I’m a kid walking to the store for my grandmother. She lived on 16th, and usually had me or my sister – or both of us if she thought we’d have more than one person could carry – take the corner to an old Safeway. Later, it would close and we’d cross Truman and go to the Thriftway across the street from a cemetery where a kid would try to mug me in front of a few years later.
At this point in the story, though, Safeway was still around; getting there meant passing the Pyle In.
The Pyle In was a decrepit looking brick two-story with dark wood planking on the bottom level, a sign of someone’s idea of remodeling back in the ‘70s.
Every time my sister or I went to the Safeway, we cut through the parking lot behind the Pyle In. Occasionally, we’d hear a hub of laughter and country music, but no fights. We never saw any of the people inside.
Not until one early morning in mid-spring when I went down Oakley with another of my grandmother’s carefully scrawled lists with estimated prices of each item. Lying in a parking alleyway between two houses was a man who had Pyle In piled all over his prostate form.
I felt bad for the man splayed out on the gravel, his curly black hair graying at the temple.
Being a 13-year old, I didn’t know what to do but pass him and run my grandmother’s errand. On my return trip, the same way, there he was. Only now he was awake.
“Are you ok?” I asked him.
“What’s ok?” he returned.
I was startled by the response, and by the fact that I’d even spoken to him.
It was my first encounter with drunk logic. I’m here on the ground. What’s ok about it?
I thought of that question on Father’s Day Sunday. Scanning down my newsfeed page on Facebook, I saw a photograph posted on the Hunter S. Thompson page. It was Johnny Cash. Not the stoic man in black, but a burnout in ‘late 60s polyester clothing, his face smeared with cake icing and his hands plunged into the cake with a caption, courtesy whoever is hosting the HST page.
Cash and HST had been taking SID, and (the) “fucker took a whole cake and started eating it.”
I looked hard at the photo, disbelieving even as I looked at Cash’s face and could tell this was no photoshopped magic. This was Cash in his hard days when he was on the edge and couldn’t have gone any further on the cocaine line.
It wasn’t how I wanted to see or remember Cash, who made it past that time and went on to create indelible music that would reference and forgive that hard-living life. Not hold it up as a sight gag.
Or, recycle it as a meme.
Which, as it happens, is what happened with the image.
Accuse me of being a humorless hag with no joy in her life, but I can’t look at that image of Cash with his caked-up face and lusterless eyes and find joy. That was probably the most miserable period of his life. If the cameraman had been holding a gun and pointing that at him, I doubt his expression would have been any different.