride my bike to 7-Eleven. To buy Slurpees, of course! What every pubescent kid knew was that the magazine rack right beside the Slurpee machine had all the “dirty” magazines on them. We’d linger, pouring our sugary ice concoction out of the machine as slowly as we could. It was an art: Crank the handle just enough to get the machine pouring, but not enough that you’d have to watch the cup fill; stare at the covers of the sex magazines and let the Slurpee fill our cup while the come-hither stares of the cover models teased our tortured brains. I still remember the covers of Playboy and Penthouse that warm June. Playboy announced it’s Playmate for that year and she was dressed in while lacy panties and bra while waving a sheer frill over shoulders and behind her, her head tilted in the traditional Hey-I-Know-You’re-Looking-At-Me pose. But for all my puerile desires, I couldn’t see anything more on the cover than I could during a soap commercial on TV. Even Penthouse‘s cover model hid her breast behind a rose. Still, it was worth the trip.

It was a Saturday morning. The clouds lingered in the July sky painting the street outside my bedroom window in black and light silhouettes. The traffic on the 210 was picking up, trucks downshifting and engine breaks had been a part of my mornings and nights for the last three years. I’d been to the 7-Eleven three weekends now. It was ironic that the first Penthouse cover had a blue rose on it since it seemed like everything was coming up roses for me. I knew it was hard for my parents to relent and let me ride my bike the half-mile down Glendora Ave and across Arrow Highway. Just two years earlier, a neighbor kid had been hit by a car crossing Arrow on his way to pay an RV storage bill for his parents. I had begged my parents to let me go with him–we lived on Banna Ave. just five houses south of Arrow. My parents forced me to baseball practice instead. I lived to see his funeral.

“Be careful,” my mother would say as I shuffled my blue Webco BMX out the garage door and onto the driveway. Behind her words, I could see that boy’s funeral in her eyes.

“But, we cross at an intersection,” I pleaded. “He crossed where there were no lights.” It was a desperate plea that had fallen on deaf ears until this summer. The first ride down, I almost thought that I had seen my mother following us in her yellow–banana yellow–station wagon.

I dressed quietly while I watched the clouds drift lazily over the sky. It was going to be a warm day; you could feel the heat creeping along the ground, skulking like a serpent coiling to surprise. I wanted to slip out of the house without my parents knowing. Though I was able to ride with the kids, I knew that all it took was one fleeting whim of my father and I would be back to watching the boys ride past my bedroom window. Loathing my solitude and hoping their brains froze.

I crept across the oak floor that my father laid in a meticulous herringbone pattern, careful to avoid the loose strips that creaked beneath a misplaced footstep. I was so busy watching my feet that I nearly stumbled into my mother. She was dressed in a pair of blue jeans with a white blouse tucked into them. Her hair was already curled. A feat that required a blowdryer, curling iron, and a pint of hairspray. She had her blue knit jacket slung over her shoulder; she was always cold, even in the hottest days of August. Her black leather purse was sitting on the counter beside an empty plate. It wasn’t like her. I looked at her with a bit of surprise and she saw it.

“I’m going out this morning,” she said indifferently.

“Oh.” It was all I could muster. Saturday’s were her only day of rest. Monday through Friday she was shuttling me to and from school. Sunday she was rousing me from bed to go to church. It wasn’t unusual to see my dad out early. “Me, too.”

“Don’t forget breakfast,” she said as she picked up her purse.

“I won’t.” I watched my mother walk into the garage, the morning sun creeping across the garage floor, and into her banana yellow station wagon. My dad walked in from the den. He wore his usual summer morning fair: Torn, blue boxer shorts and a threadbare, white t-shirt.

“She’s got something at the church.” He said it as though I needed to know, as if it would offer some sort of conclusion to this morning’s randomness.

“Okay.”

As I ate breakfast I tried to put everything this morning out of my mind. In hindsight, I should have realized that something was stirring. After putting my empty bowl into the dishwasher I shouted out to dad that I was going up the street. What that meant was that I was going out looking for anyone who was home and could play.

Most of the kids on the street were older than me, and none went to my school. They were all in public school. That word was spoken in our house as though it had some sinister connotation; public school where they churned out the ungrateful heathens en masse. I went into the garage and pulled out my blue framed Webco bike with yellow pads across the neck, top frame, and handle bars. I was the only kid with pads on their bike, and I hated it. Despised it. A loathing festered each time I looked down at them. I had tempted fate once and taken them off and stashed the three violators of coolness in the bushes in our yard. Of course, I forgot to put them back on and when dad came home his laser keen awareness of all things amiss had spotted the violation before he’d closed his car door. I was grounded from my bike for a week. The pads became a condition to going to 7-Eleven. So, outwardly, I lived with the mockery from the older boys, but silently I stewed. It was just another resentment that I could file away into my psyche.

