Archive for the ‘The Homecoming Game’Category

The Homecoming Game – Part 24

It has been a fucking CRAAAAZY 2 months. In the midst of feature script writing. Sorry, so sorry for the delays.

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

I got into Michael’s new car, an electric blue Camaro with a sound system that we unequivocally determined to be “Badass”.  As Metallica grinds through “Orion”, the heavy bass notes causing our hearts to palpitate, I filled him in on my Mom’s out-of-character concern. “Ah, man… whatta you expect?” he shouts to me over the blasting music “You’re her only child… she knows you’re leaving and you ain’t comin’ back.  That’s gotta be hard on her.”  I nod in agreement, then scowl when Michael waved a prohibitive finger in my direction as I’m about to light a cig, making it very clear that the new vehicle must remain ‘smoke-free’.  Keeping his eyes on the road, he nodded towards the back seat and the large brown paper grocery bag resting there.  I twisted and squirmed and managed to maneuver my upper body back within reaching distance, grinning at what I see.  Three fifths… one vodka, one tequila, and one of gin… on top of a sixer of Heineken. I looked over at Michael and he grinned, his eyes shooting over to me for a second before returning to the road. “Can’t have you drinking Schaefer or Lucky Lager on your last night here, man!”  I punched his shoulder in thanks, and settled back in the plush bucket seat for the rest of the drive to Vince’s house.

Vince lived in a boxy condo on 5th Street, just a block up from Main Street, halfway up the hill to Pioneer Park. The location provided for easy access to the bars that were less-than-diligent in their adherence to checking IDs, as well as multiple venues of escape in case one of the neighbors decided that the racket or teenagers pissing on their lawn had gone on quite long enough, thank you very much.  Vince hadn’t graduated from either Lewiston nor Clarkston High School… as far as anyone knew, he hadn’t graduated at all. Michael and I had discussed on more than one drunken occasion that his habit of hanging out with, and buying booze for, High School kids likely reflected the fact that since he had never finished High School, his mind was still ‘stuck’ in that stage.  He’d never had any sense of closure or completion, and hence kept partying with kids 4-5 years younger than he was.

We preferred to think that this was the logical explanation with the combined variable that, since we often partied at his condo, there would frequently be girls… ones we were dating, ones we were interested in, ones we couldn’t stand but had a magnificent ass, as well as their friends… that likewise would show up to party when we were there. Choosing to attribute Vince’s behavior to this was preferable to the alternatives… The possibility that he ‘liked’ teen-aged boys in a way that the citizens of the Valley would definitely frown upon. That he was mentally unbalanced and could only deal with minds that were not-quite-fully-logical or formed. That he was happy to supply us a location for partying since he made a tidy profit from our activities, being our main supplier of booze (with a “service charge” added), speed, and pot.  The fact that, three years later, he died from injuries sustained during one of these parties… injuries inflicted with a baseball bat and the butcher knife from his own kitchen… lends credence to the hypothesis that Michael’s and my “happy and harmless” assessment of Vince was, at the very least, flawed or incomplete.

Our small group of friends, which we had dubbed “The Motley Sleaze Patrol” during the summer following our Sophomore year, was already gathered at Vince’s place and had gone out of their way to “send me off” in glorious and tasteful style.

GET THE FUCK OUT ALREADY” Read one of the homemade banners, a testament to friendship rendered in splotchy tempra-paint lettering on rough-edged butcher paper. “ARE YOU STILL HERE?” read another

The final banner, a obscenely long tapestry of black-humored good will, was draped across the back wall of the living room. Adorned with cartoon tombstones on either end, the brush stroke lettering spelled out “JACK-OFF SAREN, R.I.P. – HE SURE COULD DRINK A LOT FOR A FAG.” The icing on the finely crafted cake that my friends called party decorations were the dozens of condoms that had been inflated with helium, and hung floating in bunches tied with black ribbons over the entire room. As I entered, taking in this scene, someone shouted “He’s here!” and the dozen or so people in attendance turned toward the door cheering in a big whooping cry native only to redneck parties and rodeos.

I noticed that, miraculously, magically, the membership of the Sleaze Patrol had expanded by 400%.  This would have annoyed me more if not for the fact that over half of the attendees were female. None of them vengeful or bitter ex’s. I did a slow head-roll to the side, cocking an eyebrow at Michael. “So… this is a ‘small get together’ with just a few friends?”  Michael just crossed his arms and shot me a Cheshire Cat grin that said, very eloquently, silently, “deal with it, fucker.”

And so, I did.

The other two members of the MSP-proper kicked things off with a game of quarters, played with a shot glass filled to the brim with Tequila. One of my highly valuable life-skills is that my lack of eye-hand coordination in sports does not extend to drinking games involving the bouncing of hard currency into glasses. Even when the glasses are very small.  Within 30 minutes, I had managed to inflict five or six shots on each of the four girls at the table, and had blessed the male participants with a couple shots to boot.  This all went down to looks of disbelief as I sat with a Heineken in one hand, and a small ceramic pipe in the other, switching back and forth as I took hits from the two intoxicants in my hands, but remained “dry” in regards to having to take any shots of tequila.

Quarter after quarter left my thumb and forefinger, spinning in a controlled arc before hitting the table, bouncing in a shallow trajectory, before landing with a neat “plop!” in the filled shot glass.  Soon enough, the fifth of tequila was gone. The group clustered around the table were getting very… very drunk, and I was experiencing a very pleasant buzz.  A high brought on by the combination of my unrivaled dominance at the drinking game, the half of a beer I’d drank, and the unexpectedly potent weed that Vince had scored.  Usually with the pot Vince had, you’d find yourself smoking an entire 8th just to get a decent buzz, so I was smoking in that pattern… big, looooong hits that were held in until the smoke almost entirely dissipated within the lungs, leaving little to exhale.  By the third or fourth hit I could tell… this wasn’t Vince’s usual batch of backwoods dirt weed. Time slowed and my skin began to glow with a warmth that suffused my entire sense of self, while deep inside I felt the urge to MOVE… to make, to create, to drive, to laugh, to sing, to rock out, to run around, to fuck like I had just discovered my cock.

To quote Bettie Davis, ‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night’

With hindsight being what it is… 20/20, with crystalline perspective and clarity… it’s entirely possible, even quite likely, that Vince “supplemented and supercharged” his normal dirt weed (usually acquired from the wilds of fields hidden in amongst the smaller farmer’s crops of corn around Walla Walla or Sandpoint), with something to make it into the smokable form of green rocket fuel on hand that night.  Over the years, over many states and countries, I’ve… partaken… of crops homegrown, as well as crops cultivated, bred, and developed with a surgeon’s touch.  I have never… ever… had an experience smoking pot like I had on that night.  The logical conclusion is that, given the number of experiments conducted in the field, and a careful analysis of the data acquired during said experiments, it had been ‘dipped’… in speed, in coke, in ecstasy, hell… maybe even heroin.

Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

My immediate reaction to the onset of feeling like this was simple.

MORE.

I slammed what remained of my beer, and grabbed a blue, plastic cup, pouring gin into it until it was half-full.  I refilled the bowl of the ceramic pipe from the contents of the flimsy cellophane bag on the table, where drops and splashes of tequila lay like a thousand micro lakes of defeat.  Craters left in the wake of the Great Quarters War. Someone had put Led Zeppelin on Vince’s stereo, and Robert Plant began moaning… summoning the type of time-space event synchronization that only occurs when one is well and truly high… “We ask no quarter… we give no quarter”  I started giggling like a hyena and said to one of the girls “If they have no quarters, they should’ve used nickels… you can still bounce ‘em into the glass…” which got a polite, if confused, smile and nod.  The juniper Pine-sol scent of gin clears my sinuses, and ignites a burning river that travels down my throat before becoming a flower in my belly that blooms and grows, and sends it’s flaming tendrils outward… burning through the cold, active focus I had felt in the center of myself until it met with the crackling, luminous exterior.  Green flame meeting warm red. Complementary colors. Oppositional colors.  Maintaining their own space, they emphasize each other. Make the other “pop” in direct spatial comparison. Hence the nature of Christmas decorations, traditional colors… Red and Green… Fire and Forest… Burning Immolation vs Growing Life.  The Devil(death) + The Godhead(life) = please solve the previous equation in essay form. Show your work.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkk” I wasn’t sure if I was drawing the word out that long, or if it was my perception of a slight slippage in the Wheel of Time. (Get a mechanic to look at that.  It’s always a problem with these older models)  Billy, a member of the MSP-proper, slugged me in the shoulder with a laugh and said “Dude…Is that what you want to do, a question, or are you reeeeeeallly high?”

