There is a house by the sea. In this house live a husband and wife. One day the wife, seeing her husband come home says to him, “I hear the sea is going to rise and our house is going to fall into the sea.” “Who says that?” “Scientists say that. They all agree. You should move the house.” The husband doesn’t like the sound of moving his whole house and away from the sea. “I’m not moving my house,” he says. “It’s a good house. If the house falls into the sea, I will build a new house. For now, it’s a good house and you can live in it with me or you can leave.” “I’m just saying it’s going to fall into the sea.” “If it does, you’ll say I told you so. Fine. But I’m not building a new house until this house falls into the sea.” They lived in silence until later in the evening the wife says, “All the scientists agree it will happen. Don’t you believe in science?” “When do they say it will happen?” “Soon.” “Tomorrow? Next week?” “The chances are going up.” “If chance happens and the house falls into the sea, I will fix it.” This seems like a good solution to the husband and he thinks the problem has been settled, but the wife says, “You can’t burn oil anymore.” “What? Why can’t I burn oil?” “Burning oil makes it happen faster. We can’t burn much oil or all the neighbors’ houses will fall into the sea.” “Oil keeps us warm. How does burning oil make the house fall into the sea?” “Well it works on a large scale. The science says it works like that.” “Listen, wife. You don’t have to do anything. The scientists don’t have to do anything. You worry. The scientists worry. You all come to me with your worry and tell me to do something about your worries. I look outside. I see nothing that needs doing. When I see something that needs doing, I will do it. Okay? If the house falls into the sea, I will build a new house. There’s always a chance I will have to build a new house. Shit happens. But shit has not happened yet and we have a fine house by the sea.”
Another day. Another excerpt. Linearity, damned! However, the segments for the next few days will follow each other.
Johnny threw his shoes onto the bed. “Don’t fit,” he said. “They’re the same shoes you wore yesterday.” “They changed.”
Eleanor danced nakedly spinning on the balls of her feet with her arms wide. “They’re evil,” said Johnny. “Let’s burn them,” said Eleanor.
They stood in the driveway of the hotel and poured cooking oil on Johnny’s shoes. Johnny struck a match. Eleanor blew it out. He struck another and stuck his fingers in Eleanor’s mouth. The shoes went up in flame. “Smells like cancer,” said Johnny.
Shoeless, Johnny walked down the block to the convenience store at the end. Eleanor followed and for a moment Johnny was confused before he remembered they were together and so he puffed out his chest and put his arm around her as they passed through the automatic doors.
Then he went to look at snacks. There were many colors but Johnny chose the chips in the red bag. “Like the blood of the innocent,” he whispered. A blind man stood at the register. Johnny handed the blind man a bill. “What is it?” said the blind man, squeezing the bill. “A billion dollar bill,” said Johnny. The blind man counted out Johnny’s change. Eleanor stole a candy bar. “I’ve got nearly a billion dollars now,” said Johnny. Eleanor laughed. They rented a paddle boat.
+ + +
Eleanor found herself hopelessly drunk at a gay bar. “What sorcery is this?” she whispered. But as she was already dancing, Eleanor figured she might as well continue to dance. “I’m a gay man now,” said Johnny. “What?” “I took a penis this big.” Johnny spread his hands apart as far as he could. “Then another one this big.” Johnny halved his reach. “Then I stuck mine in a man this tall” Johnny halved his reach again. “Fucking heck,” said Eleanor, but then he kissed her.
In the morning Johnny couldn’t find his shoes. “We burned them,” Eleanor said. “Did we buy a new pair?” “That doesn’t sound like us.” “I guess not.” “Come back to bed.”
In the afternoon Johnny walked to the convenience store. “No shoes, no service,” said the blind man. “How did you know?” The blind man pointed to his ears. Johnny nodded and stole a candy bar.
+ + +
Johnny threw wide his arms at the sight of the train. The sun felt good on his tanned arms with the arm hairs bleached white. Eleanor tapped his butt with her sun hat and travel bag. He put his arm around her and pulled their hips close while the train slowed.
