Whenever he walked by the cyclone fence that surrounded the South Hill courts, after buying his daily provision of Funyuns and beer from Circle K, b-ballers would laugh like jackals and call him Bowly Ocean. It wasn’t because he particularly sang about girls getting out of his dreams and into his car, but because his hair looked like something that had migrated west with a jalopy full of Okies and Tom Joad; like Ma Kettle sat him down on the rickety porch in some Hooverville, crowned him with the egg beatin’ bowl, and just started cutting. But whatever he had been named at birth by his depressive, car salesman for a father became lost somewhere amongst the car lot’s cacophony of pressure sales pitches and tacky blue and red streamers snapping in the breeze. All that remained was Bowly.
Even though he rarely made any real friends, Bowly had this innate ability to strike up conversations with complete strangers, and even greater ability to evoke some sort of reaction out of them when he mentioned his name. Everyone seemed to have their own interpretation.
When we took a road trip through California, surfers salivated for a wave, disappointed that Bowly didn’t at least have a pompadour. Beatniks thought he was the reincarnation of Burroughs—Old Bull Lee. Bowlers asked if he rolled league. Tokers tamped his head, lit his hair on fire, kissed him, and smiled. Rage Against the Machine fans thought he was a Wounded Knee Part Two parade, with a pocketful of shells. Beelines of cyclists circled him like a velodrome. Pottery people wanted to touch him. Hunters pulled back his eyelids and shot at whitetail deer. Drunk guys wanted to leave the lid down and piss anywhere, except on him. Weaklings crawled into the fetal position, in the grips of playground flashbacks. Karaoke singers seranaded him with Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs. Drivers with radar detectors were paranoid around him. Bowlegged cowboys thought he was making fun of their gait. Ohioians assumed he was a Bowling Green alumn. Confederates believed he was denouncing Robert E. Lee. Nostradamus poked a stick at his gut, while holding a candle, claiming he saw the future in the reflection of fat ripples. Chronic bullshitters cornered him, and talked for hours on end. Cotton farmers sprayed pesticides in his face, while deaf grungists mistook him for a Presidents of the United States of America tribute song. College football fans cheered in his ear. Bullriders mounted him, stung his ass with electric prods, spurred his sides, and tried to ride him for eight seconds. Old farmers squinted, searching his eyes for dust storms. Russian aristocracy hid from him. Astronomers looked for the Big Dipper, geologists looked for craters, and archaelogists attacked him with whisk brooms and tried to carbon date him. Pavarotti sang with his back turned to him, broke oregano-flavored wind, and asked where the Hollywood sign was.
The Bowly I knew, though, would call around three
in the morning, and start to slur about the anxiety he felt every time
he walked out the door. He felt his skin was scarred by the hands that
touched him; his mind was infected with the words it had taken in. He said
he dreamed of living in an abandoned mine shaft, full of copperhead rattlers;
dreamed of strapping a Johnson ten horse power outboard to an iceberg,
so he could navigate the ocean currents and adopt a harbor seal companion
named Natsiq (Inuit for seal); dreamed of meeting a mute,
subservient, wide-hipped, full-breasted woman, with an insatiable lust
for yabyum, that didn’t mind living in a hut with him on a Himalayan mountaintop…
On and on he would ramble, until night chipped away to gravel, though we
both knew full well the day to come would be the same: He would stop in
at the same Circle K for more Funyuns and beer, walk past the same South
Hill courts, and still smile the same smile along with the same b-ballers,
in the same world he hated to love.
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