The Jaws of Providence

When I left town it was an unpopular decision with my friends. Flagstaff has a way of seeming perfect. It’s like Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. People talked about leaving Flagstaff all the time. The next day they would just grumble and pick up where they left off. My group of friends, who have been tight knit since the 6th grade, were feeling schadenfreude about my leaving. None of us have actually left. I was the first. I promised to keep in touch.

At the last minute Dirty Randy and I decided it would be cool if we only texted each other once a week. Each text would be written in the style of Civil War letters written on the home-front. It lasted for a while. Here is our conversation:

 

Unclean Randall,

 

Brother, as I am writing this, I am under the Illinois stars. My, how beautiful they are. The missus and I are about a day’s drive from the City. The weather knows no end of this cold onslaught. If anything terrible were to happen, I fear to admit our finances are a yarn string away from having to turn back home.

Our Life with the missus and I is out to a tumultuous start, but, God willing, his angels have set us on the path of fortitude to prepare us for our future endeavors. I must go now, as our accommodations are ready, and I must rest up for the long trip to the Second City tomorrow.

 

Well Wishes,

Jason.

 

My Brother,

I was eager to receive your parcel today. The weather has been equally unkind in our town too. Four feet of snow, I had to dig out Ol’ Miss Mayberry from across the street.

I am sorry to hear of your financial misgivings, but I believe that the Good Lord gives you only what you can handle. My dear friend, I have seen you strive through the toughest of times with finesse I have not seen in another.

A week gone and I already miss our conversations. Our town is a little less shining without you and yours among us. Our peculiar musings on the big questions of Life hold a special place in my heart as of late. My Fear is that our distance will sever a connection that took lifetimes to build. A brotherhood thicker than blood. My only solace is that you are happy in your grand adventures. I guess I just miss my friend.

 

Yours,

Unclean Randall.

 

My Friend,

It has been some time since I have last written. God sees fit to cast a blight of rough times on our road. We have, since my last correspondence, moved into a shabby dwelling. It is not fit for one person to reside in, let alone two. Our quarters have become a cramped situation that compresses me in every way. However our humble abode is right behind the general store, and across the street from the always open confectionery. Italian cuisine is caddy corner to the barbershop across the alley. I am indeed surrounded by supplies and will not be in dire need of many things for a while.

My betrothed has turned to a rather nasty mood. It seems every detail of my routine is suspect to her reckoning and I am the creator of all our misfortune. Hell hath no fury, my friend.

My patience is none more than a prized virtue in these tough times. I fear my beloved has begun to disdain me to my very core. Her inclinations towards aggressive negotiations combined with our atrociously freezing weather have begun to sap the warmth from my being.

Brother, I miss you as well. Our time together seems to have been a gift from our Creator. However, I shall not back down from my plight for fiscal independence because of some bad weather, and terrible manners. Though indeed yearning for home seems to have frostbitten my soul.

Class will soon be starting at the University, I cannot wait to attend. I wish you were able to cast aside some responsibilities of home and make way to Chicago to attend our illustrious Institution. It is you who tutored me through the finer points of high school after all. I would not be the College-man I am today without your vast intellect which carried me to the entrance of higher learning. I thank you.

Sincerely,

Jason

 

Mister Jason,

I have good news. I have struck lucky at the market today. My boss has said he is promoting me to foreman of the warehouse. It includes a healthy raise, and gives me a chance to pursue a life of the mind. I fear I will not be able to attend your fine institution, but I will be expanding my wealth of knowledge with you in spirit.

I am sorry to learn of your sickly situation with your beloved. Travel and cohabitation are hard on the love of a courtship. I pray that you and yours find yourselves in good graces soon. I believe your love together is a force stronger than most have ever seen. I urge you to look within yourself and you might see the strength to which I refer.

I am in high spirits today, my friend. I look upon the San Francisco Peaks in the morning and feel an invigoration that quenches a thirst for life I did not know I had. I see the charcoal black sky at night and feel Providence under the moon and stars. I finally feel home. The Lord has blessed me with something I thought impossible in this land. I hope you are happy for me brother, as I was happy for you when you left.

