Rodney Ray Blvd
Houston, TX 77040
January 2004–There is a small park on the corner of Rodney Ray and Fairbanks that I’ve gone to for years now. A friend of mine fell asleep there the first time we went and we placed him on the merry-go-round and spun him until he woke up. When he woke up he was so disoriented all he said was “I’m going to hell, who’s coming with me?” right before he threw up. So the name stuck. I don’t know the actual name of the park because I’ve always called it hell. I have many memories of this place. It’s been somewhere I can go with friends when I need time away from stressful things like school, and work. It’s a small sanctuary with a walking track around it. During the day hell is usually full of walkers, joggers, boy scouts, and a variety of other [yups]. At night though, is when hell really shines. After eight o’clock everyone leaves as if their shift is over, and that’s when mine usually begins. This night was no exception.
As I pull up to the side street to park (it’s best to park on the side street so cops don’t see you parked in the lot and come looking for you) I can’t see ten feet in front of me. There are no lights there but it’s not a problem once you know it like the back of your hand. I walk blindly around the track until the playground is in view then I take a left on the track and find the gazebo enshrouded in darkness. Do I see someone sitting in the gazebo? No, there’s never anyone in the gazebo, but I always think I see someone waiting for me. This structure sits in the middle of the park with massive oak trees all around it. They reach into the sky and fade into the night. I can’t see any stars out this evening but you rarely can in Houston. I look at my cell phone to check the time; it’s 10:55pm. I can make out an old beer can under the benches across from me. Surely other people must come here at night. I wonder why I never see them. As I sit there in the dark my mind begins to wander. It’s as if I’m in some kind of [sensory deprivation chamber]. I try to take my mind off the matter at hand.
I begin thinking about this place that I’m in. I think about the time that I first came here with the girl I loved but was too afraid to tell her. I mull over thoughts about how much I’ve changed since then, and how this place hasn’t changed in the slightest. I wonder who cuts the grass, and cleans up all the beer cans people leave laying around, and trims the trees. It’s seems as though this place is autonomous, as if it can take care of itself, and has a life of it’s own. Once, my friend cut his arm on the barbed wire fence separating the park from a massive construction site that looks like a rock quarry, and another friend of mine stepped on an empty forty bottle in the dark and cut up his brand new shoes. I look down at my shoes. I need some new ones. I’ll go get another pair tomorrow. White ones… white ones with a blue check. Not the big check, the small one. Yep, that’s what I’ll do. I take out my cell phone. It’s 11:15. I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes. Where the hell is he? Did he stop to get something to eat? Did he crash his car? I’ll wait another 10 minutes then I’m out of here.
I get up and wander around the track to kill some time. The track is about a quarter mile long. I walk past the grassy field where I once saw a group of cub scouts playing football with their dads. I remember how hard I laughed when one of the dads fell and hurt his leg trying to be Jerry Rice. The track itself goes over many little bridges where when it rains there are a seemingly endless number of small streams traversing the park. That’s when the mosquitoes are their worst. Sometime the mosquitoes are so bad here that you can’t stay for more than a minute if you’re not wearing blue jeans and long sleeves. Luckily the mosquitoes are all dead by this time. After the first chill of winter the insects all die off until spring. I walk past the little rut that goes back into the forest. I stop and turn around and go into it. Wow. Someone must’ve thrown a party back here. As I come into the opening in the middle of the trees all I can see is dirty blankets left behind from another day and piles and piles of empty plastic cups floating in standing water. How come I never see these people? The smell of stagnant water is terrible so I leave.
I continue my way around the track and walk past my car. I need to get that dent fixed. ‘’I got that dent coming here’’ I thought, but that was a long time ago. It happened as I passed up a car as it was turning into a driveway and its front bumper got hinged into the side of my car. I ripped it clear off. I pulled over the side as four large angry looking black men got out of the car and started flipping out once they’d seen the damage. I didn’t drive away because I was scared. I drove away because I knew they wouldn’t have thought to write down a young white guy’s plates and because I had places to be. As my walk wore on I came upon a picnic table, which always has four sticks on it. If I were to remove a stick, the next time I came there would be four sticks again. Who keeps putting these sticks on the table? Then the stark realization that I was lonely hit me. A line from [Jack Kerouac] came to mind: “ Ah poor mind of man, and lonely man on the beach, with God looking down with intent smile, I’d say.” I should be at home in a warm bed, and here I am all alone in a place called Hell, and in an ironic twist, I’m shivering cold.
Then as I continue my march back to the gazebo I step on broken glass, and it sends a chill down my spine. I flashed back to earlier that night. There I was sitting on the table in my friend’s back yard. I could hear the music coming through the house from the DJ upstairs. I was watching at people were parading in and out of the back door when I spotted a good friend of mine, Adrian. He went around saying hi and shaking hands. The last thing he said was, “Hey, you’ve got bottles.” Then he turned his head for a moment while someone fetched him a beer as a gesture of goodwill. Then as they grabbed the bottle out of the cooler, I knew what was coming next. I could see it in their [cruel glassy eyes]. Adrian never saw it coming. He swung the bottle with such unkind leverage that I winced before the bottle even hit. People screamed. People ran. People tried to save Adrian. If you didn’t do one of those three things you probably just sat there in open-mouthed horror while Adrian was stabbed in the face with a broken bottle. The Indians that say if you kill a man in the dead of winter, steam will rise out of his wounds, and that steam is actually his soul leaving it’s earthly shell behind. That night I saw steam rise from my friend’s face as he screamed in anguish.
I wish I could have more to help but it’s harder to pry a drunken redneck with a broken bottle off someone than you think. As my friend said after it was all over, “I tried, but he had the strength of a retard.” I don’t know why he did it, but he did. And all I can think about is Adrian’s lip hanging off his face while they dragged him up the stairs to the bathroom, the trail of blood on the off-white carpet marking the path they took from the back porch to the upstairs bathtub. I remember how he kept falling asleep while they waited for an ambulance and how people would have to shake him awake. It was after I shook him awake for the second time that I decided that I should get out of there, and told Rivers to meet me at Hell.
So here I am, still in Hell… still in the gazebo… still very cold, and it all seems so distant and calm now. I’ve just lit up my last cigarette. And as I sit in silence and take in the aroma of wet pine needles that had began to permeate the air well after dark I see headlights veer around Breen Street. I instantly recognize the car as a [Crown Victoria]. I think for a moment that it’s a cop but then realize it must be Rivers. I hear his car down open and close in the distance very clearly. There are no sounds here. Not even insects are awake anymore.
It was then that I realized that I’m glad to be in hell.