I spent the better part of an hour riding by myself. Eventually garage doors opened and kids wandered out. Shortly before noon, we were riding as a small group down Glendora Ave., past the enormous Baptist church, past old Lady Dowdy’s house, over the wash–really just a large concrete basin for rain runoff–and then we stopped cold in our tracks at the gas station across Arrow from the 7-Eleven.

I’m not really certain when my parents came to find religion, but like Americans, religion found them in the early eighties. My parents lapped at the fundamentalism that had put men like Falwell, Bakker and Swaggart on television and Reagan in the White House. Mom going to church on a warm July Saturday morning wasn’t really unusual. What was stood, no, marched, in front of my eyes along Arrow Highway.

“Is that your mom?”

I stood over my bike too dumbfounded to speak. My hands tensed and gripped the handlebars tightly.

“I think it is his mom,” another boy said derisively.

“What the fuck is she doing?”

Their signs read: END PORNOGRAPHY; SLURPEES AND SEX DON’T MIX; OH THANK HEAVEN/7-11/STOPS SELLING PORN

There were five of them. A small little army for God. My face burned with embarrassment. The light turned green and I watched the neighbor kids ride their bikes past my mother and her church friends. I stood, almost hovering, over my bike across the street. I just couldn’t go with them. Not past my mother in her buttoned up blouse holding a sign chastising porn. And just like that, my trips to 7-Eleven ended. I turned around and rode my bike home, alone. Before I got there, I stopped at a trashcan left out from garbage pick-up the day earlier, ripped off the three humiliating safety pads, and tossed them into the trash. If I’d get grounded from my bike, that was fine since there was no place to ride it anymore. At least I’d have the face of Ms. Playboy 1983 in my mind for a while.

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The Death Mask

Many in town knew her to be clairvoyant.

I didn’t believe it until now as I look down at the face that I pull from the plaster. I wonder now what we can sense and if I will recognize the moments before my own death.

I would suppose an explanation is warranted.

I arrived at the White House and was invited in by one of the servants. The Mrs. was out. The president had reluctantly accepted her proposal to have a mask made, and he sat still on the stool while I began draping the fabric around his broad shoulders, past his long legs, and onto the floor. He said nothing while I applied the oil to his face, and while the wet plaster set, he sat almost resigned to a moment of deathly peace; the plaster became a mask to keep out the horrors of this war. I couldn’t help but look at his hands; his hands were thin, gauntly appendages of a man who once wielded an ax on the frontier. I stared for fifteen long minutes while the president said nothing. I asked him to twitch, first his nose, then scrunch up his nose to his eyes, and finally slowly work his jaw. The mold fell off his face in six large pieces and were caught in the cloth. After it was all done, he looked at me and thanked me for the moments of rest and peace he had. I asked if he was well.

He replied: “I am very unwell.”

He rose, picked up his glasses, hat, and walking cane, and left the room.

That moment was two months ago. Now, the city is draped in black and the funeral train will depart for Chicago tomorrow. I hold what is now the last image of the president’s face and wonder if he knew as well.

————–

Trifecta Writing Prompt: Mask 3rd definition : a protective covering for the face: gas mask; : a device covering the mouth and nose to facilitate inhalation: a comparable device to prevent exhalation of infective material: a cosmetic preparation for the skin of the face that produces a tightening effect as it dries

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Death Masks of American Presidents

A common myth is that Abraham Lincoln’s “death” mask was made post-assassination, but it was created by Clark Mills in February 1865 two months before his assassination. It was the second of two masks created of the president–the first was done in 1861. Lincoln reluctantly had the second mask done, and it has always fascinated me that he would sit for it two months before his death… premonition or not?

Image

A sculpture mold of the Clark Mills life mask of Abraham Lincoln.

Other U.S. Presidents also had death/life masks made of them… here are a few others.

George Washington

President Washington's mask was also created prior to his death. Created by Jean-Antione Houdon 1785

President Washington’s mask was also created prior to his death. Created by Jean-Antione Houdon 1785

James Garfield

President Garfield was the 2nd president to be assassinated. He lingered on for 80 days after being shot which can be seen in his death mask–he had lost over 100 pounds between being shot and dying. (On a fun trivia aside, Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, chose his .44 British Bulldog because he thought it would look good in a museum).

garfielddeathmask

Woodrow Wilson

Wilson’s face and hand were cast by Dr. Vladimir Fortunato, a sculptor affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital, in 1924

woodrowwilsondeathmask

Zachary Taylor

questionmark

After Zachary Taylor’s sudden death in 1850, his wife ordered that his body not be embalmed nor would a death mask be made. This does little to put to rest the many conspiracy theories surrounding Taylor’s death, including those that argue he was assassinated.

