Memorial Day came and went as it always does in Muskrat Flats or anywhere else for that matter. It was unusually busy in town as somehow the holiday weekend, which seemed to come a week earlier than usual coincided with the graduation ceremonies from the Muskrat Flats Community College and Samuel Coleman Hawthorne High School. The town was buzzing with activity and decked out with its patriotic colors.
At the Farm Museum, the parade to commemorate the remembrance of our citizens who had fallen both on native soil and abroad was set to begin shortly after the graduation ceremony for the 35 students in Sveltie Smith's vintner program.
The students received their hard earned sheepskins situated at the edge of the neatly cropped and flourishing grape vines they had so faithfully manicured, coaxed and harvested the last four years. The ceremony ended with Sveltie opening a Nebuchadnezzer bottle of sparkling wine, a vintage the class had produced in the classic method champenois. Empty glasses were hoisted in celebration and anticipation as Sveltie sheared the cork off of the 15 liter bottle situated in an ornate cast iron decanter which was produced by Kurt Bartleby in the Farm and Agricultural Museum's Smithy shop. The apparatus hoisted the 38 kilo bottle on a swivel for easy pouring.
Kurt stood by marveling at the ceremony as Sveltie rhythmically rapped the side of the bottle with the knife with which she popped the cork. Kurt watched Sveltie rap the bottle thinking she may shatter the vessel all the while wishing his dearly departed mentor, Benwah were here to witness this ceremony as well as his handiwork. This thought was broken as he watched geyser of wine erupted out of the opening of the bottle to raucous cheers from the students and their families.
The opening of this bottle had a special meaning for the class as they recalled the whole process which began in the first weeks of their program four very short years ago. The recalled day the had to disgorge the Lees or sediment from the bottle. A procedure where in the course of the first fermentation process the bottle has been turned completely upside down in the rack situated in caverns carved out of the limestone below the farm museum. The sediment which settles in the neck of the bottle is then frozen inside the bottle in a chilled brine bath. The bottle is opened and this plug is spit out of the bottle by the compressed carbonation. The volume of the bottle is then replaced with a some sediment free wine a small amount of yeast and sugar are added then bottle is recorked and the three year fermentation process begins. The gyser subsided the champagne was poured and the now filled glasses were once again hoisted.
Memorial day sure did come up quickly for Gomer Eckstein as he stood leaning against a post in front of the former railroad station, watching Sveltie, Kurt and her students celebrate. He watched Sveltie with her arm around her husband Jerry a full glass of the champagne in his free hand. He looked excited, like he had permission to drink.
Gomer remembered how that felt ... having permission to get high. What a glorious feeling that was, no hang ups, no sneaking around, no lying. Those were the aspects of his addiction he despised when he became strung out. All of the manipulation, the deceit, struggling through the emotional upheavals with his then companion Sarah. Then there was the seeking out of other women with whom he could use ... peacefully, but that never really worked out and comes with its own set of emotionally charged negative circumstances.
The last time Gomer stood in Muskrat Flats, snow was in the forecast. He has just finished a cross country tour with his hardcore Klezmer band the Hook Nosed Satans. He left the Flats in late February to attend a meeting with the folks from Showtime regarding a pilot for comedy series he had written about a Rabbi in Las Vegas who ran a Funeral Parlor.
Although there was initially a buzz amongst the network higher ups regarding the concept of "Shiva Las Vegas," Gomer was accurate in his assessment that they had cooled to the idea as the meeting had begun. "The concept sounds to similar to 6 Feet Under," Was the final explanation.
Being the self sufficient bastard that he is, Gomer took matters into his own hands and produced a music video based on the tune Viva Las Vegas with him singing a duet with a Hasidic Elvis impersonator. The video already has over 100,000 hits on You Tube.
The tour was lengthier than usual. He was playing larger venues taking his music mainly to colleges in the Northeast including his Alma Mater, Amherst College. Then the Satans headed south to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Raleigh, New Orleans, Austin, Santa Fe. From New Mexico they headed north for a string of three shows in Telluride, Colorado and then west to Seattle and Eugene, OR, where he was met by the new love of his life, his girlfriend of eight months, Miranda Klein.
The new lovers spent a few days in the Portland area before they hit northern California, and ended up in the Bay area where the Satans played shows in Berkley, Palo Alto and Mirandas's hometown, San Francisco.
