Announcing the Birth of Dead Air
As the sun came out and kissed him on the cheek, L.L.
fell over sideways in the back seat of his fathers car. He fell
over sideways and watched the tips of the trees roll across the rear
side window. He stared up at the cab lightat the fly thats
been trapped in there for yearsand wondered whether or not air
had any feelings.
Daddy, are we there yet?
How come those people are wearing moms dresses?
L.L. was gazing at the giant metal fixtures queued up in a line that
stretched along the interstate and up and over the hills to his dads
house (modest box, garage, seven screened windows). They were made of
triangles. They held up wires filled with electricity and telephone
conversations and prayers. Their invisible heads atop invisible shoulders
showcasing some great, invisible, make believe cleavage; their invisible
breasts, maybe too perky
and when the wind blows cold
women stood defiantly shrinking in the rear mirror, waving goodbye to
Fords, hatchbacks, pick-ups, and a lazy old Honda. L.L. always wondered
why the rear side windows were always separated with that thick, black
filter. Scenes changed as they rolled by
How come theyre just standing there?
Theyre dead? Why? How?
Someone shot em.
But they look so happy.
They were trespassing.
What is it?
L.L. rolled over on to his back and looked up through the rear window
and saw clouds. His father turned up the radio and rolled down the window.
His left arm dangled and banged against the door handle. Another five
miles and L.L. would be back in the custody of his mother.
His name was L.L. White.
Each L in L.L. stood for L.L. Some called him Square
or 4-Lor 4-Square. Some said his middle name
was hell. The oldest man in town used to tap his gnarled cane on L.L.s
shoulder and laugh and yell:
L.L., you belong in L!
The oldest man in town was death personified yet he never did scare
the amused child.
loved the feeling of spring sunshine splashing across his face. Every
morning hed get up when the sun was starting to peek over the
horizon. Hed feel around for his pants and his button shirt, his
blazer, socks and shoes if he was lucky. He was even more fortunate
to have his ensemble matching in color schemes and patterns. L.L. often
needed the assistance of his mother when dressing in the morning. Going
to bed was easy. He had two sets of pajamas, one of which he hated.
Mommy, what happens when people die?
George didnt tell you Im dying again did he?
No. But I just wanna know wha
God damn that George.
I dont have brain cancer O.K., L.L.?
Sure mom, its just that I
She kissed him on the forehead and turned off the bedroom light, walked
down the hall and locked herself in the bathroom. She began the process
of smoking an entire pack of Doral cigarettes while she gently massaged
her head, checking for some school of lumps that hopefully would not
be present. She brushed her teeth after smoking, always did. She felt
it would provide justification for her refusal to give up nicotine.
Nobody wants to kiss a girl with mouth, or worse yet, full facial cancer.
Her face was a no cancer zone. She could care less about
her breasts or her uterus. She could lease those out to the cancer landlord
who she believed, when drunk or low on smokes or in the same room with
George White, was spying on her through tiny cameras carefully hidden
in the holes upon her walls. Ingrid brushed her teeth after every cigarette
she smoked that night. One pack and a half a tube of Colgate later,
she heard L.L. stirring about in his room.
Good morning L.L..
Their conversation, as always, took place from behind closed doors with
the lights off and the vent in the bathroom, vents in the floorboards,
forcing air full blast with a deafening roar. It was a confessional
with more muffled words and less extraneous attention to confessions.
L.L., Im sorry I snapped at you last night. Its just
Yes, Im talking about daddy
She said this mostly to herself. She turned on the H knob and watched
the water rush to a boil, as though the friction of another upper-midwestern
downpour caused the pipes to heat up and shift the water to steam. She
noticed it was raining. It had been for what seemed like forty days
or forty nights. She wasnt quite sure. Here comes Noah with a
pair-less animal: L.L. screwed up his lips and looked around his room.
The walls were wallpapered in a red-white-blue-white vertical pattern.
There was a cross over his bed nailed too high up for him to reach.
Hed tried to knock it off with a stick a couple times but it was
screwed on pretty good. He shouted to his mom through the thickness
of two walls: a whole room between his and the bathroom: his mothers.
