Sticking my neck out....
Here is the raw feed beginning of a novel I have started. Please comment!
I blame it all on the bird. There it was on the smeared, flaking grime of the Go Away welcome mat of our apartment. It was the third day in a row a helpless, purple and black skinned, newly hatched bird with ridiculously ineffective pin feathers sticking from its’ heavy, gasping for air body laid helplessly at my feet. Its’ eyes were shut, too new to take in the world around it, and its beak constantly opened and closed on the miraculous chance that something worth eating would drop into it.
I noticed the bird just as I had noticed the previous two when I stepped out into the roasting Phoenix, it’s a dry heat, sun to take my mid-morning walk to the Circle K across Van Buren Street. Just like the previous two days I stared at it and then looked above to see where it might have fallen from. It was not like I cared for the bird. I was simply curious. In the six years I had lived there, The Oasis Apartments, I had never experienced this. The Oasis was anything but an oasis. It was your typical run-down apartment complex in Phoenix, lots of brick, swamp cooler air conditioning and heat, all the units having the pleasant funk of stale tobacco and mildew. I suppose in its’ hey day it was attractive. It was four stories high with sixty-four units with outside stairwells that bordered around what was no doubt its’ big selling point of a village green with a state-of-the-art pool, hot tub and exotic palms. The only problem, it was all state-of-the-art in nineteen-seventy-three.
What was left of The Oasis center piece was one browning, leaning palm that would probably fall and take out a couple of apartments with the next haboob during monsoon season. The only green part of The Oasis was the stagnant pool water which was cited by the city for its’ fine and efficient sanctuary for mosquitos. The center piece when my roommate and old high school friend, Thad Downs moved in, was called a green zone. There was at one point grass and three other palms but because of the loosening on pet restrictions and lazy tenants, who let their sweet poodles, datsuns, pit bulls and god know what else piss and poop everywhere, it became what Thad and I called, a brown zone.
The only winged animals that hung around The Oasis buildings besides the mosquitos were bats that feasted on the bloodsuckers. This was why I could not understand why baby birds were showing up at my apartment door. The previous two birds I simply stepped over them to get my ration of slushies and hot dogs for the day. That was my breakfast back then. I would wake around ten am and trek over to Circle K for breakfast. Sometimes Thad would walk with me and pick-up Churros and coffee but not too often. He mostly ordered pizza late in the day and let me have a slice or two while we were getting stoned. At that time in my life, it was the best that I could do, and I was content.
I almost stepped over that third bird and resumed my walk to Circle K but just as I was about to move, something held me back. It might have been the early April heat wave. I felt it burning my pale skin already. I never went out so for an Arizonian native, I looked quite odd. Not many people out here look like bleached ghosts. Even Thad was darker than me but that could be because his parents did a twenty-three and me and found out he had some Navajo in his family line.
Before I stepped, I looked at the bird one, last time and saw that it was writhing in direct sunlight. I knew our first-floor walkway was already scalding hot. A faint, smoldering spark of pity glowed inside me. I tried to fight it down but could not. For years I had tried to bury all my stuff, the lousy childhood I lived and how I felt about it all. Sometimes it would vomit out of me and I would be quite worthless, or I should say, more worthless than normal.
I think pity and dare I say, compassion for the bird, bubbled up because the night before while Thad and I were getting blitzed he dredged up YouTube videos of me when I was a fledging kid toy promoter star with my father. The video he dredged up was our first episode of The Cody Red Show. It was a terrible first effort on our part. My dad and I played with some action figurines from a short-lived cartoon called The Fossil Family. It was a pre-historic family, a rip off Flintstones, and the toys were made by the Peter Dinky’s Funhouse toy company. Somehow, people found my father, Rusty Redman and I, to be amusing. My mother eventually made millions from exploiting us despite the clownish first episode we put together.
Thad played the first episode, just “for a laugh” as he did say except that the joke was on me. We were both high, but I did not see the humor in it. Thad is often a big asshole, but he can be ok to hang out with especially while we are getting stoned. After a few minutes of being laughed at, I went to my room to sulk and feel sorry for myself. I thought of going on Buffchat to talk to a forty-five-year-old stripper friend who called herself Dawnriser but decided against it. There was a good chance she would just tell me to grow a pair and quit being a pussy. Instead, I put in some earplugs so I would not hear Thad’s cackle, (he really does cackle when he laughs) and turn in early.
