Kern's Holler Contrarian
A love story

A Love Story

by Susie

I'm going to help my neighbor to die.

Oh, no, don’t get all crazy on me, it's not an assisted suicide thing-- and he isn't even really my neighbor anymore, technically. But I've known him for ages.

T.T. has been the guy next door to Mr JFK since the earth was cooling, and when I married, I inherited his crazy neighbor. T.T. kinda looks like Ernest P. Worrell--the "Vern" guy. Real country and basic but with a little polish—a good ol’ boy assimilated into suburbia. He likes the Statler Brothers and golf and beer, and I truly believe Hank Hill probably knows him. He's an upright, happy-go-lucky but upright dude who's been cutting my lazy-assed ex's lawn and vacuuming up the leaves for two decades without saying anything about it. His name is Tommy Tinker Something-or-other, but everyone calls him T.T., without any attached piss jokes.

T.T. is one funny motherfucker. For years, they had a male dachshund named Lady—the grandkid had named it “Lady and the Tramp,” after the movie they’d just seen. I joked that they chose the right name for the dog, because if they called out, “Tramp! TRAA-AAAAMMP!” hell, I might answer instead of the weinerdog. I'd see him out in his front yard chipping invisible balls with a golf club and just laff my ass off. I knew he was just be working on his swing, but it helped make me look like just another part of this quiet residential neighborhood to have another goofy weirdo next door. Every Halloween T.T.'d do his yard up with a bunch of clumsily but lovingly carved jack-o-lanterns and crazy homemade shit, and boy, do I respect that in a person.

When he built his workshop behind his house, I knew it was an escape from his nagging virago of a wife, so I set him up with as turntable, a receiver, and thrift-store Statler Brothers records—including "Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys ALIVE at the Johnny Mack Brown High School," which utterly cracked both our asses. Sometimes I'd hear thin, reedy traces of music floating through the window in my bathroom, and I’d know T.T. was out there enjoying some peace and quiet.

The year I did that InterZ0ne hacker's convention with the giant pussy the size of a bus kiosk, it was because of T.T. that this thing was so mammoth. I had some 8-foot two-by-fours which I needed to cut down to make a six-by-five-foot frame, and I knew he had a tablesaw. He asked me to drag them over to the workshop--and got so inspired when I explained exactly what my project was that he began to think BIG. Nothing got cut AT ALL! He proceeded to put together this immensive, sturdy, 8-foot-square open frame which was fucking HUGE, all braced and solid. I dragged it back into Mr JFK’s basement through the convenient lower-level garage door—tight fit! —and it became the skeleton for the most monumental Giant Pussy of Doom ever created, with flaming pubes and "Bob"'s head for a clit. "The Crack of Slack," we called it, and it was fearsome, built for throwing geeks and bobbies through the stuffed sclerotic lips into the black velvet vulvoid beyond. T.T. laffed his ass off when it was unveiled the day of the con. That damned thing was so huge that it fit OVER the bed of Dr Topper's big red truck. We tied that giant pussy down and drove it across Atlanta, at times feeling a *whoosh* of almost-airborne travel. Donald Rumsfeld was in town and had business at the nearby AFB, so I envisioned his limo being whacked in the windshield with this massive fucking snatch and ME, SOMEHOW, being blamed for it, when the whole thing was obviously T.T.’s fault.

T.T. was walloped by arthritis and budged into early retirement, which agreed with him—the retirement, not the arthritis. He finally had time for himself—but by then his hands had warped into withered, curled paws, and he could no longer hold a golf club. He devoted his time to nurturing a few grandkids and the little retarded girl down the street. She was precious, always smiling, with a perpetual long tendril of drool from her chin to her chest, and I loved her. She was like a beautiful, elemental being to me and I valued my infrequent encounters with her. When she came by selling giftwrap or some idiot thing from school, I always bought from her—and I always told her as I handed her the money, “I don’t buy anything door-to-door, ever—but I’m buying this from you, because you’re the coolest one on the block…and we both know it, don’t we?” I got a happy thrill as she agreed, open- mouthed and joyous, that yes, she WAS the coolest one on the block. I was glad that T.T. was a constant, vigilant, benign presence in his lawn chair, alerting the kids and dogs to cars and other dangers.

I had divorced Mr JFK by then and moved out, but every time I dropped by, I’d mosey over next door where T.T.’d be invariably sitting in his chair, and I’d share a stupid joke and thank him for taking care of both yards all the time. He could still work his riding mower like a sonofabitch, so it was a pleasure to him. He was one of those old- school guys who really felt like they were getting away with something by being able to freely cuss, and spurred on my my free-flowing profanity, we’d go at it like a sailor’s reunion. The wife, a rawboned middle-aged middle-class hillbilly woman with kinda blond Bride of Frankenstein hair would come out to chat, invariably venting a stream of high-pressure bitching while she had as what she perceived as a sympathetic female ear to bend. I noticed the cone of silence that passed down over T.T.'s eyes as he screened it out. It was their routine—his slackness pushed her bitchbutton and they were off, chasing their tails in a cycle of imprinted bullshit. I had the same dynamic going on next door, and it was kind of sobering to see how it would progress in 25 years or so.