Mom, daddy says that when people they turn into air and that bad
people turn into clouds and float away.
Why do you always talk about those things? Boys your age should
think about baseball
Daddy says that people die playing baseball.
They most certainly do not!
Do to. Daddy said Tony Con-igly-arrow died. He got hit in the
face with a ball.
But he didnt die instantly, did he?
Are there baseballs in heaven?
God, I dont know, L.L..
What about yo-yos?
She brushed her front teeth with the outside edge of her index finger.
Are there yo-yos in heaven? Or those iron women?
your father is here. Hes waiting in his
car. I love you.
that same morning, George White woke up in the drivers seat of
his old Honda as it sat parked in his garage. The motor was still running.
The garage door window had been knocked out with an errant golf ball.
His clubs and a gun were in the back seat. He blinked his eyes hard
and rolled down the window so he could rest his left elbow on the ledge.
Out came the lighter and another cigarette was lit. George grabbed a
brush from the glove box and combed his hair in the side mirror. He
had taped a picture of L.L. to the same mirror and laughed at the inscription
OBJECTS IN MIRROR MAY BE CLOSER THAN EXPECTED
It was Saturday, which meant visitation rights were granted. He drove
the thirty miles to his ex wifes house, parked the car across
the street, and waited for L.L. to explode from the front door. When
he saw Ingrid he sunk lower in his seat and turned up the radio. The
Most marriages today last as long as twenty-two minutes
shrugged and thought about the time when L.L. was still a bubble in
his mothers belly. He narrated his daydream in a radio voice:
At 8:03 P.M. George White and his then-wife Ingrid came to blows over
the rights to bear arms. George was a firm believer that everyone should
own a guneven kids. In fact, hoped that his yet-to-be-born son
would one day own a gun, if not several guns. The more guns their son
would have the better. It would teach him the value of guns and the
importance of guns in American society. Ingrid on the other hand believed
a real man only need rely on his two fists. Guns were a cowardly tool
of the weak according to Ingrid. She demonstrated her point by repeatedly
shoving her fists into her husbands puffy cheeks.
Lets teach our son to use his fists and not some piece of junk
She worked poor Georges face like a meat tenderizer.
Oh yeah, his fists! The boys what
negative six months
old? Christ, Ingrid, lets take him down to the town hall and have those
suckers legally registered as lethal weapons.
Youre such an asshole, Georgie.
He hated it when she called him Georgie. It made him feel fourteen years
old. Plus, he couldnt do the same to his wifes name. You
cant do much with Ingrid except the predictable Inbred
or Wolf-Woman from the Land of Dead Sea-Bass.
I just dont see what the big deal is. All the kids have
When I was a kid, boys collected baseball cards. Theyd put
em in the spokes of their two-speed and pretend they had motorcycles.
So go buy him some baseball cards
Why dont you?
Because Id rather buy him a gun instead. Christ Ingrid,
some things you just cant solve with good old hand to hand combat.
Its a different world now; people need guns to survive.
With that George walked down the hall and into the bedroom. He pulled
out the bottom drawer of his dresser and took out his .44 magnum and
a metal container that was locked and had two rows of duct tape wound
around it. He un-peeled the tape and unlocked the box with the key which
had been stored in his wifes lingerie drawer. At 8:09 he proceeded
to perform his nightly ritual of counting down the bullet box.
Thats odd, Im two bullets short. Better recount them
to make sure.
He recounted the box trice, still was missing two bullets from the bullet
box. George yawned and tried to remember if he had used them without
making a note of it in the bullet check book.
August 15th, 2001. One bullet. Reason: co-workers birthday gift.
August 16th 2001. three bullet. Reason: none listed 42 left.
September 9th 2001 Four Bullets. Reason: hunting trip. 38 left.
bullet check book said that everything was legit. He sat down and tried
to wonder where those three extra bullets went. Surely they could not
have grown legs and feet and walked out of the bullet box on their own!
Well, what about those three you got rid of on August sixteenth?
