| Excuse | Stubble | Viscocity |

Lat. 42.52 N, Lon. 106.18 W by adam rea

Joe Cannon looked out at the night and breathed deeply. He squeezed the wheel and felt his blood beating through his body. He felt as if he were about to explode.
"Pick something," said the girl in the back, "... just leave it somewhere."
"Jesus... I think I'm bleeding," Nick said looking in the rearview.
"I don't know, they're all crappy, there's nothing good..." said Joe Cannon as he violently slammed the radio's preset tuners.
"Can you see my pupils Joe? I think I have a concussion," said Nick.
"... it's all country or '80s metal bands these days..."
"Joe... look at me."
"I'm driving," said Joe Cannon.
Nick turned around, "Are my pupils the same size?" he asked the girl in the back.
"I don't know," she said.
Nick turned back around and began to drum his fingers nervously on the dashboard. "I think I have a concussion," he said.
"Stop that," said Joe Cannon.
"Look at my pupils,"
"You're fine. We're all fine. Everybody's fine."
"This could be serious," Nick said, "... y'know, guys get something like this... they wake up dead."
Electric white light danced across Steve's face. He lay in the backseat, half conscious of the voices which surrounded him.
"He only hit you like once," said Joe Cannon.
"He hit me hard," said Nick, feeling his sore jaw.
"Don't you have any tapes?" asked the girl in the back.
Steve looked straight ahead at the harvest moon hanging low in the eastern sky. Behind him, in the west, the sun had just disappeared behind the horizon. Steve pressed his face against the cold glass of the November window as they rode into the night.

"It's a dance Steve, that's what it is... you ever see those Fred Aistaire movies, y'know, Fred and Ginger?"
(The Texan lands a straight left jab. Steve tries to shrug it off.)
"You gotta fight like that... like you're dancing."
(Kid Texas lands another left.)
"Sense what the other guy's gonna do. Get inside his head... make him think you know something he doesn't."
(The fluorescent lights flicker on and
off. Another jab followed by a right and Steve's nose is bleeding now.)
"Fight your own fight... you gotta be like Fred and lead. You can't follow like Ginger. You've gotta be the man, so to speak..."
(The Texan's brothers standing in the corner by the Dr. Pepper machine get excited at the sight of blood. "Tear that sommbitch in two!" says the one in Carhartts.)
"Just don't let them get into your head. Hide your emotions. Pride... fear... pain... whatever, you keep that to yourself. Brick wall..."
(Steve goes down. Time stands still.)

Someone had turned the radio off. The car was silent except for the hypnotic lull of the engine.
Joe Cannon couldn't stand the silence and he began to sing a Tom Waits song he couldn't really remember, his baritone voice interrupting the engine hum in spastic, unmelodic intervals, "Barrelin' down the boulevard... gassed her nanana six... goin' on a red, stoppin' on a green... tonight like nothing you've ever seen... lookin for the heart of Saturday night... nanana try and change my tune... drunk on the moon,"
"Turn the goddamn radio back on," said the girl in the back.
Nick rolled his window down and felt the cold air against his skin, "You're never happy," he said.
The girl sat back against the Buick's vinyl interior and looked out at something she couldn't see.
From where they were now, they could see the whole town. It was always kind of depressing when it was all right there, Joe thought, looking out; the city lights seemed so insignificant against the vast dark sea of prairie.
"Pull over," said a voice from the backseat, "Quick." Steve opened the door as he felt something rise up in his throat.
"What's wrong?" asked Joe. Steve had run out into the snow to be alone.
"Is he throwing up?" asked the girl in the back.
"Yeah," said Nick, "he does it all the time... some medical thing. His nose always bleeds too."
"I don't know, ask his doctor."
Joe rested his head on the wheel and looked out at the town again, then followed the lights of the interstate due north to the Big Horns. He remembered when his father had first pointed out those mountains, how, on a clear day, you could see them from here, 180 miles away. Nothing like Minnesota, Joe thought, Nothing like anywhere... like no place on earth.
Steve got back in the car exhausted.
"You wanna go home?" Joe Cannon asked.
"Not tonight," said Steve.
The car rested on the side of the road. The heater was on and they were comfortable. Two cars passed, and that was it. They were alone on the empty road at night.
"What now?" asked Nick.
"I don't know," said Joe Cannon, "I'm hungry."
"I'm tired," said Steve.
"I feel sick," said the girl in the back.
Nick drummed his fingers against the dash. "Let's go see Magic Sam," he said.
"Yeah," said Steve, smiling.
"I'm sure he wouldn't mind if we dropped by," Nick said. "It's been awhile, y'know?"
Joe Cannon turned the radio on and put the Buick into gear. It would be a long time before he got back home, he thought, a long time.

