April 11th, 2005

Bill Hicks

California #1

The phone rang once before it was picked up. "Hello?" the Muse asked.

"Muse," I said. "It's me. I thought you weren't going to stay at the house while I was gone."

"I was hungry," she said, "and there's no food in my house. I thought I'd come and pick through your pantry."

"Good luck. There's not much there."

"I know. I'm looking as we speak. I can't believe you don't even have a couple of cans of soup laying around for emergencies. Aren't you Californian's supposed to have supplies for a couple of days, in case an earthquake brings the house down around your ears?"

"I never bother. I can always stand to lose a few pounds."

"What about water?"

"I'm not too proud to drink out of the toilet."

"Blech. Remind me not to kiss you until after you brush your teeth."

"Will do, Muse."

I heard rustling sounds in the background as she dug through my kitchen cabinets. "So, if you weren't expecting me to be here, why did you call here instead of my place?"

"I did call your place," I said. "When I didn't get an answer, I figured you'd be hiding out at mine. You're predictable like that."

"Thanks. Glad to know there are no surprises left in our relationship."

"I'm sure you'll come up with something, Muse."

"I try, I try. So, how was the flight?"

I shrugged, forgetting she couldn't see me do it. "Uneventful. Got into Chicago ahead of schedule, switched over and got to Sacramento about eight... no, make that five. I forgot there's a three hour time difference. I slept most of the way, so no biggie there."

"Rental car?"

"Ford. Silver. Shiny. Don't know any more than that. Gas is fifty cents more a gallon here than it is back home."

"I knew I didn't drive for a reason."

"You're a mooch, Muse, that's your reason."

"That, too."

"So, drove myself to the grandparent's place, about an hour north of Sacramento. Surprised my grandmother when I came in. She didn't have her hearing aids in, so she didn't hear me walk in the door."

"What, you didn't knock first?"

"We're a walk-right-in sort of family, at least at the grandparent's house. Personally, I prefer to have at least three days advance notice of people dropping by my house, but that's because I'm a mean fucker."

"You're not a mean fucker," she said. "You're an anti-social one. There's a difference."

"Right. Anyway, we went to dinner, a Sizzler of all places..."

"What's a Sizzler?"

"Well, when I used to live here, it was sort of a higher-end buffet place. Ten years later, it's just sort of one of those buffet places where old people come to sit, stare and graze. Nothing special. After dinner, just as it was getting dark, we drove out to the cemetery to see where my grandfather is buried."

"Cemetery at night. Good idea. That always turns out well."

"Okie zombies don't really give me too many heebie-jeebies. So, we found the grave, and it's a little... well, weird. I mean, there's no headstone yet, and they haven't put grass over the grave yet, so it's just bare exposed dirt there. I'm not sure if that made the whole thing more real or less. My grandfather was under that dirt, you know? So freshly planted that the grass hasn't grown back over yet. So I stick with the 'weird' thing for now."

"I can see where that would be an odd thing for you. The whole affair must have sort of an unreality to it, since you didn't go to the funeral."

I shifted the phone to the other ear. "Yeah. It's starting to sink in a little more, though. I've already run into a couple of my relatives besides my grandmother. Two of my grandfather's sisters, who helped take care of him there the last couple of months. They were filling me in on some of the more unpleasant aspects of his death... just the lingering, and the wasting away. Nothing I didn't already know, but to be able to hear it from people who were with him in his last few hours... that gave the entire thing a little more gravity, you know?"

"I understand," the Muse said. "Hey, you do have some soup in here. It fell behind the microwave."

"Glad you just love me for my larder," I said.

"Oh, honey, I love you for more than just that. I also love you for your CDs. I'm going to borrow some."

"Can I stop you?" I asked.

"Not from three thousand miles away."

I sighed. "Just try to put them back in the right cases when you're done, okay? I spent weeks looking for my Robbie Robertson discs once you were done with them. I don't know how you ended up doubling them up inside my Philip Glass cases."

"Skill, baby, skill."

"Or something."

"Yes," she agreed. "Or something. You should probably go to bed, shouldn't you? What time is it there?"

I looked at the clock over the refrigerator. "Midnight here."

"Three by your body clock, and you only got four hours' sleep last night. You must be completely wasted."

"I am, Muse, but I had to check in with you before I zonked out. If everybody wants a piece of me the next couple of days, I wasn't sure when I'd get a chance to get in touch with you again. Didn't want you to worry."

"So sweet. I'm handling your absence well enough, and I'll be even better once I cook this soup. You go on and go to sleep. Drop me an email or something tomorrow, if you get the chance, let me know if you see Bigfoot or anything. I need some entertainment, dear."

"Glad I mean so much to you, Muse. I'm touched."

"You mean more than you know, love. No go! Sleep, and I'll eat, and we'll meet up tomorrow, perhaps, in cyberspace."

"Can do, Muse. I'm going to sleep like a dead grandfather tonight."

"Glad to see your sense of humor is still atrocious."

"You love me," I said.

"I do," she replied, and made a kissing noise at me. "Goodnight, sleepyhead."

"Night, Muse. Kisses."
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Bill Hicks

California: Day Two

Dear Muse:

Day Two of my trip to Chez Grandparents. Today was the day that I was reminded of just how unappealing my grandmother's cooking is. Apparently, being a poor child at the end of the Depression taught her that she shouldn't toss out any food until it has at least a small bit of hair growing on it, so you're never really certain just how old anything is that comes out of her pantry. As such, I've been living off a diet of fast food and cookies (which came in an unopened and dated package. Nilla Wafers are a staple food around here, at least while I'm in town).