I dropped by the other day to get some albums from my stash and while I getting out of the car, the fat, loud, bumbling redneck neighbor from two doors down—where the little retarded girl lived—hightailed it over to spill his guts about something. I was informed by the fat, garrulous Bill Dotrive-analogue that my ex was out of town on an RFK book tour, exactly to the hour when left, how many suitcases he’d brought out, and when he’d be back—and that “Ol’ Tommy’s inna hospital, ’s dyin’ a’ lung cancer, they don’t give ’im long.” Like it was just another bit of inside scuttlebutt.

Whaaa? Man! T.T. was certainly getting old, but shit—! I wondered if I should go to the hospital or if it would just complicate his life—what
was left of it, anyway. Poor goodhearted sonofabitch.

I dropped some stuff by Mr JFK’s today and heard that T.T. was back home, out of the hospital, but it didn’t look good. So I had to go over there and—well, hell, I didn’t know what I’d do. Wish him well, I suppose. I just had to give him my respects while I could.

I knocked, and the door opened on bedlam. The living room was full of abrasive, noisy action. A blond woman with a lined face whom I didn’t recognize welcomed me warmly and by name. I gradually surmised that she was the little retarded girl’s mom. Her husband, the Bill Dotrive guy, was there, too, and they’d actually over brought their fat, yappy terrier, which was barking at T.T.’s two dogs as the redneck couple both simultaneously yammered on at me a mile a minute about different things. T.T.’s harridan wife was loudly moaning about how much trouble she was having with everything and all the burdens on her, the goddamned tv was blaring—and in the eye of this hurricane of shit, there was T.T.

He looked so small, curled up in a wizened ball in a recliner, nonresponsive but not asleep. I walked through the knot of people and stood next to him. “Hey, dude,” I said, and rested my hand on his head and stroked him. It was a strange intimacy after a couple decades of chatting across a driveway, but he warmed to it.

The noise from the others was unabated and it began to rise into a cacophonous blare—and then the redneck guy started staring his overexcited terrier right in the eye and yelling “NOW YOU STOP THAT BARKING NOW YOU STOP THAT NOW DON’T YOU BARK NOW YOU STOP THAT NOW…”
It began to reach a hellish crescendo—

--when I whirled around and screamed, “SHUT UP!!” They shut up, blinking stupidly.

From the recliner came a wan mutter: “Shut up. Hehhehheh…” I stroked T.T.’s forehead and smiled at him.

“Yeah,” I agreed, softly. “Everybody shut the hell up.” T.T. chuckled
again at this. The dog was still barking. I turned back to see it was still being aggressively stared down by the redneck owner. “And hey, dumbass, stop staring him in the goddamned eye! To a dog, eye contact is a dominance signal that they *have* to respond to, for fuck’s sake!” He turned to me, gawping—I had always been ultra-civil with the general neighbors—and eye contact broken, the dog immediately settled down.

“Well, *hell,*” he said, and I wasn’t sure if it was aimed at the dog’s silence or my outburst. But I had shaken them. My neighbors’ neighbors made hurried excuses, took their dog, and left.

The wife seemed relieved, too. “Well, I’m glad that worked. I haven’t had a moment’s peace all day. It's been one thing after another...” She started to wind up for some more breast-beating, but I cut her off by turning to T.T.

“Yeah, that’s better. Isn’t it?” He chuckled and grunted an “Uh-huh.” “You know what you need? You need the Lizard Rub. I used to do that to people at the dentist’s office, and I’d put ’em to sleep in the chair.” I stood behind his recliner and began to massage his temples slowly and rhythmically. “You know, life is all a matter of just two things, just two simple things. Whether to tense up, or go limp.” I bent down and said right in his ear, “And you’ll be a lot happier if you go limp. Trust me.” He began to laugh again.

I had thought he was totally drugged and out of it—but I realized as he laughed that that was only part of it. All this bullshit and noise had made him put up a shell around himself to stave off the horror—and here the poor fucker is DYING, and he’s having to close himself off from the world in the process! What the shit. WHAT the SHIT!

The wife had an idea. “Hey! Maybe Susie can get you to take that pill...!” He stiffened up and drew in. She gave a loud, disgusted, resigned sigh. “Look at him. He’s just got so goddamn mean, he won’t do shit for me. He’s making it so rough on me I could just scream. Look, he bit my finger last night while I was trying to jam a pill down his throat!” She held up an unmarked finger to elicit sympathy.

I snorted. “’Jam a pill down his throat’? Hell, no wonder you got chomped! If I did that to The Mahar, he’d whup my ass!” They both
laughed at that image, because they well knew my lizard—for years they’d come over and turned his light on and off when we were away on trips. The wife went into the kitchen and came back with a spoonful of applesauce with a white pill sitting on the top, which she handed me.

“Hey, do you think you can get this down?" I coaxed, the spoon at his lips. He recoiled and sealed his lips in a line. "Hey, this is something you need. Please take it. That’d be cool if you did.”