Meeting up with Miranda and spending a couple of weeks with her, when he did, was a Godsend for Gomer. The tour was a little harder than he had anticipated. It seemed that everywhere they went, someone wanted to get him high.
He began to feel as isolated as he had felt when he was strung out. He called folks in his network, he called Miranda, he even called Sveltie, for which he felt somewhat guilty. He could rationalize and tell himself that they NEEDED each other at that moment. when they were reading about the love triangle between the vampires Isabella, Astrid and their very own Sheriff Hawthorne, that their fanning the embers of a relationship which had died years ago was the right thing to do ... at the time. But sometimes, us addicts don't think things through when we are caught up in the moment. It was hard for Gomer to say goodbye to Miranda that night as they walked together hand in hand, as new lovers often do. The walked down South Van Ness Avenue after noshing on some chicken tamales. And he sang to her. He sang a beloved by Jerry Garcia which made her weep as the lovers walked along in the Mission, in the rain.
Everything worked out with Sveltie, after all she and Jerry were still together. As he thought this he watched Jerry hoist his third glass of wine and noted that Sveltie noticed as well. Gomer watched her whisper something to Jerry who walked straight over to the bar and refilled his glass as he left his wife standing there watching him with a look of disappointment.
He could identify with what Jerry is going through as he struggles with his alcoholism. But he also felt empathy for his former girlfriend and recent lover as he watched her let out a little sigh before turning her attention and her beautiful smiling face in the direction of one of her students and her parents as the pain in Sveltie's heart continued to unfold, especially if she was further witness to what was occurring with her husband, unseen, behind her as she spoke.
Gomer's cell phone rang. He looked at the display, the number was blocked. He ignored it. There was no message left. The phone rang a couple more times. He finally picked it up.
"Hello?" He queried.
"Hey, Gomer! Whats going on, baby?" Gomer hesitated and got a knot in his stomach. He was silent.
"Hello? Gomer, it's Allie. I just wanted to see if you had the same number and do some catching up." Gomer sighed again.
"Hi Allie, how have you been?"
"I'm doing pretty good, I've got a job and an apartment. I'm doing good."
"Are you clean?"
"Well sort of ..."
"How are you sort of clean?"
"I've been doing good, I'm on suboxone, I go to meetings three times a week?"
"Really? Do you have a sponsor or a home group?"
"I've got a few people that I call ... It's tough, you know how it is ... a struggle. I have to get a paper signed for my probation officer three times a week."
"I see. Look, Allie ..." She cut him off.
"I can't lie I've been using every now and then ... you know what they say about the only requirement is ..."
"Yeah, I know, the desire to stop using." He looked down at his shiny black fingernails.
"Listen, baby, I ran out of suboxone and don't have any cash to get my prescription filled. I was wondering if you wanted to get together?"
"Allie, I'm clean, in fact the length of time I've been clean has been exactly the same amount of time it has been since we last got together."
"Oh ... comon baby, I wouldn't let you use." She was starting to get an edge to her voice.
"Listen," Gomer said, "I'm sure you have the best intentions, I'm not blaming you for my using. I just don't know how I would handle it if we did get together, even for 15 seconds. I just don't know ..."
"Oh baby please? I need you."
"Comon, Allie, I can't do it."
"I want YOU!" Her voice got sugary as she tried to further manipulate the situation. Gomer sighed again and spoke.
"Listen Allie ..."
"Comon Gomer, let's do a date ...." That was all Gomer needed to hear, because there was nothing more he wanted at this moment. He was swirling in a melancholy sea of emotions as he watched Sveltie occasionally turn a look at Jerry, who looked away every time. He turned his head, pretending he didn't notice that she was looking over to him. He thought of Miranda and how he missed her company. He thought of both women and how warm their bodies felt as they snuggled into his. He thought of Allie and the comfort she could provide.
"Gomer ... Gomer? "
"Yeah I'm here. Allie, I'd love to see you, but I can't. I know you are using, and I feel really vulnerable right now ... I just can't see you." She began to cry.
"Gomer, I need you. I'm sick. Comon ... I've been doing good, I just fucked up a little bit. I really need the money for the script. You're doing good, I've seen you on the computer. You look good. I wouldn't let you fuck up, baby. Please??! I'M SICK!"
"I can't. I'm sorry." He hung up.
