Tuesday, January 19, 2010

8/4/76 - 8

There were two worlds within the stadium. A world of light and life in the center. There the eternally young and beautiful basked in the golden sun. On folding chairs and blankets. Playing cards. Smoking pot. Stretching languorously.

Encircling this world was a world of shadow and death. The covered grandstands, cold concrete and steel. They were occupied by a desultory patchwork of clannish groups. There were even outliers among these outcasts, sitting way far up where it was darkest. Someone let out a fearsome hoot and a bottle arced high, end-over-end, and exploded in a splatter of shards and foam at the opening of the tunnel from which we had emerged.

We walked the littered path that formed the border. Jim and Jenny in front, Rick and I each carrying a handle of the cooler. We were scouting a location on the grass. To the left of the stage, where the stadium opened to the east, twin rectangular forms shimmered in the distance. Someone else shouted from the stands. Pure abstract shape. Identical. The objects seemed to oscillate in and out of existence. The breeze picked up a bit, kicking up a little dust. In the haze they were barely distinguishable from the sky. Only their outlines, tinged with gold, rippling like the sun upon the sea, were seen. I heard a woman laugh. Though I knew what they were, they appeared to be a phantasm. Their presence was exceedingly tenuous. They did not seem to be a part of this world.

A Frisbee glided across the foreground to break my reverie. The clock on the scoreboard was stuck on six to nine.

"Wait!" said Jim.

We stopped behind him.

"Check that out!" he exclaimed, his voice nearly trembling with wonder.

He was pointing at an object in his path. Rick and I put the cooler down and we all approached to have a closer look. It was a tube of something. Toothpaste. It was a tube of Aqua-fresh toothpaste. Brand new, apparently. Pristinely resting in the dirt and full to bursting. We scrutinized it with some awe.

Passersby walked around us at first. Then a few stopped too, to look at the thing that we were looking at.

Jim got down on his knee. He touched the cap first, with the tip of his index finger. Then he knelt on both knees to get a little closer. He ran his finger along the cool, white, unblemished surface of the metal skin.

"Wow," he whispered.

"It's beautiful!" Jenny asserted. She sounded like maybe she was about to cry.

We all knelt down now, forming a circle around the toothpaste. The crowd around us grew, peering over our shoulders. We admired in silence the very slight italic slant of the navy-blue lettering: Aqua-fresh. The toothbrush flat on its back below it, bearing a sleek dollop of blue-white-blue-white-blue striped paste.

After a time, Jim took his jackknife from his pocket and opened up the blade. Jenny let out a worried moan. Jim looked at her and then at each of us, his knife poised over the turgid belly of the tube. I nodded slightly, as though to give our assent. He punctured it up near the neck, working the tip in with a little twist. Then he drew an incision down across the letters, almost all the way to the tapered end. He withdrew for a moment to observe his work.

The opening act had just begun. It was the Marshall Tucker Band. They played a song called "Can't You See."

I'm gonna take a freight train down at the station, Lord
I don't care where it goes
Gonna climb a mountain, the highest mountain, Lord
And gonna jump off, ain't nobody gonna know

A thin band of white toothpaste had emerged from the slit. Jim leaned in again and made a careful vertical incision bisecting the original one just past the capital A. Then he made a similar one at the other end, between the H and the bristles of the brush. He made a third between these two, between the F and the R in "fresh." He paused again and we stared in wonder at the tube, which now began to ooze blue-white goo from its wounds.

Can't you see, oh, can't you see,
What that woman, Lord
She been doin' to me

Jim looked at us again, his expression conveying utmost solemnity and seriousness of purpose. Jenny stifled a sob.

"Do it!" she cried.

Jim carefully peeled back the middle segments of the tube, and then the four corners, to reveal a mass of sticky, viscous material in four perfectly symmetrical bands of alternating white and blue. We gasped. It was beautiful. It was horrifying. The crowd around us whooped and cheered. He wiped off his knife on the knee of his jeans.

"Touch it!" someone shouted.

"Yeah, touch it!" someone else repeated.

"Touch it! Touch it! Touch it!" the crowd began to chant.

Jim dipped his finger into the splayed-open tube and examined the dab left on its tip. Then he put it in his mouth. We awaited his reaction, expecting some revelation perhaps.

"Minty," he declared with a frown.

Then he dipped two fingers in the blue and brought his hand up to his face. He hesitated a beat then painted the tip of his nose. Then he took some white and painted stripes on his cheeks, his forehead. It was twilight now. He looked up and we studied him, the first initiate to a new religion. We understood that we were all to paint our faces.