THE MENNONITE GANGSTAS I: LIFE IS A PILE OF BURNING DOGS
I bought a 67’ Chevy Impala. Midlife crisis. Money left over from working overtime now that I was finally out of debt. I didn’t know how to fix cars but I had friends that did and I learned what I could but there was never enough time to learn everything unless you didn’t do much of anything else and I was spread thin already so I got what an engine was and where to put the gas. For me these days it’s either about time or money so I didn’t mind paying someone else to do something I couldn’t give a fuck about as long as it had style and took off nice at the lights. You look at how cars are built these days and it’s all about tech and safety, forget that they all virtually look the same. There was something wrong with that so I went old school back to when a car looked indestructible and roared like an aggravated beast. My beast had seen better days but hey, so had I. We were two kindred souls in a world that was picking up speed falling apart beneath a sea of arrogant smiles.
On summer weekends I took my impala to Conestogo Lake. Sixty-five kilometers North. Went there to get away. Life was fast… hectic. You needed a place to go to occasionally where everything slowed down. This was it. First time I went there I knew I had adopted it and it soon became my alternative to binging with assholes in bars filled with slurred faces. When what you once thought was pleasurable became a punishment it was time to change. Life was a busy enough place to forget why you where there in the first place. No need to add to it any further.
When I was at camp I found that I could sit and stare at a particular spot of sunlit grass and think about nothing for hours. I had never really thought about it before but there was something to that Zen shit. I’m pretty sure I was halfway to becoming a licensed monk when everything fell apart again. I didn’t see it coming. I sure as hell didn’t ask for it. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to stare at the grass like a complacent cow didn’t think that it was too much to fucking ask for but soon enough I was struggling with yet another cosmic situation. And why? Because Life would never let me go. It had plans for me, dark maniacal plans. It did not want me to rest, to become content or satisfied. That was no good and therefore it was time to shake things up a little. Yup, that tall fucker was going to get it
So Cadence happened. Eyes like thrones. She was the unholiest mother of all time. God bless her wicked soul. The first time she laughed at me I was hooked because she made me feel like a novice and I wasn’t used to that so it was exciting. After meeting her everything became displaced. It was another great weekend.
Canada day passed like a freight train next thing I knew I was already packing it up to head home. It rained almost the whole way, at times its consistency enough to challenge the wind-shield wiper’s highest speed. Even when it let you knew the charcoal sky wasn’t going anywhere and neither was the lineup of cars heading back into town. The thing about long weekends was that you enjoyed them with everyone else but in the end it was much more cathartic than flipping through channels or trying to break the coffee table with the Playstation controller screaming, “Fuck! FFFUUUCCKK!”
Conestogo Lake lay deep within Mennonite country where the electrical lines along the road stopped extending to the houses and horses and carriages rode alongside the cars like relics of another time. On Sundays when church let out they amassed on the streets and you became lost within them. At those times it was you that was out of place. This was one of those times.
The long weekend convoy slowed as we approached the end of another road. There was a clearing to the right where a sole open trailer was parked by a large firepit. Like all the others it was black except for the orange triangular yield sign nailed to the ass of it. The tail-gate of the wagon was dropped down to display a pile of dogs, lifeless bodies stacked on one another. Two stocky Mennonite boys were hauling them out towards the fire where they swung them in by their legs, going back for the rest of them immediately afterwards. The air stunk of death and manure.
A Mennonite woman adorned in a thick, wet purple dress stood beside the pit smoking what looked like a roughly rolled joint and probably was. In her other hand she held a bouquet of dried roses. Even before my car approached she turned and looked in my direction like she knew I was coming. As I came closer she became preoccupied by yelling at two other men dragging some poor soul through the mud away from a second wagon on fire. Like the others they all wore black hats, black coats and darkened features worn from the sun. They only briefly stopped to listen to what she said and afterward immediately began feeding the helpless man fists to the stomach like it was open season on the weak.
I was right beside them now and when she was satisfied with what was going on the woman returned her attention to me and what a face it was now that I could see it, the kind of face that I would happily stroke with the back of my fingers as she slept. She smiled and took another haul off the joint. That’s when it hit me like a brick out of darkness. I knew her. I knew that face as well as my own reflection as though I’ve woken up beside it every morning in another lifetime. From where I could not recall for the life of me and at the time I would swear that I would remember such a face but I didn’t, nope, nothing there. And that was yet another moment throughout my time that had completely altered my perception of reality but the whole ‘what’ and ‘why’ of it I just wasn’t sure about.
