No Jews died when Eric Clapton’s son fell out of a window.” That’s true, and even though my grandmother didn’t say that to me, didn’t say it one time, she could have. That could have been something my grandmother said to me, this could’ve been a saying she had, absolutely, no question. And I’d say that was something you should know already, something you should’ve known right off the bat without me saying it, but you don’t, you’ve never met my grandmother, so you’d really have no way of knowing if that could have been something she said or not, but it was though, believe me.
When I was about eight or nine years old, my grandmother said to me, “Honey, some day somebody’s just gonna shoot you.” This was a thing she said to me. I was sitting on the floor, right at her feet. She was sitting where she was sitting, which was in her rocking chair, right in front of the TV, right in front of where I always was, and this was a thing she said to me.
“People just don’t like you,” she said, and maybe she was right.
I’m surprised nobody has tried to shoot me. It’s never happened, not yet, but it could, it could. I could be shot. It has not happened yet, I have not been shot, but I could have, this could have happened, happened already. I could have been shot by the time you read this. I don’t know, don’t know. I’d be curious to see if I could be killed at this point. I honestly don’t think I can. I think I may be immortal, and I should explain what I mean by that, I guess, but I’m not going to. I mean immortal in the sense that I can’t die, and I know, I know I say this all the time and here is one more time I will say it: If I am not already dead, then I bet I can never die.
Anyhoo, my grandmother, anyhow my grandmother. She was old, even when I was young, she was. She had always been old. When she was old when I was young, I would stay with her two weeks in the summer. It was in Chicago. We took a train to get there. I would stay for weeks, summer after summer, with my old grandmother, my brother, and my aunt who washes her keys and twice ate a Chunky Bar with a worm in it. Those are the people I stayed with. I stayed with them. I stayed with them there. I stayed with them then.
My grandmother was blind. She wore glasses, and hear me out. One eye looked fake but wasn’t. One eye looked normal and was. She was blind in that eye. One of her teeth was blue. It was dead, I think, the tooth was. She would read to me. I would sit at her feet while she sat in a rocking chair. This was by the TV in the living room and I am now, now later, years later, I am now, now for the first time, realizing how small that place was. It was so small and all this happened there. The place where I was, the place that we were, that place where we all stayed, all of us, the four of us, as I just said. The four of us with our stories. The four of us lived and existed and happened and happened right there, for those weeks, those two weeks, each summer. Again and again. All of this, all of what I have said, all of this story happened in a space so small. A couch and a table and a rocking chair in which sat a blind woman who wore glasses and read stories to a boy who listened. All of this happened in a place so small, I think now, today. All of these stories happen in places so small, is the first line of a story my grandmother never read to me.
So my grandmother wouldn’t really read, she would point at pictures in her encyclopedia, point with her fingers, point with her veins, point usually at the birds in the B book, the B volume. She would point at pictures in the B book and say things to me, things about the birds I guess, I don’t know, don’t remember. I don’t remember actually what she said, not at all, but I remember the reading, I remember the act of her reading to me, or whatever she was doing, because you can’t read, right? You can’t read when you’re blind? This doesn’t make sense, right, but this is what happened, what happened. It happened there, again and again. My grandmother read to me from a book of birds and she was blind and she hated birds. She wasn’t afraid of them, that’s not what it was, if that is what you were thinking. I think you might think she hated birds because she was afraid of them. It wasn’t that, she just didn’t like them. On the other hand, my ex-wife is terrified of birds. She is petrified. My grandmother just didn’t like them. That’s interesting, I think, and I am putting all of this together for the first time, I am just now getting it. This is so interesting to me, the whole thing is, but it’s probably just interesting to me but maybe not you and I understand this is a story about Alabama, about why I am an Alabama fan and this is that, this is me getting to that.
One time my grandmother and I watched the space shuttle. It was flying into space. We were not reading when we watched this, we were not blue teeth dead eye-ing when we watched this. We watched it go from Earth, from Florida on Earth, and it was going into space, outer space, past the moon. It was going past the moon because we could already go to the moon. We'd already been there a couple of times. To the moon, we had been, already, again and again. We were watching this on a screen on a box that had a picture of this, this space shuttle going past the moon in space. This was all on a screen on the front of a tiny, tiny box, and I don’t even know how it could’ve gotten there in the first place, the picture I mean. I didn’t know then and I don’t know now, it doesn't make sense, seems like it shouldn't happen. Seems like you shouldn’t be able to see a picture of that, like that, in a place so small. Seems like that shouldn’t be able to happen, but it did, it did. And we watched that, something as big as that, on that tiny TV in that tiny place. We watched something as big as people going past the moon in there, in that place and I was sitting again at her feet and I looked at the TV, and I looked at the space. This happened. This is what I am saying, this is a thing I said.
So much space, I am thinking then.
So big, I am thinking then.
I am thinking so much space. I am thinking so big. I am young, young. And I look at my grandmother, look up from her feet and I am thinking so big. I am thinking the space, the space is so big, the space is so big, and I am wondering how. And I am wondering how and I am not saying anything because I can’t speak, I can’t say anything, I don’t have words. I don’t have words, words, and I don’t need them because my face is saying it. My face is saying grandma it’s space, grandma it’s so big and we are so small and look how wonderful and look and my grandmother looks down. And my grandmother looked down at me and this is a thing, a thing that happened. Even now, even then it did, and she looked down with her blind face and her dead eye and dead tooth and even though she couldn’t see me, because she was blind, she sees my face. She sees the wonder, I think, sees me wonder. She sees it somehow, sees me believe in flying in space, believing in flying past the moon, and what that means, and she says, “You.”
And she says “you” again.
And she says, “You.”