The impact of his fist, as light and joking as it was, hit me off balance… threw me back, in exaggerated waves rippling outward from the point of contact… film shutter snaps and clatters, dim the lights and I’m watching educational films from the last four years in slow motion, This film may contain sex bias material stickers on the metal can. Noise filling the dark classroom, choppy and chattering as the celluloid keeps slipping the sprockets… damn it Billy, how many times do I have to show you how to thread the leader into the starting mechanism… my motion echoes  recorded footage of Crash Test Dummies. Slow-mo snap back, then whip forward in the recoil…The iconic Yellow and Black pie-divided circles on the side of the head. Creating a black widow, red-on-black hourglass in the afterimage when you closed your eyes. Life and death contrast again. Color as symbol. The government uses these colors to send us messages… transmitted in shape and color.  If only I could see… see what… see my… my head feels so heavy… It feels so light… This is your head… as it slams into the dashboard without the protection of a seatbelt… it contains the human brain with more computing power than the most powerful computer man can create… you should make sure that it’s well covered against the cold and elements… 73% of body heat escapes through it… was examined in the 17-1800s for bumps and ridges which Doctors believed could indicate everything from mental disorders to indications of disease… on drugs.

Any questions?

From there, Shit Got Weird.

The remainder of the night… the events that unfolded over the course of 8 hours… is incomplete to my recollection. There are “moments” of clarity.  Things That Happened within a short capsule of time, caught, illuminated, frozen, as some mental strobe or square disposable flashcube went off. A momentary POP of chemical glare. Keeping it as a mental treasure for later admiration or regret within a faux-leather binder embossed with faded golden script reading “My Memories”. Time erodes the sticky nature of the contact sheets that kept the pictures and cellophane covering in place on each page. Prone to randomly drop out onto the floor if you’re not careful in handling, or carrying it.

POP

Standing on the (almost) flat roof of Vince’s condo. Screaming, shirtless… at the stars as I felt the starlight and the cosmic rays from far off galaxies pour down from the night sky, filling me with power. I cried out to the heavens that destiny awaited. That I would accept the great power the universe had seen fit to bestow upon me. That one day these puny ants below would rue the day they had mocked me. I began to unbutton my Levis, as I shouted that the girls of the valley should now commence their weeping at my loss, for they would never have the ecstasy and joy to be found within my arms. Billy and Vince and Michael having made it to the roof, desperately, foolishly, tried to stop me as I reached the bottom buttons, howling the important and critical addendum that “Oh, and by the way girls… I’ve got a cock the size of Texas!”.  The leather heels of my boots scraping across the asphalt shingles, as the boys drug me backwards… arms looped under mine in tag-team fashion… across the very slight incline of the roof towards the adjoining patio cover, which stood 2 feet lower than the roof.

POP

Vince arguing with one of the “non-MSP-posse” guys about the music playing… so very loudly… on the stereo. Vince was determined to keep the current album, Def Leppard’s Pyromania, in its 33 and 1/3rd RPM. His opponent was slamming the current musical selection with verve, and held up a cassette that he demanded be played by a band called the Cult.  He promised that the starting track on side 2 would “blow us away” and that the guitar on it “Totally rocks, dude”.  I watched this verbal volleyball, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, neither giving and inch. When I saw Vince’s fists ball up, his face red and shaking with rage, I knew the swing was coming. I could see it happening before the moment. Slow motion prediction of variables and vectors and outcomes.  I examined them all, while watching the slow ‘blip’ of movement across the various highlighted arcs and potential paths… like the giant screen seen in images of NASA’s Mission Control, as they tracked the returning vector of men who’ve gone into space… before finally speaking. “Vince…” my voice sounded booming. Chuck Heston in the Ten Commandments. A Jack Kirby-rendered God, seated in all-powerful judgment on his genuine vinyl recliner throne from the future. “Let him put the tape in. Let us hear if the guitar on the song does indeed, rock.  If it does, then we will rock as well. If it doesn’t…” My chin dropped and I looked out from under hooded brows, a wicked smile pulling at the corners of my mouth, stretching it up and back to my ears. A trickster Deity. “If it doesn’t… there will be punishment and consequences.”  The guy with the tape gave a nervous laugh, trying to figure out what the sweet fuck was going on, and handed the cassette over the Vince who snatched it away, scowling and pissed.  He jammed it in to the player roughly, a passive aggressive gesture… perhaps hoping it would break or rip the tape, thus initiating the “punishment” upon this interloper who’d dared to mock Def Leppard.  The tape remained intact. Billy Duffy’s undulating waves of guitar became a sea… roaring and engulfing and dangerous and wonderful… and just as you were getting your footing, Ian Astbury’s first vocal line for “The Phoenix” came crashing in, washing you away, pulling you deeper, the currents swirling around you twisting and tugging you out far past safety.  Vince stood by the stereo slack-jawed and his hand fell away from the “off” button on the cassette player… a cartoon villain shown that he has no hope of victory. It was undeniable, even to him. It did indeed, rock.

POP

Sharpie Marker in hand, standing on the back of Vince’s stained and ratty couch, the better to reach the heights of the wall it rested against. The better to ensure that the words I was writing would remain untouched long after my exodus. I was writing brilliance and prophecy. Observations and commandments from the mind of god, channeled through my hands. Well, my right hand.  My left attempted to brace myself against the wall while holding on to the smouldering pipe in the crook between my thumb and finger.  Most of the group were gathered below me… standing on the floor, sitting on the furniture that had seen many better days. Bill and Tim were in the kitchen, attempting to live up to the name of our group as they poured on the charm in an attempt to get the girl standing there with them to accompany the two of them into the sole bedroom of the condo.  Vince stood at the edge of the couch, his head clutched in a death-grip between his hands, as he yelled at me to stop. That I was crazy. I couldn’t do this, he’d never get his deposit back.  With black, acrid, acetone-scented strokes, my hand kept moving across the wall, rendering line after line.  The words kept coming…

POP

The girl was coming… or pretending to come… for the third time. She was straddling me on the floor of Vince’s over-sized closet. The thin sliver of light let in through the cracked door rendered the curves of her skin in a chiaroscuro that was almost painfully erotic. Her name was Becky… or Betty (Beth, maybe?). I hadn’t met her prior to that night. She had arrived with the group from Lewiston that I didn’t know. Her hair was long and auburn, and it windmilled and whipped back and forth as she tossed her head from side to side. She’d led me in to Vince’s bedroom, and finding the bed occupied by Billy and one of her friends, she opened the closet door and pulled me in after her. Telling me “No” when I started to close it behind us. “Leave it open… at least a little bit.  I want to see.”  Her tongue tasted like watermelon bubble gum and alcohol, and was quick and agile as it darted in and out of my mouth, seeking to taste every part of me. Her breasts were small and firm, and she revealed them to me with a flourish as she pulled her shirt and bra off, raising them over head head… together… in one fluid motion that had to have been practiced in front of her bedroom mirror at least a hundred times. While I stood  mesmerized, staring at the serpentine curve running from her ribs to her belly, to the slope of her hips, she lunged forward, pulling my Levi’s open with a brutal tug that threatened to snap the metal buttons from their bases. Her free hand dove into my underwear with a ferocity that was frightening, as if she were a starving wild animal, scrabbling hungrily for meat.  When her fingers wrapped themselves around my hard cock, she stopped momentarily… a look of confusion followed by slight disappointment racing across her face. Brief, but still clearly apparent in the shadows and patchy light as she murmured “oh…” before looking up at me. She stared at me, as if expected explanation, her hand still gripping my member. I had a moment of insecurity which got overridden by the ego-maniacal effects of the high I was on, and by the single-minded urge to get off. I cupped one of her tits, teasing her erect nipple with my thumb as I said to her “You didn’t really think my cock was the size of Texas?!  How the fuck would it fit in the city limits, much less my pants?!?” She raised an eyebrow at me, as if to accuse me of false advertising before shrugging as if to say ‘oh well, while I’m here…’ and dropped to her knees. Later, as she straddled me, begging me to come already, someone puts on “The End” by the Doors, and once again I’m left wondering if this is all-too coincidental… too many moments of synchronicity piling up, one after the other, overlapping, building upon each other. Surely the structure of the universe can’t bear the weight. Something will have to give.  She begging me. Her skin is slick with sweat. She’s wet to the point where I can feel it spreading out from the base of my cock, until it leaves rivulets running down the sides of my hips. I want to come. I want this moments to last forever. I want it to end and be done.  As the dead singer exhorts from the crackling black vinyl “Can you picture what will be, So limitless and free. Desperately in need…” I finally erupt. Spraying and shooting and coming into her, so completely unsafe and unprotected. Thinking… hoping… praying… as my hips bucked and spasmed and my fingers dug into the flesh of her ass… that she was on the pill.

