By Tim Brickley
A soft knock at the door, apparently,
wakes me up, it’s
7:05 AM on a glorious sunny
Sunday august morning.
C-SPAN is on, “Book Talk”,
sometimes I find it comforting, drifting
off to sleep on the couch with
the low murmur of smart people
chatting about the Civil War, or the
New Deal in the background, almost like the
other room, I guess and there
is someone knocking at
I check the time and, you
know it’s blurry, I went to bed very
late for me and
I pull back the corner of the pillowcase
that’s over the beautiful but
too-sheer curtain my mom made
for the small window in my front door and
someone is hunched over,
leaning on the side of the screen
and he knocks again. At first I think
it’s a small, older black man, dark,
close-cropped hair, one of those crazy,
lost people who sometimes wind up in my alley
but no, shit, it’s Ayers.
Ayers. The last time I saw him was
last night downtown at approx. 3:10 AM as he
sprinted away from me, heading north on
Virginia, screaming No, No, No, No, No,
No, NO! after I told him he
should come into the Peppy Grill with us,
or lie down in the van for maybe ten
minutes max while we finished eating. Arm
around him: You should
have some coffee and then:
No, No, No, No, No, No, NO!
down the street, running like hell and
he’s lean and strong these days, and
how did his t-shirt get so completely fucking wet?
(He pulled back that t-shirt over the top
of his shoulder in the bar earlier:
I’ll tell you why he fucked up his hand – because
of the Mighty Oak, motherfucker,
he said, patting, apparently, the Mighty Oak.)
And now he’s all wet, running like hell,
sprinting up the block,
We looked for him – again – for about an hour
after we finished eating.
(Jim said: I don’t know if it’s just me, but the
level of quality of that food is just not
what I think it used to be here.
Low-res diner: I said, and Kenny laughed)
Kenny. My nephew. He was pretty drunk, too,
but he is always laughing anyway, and
was still his sharp, charming self, laughing
the way he’s laughed all
around the world for such a young man.
He has boundless optimism.
I remember his face in the diner when he first saw Ayers.
I was sitting with my back to the door,
Kenny and Jim were both facing the street
so they could look for him – against all odds – through
the plate-glass window and suddenly Kenny’s
eyes go wide and he yells:
“Fuck, it’s AYERS!”
Really Loud, and the table of three gay guys
on my right goes: You don’t have to get that excited,
all sarcastic, and the two tables of friendly
drunk, fat, well-tattooed locals
don’t notice, not even the
six foot one (Was that a man? God, I don’t
think so, just a big, 50-year old husky-voiced
hillbilly smoker chick in some kind of long, beat-up
dusty-red gown, her hair piled up like Julia Roberts ’til she
turned around and I didn’t see it but
I heard her go over to the three gay guys and
slide in next to one and say, Are You Gay?, and
then Kenny swears she takes out her false teeth.
That’s a blow job delicacy to some, I think and
probably say out loud and) I turn around and
fuck, it really was Ayers.
He was perfectly framed in the plate glass window, just
standing there looking at us, grinning
that maniacal grin he gets
when he is Over The Line and
he was definitely Way Over The Line.
He had been missing for over an hour,
he was soaking wet, he said something about the fountain.
Fuck, Kenny said, Jim was right, he
was lying down in that freakin’ fountain,
which, of course, is in the middle of the square
in this neighborhood called Fountain Square, and we
drove right by him ten times while we were
looking for him and Jim said from the get-go: I betya
he’s in that fountain, with that cockeyed gleam in
his eye that he knows something the rest of us don’t,
but that seemed just too ridiculous and Ken said:
He knows we’re going to the diner and
it’s north on his way home. He’ll find us.
(You’ve got an issue in there: Kocher had said,
about an hour earlier, motioning over his
shoulder back into the club as he
carried out a box of cables and walked by me, looking back:
You’ve really got an issue in there.
I was hoping he meant miraculously out of the blue two girls
were in there planning something, but no.
Of course, he meant Ayers.
We dragged him out with us into the parking lot,
where Mark and danny were loading out
and the rain chorus were dealing with
(unbelievably) their first-ever auto hassle in over
ten years of (beautiful) gigging
and Aaron and Gonzo were there
and Ayers started drunk rapping and
cracking us up and he tried to do his David Allan Coe thing
(that he got from Rhett Page – everybody cops
someone’s thing and Ayers copped Rhett and
now I – no, we – I mean
he defines our comedic sense) and
then out of the fucking blue
WHAM he’s gone. It’s just like one minute
of inattention and BAM he’s gone.
We should put a chip in that boy: said Jim and
he’s nowhere – not in the club,
not on the streets in any direction,
Pam, so sweet, came out to help us look.
We walked the side streets,
we went slow down alleys you wouldn’t go slow down
at 2AM, we talked to some Mexicans partying around their car,
who had a little fire in rocks and dirt by a garage, and
we actually checked the little Police Station that happens to be right there,
we went in the funky little neighborhood bar around the corner.
Jim called Lockup, he was very calm.
(Jim had met us down there for the gig)
At 7:30PM, I had first gotten my piano friend Roberto started
at the wedding at a big hotel up north, one of
the last living tiny branches of the Cole Porter family.
I had given him a big stack of Cole Porter music to
learn a month ago, that’s what they – of course – wanted during
cocktails and dinner. Roberto was ready – 14 songs, he said.
I said play Night and Day twice,
he took some Aleve for his sinuses (he was from Chile) and I was
leaving as the first guests were arriving and the
first two bridesmaids were cute. Hey look: I said, that’s a good omen)
And then I picked up Ayers.
It was 8:30PM, still just a tiny bit light
a truly lush night, the air
was sweet with poppies and Karl’s flower garden
swayed in the fading purple and deep rose twilight and
he had on a crisp, light blue T-shirt
with what looked like the Ford logo
but it said Fuck instead, in that same script.
Grace, his daughter, had gotten for him in France.
She was a marvelous, bright girl in her
first or second year of college and he told
me about her trip and so he had that shirt on when he came
in with me in to pick up Kenny at my
folks house. My old man was in his bathrobe,
saying goodnight before heading off to bed and
Mom’s painter friend Jo was there, and
sister Cathi, (sorry, I still can’t call you Catherine all the time, dear) and
we all had a good laugh about the shirt, and
we were off to the club to meet Jim for the rock show.
(Jim. In the end, he’s normally right with all that gleamy-eyed wise and
he said: You Don’t Have To Worry About Ayers.)
And so here we are again
it’s 7:05AM and Ayersy’s eyes are squeezed
tight like his brain is splitting in two and
he’s shielding his face with his right
hand, hiding his eyes, almost
like when he’s fooling around and about to
pounce on you and hit you really hard in the
arm or something like that but not this
morning. This morning it is just
He had somehow walked the whole fucking way,
seven or eight miles, I assume, with a few little side-trick
derailments on the side, I’m sure.
But Jim was right, it was just a test
a voyage, it was tempting fate
it was laughing drunk at fear, it was
John Newbold dying the week before in that fucked-up car wreck
in Oklahoma or some other fucked-up place, it was
way too much booze, it was just
him knocking on my door at 7:05AM
saying he was tired and