(At night the prairie looks like a sea)

Five adolescent boys stood in a parking lot outside of a supermarket. It should have been six, but one of them, Amado, was in jail.
"Hold up..." Tony said, "hold up... gonna bust out a little freestyle here for all y'all."
The beer bottle soared against the winter sky, catching the soft white light from the moon hanging somewhere in the east.
(Tony licks his lips and tries to swing his arms just right in his oversized sweatshirt like Ice Cube:

"Yo on on an on an on on an on
beat don't stop until the break aw dawn
brothas get drunk, wanna compete
shadowboxin in the street")

The beer bottle came crashing down against the asphalt.
"That ain't no freestyle," said Oscar, "that's half Sugarhill, half Ice Cube."
Oscar knew a lot about rap. Oscar knew a lot about Tony, too.
"Y'know, somethin old, somethin new," Tony said.
The rest of them didn't know anything.
"Shi... you don't even know what the hell you're talkin' about," Oscar said.
Oscar turned around as a car pulled up behind him.
"Is that Jimmy?" asked the boy in the Raiders jacket.
Jimmy got out of his blue Nissan and left the engine running. "They got Amado?" he asked.
"Yeah, they got him," said the boy in the Steelers jacket.
"That's what Lindsay told me," Jimmy said.
All were silent.
"Not fair is it?" Jimmy asked.
"It never is," said Oscar.
They all knew why Amado was in jail. And they all knew it could have just as easily been them.
"You find those bastards who turned him in?" Jimmy asked.
"Yeah, we found those punks. Oscar kicked they ass too," said the boy in the Packers jacket.
"No I didn't," said Oscar, "don't like Frank."
"Well you woulda-"
"But I didn't, did I? I only hit that one guy like once."
"Then what?" asked Jimmy.
"Then they ran away. Got in some big guy's car," said Oscar.
"We find those punks we're gonna kill 'em man. Kill 'em," said Frank.
"Oscar could take them all," said the boy in the Steelers jacket.
"Oscar would kill em, even the big guy," said the boy in the Raiders jacket.
"Man an I know, I used to fight that one kid every day back in junior high. Y'know, the tall one... Steve Jones?" asked Tony. "Used to spar him at the Boys Club after school like every day. Always took him out too."
Oscar chucked an empty beer bottle out into the sea of prairie beyond the parking lot. One day things will change, he thought. One day I'll leave this town and never look back.

(Hector was dancing. Doing it well too. Steve was heavy on his feet tonight and Hector was dancing.)
"This is an art form Steve. And it has a structure, like anything else; like a building, like a song... And before you can get into it and really start to do your thing, you have to study it... take it apart and study the structure of the whole thing; the forms, the classic combinations... and you have to study the greats... watch their fights and learn from them; Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray... hell, Jake LaMotta."
(The girls standing by the Dr. Pepper machine in the corner began to giggle as Hector, suave as hell, dodges Steve's heavy, stupid hands.)
"And then you take all that knowledge and you make it your own. You become part of a heritage. Then, only then, can you really start to box. When you know so much you don't have to think about anything, because you don't have time; and it all just flows out of you like it's the most natural thing in the world."
(Hector catches Steven with a jab, moves to the side, and lands a right.)
"You ever hear about those Zen guys who shoot those bows and arrows blindfolded? They hit the target dead center every time. They don't have to look at it, because they know where it is. They know where the target is better than their eyes ever could. A good boxer is the same way. He doesn't have to think because he knows."
(Steve gets angry and throws a succession of savage, uncalculated punches. He lands a few, but does no real damage.)
"What I'm saying Steve is that you can't just go out there and swing without thinking. At least at first. After you've been around though, that's exactly what you do, because you don't have to think anyway. Now this is hard to explain, but I know it's true. I guess it's like a full circle, you start out knowing nothing, and then you learn everything so you can forget it all and know nothing again. You really knew nothing in the first place, but that's different. So what you actually learn is that you know nothing. All right? Nevermind... you probably don't understand that. I'm not sure I do... but that's how it is."
(The ring of the bell pierces the heavy, smoky air and reverberates against the hard plaster walls. Exhausted, Steve walks back to his corner and collapses on the cheap stool he brought from home. He takes off his gloves to let his hands breathe, then picks up a plastic water bottle and squirts its contents all over his too-tired body. Feels the liquid molecules collect and separate across every contour of his face. Time stands still.)
"Are you listening to me, Steve?"

