I swear I never saw his face. He grabbed me by the jaw, by the hair, pulled my cheeks rubbery like I was some pug dog all jowls and drool, and still I kept my eyes shut vise-wise, closed so hard they don't no longer open right--
"Okay you little bugger," he says. "Okay you little fuck, this you gonna see."
But I don't. Honest.
By this point, my face is all wet and I can't figure how he's still holding on--but I don't dare open my mouth, my eyes, shit if I could close my pores they'd all snap shut simultaneous with some oily pop! so as to lock me up even tighter like some faceless freak charges two dollars a viewing and so on. Point is I never see his face.
I cannot stress this enough.
I know what you're saying is Whats'at matta huh? Okay, see, first off this is not one of those sick broken sex-abuse Oprah stories, so don't go running off afraid. Don't go thinking Screwed up for life, or whatever it is you're supposed to think about those stories. This is maybe the opposite.
The way it starts is the old man is talking fast like he's what some writers like to call riffing, which I figure refers to guitar riffs, meaning fast and dynamic and shit:
"These bugs crazy, cockroaches, running little legs just going, the whole bunch of 'em like maybe fifty in a star pattern, so beautiful it was sad when I stepped on three of them and stuck shell in shoe-tread. Smart little bastards--all looking back at me with angry gleam as I twist foot three times. Maybe it was they flipped me off. Hard to tell, my eyesight what it is."
Smart little bastards.
"Yeah, smart little bastards."
"Sometimes I wake up they're looking down on me--from above I mean--just looking like they're thinking. Sometimes I wonder."
"Yeah. There's some you can't trust."
Of course, at this point I'm humoring him, this at my friendly local public library, see--I'm just looking around, and the old man starts talking about how the cockroaches can be quite friendly if you treat them right. That's his thing, bugs. And Time magazine. And the Gov. of course: Everyone has the Gov. on the brain.
But I tell you the old man is brilliant: He almost has me convinced:
"Never talk in the daytime, nocturnal like all smart animals--half awake at two A.M., chirp your name out loud: oracle, insect. Tell you how long you have left to live; of course I have to step, pop their stinking wise shells and scrape on cement step."
He moves his bearded face up right near mine. "You hear the talk, you?"
He smiles. "Good."
"Honest kid," he says. "Honest kid hard as finding Mickey Mantle cardboard mint condition these days. No, they talk quiet I know you can't hear."
"Truth is most things you can't hear without listening special. It's the same thing with words--thousands of people read this," he flaps his magazine bat-like, "and don't hear three words." He shrugs.
What I think to myself is, I guess this is some big lesson or something.
"Crazy old man trying hard to be wise?" he says.
Looks like it to me, I say.
This really sets him off, laughing like he's ready to shoot his pancreas across the room, hit the librarian in the forehead all wet and sticky.
"Crazy old man saying something like the sky burns oxy-acetaline, hot and razor sharp point, weld the tops of buildings and the bottoms of acid-clouds in swirls together. Crazy old man saying if you listen close you can hear six bill. people blink simultaneous as CNN goes to commercial. Crazy old man pulling at his face like old wallpaper, tear it all down so to put up something new."
He starts pulling at his beard, pulling out his beard like plucked dead chicken feathers, and it's barely all I can take. I heard of people talking in tongues--the old man talks in poetry, serious, so I can just see the words piled up on top of each-other. It's easy if you close your eyes, and by this time my eyes are shut tight the way I already explained. The last thing I see is things, just a little, starting to open up, to tear.
"Crazy old man say it's all coming out--open your eyes, kid, only truth you see--and the man say 'truth is beauty.' You want to learn anything you look, and quick now can't see so well all torn up in the eyes; it's beautiful this way. Never seen cheek-bones before, so white, so red, and you feel the breeze off a book at twenty yards."
This is about the point I feel my hair's a little wet. I hunch down on the ground all fetal and shit.
"Oh you little bugger," he says. "Oh you little fuck, this you gonna see."
Hands all over my face. Warm spray and I'm soaked through to the shoulders.
"Gotta see, kid. Gotta let you see. No way you understand shit you don't open eyes right now--how you gonna understand what you're swimmin in you don't see it right now?"
I..., I say.
"Thought maybe it was in you, kid."
I..., I say.
"You never gonna know the color of it, never gonna understand, see."
I know, I say. I know, I know, I know, I see.
But I never open my eyes.