POP

There was a moment of calm. So cliched… So expected… So predictable… before the storm. Michael and I standing on the concrete front porch of the condo. Both of us leaning over, forearms resting on the wrought iron railing as we looked down on the incline of 5th Street below.  I smoked cigarette after cigarette. Michael nursed a beer. We stood there, in silence. Both of us well aware that my leaving Changed Things. That neither of us knew when we would see each other again. Both of us saddened by the possibility. Neither one of us willing to say anything that would allow those thoughts to gain a hold on us, or overtake us.  We stood, and we smoked and we drank. Silently thinking. Enjoying just being there, in that moment, before everything changed. Watching the night drivers pass us as their cars made the slow, steady, climb up the hill.

POP

We were standing in the parking lot on the hill behind Vince’s condo.  A flat circle of black asphalt overlooking 5th Street below. Standing there, talking, under the yellow sodium beam of the streetlights. Standing, four of us… Myself, Michael, the girl who had fucked me in the closet… Becky/Betty/Beth/whoknows, and her friend.  The friend-of-the-girl-I-fucked wanted to drive Michael’s new car. His prized possession.  The girl was cute with long, curly blonde hair, and Michael was smitten.  He was reaching for the keys. I was telling him… for the love of god, don’t do it man… but he was grinning and telling me “You already got laid man, she wants to drive me and her over to her apartment. Don’t worry…” I was worried.  I was coming down, sobering up, getting tired… but I could still see the future. All the variables lay spread out before me, and I could examine their trajectories and predict the outcome with precision. I told him that it would end badly. I pleaded for him to not do it. I failed to give him details. I didn’t tell him she would crash. I didn’t give him the fact that I could see so clearly… that there was the emergency room involved. I didn’t tell him I saw tears.  I just said “Man, we don’t need this tonight, just chill out… she’ll prob’ly give you a beej here if she’s anything like her friend.”  Michael laughed, and threw the blonde his keys. She caught them mid-flight, her fingers closing around them in a fist of upraised victory. The silver of the keys glittering and sparking against the night sky as the streetlights bounced off the metal.  Michael laughed, and I kept saying “No… don’t.”

POP

The chain-link fence was twisted and ruptured like flimsy tissue paper. It splayed outward. Two deep ruts in the grassy dirt beyond it marked the path of the car.  Vectors, positions, variables, probable outcomes. Becky/Betty/Beth/whatever was on her knees next to me. Mouth open wide again. Not to receive, but to expel.  Howling. Screaming. Animal fear and terror translated into pure, guttural sound. Vince and Tim and Billy and the others were flooding out of the condo in confusion. Some looked over the railing to the street below, some were rushing up the concrete stairs to the parking lot.  Vince stood on the porch, his eyes shooting back and forth between the two locations, saying the same word over and over… his voice rising and falling, changing pitch and octave, altering intensity and volume, as if he was a student actor, trying out all of the possible ways that he could deliver a given line. “Fuck… fuck… fuckkk. Fuck… FUCK… fuck…”  I stood in the parking lot, aware of all that was happening around me, not averting my gaze from the hole in the fence.  The exact point where the car had shot through the metallic links as the girl gunned the car. Thinking it was in Drive, when instead the car was in reverse, it had sped backward with terrifying velocity before parting the flimsy metal barrier as it flew straight out into empty space. A female Evel Kenevil daredevil performing an unintended stunt that got a shocking amount of flight time before disappearing from sight as it dropped downward to the street, scores of feet below. I stood there. Movement everywhere, as some rushed to the spot below where the car landed, blocked from my view by the edge of the hill, while Tim ran to me, asking if I was OK… was I hurt.

I stood there.

 

07

01 2014

The Homecoming Game – Part 23

Sorry for the long delay in updates. Been travelling a LOT for work, and also… working… so, here we go:
….. ….. ….. ….. …..

“We’re running out of alibis
From the second of May
Reminds me of the summer time
On this winter’s day”

- The Bitter End, Placebo

XV- ETHER

I arrive at the Hospital around 4pm. Einstein’s theory of relativity has been proven without ever needing to leave the planet. I’ve been back here less than 48 hours. I’ve been here for an unending, eternal lifetime. I sit in the car for a while. The car stopped in the Visitors parking lot, engine still running. Headphones blasting. Marilyn Manson is howling the lyrics to Irresponsible Hate Anthem at volumes that would induce bleeding in a lesser man. “Hey VICTIM should I black your eyes again? Hey VICTIM! You were the one who put the stick in my hand…” I’m sitting there. I’m listening. Trying to clear my head. Trying to wake up. Trying to blast away the emotions and that fucking internal voice that keeps chiming in. Trying to breathe. Trying to have just one more cig.

Trying.

And Brian Warner…Mr. Marilyn Manson… another one of us borne of redneck, middle-America. One who escaped, but still found himself haunted and fucked. Soul tainted and scarred by what he lived through as a child, he sings/screams out a possible answer. A baptism.

(Something to think about, at the very least.)

FUCK IT…FUCK IT! Fuck, fuck, FUCK!

I turn the car off. The ping… ping… ping… rings out.

Reminding me that my keys are in the ignition.

Reminding me of a heart monitor when someone is on life support.

Reminding me that I still need to call Elispeth and the kids.

Reminding me of sonar as it warns of something dark and unknown and wrong moving through the water, approaching with ill intent.

I grab the keys, and cigs, and make sure the headphones are in the glovebox, along with the remaining Red Bull I brought with me when I started out this morning. I check my jacket and jean pockets three times, making sure my phone and lighter and wallet and cigs are all on me and where I expect them to be. I haven’t had issues with this for years… the compulsive double-checking, the irrational, overwhelming fear that I’m forgetting something… but God or the Devil or whatever machinery causes the wheels of the universe to turn, thinks I don’t have enough currently on my plate, and really what is missing from this whole experience is a good old-fashioned bout of OCD panic. It’s been so long since this has been an issue that I don’t even have a prescription for Paxil anymore. I lock the car, even though it’s unlikely that I need to. I don’t even think about it… habits of protection and safety on autopilot.

The sun’s going down, the temperature’s dropping. I make a note to myself that if I stay here another day, I’m going to have to get another coat. My leather blazer is too thin. Ineffectual and useless in terms of keeping out the chill as the wind picks up and drives icy knives through the black cowhide into my skin. I start towards the main entrance, passing the glowing red sign that points out the way to the Emergency Room as I walk.

…..

I know this Emergency Room well. I spent my last night in town here. An unexpected, unplanned and melodramatic goodbye present from the town that had already inflicted a non-trivial amount of pain and discomfort on me over the course of 18 years.

It had started out with a simple enough plan. Michael and a handful of friends, gathered at the house of a slightly-older acquaintance (One who at the age of 20, was old enough to by alcohol in Idaho.) for a “farewell party”, at which my friends and I would drink. They’d toast and/or mock me, and thus we would spend the last hours of my life in the Valley in a drunken reverie.

That was the plan.

In theory.

I’m sure you’re well aware of the cliche regarding God’s opinion towards his silly little monkeys making plans. That night was a perfect example. Michael picked me up in the new car he had just been given by his parents in recognition of his recent graduation from High School. He, being the ‘responsible one” between the two of us… and likely in some small part because he wanted to show off his new car to our assembled cohorts… decided that he would serve the role as “designated driver” for the night. The term, circa 1987, meant only having a couple of beers during a party. The idea of completely abstaining from booze at a going away party? That was just crazy talk. Kid’s stuff. Silly babbling by uptight prudes who desperately needed to get laid. We were experienced partiers. We weren’t some “weekend dabbler”, who’d have a couple of wine coolers at a kegger and then spend the entire next week talking about how we got “sooooo wasted last weekend.” We’d done extensive testing. Experiments had been conducted with every possible variable under precise and carefully controlled conditions. All of us attending that night Knew Our Limits. Michael pulled up, and for some reason… even though she had never done so at any time prior during the previous 4 years during which I had done these laborious tests into the realm of alcohol, Pot and Speed… my Mom cautioned me, stopping me as I was on my way out the door.

Be careful” She said, her face creased with worry “I need you to promise me that you’ll be careful, Jack. Promise me.

I was confused and perplexed by her concern. While other kids got into trouble with the law, got caught drinking, having sex in public parks, got thrown in jail for being an intoxicated minor, or for drinking and driving, or… on occasion… ended up dead… that just wasn’t me.