His wife asked. Maybe you just miscalculated.
George looked at his wife as though she had two heads.
No, I know about those.
Truth is, he did know about those. He sent those to his neighbor who
insisted that he stop driving golf balls into his yard at six in the
morning. Given the close proximity of their houses, it was only natural
that an occasional ball should ping off his roof top, car hood, patio
furniture, or rarely, if ever, clang off of the aluminum siding. He
sent those bullets as a message: either deal with it like a man
or go back to sleep.
At 8:15 George made the correction his bullet check book and headed
back into the kitchen where his wife was standing with her coat draped
over her arm.
Where you off to?
Im going to the store to buy some smokes and some Colgate.
And then Im going to go buy some ice cream. Then Im going
to go Wal-Mart and buy a gun. Then Im going to come home and shoot
you and leave you to die in the bathtub or in the garage behind the
Well go then.
She put on her coat, grabbed her keys from the key tray and bolted through
the back door. George White walked deeper into the kitchenthe
darkest partand grabbed from the cupboard a wineglass. Holding
the glass upside down with the thin end between his thumb and index
finger, he popped open the refrigerator and un-hissed a can of shit-brown
At 8:20 the garage door opened. At 8:21 the car engine roared. He walked
back into the bedroom and grabbed his .44 and the bullet box which were
still lying on the comforter. He rested the glass on the night stand
as he loaded a single bullet into the .44 magnum. 8:24 the garage door
closed. He pulled back the safety and grabbed his glass and proceeded
back to the living room. At 8:25 his wife drove down the driveway, the
headlights shown like spotlights on the front door of the adjacent house.
At 8:28 George White stood in front of the window and thought about
life as a single man. They lived on a fairly busy road. He signed on
the dotted line, folks.
like Mommy got her wish, eh there, L.L.?
Daddy, Mom says you lied when you said dead people turn into air.
So. It takes a lot of imagination to lie, especially to lie well.
L.L. asked if he could sit in the front seat and dad obliged. He was
going to open the door and switch seats that way, but George insisted
that he just hop over the center console.
So hows it going.
You want a cigarette?
Im only eight. I cant smoke yet.
Yeah youre probably right.
Hey what is it?
Where is hell?
In nearby Milwaukee.
Well, technically, its in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in
No its not.
Then where is it?
Its underneath us.
Hey my Honda aint no hell.
No! I mean, its underground.
Then Earth is hell.
No. Earth is Earth.
So its below Earth.
Yeah! I guess so.
I think your mom has brain cancer.
In the silence that ensued, thoughts began to rattle around in George
Whites head like a golf ball jiggling in the holes on the back
nine: The dead vanish into thin air. They turn into radio waves. They
turn into sound waves. They inject themselves into electric machines
and satellites and radar, sonar, telephone wires. They reincarnate while
in your speakers, headphones, mouthpiece, monitor, an automobile. The
dead see all without the use of eyes. The dead hear all without the
use of ears. The dead do not improve, they multiply and out do the living.
George and L.L. drove recklessly through the rusty streets of Milwaukee
to the Holiday Inn on West Wisconsin Ave. There L.L. met his fathers
fellow gun-club members and watched them all get pleasantly disoriented.
Ladies were kissed. Arms were pulled. Norm Rogers is doing that thing
with his eye again! They were eventually told to leave by the Inn manager
with the gentle assistance of local law enforcement officers. A few
rounds were fired off in the lonely Wisconsin parking lots that stretched
behind the Inn and in front of lonely, empty stores. No one was injured.
The group remained inebriated. The intersections remained silent. The
bullets fled to space, or so they thought
George and L.L. sat in the front seats of the old Honda as snowflakes
popped on the windshield. The two of them sat full-slumped in the bucket
seats; ecstatic and content, George stared at the parking lot in the
rear-view mirror, L.L. thought he heard his mother crying. After a few
starts and stops, George mumbled:
L.L., Id love you even if you were deaf and blind. Youre
a good kid. Youll live forever in the air or in someones
George turned up the radio and lit another cigarette. He extended one
in L.L.s direction. He took his fathers offering and leaned
into the lighter. Hed seen his dad light one a thousand times.