It could be I felt some kinship to that defenseless bird. I am not sure, but I muttered, shit under my breath and went back inside to find something to pick it up with. The apartment looked dark once stepping out into the light of day, so I stumbled toward the kitchenette. It always got me that these cramped, crummy apartments always had a “kitchenette”, to make a cheap-ass, space seem cute but really two people could not stand in it without rubbing up against each other.
We taped newspaper on the front and rear windows to block out the sun. We did not have any interest in budgeting what little money we had to buy real curtains. After my eyes adjusted back to the usual gloom, I searched the kitchenette and could only find a half-dozen empty pizza boxes which were too large. I needed something smaller to put the bird in. By some miracle, Thad must have taken the garbage out because when I went to search the trash can, it was empty with a new bag tucked inside it.
I kept my room free of debris and the living room area only had half empty slushie drinks which I wanted to finish later. I walked into Thad’s room because I knew his room looked like a miniature landfill. Surely, he would have a small container.
Thad was still sleeping but his computer was on, I could hear it humming. His computer was his life. Whenever he was not ridiculing me about something he was on the computer. He made a sport of hacking into systems and annoying people. As far as I know, he never stole from anyone or sold information; he would just interject strange images in inappropriate places. He was my age, thirty-years old but had the maturity of a thirteen-year-old. I considered myself much more mature than Thad. I have the maturity level of a socially repressed nineteen-year-old.
His door was swung open even though he was still curled up on his bedroom floor asleep. Thad was too cheap to buy an actual bed frame or box spring and mattress. Instead, he bought several blankets from a nearby Target with a memory foam pillow that seemed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s because it had a permanent ident where he rested his head. This is how he slept, curled up on the floor in a near fetal position on top of five or six blankets and then a few over him for good measure. It always made me think of an article I read about why dogs go in circles before they lay down for a rest. In the wild they would walk around in circles to either flatten the grass they would lay on or distribute leaves and brush for comfort. I dubbed Thad’s bed his sleeping nest because it often did look like a giant bird’s nest once he woke up and left his room of collected trash.
I forgot to mention one other sleep aid he had; a pillow tucked between his legs. He claimed it was good for his sore back which was ridiculous. What would be good for his sore back was an actual bed that people sleep in, not a lumpy mass of blankets on a soiled, stained carpet. He had a little fun choosing the pillow he would stick between his legs. He went online and got the cheapest pillow he could find from that asshole pillow guy and then had a specially printed pillowcase made with the image of America’s worst president spewing out lies, mouth open wide emblazoned on it. That is what he tucked between his legs every night.
I stepped into his room. He was snoring lightly. He looked normal when he slept. He had long, curly brown hair that would become tangled and matted when he felt exceptionally lazy. He has pouty full lips but awake he would press them together when deep in thought. Indeed, his face when asleep was relaxed, even serene compared to his waking life when one could see his bloodshot brown, eyes tortured from cigarette, pot smoke and endless hours staring at a computer screen. He has thick eyebrows and way too many forehead wrinkles for his age and a straight nose, slightly larger but not enough to make fun of. I just stared at him for a minute or two thinking he was most likeable when silent.
Among the takeout bags of America’s greatest fast-food joints strewn across his floor, I did find an old Chinese take out box of rice with half of the white rice in an almost fossilized state inside. I picked it up and dumped the loose rice on the floor but realized I would have to get a spoon to wedge the rest out. I thought it would make a good transport box for the bird.
“What do you want, tubby?”
Thad was now awake peering at me with one bloodshot eye open. His likability was fading fast for he was awake, and he was speaking. He sometimes called me tubby because of the slight paunch I was developing from my diet of hot dogs and whatever.
“I didn’t mean to wake you at the crack of noon,” I said, “I got what I was looking for. Go back to sleep.”
“I wouldn’t eat that if I were you. Dried rice won’t add to that corporation you call a gut. If you continue eating rice, you might waste away to something.”
“There is a baby bird outside and I am using the box to put it in.”
Thad opened his other eye and stared at me. He kicked the pillow from between his legs and sat up, slouched, scratching his shaggy mane.
“Baby bird and rice, wow, that sounds great. Are you tired of hot dogs?”
“I am trying to save the bird. I am using the box to carry it.”
“When did you get all Mother Theresa on me? Where are you going to take it?”
