BUDDY HOLLY'S BRAINS
BY HARVEY SUTLIVE
When Maya and I lived together, our sophomore year in college, we bought this car -- a Volvo 120 station wagon. They made that model in the 1960s.
It was a solid, elegant little car. The original owner was a British guy with heavy black eyebrows. He taught geography at Harris College. He had a stroke, so he stopped driving.
We picked the car up on a Friday afternoon. We drove straight home and packed our stuff for a camping trip. Maya wanted to show me a place she knew in the mountains.
It was dark when we got up there. Maya was driving. We were on a narrow highway in the top of the mountains -- we turned down some fire road and drove through the woods. Limbs brushed the car. The headlights splashed off trees. Maya said she knew exactly where we were. A stream crossed the road, and we bumped through rocks and a lot of water. This is going to be good she told me.
We climbed uphill after that, and Maya spotted the place. We turned into a break in the trees and parked.
We had the square boxy kind of sleeping bags that zip together. It was late, and we made a little fire. We talked and drank tea, then we slept together.
I woke up early. It was quiet. The sky was white. Trees made a circle around us. Maya was still sleeping. Our new car was beside our little campfire.
Below us I could hear the stream we crossed the night before. Later that day when we were hiking, we found the spring where the stream started. We collected water for the rest of the day.
You keep the car, it's the least I can do, Maya told me after we broke up. I don't need it anyway, right, she said. We were speaking to each other, but we weren't really making eye contact.
I should have said No Thanks because really -- I prefer riding a bicycle anyway. But it was such a great little car. The old geography teacher maintained it very well. I thought it would probably last forever.
But I lost it the year after Maya left. I was driving down to Charlotte to look for a job, and my tag was expired, and I got pulled over. I didn't have insurance, and I got a dui.
I went before a judge. He stared at my paperwork. He started talking, and jail was the fourth word that came out of his mouth.
I had a lot of probation already, which is a huge hassle by itself. I told the judge you know I'm doing this probation thing. Now you want me to Go to Jail? For not having insurance? For not having a tag on my car?
And the dui he said sternly. He was looking at the paperwork.
OK the dui I said.
I'm looking at your record he said.
I should have had a lawyer.
I'm looking he said heavily. And I do want you to go to jail he said. After that he gave me a lot of advice.
I wasn't in close touch with my mom that year. I let her know what happened later. I waited until I was more or less in jail before I called her.
God Mathew she said.
I know Mom I said. We both felt terrible.
Well -- jail. So what. It's embarrassing. But you get a chance to read. You have plenty of free time. I wrote an article about the fifties rock and roll singer Buddy Holly while I was in jail. It was accepted by a British music magazine.
They sent me to Alabama near the ocean to what some people call a country club prison. That means minimum security, on a military base. Even so it was nerve wracking at first. I took the bus to get there. At the end of the ride I sat in front and talked to the driver. He was a fat old man.
You look like shit he said. Relax.
I am relaxed I said.
How long is your sentence.
Two years at the most as far as I know I told him.
Two years he said. You should be thinking -- where do I want to be, in two years.
OK I said. I was blinking and biting my lips.
Relax he said. A hundred guys went to prison on this bus.
I am relaxed I said.
Set some goals he said. In two years, where do you want to be? Think about what I'm telling you.
Later I did think about it. And that bus driver made a big difference in my life, because I think that way all the time now -- where do I want to be, in two years? I always think that.
In jail I made friends with a redneck named Warren. Rednecks usually feel terrible about themselves, but Warren went to college. He was a business major. He learned to fit in. He became a financial services provider in the suburbs of Atlanta. He showed his clients ways to avoid paying taxes.
Warren couldn't resist showing off when he got extra money. He called money Cake. I got Cake right here, he would brag. Got a little Cake in my pocket.
We weren't supposed to have actual cash except for coins under the amount of a dollar. If somebody mailed you money, you turned it over to the cashier at the PX. You got credit, then you drew on that.
Warren was always playing cards and wheeling and dealing and accumulating Cake. It was change mostly, and a few one dollar bills, which he hid in a flat cardboard case in the springs under his bed.
He had maybe twenty dollars under there and a couple of cheap wristwatches. Eventually they found out. He went to a more secure prison to serve the rest of his sentence.
I'm not a Buddy Holly fan. But a filling fell out of one of my wisdom teeth while I was in college, and I chewed on something, and the whole tooth cracked. It hurt like crazy. I went to an older dentist. He suggested we extract it instead of spending money on a crown. He said he could do that in his office.
Most of these guys send you to an oral surgeon when you have a tooth pulled. You get anesthetic and stitches in the gum afterwards. It takes your whole day. I had two other wisdom teeth pulled later, in jail in fact (we never said Jail we used the term Camp, because we were inside a military base) by an oral surgeon, and he did that job with anesthetic and stitches afterwards -- the whole modern standard technique.