I drank like a fish, smoked as much pot as I could get my hands on, and popped or snorted any bit of speed that showed up in town, but I was very, very, careful. I’d curl up next to a bush in a yard and sleep for a couple hours at 3am if I had even the slightest feeling that I was in a “state” that might lead to trouble. I was careful. I was cautious. I Did Not Get Caught. While Mom probably had a good idea that her son was no angel, I had given her no cause for concern over the four years in High School. I got straight A’s and B’s. I was involved in the Theatre and Art and Photography clubs. I was an editor for the school Newspaper. I had been voted in as a Student Body “Class Representative” for the graduating Seniors.

I was, by all outward appearances, A Good Boy.

I told her not to worry. That I would be safe. That I would probably just crash at Michael’s, and then come by in the morning to shower and pick up my stuff before heading to the train station in Spokane. I gave her a hug. I kissed her cheek. I told her that I loved her, and that I was glad that she was my Mother. She got teary-eyed, and I told her jokingly to “cut out the waterworks, sister” in my best Humphrey Bogart voice (which was, as we’ve already established in regards to my impersonations, pretty awful, sounding more like W. C. Fields) and told her not to worry, her Son would be coming home.

Safe.

Sound.

Whole.

12

11 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 22

I have a few free minutes, and god only knows when I’ll have another, so here’s another installment in the ongoing serialization…

….     …..     …..     …..     …..

Grab the smokes, the headphones, walk down the hill… past the theatre to the park. A park only by the loosest of definitions.  100 years ago, when the theatre served as a church, this grassy hill was likely the yard and gathering area for church socials.  Pot-luck dinners. Outdoor come-to-Jesus meetings. Perhaps the occasional choir performance or sunrise service held on Easter with a glorious, unobstructed view of the Valley below.  For decades now, it’s served as a simple park. No benches, no play equipment, no sandbox, no fountain. Just a grassy hill, ringed by dark, aging oak trees. A little larger than a “good-sized” back yard.

I shuffle up the slope, being cautious to not slip on the wet grass, or the patchy, slushy remains of last night’s snow that has survived thanks to the deep shade provided by the perimeter of trees, even in their leafless, skeletal, winter state.   I make my way across the grass to the edge of the park, the line of trees marking the boundary, past which the ground falls away in a steep, sandy cliff spotted with stones and broken glass.  On the edge, looking down at the glittering shards, I wonder to myself if any of those pieces of glass… fragments of sharp, curving brown or green… are “mine”.  If… even though it’s been almost two decades… I am the one who determined that they would find their final resting place here. On a sandy hill. In this town. After being hurled into the void by a drunken teenager who thought he had all of the answers.

Michael and I, along with the few classmates we considered to be our “posse”, called this “Paisley Park”… having discovered its existence shortly after the release of Prince’s “Around the World in a Day” album which had a track by the same name.  To be more precise… we knew of the Park’s existence, but it wasn’t until High School… when we spent many weekend nights in search of a place where we could safely drink and smoke pot without being caught by parents, or well-meaning busybodies, or police… that we discovered that, past the ring of trees that surrounded the park, there was a small, grassy ledge. A perfect place for surreptitious teenage experiments in the alteration of one’s brain chemistry.   We’d have long discussions, intense and earnest, about life and our place in it. Destiny and escape. The future and what was to come.

And girls. There were many, many, many discussions about girls. Getting laid. Not getting laid. What was the correct protocol and technique for bringing up the prospect of a blowjob when a girl you were “seeing” told you that she was determined to remain a virgin until her wedding night. Whether or not a certain girl was “into” you or not… a careful, group think-tank of analysis that was inaccurate, and cloudy, and myopic due to hormones and inexperience… If a girl was indeed “into you”, how serious would you have to get with her before you’d see any action.  The pros and cons of eating pussy, and techniques for executing said activity. Vague information and data gleaned from the “letters to the editor” in porn magazines we had filched from hidden parental stashes.  The pros and cons of different types of lingerie on women and the firm belief that, if a girl wore cotton “granny panties”, then you shouldn’t even waste your time.

There’s a reason I tell my daughter… even though she’s only in third grade… that all boys are assholes who only think about sex.  That reason, in part, has its roots firmly planted in the sloped surface of drunken and stoned discussions held on this hill.

At the end of the night, we’d take our empty Olde English 800 40 ounce bottles… which we called torpedoes because of their curved, cylindrical shape… and hurl them out into the night. Discovering quickly that, no matter how hard we threw them, we couldn’t clear the horizontal distance of the base of the cliff, and our boozy missiles would invariably shatter on the rocky dirt far, far below.

The ledge is no longer there. The dirt and rock outcropping has been swept away. Whether it met its demise due to natural erosion and time, or because someone in the houses below the cliff got wise to the teenage hooligans using it to launch drunken projectiles towards their lovely homes… remains unknown to me.  Either option is equally viable and possible.  What matters is its absence.  Another part of this place that… I didn’t hate. Swept away.

Gone.

 

27

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 21

Things are going to be VERY busy over the next two weeks, and… while I’ll do my best to post an update during that time, Fair Warning that there may be an absence of updates for a bit. Thanks for your continued patience and interest in this rambling story.

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

“Angel, angel what have I done?

I’ve faced the quakes, the wind, the fire

I’ve conquered country, crown, and throne

Why can’t I cross this river”

-The Humbling River, Puscifer

 

XIV – BURROWS

 

I take the “back way” to the Hospital, driving through downtown Lewiston down main street to 8th Street, up the sloping curve towards the Lewiston Civic Theatre and “Paisley Park”.  I have to admit, it’s impressive the strides forward that the downtown area has taken in ‘cleaning up’ and becoming “modern’, while still maintaining much of the character of the original mouldings and brownstone structures.  It looks very friendly and inviting, with the wider streets, lined with dogwood trees that no doubt explode with pink blossoms and hay fever-inducing pollens in the spring.  The bricks have all been sandblasted into a ruddy shade of burnt sienna. The panels and mouldings have all been painted in an intricate style that highlights each successive line and curve, giving the “painted ladies” of San Francisco’s Nob Hill a run for the money.

While it no doubt is better for the economy here, and allows for more community gatherings, events and activities, I find it unbelievably depressing.  As a kid, we’d ride our bikes over here, gliding past the darkened, dirt-smeared windows of abandoned tobacconists, and Woolworth’s and J J Newberry and Floresheim Shoes for the Family. Even the stores that remained had the feel of being some sort of survivalist encampment.  As if they’d taken their few meager belongings and hidden themselves away in these man-made caves of stone and brick and wood.  Lighting was almost uniformly poor. Counters always has a thin coating of dust. The clerks and store owners were indifferent or surly. Finding what you wanted, or something that unexpectedly caught your eye was an all-day adventure… a valiant and noble quest. You had to commit yourself to the search, knowing full well that no one would help you, and that there were many times you’d spent an entire day hunting… only to return empty handed.  No “service with a smile”, no sense… not even in an ignored implication… that the “Customer is always right.”

But on the days you found what you were looking for… or better yet… the days you found something that you didn’t know existed, but instantly filled you with indescribable joy at the moment of discovery… like finding the lost city of Atlantis, or the Ark of the Covenant, or the remains of a crashed alien spaceship buried in your backyard… those moments, those finds… they were priceless treasure. Items prized with a worth far beyond the physical value and the money exchanged.  Because of the simple fact that you had to hunt for them. Because they were unexpected and unknown and hence, wonderful surprises.

Moments like that are only possible on main streets and areas of once-thriving business that are slowly sliding into a state of decay. Hovering on the edge of life with the existence of a disease-not-yet-declared fatal. In can’t happen in places like this. Another opportunity for the unknown and the possibilities of imagination and magic, eliminated in the cleaning and scouring and improving of everything.

Driving up 8th, I turn left on 6th Avenue, parking on the street under the impressive awning of trees that line the street surrounding the imposing castle of limestone… a former methodist church that would seem better suited for the climes of England with its towering, rough stone walls … that serves as the local civic theatre.  It’s been here for decades, and growing up I thought that the theatre and the luxurious homes that surrounded it represented “High Society”. A world of F. Scott Fitzgerald-style cocktail parties attended by beautiful and wealthy people in formal wear and cigarettes smoked from the end of long, ebony holders. This area represented the “High Life”… a life I’d never be able to experience, much less have.  It’s likely that this perception was, in part, summoned by the rumor that the “mansion” on the corner of the hill, with it’s neo-Roman pillars and stonework that surrounded a rolling green estate, had been built for Walt Disney, who wanted to have a home with the luxury he was accustomed to when he and his wife visited her hometown relatives.  The rumor held sway on almost everyone… a concrete example of the grand world of Hollywood gracing the valley with its presence. For me, the rumor served a very different purpose. It gave me evidence… or at the very least… reinforced the hope… that someone who was born here could escape. Could find a better life outside of the confines of the two towns that lay side by side.

