Marco's dad's name is Don and he'd been the custodial supervisor for our entire town for what seemed like three thousand years. The first time I met him – I'd seen him tons of times of course – but the first time I actually met him he told me that he'd started out as the guy who cleaned the gunk off the coathangers at the Planned Parenthood, that he'd worked his way up from there. “I'm telling you Brinco” he said in his smoky, dungeness voice “that doctor's office looked like the walk in closet of the Queen. Poor querubíns pulled up to heaven in style, fucking Rolls Royce.” He smiled, deep and brown, and treated himself to a slurp from his overbrimming snifter. Once swallowed though, a terrible shadow came over his face. It was very masculine. Like he was eulogizing brothers of an ancient fraternity, lost in a forgotten battle. “A shame” he whispered, bowed his head, made the sign of the cross: “all that's done online now.”
Don was the most important man in town; something else he told me once: “the man who controls the garbage is the master of the material, the master of the material is the master of our world.” When he heard that, Marco put this look on his face, this exaggerated like nauseous fish look that was meant to be a sort of oh-dad-I've-heard-your-master-of-the-material-story-so-many-god-damn-times-now-I'm-gonna-spit-this-beer-all-over-mom's-pleather-ottoman kinda look, but there was something sweet about it too, you know, like the rimshot at the end of the joke. Of course he was proud; people would come up to Don on the street. Most weekdays you could find him on N. Washington, holding court, sweeping storefronts with a bronze handled broomstick as people came to him with their immaculacy issues.
“Don” they would say, lifting a basket of cookies or a bottle of brandy up to him with their white knuckled hands, “what's the best way to get Masala out of lingerie?”
And Marco's dad would consider it for a moment, passing the gift off to Martine, his assistant. “A warm romantic bath for two. Save the water, add a pinch of ginger to it and let the article soak overnight.”
Another. “Don, you must help me, I do not know where else to turn, you're the only one I can trust. My husband he never cleans, he makes a mess of everything but never lifts a finger to clean. If you don't help me soon I'm afraid I might do something terr--”
“Please, please” he'd say, ruffling through the pockets of his faux mink coat “don't say another word. Here's 30 dollars. Take your children to the movies tonight, see something in 3-D. When you come back your husband will be in dish gloves and aprons.”
Last month something bad happened. Because of budget cuts, the state shuffled all the area's sanitation departments back into the county, meaning that instead of there being twenty-four departments from here to Arborville now there's only one. The sidewalks don't glimmer like they used to, in their lively flirtatious way, now they stay dusty for days, trash bins waiting curbside like delusional latchkey children. It's sad. We were once ranked as the #6 City To Take Wind Of Before You Die in “Aroma Fetishist Today” and now I heard they want their plaque back.
Worst still, Marco's dad is out of the job. He protected their streets from unwanted clutter, rubbish, muck and bulk for over thirty years and still the board of directors dumped him for fresh blood. Martine is the County Supervisor now.
I haven't seen Marco too much since, seen him like talked to him anyway. I guess things at home have been pretty bad because Cena, Marco's cousin, has been driving Marco around in his tagged up Scion just joyriding, though it's hard to see the joy in it. All the times that I've seen them Marco is just staring dumbly out the window, no emotion, looking like a Mexican crash test dummy. Cena has him lubed up for sure, drunk enough he probably thinks he is a dummy or a table lamp or a load of trash. Lucky bastard. Nobody's ever done something that nice for me.
Early this week I was drunk and with Lillian and we were walking to the Bigguns Soulfood and Sandwhiches downtown and we saw Marco and Cena driving down the street. They were on our side of the road, coming almost right at us.
“Hey Marco!”, “Trash Prince!”, “He's returned!”, “Pull the shit over!”, nothing. I know they saw us too. I even chucked a rock at them as they passed by, hit the taillight on the passenger side, probably cracked it but didn't bust it.
I was the pitcher on my little league team every year I played, best in the league. Could've went Varsity sophomore year in high school, but there was too much politics. Too much oh-who's-been-drinking-with-who.
Imagine my surprise though when Cena, Marco, and a freshly bought 24 pack came gliding in from their crash test travels one afternoon, right into my dad's backyard like they'd phoned ahead. Lillian and I were each one deep playing speed on the back lawn, you know, just savoring the full blast of sun while it's highest in the sky, a tad gripey on account of the nature of the game, the prickles of overgrown grass, and our recent, gift bearing, intruders.