She must have noticed my stupid, astonished look as I gazed to where the men disappeared with the dragged into the thick of trees beyond the clearing. She turned to look at them, then back to me. The woman laughed at me, took the last in of the joint and tossed it and the flowers into the pit before heading out to follow them. Next thing I knew a one-seater buggy pulled up beside me and a large man with a tall hat and the face of a stone bull leaned forward and looked at me like he was just itching to step out and turn my fine features into mashed-potatoes. For all I knew that crazed fucker jerked himself off to teddy-bears but he looked hard enough for me to pass him by and go on about minding my own business. As I turned left onto the highway I wished I had something in the car to take the edge off. I slammed my fist into the dashboard. Fuck! This was going to bother me but I wasn’t about to stop the car just to go back and ask her what her name was. I might as well have thrown myself into the fire by the looks of it.
Of course I put the whole incident behind me shortly after, such is life. I got back into my work routine. But it came back to me without reason late at night during the many spent trying to get my brain to lie down with my body. Where did I know her from and what the fuck was that all about? Her face burned me to sleep but what was I going to do, make it my own personal mission to find out? I only took things so far otherwise I would be all crazy over everything. With the likes of that crew I would also dragged off into the bushes somewhere by the boys in black. Better to leave it alone. This shit just happens. Coincidence, fate, doesn’t matter in the end you could struggle over it all you want it doesn’t change a damn thing. You just see it and sometimes it sees you noticing it, whatever it is. But I knew myself better than that. This was going to haunt me like a needy ghost.
Something was happening in Mennonite country and it was dark, unforgiving, and most frightening of all it was comfortable out in the open. It went down on the busiest weekend of the summer in front of all to see like they were making a point. Maybe bad Mennonites were growing like weeds out there. Maybe cops didn’t exist. Sure, you would hear about Mennonite coke-dealers or the ones that were more technically competent than your local IT department but that was all hearsay. I didn’t know anything about the Menno’s but I could speculate that they were off the grid entirely. I mean, did these people even have social insurance numbers? Could they disappear like ghosts into the meadows and is that what happened to the man and his dogs at the hand of some archaic beauty? What does that tell you about religion? I only knew that a person wasn’t clean or good just because they professed to abide by one. Let me tell you about the baptism after-party:
THE BAPTISM AFTER AFTER-PARTY
I have never been to a wedding or a funeral but I did go to one of those things where someone got water splashed on them and now they could go to heaven or some bullshit like that. It was as slow and dry as a ninety-year old nun and I spent most of the time staring at a woman in the front row. Afterwards most of the family went upstairs to a backroom where food and drink was served. The woman I was looking at caught me in the hallway and asked me if I wanted to go into the bathroom with her. As I nodded eagerly she asked if I wanted one. As I asked what one was she drew her finger across her nose.
“Fuck no.” I said. I was done with that shit long ago. I was disgusted with coke because I disgusted myself when I was on it.
“Suite yourself.” The woman said as she closed the door behind her. As I proceeded into the room I realized that she wasn’t the only one. Crazy fuckers were busting out rails all over the coffee table like it was Christmas in Columbia. And this was family: husbands, kids, wives, grandpa who looked like he needed an immediate liver transplant–they were all in on it. I stayed for a while until everyone was acting as sketched as my old crack-dealing neighbours. People were getting too animated for my taste. I even heard one lady say, “Fuck the baby. I want another rail!” I mean, even the priest slide a Hollywood up his nose before proudly announcing, “That’s the ticket!”
Music started playing. They were listening to NickelBack. I wanted to get the fuck out of there but some guy kept me closed in telling me what a good friend I was and I had just met him. Eventually I escaped as the washroom woman came over and sat on his lap while making eyes with me and I bet she wasn’t his wife. It was hard to tell what was going on. The drinks were spiked. The music got louder and so did the priest.
“That’s the ticket!”
I made my way out of the room planned and politely. I sure as shit wasn’t going to agitate anyone but each time I tried to talk to someone they turned into a Hoover vacuum cleaner and insisted that I join their nose-candy parade. But I finally made it out sober and got in my car, lit a smoke and pushed down the windows.
As I drove away i could still hear them going full-blast into a night that just couldn’t have ended well for anybody. These were no addicts they were just having a little backroom vacation. Something fucked up was bound to go down and as much as I’m like anybody else that would slow down to view the sloppy aftermath of a car accident it was different then knowingly watching one unfold. So I drove away. Last thing I heard was: “THAT’S DA TEEKEEET!”
So whatever transpired that night in that backroom and across those fields wasn’t the result of any dedication to Christ but bound to more worldly elements. What I did know about religion was the same that I knew about mankind -that regardless of the institution wherever there was something to benefit from, to exploit, and to get fucked up with there would be corruption and as far as I knew that was more powerful than any Christ.