We were up early, or so it seemed to me, since I'm still three hours off on my body clock. 10:30 here is simply beastly for me. I'm looking forward to coming home just so I can get back on my "normal" schedule. I'm a night owl, as you well know.

Nearly missed my parents arrival in town, as my grandmother had planned on us driving to meet them, and had apparently forgotten that my parents had told her that they were driving up to meet us instead. Only a phone call from me to tell them that we were about to leave the house and come their way saved us all from passing one another in the middle of Northern California. Once all that was figured out, and the decision that they were coming our way was made, my grandmother and I had time to spend before their arrival. She decided we should go to the grave site of my aunt, who died a couple of years back. So we did just that, driving forty-five minutes outside of town, and laying flowers down at the base of the headstone. Another forty-five minute drive back, and we met my parents in the driveway, they already having arrived and gotten a key to the house from my grandmother's next door neighbor. My parents brought along my seven-year-old nephew, whom I've only met once before. That was a nice little bonus for me, Muse.

By the way, Muse: you'd better pick up my place before I get back. No more messes of half-empty cereal bowls and newspapers covering the furniture. You're a pig, Muse. Seriously.

And so: lunch was ordered (Chinese) and picked up (by me), eaten, and then off again to the cemetery we went (without my father and nephew--my father can't abide hospitals or cemeteries, and my nephew is too young to want to wander graves (although I used to love doing that when I was a kid, you know; probably a result of having lived in Daly City near San Francisco, a city where the population of the dead outnumbers the living by two to one; remind me to tell you about that some day, Muse). At any rate, we went back to the cemetery, the first time my mother had been back since my grandfather (her father) had been buried. She handled the situation well, only having a moment or two of being choked up, and shared just between the two of us. My grandmother copes with the loss of her husband by trying to not involve herself too much with the specifics, and so spent most of the time in the cemetery wandering about, looking for older graves of family members or friends.

"It doesn't look big enough to have him in it," my mother said, looking down at the patch of bare earth covering my grandfather. "I don't mean the size, really. He just seemed bigger than that."

"Yes," I said. "That's what I thought, too. Maybe once the grass grows in, it'll look right. It's too naked right now."

Before we left the grave, my mother put a small batch of plastic flowers into the dirt (some she had found nearby, blown from one of the other graves by the strong winds of the previous few days), as well as the plaster wing of an angel statue, which she also discovered nearby. There was no body to go with the wing. It was almost as if it had dropped out of the sky onto my grandfather's plot for the sole purpose of being placed there. I myself took three small rocks from the dirt, and stuffed them into the back pocket of my jeans, something to take back to New York with me. We're an odd family like that. We collect memorabilia of the miserable events of our lives and treasure them, which we don't do with anything from the happier moments. I've got rocks from graves, bones from animals, clippings of accident reports, but I don't keep birthday cards or photos of family gatherings. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's something about the solemnity of painful events that makes me treasure them more, and want to have something tangible to hold to as a reminder. Maybe I'm just a freak. Actually, Muse, I'm certain I'm a freak, and I know you'd agree with me on that. Kiss kiss.

And so the parental units left shortly before sunset, and I gorged myself on junk food, continuing my plan to eat my way through the city's supply of BBQ bacon and cheeseburgers before I fly back home and return to my dull, healthy diet. Tomorrow, I've made plans to go pick up my brother in nearby Grass Valley (you'd like him, Muse--he's fifteen years younger than I am, taller, and extremely hot; all the girls want to eat him alive. The fucker). We're going to drive off to the outskirts of Yosemite and see the redwoods. It'll be the first time in two years we've gotten together, and I'm sure it will be a nice time. We could use a little brotherly bonding. I'm trying to convince him to come back to New York for a visit, and so you can get your Musely grip on him and make him a real man (or something like that). We'll see how that goes.

So there you go, Muse... caught up on all of my adventures (other than realizing that for some reason none of the TDK CDs I bought a few hours ago to back up photos from my digital camera want to burn in my laptop for some reason; a small problem, really. I'll pick up another brand tomorrow and go with that). Oh, actually, forgot to tell you about the pigeon that landed on my head. Short version: my grandmother has a pet pigeon that she keeps in a cage in her back yard. He gets out, flies around, but never leaves the area, which is rather odd to me, although I'm sure that's normal behavior for a "pet" pigeon. My mother decided to change the bird's water dish, and so opened the door to the cage to get at it, at which point the bird flew out and landed on her head, pecked a bit before deciding that I made a taller and therefor more appealing roost, and flew to my head instead. The damn thing didn't want to come down, although it did make its way down my arm before perching on my wrist and biting at my thumb for a minute or two. Fear not, I washed thoroughly after I had had enough and forced him back into his cage. I certainly didn't want to pick up some rare and fatal pigeon disease. Shall I bring him back home for you? Do you think he'd be comfortable in the overhead compartment on the plane? Or would I have to purchase a ticket for him and let him ride in the seat next to me?

Damn, Muse. I was nibbled by a pigeon, and I'm not even sure what his name is. I feel like such a whore.

And so ends Day Two, as I crawl off to bed, alarm set for eight hours from now. I'll try to score plenty of redwood photos for you, since I know you've never been to see them before, and even someone as jaded as you should be impressed by trees that are thirty feet wide. Wide, Muse, not high. We're talking 200 to 350 feet in height. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Okay, that's enough. Tired boy, I am. Talk at you tomorrow, Muse. Hope you're well.
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