Cena's hair was all slicked back. There was so much product in it that it looked kind of gray in the sun, which, you know, is normal for him. He was wearing these white slacks, this collared shirt I'd never seen, and was leading Marco through the yard like he was trying to show him where to take a squat. Marco dangled the 24 pack from one trembly hand like a suitcase, like the little boy who ran away from home, eyes all red and small. I'd never seen someone with so much beer look so unhappy before. At a certain point it gets hard to feel sorry for a kid with such an ampling of hops in his possession. Makes you just wanna say 'Dude, the gods are smiling on you. Learn to read the freaking signs.'
“What's good Brinco?” Cena asked, but it came out as more of a proclamation. Cheerily, he stamped between Lillian and I, trampling the nice little game we'd set up. I lifted my usual hand to defend myself but instead of slapping it away he high-fived it. The impact of our flesh together must've, like, done something to the universe. It was like a sonic boom, it popped my ears and confused the hell out of me. All four of us watched the sound rise to the surface of our understanding like the bubbles in a cold beer. Woah.
“Woah.” I said.
“Yeah. That.” Cena said, looming. “You'll see.” He was blocking my sunlight so alls I could see was this giant shadow in beaming Chinos, kneading my cards into the dirt. “You're taking this llorón off my hands for the night and into the morning too. I'm going out with Malta tonight and this guy won't stop fucking crying already!”
Lillian, from behind Cena, my life preserver in the dark water: “You know Cena, I used to hang out with Clara, Marco's ex girlfriend, and she told me that when he was feeling blue she would just up and ruin his friend's card games. She said it got him really hot. And if that doesn't work I hear he also likes it when you just fuck off completely.” If Cena heard her from underneath whatever was up with him that day he didnt let on, or at least I didn't his shadow do anything about it. He was smiling, the sunlight was playing in the gaps between his teeth like kids on a jungle gym. My hand still buzzed with his afterglow.
“That's fine Cena, you don't have to order me to hang out with my friends” I said, gaining a little bit of courage from Lillian's outburst. “I don't consider it a punishment or anything.” I like to think I'm more clever than that. That's when I started to smell the aluminum though, that sweet smell of beer cans warming in the sun. God. It was distracting.
“Sandeces! You haven't seen him. I've been with him for two fucking weeks and all he does is cry! The other night he made me rent Dead Poet's Society from Vallhalla Video, we watched it twice! Kept talking about how trash is poetry and how white boys would never call a Mexican their captain or something and blah blah blah blah blah. I've had enough! It's time for me to get my balls licked Brinco. And it's either you take him and I get it from Malta or you lick them yourself.” He let out a long breath at that and – I swear – even though it was like seventy something out I swear I saw his breath, I saw it twinkle in the sun. He looked down at me and winked.
“Besides. I brought you something.” he said.
Marco approached the edge of the broken circle and held up the 24 pack as a tear rolled down his cheek, the fabulous prize girl on some twisted game show.
“Milwaukee's Best? Gee Cena you shouldn't have. Paying for it in installments or did you have to refinance your haircut?” Lillian again, Gods bless her. But while she succeeded in finally getting Cena's attention, I was busy basking in that familiar itch in my sides, the nice little buzz that tells me that the Gods are transmitted a message, in Morse Code, straight to my liver.
Bzzzz bzzzz bzzzz “Pay attention to this brew, Slim. It's a good one. Packs a hell of a whallop. Don't forget to thank us later, in your own way.” I mouthed the words to myself as I received them.
“Forget everything you think you know about this beer little girl.” Cena said “I bought that pack for a reason. Had one in the car on the way over here, and that's why I'm in such a good mood, and that's why I'm not stringing you up by her balls for dinging my taillight the other day, Brinco. That's right I saw you. You better thank that beer homeboy. Since I learned The Gospel of the Best last night I've been a changed man. And now I'm spreading that gospel to you. It is now as it will be in heaven, or something, homes.”
“The hell is The Gospel of the Best?” I asked. The transmission was through.