I forgot about the baptism. Hell, I forget everything but when something similar rears its head it brings it back. This was no different.
THE MENNONITE GANGSTAS II: THE FORTY-YEAR OLD TEENAGER
It came to me a week later where I knew her from. I was on the shitter and had just finished a book that I threw in the garbage. It was one of those moments where the last thing you were thinking about all of a sudden became clear to you. Eureka Phenomenon: it was like magic, like the times I had experienced déjà vu and could finally recall when I had first envisioned it whether it had been days or months. Sure it cleared who she was up for me but that only confused me more.
Her name was Cadence. All that I can remember was that she was a model in fifth grade and used to sing Johnny Cash’s ‘Highwayman’ to me on the playground everyday that I knew her which must have been a couple months. No shit. I think she was my girlfriend but it was too hard to tell in those days at that age where relationships lasted as long as recess. But somewhere between then and now she had become a Mennonite and somewhere, somehow in the process Cadence went gangsta and would now fuck up your whole canine fleet if you were to cross her. That’s what I got out of the whole scenario. Not sure what to make of it and in a way it was kind of funny now that I wasn’t staring at it in the stone dog face. I wonder if Cadence was on Facebook and if she posted pictures of burning dogs. I can only imagine what her status update would be:
‘Just iced Jeb. Cows now mine.’
After a little while it was almost like something on TV -not really real, so I went about my summer, which of course landed me back there so really who was I kidding that something like that wasn’t going to happen again. When I returned two weeks later on my own I wasn’t really looking for her but she found me and I wasn’t even at camp yet. I had all my shit in the car and stopped to grab smokes because three packs in two days wasn’t enough when you started drinking before breakfast.
A large black wagon led by a gigantic horse with red eyes (ok it didn’t have red eyes but it sounded better) passed by the corner only to turn back and I immediately thought of that stone face coming to get me and now it wasn’t as funny anymore but when Cadence stepped out I didn’t know what her reasons were for anything and it actually wasn’t any less frightening. Right.
Cadence wore a white summer dress and was taking her bonnet off as she looked inside my car when out from the other side came the biggest fucking Mennonite I had ever seen and I’m not sure if anyone else noticed that those fuckers grew rather large and surely strong from the manual tasks that must have filled their daily itinerary. You can mess with most people without pause because you know that most of them spend their days at a desk or on a couch. I mean, come on, they looked the part. These men lifted cows and stacks of hay between raising barns. I would fight them as eagerly as I would a marine. Fuck that shit all over the place.
I was at the back of the store when Cadence entered it. The man behind the register looked like he was ready to shit himself on sight of her.
“It’s ok.” Cadence said to him although that did little to ease him. “I’m not here for business.”
The bull wasn’t so nice to him and shoved the man on his way to taking position at the end of the aisle I was down where he began looking at me like he wanted to use my face as toilet-paper. Great. I pictured him contently picking his teeth with my bones.
Cadence came right up to me. It was rather sudden and my heart dropped just a little. I had tried to stop it but it felt good. It’s been a long time since that last happened.
“Hey you.” she said.
“You remember me?”
“Of course I do, Cadence.”
She smiled. “You actually remembered my name.”
“I remember a lot of things. It’s what makes me such a well-rounded individual.”
She rolled her eyes. I loved when women did that. “Looks like you’re a regular here now so I had to stop in and say hi.”
“Looks like we landed on the opposite sides of the playground.”
I wasn’t much for pausing conversation and of course said something completely stupid. “So I take it you got tired of all the electricity? Really enjoy wearing bonnets and riding carriages? Or was it just the smell of the fields that hooked you in?”
Nothing seemed to take her off-guard. No. Of course not. “You like taking things for face value? Let’s try you then.” Her eyes went wide and Cadence clapped her hands together. “Oh, I got it: a forty-year old teenager.”
“Ouch. That really hurt.” I placed my hand where my heart should have been.
“hahaha…no it didn’t. You like it.”
“Touché. That your man?”
“Isaiah? Yeah. He really doesn’t like me talking to you.”
“I can’t tell at all!” Isaiah’s face was red. His fists were white from squeezing the leather strap in his hand. I could feel his violence from here.
“Ha! Well, he’ll never tell you this, but he really likes your car.”
“Well that makes us good friends. Tell him I really like his woman.”
“That would go over really well.”
“Like a steam-roller over a pop-up book. He’s not going to kill me and take it is he?”
“He only does what I say.”
“Yeah, I kind of got that.”
