The world is changing / Always rearranging / From birth to the end / With my Facebook friends.
It’s not that Jerry Lennart opposed Facebook. He spent a goodly amount of wasted time on it. It wasn’t that it was worse than Twitter or whatever new flavor inevitably followed. It was that word that followed Facebook. Friend. He had 4,273 of them, and no man, not even Muhammad Ali, could possibly have 4,273 friends, and if they were always “friending” and “unfriending,” how could they pass muster as friends? In other words, a “Facebook friend” was a term unto itself. Jerry read somewhere, quite possibly on Facebook, that it was a “place” where one grew to loathe people he had known for his entire life and befriend those who lived on the other side of the country. Or world, even. He’d been “friended” by a man in New Zealand whose only reason had been that he shared the name of a character in one of Jerry’s blogs.
“Blog.” What an ugly name for something that occasionally ought to be pretty. It was too close to other words – bog, cog, dog, fog, frog, hog, jog, log, (egg)nog, slog, smog – that had nothing to do with it. None of those words was even reminiscent of a blog, at least not unless it was a blog about fog.
Jerry still wrote one. He linked it on Facebook. For all his friends. And on Twitter. For all his followers. At least on Twitter, they actually were “followers.” He had 6, 157 followers, but Twitter didn’t have the two-way commitment. Jerry followed about five hundred or so, and, no disrespect to those who followed him, they were enough.
Over time, Jerry sorted the world, not just social media, around his own vision of the Facebook friend. It translated roughly to “acquaintance.” What was that disparaging term staunch conservatives used? RINO: “Republican in name only.” A Facebook friend was “in name only.” It didn’t mean true friends weren’t on Facebook. They almost all were. It’s just that being a Facebook friend didn’t otherwise imply friendship. Name only. It wasn’t malignant the way RINO was. It wasn’t “that damned Facebook friend.” It was, “Oh? That guy? He’s a Facebook friend.” Not a bad thing. Probably a good thing. Just not a great thing.
Jerry’s private definition of “Facebook Friend” hadn’t even evolved out of Facebook. It had begun with a failed romance. A woman he really loved. She had humiliated him, and it was because she had been ashamed of him. She became hysterical, and he knew it was because someone had arrived at the party that she wanted to see, and that she didn’t want him to see her … with Jerry. He’d already suspected it. He’d been in denial. When it unfolded, irrefutable in his mind, it crushed him for a while and impaired him for, well, it still did. It preyed on him no matter whether or not he prayed about it.
She was, however, still a Facebook friend.
I fell in love / My soul was lost / Anything that I could do to make / That woman get me off / I told myself / It wasn’t sin / Now I know / That she was just a Facebook friend.
It was depressing, this real world. Living in it was not unlike being surrounded by Facebook friends. No honor. All for one but not one for all. Supposedly, playing sports had prepared Jerry Lennart for the real world. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. Had Jerry really wanted to prepare himself for the real world as a kid, he would have sold weed. Nah, that might not have been ideal. It being illegal was nettlesome. The key would have been developing a knack for things that were unethical but not actually illegal. The wise man at least waited for the unethical to become legal. That almost always happened eventually. When the money was right.
“Virtue is its own reward.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)
Hah! Either Cicero was bullshitting, or the Romans were like us, hypocrites. Their virtue was enslaving a hefty slice of the known world. Or maybe Cicero was idealistic. Idealists beget hypocrites, eventually, or, at least, in most cases. Ask Jesus. Or, better yet, listen to what was said in His name. The tipoff was when they call it “His Holy Name.” Jesus was cool. Were He alive today, He wouldn’t stand a chance. He’d say, “On the whole, I’ll take my chance with the Romans.”
It’s a good thing Jerry wasn’t bitter. Damn him, though. He was idealistic. Something about playing ball as a kid.
When I played ball / I played to win / We stuck it out together / Through thick and thin / Still I try / To comprehend / Standing up for truth / And justice in the end.
A man could make it by being true to himself, but it wasn’t the way to bet. Shakespeare supposedly died rich, though, so maybe there was hope for Jerry, who had played ball, chiefly the foot variety, without, it seemed, ever learning to play ball the way the real world prescribed. Profundity didn’t come as naturally, though, for Jerry as it had for Shakespeare, who was bad-ass, and Jerry thinking Shakespeare was “bad-ass” was evidence of the precipitous decline in profundity.