That things could be better.

…..

25

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 20

Twenty Installments! Dear god, and we’re only a third of the way through… buckle up buttercup!

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

I will break you into pieces

Hold you up for all the world to see

Yeah, what makes you think

You are better than me”

- Like a California King, Everclear.

 

XIII – RINGING

 

In the fall of 1988, I had been in LA for almost two years.  My “career” was dragging ass.  The entertainment world had not bowed before me when I entered LA. I was learning the cold hard truth on a daily basis that becoming a writer in Hollywood… even on the shittiest, low budget, forgettable projects, was made up of a lot of very long hours, and an immense amount of very hard work.

It also entailed… at the time… waiting for the phone to ring.  In this era, pre-email, you’d spend days on end at times… staring at the goddamn phone… just willing that fucker to ring. For the call to come in that would be from “this producer” or “that director” leading to actual work on a project that paid cold, hard cash.  Because of this fact, I… unlike my current disposition towards telephones… would answer whenever it rang. Usually before the first ring had finished.

This place and state of mind was the backdrop when I got an unexpected phone call from a cousin of mine. The two of us weren’t particularly close… in fact I only tolerated him when forced to by my mother at family gatherings… so it was completely out of the normal functioning order of the universe for him to call.  The sense that something “wasn’t quite right” by him calling me only increased in breadth and intensity over the course of the call.

“Mayhem, Incorporated. If you’ve got trouble spots in your life, we can rub ‘em out.”

There was a long pause. A pause that stretched out for so long, I’d almost wondered if anyone was on the other side of the line. Finally, the puzzled, confused voice of my cousin came out of the receiver. “Jaaaack?”

His inbred twang was instantly recognizable, and I instantly found myself wishing I had let the machine get it.  Both in order that I could avoid talking to him, and in order that I would have the taped amusement of his befuddled, backward-ass dialogue to play for the amusement of my friends the next time they came over to get stoned.

“Yes, Rick, it’s Jack. You called me… the question all of America now awaits with tense, baited breath is… why

More silence. Obviously the receiver on his end was not strong enough to pick up the hollow whistling of the air rushing through the vacant space in his cranium where a brain would normally reside. Finally, some response “Ummm, what?”

“Dude… you called. I answered. Tell me why you called. That’s usually basic phone protocol.”

Using short, simple words, I’d evidentially jogged loose whatever idea or reasoning had lead to the call in the first place “Um, so hey Jack… how’s it going, man?”

“Rick… no offense, but really, the last thing in the world I have time for is playing ‘catch up’ with you.  I have a lot going on right now, and I’m really busy, so…” He jumped in… interrupted me, actually… and began his spiel. “THAT is what I want to talk to you about, Jack… I’ve been hearing things…”

Despite myself, the interruption and the direction of the conversation had me intrigued and, against my better judgement… like knowing you really shouldn’t poke at a tiger in a cage at the zoo… I took the bait  “Hearing things? What, like voices? You do know that they have a whole slew of medications that you can take for that these days. Just like most forms of VD.”

(I figured he’d be more receptive if I put it in terms he was familiar with and could easily understand.)

“Naw, man… not ‘hearin thing’ hearin things… People’ve been talking. Saying stuff.”

There were a million clever counters to that, but I let them lay on the shelf, dusty and unused. I waited. Waited. Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. “They’ve ‘been talkin’… and?”

He hemmed and hawed, as if he had something akin to manners and decorum. As if he didn’t quite know how to broach some terrible subject with me.  “Well, there’s a lot of talk… people have been saying you’re… well… you’re getting into some weird stuff. That you been doin’ some weird shit, man.”

Now…

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this. I had indeed been getting ‘into some weird shit’ in my first two years in LA.  Stuff that would be considered ‘crazy’ by even the more adventurous inhabitants of the valley.  The problem I faced was… without more information from my backwoods cousin… I had no idea precisely what the ‘weird shit’ I’d gotten into that he was talking about.  He could have been referring to:

A.) My introduction to, and excessive consumption of, LSD. Having taken 50 hits of acid over a 18 month span would qualify as “weird shit”

B.) My introduction to, and significant consumption of, cocaine. Having become friends with a dealer who, by reputation had the ‘cleanest, purest coke in LA’, and who frequently gave me free 8-balls because I “rocked” would perhaps qualify.

C.) My introduction to, and participation in, the Los Angeles Underground Club scene.  Attending places like Scream (on the “tame” end of the scale), and Club Fuck (on the oh-dear-sweet-baby-jesus-what-are-those-five-people-doing end of the scale) would… even on the most pedestrian and placid of nights… definitely qualify.

D.) My introduction to, and hanging around with (but not participating in) the world of hardcore body modification. Full body tattooing, Genital piercing, subcutaneous implants, scarification, suspension, bloodletting? Yeah, definitely qualifies.

Or

E.) The recent job I had taken to supplement my patchy TV and Film-related income as a copywriter at a gay male porn magazine. (As the only straight male employee) That factoid would, without a shadow of a doubt, qualify as ‘weird shit’ that I’d gotten involved in.

So…

The dilemma I faced, was… how do I address the “issue” my redneck cousin is raising without revealing other sordid details of my life that I would prefer not be making the rounds in the gossip circles of Lewiston and Clarkston.  I had no idea which “sin” he was referring to, and I was cautious enough… cagey enough… even at a few months shy of 20 years of age… to not just go blabbing information or confessions unless it was dragged, kicking, screaming, and having expended a full clip of bullets, from me.

“Rick… dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about. ‘Weird’ to the residents of the Valley is the fact that I moved here in the first place. You’re going to have to be a little more specific than that.”

I knew whatever he was getting at had to be bad by the sheer level of uncomfortable coughing, stalling, and clearing of throat that Rick was engaging in.  I was now morbidly curious… what the hell could I have done that was so appalling… so completely wrong… that it would make my cousin… a man-boy known more for his prowess at power-belching than his skills at proper post-labor day fashion ettique… so completely, obviously, unsettled.  More to the point, I was wondering what information had leaked back to the Valley that now had me labeled as a Southern California bogeyman on a level with Richard Ramirez and Charles Manson. “Well… ummm, it’s… that you’re… you know… hanging around with some… umm… some… uh… weird people.”

I gritted my teeth. Counted to ten. Lit a cig. Sucked in deep. Exhaled. Spoke. “Rick… Specifics. What. “Weird”. People.  What the fuck are you talking about?!?”

I heard him across the line taking in a massive lung-full of air, breathing in like he was expected to blow out all of the candles burning on the world’s biggest birthday cake. He holds it for the briefest of moments, before unleashing the specifics in a torrent of words so crammed together one could easily mistake it for German. “Man the rumorgoingaround is that you’reinLA studyingtobe a SatanistHighPriest.”

I sat there for a moment, trying to mentally decipher what he had just said. Trying to detangle the rush of words into a comprehensible sentence. Then, after I had managed to do just that, spending another few minutes being sure that what I thought I heard couldn’t possibly be what I actually heard. “Rick… did… did… you just ask me… if I was a Satanist?!”

The relief of having gotten the words out evidentially blew any concerns about manners and propriety my cousin might have had in the line of questioning right out of the water. “Well… studying to be a Satanist High Priest, actually. You know… like a devil-master-in training?”

My cousin kept trying to interrupt my hysterical laughter. To this day I couldn’t tell you whether I was laughing more at the idea of me being a devil worshiper, or at my cousin’s colorful description of the strata and levels of power and hierarchy within the Satanic ranks. It took a good ten minutes before my laughter was overtaken by a hellish bout of smoker’s cough, giving my cousin his opportunity to interject. “Wait… so… so… you’re not a Satanist? It’s not true?”  Only the continuing grasp of the coughing fit kept me from launching into a new round of laughter.  I managed to hack out that he needed wait for a moment, and he waited. Coughing and laughing, I got a glass of water, and returned to the phone.  “Rick… thanks for the mid-day comedy. No, I’m not a Satanist… you have to believe in God in order to believe in the devil, much less worship him. Jesus Christ…”

His relief was blindly obvious. “You’re not?! Oh mannn, I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that. I’ll be sure and tell everyone that you’re not…” It was my turn to interrupt. “No. No, don’t.”

Relief rapidly changed and transformed into confusion. “Wait… what?!? You don’t want me to say anything? I… Man, why?!?”

I lit another cig. Sucked the smoke in deep. Exhaled. “Don’t say anything to anyone about this. Let them think I’m a Satanist High Priest… hell man, if they ask, just nod your head.”