Thad was smiling finding this very amusing. He knew I felt uncomfortable revealing my concern for a bird. We often had conversations of how we did not give a crap about anything or anyone. Along with a furrowed brow he also had large dimples when he smiled. He was very amused, but he had me. I thought for a moment. I did not even think about what I should do with the bird once I put it in the box. My main intent was to get it out of the sun.
“I don’t know. Maybe take it to a Veterinarian,” I said.
Thad rolled his eyes and pushed himself up from the floor. He sat at his desk and typed rapidly on his computer’s search engine.
“They won’t do anything for a bird unless there is a snake, they could feed it to,” he said.
He brought up on his screen a site called Birds of a Feather in Tempe that said they took in injured birds to heal, feed and reintroduce into the wild. I took my phone out of my pocket and did a Waze search of the address. It was a fifteen-minute drive to get there.
I scraped out the hardened rice from the takeout container and carefully rolled the bird into it with my bare hands. I briefly wondered whether it was wise to touch a bird with my bare hands.
It could be fostering deadly viral things but then decided it could not be anything worse than what I willingly let foster in all the food rot of our apartment. The bird trembled when I touched it and emitted two tiny screeches. Maybe it thought I was going to eat it after all.
I took the bird to the carport where my old Honda Civic was parked. It had seen better days. I bought it with what money I had left in my bank account when I turned sixteen. My parents had left me a week before my sixteenth birthday. I had moved into Thad’s parents’ house. They felt sorry for me because my parents did not say good by or tell me where they were going. Them literally leaving in the dead of night caused quite a stir. The police thought they were abducted, and my family trended wildly on social media for two weeks. A month after they left, I did get a letter from our family lawyer that said a trust fund was established for me that would give me a monthly allowance of $1,500 dollars that would last me until I turned forty.
At the time I thought it was rather hopeful of them to think I would live that long considering I felt like dying every day I woke up since their departure. The whole farce of our happy family came crashing down when our YouTube empire collapsed, and mother thought it was no longer cost effective to have me as a child. To be honest, I knew it was coming several years before because I overheard a conversation between my parents the night after my thirteenth birthday party. They thought I was already asleep but at the top of the stairs I heard them caught up in a mild argument. Mother was spit balling the idea that they should breed so they could have another YouTube child selling toy machine revenue stream. My father, in his typical malleable protest, disagreed.
“Darling, you must remember our agreement, that I was to play the part of Cody’s father until he grew out of toy promotions. In return, you would help me in my acting career afterward.”
I still find it bizarre to this day he thought he was playing the part of my father when he really was my father. He had his “dream” of becoming a famous actor since college where he first met my mother. My mother, the greatest manipulator I have ever known, exploited my father for years. She strung him along like an animal trainer with tiny little morsels, getting him to sit still and be a good fake father on YouTube while acting as his agent, she threw him little bits of soap opera cameos or TV commercials or some summer theater group gig, telling him; “we are parents and must focus on Cody’s career and future,” while all along she played with us like the thousands of plastic toys I hawked and eventually outgrew.
My old Civic looked terrible but ran great. It was cherry red at one point but the Arizona sun and the constant bombardment of bird poo from the carport nests at The Oasis parking lot eliminated much of its’ once lustrous hew. The left front fender and bumper was partially shredded due to one of my few excursions out three years before when Thad and I decided to get drunk for a change. We drove one Sunday afternoon to Fountain Hills where we grew up and the Cody Red Show was shot. We wanted to see our old homes but never got near them because we happened to choose one of their fair weekends where tens of thousands of people infested the
otherwise quiet town. We got as far as The Alamo Saloon opting to drink with locals. I managed to drive all the way back to The Oasis but fell asleep just as I was trying to park the car in my spot. Thad was already passed out, but he had a rude awakening when I scraped the metal pylon of the carport.
I wedged the bird in the takeout box in the center cup holder, turned on my Honda and then put on the AC. It was a miracle the AC still worked in my Honda. I wanted to keep the bird cool because it was out in the sun. I later found out that was a stupid idea because they need to stay warm.
While driving to Birds of a Feather I turned on my radio and listened to KJZZ, the local NPR station. I liked NPR because it rarely had any celebrity news unless it was an interview with some actor or musician that had half a brain or better. When I was a celebrity, I thought it was insane why anyone wanted to know what I thought or what I liked. I was just a kid. What did I know?
There was a news report on Lemaria nearing