Not my Best Day

'Hey, Neil?' by Steven Deeble

‘Hey, Neil?’ by Steven Deeble
Photograph by M. R. Lewis

It is 1986.

I watch the capstans turn in the cassette recorder on the table. I look up as the detectives glance at each other, signaling another change in tactics. They have been questioning me for almost two hours.

Three weeks ago, my mother was found murdered.

The tape records my answers, alternating with expressions of my grief.

“We found your studio out back in the garage,” begins ‘Good Cop’.

“We’re painters ourselves,” chimes in ‘Bad Cop’.

Oh, great. I picture sad clowns and dogs playing cards.

“You have a painting – it’s a brain.”

Oh, fuck.

“Yeah.”

“What does the astronaut represent?”

“Our ultimate technological achievement.”

The astronaut is Buzz Aldrin at Tranquility Base, taken from the classic photograph by Neil Armstrong. In my painting, he has been relocated into a surreal seascape.

“What about the brain?”

“That’s how we achieved it.”

“What does the checkerboard represent?”

“Integration. The black and white squares – think of them like woven threads.” I interlock my fingers. “There is strength in the integration of opposites.”

“What about the ocean?”

“It’s the source of all life.”

“And the lightning?”

“Electricity – the power of the brain.”

“What do the mountains in the background represent?”

This gives me pause.

“There aren’t any mountains in the background.”

“Sure there are.” They look at each other. “We both saw them.”

Shit. They’re seeing breast imagery.

“I didn’t do a good job of painting the underside of the clouds. You did a Gestalt.”

They look at each other again.

“A what?”

I explain figure/ground reversal.

Later, as I am leaving, ‘Bad Cop’ stops me.

“By the way what’s that painting called, anyway?”

“It’s called ‘Hey, Neil?’”

His face reddens. He is a big guy. He steps towards me.

“What?” The word comes out like steam from a crack in a pipe.

“The painting is called ‘Hey, Neil?’.”

His jaw clenches. He seethes. His eyes narrow to slits.

“You called it “Hey! Kneel!’? Like ‘Get down on your knees’?”

I swallow. “No, like Neil Armstrong. The astronaut.”

I think he is going to hit me.

Trick or Treat? Drama Geeks Go Vigilante For Halloween

DeathIt is 1976.

We are in the oldest cemetery in Long Beach. It is Halloween night. Lately someone has been pushing headstones over. We are drama geeks going vigilante.

Our cars are parked at the top of the figure-eight driveway, hidden by trees. Present are Chris Callard, Mark Walker, Kim Long, and Todd Robbins.

Kim is dressed as Death, in a black hooded cloak, his face painted like a skull. He has a realistic prop scythe. We hide behind the trees near the gate. After a while a Volkswagen Beetle rolls in. As it comes about half-way around the curving driveway, Kim steps out from behind a tree. Their headlights sweep across him.

The car screams – one collective scream. It sounds like girls, but who can say?

The gears grind as the driver tries to get the bug into reverse. They grind a few more pounds as it hurtles back down the driveway. The last twenty feet two tires are on the curb.

We laugh and laugh. Then we reset and wait for another car. We are on a mission.

More cars come. More cars flee. We are protecting history!

Suddenly it’s day time.

We look around, blinking in the bright light. Four squad cars roll in the gate. They effectively block our escape. Kim slips off in his Death costume. We shove our remaining beers under a car.

The cops approach cautiously. The helicopter hovers overhead, illuminating the cemetery with its spotlight. Aside from Todd, we’re all dressed normally. The cops seem tense at first, but after we explain we’re there protecting the cemetery, they look at each other and laugh.

Someone called the police and told them people were in the cemetery cutting up animals and throwing the parts onto the road. They tell us we have to leave, but to come back in half an hour.

Kim comes sauntering down the hill, dressed in his plaid flannel shirt, jeans, and feathered blonde hair. He lights a cigarette and greets the officers warmly. Nothing going on here.

His face is still painted like a skull.

 

My Secret Geek

Euro TrainIt is 1994.

I board the night train to Copenhagen in Amsterdam. I am between jobs. I have frequent flyer miles. I have a couple of friends who have invited me to stay with them. I can be poor here or poor in Europe. Europe wins.

It’s my first time. I look like Richard Branson, a gold hoop in my left earlobe. I wear a T-shirt, bush shorts and boots. I’ve been awake 24 hours (Red eye flight from LA). I hope to sleep on the train.

A beautiful blonde enters the compartment. She’s from Sweden. Another beautiful woman enters, reddish-gold hair out of a fairy tale. She’s from Finland. We settle down as the train departs. I enjoy rail travel in Europe.

Then a young Brit arrives. He talks nonstop. He’s only staying the weekend.

Seems like a long trip from London for a weekend.
He tries to smoke in our non-smoking car. He unpacks his bag. He keeps going outside to smoke spliffs and pound Heinekens. He isn’t fazed.

I fall asleep. He opens the window so he can smoke. The compartment is a wind tunnel.

In the morning, we cross the corner of Germany. State Police officers board. They take no shit.

The Brit tears his suitcase apart in a total panic – lost his passport. He pulls the cushion off the seat. It is behind it.

Two officers arrive – black uniforms, boots and Uzis. One checks our passports. He looks at mine and looks up at me, surprised. He grins, glances at the other cop, who is watching us. He nudges him, nods at my passport. The other cop looks down, grins.

The officers leave. The others demand to see what made the German State Police officers smile. They. Never. Smile. They’re like the guards at Buckingham Palace, only nobody ever tries to make them smile.

My passport photo: short hair, neat beard, tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses. Oxford button-down with a tie.

The train moves drugs. The Brit was probably smuggling cocaine.

A smuggler would’ve had short hair, a tie. The passport would show long hair and an earring.

My secret geek made two of Germany’s finest grin.