Going down the road

Why Get Donkey?

By Ben “Swamp Donkey” Brenner, Sunday, November 11, 2018

 

It’s not even a road, see. No signs, no arrows. Just trees that part briefly, and then a narrow dirt track going low and slow away from the flat top black top. Follow that road down and you’ll pass three trailers settin’ amongst the trees and weeds and camaros. In one of ‘em lives a woman thinner than anything you’ve ever seen. Once she was something to see, she was that kind of country girl, but she ain’t no more. Her eyes are tired, her face is tired, her bones are tired. All the life is at the end of her smoke. Folks say she used to teach school somewhere far away from the sagging trailer. She knows you’re not supposed to mix alcohol with 1500 mg of lithium and methamphetamine. But, she says, “who doesn’t?” Besides, if you knew what she knew, if you’d a heard just what she’d seen…well….

In the middle trailer a young couple are raising their little boy. Of course they ain’t goin’ nowhere, of course they ain’t got shit, of course they got too many dogs, but there’s a pot of flowers near the door that don’t never die, and he’s always smiling, and she’d never let anyone pass without a glass of cold sweet tea. Sometimes, if you drive up after sup, they’ll all be out front. His t-shirt says something snappy like, “When the sun goes down, so does my baby.” The little boy, clad only in a pair of filthy cut-offs, plays on a pile of old tires with one them natty mongrel dogs. That dog loves that boy. And the woman, dressed in something pink and white, her legs brown and tempting in the evening sun, puts her hand over her eyes so she can see who’s goin’ by. Somehow she always has something to call out, some message saved just for this occasion. And don’t matter who’s at the wheel, everybody waves. Even the dog.

The last trailer is home to an old couple who’ve been there since the earth was flat. They got old refrigerators and stoves and tractors and all manner of other projects he was gonna start but never did sitting out in the dirt and scrubby weed grass. These things stake the couples claim to having beaten everyone else to this scrap of land. The old gal? She’s real quiet and spends her time watching reruns of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” periodically exclaiming, “He’s so brave!” as she does the crossword. She knows every Carter Family tune there ever was, and when she sings her eyes are bright and not at all sad. And the old man sits outside, smoking, poking a hose toward the planter commode, poking at his nails with his pocket knife, poking at some idea rattlin’ round his head. His eyes sparkle when he hears his wife sing them old songs, and when he laughs he’s got one of those laughs that will startle the shit out of you if you’re not ready for it. But it can draw you in, too, and usually does. The old folks have hung all kinds of pictures of kids inside the trailer, but nobody’s ever seen the kids themselves. Nobody knows where they came from or what they did before they stuck themselves to that little piece of worn out land, and the man, much as he loves to talk, never says.

Just down the track from their trailer is the flat-top joint — a low slung cinder block deal with some crooked picnic tables outside, and lights that look like big, faded plastic fruits strung from the tree boughs. You can have anything you like, so long as it’s Bud or Bud Lite in a can, but it’s always damn cold. Some nights somebody shows up to play some music, and everybody comes down the road apiece. The rail-thin woman sits at the farthest table drinking her gin and tapping her foot, looking at the road and the boys and her cigarette and the stars. Because night and the music are a sort of tonic, the color has returned to her cheeks and the life to her hands and feet and, don’t you know, this is why she saves it up during the day. And the young couple come and shake it, and the boy runs and yells and hides with all the other children, and the dogs too, and everybody drinks and jives with the old couple, who know ‘em all and the old man has a jibe for everyone there. Sometime during the night the singer will sing “Wildwood Rose” and everyone will watch the old couple dance the way that only old lovers can dance.

And you know what? Tonight Ben “Swamp Donkey” Brenner is playing. All these people are in his songs, just as his songs are in them. And they’re all going down the road and check him out. They’re all going down the road, and they’re all going to Get Donkey. Maybe you should too.

 

Shared with Ben’s permission, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2019 CE, from his musician persona’s “About” page on Facebook.

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