“Besides, not likely to have a licence now is he?”
“People can surprise you, Cadence.”
I laughed. She laughed. Isaiah laughed. No, no he didn’t. In fact, in order to restrain himself and continue being a good boy he was now chewing on the strap in his hand. It looked like the store clerk was going to call the cops.
Cadence looked back. “It’s too bad I have to go now.”
“I’m going to see you again, aren’t I.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Yes, I wonder who were going to be then.”
“I wonder. Hey thanks for the forty-second conversation in a convenience store twenty-five years later. Maybe when were sixty we can stretch it out to a minute in a Walmart parking lot, what do you say?”
“I say ‘bye’”
As Cadence walked back out of the store she stopped in the middle of the aisle and turned to a lady that had entered and too late had spotted who was there and was now cringing against the shelf and praying by the looks of it. Cadence leaned into her threateningly but all I caught was: ‘by Friday.’
The lady almost screamed and started to cry. It kind of turned me on. I wonder if there was something wrong with me.
Two things occurred to me at that point of time.
One: I wanted to hear her laugh at me again. It was dead-sexy.
Two: I didn’t give two fucks about the hulking gorilla dressed like the reaper who probably murdered dogs by the dozens and punched out horses like Conan the Barbarian did camels. He didn’t deserve her. Fuck him.
I was so confused by Cadence in a matter of seconds. I felt like this whole experience had ambushed me in some way that I was unprepared for. I needed to get myself back in check. That’s when my personal safety mechanism kicked in, this little voice in my head that served as my conscience or guardian angel. He was a really great guy and after a couple traumatic experiences he kind of popped up one day and never left. He was never there either, only when I needed him to be like right now. What I liked about him was that he was really forthcoming.
Nah, nah, no fucking way, Pal. You see where this is heading and you can just fucking forget it. You ain’t going to that place no more. You remember what you were like, what it did to you? You want to do this to yourself again? Fucking clown, you’re so far away from that and I’m proud of you. We all are in here.
Wait…what do you mean ‘we’ and where is ‘here’?
Shut up! I’m doing to talking now.
I watched Cadence stop to pick up a flower from a row on display out front. She smelt it and smiled. It made me angry. How could a monster be so beautiful? I mean, she couldn’t be so evil after all she did like flowers but then again so did tombstones. The sun disappeared beyond the thick of trees, the world darkened almost imperceptibly and the voice in my head continued to abuse me as I stood there like an idiot in a corner store trying not to look like I was talking to myself. I was one step away from punching myself out like Edward Norton in Fight Club.
You know we closed that door because it’s what was best for you. You know that, right? You’re strong without it. You can smash through walls and lick death’s face. When you even look at that door you get weak, doubtful, you shit out your spine. That’s why I’m here in the first place, remember? We closed that room and locked that door and there ain’t nobody getting back in there ever. Some things are just bad for people and nobody knows why. Even good things can be bad for people. You just got to know yourself. She’s gone. Let it go. Let her go.
The voice was right. At this point I was ready to walk away anyways despite my inner turmoil. There was something really dark about this woman and I tried to avoid dark although it bubbled up inside me everyday like freshly stirred stew. But nothing was worth it anymore and that both frightened and reassured me. So I made a sudden pact with myself: If Cadence did not look back I would be gone and never return. I could leave here right now and forget it as in the end it would probably be a much better option for me. Just…don’t…turn…around. Aw, who the fuck was I kidding?
As she got into the carriage Cadence turned and looked at me one last time. She smiled. It was over for me then, ok, way before then. I wanted her. I didn’t care about the consequences. Funny thing was that I had most likely made up my mind on that first time I saw her beside the burning dogs.
Sometimes you just have to be awakened by something as I was awakened by her. You see, Cadence was more than a Mennonite Gangsta Beauty, she was some sort of Demigod or something. But at the same time she was surrounded by people that could really hurt me because of it. But so what? Sounds about right to me. I’ve been here before. This is where I live. And just maybe going after Cadence was worth everything right now. Fuck self-preservation. I’m tired of living like a ghost anyways and I knew that’s what I was doing as soon as I laid eyes on her.
But could I get her? I thought so, but then again I was over-confident and suffered from delusions of grandeur. But we were going to fucking find out, weren’t we? All or nothing. I was going to go after Cadence and wasn’t going to stop until I landed on a pile of burning dogs. So yeah, I’ll be back.
I burned past them on my way back into town. I was just show-boating, Baby. What can I say? After all, I’m a forty-year old teenager. Motherfucking Peter Pan has got nothing on me, Man.
© 2012 Hernan J Monzon