His confusion ran even deeper “But… why, man?!”

“Because, if they think that… if I have to come back there for any reason… then the fucker’s will be afraid of me, and they’ll stay the hell out of my way.”

…..

All of this flashes, unexpected,  like mercury running fast and toxic towards the storm drain, in the second that I pass the street where he used to live. The place he might still live. I don’t know.

My Mom is dead.

There’s no one left living to make me feel guilty about not finding out.

These flashes pull my lips into a sick, sad smile, and I drive down Riverside Drive. Heading towards the bridge and Lewiston and the Hospital and my dying father.

Flick of the thumb, flint struck by spinning wheel, fire and air inhaled once again.

Breathing in.

Breathing death.

 

20

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 19

Concluding Chapter 12 of the Homecoming Game. Shit Gets Nuts from here on out…

…..

I don’t know how long I’ve been standing there in the doorway of the bedroom that was mine in another lifetime.

Remembering.

Trying not to remember.

Trying to pull the memories and incidents out in an organized, systematic, item by item basis, only to find them spilling out of the overstuff closet of my mind… tumbling down, engulfing me.

It’s obviously been long enough that June has grown a little concerned… perhaps having second thoughts about allowing this stranger into her house.  She knocks me out of the vortex of remembering by clearing her throat and asking me… gently but with a pointed undertone, if I’m “OK.”

I shake my head. I smile at her. Act reassuring. Hit all the right notes so she won’t think I’m some nutjob who’s wormed his way in to the comfort and safety of her home. I do this with the hollow ringing droning on in my head. I do this with the surge of nausea that’s threatening to overtake me. I smile and nod and tell her I am “fine”.  I’m well versed in pretending everything’s ok.  I’ve had a lifetime of learning to conceal my reactions.

There’s nothing that would indicate this was every my room.  The bed with the jerry-rigged hiding place is long gone. The stained, flat, olive green carpeting has been torn up and replaced with warm maple flooring, laid in an intricate saw-toothed pattern.  The window to the back yard is no longer a plain sheet of glass… instead it’s become a stained glass tableau of the ocean. Gentle waves and sailing ships with a lighthouse casting multi-hued beams of illumination, rendered in faceted glass across the image.  The weak winter sunlight is transformed as it passes through this window, becoming pools of blue and green and amber and rose that lay across the room in a dappled pattern. It is a warm and inviting and comforting and cozy place. The type of environment that urges you to curl up in the overstuffed rocking chair in the corner, under the antique brass lamp with the ivory pettipoint lampshade and read a good book.  Even the walls have been altered… the base, painted plaster has been superimposed with long vertical paneling, made of a lighter maple finish that highlights and accents the complex hatching of the flooring.

It is not… by any stretch of the imagination… my room.

And yet, it is.

Standing in the doorway, looking in, I feel… somehow.. Wrong.  As if, by my very presence, I’m casting a shadow on this transformed place. That I’m contaminating it with old memories and traumas.  That… just by standing there… I’m summoning something black and dark and morbid and horrid.  By being here, I’m ruining it.

I thank June for her hospitality, and tell her… with all sincerity… that she has done wonderful things to the house.  I tell her she should be proud of the transformation she’s acheived.  She beams at these compliments and more as I make my way towards the door… wanting to leave as quickly as possible before I further contaminate the environment. As I reach the door, she stops me, bustling off to the kitchen momentarily, before returning… moving with such speed that the ties of her apron are flapping behind her… to hand me a still-warm jar of Huckleberry preserves.  The content glisten and gleam, and promise delicious ectasy to be had.  The berries hang thick and plump like jewels of indigo and violet, and I can’t help but think that if she can render such incredible acts of transformation with the dark place where I grew up, the magic she can summon from those tiny berries promises to be something spectacular and potentially life-changing.

We stand for a moment at the door, exchanging final pleasantries.  She makes sure I have a copy of her card, and tells me to not hesitate to contact her… either via phone or email… if any of my Hollywood friends ever need a real interior decorator.  She makes sure to assure me that I am welcome to drop by any time. To bring my family by the next time I come up to visit.  I don’t tell her there won’t be a next time. I’ve already darkened this place too much.  Let it have a new life. A better one, I hope.  I wave to her standing on the porch as I leave.  Smiling, I manage to just fit the jar of preserves in my jacket pocket, as I start the walk back… up the streets to the dirt lane, to the school, to the car.

Moments later, as I sit in the car, my hand on the keys, ready to turn the ignition.

I realize I don’t remember walking back.

 

The Homecoming Game – Part 18

Sorry for the delay everyone, it’s been a bit busy. Onward!

……

The violence wasn’t just verbal or  emotional.  Acts of violence could erupt without any warning,  at any moment, without any seeming  provocation.  the end result was not unlike being in a pan on slow simmer on a stove. you’d learn to bear the pain over time even though it was uncomfortable.   However you never knew when someone would turn up the heat.

There were thousands of moments like this. times of explosive fury.  I learned to make myself small. To curl myself up into a ball, creating the tiniest target possible.  I learned to identify hiding places. Multiple locations for escape and shelter. Closets and cupboards were too obvious.  Like a potentially fatal game of hide and seek,  it was critical to secure locations that met the criteria of being able to be accessed within seconds,  and that my father could walk past a dozen times before thinking that I might be located there. The space beneath my bed was always kept immaculate. Free of clutter and trash, I vacuumed it on a weekly basis.  Not that I would rely on simply scooting under the bed. Such an attempt at escape would fall into the “too obvious”  category.  One of the cats has torn a rip in the muslin sheet that covered the bottom of the box spring.  I followed their lead and expanded the rip,  smuggling small sheets of scrap plywood into my room,  then maneuvering them carefully up through the rip, placing them flat on the wooden bracing inside of the box spring, eventually forming a flat shelf to the side of the rip that could easily support my weight, and that would be hidden from prying eyes.  I eventually padded the interior with scraps of cloth and batting, and kept my most important comic books and paperbacks stored there, along with a ringed aluminum flashlight a handful of pencils,  and some loose lined paper.  It was my Last Resort, a haven of safety, and as such it needed to be as comfortable and as comforting as possible.  It was the place that I knew my father couldn’t fit into.  (Although he had tried on more than one occasion,  after discovering the existence of my perfect hiding place.)

Before he found it,  there were nights that I had slept there, in the thin gap under the box spring and the rough,  splintery support slats,  curled up in the center of the shallow space with a pillow and a thin blanket.  Nights when my father’s tirades against my mother became too loud, too violent,  too terrifying.  Nights when I was sure that the violence would spill over onto another target.

Namely me.

I’d cower and shake, sequestered in that tiny space.  Eyes either wide as saucers or squinting tight as flesh would allow. My fists balled up, pressing hard against my ears.  Feeble and ineffective barriers to blocking out the noise.  The screams always able, like corrosive acetone spilled on soil or flesh,  to seep through and permeate.  On those occasions I’d start off the night in my bed.  As always,  I’d be wide awake.  Motionless.  Staring at the ceiling.  Praying.  To a God I was told to believe in. Praying for exhaustion and sleep to overtake me…  Or for an unexpected and early demise to claim me… Before he came home.  Before the “evening discussion”  began.   That was what he called these multi-hour sessions of unbridled terror.  “the evening discussion”.  Just as he called the 3-inch thick chopping block that he would use for “spankings”  the “board of education” which he would “apply to the seat of knowledge”

A real master of understated wit,  my father.

Even with the gained 20/20 perspective of hindsight,  and an adult life lived,  I haven’t the foggiest idea what my father was trying to accomplish with these discussions, other than the end result of reducing my Mom into a crying mass of sentient fear.  Through the closed door,  I could hear his arrival home.  The heavy thud of the front door as it closed….  Ominous as the door of a tomb… Followed by the “civil”  portion of the conversation.  A discussion held in tones quiet enough that all I could make out was the low baritone rumble of my father’s voice.  The unintelligible higher,  more melodic tones of my Mom’s voice responding in counterpoint.  This would continue for some time,  and there were nights that the discourse would drop off into silence,  followed by the pedestrian sounds of them getting ready for bed… Water running,  spitting toothpaste into the sink,  toilet flushing.  Then peace.  Quiet.  Sleep.

These occasions were the exception,  rather than the rule.  At some point,  usually within 15-20 minutes of the beginning of the “discussion”,  there would be a trigger of some kind.  Some word said. Some gesture. Some action.  Something.  What the trigger was…  Or if it was,  in fact,  the same trigger every time…  I couldn’t say.  I couldn’t hear clearly at the time,  and even years after the fact,  I never felt comfortable asking my Mom about it.  The details were part of That Life.  The Past.  Having worked so hard to put it behind us,  neither of us willingly conjured it up as an element to be dealt with in our contemporary existence.

