Here we are, once more, with another installment of THE2NDHAND's broadside, which will join its Editor, Todd Dills, on the road upon its June 2003 release for a 7 show tour. Click here for details. See Paul A. Toth's "Think Like a Mountain," #11's gloriously stately lead, below, and to order:
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THINK LIKE A MOUNTAIN
DING DING DING rang the pot and spoon.
"Family fucking meeting, family fucking meeting," the father yelled. "Come on, goddamn it, everybody in the living room. Family fucking meeting here."
From the three other corners of the house arrived wife Mary, daughter Melinda and son Christopher.
"You know what the pot and spoon mean," the father said, tossing the utensils on the couch. "I should never have to clang more than three times. That must have been ten, twelve clangs."
"Jesus, Dad," Melinda said, lips wet.
"Don't 'Jesus' me, young lady."
"Goddamn," Christopher added.
"Children," said Melinda, "watch your mouths."
"I do the swearing around here," the father said. "Keep your 'Jesus' and your 'goddamns' to yourselves."
"You are so caveman," Melinda said, licking her lips.
"Dry your lips, young lady," the mother said.
"God!" She wiped her mouth with her forearm.
"I fix the traffic lights in this town," the father started.
"Not this, again," Christopher said.
"Shut your fucking hole. I fix the traffic lights."
"We know," Melinda said. "And Bill keeps the town in bread and meat and Marty dots the i's and crosses the t's."
"Mayor Marty," the father corrected. "You call him Mayor Marty."
"Honey," Mary said, "what's the meeting for?"
"The meeting," he said, "is for," he paused, "the tri-yearly decision," he paused again, "of which make and model," he continued, "we shall choose," his daughter's lips wet again, "to replace the Saturn with."
"Oh, great," Melinda said. "How about a Hyundai? That would be even more embarrassing."
"You'll never get your legs spread in that," Christopher said.
"He's right," the father said. "There's knee prints all over the back windows. But that's another subject."
"Oh, right," his daughter said. "That's the sex meeting. The fuck and tell."
"You be just glad your father takes an interest, young lady."
"Now," the father continued, "the way I see it, we've got two choices. We could get another Saturn, or we could go with a Geo."
"Tough luck, sis'."
"The cost of gas is rising. It's thirty miles to school."
"Maybe Mayor fucking Marty can do something about that," Melinda said.
"Lord, why must this family swear so?" Mary said.
"This is a small town," the father said.
"Here it comes."
"This is a small town and I fix the traffic lights. I am neither king nor pauper. Therefore, the transportation I provide is neither Cadillac nor cart, but something in between. In some countries, instead of this house, we would live in a mud hut. At night, you would beg the gods to live in a house like this. Fucking beg. Instead of traffic lights, I would repair the ruts in which the wheels of our cart would constantly break down."
"And Mayor Marty would have a ring in his nose," Melinda said. "So fucking what?"
"Gracious," Mary said. "Where on earth do children learn to speak that way?"
Christopher gestured with his thumb toward the father.
"How'd you like that thumb up your ass?" the father said.
"Do it," Melinda said.
"This is what they mean by breakdown of the family," Mary said.
"Uh-oh," the father said, "somebody's been watching Fox News."
Everybody but Mary laughed. "Well, it's true," she said.
"Illegitimate children!" Christopher shouted.
"Single mothers!" proclaimed Melinda.
"Fags and dykes and ho-mo-sex-u-als!" the father and children howled.
Mary covered her ears with her hand. "You are all a bunch of dirty B-A-S-T-A-R-D-S."
"Here comes the spelling," Christopher said.
"She's too good to swear," Melinda said. "She thinks she's better than us."
"Okay, okay," the father said. "Don't get carried away. Say you're sorry, children."
"We're sorry," the children said, rolling their eyes.
"My father would beat you something fierce," Mary whispered. "'Die Wildfänge! Die Wildfänge!'"
Melinda licked her lips. "We said we're sorry."
"This is getting nowhere," the father said. "I am making a command decision. For the next three years, we shall lease..."
Mary and the children stood to leave.
"...a red Geo."
The father picked up the pot and spoon and with three clangs announced, "The meeting is adjourned."
Bill Higgens ran a general market from his basement with supplies ordered over the internet. Whenever the father visited, Bill showed him satellite weather photos on the computer.
"Look at that," the father said. "Hell, you can see the rain coming right the fuck in."
"You don't need a weatherman," Bill would say. "We got Doppler 24-7."
"Too bad about the antenna," the father said, remembering. "Sometimes I miss watching something besides Channel 13."
"If the state sees it, the state takes it."
"Well, they left electricity."
"And you can't see electricity, can you? One of these days they'll force us out."
The father picked his teeth. "Shit, the mines are burnt the fuck up, Bill."
"What about lawsuits? We could fall in a sinkhole and sue. Jennings Road collapsed last week. Now there's smoke blowing out a hole."
"Governmental immunity," the father explained. "I talked to that lawyer. We read the warning letters."
