I love incense. I like almost every single kind I have ever bought, used and even hand-dipped on the few occasions I was allowed to do that.

Scent is an incredible sense memory for me and what incense does is wipe the palate. Nothing bad ever happened to me with sandalwood in the air, so it is a place I can go to try to concentrate and think on things that need to be, and better, should be, done in order to move myself forward as a human.

So I am sitting with my Nag Champa in the dark, my fan and noise machine are as loud as they both get and I slip into this thing that I want to write about today. It is not a good thing, but no that it is not a controlling factor in my mental state right now, it is just a thing that I want to share is all.


I was maybe eight, maybe as old as ten, and we were living out in the desert and I had just got into the big trouble for skipping and stealing (another time I will gladly go there) so I was trying my best to be the ideal human person I assumed everyone else in the world strove to be.

Turning right off Mulberry and then left on Oleander just kind of opened up into the desert. Kind of like where you can back your boat up into the water at a launch, this was just desert and nothing else for two-hundred and fifty miles until you hit Vegas in the east. We would go into the desert to fuck around and look for things we thought were awesome. Most of the time they were cars and refrigerators people would dump out there because the dump charged to do it. There were thousands and thousands of things out there. Joshua Trees and Mojave Mound Cacti most numerous. Trees so dead they should crumble in the constant wind that blew but never brought anything but more heat, but never did and various living things that skirted hither and yon over the baking plain.

I was sitting under something that provided a modicum of shade, a dead something most likely. My bike was discarded a few feet away and I could still see the line of civilization that I very rarely left out of my line of sight. Bugs would scurry up my leg because of the temperature difference followed by their predators. Little green scorpions that wanted out of the heat and would ignore the bugs for a few minutes so they would simply not bake alive on the floor of the desert.


I didn’t get home until after dark, which was kind of a big no-no. We were in the middle of stranger danger, Richard Ramirez, and, well, we lived in the middle of the fucking desert.

It was going to suck, really bad.


The next day was a Saturday so I had more time that usual to try to get the swelling to go down and get the colors back to what vaguely normal skin tones should be. I learned all about blending makeup all on my own. I know how to turn purple cheeks into this delightful tone that I think I would get many a compliment on now. The split lip was easy to explain away as a kid. I just made to hydrate a lot so I could make everyone think it was a literal ran into something moment.

It’s why I have a beard you know.

Everyone knew though.

CPS had talked to me at school over and over again. They would take me out of one of those trailer/bungalow classrooms on the asphalt world that was the playground and talk to me quietly and try to hold my hand. They always tried to hold my hand. They would ask me the spread of questions you expect. I would give the party line and then they would produce either makeup remover wipes or baby wipes and all my hard work would be wiped away and they would take me into some vaguely private room and take picture after picture. I would lift my shirt and they would get this catch in their breaths when they saw the holes in the red. I would explain that it was the holes in the belt and that is why there was no red there.

I don’t know who she knew. I knew she was decently connected on the assemblymen level of California politics though her ex-husband and maybe he got things quashed before they ever got past a certain point. We always came back when they removed us from home. We stopped packing bags after the fifth or sixth time, we knew we would be gone a single night, if that. We would get a taxi ride back home and she would always be standing in the door, waiting for us to come home and we could tell how bad it was going to be by how many bottles of Beefeater were on the floor of the house.


We would listen and cower until her voice gave out and then we would all crawl into out respective beds, my brother and I shared room at this point, and they would quickly fall asleep to forget the world and I was never given that opportunity, my night was far from over.


Dad would come home on the weekends most times and he would always kiss her on the forehead when he did. He would be driving this old utility truck that Uncle Ron had that was sturdier driving all that way than the P.O.S. of the moment that the Nealon Clan had.

He would start drinking, maybe watch a movie with us all and sleep the majority of the rest of the time.


It was routine. It was life. It was as normal to us as my kids getting home at four in the afternoon on a school day and have me enthusiastically greet them and smile as they walk or wheel into the door.

Anything can become routine if it happens often enough.

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