BURN OUT (edited for brevity)
by Gary G. BALLARD

The cheap radio with the big speaker blasted its hard–core rock & roll music throughout the apartment house and into the bedroom below.

It was 3 a.m.

Unable to sleep because of the noise, Gary got out of bed and went upstairs to join the party. There, he found Gordon stoned, into his music and alone in his 12–foot, square rented room.

By most people's standards, Gordon is a burn out, a “crispy critter” as he refers to himself and his friends, but that's the irony.

Gordon has an IQ of 130, he says, the navy wanted him in its nuclear program because of his high test scores, but he wanted no part of that.

The draftee left Vietnam with a Bad Conduct Discharge and has nothing good to say about the aircraft carrier he served on, but boy does he like to tell sea stories.

After the military, Gordon went home to New York. He didn’t marry the black woman who had his baby. His daughter visits him regularly and it is her artwork tacked on the wall over his bed.

His family disowned him, he says, and hasn’t spoken to him in over seven years, everyone except his grandmother, that is. “She understands me,” he adds.

Gordon began drifting around the country and ended up in California. The bad news reached him there — his grandmother was dying of cancer.

It didn’t take long for him to reach her bedside in New York. She was bald from the radiation treatments and didn’t recognize him much of the time, but he visited her daily.

Several days ago, a car honked for at least five minutes before a woman got out and banged on the front door. Gary answered.

“Is Gordon here?” she demanded rudely. “His grandmother died this morning. I have to find him.” They checked his room. He wasn’t there.

“Tell him to call home,” she added, and then she hurried away.

She’s visited him several times since, but never comes to the door. She blows her horn from the driveway and leaves if he doesn’t come out. His father and sister still do not speak to him, he says.

It was now 4 a.m.

The radio was playing low and Gordon had talked out his restlessness. Gary had taken several pictures during the conversation.

A few days later, Gary gave him the picture from that visit. Gordon was surprised, he didn’t remember the camera or their conversation.


Photo and story by G. Ballard, San Diego