Together they lit their cigarettes and leaned their heads back and blew
smoke rainbows in the cabin of Georges old Honda. Light gray on
top, slowly fading to darkness. George was an old pro. His sons
attempt wasnt bad for a beginner.
you got that uh
bullet check book
On Sunday night, George White dropped off L.L. at Ingrids house
then drove home and tried to turn himself into air. He had closed the
garage door but left the car running. He wanted to poison himself with
the cloud of gas that flew out of his exhaust pipe. He felt he was succeeding
as he slowly drifted into a state of unconsciousness. Turns out he just
really, really drunk, and, eventually embarrassed when he woke up to
find that he had pissed his pants and that it wasnt even his garage
but his neighbors. The same neighbors that George has been launching
golf balls and mailed threats towards for the past decade and who constantly
left the garage door open to showcase his fine exercise equipment. At
that moment George thought about becoming one of those guys who has
to climb the iron women and replace the burnt out lights or pick out
the bits of dead birds from the transformers. Or one of those guys who
just nestles up between those immaculate, invisible breasts and watch
the clouds roll by
He turned on the radio full blast. There were
certain things he just could not bear to think about.
sat there in his favorite chair, in the yellow glow of a single bulb,
staring out at a row of streetlights. He folded his map of Milwaukee
into halves, fourths, tucked it under his arm, coughed, whispered to
L.L., you dont have to go to hell because youre bad.
You can go as a tourist.
His eyes danced in the trails of headlights created by passing cars.
Everyone was out navigating the roads tonight. Everything seemed so
invisible, so gone, so air-like.
He walked into the kitchen and placed the map of Milwaukee on the small
dining table. The candle light from his mothers room flickered
and looped through the keyhole and out into the hallway. L.L. walked
back into his own room and closed the door, knelt, and while a single
tear filtered down his left cheek, he peered out through the keyhole
across to his mothers door. He had looked with the energy of the
thunder that had begun to crack and roll outside. The lightning far
outshone the flicker of the candle. The thunder made the now audible
sound of a childs sudden whimper seem distant, awkward, cool.
The rain shot against the window. The wind howled with the strength
of a dozen passing cars. The air seemed alive yet electric.
L.L. made a fort with his sheets so as to not let any sound or light
escape. The steep pitch of his make-shift tent resembled an old erotic
foray into the twisted passions of Victorian romance. Only these were
not satin sheets, these were not Arabian shawls; they were boring blue
sheets, sky blueno clouds in sight. He held in his lap a light
without a shade. Over his ears: headphones plugged into a tape machine.
He laid on his back and held the light between his knees. He adjusted
the headphones and took a deep, heavy breath then laughed. He turned
on the light bulb, spun the volume of his headphone to max. The light
shone with brilliance so magnificent and pure, so radiant that it illuminated
the room through the sky blue sheets. Have you ever been driving after
a snowstorm when the sun is out? Have you ever stumbled into the kitchen
at four in the morning and opened the refrigerator door? Have you ever
imagined the white gates of heaven? White light stripped the paper off
the walls. White light poked holes in the plaster on the ceiling. White
light shone through the keyhole and encroached down the hallways, into
the kitchen, over the waste basket, onto the stove, into the pot, mixed
with boiling water (hot light bulb), poured down into a glass, mixed
with peppermint, and settled in the stomach of his mother. White light
shot from socket to bulb to eye socket and blew out all the wiring.
L.L.s eyes burned to a dark brownish-green blur. Led Zep circa
1970 on maximum volume shot through the headphones, spilled into L.L.s
ears, spilled onto the floor and seeped under the door and into the
hallway. Led Zep circa 1970 seeped down the hallway, passed through
the lock on the front door, spilled down the front steps, into a passing
car, into a parking lot, into a seedy bar, a drink, and bubbled just
as it touched the lips of another hopeless drunk. The bulb burned to
a whisper of blue and the batteries in the headphones droned to a halt.
