I. HUNTING. TED GORDON.
I met Ted Gordon in the second grade. He punched me in the back all day without any intent to hurt me; Ted was just trying to be an asshole. He did just that. I didn't ask him to stop; in second grade you don't have all the cards in your deck, I guess.
The teacher asked him what he was doing; she wanted to teach him a lesson.
She asked him: "Ted, why are you punching Jack?"
He said: "Kid asked me to do it."
Ted didn't hit me after that, but I really didn't care. A couple days later Ted asked me if I could come over to his house. I figured I didn't know the kid at all, but what the hell, he probably needed the company. Ted's the son of a writer man. Ted's dad shacks up in a little room in the basement, clacking away at his Great American Novel and chain-smoking anything that'll burn. The kid doesn't now and never did get much attention.
We played on his computer for a while. There wasn't much to do. Ted's house was massive, too big for a family of two. His dad loves guns, owns several, and fires them often for no real reason at night. I heard stories about the crazy Gordon man going out at night with his rifle and shooting at the moon, looking shitfaced and washed up. That day I never met his father. A part of me is glad I didn't; some things shouldn't be seen that young. A drunk gun-loving writer isn't a tender image to take home from a play date. I can't imagine coming home to that every day.
So we stuck to the computer. We played minesweeper for about an hour. We were both fantastically bored.
I left the house and didn't feel like coming back for a while. I didn't have much conversation with Ted until the summer after eighth grade, six years later.
1999. Y2K driving everybody totally batshit. Mmmbop dying a slow death on radio. Gas a buck a gallon, CDs for ten. Computers big and slow; laptops heavier, pains in the asses. The new Star Wars movie tanked, but everybody saw it. Anything composed before 'N Sync got buried. "Bye Bye Bye," a song about a fat old boy band manager, made more money than "Stairway to Heaven." Screaming eleven-year-old girls generated enough money and enough brainpower to make the world go round for one unholy year.
The summer came and went in central Mass, same as any other summer, but I left it writing and I left it working like I should. The summer was about starting something, anything, starting it RIGHT NOW, anywhere and at any time. I remember it best because that was when I started living right.
That's really what it's about. There's living, and there's living right. 1999 got me started.
I had just finished throwing away my middle school experience, papers, handouts, certificates, magazines, all the useless crap that had accumulated over the three years I spent in middle school with my tassel on the top of the pile like a big red cherry, and Ted called. I picked up the phone and stomped into the wastebasket.
"Jack!" he said. "What's going on!"
"Who is this?" I said. My tassel was frayed and broken in the trash. I felt good.
"It's Ted," he said. "Ted Gordon, you know."
"Uh huh." I took another step on my tassel. Some idiot on the graduation council decided to give the eight grade class commemorative tassels. Why we needed tassels for a middle school graduation was beyond me. I couldn't understand why anybody bothered to make a graduation council in the first place. People who couldn't walk in step with a girl their own height gave us tassels to wear, I thought. This world is full of miracles.
"How's it feel to be free?" he asked.
"Feels fine," I said. "Couldn't be better."
Ted wasn't good with shooting the shit over the phone. The conversation ended.
"Want to come over my place?"
"I dunno, Saturday good?"
"Yeah, fine here."
"See you then."
"Uh huh. Bye."
I was supposed to baby-sit for my aunt that weekend, but I didn't care about fifty bucks either way. My family dumped some massive cash on me the week before. I had to choke back any acid for not giving a damn about graduation.
I hung up the phone and thought about all that money. I'd buy a something nice; I wanted a couple new shirts to start freshman year with. Besides that, I might just let it rot, look at it every so often with an admiring eye.
I yelled down to my parents that I was going to Ted Gordon's house on Saturday. They said yep. I went back and took out my money and sniffed. Why do people get satisfaction out of such a disgusting smell as American paper money? Might be because nothing else in the world looks so pretty and smells so rancid. It was good to be rich, I thought.
That summer I intended to do at least one of two things: sleep and eat. Maybe in shifts. All I wanted to do was sleep fifteen hours a day, get up to eat a breakfast of pizza and Coke, zone the hell out to my music and watch TV, then do it again seventy times. Physical labor or social activity was out of the question. This would be the summer of my dreams, the last hurrah of boredom and inertia of my own design before exposing myself to even more boredom and even more inertia, this kind fashioned by the State of Massachusetts. High school was on the horizon. College after that. The world after college. If I wanted some time to laze and be merry before becoming the absolute stiff I was bound to become -- if my folks foretold anything -- then was the time to do it. But I wouldn't be doing anything. I'd just be shitting around for three months.
On the first Wednesday after Labor Day, I'd take a five-minute shower, and the beast I'd become would look like a freshman.
Maybe I deserved it. I wanted that to be my excuse. I knew the reason. The reason I wanted to do nothing for three months, just for shits and giggles, wasn't that I felt I needed it or was entitled to it or bound in a karmic way to a body that wouldn't will itself to move or even stir when the daylight hit it. I was plain lazy.
They hadn't painted over the old walls in the six years between my visits. They were white only in patches and stripes, chipping all over, some in big, curly loops that still clung to the wood and made a shape like overgrown fingernails. The basement hut Ted's dad worked in was invisible under a foot of rotting leaves. The antique colonial I remembered looked like the house the crazy man lives in. I remembered that this actually was a house a crazy old man lived in. I reckoned it'd be a bad idea to ask if we would order pizza after the poker game.
There was a Lincoln Navigator about a million years old in the driveway, so scratched up it looked like maroon cowhide with the rust. Ted was outside, cleaning a rifle. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt with grease on the elbows.
"How goes it," he said, without looking up.