Eleanor and Johnny took seats facing each other. Eleanor shut the blinds to put some shade between they and the listening sun. Across the isle a pair of morbidly obese pacific islanders sat like an opposing king and queen. They were napping now, but Johnny found them agitating.
“Denver was nice,” Johnny agreed. “I’d never skied before.” “You did good. You were always athletic.” “Was I?” “Always.” “Acrobatic, even?” “More like a squat lifter.” “It’s a shame we’re headed home.” “I got tired.” “I got bored.” “We could sabotage the train in Kansas.” “Not Kansas.” “Illinois?” “Let’s get drinks.”
Johnny looked for a drink cart down the aisles. “Be back,” he said. He stepped across the gap between cars.
The next car was full of Africans. Johnny didn’t know much about Africans. “Maybe Ethiopians,” he mused. Johnny didn’t know anything about Ethiopians. It was all dark skin and colored fabrics and smelled like people that weren’t his own. Carefully, Johnny slinked through to the end of the car.
The next car after was almost completely empty. Only one small woman sat facing Johnny. Her thin hair dangled from beneath the hood of her coat. Her wide eyes were fixed on Johnny. “A salamander,” Johnny decided. The old woman licked her cracked lips. It was too much. Johnny went back to the Ethiopians.
“King Black. There must be a King Black I can grovel alcohol from,” Johnny thought. He looked around for the biggest most colorful African. What did an alpha Ethiopian look like? Johnny didn’t need to ponder. A loud clicking voice brought the car’s attention to an old fat man in a green cloak. The fat man motioned Johnny over. Johnny obeyed.
The fat King wore a golden collar and had a crooked nose, twice broken. He patted his lap, so Johnny sat on the fat king’s lap. He said something in a language Johnny didn’t know. “What?” The king made the same noise. “What?” said Johnny.
Johnny acted. He raised an invisible bottle to his lips and staggered about to the noise of the African’s approval. The Black King gave Johnny a gift of a bottle of rum from his suitcase. Johnny shook the fat man’s hand and posed as the car took pictures of the two men with cell phones.
“The return of the ambassador,” said Johnny, showing the bottle of rum “Mm. My Mr. Ambassador. Where are we going?” “Heaven,” said Johnny and took a swig from the bottle. Eleanor did likewise.
Had trouble finding the beginning of this thing. This is probably not the beginning, or maybe it is. It’ll be a little non-linear, maybe getting better as I go along. Doing is better than not doing, in most things. We’ll sort it out as we go.
The palm trees were bad. Johnny judged them as he walked. LA was hot and the palm trees were going bad. The canopies were thin and sickly and gave little shade. Johnny paused in the coolness of a shop awning. It was a tiled cafe. Johnny checked the time on his phone, then, with an insulting look at the barren palm tree across the boulevard, which Johnny had rated a lowly two out of ten, Johnny stepped inside.
The bell chimed. The air was hotter than outside but the ceiling fan was cranking and there was a breeze coming through from the kitchen that carried the scent of fried oil and peppers. Behind the counter, the cafe’s only waitress talked on the phone. The waitress was thin, in her twenties, with curly hair and thick frame glasses. Johnny liked the look of her.
“Good afternoon,” she said, and hung up the phone, “How are you?” “I wasn’t going to get anything but I like the look of you so I’ll be truthful. I’m hungry. I’ll eat but I wasn’t going to.” “Until you saw me?” “How’s the cubano?” “Good. Jorge makes it dripping and burnt a little.” “I’ll eat it.” “Is that all?” “What else can I eat?” “What can you?” “Everything. But it’s a busy day.”
Johnny found the end of the cue. The line stretched through three turns of red tape. Johnny staggered forward a place when the woman ahead of did. She wore a cloth around her head and had a toddler in one arm. In the other she held a rolling suitcase.
An air vent blew on Johnny. He looked up. A long line of white string a fluttered from one of the grates in the airport ceiling. “Like a flag,” thought Johnny.