He took a deep breath. He looked over at Sveltie once again. She was on her phone this time, staring off into space. Jerry was yukking it up with a couple of the girls who had just graduated, starting to get a little sloppy and flirtatious. Gomer's phone rang again. He reached for it, without looking at the display screen, ready to blast Allie for calling him back.
"Gomer ..." He looked up at Sveltie. As she spoke she made eye contact with him. "Do you still have Hawthorne's diary?"
"Why...uh. yes, Yes I do. I still need to read the last chapter."
"I still haven't read that one. You want to read it to me?" Gomer looked straight at her and without hesitation answered,
"I figure he'll be passed out by three or four. I call you later."
"I don't want to fuck anything up with you, Jerry or Miranda."
"I know Gomer, I want to do the right thing, too ... are you going to meet me, or what?"
"Yes. I'm going to go over to the Odd Fellows. I still haven't seen Dad since I got back into town, they probably need some help over there with the picnic."
"Are you playing tonight?"
"Burliegh, from PRY asked if I was available to sit in, I told him yes."
"After the show then?"
"Yes, after the show would be perfect."
"I'll meet you at the hotel, sweetie." She discreetly blew him a kiss and hung up.
Gomer gave her a wink. He put his hand in his shoulder bag and felt the box which contained Hawthorne's diary. Why Jerry asked him to keep it is still a mystery, but an obvious bad decision on his part.
"Coley, what's going on, my man?" Gomer reached down and tousled Chubby's bangs as he growled a little bit thinking that Gomer was going to try to take away the plastic banana he had in his mouth.
"I'm heading over to the Odd Fellows for the parade, you wanna walk with me, Coley?"
"Sure." He put his arm around Coley as they headed toward the intersection of Petersen and McKernan Streets. Chubby picked up the paced to follow grunting as he walked.
"So ... I've been away for a while, Coley. Any good gossip going around town?"
The two friends headed away from the Farm Museum. Sveltie looked at Gomer one last time as she felt Jerry's hand on her arm.
"I'm sorry, baby, I'm sorry. I gotta do something about this" His apology didn't prevent him from taking another drink, though.
She looked at him and replied.
"I know Jerry, I really do love you and that is not a lie. I know I'm not perfect ..." He stopped her.
"I'm not feeling too well, can you drive me home?"
"I don't want to go home. I want to be here, I want to see the music. I want you. Don't you understand. All I ever wanted was you, until this became more important." She motioned to his glass. He hung his head and took another sip. Sveltie just stood there silently looking at her tormented husband. She didn't know what to do. But she did think to herself ...
I'll drive you home, but If I can't get what I want, I'm going to at least get what I need.
She repositioned herself as she watched Gomer and Coley disappear around the corner.
"Comon big guy, let's get you home and set up in front of the TV. I think the Sox are playing at 1. I want to be back in time for the parade."
Gomer thought about the last 15 minutes as the Odd Fellows hall came into view. He should have been listening more attentively as Coley gave him a rundown of all of the shit that has happened in Muskrat Flats in the last few months. He thought about Allie and her struggle with heroin and how he wanted to lash out at her for not being clean, making her inaccesible.
He thought of Sveltie and her issues with his good friend Jerry and how he felt powerless to say no to the prospect of meeting her even though he knew it was wrong. He thought about all of the insantity and how vulnerable he truly was at this moment. And thought to himself ... I can't wait to play some music tonight.
As the sun climbed in the sky illuminating a perfect spring day, it is unfortunate that there are two addicts that Gomer knows who will not be there to enjoy it.
Allie is probably in the South End of Dana right now, dope sick and trying to hustle enough money to get off empty after having spent her hard earned paycheck. And Jerry ... He will miss the beautiful day, passed out in front of the flat screen TV as his sexy and lovely wife watches his estranged best friend gyrating on the stage, playing with his favorite band. An unfortunate set of circumstances to precede the final reading of Sheriff Hawthorne's sex charged tale of murder, mayhem and immortality taking place in Historic Muskrat Flats.
Yep, Gomer dodged a bullet that afternoon with the phone call from Allie, one which was destined to shatter his skull, leaving him in a bloodied heap on the pavement.
Now, if he could only dodge the bullet engraved with Sveltie's name, which was soaring in his direction and threatened to pierce his heart.
Just a suggestion, Gomer, now would be a good time to get back on the road and begin ...
Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.