Whatever the trigger was,  whether it was identical each time, the trigger would happen.  I might not be able to tell you what it was,  but I could tell you within seconds after it had occurred.  The signals and transformation in the exchange between the two of them was always the same.  My father’s voice would go up…  an angry,  indiscernible query…  Followed by my Mom’s attempt to counteract and placate.  I couldn’t hear the words,  but the tone was clear. Pleading,  in supplication.  Submissive.  Trying to cool the increasing heat of his temper.

It never worked.

Within minutes… Sometimes seconds…  I’d be able to make out words.  The one I heard most frequently from my Mom was “please…”  Followed a sobbing, choked specification.  Pleading for him to please stop,  to please listen,  to please not say that,  please…  I love you. An infinite variety of sentence constructed,  when when categorized and simplified,  boiled down to begging for these same things almost every time.

My father,  for his part in these exchanges,  can at least be credited for the variety he brought to the more intense versions of the “evening discussion”.  Some nights he would limit himself to name calling and assaults of the verbal variety.  In these incidents,  “fucking bitch”  was the kindest term he used in addressing my Mom.  The terms he used…  And I say this as someone who uses profanity frequently and without qualms in almost every sentence uttered… I find Shocking and appalling to this day.  For a kid who hasn’t hit puberty yet,  hearing your father screaming with undisguised rage and contempt as he calls your Mom a “worthless, stupid, lying cunt” is as painful as a physical blow.  In some ways,  perhaps more so.

Other nights, there would be “breakage”.  The sounds of wood splintering upon impact. The distinct blooming flower of sound that ceramics make as the explode when hurled against a much more solid and unforgiving surface. The hollow, dull, clanging of metal that pots and pans make when thrown.  The crystalline tinkling of shards of glass as the fissure and splinter and fall away from their plane of existence as a solid, contiguous surface.  I got very good at identifying the source of each of these sounds over the years.  A sick, dysfunctional form of “Name that Tune”, played only within the confines of my house in the dark of night.  “Monty, I can name the object my father hurled at my Mom in two notes.”  A lifeskill without value or use once he left.  We learn to give thanks for the small things.

Given a choice, however, I would have taken the “breakage” nights anytime… even going so far as to interject myself physically into the path of the objects being hurled… over the “impact” nights.  Those nights… even after 20 years… just thinking about them is enough to make my blood go cold. Make my bowels loosen and every hair on my body stand on end. Remembering them in any depth, for any amount of time… even scant minutes… will take hours of concentrated effort and isolation for me to dig myself out of the emotional hole that it puts me in.

The “impact” nights blocked out moonlight. Snuffed out the stars. Caused the tiny lightbulbs in the flickering night lights to flutter and pop, extinguished.  They sent a cold black vacuum howling down the chimney, sucking away the warmth and illumination from the fire, turning the embers cold and black. Like a familial black hole, no light could escape them.  You cannot imagine the complete absence of light until you’ve experienced it.  You might think you know what it’s like to see darkness… but when you actually have every minor, glittering, twinkling source of warmth snuffed out… you realize, with cold certainty. This is what death is like. This… this is the end.

The “impact” nights followed the usual pattern of the “evening discussions” in their early phases.  The quiet bass, countered by bells, which at some point… for some reason… changed.  “Impact” nights were the dark hours when the hands and fists flew. When I could hear the sickening, chilling sound of flesh being struck.  I got very capable of identifying the sources of those sounds as well.  Both in regards to what was being used to strike, and what part of the body the blow was landing on.  A belt sounds very different when it’s doubled over, as opposed to when it’s full length is swung from a grip on the buckle end.  There’s a doubling to the crack upon impact in the former case, whereas in the latter, the whistling cartwheel of its arc is loud enough, and lasts long enough for the conscious mind to be able to anticipate for a split second what is coming before the blow hits.  A fiberglass fishing rod has vector and speed and trajectory all embodied in the sound of it being used as a whip.  It’s lean and bends as it cuts through the air like and arrow and hits with the crack of a lightning strike as it raises long, straight welts, or opens skin.  An open hand hurled forward across a cheek sounds very different than the side of a balled fist landing on a back curled up in protection.  And… for the record… even through a closed door at the other end of the house, it is indeed possible to hear a fist full of hair being torn out by the roots. Along with the accompanying howls of pain.

The pleading for cessation.

The begging

for it

to just

stop.

Some nights, my father would go straight from “discussion” to “impact”.  No slow build of hate and fury, leading to a soul-crushing crescendo. Other nights he would perform the entire symphony of hate and destruction.  From the quiet strains of the opening movement, through chorus after chorus, cresting and falling, only to rise again and come crashing down.  Shivering in cold sweat, hidden within that hollowed out cubbyhole, my stomach twisting and churning with an anaconda of fear writhing and coiling that threatened to thrust anything I’d eaten in the last 12 hours flying out of either my mouth or ass.  Holding on, palms of my hands bleeding from my digging my fingernails into them… small, helpless fists clenched too tight.

Those were the “nights at the opera”.  That was how I referred to them in my own mind… an internal definition that was so deeply seated that, when I was introduced to the band Queen years later, it took decades before I could listen to their album by that name.  The associations triggered by those four words were imprinted on an almost cellular level, and just hearing them would initiate a physical response, forcing me to change the channel… leave the room… put the book down.  I’m sure that there were moments in my life that people around me thought that I was bat-shit crazy because of my sudden, inexplicable action.  Better they think that, rather than assume I’m some mental basket case in need of institutionalizing because he’s curled up in a ball under his desk without warning and started sobbing.

My father was good and accurate in his abuse.  He made sure that every effort… every word tossed out, every blow thrown… was precise, and generated the greatest impact possible while simultaneously leaving no marks that might be casually observed by outsiders.  Even then, in an era that was much less likely to come down on parents for abuse… an era that actually allowed teachers to apply corporal punishment to unruly students… he knew that it might be frowned on if his wife or child were seen on main street with welts forming a bloody lattice up and down their arms.  It’s important to note that his caution and precision in his assaults had less to do with any potential legal or criminal consequences… and much more to do with appearances and his concern of what people might think of him.  That he might not be seen as the “cool” or “hip” guy anymore.  That people around town wouldn’t admire him, or think he “had it going on”.

The sad, bitter irony is, that no one did.  He thought that people in the valley, in the small towns that surrounded us… Asotin, Pomeroy, Uniontown, Orofino, and the like… saw him as being a Steve McQueen-esque figure.  Handsome and dashing. A reckless, hard-driving badass.  That was the persona he believed that he projected, and that everyone saw in him.  In truth, he came across as a modern Willy Loman.  Always desperately pushing for “the sale” or the “big deal”.  Blaming everyone but himself when he failed to get it.

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

11

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 17

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

Mom sold the house ten years ago. Well before the cancer. She moved to Spokane to a new job. A new life. A fresh start.  I have no idea who the new owners are, but the hutch is still there in the backyard. Up against the fence next to the alley.  I can only see the back of the hutch from this side, but it hasn’t been painted. I find myself wondering if the owners wonder what the dark stain is that covers the lower part of the hutch. I find myself wondering if they are ever awoken at 4am by the ghosts of rabbits screaming.  I add to the already impressive number of sighs I’ve uttered in the last 48 hours, and continue walking down the alleyway.

…..

Two short right turns and I’m on the street, looking up towards the house. Walking towards it. The street hasn’t changed. Not really. Some houses have been painted. Some new yard ornamentation here and there. Some trees have grown larger over the years, spreading a leafy canopy of shade. Others have been removed.  Minor alterations.  Mostly the same.

Onward up the street. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving.  One of the kids’ favorite movies comes to mind. Dory from Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming.” One foot after the other. Looking down. The edge of the street is paved now.  No more gravel and dirt running from the edge of the asphalt to the beginning of each individual yard.  When it rained in any significant amount, miniature canyons would form as the water ran down each side of the street, pushing gravel out of the way and chewing down, down, down into the silty dirt. Seasonal streams and rivers.  The neighborhood kids would fold boats out of paper and set them afloat on these waterways… the fast current swiftly taking the paper regatta to the bottom of the street, where they would jam up together, abandoned shipwrecks that would to congeal into one large pulpy mass within the watery hours.

