The Utopia We Deserve                                                                                              

     “We are living in the utopia we deserve,” said Lonnie the vet. “It’s a vulgar utopia, nothing but beauty mixed with shit and contempt. Idealism ground up in a nonsense machine.” I ate my sandwich in silence, like the rest of the crew. We gave the floor to Lonnie whenever he wanted it, partially in deference to his service in Vietnam, but also in awe of his florid melancholy and his tendency to work himself into a rage over nothing whatsoever. “At least we’re not living in hell though,” he continued. “I know what hell is and hell’s not this boring, but it smells a lot worse.” The rest of us nodded our heads and kept eating.

     Most days my girlfriend brought my lunch to the cemetery where I worked on the ground crew. Now it seems excessive, but it just shows the place we were at in our relationship. We’d make out for a few minutes before she complained that I smelled like gasoline or grass clippings and took off. That should give you an idea of where we were headed. Springdale was a three thousand acre cemetery built along a wooded bluff that overlooked the industrial part of town and the river beyond. The worst part of the job was the poison ivy.  The best part was watching the thunderstorms roll in from across the river. When it rained we took cover in an abandoned mausoleum which had a large picture of Jesus still hanging in the entryway. There was mildew growing behind the glass, turning the son of god gray and crinkly, suggesting that our savior lived to be 93 and not 33, skipping the crucifixion altogether. The crypt was cluttered with empty bottles of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose and Mogen David Blackberry wine. Once Lonnie found a gold mezuzah buried amongst the empties and handed it to me. “Keep it,” he said, “Talismans are bad luck. They never mean what you think they do.”

     Lonnie bragged a lot about his success with women which was difficult to swallow due to his mopey look and obvious self-disgust. He had a standing offer to go to the Lady Slipper to watch him pick up girls but nobody took him up on it. Instead we bought six packs and drank them sitting on crypts while the sun went down. It wasn’t much of a job but most of us were in no hurry to leave the place after work. One time around dusk we caught a couple of teenagers who climbed up the bluff to knock over gravestones. We corralled them and let Lonnie tell a few of his Nam stories about tiger cages and sliced off lips until one of the kids started to cry. Then, to cheer them up, he told them about the Vietnamese basket fuck, which didn’t help matters much. Before we cut them loose Lonnie offered to take them to the Lady Slipper to look at girls, but they declined the offer and slid down the bluff much faster than they’d hiked up. 

     After a three week drought, the grass stopped growing and I was laid off. I found another job in a tire shop that cheated customers by selling retreads as new tires. It paid better and I was out of the heat and weather, but the boss was abusive and liked to tell racist jokes to the white customers, most of whom seemed to enjoy them. My girlfriend brought me lunch once or twice but the place creeped her out so she quit coming. We broke up soon after so it didn’t make much difference. When the boss learned that she’d left me he said, “Quit whining, better off without that kike.” I said I didn’t think she was Jewish. “Kid, I can smell Jew pussy with a bucket over my head. You dodged a bullet, count your blessings. “ 

     In late summer I returned to Springdale after work with some Pabst and a half empty pint of Jack Daniels. It didn’t rain at all in August and even the truncated crew didn’t have much to do other than scrape graffiti off the gravestones. Lonnie was in good form. He said he didn’t care whether Nixon or McGovern won the coming election because voting was just the suggestion box of slaves. “It’s like stomach cancer pretending to be a cure for lung cancer,” he said, “anarchy is the only glimmer of hope we have.” One of the crew said that anarchy didn’t sound so sweet to him. “Yea, well it could benefit from some marketing, for sure.” 

     The crew drifted away and by the time it was dark only Lonnie and I remained. Lonnie lost momentum and became more melancholy. He seemed genuinely saddened to hear that I broke up with my girlfriend. “Filling a girl shaped hole can be the work of a lifetime,” he said. I told him I didn’t think it was that kind of relationship. For once he didn’t have anything to say and my response seemed increase his sadness. He told me he never liked the night because he was a poor sleeper. “I never could get the late hours to work for me”. He said, “I just got no balance in the dark.”

     So we sat for a while and didn’t talk. I recall him saying, “I wish I didn’t see the things I saw or do the things I did,” but that might just be my imagination looking for a story, like forming constellations out of random stars. After that: the quiet crackle of prematurely brown leaves falling from oaks; the second shift lunch whistle from the Westinghouse plant; heat lightning that looked like varicose veins; the slow moving yellow lights of a barge plowing upstream; warm, damp air rising from below the bluff; the sound of Lonnie sobbing. When we walked away we left two cans of Pabst on a stone for the tramps who lived in the woods. For good luck. 

Footer Text - Copyright Information
Using Format