Who knew Invasion of the Body Snatchers was symbolic? He pulled off the highway and parked briefly at a fast-food joint. He looked it up on his phone. The book was The Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney. According to critic John Clute:
Horrifyingly depicts the invasion of a small town by interstellar spores that duplicate human beings, reducing them to dust in the process: the menacing spore-people who remain symbolize, it has been argued, the loss of freedom in contemporary society. …
There you go. Jerry realized he had spent most of his futile career working for spore-people. This realization was oddly comforting, so Jerry decided to reward himself with a McChicken from the Dollar Menu and returned to the highway.
Now I’ve learned / My lesson well / There’s a price to pay / For those who insist / To rebel / A man works hard / And tries to mend / All the cracks and dents of having / Facebook friends.
What in hell was wrong? Driving typically was a pleasant experience for Jerry Lennart. He enjoyed soundtracking his trips. He’d pop in some bluegrass through the mountains, blues on the bayous, rock and roll on the frenetic turnpikes, and soul in the inner city. He’d play folk when he was feeling political, old country when he was feeling sympathy for the working man, and the Beatles when his thoughts turned to love.
He wasn’t listening much to the Beatles these days.
The truth is, Jerry hadn’t left town because he had to be somewhere. He’d arranged somewhere to go because he needed to get out of town. He wasn’t going to make any money to speak of. He’d get a good-sized tax deduction out of it and maybe a little adventure here and there. He had three days to get to Little Rock. He had two boxes in the trunk. One was full of the books he was going to sell from six to seven-thirty, and the other had the CDs and tee shirts for nine till ten, when he was going to play an opening set for his old college buddy Lonnie Wiggins in a little honky tonk about fifteen blocks from the bookstore, or that’s what Lonnie said, and that little gal in his phone, Siri, told him Lonnie was in the ballpark figuratively and, literally, the one the Arkansas Travelers played in being right down the street.
Undoubtedly, this trip would earn him even more Facebook friends. He laughed to himself, listening to Del McCoury Band going through the Smokies on I-40. Facebook friends were like S&H Green Stamps used to be. Just one big turkey shoot of the airwaves, with hundreds of winners, thousands of losers and millions in between.
Siri helped him find a bookstore in Knoxville, and without burning much daylight, he breezed in and out, leaving a brochure, a business card and a signed copy of his book that he begged the highest-ranked person behind the counter to read. This time the shop manager actually took a handful of books on consignment, either on account of Jerry’s great powers of persuasion or because she just didn’t have time to fool with him. Which reason didn’t matter, and Jerry was on to Nashville and Central Time. Nashville was good because it was Music City, but the most important reason right now was that it had more than its fair share of cheap hotel rooms. Most times a man had to stop off in the middle of nowhere to find a forty-dollar room, but Nashville was just about the most reasonable city in America to spend the night, and everybody in the honky tonks played for tips.
Jerry spent Tuesday on that righteous block of Lower Broadway, shopping for music that struck his fancy, from the hustle, bustle and rowdy vibe of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge through the Bluegrass Inn, where bluegrass was seldom played, to the hard roots country of Robert’s Western World. He ran into a few folks he knew and even went up onstage at Robert’s to sing a duet and inform folks that his book could be purchased right across the street at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.
Before he hit the road to Memphis and Little Rock, Jerry Lennart noticed he had seven more Facebook friends and two whole days to bide his time some more.
Jerry Lennart set off for Memphis and Little Rock a little the worse for wear. He’d had too much to drink, a little to smoke, he’d come reasonably close to getting laid, and, in a long shot, he could’ve been shot, so all things considered, it was best that all he had this bright Thursday morning was a mild hangover. He said a little prayer, offering the Almighty the usual request for forgiveness along with the dubious intention to do better. He smiled, thinking that the woman in question – what was her name? – was really no more than a Facebook friend.
He had plenty of them. He needed real friends. He felt isolated and trapped in a world growing ever more superficial. He turned up the radio and kept on going. It’s what he did. It’s who he was.
After he heard a couple songs on Sirius that he didn’t like, or didn’t have the attention span to follow, Jerry switched to a news channel for a while. Some columnist had gone off to Colorado, eaten more edible-marijuana candy than was wise, tripped out, and written about it.
Gee, whiz. Why not a song?
Somehow, Nashville had cost Jerry his adventurous spirit. He didn’t want to bide his time anymore. He wanted to get there and relax. The only time he felt like stopping was when he passed the minor-league ballpark in Jackson, Tennessee, but it was the middle of the afternoon, and no game was going on, and he didn’t need gas and didn’t have to piss.
