Monday, November 05, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day Five

In spite of the torches, the men were in shadows as they faced each other in the circle of onlookers. But how to begin such a thing? The Colonel lurched and stumbled, his gloved arms upraised, a goofy pantomine of a boxer, the gloves comically big, his stance not punch drunk. Just drunk.

Chalmers had his arms at his side, looking away from The Colonel, laughing with Benji and Tyler. The mood of the crowd was jovial as well. The only one with a serious look on his face was The Colonel, but the general darkness and the shadow of his hat hid his face. He did a short dance, punching out in a flurry, stopping as he got too winded, drawing applause from the crowd.

As if to hasten things along, someone yelled, "Ding, ding," and many others followed with a chorus of bell sounds. Chalmers said, "We need more light here!" Hands reached into pockets and lighters were held aloft, adding nominal light to the gloom. After people stopped yelling "Ding, ding," The Colonel came forward punching. The fight was on.

Chalmers broke his glance away from his friends in time to see The Colonel rush him. He danced sideways and The Colonel brushed past him, falling into that side of the crowd. Benji pushed him rudely back up and facing Chalmers, who was dancing, circling The Colonel, crossing his legs. He held out his left arm to ward off The Colonel and as The Colonel stepped forward, he swung wide with his right, smashing The Colonel's gloves and then pushing him sideways. He didn't want to hurt The Colonel, not out of any sense of mercy, but for worry of the legal repercussions. Nothing would make him happier than to beat this man down, no kid gloves, skin and bone, foot and jaw. He'd done it before, to others, more contemporary peers, for lesser offenses than The Colonel's. The only way to keep his cool was to keep it funny, so he egged The Colonel on.

"C'mon, old fucker, is that the best you got?" Chalmers said. "C'mon. Give me the old one-two." He put his arms down and stuck out his jaw at The Colonel, backing out at the last second when The Colonel lunged after him.

The crowd began to get restless. "What is this, the high school prom?" someone said. "Let's get it on."

Chalmers stuck his jaw out again, and when The Colonel came after him, he sidestepped and smashed a right hand to the side of The Colonel's head, once again sending him sprawling into the crowd.This just enraged The Colonel, but he was too winded to speak. He rubbed the side of his head and resumed his stance.

The Colonel eyed Chalmers in the gloom, coiled his energy in his heels, waited for some sort of lapse in attention, and when Chalmers turned briefly to respond to something said to him in the crowd, The Colonel saw his chance and leaped. He connected a punch to Chalmers nose, which made Chalmers raise his arms in alarm. The Colonel then punched Chalmers three or four times in the gut as hard as he could. Chalmers shoved The Colonel away, who clapped his gloves together in a come-on gesture when he recovered his stance.

Chalmers noticed his nose was bleeding and became enraged. "Now you've done it! Enough of this fucking bullshit." He let out a guttural cry and rushed The Colonel, who tried to dance aside. But Chalmers hooked his left arm into The Colonel and threw him into the onlookers. The Colonel's hat fell to the ground. Chalmers didn't wait for The Colonel to recover. He shoved The Colonel until he'd pushed him through the crowd. And when The Colonel's gloves went down, Chalmers reared back and punched him in the mouth with one swing and the forehead with the other, sending The Colonel flying back.

The momentum of the blows made The Colonel's ass hit the ground so hard that his pants ripped. As he sat, Chalmers punched The Colonel in the mouth once more, rocking his head back, hitting the ground with a thud. At this, Andy stepped between the two men. "Okay, okay," Andy raised his palms to Chalmers, gesturing as he'd seen referees do on television fights. "Enough, enough."

"Fucking A right. That's enough," Chalmers said. He raised his arms in triumph to a smattering of applause. The spectacle was brief, and just as quickly the crowd broke up, the tiki torches carried back to the back porch. Some people went inside for bathrooms or various drug breaks, others hit the keg. A few shuffled back to the fire.

Chalmers unlaced one of the gloves with his teeth and then held the end in his mouth as he freed his hand. Then he untied the other, took it off and threw them both at The Colonel, who sat up, Andy standing at his side.Chalmers looked down and noticed The Colonel's battered cavalry hat. He picked it up and looked towards The Colonel.

"Hey, Colonel!" Chalmers yelled. "You're demoted." Chalmers threw the hat into the fire.

Andy ran to the fire to recover it, and managed to fish it out using a couple sticks. But the hat was charred beyond repair. Andy removed the star badge and threw the rest of the hat back in the fire.