Johnny tried standing on one foot, then the other. When the line move forward, he hopped. Behind Johnny, a woman in a wide brim hat coughed on his neck. Johnny counted the spittle. He felt two drops.
Johnny went into a dream.
In the dream, Johnny was standing atop a giant earthworm in a desert that stretched as far as he could see in all directions. The sun hung low in the orange sky.
The worm was moving, sliding across the sand.
An attendant in a navy blue suit walked along the worm and as she passed Johnny, Johnny reached out a hand to stop her. “Excuse me, but am I allowed to change segments?”
“The worm will decide,” said the attendant. She raised her chin. Bags of pale flesh hung from below her eyes down past her chin. The skin was morbid and plastic.
“Thank you,” said Johnny. He wanted the face to leave. The face remained though, as if on a second thought. “No more thoughts,” thought Johnny, pleadingly.
“Well, if it were up to me…” said the attendant. She laughed. The bags under her eyes rocked like pendulums. “Let’s just say if it were up to me, well, if it were…” She shook her head. “You know. If it were up to me…” She trailed off and laughed again then started walking away. “Up to me,” Johnny could hear her repeating as she climbed over the hump to the next segment of earthworm.
Johnny stood alone watching the sun darken. He decided he’d better walk.
The next worm segment was much the same. The attendant was nowhere to be seen. Nothing extraordinary happened, so Johnny continued on to the one after.
This segment was thick and something deep within beat like a heart beat. Standing higher now, Johnny looked in both directions but could not determine any difference between either direction of the worm. The segments seemed to stretch out towards both horizons.
“What is this life on a worm?” said Johnny aloud.
The security attendant took Johnny’s ticket with a look.
+ + +
Outside the LA airport terminal Johnny spotted the man in the peach suit. The man saw Johnny, nodded, and walked outside and lit a cigarette. Johnny picked up his bag from the conveyer and stepped outside to where the man was just finishing his cigarette and lighting a second.
“Can’t stop smoking these. Come on, let’s go.”
The two men walked to the parking garage and got into a silver Lexus. “It’s my wife’s. How was the flight?” “Everybody sat on the same side of the plane. It corkscrewed the whole way.” “Sounds about right.”
They drove in silence across through the LA streets, then a ways out into the desert. Johnny watched an imaginary man leap alongside the car while the driver smoked and tapped his hand on the outside of the car to a tune in his head.
The castle was new and built in an Art Brut style. “Why a castle?” asked Johnny. “Castles are for the rich. Do you want to be rich?” “Sure,” said Johnny. He didn’t know if he wanted to be rich or not, but didn’t think it hurt to say yes.
“Inside this castle is liquid gold.” “Oil?” “Capsules of molten gold heated by geothermal under the earth. A Frenchman wanted to buy this castle, then a German, and now it’s owned by a Filipino billionaire. It’s a dark history.” “Are we renting a room?” “The movie studio’s renting the whole castle.” “Oh I forgot.” “I’m going to drop you off at makeup, Johnny.
They pulled up alongside a white tent labeled, “Hair and Makeup,” which was shadowed beneath the eastern tower. Beside the tent flap was an iron torch thrust into the dirt with a rubber cable leading away. There was a live gas flame. Johnny gazed into the flame as he walked into the tent. The desert shimmered through the heat.
+ + +
Over the next few weeks I’ll be putting together a novel from excerpts I’ve been scribbling in my notebook. The scribbles follow the story of a man named Johnny. The book ends with the death of a man, Johnny’s uncle, and begins with the romantic promise of a woman named Eleanor. The story is short and written in good humor.
The excerpts will be edited and posted on this blog not necessarily in their final order, but close to it. I will likely write new sections to fill in narrative gaps and edit out sections that don’t fit snugly in between the covers. The front book cover looks vaguely like this ^ one up here.
I hope you find The Book of Johnny some small amusement. I know I did when I wrote it. The editing isn’t much fun like the writing. Without too much more about nothing, I present the first part… tomorrow.
The Book of Johnny I.