“C’mon! Take the goddamned pill for Susie, or she won’t come over to see your sorry ass ever again!”

I turned to the wife. “Hey, zip it! Don’t be using me for a threat!” I stroked his head to let him know I was on the case. “Look, we all need to understand something about Dude here. Dude here’s a fiercely independent guy. Here he’s been stuck in a hospital with everyone telling him what to do and when to eat and when to shit, and now he comes home and he’s getting things jammed down his damned throat—no wonder he doesn’t want to take the fucking pill.” T.T. grunted assent. “You poor fucker.” He chuckled. “Come on,” I urged gently, trying to tempt him with the spoon again. “Don’t do it for me, or her, or anybody. Do it for you. You’re just shooting yerself in the dick, man.” He was still laughing, but the lips were tightly pursed. “Look, I’m starting to feel like a failure here because you won’t take this pill and this is the kind of thing that can dog me for life and you’ll see, my grades’ll fall and I’ll turn to a life of crime and become a goddamned juvenile delinquent and at my age doing a juvenile *anything* is out of the question and I’ll wind up lookin’ so fuckin’ stupid stuck in that reform school with all those goddamned annoying teenagers and all I’ll be able to say is ‘That fuckin’ T.T. put my loser ass in here, all because he wouldn’t take his fucking pill!”

By then both of them were in stitches—well, T.T. sure was, literally— but he still didn’t want to take the pill. “Why not?” I asked, gently.

Murmur: “Tas’ awwwwful.”

I looked at the pill, realization dawning. “Ohhh…is that one of those damn chalky, bitter things that leaves a trail of *gak* down your throat?” He nodded and scowled. “No wonder you don’t want to take this. Man, I hate those! If you were gonna stick ’em up yer butt, that’s fine-but why make something that you’re gonna put in your mouth taste so BAD?”

They were both laughing way too much at this, but hell, they really needed a goddamned laugh. I went into the kitchen and got out the applesauce and put a dollop on top of the pill, covering the whole bitter thing with applesauce. I brought it back in and showed him. “Look, it’s covered. If you knock it back fast, by the time the applesauce slides off, maybe it’ll be down the hatch.”

T.T. looked doubtful. “Come on. Really, I think this’ll work. Hell, if I could, I’d candycoat these goddamned things for you. Hell, I’d put those fuckers on a stick like a tiiiiny Dilly Bar if you asked me to…” T.T. began to laugh again—

—and then to my delighted surprise, he jerked forward and slurped up the applesauce. So relieved that the stalemate was broken, I stroked his temples as he choked the still-nasty taste down. “Euwrgh,” he muttered, and laughed.

“Thank you,” I told him, sincere.

The wife shook her head, doing her job to cast whatever negative she could onto the positive. “Well, you’ll take the pill for Susie. Maybe we ought to have her come over and make you take all your pills.” T.T. murmured an “Uhm-hmm.”

“If I were still living next door, I could." And I would, I thought, and glanced at the wall clock. "Oh hell, I’ve got to run off to work, I’m late--but you look like you could use a Lizard Rub, too, hon’.” She tried to demur, but I went over and worked her temples and sideridges anyway and she gave in. “Y’know, you should think about that ‘going limp’ stuff, too,” I told her as I felt her headmuscles relax under my fingertips.

She looked at him, peacefully dozing off in the chair. “You did do him some good. He isn’t all twisted up like he was.” She looked up at me, her tired eyes offering an appeal. “You *will* come back, now? Soon?”

“Yeah. I will. I promise.” I looked her in the eye, serious. “And try to lay off him. I know it's hard to do, but he’ll go easier on everyone. Okay?" I kissed her on top of the head—another weird intimacy —and left to go to work.

And tonight, while driving around, I had some time to think this over. I can make a bit of a difference here. He’s shuffling off this mortal coil, and he’s going offstage entirely the wrong way. T.T.’s not exactly a fullblood Yeti SubGenius, but I consider him to be close enough, and that’s good enough for me. I take this ministry shit seriously, and this poor fucker needs some Slack, and bad.

I want him to go out smooth as buttah. So I’m going to help T.T. die a little easier.

I’m gonna call the wife in the morning and tell her to schedule a couple hours out of the house doing shit that will make her happy and give him some peace. And I’ll go over there with a VCR and hookups (I’m no fool) and some Bettie Page tapes and whatever stupid shit I can find to divert his attention and get that laugh going for a nice long Slackful while. And then I'll brew a pot of coffee and work on her shit for a bit. And every chance I get until the inevitable, I’ll try to drop by and keep the homefield leveled as best I can. I’m getting into USO girl mode--ready to help see the troops out, knowing that they’re not coming back.

It’s the least I can do.

On my way home, I stopped at an all-night supermarket and found some of that ice-cream stuff that makes the candy shell--caramel, nice and smooth without the slight bitterness of chocolate. Tomorrow I’m going to candy-coat those nasty fuckin’ things for him.

And if I’m really, really lucky, I can candy-coat more than that.