The Colonel spat blood and wiped his mouth on his sleeve, but stayed seated on the gravel. "Hey, Andy! Hey!" he yelled. "Get me a beer, man." Andy walked towards the keg. "No! NO! None of that fucker's beer! There's a few soldiers still on the front porch."

Andy disappeared through the sideyard and came back with a fresh can. The Colonel reached for Andy's hand to help him to his feet. He took a small sip of the beer, swished and spat once again. The Colonel reached to his mouth.

"Well, I'll be dipped in shit," The Colonel said. "Lookee here." He held his palm out and spat, then looked up at Andy and smiled to show the gap. He then opened his palm and showed the tooth. Surprisingly, considering it had been at least 10 years since he'd been to a dentist, this was only the second missing tooth for The Colonel, and the first to affect his smile.

Andy looked at The Colonel's smile and shook his head sadly. "Well, at least you've got a ways to go to catch up with me," Andy said. He smiled, giving a rare glimpse of his top palate and the gumline of his long-gone uppers.

The Colonel put the tooth in the his pocket and pulled out his small baggie of weed from the same.

"You've got my bowl, right?" The Colonel said. Andy handed it to The Colonel. And then he handed him the badge. The Colonel looked at the badge as he reached to grab it and a darkness passed over his face at the loss of his beloved hat. The Colonel, feeling whoozy once again, fell to the ground once again, barely bracing his impact with his hands. Andy groaned and sat beside The Colonel. The two friends passed the bowl without speaking, punctuating their exhalations with phlegmy coughs, winding down, down, wreathing and wrapping themselves in the analgesic embrace of their chosen euphoric.


Although Sandy Halvorson owned Country Acres and tended to the lawn maintenance, she relied on a local property management service to handle rent collections. After doing this herself the first year, she'd grown tired of hearing people's sob stories for why they were late in paying the rent, and found the process soul-wearying and time-consuming. Better to let professionals handle it.

At first, the company wanted to do credit checks on potential renters, as it did with all other apartment rentals. But as they quickly discovered, those with good credit did not seek out rooming houses. Instead, they adopted a first/last/security policy to cover potential losses when a tenant inevitably skipped out before lease's end. The service also hired college students to show prospective tenants the rooms. So Halvorson was absent the day the last vacancy, Room 14, two doors down from the infamous red room, was filled.

Gerald Luce debated between the Country Acres room or another across town, a larger room in a former Greek revival, with a professional kitchen and a shared bathroom with only one other tenant that was $150 more a month in rent. The cheaper price and closer proximity to campus decided in favor of Country Acres, but the amenities of the former were hard to resist.

The person showing him the room seemed distracted and tried to rush Gerald through the showing. When the student took a call on his cell phone, Gerald quietly asked him if it was okay if he stayed in the room a while to "feel out its vibe." The student put his phone down, looked Gerald over to assess his trustworthiness and, judging him worthy, whispered instructions to lock the door on his way out and go back to the management office for paperwork if he was interested in the room.

Gerald sat in the provided chair at the desk. One of the nicer amenities of this room is that it came with a loft for a double-size mattress, in addition to the chair and desk. A cheap, plastic-framed mirror was screwed into one of the panels of the wall-length sliding closet doors. The room was dorm size, small, cozy, but it let a warm afternoon light come in. Gerald remembered the other, more spacious room, was north facing. He went to the window and, from his perspective on the second floor, he could see across the back lot of the Augusta Inn, through the backyards and fences of the other yards to an expansive lawn, the eastern edge of campus, a phalanx of weeping willows leaning over the banks of the winding Kishamukee. The view clinched it.

Gerald sat awhile, breathing deep, lost in recollection. So many places, so many other views. This was less than ideal. He'd lived in far better places and, at age 32, in his first semester as a non-traditional student-at-large, applying to the graduate school in anthropology, he'd imagined, when he was younger, that life would offer more than this by now. Many of his friends from high school and undergraduate days were married now and had houses and kids and all the trappings of the middle class. He had taken a different path in life, more wandering, more itinerant, more adventurous, but had fallen into graduate school not necessarily as part of a grand life plan, but for lack of finances and lack of anything better to do. He was lost and this decision to live in squalor, while tolerable, left him feeling a little sad, a little tired.

But then again, how many people move into rooming houses with a sense of hope and optimism?

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