William McKinley

Speaking of assassinations, here’s the third president to be assassinated.  McKinley’s mask was created by Edward Pausch of Hartford, Conn.

McKinley's Death Mask is unusual because it is of the entire head, not just the facial features

McKinley’s Death Mask is unusual because it is of the entire head, not just the facial features

Forty Days

I could smell savory and sweet aromas of the pastelitos outside my porthole window.

It is a memory that I will hold until the day I die.

Mother had just finished telling me about Moses and the Isrealites in the desert. I remember asking her why God did things in forties? “What do you mean,” she asked. It rained forty days and nights. Forty days in the wilderness. Moses was with God for forty days.

“Maybe that’s the amount of time we need to be tested.”

I had looked forward to living in Cuba. The prospect of a warm winter melted the cold Baltic chill in my bones. “Are we being tested now?” She looked at me for a moment, then out the porthole at the crowds gathered to see the spectacle of a ship and its quarantined passengers. She said nothing. Father said that the captain was doing everything he could to get us off, but that we may have to depart in two days. Maybe Florida?

I had never held more than three Reichsmarks. Untermenschen were never allowed more than ten. Wandering the ship, I felt as though I was one of the richest people in the world despite the red banners with large black swastikas hanging everywhere. The captain made sure we were treated like any other guest on any other cruise. The crew would scowl and glare, but they never raised a hand.

“What is a quarantine?” I asked father. “It is what you do to keep the sick from the healthy.” Our faith must be an infection; we are a disease that no nation wants to have.

It was on the train to the camp that I realized we’d been at sea for forty days. My family had hoped Antwerp would keep us safe. I look at the numbers on my arm and all I see is a brand of shame, I am a disease.

I work today removing the bodies knowing that mine will join them soon.

———-
This story was inspired by the 1939 sailing of the MS Saint Louis and its 620 passengers trying to escape Nazi Germany. You can read more at Wikipedia here

Written for the Trifecta weekly challenge–“brand” third definition and Studio 30+–“infection”

Practice

I’ve spent many nights sitting in the stare. I wonder how I got here sitting in an antiseptic, concrete room not much bigger than the place some people take a shit in their house. I’ve blamed them all. The moronic public defender, the misogynist judge with a heart of ice and eyes to match, a dead-beat dad. Everyone but me. I suppose I’m not much different than the gals in the rooms next to me. The anger tells a sort of tableau of hate in the lines etched in their faces. Stories of innocence in a stare of lies.
Twenty-one years staring at four walls. Twenty-one years… I just celebrated moving to four syllables. Four loud syllables that anyone on the outside might hear with the clink of a beer glass; unable to grasp the hollowness of the mystery of time as it strolls past in the blink of an eye. For me, twenty-one years echoes like the heavy steel doors slamming shut each day, and time is the only true trick in the world.
I’ve had plenty of time. Time for anger, self-loathing, and practice. I’ve told you about the angry tableau we have masquerading in the joint. It belongs to the cons, the ones that secretly wish that their parents hadn’t carried them to term. The cons that just won’t let go. I came to realize that the con was what we did to ourselves, and only time could sort it out if you let its magic work. Like I said, I’ve had time for practice, and I think I have the words almost right.
There was a time I fought to stay alive just to be able to kick that judge in the balls and give my dead-beat dad a verbal lashing. Now, I realize that I killed an innocent man who did me no wrong, and I can’t wait to die so I can find him and say the words I’ve practiced.

———-
Trifecta Writing Challenge: Grasp, 3rd definition (to lay hold of with the mind)
Studio 30+ Writing Challenge: Lies
Word count: 332

The Lessons We Learn

I sit in the attic surrounded by old photos.

Grandpa Bill always taught me lessons in life, and those lessons brought me happiness. In his sterile hospice room I tried to repay him by playing his favorite song: Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp. As it played, he’d lay in bed, crying. “Clare,” he called. His eyes filled with a haunting regret. The doctors said it was the Alzheimer’s; patients invented new people. Clare was his someone new.

I sit in the attic, looking at a picture of an unknown, beautiful woman holding a flute. Grandpa is still teaching me.

——————–

100 word challenge from VelvetVerbosity: “Haunting”

100 word challenge

100 word challenge