Cena smiled and his gold tooth shone brilliantly in the sun. Ruining our game or no, he did seem to be in a rare, good mood. “Drink it and find out kiddies” he beamed. “Now if you'll excuse me I've got to take my shoulder to the vet, this one's been crying on it for so long it's starting to look like a fucking Shar Pei.” Pleased with himself, Cena patted me on the head, blew Lillian a lewd seeming kiss, and gave his cousin a surprisingly tender one on the cheek. Then he licked the tips of his pointer and middle fingers on one hand and pointed them up, towards the sun, as he shut the gate. Was it some conscious salute to the gods or merely a good luck charm, a benediction on his digits as they began their journey to Malta's netherworld? Hopefully I'll never know. And with Cena it's best not to ask.
“Your cousin is an asshole.” Lillian said to Marco as she started to collect the cards from the ground and rub the grass and boot stains from them. The creases, however, wouldn't be coming out. “I was about to go triples.” The Queen of Clubs was frowning as Lillian considered it.
“He's the only cousin I got, Brinco. So don't throw them out. Please” Marco sort of mumbled. Lillian and I, knowing the fabled volumes of his family (he has enough cousins to, at least, come by my dad's backyard and personally stamp the whole deck, jokers, rule sets and all into the grass, one card per cousin) turned to our friend in concern. He stood, swaying lightly in the afternoon breeze, cradling Cena's mysterious gift to his chest like someone was going to take his baby away. That's when we noticed he was piss drunk. No. Actually it was afterwards. Yeah. It was when he dropped the case onto the lawn and collapsed, screeching in Spanish and pounding his fits into my dad's prickly grass.
“Que haremos? La gente del èxodo! A la deriva como Los restos flotantes! Soy un banco ignorado del parque y no es justo! Las personas no son objetos! Mi padre era el Rey de Los objetos! Era el Rey y yo era el prìncipe!” Yeah, that's when we realized he was drunk.
While Lillian leaned back on her hands and smiled to herself, I sprung into action. I grabbed Marco's writhing frame from behind, putting my weight on top of him and hugging his shoulders. I think I might've seen it in a movie. “It's okay buddy, let it out. Your dad's gonna be fine. We're all gonna be fine.” I had no idea what I was doing.
I felt like a bolt, in the middle of my dad's yard, the sun on my back, on top of this kid who, truth be told, I didn't know all that well. Really we only started kicking it with Marco a few months ago. In high school he was sort of a periphery character. Well, I guess the more truthful statement would be that I was the periphery character. Marco used to eat with all of the popular, industrious kids believe it or not, whereas I had usually escaped campus by lunchtime. I think he only hung out with them because of his dad's lofty position in town, which was the same reason he didn't go off to school once they all did. Marco always thought he'd inherit Don's junk throne once all was said and done. Trash Prince, trash dynasty. Anyway all of Marco's friends, who he always said “couldn't tell a garbage disposal from the hole in their asses” went on to nice schools, coming back on holidays with this ivy league world weariness that helped to lump Marco in with the rest of us out of a sense of shared reprobation. We were the kids who “weren't doing anything” and “would be stuck there forever” that matriculated freshman from all over the country bond over on cozy nights under stogelight. Fucking assholes.
So yeah, there I was, a bolt hugging this kid because some weird rule out there in the universe says that I should. I wasn't thinking a thought in the world, not about him, myself, or even the 24 pack watching this all go down. A bolt, like I said, and we were like that for a while. Marco's cries worked themselves back down to sobs and Lillian finished her entire cigarette.
“So that was cute.” She said finally, putting her stoge out in the grass. I took that as a queue and let off Marco. His back probably hurt and I'd fucked up his hair.
“It's like they don't even want to understand” he said, his voice was as sore and small as his eyes, which looked like they'd descended back into his skull. “People keep shitting on us and expecting us to take it. They see me and they see me as less than them. Like I'm theres, like they can buy me for a dollar or like, pass over me and get something else on the shelf. You know? Shit! They can! They bought my dad and kept him for, like, twenty years or something and then just sold him back to the dump. Now he's a street lamp and they don't ever have to think about him again.”
The wind picked up a little as he was talking. It made the hair on my arms stand up and tusseled some of my dad's cards from the neat stack that Lillian had put them in. If it were up to me it would have kept blowing though, a wind strong enough to blow away everything Marco was saying and feeling. It could have blown all that BS to the top of Mt. Budden for all I cared. Truthfully I didn't actually know what he was talking about, but I wasn't in any hurry to figure it out either. So we let it sit there for a moment and watched Marco stew in it. Lillian took another cigarette out of her pack and I thought a little about drinking. And yeah, we were almost clear of it until Marco started fucking crying again. That's when Lillian started to lose it.