I am eager to hear from you soon.

Best,

Gainfully Employed Slightly Cleaner Randall

 

Dearest Brother,

I am ecstatic to say the least. Your hard work and determination have finally paid off in a county where gainful employment is harder to find than a south mossed rock. I pray for more good news upon confirmation of promotion.

University life is somewhat swell. My betrothed is flourishing in class. It is good to see her blossom when I once saw her strain to grow in our home town. I, however, am struggling to meet the expectations of my professors. I feel doubtful of my future as a scholar. My writings seem to dwell too much on the fantastical to my Professors’ chagrin. They don’t speak ill of my work, but they do not praise it either. I fear that I am but a salmon stuck in a pond with my studies.

Relations with me and mine are recovering from the unforgiving blight. Though we have not spoken vows, we hold ourselves accountable as if we have. It turns even the most unruly incident into an obstacle we can overcome. I fear for our future still. Vows are not wrought iron, and will can strain for so long till the levies of commitment and patience breaks. However God has sought to give me and my betrothed the stubbornness of Miss Mayberry’s mule. If our commitment ceases, so it seems, our heartbeats will too.

I look forward to reading your good news in the future.

Yours,

Jason.

 

For My Brother,

 

I am writing to you on a sad day. My warehouse is closing. I am without employment. I fear my promotion was a political ruse by my boss. His friend was the previous foreman before I was appointed. His friend now has my market job. I am not a very learned man, but I feel the gears of nepotism turning in the town.

How could I be so foolish, brother? To think that I could carve a life for myself. No man without silver in his blood can maintain a livelihood here. Am I to flounder because I have no copper mines in my family? Do I become a vagabond because I have no friends in the town establishments? Does my upstanding character and resourcefulness count for nothing in this place?

If I were to somehow stumble upon a goldmine, would it not matter because I am a second citizen here? Was I born to fail in this forsaken town?

I was mistaken in my last correspondence. This town is a Beast. The Peaks are nothing but a bauble to lure men into the jaws of Providence. Where manufactured misfortune keep the ungilded down in the stomach of vagrancy. The moon is the beasts eye. Always watching its prey.

I feel no more urge to continue this exchange.

Best,

Randall

PS

Fuck this, let’s talk over Xbox Live.

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There’s a Better Life For Me and You

Valentine’s Day is coming up. I don’t enjoy the holiday. I do enjoy romance, but forced romance on a specific day other than your anniversary? Get out of town with that shit. This month’s story is about just that, getting out of town, and relationships. It gets weird, so prepare yourself (names have been changed, because Flagstaff has internet, and it’s still close knit. If that one person is reading this, sorry, it’s still fucking weird).

The ratio of men to women in Flagstaff was always high. There were only so many options. You had your chance to court regular ladies, the ones you went to elementary, middle and high school with, but that was only 170 women. Then you had the Mormon women who were home-schooled but still showed up to town events and things like that. But they were Mormon, and that was a commitment not many men wanted to make.

Dating got strange as you got older. The women knew they were the minority and it changed how they acted. Even worse, the number of women decreased because not everyone wants to date you. Everyone was dating each other and growing up together. It was weird. Borderline incestuous.

One time a very nice woman was interested in going out with me, but she had already been in long term relationships with 6 of my other friends. She even said, “You’re lucky number 7.” A phrase that shouldn’t be used in dating, I think. I couldn’t have dated her, there was no chance I could have known her biblically. She knew all my friends biblically. She couldn’t have that kind of power. Some knowledge must be kept secret: the Ark of the Covenant, who killed JFK, and your group of best buddies wiener sizes and bedroom performance. Sacred knowledge.

All of the information above can be summarized as such: For a young man in Flagstaff, pickin’s were slim.

I, however, got lucky and dated one of my best friends. She was a military kid, and wasn’t tainted by the cesspool of the square-dance-dating going on. She was (is) perfect.

We were in talks about what to do with our lives next. We didn’t know what we wanted, we just wanted it to be together. After a rather loud discussion about our future, I was a little upset. I went to a friend’s kickback in the middle of the woods. I needed to take a step away from the unsavory discourse.