"Fine," I said. I grew up in suburbia, no guns in the neighborhood. I never saw a gun if it didn't hang on a cop's belt, let alone hold one or, Christ almighty, fire one. I walked over to him and thought if the safety was on.
"It's not loaded," Ted said. "You look like you're about to shit yourself. It won't shoot you if you're not in front of it."
"Uh huh," I said. "What's going on?"
"Cleaning a gun," Ted said. "Want to go hunting?"
"Shit yeah." I lied. He gave me the gun.
"Now I've got your prints on it," he said. I looked up at him and swallowed. "Can't take a joke?" he said.
"Bad memories." I lied again.
He rolled up his sleeves and picked up the rotting doormat. There was a key underneath. He unlocked his front door.
"Hey, don't make too much noise, alright," he said. "Dad's in his office writing the Great American Novel."
"Oh," I said. He dropped the key and slapped the doormat over it. I handed him the gun. I didn't really want to hold it for too long; I guess back then I was just that much of a pansy ...
"Gun rack's upstairs. He's in the basement." He smiled.
"You're serious about going hunting?" I asked.
"You think of anything else to do?"
"You have a jacket?" I was wearing a sweatshirt, dumb thing to do. There were clouds overhead.
"I got you covered," he said. He opened his front door.
I expected the inside of the house to be like the outside. It was clean in most rooms, probably the ones they hadn't lived in. The kitchen was trashed.
Ted led me up the stairs. I could head a lot of noise in the basement. Ted's dad wrote to music and liked it loud.
Ted went into a room dominated by a stuffed deer head and a massive cabinet. He unlocked it with a key from on the lanyard in his pocket. There were six identical rifles hung from the sides. A rack of camo jackets and pants hung in the middle, and a few boxes of rifle shells were below them; the other side was dominated by handguns of every kind, .22s, .38s, even a massive .45 six-shot out of a spaghetti Western. Ted's dad liked his guns as loud as his music. The bass line from downstairs sent up earthquakes in the walls.
"Grab a gun," he said. "Might want a box, too."
"We don't need that much, do we?" I asked him.
"We can't do deer, unless you want to drag a few hundred pounds of carcass for miles and miles. Just get a box," he told me. I took one. "Stick to birds. For safety."
"Oh, yeah, safety," I said. He laughed.
"This shit is not dangerous, I mean, that's really a pussy rifle. Less you get hit in the head, you should be -- "
"I'd like to leave here without any holes in me," I told him. "Why, you ever been shot?"
"Nah, I shot myself in the foot with an air soft pellet once. That count?"
"How'd that happen?" I asked. I zipped the jacket up.
"My dad was teachin' me how to shoot, he tells me to keep the first chamber open, so you don't shoot your dick off when you draw? So he brings me to a shooting range, gives me the kiddie air soft gun."
"Yeah. Hey, where's the safety on this thing?"
"Right there. So this guy behind the counter, he hands me the gun, it's loaded, and I'm out of my mind at this point. First time I pulled a trigger, you know."
"Yeah," I said. I knew.
"I squeezed too hard on it right in front of the guy, blew half my big toe off."
"Yeah." I thought he'd take his shoe of and show me. He had that look in his eye.
"Shit, man. What'd the guy do?"
"Screamed fuck and took the gun away. My dad wanted to sue him but the guy said he didn't have to take the first shell out." He turned for the door.
I stuffed the box of shells in my pocket.
"Dad, I'm goin' out," he yelled at the basement. I imagine his dad made an inaudible grunt to this below screaming music and a thick layer of smoke.
He walked out the back door and brought back two cigars. "Smoke one of these before?" he asked.
I didn't recognize the seal. Shit, that sounds pretentious. I hadn't even seen a cigar before. In fourteen years I never happened across a cigar stub. God, this American life. "Never."
"They're the closest you can get to Cuba without making a raft."
"Really," I said. He nodded and smiled at the cigars and his gun.
"There isn't anything like seeing the shit blown out of a deer with one of these in your mouth," he said. "You'll see what I mean."
After walking what I'd guess was half a mile through the woods in his back yard, Ted came to a dead stop and squatted, whipped out his rifle and shot three fat Canadian geese, without a hiccup of doubt. I had the pleasure of carrying two of them, one in each hand and my rifle slung over my back. Ted had one, too, he wouldn't let me carry the whole thing, that would be cruel. After about five minutes of this I said fuck it and threw the bloody things into the woods. Ted figured there wasn't any point in just bringing back one, so he left his for God to sort out.
We didn't last long in the woods after that. By four o'clock the clouds took over the sky. Ted said he didn't want to get rained on. Didn't want to have to clean the weaponry again. I agreed, though I would have been happy to get wet if it meant actually pulling the trigger to this unbelievably real rifle.
We must have been pretty deep into the woods to need half an hour's walk to get us back to Ted's house. It didn't matter to me, that we had to walk a couple miles. Doesn't now. I had a good time, Ted shot some geese, amore, amore.
We got back at four-thirty. I gave Ted his gun and jacket back. When I was doing this I realized that there wasn't any sound coming from downstairs.
Ted had noticed it too, by the look on his face.
"What?" I asked him, though I knew.
Ted could have told me anything. I would have believed him. I had no desire to know what went on between him and his father, even less to interfere or get involved with whatever personal differences there were between father and son. Ted could have said, "Nothin, man, let's do this again next week," showed me out the door and I could have been at arm's length from the Gordon's and the working world for always and eternity.
Instead, he got up and looked around the side of the house. I followed him and saw the driveway was empty. No old-as-God Lincoln Navigator.
"He's at Handsome Dan's , scoring some shit."
And then shit started to really pile up, you know.
To be continued ...