“Marco your family has more money than both of ours combined!” She yelled, her voice missing it's detached flatness, contorting and wringing with some words. “It's the economy, you swear like it's some personal vendetta with anybody with the last name Cruz or something. My dad lost his job like a year ago and you didn't see me riding around town in some coffin mobile like somebody had shot him.”
“Economy?” Marco sobbed “I'm a human being.”
“You're a prince.”
“Jesus. Everybody sober up.” I said, without thinking. “Seriously. Both of you sober up I'm sick of this. It's bumming me out and I want to see what's up with that stuff Cena bought. Right? Don't you guys want to do that?”
The wind died down some, it'd been playing an impromptu game of 52 Pick Up and blown my dad's cards all over his back lawn. Neither Marco or Lillian said anything, or looked at me. Marco started tearing big patches of grass out and Lillian lit her ciggerette and stared at the smoke. Me, hell of a peacemaker right? I turned to the case of Milwaukee's, loosely arranged in our torrid semi circle like it was one of the guys. A delicious rectangle man. I could see the indentation of the can bases straining against the thin blue paper.
“So now what?” I asked him.
Have you ever stuck your ear up to an unopened beer can? Yeah? Sounds like the ocean doesn't it? You can hear the tides doing their subtle dance with the moon, probably my favorite thing about beer. Crazy thing though. I could hear other stuff in this one, like a shallow breathing underneath, a life under the sea. It wanted out.
So I took my stand. “Listen you guys can sit here and mope all you want but I'm young and I'm beautiful and I'm gonna drink that weird stuff in that case over there. There it is. You can either join me or you can walk home. I'm sick of this crap.”
Pleased to say it worked. A minute later we were standing on the side yard of my dad's house (he would've freaked if the neighbors had seen us drinking in the backyard), finally tearing the open the pack.
“Last night Cena and I were waiting on mi padre, my father, to come home you know, like we've been doing. And I told Cena to just leave, come back in an hour I had to be by myself. When he left I tried to summon him, I got into his brandy, I put on one of his coats, and I watched reruns of This Trash Life on DVR, hoping that he'd get the message but....something must've happened though. Something must've happened because when Cena came back his feet wernt touching the ground. I swear it. At first I thought that I'd just drank too much, but, you guys, he was floating.”
Lillian and I turned towards Marco, and he looked back at us with his earnest, sad little puppy eyes. Then we laughed, all of us, long, loud, whooping laughs that bounced off the whole, empty street.
The case had a scent to it, like an old cellar. It smelled like it had come some crazy long way to reach us: 3 kids going nowhere yet somehow still being smiled upon by the gods. The cans inside were covered in this layer of thin dust, absolutely covered, unblemished in only a few spots to give a clear look at the red paint underneath. Little red winks they were. In some spots, around the mouth and base of the can, there was this silver paint, a faux metallic color that would wink too, a playful wink that said: “Hey, I know we can't fool you but can you blame a guy for trying”. And underneath that silver, which was scratched away in some parts during the journey, was the real silver, the aluminum of the can. It was like one of those Russian things.
“Jesus how much did Cena spend on this?” Lillian asked These cans have probably been in here since the 80s.”
But my whole body was itching. “Sh-shut up. Free beer is free beer.” My hands were trembling.
“Yeah well. My dad drinks Brandy.” Marco said.
He cracked open his after that and I jumped a little and looked at his can. It sounded like it had something to say. Shit. I cracked mine after that and Lillian after me.
It smelled like boiled vegetables, that much was clear right away. Rotten enough to make a lesser men put it down. For a second, I admit I was about to chalk the whole thing up to Cena playing some nasty joke on us, giving us bad beer in payback for me busting his taillight, for Marco crying all the time, for Lillian being a smart ass, for us and our stupid wasted lives. But I sipped it anyway.
Cascades, little spirits trampling up my tongue,
they're incensed, the house is no good, tear it down
anyway it was never worth a damn
bought second or third hand from grifters and dime store affecianatos all,
come quick come quick, it won't last long
organs composed place in poses, you need us
We don't need you.
Taken to where you finger my brain stem,
where you can be what I cannot
I am the clouds, my hops my hops
my hops my hops my hops my hops