This is where things get weird. Stay with me here. My friend, has two best friends. They all have 2 kids. Each from the same three wives. One kid was from the husband and wife, and the other kid was from a previous infidelity with one of the best friends. I found out that night. Instead of blowing off some steam, my mind was blown.

I showed up and just saw six people holding six kids. That wasn’t weird to me. Flagstaff was where a lot of not-too-crazy-Mormons pitched their tent when they left the crazy compounds on the other side of the state. However, we got to drinking, and shooting the shit with the guys. I found out the information I shared with you above. I was surprised.

They were all cool cheating on their wives with each other’s wife, knocking them up, and raising them all together. It was horrifying to hear this. I didn’t say anything bad about it to them. I took a deep breath and a gulp of beer, and said:

“Well that’s mighty big of you guys to be so forgiving of each other.”

Cleveland said,

“It wasn’t too hard, Cletus’ wife was a freak in the sheets!”

Cletus nodded his head and spoke,

“Yeah well, Clive’s wife fucks like her life depends on it!”

Clive nodded his head, and exclaimed,

“Shit yeah she does!”

They all laughed and raised their beer bottles in a toast. I did the same, apprehensively. In my head I was thinking one thing: I got to get out of here. I finished my beer and waited to sober up to leave.

Cleve’ tried to explain the issue to me in a more reasonable way.

“You see Jason, women in our fine State have the run of the land. Remember what you’re daddy, God bless his soul, told you junior year when that Hawaiian chick left you for that dumb-fuck Greg?”

I sighed, I remember when my father gave me a hug and told me some wise old guy shit when Greg gallivanted away with my high school girlfriend. I looked at the group and said the lesson aloud,

“She’s not yours. It’s just your turn.”

Cletus, Cleve and Clive all gave a stern nod. They raised their bottles in acknowledgement.

Cletus spoke,

“I’m glad that our group is so close that I know Cleve’, or Clive got my wife if I go. That’s a fuckin’ family. It’s just nice to know our group is tight like that.”

Cleve chimed in,

“Not as tight as your old lady’s pussy!”

They all laughed and high-fived each other. I reciprocated. The information I was trying to process sobered me up enough to drive through the woods to get back home.

“I gotta go guys, it was nice meeting your families. Cletus, Cleve’ Clive, it was a pleasure”

Cletus replied,

“You bring your old lady by sometime soon so we can get a good look at her!”

“Will do, bye now.”

I drove home through the lonely woods. You can only get one radio station that far into the mountains. I blasted the radio to try and purge the memories of the mind fuck I discovered. It was playing The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. It stuck with me. It rung true.

I got to my girlfriend’s house. I apologized for our loud discussion earlier. I told her,

“I love you, whatever we do, we gotta get the fuck out of this place.”

“Yes! I love you too! My parents and sister are moving to Washington State. We can move with them.”

“No,” I shouted, “we have to grow away from our families shadows. We got to get away, far away from here.”

My girlfriend was shocked to hear these words come out of my small town mouth.

“Where should we go,” she asked.

“Chicago,” I said, “let’s aim for Chicago!”

I didn’t know much about Chicago. I just knew it was far from Arizona.

“OK, I guess we are moving to Chicago then!”

We hugged in excitement.

“How was hanging with your friends,” My girlfriend asked.

“Mind-blowing.”

Nancy Chew

Flagstaff was great before the boom. It was a tiny tourist town nestled in the mountains between a ski resort and a shitty liberal arts university. It had character. You could raise a family in Flagstaff and your kids would’ve had a complete experience: from finding a random retro porn stash in the woods to walking down the train tracks with your group of friends to poke a dead body with a stick. It was great. This is one of my stories from Flagstaff I call “Nancy Chew”.

Before I moved to Chicago and became a comedian I was a small town kid. I had usual hopes and dreams: get a hot wife who looked good in gingham, own a nice truck, and become a firefighter. There were only so many available women, and I was only so attractive (it’s my story, just go with it), and owning a nice truck is like a mustache, you gotta earn it. However, the fire department was always looking to recruit.