Joe Cannon had met him first, or maybe it was Nick, or maybe it had been one of the Fontane brothers, no one was quite sure. But it didn't matter, because now almost everyone at school knew him. He had become a legend. This was mainly because he bought beer for anyone who would give him the money, but he was more than a buyer.
"He listens to people," Nick had told the girl on the way over to the house that night. "I mean he really listens... like you can just tell he's picturing everything you say and not like caring if what you're saying is... like bad, y'know? It's like he just listens and talks to you like... like a person," (the car came to a stop) "... no bullshit."
Joe, Nick, and Steve had first met Magic Sam when he bought them whiskey on New Year's Eve a year ago. This had been the start of a long relationship with the old man. At first, he was simply their buyer, but even after Joe, Nick, and Steve had quit drinking for a while in the summer, they went to see Magic Sam every few days or so.
"Yeah we come by all the time, it's no big deal," Nick explained to the girl as Joe Cannon hit the paint-thirsty door with his fat fist.
"Is he there?" Steve asked as his teeth began to chatter.
"He's always here," said Joe Cannon.
"Just go in," said Nick, "it's unlocked... he's probably sleeping."
Joe Cannon opened the door slowly and watched the electric white light from the street lamp spill into the dark house across orange shag carpet.

(Time stood still)

He was dead. "He's dead," said Joe Cannon, letting Magic Sam's limp left arm fall back to his side.
"You sure?" asked the girl, not expecting an answer.
Joe Cannon nodded.
Nick felt like he should say something. "He was old," he blurted out awkwardly, "lived a long life. Just his time."
A terrible silence fell over the room, violent and unreal.
(The engine of a plane drones overhead, faint at first and then gradually louder as the plane approaches. Louder and louder and it seems like the only sound in the world until it passes overhead, drops in pitch and disappears into the night.)
"He could look into your eyes and tell you the truth," Joe Cannon said looking at the body.
Everyone looked at Nick as he picked up the yellow rotary phone mounted on the wall. "Thought we better call an ambulance or something," Nick explained.
Joe Cannon nodded.
The girl walked over by the window and collapsed onto the orange vinyl bean bag. Joe Cannon followed her and awkwardly put his arms around her.
The girl sighed.
Steve noticed something in Magic Sam's right hand, a book he was clutching close to his body.
"What's that?" Steve asked pointing to the book.
"Don't pick it up," Joe Cannon said as Steve picked it up.
It was an atlas. A hand-sized 1942 Rand McNally atlas. Steve opened it slowly, caressing the heavy old pages with his thin fingers. He found himself staring at a map of
Wyoming which had been marked in the book by a folded-up piece of paper. Steve, studying the map, was unaware as the piece of paper
fell to his feet.
Magic Sam had drawn all over the great state of Wyoming with a ball point pen. A cowboy had been inserted above most of the Absaroka Range, a soldier took up most of Lincoln County, and some sort of pornographic drawing which Steven couldn't make out was wedged between Farson and Rock Springs. In the center of the state, Magic Sam had drawn an arrow pointing to Casper and written in commanding black letters: "HOME, Lat. 42.52 N, Long. 106.18 W". On the city's dot, Magic Sam had drawn a heart in bright red ink.
"...Yeah... dead," Steve heard Nick say into the phone.
"What's that at your feet?" Joe Cannon asked Steve.
Steve picked up the frail piece of yellowing typing paper from the floor and unfolded it. It read:

I'm afraid of failure
I'm afraid I'm crazy
I'm afraid of dying alone

These are statements I wrote in my youth. Scribbled them out on a napkin one night at the jazzland theater. Must've been intoxicated. It was just after the title bout with Andy Giachetti and I had been drinking, I'm sure of that now.
They used to call me Kid Casper.
[Steve smiles]
I found the napkin when I was cleaning up tonight. It's amazing I could still read it after all these years.
All these years...
It makes me feel cold and lonely. Especially on a night like this. A night when I can feel the loneliness deep down in my bones. A loneliness so deep all I want to do is lie with this room and wait for death.