"And what if they come put the fires out? They could build brand new subdivisions."
"Then we're on some valuable fucking land. But they won't come. Bad press. Not the kind of history most people want to be associated with."
Bill flipped the computer switch and the satellite photos faded. "You ever," he said, "ask yourself why we do this? I mean all of it? Hell, you drive your kids thirty miles to school every day. Why?"
"To prove a point."
"We've got a civilization here," the father said. "It's in our hands. We've got our own food, our own traffic lights. We'd have our own schools, too, but there's not enough kids and Mary, well, she's out of touch. But you see, we've got a real history here, real as World War II or Caesar's Rome."
"You ever notice you quit swearing when you get that long away look in your eye?" Bill said.
The father tapped his temple. "Think like a mountain, Bill. That's the secret."
That night the father asked Christopher to walk with him to the river.
"Do I got to?" Christopher pleaded.
"You need to know the history of this town."
"But I already know it."
"The fuck you do."
They snaked through the forest. Whenever they passed the sizzling cracks in the earth, Christopher let his hand trace through the smoke.
"Due to underground mine fires, " the father began, "the town of Hutchinson was officially condemned five years ago."
"Today," Christopher continued, "a population of 25 unofficially remains. There is an unofficial mayor and two unofficial traffic lights that unofficially feed off electrical wires officially headed elsewhere."
"Can we turn back now?"
Soon they were at the river. They sat down along the bank, the soles of their tennis shoes almost touching the surface of the river. The water had the color of oil spills in sunlit parking lots.
"Pretty," the father said.
"You're so different when you come here, so quiet. And you never swear."
"I see all of history winding down this river."
"There's no history here, dad. History left this place behind."
"You think so? And what about the town you go to school in? What kind of history does that place have?"
"It has stores. Real stores. People leave and come back. Nobody ever left this place and came back."
"So that's history?"
Christopher kicked a rock into the water. "I don't know what you see here, but I know you see something. I hate it here."
"And what about your sister?"
"She's a slut, I guess. That's what they say."
"The whole high school, pretty much."
"There are great whores in history."
"Well," Christopher said, "she's the official town whore. I don't know about great."
"All that matters is the long run," the father said. "If the river could talk, it'd tell you that. Some real whore frogs once hopped in that water."
Later that evening, as Mary washed dishes, the father asked Melinda to come with him on a drive to the hill.
"Why? I've got stuff to do."
"Like what? Write love notes? Get the fuck in the car."
"What kind of father speaks to his children like that?" Mary asked.
"Get with it, mom," Melinda told her. "It's not the sixties."
"The sixties weren't so long ago."
"That's what your parents said about the forties and you know what? The forties are black and white and the sixties puke grainy."
"You shut up," Mary said. "I wasn't part of that sixties."
"Who cares anyway? Who cares what you were part of?"
"Don't you have any values?"
"Values, morals, values. God, I hate you. No, I don't have any values."
"Anybody can see that. Any boy with a p-r-i-c-k in his pocket."
The father nodded at the pot and spoon. "Don't make me have to bang that fucking pot."
"She's your daughter. She's got your dirty tongue."
"Fucking Christ," he said. "Get in the goddamn car, would you?"
"She started it," Mary said. "The town whore."
Melinda reached for the spoon. The father grabbed her wrist.
"Put the spoon down and get in the fucking car."
They drove to what the father called a mountain, but was actually, officially, just a hill. The father was expert at avoiding the smoking sinkholes along the bottom of the hill and equally adept at negotiating the many tricky turns.
"They call these hairpin turns," he told her. "You could do with some hairpins yourself. And not just on top, either. That'd keep the boys off."
"I don't want to be a grandfather, you got that? You get that shot, the injection. What do they call it? You get that. If you can't keep your legs closed."
"You're worse than mom."
"Oh, honey," he said as they neared the top of the hill, "don't think bad of your mother. She doesn't understand things, biology and psychology and -- look at those stars -- astronomy. Things only make sense to her when they fit together like she thinks they should, which they never do."
"Nothing makes sense to me either."
"Humping won't make it so."
"'Humping'? I never heard you say that before. You say 'fuck'."
"Shhh. We're there."
He shifted the car into park. For miles it was almost completely dark. Only about 30 miles away was there any concentration of lights, a yellow glow like that of a harvest moon.
"So how's your brother? How's he doing in school?"
"He's a big dork. The girls hate him, at least the girls with tits."
"Is he good at anything?"
"He's running for president of freshman class."
"Will he win?"
"No one else is running. He's such a dork."
"'Today is a king in disguise,'" the father said.
She looked out the window, wiped her mouth, then looked at the father. "Why do we go for these drives up here?"
"It helps me think."
At midnight he crawled into bed and pulled as much of the covers as he could around himself. His wife did not stir as he climbed to the top of the mountain and held out his arms like Caesar to the town and all its people. Beside him sat his son and daughter, reading the books of history, his wife polishing the crown.