I said usual hopes and dreams, but like many 18 year-old kids, I didn’t take a lot of steps to better myself or prepare for tough challenges. What I’m trying to say is, I was a weakling. The fire department is like any other emergency service, you gotta be strong to get through each day. My Captain knew I might not make the cut, but he liked me anyways, he pulled some strings. They partnered me with the biggest guy in the Academy, Grant, he shook my hand, and asked,

“You’re Jason? Mind if I call you Stackhouse, like that Tru Blood show?”

“As long as I can call you Tiny, I think it’s fine,” I said.

“Deal,” we shook hands and our friendship had begun.

Grant was a very different man than me. He was a varsity quarterback from Anchorage, Alaska, and it’s not hard to admit that he was an attractive man (I’ve yet to introduce him to my wife). Most of all, he was built for firefighting, he lived and breathed the lifestyle. He carried me through most of the Academy. The Academy itself was like a hard college class and working out was homework. Every Saturday we spent the day learning life saving techniques, sweating our asses off in full gear, and playing with fire. It was grand.

Most of what I remember was Tiny and me driving to class, shooting the shit. We were so different that we made each other our anthropology project. Every day was an exploratory conversation.

“How do you drink that much protein powder? How can you dip, doesn’t all that spitting get to you? Do you play video games?

“How have you stayed alive with so little muscle mass? Why do you drink so much Diet Coke? Have you ever been with a woman?”

These conversations would go for hours.

One day we got to the Academy as another group was still doing training. We sat and watched them do hose techniques for the better part of an hour. One woman was part of their group, she saw us observing. She looked lovely, even under all her turnout gear. She smiled and winked at us. Right away Tiny said,

“That wink was for me, Stackhouse, and you know it.”

He was right, I knew it. These lady firefighters didn’t like tiny men who play Warcraft in their spare time.

After their class was done, she took her turnout coat off and we could see the suspenders hanging on to her delicate shoulders. She wore a tiny tank-top drenched in sweat. Her flat bronze stomach glistened with sweat. She stretched her rather muscular arms into the air for a few seconds. She walked towards us. The Baywatch theme played in my head for some reason. I panicked. Like a dog chasing a car, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught it.  Tiny, being the expert he was, ran his hand through his pompadour hair.

She got to us, put a big smile on her face, and before she spoke, she turned her head and launched a large disgusting amount of dip spit. She asked, “What brings y’all here so early?”

We were both dumbstruck. This was obviously Tiny’s thing. A beautiful strong woman who dipped. Because, he got cold feet, all of a sudden. He was silent. A pregnant pause lingered.

“Just thought we’d come by and enjoy the view,” I responded. The woman turned to me and blushed, “Oh, you are cute! What do they call you?”

“They call me Stackhouse, but you can call me your next date,” I said.

She giggled, “I just might do that, Stackhouse. You can call me Nancy. Do you want a pinch?”

She offered me some dip. I was on a roll. I didn’t want to ruin it by dipping. I’ve seen The Sandlot enough times to know what happens to rookies.

Tiny showed Nancy his dip can in solidarity.

“I-I don’t dip,” I said.

Nancy looked at me, “Oh, that’s such a shame, hon,” she said.

I ruined my chances. I knew it. She looked at the floor, then back at me.

“Here, take this, and get back to me when you get some hair on your chest,” she said, putting a can of Skoal long cut mint in my hand. Like it was a family heirloom she was bequeathing.

She turned around walked away. She shouted, “I mean it, Stackhouse, come back when you’re a real man!”

I looked at the can and smiled. I had a chance to court a nice lady who dipped and could kill me with her biceps. There was hope. Tiny looked at me and said,

“Boy, you’re going to dip today.”

I did. Right before training. I puked everywhere. Everyone laughed. My Captain benched me for the day. It was good fun.

Later that week I tried to find Nancy. She was in a different county. In Arizona, living in a different county is like being star-crossed lovers.

I was a Coconino, she was a Maricopa. It was never meant to be.