L.L. lied there for what seemed like inexcusably long split seconds,
years. Then the childs giggle grew louder, louder, as he closed
his eyes and desperately tried to fall asleep facing the wall, his back
to the window, and unable to hear his bouts of laughter. He closed his
eyes and laid motionless like a child, alone, in the dead of night to
the strobe light of static energy. He couldnt feel a thing. At
last he fell asleep.
turned off the radio of his car and the cool breeze felt like his mothers
skin. Windblown through a deserted town, they drove past a series of
street signs, back yards, taverns, and playgrounds. George turned the
old Honda left down onto a dead end road. He reached the endshade,
prophets in white robes, electric wires hanging from the trees, daggers
growing through the dirt like flowers. L.L. noticed a playground, this
one filled with buzzing children. The energy and the electricity in
the childrens eyes, limbs, hearts, faces, actions hit his face
like a cool breeze. The prophets were chanting and wrapping the wires
around their fists. They picked up the ends of the wires and shocked
the earth, the side of a tree, thin air, each other as the children
looked on in youthful indifference. They were content with the spinning
of the swings, the slick metal surface of slides, rising and falling
to the earths dirt. One particular red headed child smiled at
the foreign visitors, and in return they smiled back.
Daddy, did you mean what you said about loving me even if I was
blind and deaf.
I sure did.
And that good people turn invisible like air, and bad people get
sent to Milwaukee on a cloud?
Something like that, yeah.
What is it L.L.?
Are there yo-yos in heaven?
No. Yo-yos allow you to buy your way into heaven. Its a
really backwards barter system. But for me
I sell yo-yos
I sell enough yo-yos Ill eventually go to heaven
my soul back.
Then what, daddy?
I become invisible. Thats the most important thing, I guess
Its like baseball. You wait for the manager, in this case God
or his brother, to pick up my contract, in this case, my soul, and rescue
me from this minor hell, in this case, Milwaukee. See, in the big leagues
everyone knows your name and face
but your soul is like the back of the baseball card
it holds your
statistics like how many good deeds you did or how many women you slept
with or how many bullets youve fired or how many times you struck
out looking. It tells how much of something you have or have done.
am I invisible?
Oh darling! Oh darling!
L.L. felt as though he was floating on a breath of fresh air through
thunder clasps trashed from the skies. Everything was a dark midnight
blue and nothing made a sound. He got up out of bed, felt for the door,
stumbled through the living room, found and turned on the television
setthe screen popping onto his fingertips indiscernibly. He turned
on the radio to find that he was just twisting knobssilence, except
for the cool wave of breath from his mothers screams. He imagined
the room to be filled with songs long ago forgotten but recently remembered.
He laughed and danced and made airplane wings with his arms.
Suddenly the kitchen door swung open. Ingrid, with phone cords and streaked
cheeks, in total disarray. Chaos and jagged pictures and static and
a childs gaiety: everything came together in a cloud; he felt
his way to the kitchen. He was blinded; he couldnt see. Inching
along the wall, over switches, over crashing picture frames, over the
shadow of the one thing and then another and yet something else that
meant the world to him. It was like having elephantiasis of the endorphins.
Ingrid shrank into the bathroom with the portable phone and a lighter.
Over the sound of rushing water and the air vent was heard:
Damn you George
why couldnt you just buy him a gun
She frantically spit out toothpaste from between her trembling lips
as L.L. found the back door and wandered outside like a puppy.
He thought he was floating.
He extended his hand out into the midnight air. The candle flickered
maniacally in the breeze. The world shook, he shook his head, he shook
his hand and danced at the thought of losing everything while essentially
gaining all there is ever desired. He had seen it. In the kitchen, the
candle flame tapered off into a fine point one last time before it flickered
to an end. The lightening fell upon his face and for all L.L. knew it
could have been the sun. He fell over sideways in the tall grass and
imagined the stars passing by overhead. He could see them all in their
constellations. He could see the brother of God riding the skies and
sweeping down and lifting his (L.L.s) body up like a big ol
baby. He dreamt of visiting heaven and hell.
He thought he was floating.
He thought he was floating.