Aftershave, Hot Oil, Cigarettes, and Sh*t

a messy desktop by a window

Nothing censored, cleaned, or rearranged

A million gnats and tiny moths dance silently in the spider webs outside my window. The front door is open with the screen door latched. It’s a late spring night, all damp and cool, without a breath of wind. Suddenly coyotes yip and howl up by the mailbox 50 yards away. Dogs bark in response, a canine pandemonium. The coyotes move away, the barking tapers off. Last to quit is the little yappy-dog at the trailer on the hill. Stillness once again. Nothing but the unheard sound of questions in my midnight heart and trying not to eat again.

And now it’s Father’s Day. Terrific.

Maybe he can rise up from the dead, assemble all his parts from ash in four locations, and decide to do it right. But now I’m older than he ever was, content with what I see in the mirror after a shave. He used to use electric razors, always buzzing, buzzing in the bathroom, stinky hot burnt oily smell, and then the Aqua Velva. (Afterwards a half-smoked Camel floating in the bowl.) I know all this because who ever had a second bathroom? And the children had to wait. Aftershave, hot oil, cigarettes, and shit. Someone should put that in a spray can, sell the scent, and call it “Daddy Doom.” It’s stopped me in my tracks for forty years.

But now another dream of treasure hidden in a cave. A dark-skinned muse pretends to hold a pencil in her hand. The wind out on the mesa blows. Dusty blocks of gold slide into place like monster stones at Machu Picchu, so tightly stacked there isn’t room to stick a knife. I use a razor when I shave, three blades and lubricant that smells like fruit or herbs or flowers. I tell my wife I love her and I mean it. I can’t believe how old I am, it feels like seventeen without the sex.

This evening I’ll go hiking by the gorge. The stars will not be out yet but the shadows will be long. The animal body’s knees are firm and tough. I’m proud of how its feet step off the rocks, the way it holds its spine erect to breathe and look and listen. A tall coyote on the prowl, but nothing barks. (I eat yappy-dogs for breakfast now if I can get the slices in a toaster.) No one tells me what to do, as if I’d listen anyway. The more I walk, the clearer the connection.

God comes down and checks the plans. There’s no one in the parking lot. The old truck starts right up and runs like crippled thunder, wheels akimbo in a wicked wander, mostly in-between the lines.

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John Hamilton Farr lives at 7,000 feet in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it, John is “a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” This JHFARR.COM site is the master writing archive. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page. For a complete list of all John’s writing, photography, NFTs, and social media links, please visit JHFARR.ART  

  • Fw June 16, 2013, 4:42 PM

    Hey John, I’m sure your on to something…you could revive the old Burma Shave or Barbasol Roadside Advertising with your slogan: Aftershave, hot oil, cigarettes, and shit, “Daddy Doom.” It’s stopped me in my tracks. Whoops, showing my age..!!
    Hope all is well in wonderful downtown Taos…Oh, how I miss my week there in 2002..!!

    • JHF June 16, 2013, 4:44 PM

      Everything’s fine! 🙂 One might wonder after reading this, but I had a good time with it.

  • Michael Walsh June 16, 2013, 4:52 PM

    I was a father. I quit the drinking and was able to become a dad.

    • JHF June 16, 2013, 5:00 PM

      Well put!

      In his later years, my father (Lt. Col. USAF retired) would drink a fifth of vodka a day and hardly show it. And then there’s the time my wife and I found him and my mmother fighting in the kitchen in their underwear. He was blubbering drunk. She pulled a knife on him. We got the hell outa Dodge.

      He couldn’t do that in the Air Force, obviously. And he loved to fly. He just forgot to share his feelings with his kids.

  • dar June 16, 2013, 5:38 PM

    -quite the canvas, Prof John, thanks
    -here’s a book that might be of interest:
    Corpses Rarely Wander: How I Became a Loveless, Trailer Park Nomad [Kindle Edition]
    Cynthia Polutanovich (Author)Description
    Publication Date: May 18, 2013
    The questing female spirit of Wild meets the quirky treatment of mortality of Dave Eggers, meets the exploration of lower class living of The Glass Castle.
    What happens when a heartbroken girl leaves the trailer park in search of true freedom, love, and happiness? The narrator of Corpses Rarely Wander: How I Became a Loveless, Trailer Park Nomad takes you through the first twenty four years of the narrator’s life, from her birth in the U.P. of Michigan, to trailer parks in Maryland and West Virginia, all the way to living in shacks and busses in the mystic mountains of New Mexico – with several states in between. Throw in a search for what god is or isn’t and the narrator’s stumbling inquiry into how to stay true to herself in the face of romantic love.
    This book asks the same question that is posed by modern psychology: how and why does a life unfold as it does?