They were the Generals. He read it on the wall.
Back when he’d been driving through the Smokies, Jerry had wanted to hang out on Beale Street and enjoy that Memphis barbecue, the kind with the dry rub. Now he wanted to roll right on through and drive the blues out of his mind, not listen to more of it. He and Siri got together again, and he breezed through another bookstore in ten minutes. Just left a book and business card this time. So abortive, he admitted to himself, it couldn’t possibly do any good. Then he was across the flats of Arkansas, driving into the glare, visor down, sunglasses on, and left arm burned from three days resting through a window from the same sun now targeting his eyeballs.
Somewhere between Memphis and Little Rock, he flashed by a man stumbling along the road. He wasn’t even sure of what he saw in the glare, but he caught a clear view in the mirror of a young man, nasty and unkempt, staggering along the breakdown lane. As he grew smaller and smaller in the distance, it seemed to Jerry that the boy was at the point of collapse.
Jerry knew he was going to do something stupid. That boy wasn’t his. He wasn’t his business. Someone would pick him up, some trucker, maybe. It might be an act. That boy might come right out of his stupor, pull a pistol on him, take his money, steal his truck, and leave Jerry staggering along the side of Interstate Forty. While adding up all the reasons why he ought to just keep on getting it, Jerry pulled off the next exit, drove over the bridge, turned left down the ramp, and headed back east. It was probably going to be a waste. Someone had probably already picked him up. It might even have been the Highway Patrol. That’s why Jerry needed to swing back by, just in case. He’d driven three miles to an exit, five miles back to another, and now he was heading back to where he’d seen the stricken boy. He hadn’t seen him from the other side of interstate, but then again, it was getting dark. Jerry reached in the center console and pulled his Thirty-Eight out, made sure it was loaded, and stuck it in his left pants pocket. He was wearing khakis. It wouldn’t be that hard to slip out if need be.
Why risk it? Obviously, because I’m a damned idiot.
The boy was still staggering along, down to the one-foot-in-front-of-another stage. Jerry pulled over, remembered to push the button that unlocked the passenger-side door, and said the only possible thing to say when the boy climbed in.
“Where you headed, kid?”
The boy tried to reply but only croaked. He may or may not have said Texas.
“Hang on,” Jerry said. He got out and walked to the back of the truck, opened the tailgate, reached beneath the bed cover and dragged out the square vinyl where he had some soft drinks. He grabbed two Diet Doctor Peppers.
Well, he ain’t opened fire.
The boy drank both soft drinks, his and the Diet Doctor Pepper Jerry had fetched for himself. No matter. His voice cleared up, though still raspy. Jerry asked him what he’d been doing. The boy said he’d worked at a traveling carnival, that they’d failed to pay him, and he’d demanded them to make it right, and, so, they’d beaten him up and left him in a shack at a fairgrounds somewhere in Ohio. When he’d awakened, everything was gone. All the trucks had loaded up and headed on up the road. Since then, he’d spent a night in jail and one in a homeless shelter, but mostly he’d just staggered down roads and hitched rides. Now he was fairly close to home and figured it was something of a miracle.
Then he nodded off to sleep, and Jerry let him. He still didn’t know the boy’s name and where he was headed, other than it was somewhere in Texas. He checked into a Red Roof Inn just off Interstate Forty on what was apparently the north side of town. Jerry had never spent a night in Little Rock, only passed by. He just opened the door, told the boy to take a shower and get himself clean, and he’d go find a place to buy him a change of clothes since it was obvious the boy had nothing but the clothes on his back and they weren’t fit for anything but throwing away.
Jerry didn’t unpack the truck because he realized it would be tempting, and almost understandable, if the boy stole whatever he could of Jerry’s and hit the road thumbing again. He found a Dollar General store and bought a three-pack of underwear and some socks, two cheap pullover shirts and some blue jeans that were thirty-two in the waist. He didn’t figure they’d be tight, so he bought a cheap belt, too. He’d have bought some cheap sneakers, too, but he hadn’t a clue what size to get. It was all cheap, and the whole bill was about thirty-five bucks. When he got back, the boy was lying naked in the bed, under the covers. He put on the clothes, and that’s when Jerry found out his name was Nathan. They drove over to the nearby McCain Mall, where Jerry had two slices of pizza and Nathan the rest of the pie.