The room was silent. Steve could hear sirens approaching as he went weak in his legs, numb almost.
Empty in his stomach. It was the closest he'd ever felt to death.


A group of adolescents sat in a large, well-lit fast food restaurant.
"Look at his eyes man."
"-So big-"
"-Man... kid looks like a dope fiend-"
"-Look at his head-"
"-Look at his feet-"
Oscar clutched the baby close to his chest. "He's a strong one," he said looking into its eyes, "he's a fighter."
"You guys done?" said Maria. "Give him back."
Oscar handed the child over. "He's so awake. Look at him."
Maria looked at the baby. It began to cry.
"Look at him," said Oscar, "...seeing everything for the first time."
"I think this place scares him," said Maria.
"Of course it does... it scares me," said Oscar.
Maria didn't understand.
Tony laughed as the baby drooled all over Maria's neck.
"Kid is whack yo," Tony smiled.
"I'm taking him to my Mom's," said Maria. "See you later."
She left.
"He's a fighter," Oscar said.

Steve watched as a young Hispanic woman walked out of the large, well-lit fast food restaurant. He fell madly in love with her and was happy he'd probably never have to see her again in his life.
"You guys want something?" Joe Cannon asked.
"No," said Nick.
"I'm not hungry," said the girl in the back.
"Steve?" Joe Cannon said softly.
"Yeah... get me a double cheeseburger."
Joe Cannon got out of the car and walked slowly into the restaurant.
After a few minutes Steve got out of the car to vomit behind a garbage can.

Itried to tell you-"
"Shutup punk..."
"Look we didn't..."
"We seen you tell that guy."
"Yeah don't try an hide it."
"You want me to cap this punk Oscar?"
"Shutup Frank," said Oscar.
"I think we need to teach this bitch a lesson for Amado," said the boy in the Steelers jacket.
"Yeah we got to regulate on this bitch," said Tony.
"Who you callin' bitch?" said Joe Cannon, "BITCH."
Frank threw a punch and Joe Cannon ran like hell. He was in the Buick and out of the parking lot so fast he left Steve vomiting on the asphalt. Oscar and four angry adolescent boys came running out of the restaurant breathing heavily and cursing violently.
Steve wasn't sure how it happened. At first he thought he'd fallen asleep again, then he realized someone was trying to kill him. He felt like he was being torn apart by a pack of lions. They kicked him and kicked him until he went numb. It became so savage that Steve realized they weren't just beating the hell out of him, they were beating the hell out of everybody who had ever screwed them over. For a moment, Steve wished he could get up and help them, but then he realized they would have nothing to kick.
Time stood still.

Steve looks toward the heavens. On a clear night the naked eye can see 2,000 stars, the nearest is four light years away.
His breath danced...
Looked at his hands...
Right hand... Left hand...
These five fingers go back to the veins of man...
The story of love and hate...
"I'm afraid I'm crazy"
"I'm afraid of failure"
"I'm afraid of dying alone"

Time is tired of waiting. Starts up again like an old LP.


A soft, red glow radiated from the slick winter streets.
"You all right?"
Nick hovered over Steve.
"I-I'm sorry, we didn't even realize you weren't in the car," Nick said.
"Where's Joe?" Steve asked softly as he opened his eyes.
"He took that girl home," said Nick.
Steve sat up and realized they were sitting on his front porch.
"Really... you might have some broken ribs or something," Nick said.
"No... I'm fine."
"Don't worry," Nick said, "I checked your pupils, you don't have a concussion."
Steve smiled. He said nothing and listened to the soft electric hum of the street lamp. He felt at peace for
    the first time since he was twelve.
"So..." Nick said, "You talk to Louise?"
"I don't want to. She'll probably kill me. It's been like three days."
"She home now?" Nick asked.
"That's her car..." said Steve.
"So we better not go inside."
Steve looked out at the perfect empty stillness of the night. Looked up at the tall, naked cottonwoods sitting stoic against the opaque winter sky. Looked at the old houses up and down his street.
(Dense with the past, this place. The street where he had wrecked badly on his bike when he was five and broken his arm. The yard where he had fallen asleep in the snow when he was nine and nearly died. The porch of his first kiss. He remembered her. Her lips. How she had asked him if he was crazy.)
"What now?" Nick asked.
Steve stood up, "That is the question," he said.
Steve saw what he had to do. It hit him light a right hook. He saw it clearly and acted immediately.