And she says, “You believe this?” And she says this with her blue tooth and dead eye. And this is the shuttle and this is space. This is the grandma so big and the boy so small. This is all of that majesty, all in that small, small place. And this is what she says, she says:
“You believe this?”
And I didn’t.
I didn’t. Not then, not anymore. I didn’t. I didn’t, I didn’t and it was gone. Gone, gone, and it was like swallowing an ice cube, and it was all gone, and I didn’t believe it anymore. I did just a minute before, I believed all of it. I believed in right and wrong and in things that made sense and I believed that things made sense. I believed that wonderful things could happen, and were happening for a reason. I believed in past the moon. I believed all that and then didn’t, didn’t. Because of that, of that right there, that moment, that instance, that “you believe this?” That is why I stopped, stopped, and this is about Alabama, it is, it is.
It is about Roll Tide.
I understand how this sounds. It sounds like my grandmother was a monster. She was not. She loved me very much. She lived in a little corner apartment. When we would come to visit her, we would run down the hallway and she would always hear us coming. She would stand in her doorway. She would yell “hooty-hoo” at us.
“Hooty-hoo,” she’d yell. This is not what a monster says, not even once.
When I was a boy, a young boy, my father gave me a bottle of Coke. I remember this very well. The Coke bottle had a picture of Bear Bryant on it. Bear Bryant was a legendary Alabama football coach. He wore a houndstooth hat. Houndstooth is the word that most accurately describes the hat Bear Bryant wore, wore in Alabama, wore on the bottle of Coke that a father, my father, gave to his son. Think about that, about what that says. This was a present my father gave to me, this bottle was. I was maybe 9 or 10. There was no reason for my father to do that, to give me that Coke bottle. It made no sense.
I had no idea who Bear Bryant was.
I had no idea what Alabama football was.
I may have not known what football was.
I say that now, so many Coke-bottle years later, and here is why: “Roll Tide.”
When I was a littler boy, littler than in this part I am describing now, when I was that little, my brother and I were at the YMCA waiting for my father. My father played handball and I am thinking now what that means, that my father played handball. I am a person who can say that my father played handball. That is who I am. When I say that, you think something. There is a thought you have when you hear “my father played handball.” He sounds like a certain kind of person, living in a certain part of time, the time when this happened. Think of all that’s behind a sentence like that, words like that.
My father played handball, and we were waiting out in the lobby in front of the locker room. We were waiting for him to be finished playing handball. The Super Bowl was on TV. I asked one of the people watching the game, one of the people who was not my father, I asked him how many games the Super Bowl was. I knew the World Series was seven games, but I had no idea how many games the Super Bowl was. I loved baseball then, then when I was littler, littler than I was at the beginning of this story, Roll Tide. I asked the man who was not my father how many games the Super Bowl was. I knew this was important. I knew this was a thing I should know. I knew there were things that meant a lot to lots of people. To lots of people, these things meant all things, every-things, but I wasn’t one of those people, not then, but sometimes I think I’d like to be.
There is a scene I am remembering now, now where I am, again and again. My father, brother and I are in Huntsville, Alabama. Alabama, land of houndstooth, land of Coke bottles. I am with my father and brother and I am older, so much Coke-bottle older.
We are on a trip.
We are standing in front of a rocket, in front of a booster. This goes to space, I thought. It looked like it was made of metal. And we are standing in front of this, we are standing in front of a thing that is made of things, I understand. We are standing in front of a thing that is made of things and that thing goes to the moon. We are standing in front of a thing that goes past the moon. It is big and means so much.
Later on we are sitting by the pool. My brother is swimming in the pool and wearing a shirt. I am sitting at the edge of the pool with my father. Neither one of us is paying attention, not to each other, not to anything. I do not know if we knew where we were, when we were, how could we?
Now we are back in our hotel room. My father says, “You know, I haven’t been exactly faithful to your mother.” He said this to me in Alabama, from the place of the space rocket and the hat and the Coke bottle. This is where that happened, and there is a picture of this, somewhere, kind of. There is a picture of my father, brother and I standing in front of a rocket. We are small and it is big.
And I am thinking this thing.
I am thinking this thing goes past the moon.
I am thinking this can’t fly. I am thinking this doesn’t make sense. I am thinking none of this does. I am thinking of a Coke bottle my father bought me as a present. I am thinking I have not been exactly been faithful to your mother. You can see this in my face, in the picture I am describing. You can see this now, see it then, again and again. That is what you see when you look at it.
My grandmother had a saying she used to say all the time. She used to say, “Just because it hasn’t, doesn’t mean it didn’t.” She said this all the time. She said this with her blue tooth, she said this with her dead eye. She said this over birds calling and rockets shipping and space flying, she said this. She said, “Just because it didn’t, doesn’t mean it hasn’t” or something like that, close to that, and I think about this sometimes. I am thinking about it now, here where I am, here in a place exactly this size. I think it doesn’t make sense, what she said doesn’t, even though she said it, even though I heard it, even though it might. Even though it did and it does.
And there is a scene somewhere where I am watching a football game. It is a night game. I am watching the football game at night and the game is being played at night, at night. I am watching on a big television in my house where I live with my wife and children. This happened at some point, is going to happen, will happen again, again and again. They are asleep and I am awake, awake watching the television and it is Alabama and they are playing Georgia and it is night. It is night in Tuscaloosa and it is night where I am and there are a hundred thousand people watching a football game. They are out in the night, in the heat, and the moon is there, it is right there and they are watching the game. They are cheering and they are happy, so happy, and they don’t even see the moon. They don’t see the moon because they are past it already.
I am thinking they love this. I am thinking I love this. I am thinking this is something you can love. I am thinking you can love. I am thinking this then, where I was, here, where I am, then, where I was another time. I am thinking you can love being in the night and cheering and not seeing the moon, I am thinking Roll Tide.
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