Then they just sat in a food court and talked. Jerry was tired, Nathan exhausted, but for the first time, he wanted to talk. He said he had a gal back home, and she’d had his baby, and there weren’t any jobs, so he’d left her living with her parents, who couldn’t stand him and probably hoped he’d never come back. He said the main thing he’d done with the carnival was deep-fry corn dogs, and he reckoned that wasn’t valued much by the son of a bitch who ran it. They’d fed him and given him a place to sleep, but after a month without pay, he’d gotten angry because he needed to send at least a little something home for Geraldine and little Roy. He said they’d whupped him pretty good, but the black eyes had healed, he reckoned, in all those days walking and riding his lonely way back home.
“How long you been doing that?” Jerry asked.
“What date is it right now?”
“Fifth day of June.”
“Let’s see,” Nathan said. “I believe I set out from Marion, Ohio, on, it was a Monday. Seems like it was Memorial Day.”
“Two damn weeks, near ‘bout,” Jerry said. “And you been wearing them same clothes ever since?”
“Till now,” he said. “Ain’t slept layin’ down much, neither, and a jail cell ain’t much of a way to do that.”
Nathan McLure had never entertained the notion that a motel might offer free breakfast for its guests, and he took to the Red Roof Inn’s morning offerings as if they were at a Shoney’s breakfast bar. He also didn’t know what to do with a bagel, so Jerry showed him how to split one, toast it and smear it with creamed cheese.
“Hmm,” Nathan said. “This ain’t half bad.”
He ate two bagels, two sausage biscuits, a bowl of cereal, two bananas and a cinnamon roll. Apparently he didn’t drink coffee, but twice he refilled his plastic cup with orange juice. Jerry just watched him, amused.
“I noticed you brung your guitar,” Nathan said. “I play a little.”
“Really? You ain’t played since you left home?”
“I had one when I left, a little bitty one my dad give me when I was a young’un. I reckon somebody at the carnival’s got it now.”
“We get back to the room, you’re welcome to play mine.”
“What you do, Jerry? If you don’t mind me asking …”
“Nah,” he said. “I’m a writer. I write books, and I write songs. The latest book I wrote is about music. I’m selling ‘em at a bookstore here in town this afternoon, and then I’m gonna play a few songs I wrote tonight. A friend of mine, one I wrote about in the book, is letting me open for him.”
“You’re welcome to stay till tomorrow, or, you know, I can understand it if you want to get home as quick as you can. I’ll put you on a bus as soon as there’s one running if that’s what you want.”
“Shit,” Nathan said, a little too loudly, “what’s one more day?”
Jerry would have spent the morning planning what he was going to say, which passages he was going to read, and what songs he was going to play. He might as well let Nathan play around with his guitar a little.
Nathan didn’t just play. He was bad-ass. He could pick out all the famous country intros: Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” even the intro to Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.” Listening got Jerry to thinking. It wouldn’t be a problem for this kid to pick up the chord progressions for his simple songs.
“Hang on,” Jerry said. “Be right back.”
The truck had a locked-down, airtight bed cover. Jerry opened it and pulled out the hard case that protected his Telecaster. He also had a small speaker he used when he wanted to practice in a motel room. He could turn the sound down low so that it wasn’t any louder than a softly played acoustic.
“Ever play one of these things?”
“Oh, yeah. I used to be in a rock band.”
“As good as you play a guitar, Nathan, what in the hell possessed you to run off with a carnival?”
“Shoot, Jerry, everybody and his brother plays a guitar where I come from. Ain’t much of a living in it.”
“Don’t seem to be much of a living in a carnival.”
“Well,” he said, “I reckon I found that out the hard way. By the way, I reckon I ain’t much for compliments” – he said it com-pluh-MENTS – “but I ‘preciate you helping me out.”
Jerry hooked up the electric. “Swap with me,” he said, taking his Martin. “Let me play a couple of my songs. I’ll play the chords. Just jump in there when you feel like it. See if you can play a little solo after the second verse.”
The kid was talented. Neither he nor Jerry had ever had a lesson. Jerry wasn’t anything special. As a guitarist, he was mainly a writer. He loved the words more than the music. Nathan could make that Telly talk. He was what Jerry had always noticed in great guitarists. The instrument was a part of his body. He hit notes with his fingers the same way Jerry did with his voice. Jerry played three or four songs he’d written. Nathan picked up every melody and made it his own.
Jerry felt like Buck Owens the day he met Don Rich.
“How old are you, Nathan?”