    • JHF June 16, 2013, 10:42 PM

      “Mystic mountains of New Mexico”? I’m working this side o’ the street!

  • Ken Webb June 16, 2013, 6:34 PM

    I remember my own father reminiscing about his, who was dead long before I was born – said he always smelled of hay and harness oil. My son remembers me doing it about mine – the smell of his sweat and the stuff he soaked his feet in being prominent. Earlier today my grandson (aged 4) said to me, “my daddy likes worms” – I guess you could call that a reminiscence…. Yours of your father sounds as much the stuff of poetry as any of those. I don’t like to think what my son will remember of me when no else alive remembers anything at all, but it might very well have something to do with the bathroom after I had vacated it. Fathers are at first too big in the eyes of their sons, then almost overnight they’re too small. So it was and ever will be.

    • JHF June 16, 2013, 9:16 PM

      My father never said he loved me or ever put his arm around my shoulder. It’s like we were never good enough. As if affection were a weakness. I know he cared and did the best he could, but everything was on his terms and generally for his ends. Not that he became “too small,” he simply wasn’t there to help plug in the God-juice.

  • Ken Webb June 17, 2013, 9:06 AM

    I’ve been an assiduous reader of yours for many years, so I know the vexed family issues. One aspect has always puzzled me: For people who didn’t seem to have much of a vocation for raising children, your parents had an awful lot of them. Among non-Catholics of that generation it was rare to see more than three kids. I can’t think of a single other family with as many as five. That seems to show real determination. There’s some research to indicate that large families have a greater tendency to dysfunctionality – there’s so much rivalry among the siblings, so much emotional demand on the parents, not to mention financial issues. Add to this parents such as yours who were not perhaps entirely happy with each other, and I can see how things might have gone awry.

    You might be interested in this long-lost factoid about how your family was seen by at least two of your peers: Back in Abilene in junior high days, before I ever laid eyes on you, I was told by C.S. and M.F., who lived in your neighborhood there just off South 14th and Grand, something to the effect that “Farr is a really interesting guy, well worth knowing, but he has been pretty messed up by his crazy family, so go gentle with him.”

    Thought you’d like to know that, but strike this post if you think it’s too personal.


    • JHF June 17, 2013, 9:17 AM

      Something is screwy here. I think you’re hallucinating! Those guys didn’t live anywhere near our neighborhood (new suburban housing on the edge of town), so that’s wrong, plus I can’t conceive of that level of awareness or sensitivity on the part of those particular 13-year-olds. I had very little to do with them outside of school, and I’m certain neither of them ever met my family. Weird!

      • Ken Webb June 17, 2013, 10:11 AM

        Hmmmmh. Very interesting. Those guys definitely said something like that to me – I remember very distinctly. It piqued my curiosity about you. They probably phrased it differently, like “don’t mess with Farr”, but I’m certain that it had to do with the family situation. Ergo, I figured you must have lived near them in their neighborhood. Clearly, my Sherlockian deduction was amiss on that point. So how, then, did they know anything about the family? Could it be that you gave them any such info? You’re right, that doesn’t sound like much of a teenage thing to do. Another possibility: They themselves were trying to get cred for being all-knowing about the new kid in school. They clearly saw you as an interesting and offbeat guy, and maybe their imaginations took off from that point. At least one of them, C.S., became a quite good friend of mine, and he definitely had his own family issues, which he was not loathe to moan and groan about to me.

        • JHF June 17, 2013, 10:37 AM

          I did “beat them up” (flailing fists to little avail) a couple of times. Rather proud of that, actually. Once when they made fun of my sister at the movie theater, and another time when they messed with my bike. Maybe what you remember came from those episodes.

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