Now where is this place?" Joe Cannon asked.
She told him again.
Joe nodded. "So... you talk to your parents?" he asked.
She looked out the window. "No," she said.
Joe nodded. He squeezed the wheel tightly. He cleared his throat as if he had something important to say, but he said nothing. Thoughts raced through his mind at the speed of light but he remained absolutely silent.
(Surrounded by trees in Minnesota and breathing the thick summer air. A clear blue lake. Being a boy and standing in the water with his cut-up knees. Being able to see the fish at his feet.)
The car stopped and started and barreled across the town. They drove through Casper, past all the fast food restaurants and gas stations and Wal-Marts and Kmarts and Sam's Clubs and health clubs and crank houses and whore
houses and abandoned drug stores and empty hotels and empty offices and empty streets. A loneliness so deep...
Joe felt more and more compelled to say something but did not have any words.
The Buick stopped outside a rundown apartment building.
"There it is," Joe Cannon said. He
looked away from the girl and tried to think of something to say. He squeezed the wheel tightly.
The girl began to cry.
Joe Cannon was completely confused now. "Hey..." he said softly, "hey now... now c'mon." He let her cry some more and then asked her what was the matter.
"Just..." she said through her tears, "just everything. Everything is wrong."
Joe Cannon nodded. He squeezed the wheel tightly.
A male voice from outside the car caused Joe to jump, "Emma?" it said. "You back?"
Her head collapsed in her arms.
"Emma... c'mon," the voice continued, "come inside baby. I'm sorry. Remember what we talked about?"
"Yes," she cried softly.
"And you remember what I told you about things like this?"
She said nothing.
"You know what this kind of thing does to me... you know. Emma, are you listening?"
"I've got promises to keep, and so do you."
She said nothing.
"Now come back inside. I've been waiting all night."
Finally, she let out, "I wanna go home."
"No­look, no you don't."
Joe Cannon said nothing.
"Just come back inside," the voice said.
The girl slowly got out of the car and walked with the man back into the apartment building. She looked at Joe Cannon and his heart sank. He said nothing.

(Steve looks at himself in the mirror.)
"This is what it all comes down to Steve: looking at yourself. You have to be able to step outside yourself and take a long, hard look before you can do anything. You have to know your faults, and you have to constantly be checking yourself out for them. I mean there's some things about how you fight you just can't change, they're part of who you are. But you have to be big enough to accept that. Accept that you're not Mohammed Ali, that you're Steve Jones. Do you understand that? That's important."
(Steve tries boxing with his image in the mirror.)
"When you go into that ring you have to fight like your life depends on it... because it does. You're fighting for every second you're on this earth and the ring is no different. You have to commit completely to everything. It's all or nothing at all."
(Steve works on his combinations now.)
"You understand?"
(Steve glances up quickly and for a moment can't recognize his own image in the mirror.)
"You looking?"
(Head movement...)
"You looking at that guy?"
(...stick and move...)
"What do you see?"


I'm afraid I'm crazy
I'm afraid of failure
I'm afraid of dying alone

Steve had read these statements now as he drove on the empty interstate. He folded up the frail piece of yellowing typing paper and stuck it in his pocket. He would keep it for a long time; it would be important.
Steve looked out at the landscape he knew so well. The soft pink light of the early morning sun kissed the frozen earth. The snow began to melt. The treeless prairie hung in the great sky. A herd of antelope crossed the highway.
Steve breathed deeply. He wasn't exactly sure where he was going, but he knew it was somewhere in the East, away from the West he knew, away from home. As he drove he could feel the town getting farther and farther away. He thought about Magic Sam lying alone in the dark. Kid Casper was dead.
(The engine of a plane drones overhead, faint at first and then gradually louder as the plane approaches. Louder and louder and it seems like the only sound in the world until it passes overhead, drops in pitch and disappears into the dawn.)
Steve looked at himself in the rearview mirror. Everything was perfect. Everything was horribly wrong.


| Excuse | Stubble | Viscocity |