The old guy only charged forty dollars. Afterwards instead of stitches he put cotton in the socket in my jaw. He was a decent person. He said I should clench my teeth lightly for a few hours, and replace the cotton twice a day, and my jaw would eventually heal by itself.
He gave me novocain. I waited in the chair while he checked another patient. Then he came back and pulled the tooth. Actually they put a thin lever between your tooth and the jawbone. They install a tiny crank, which operates the lever, and your tooth is pried out of the socket. So it's a leverage thing not a pulling thing.
Music was coming in the room while I was waiting on the novocain. A Buddy Holly song was playing.
I don't remember which song it was -- they're all the same basically. But after the dentist, I went home and repeated some lyrics to Maya. She was working on a paper for sociology. She said a quote from those lyrics would make a good complement to her sociology topic. I was happy I helped her a little.
In jail, I thought about that day, and the Buddy Holly song, whichever one it was, and I decided to write about him. The little library at camp wasn't too great, but they did have interlibrary loan, and I was able to go online sometimes and get information.
Buddy Holly died -- in a plane crash. Everybody knows that. It was nighttime, plus it was snowing. The pilot couldn't read instruments very well, so he flew the plane in the incorrect direction, down, going 170 miles an hour. I had to change that number to kilometers for the British magazine.
Everybody on the plane was killed, including definitely Buddy Holly -- his head was split wide open. On the death certificate the coroner actually mentioned that half Buddy's brains were not inside his head anymore.
Warren and I were on the grass--cutting crew when I got the details on Buddy Holly's plane crash. The army base around us was a regular infinity of grass plus humidity plus too much sun. But, as grass--cutters, at least we got out. We rode around. In that way it was enjoyable. One day we were cutting grass and I let Warren know what happened to Buddy Holly.
Half your brains is all you need anyway said Warren.
Maya was a happy, skinny girl, with curly black hair, and her eyes bulged slightly in a cute sexy way. She liked shoplifting -- that was her only negative quality. She believed in me, and I really loved her.
She got married right after she finished college. Her husband works on hydraulic equipment inside construction machinery and airplanes. They travel a lot together because of his job.
"You're a fuckup Mathew," my mom told me recently. "We have to accept that, and work around it."
We were driving to Charlotte to the airport to pick up her boyfriend. They're buying a house together. You could see the whole piedmont spread out before us.
"No Mom it's going to be good," I told her. I patted her arm. I was driving, because recently I got my drivers' license back. Just for the heck of it since I use a bicycle for basic transportation. Mom's a great person. We wrote each other every single week the whole time I was in jail.
So there we were in Charlotte, inside the airport, waiting for Mom's boyfriend, and... Maya walks through with her husband! I think it was Maya. This was from a distance but I'm almost positive it was her. I didn't say anything to Mom.
Maya looked great. I was staring at her, watching her, remembering her. At least I think it was her.
I'm glad I attended Harris College, even if I didn't graduate. My freshman year I was the domino champion of our dorm. We had a tournament at the beginning of fall semester.
Second year, Maya and I lived together. We rented a room in an old house off campus. Her grandparents gave her this practically new car to use at school.
Since we already had the little Volvo wagon, we decided we should pretend her grandparents' car was stolen. We could collect the insurance money. We could go to the Bahamas for spring break. My job would be to actually get rid of the car. After that, Maya would report it and do the paperwork.
I screwed up and took the grandparents' car to Florida first and bought some pot from a guy I knew down there. I didn't have the dates straight. Maya called the police while I was still in Florida.
On the way back, I was speeding and I got pulled over by the police. There was the dope, in the back seat, which I crossed a state line to buy. They checked the tag, and Maya's theft report popped up on the computer. They charged me with car theft and possession and I got a speeding ticket.
Harris College kicked me out of course. The police talked to Maya three or four times. Her grandparents showed up with a lawyer. My mom got involved. You could say we formed an extended family for a few days, based on worry.
To protect herself, Maya stayed with our original plan. She insisted that her grandparents' car had actually been stolen. To help her out, I went along with that.
I got a huge fine, which my mom helped me pay, and a lot of probation. The grandparents were relieved. Maya got their car back. She and I broke up. You could say everything worked out.
One goal I have right now is: to get a better job, in less than two years. I'm doing lawn maintenance, and that's not very profitable in the winter months. Another car... is not necessarily a huge goal. A bicycle is all you need anyway. For basic transportation you can't beat a bicycle, because it's so economical.
Goals work for me. I've been writing articles for music magazines. Another goal I have is: to get more music articles published. I've nearly finished one article called Yards and Lawns of Rock Stars.
The little Volvo car was beautiful. But in two years, I will not be driving it. So if I think of the Volvo, I stop. Goals move you forward. The little Volvo is a regret, not a goal. I see myself striding forward, from goal to goal, from now on. Two years at a time. Or riding forward, on a bicycle. Anyway I prefer riding a bicycle.