Jerry would have guessed at least twenty-five. The nineteen had been hard years. The last few months had obviously been hell.
“You sing any?”
“Nah,” Nathan said. “I ain’t much for singing. I can do a little harmony.
“By the way, them songs of your’n are dern good.”
“I ‘preciate it,” Jerry said. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in sitting in with me tonight?”
He thought a little. “Yeah, I’d like that. I’m a right good bit rusty.”
“Tell you what. I won’t play but two or three songs at the book signing. That’s just a little something I throw in to liven things up. You just come along with me for that, but then we’ll go over to this club where I’m opening for Lonnie Wiggins. Ever heard of him?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“He’s good. He’s an old buddy of mine. You and him’ll get along right off. Tell you what? I’m just playing for tips. Ought to be a good crowd, though. I hear it’s just an old honky tonk. I’ll split the tips with you. Give you a little spending money for the rest of the way home, if nothing else.”
“Ah’ight,” Nathan said.
They practiced for several hours. About noon, Jerry walked across the street to a convenience store and bought a six-pack of Bud Light, a can of mixed nuts and a pack of Marlboros because Nathan said he could stand a smoke. It wasn’t exactly common for Jerry to drink beer before a book signing, but he’d had several where either the store or him had sprung for wine and cheese.
The signing was modestly successful. Jerry sold a dozen books and signed some paperwork to leave five on consignment. Siri helped him find a nearby Wells Fargo, and he deposited the check at the drive-through ATM. Then they drove to the Honky Tonk Atmosphere and met Lonnie Wiggins backstage. They watched his sound check and walked onstage to plug in their guitars and briefly check their own. Jerry was pleased with his and left the stage a few minutes before Nathan, who was probably as much impressed with the sound as interested in adjusting it.
“Lonnie, you ought to hire that boy,” Jerry said, watching Nathan in the wings with Lonnie. “Take a listen to the first song or two when I get started.”
“Where’d you find him?”
“Picked him up hitchhiking. Yesterday. Swear to God.”
They played for an hour, and all the songs but two were ones Jerry had written. Had he not had Nathan McLure alongside, he’d have played mostly covers because people in bars aren’t that interested in listening to songs they don’t already know. He’d have played a real rabble rouser, Cash or Willie or Waylon or Merle or Strait or at least one Hank, and then tried to slip in an original while he had their attention. He could pull them off this time, his songs, and he realized it shortly after he opened with “Mama Tried.” The people picked up on the picking. It didn’t take much reminding to get them to toss bills in the bucket. When they got through and sat at a souvenir table, more people wanted Nathan to autograph a compact disc he’d never heard than the guy who sang on it and wrote all the songs. Jerry did all right, though: five books, twenty-seven CDs, and a dozen tee shirts, all suitable for Nathan McLure’s signature. Somehow, Jerry figured he’d get a song out of it.
Nathan never made it to the Greyhound station. The next day, Jerry Lennart drove him all the way back to Bonham, Texas, which was on Highway 82 between Texarkana and Wichita Falls. It was a long drive from Little Rock, but they didn’t talk all that much and mainly listened to music. They ate at a Whataburger, which pleased Nathan because he’d sure missed them. Jerry asked him how he got out of jail, and Nathan said they’d just let him go because they’d gotten tired of feeding him hot bologna and scrambled eggs. Jerry told him to get his business settled and keep in touch, and if he wanted to plunge into the red-hot Carolinas music scene, let him know. Jerry let him out with a business card and three hundred dollars in the middle of Bonham because Nathan said he had some arrangements to make. Jerry turned the truck around and made it almost back to Memphis, where he slept five hours in a Motel 6. He drove the rest of the way home on Sunday.
Jerry never heard from Nathan McLure again. He didn’t owe him anything. He’d earned every dollar he’d given him or spent on him. Jerry wondered about Nathan. Maybe he’d been on the run. Maybe he’d killed that carnival boss, or maybe they’d gotten into a fight, and Nathan thought he’d killed him and took off. If that had been the case, though, they wouldn’t have let him out of jail because he ate too much bologna.
Nathan McLure played a bit role in several Jerry Lennart songs and a major role in one. The last had been a minor hit for Lonnie Wiggins, and Jerry wondered if its subject ever heard it. He Googled the name several times, but all that would have really uncovered was an obituary, so he was happy when he didn’t find anything.
Jerry and Nathan were friends for a very short time, but one thing they weren’t was Facebook friends.