The house itself remains unchanged with the exception of a new paint scheme. White with blue-grey trim has replaced the brown-and-white color combination that adorned it in my childhood.  The uneven and irregular split rail fence has been replaced by a uniform barrier of white pickets.  The rock and cactus garden in the front has been replaced with ambitious landscaping and topiary work. Carefully designed patterns of flowers must produce a front yard that’s a riot of colors and scents in the spring and summer.  Currently held within winter’s grasp, the leaves are looking wilted and dying, or have been pruned back and covered with burlap to protect the roots against the damage of frost and ice.  There’s a bright blue sedan in the driveway, along side a boat resting on a trailer.  The boat, like many of the flowers, has been covered for the winter. The canvas tarpaulin pulled tight, the boat is in hibernation for the season. The car however tells of recent activity.  There’s are drops of water on it’s surface, and wet muddy tracks leading from the road into the driveway.  The owner has recently… sometime within the last two or three hours… returned.  Given the time of day the likelihood of a housewife or retiree making a mid-morning trip to the grocery store or post office seems likely.  Were it a different neighborhood… a college town perhaps… you could include the possibility of a morning return from a previous evening’s booty call.  It seems unlikely at best in this scenario.

I contemplate the situation for a moment, assessing likely outcomes and risk factors. While it is true that most residents of this area consider it a “safe place to live”, and often keep their doors unlocked, it’s equally true that a high percentage of the residents own firearms. Often multiple firearms.  I wouldn’t be the first person to approach a stranger’s door in this town, only to be shot be a twitchy homeowner who was certain that I was a “stranger who intended them harm”.  I have an excuse not to do this.  Logical Mind is yabbering away again, saying that I need to think of Safety First, and of El’ and the kids. That the last thing I need in my career and family life is to be the recipient of a 30-ought-six fired at the belly.  Logical Mind is telling me that in such a situation, the best-case scenario would be me laying in the same hospital as my father. This is Not A Good Idea, says Logical Mind.

Logical Mind is still kvetching and whining about this as I knock on the front door.

After a moment that seems all that much longer due to the wind that’s now blowing at a decent click, the door slowly opens. Caution eyes behind oversized glasses peering out, sizing me up.  A woman’s voice, older but not having yet reached the “fossil” stage calls out to be through the crack in the door. “Yes? What is it? I’m not interested in buying magazine subscriptions. I know that’s how you kids are paying your way through college or a trip to the bahamas, or whatever it is… but, as I’ve told the other kids, I’m not interested in buying any magazines!”  I start to laugh, then catch myself, not wanting to frighten this woman or have her think that I’m some Mad Laugher, come to kill her with my deadly arsenal of chuckles and guffaws.  “No, Ma’am, I’m not trying to sell you magazines, or selling you anything, I assure you. I…” She’s impatient, no doubt annoyed that I’ve interrupted her late morning routine of watching her “stories” or the scandalous and shameful goings-on that unfold daily via the Jerry Springer show. “Well?!  What is it then?!  You just knock on a woman’s door to make her answer it?” She gets wary and starts to close the door “I’m not interested in your version of God, neither, than you! I’m a good God-fearing woman, been going to church all my life since I was a little girl don’t need no stranger, comin’ to my door, telling me how they think I should get to heaven, let me tell you…” I quickly cut her off, interrupting her before the door can close completely. “Wait! No, Ma’am, I’m not trying to ‘peddle God’, or anything like that… I… I grew up here. Lived in this house. For 18 years.”

The door stops moving, halting with just the tiniest sliver still open.  The woman holds it there for a moment, before opening it almost halfway. Allowing each of us to get a good look at the other.  If I was a guessing man, I’d say she was in her late 60s, possibly early 70s. On the shorter side with a pile of greying black curls on her head worn shoulder-length.  She’s wearing a WSU sweatshirt with a jam-spattered apron over the top of it.  Her skin and her hands make it clear that this is a woman who’s worked for a living.  Wrinkles and crinkles and calluses.  She could be anyone’s grandmother, as she stands there, looking me up and down. One hand holding the doorknob, the other cocked at her hip, gripping a worn, wooden spoon.  Her eyes narrow as she looks at me through the closed screen door. “Whatyousay your name was?”  I smile at her, genuinely amused at this feisty woman who’s taken up residence in my childhood home. Thinking to myself that if anyone could chase out the demons born in this place over the time I lived here, it would be this woman. “I didn’t, actually.  My name is Jacob Saren, I go by Jack.  I lived here my entire childhood before I moved to Los Angeles almost 20 years ago.  My mom kept living here for 10 years after that, then she moved to Spokane.”  The door swings open now, wide and unguarded. She cocks her head to the side, reminding me of a curious bird… a finch or starling as she asks for clarification. “You’re Deb Saren’s kid?” My smile gets bigger, and I feel a bit silly and gawky. As if her mentioning my relationship to my mother has the effect of reducing me in age to being gangly and 13. “Yes, Ma’am.  I’m here for a bit, visiting from LA, and I haven’t been to the house since I left. I was hoping, if I wouldn’t be troubling you or putting you out… if I might look around. See my old room. That sort of thing.”  She purses her lips and her head cocks to the other side, the wooden spoon in her hand absently tapping at her apron while she thinks. I clear my throat, wishing I’d had a cig before walking up the street. Nerves now starting to take over “I don’t want to be any trouble, Ma’am, so if it’s a bother, please just say so, and I’ll leave. I won’t be offended or anything, honest.” She squints again, then gives a short, sharp nod… as if it’s decided and there’s no changing the path now… and pushes open the screen door. “Well, getcher self on in here then so I can close th’door. Can’t afford to be heating up the whole world, y’know!” She steps aside, holding the screen as she motions with her spoon for me to pass.

It’s surreal, the moment I step inside the door.  The architectural lines are the same… walls haven’t moved. Doorways and halls still identical, but outside of those defining markers you’d never know it was the same house. What used to be an interior of muted earth tones and circa 1970s shag carpet in now an explosion of colors and hues. An Emerald green sectional couch and love seat, A sapphire blue recliner in nubuck leather. Granite flooring in irregular, hexagonal tiles.  The dim lighting that was entirely dependent on how much light was available via the large picture window has be amplified with two rows of ornate bronze track lights, strategically aimed to cast the best lighting on large mounted paintings and the seating arrangement. My amazement must be obvious. “It’s just a little different than when you were here last, huh?”  She chuckles as I nod, looking everywhere… trying to find one surface that hasn’t been changed in the living room.  She moves toward the kitchen doorway, motioning with her finger for me to follow her as walks away in a quick, slightly waddling motion.

The transformation of the kitchen is just as radical and dramatic.  Tan Formica and dirty brass circular doorknobs replaced with gleaming white tile and brushed chrome fixtures. A flat, glass range-top is covered with two over-sized pots. One filled with simmering huckleberry preserves, and the other with empty Kerr jars in boiling water, waiting to be filled.  Dear god… Huckleberry.  That’s one more thing that this area has going for it besides Taco Time.  I’m not a big “fruit” guy… in fact, El’ has joked that America elects presidents more frequently than I eat food that grows out of the ground… but I could live on Huckleberries alone.  For a few days, at the very least. “Makin’ Huckleberry jam… gotta keep stirrin’ it or it’ll stick t’the bottom.”  She shakes her head knowingly as the wooden spoon goes back in the pot and she starts stirring. “…let that happen, ‘n y’ll be spending hours scrubbing the pot with a brillo pad.” She stops for a second to waggle the huckleberry-covered spoon in my direction “…and I am not scrubbin’ with no brillo pad, let me tell you!”  She looks back at me over the top of her glasses “You like Huckleberries?”  When I grin and nod, she turns back to her stirring with a quick, curt nod of her own, as if it would have been pure idiocy to respond otherwise “I’ll send a jar of preserves with you if you’d like. You can take a jar with you back to your home in… LA, did you say it was?” I’m distracted, marvelling over the changes in the house, inahling deep. Sucking the tart, heady scent of huckleberries in. “Yes, LA. Been there almost 20 years now.”

Assured that her preserves aren’t in danger of scorching, she turns… wiping her hand on the apron around her middle… before offering it to shake. “Well, LA’s got to be warmer this time of year.  I’m June.  I bought the house from your mother…” She stops and thinks for a bit “Almost 11 years now.” She chuckles, gestures at the space around her. “You can see I’ve ‘done a bit’ with the place.”  She digs through a small, neat pile of papers on the counter, before finding a business card and offering it to me. “That’s what I do… ‘Interiors by June’… I fix people’s homes up. Make ‘em look nice.” She bunches her face up in distaste briefly “Not all ‘chi-chi poo-poo’, mind… a place should feel like you can live in it. Not some museum where you’re scared to death a’ knockin’ something priceless over if you turn around too quick.”  She stirs the sweet, simmering huckleberries for a moment before turning back to me.  “So, my house has to be my showpiece, you see?… have to be able to show prospectives clients what they’re getting.”  Her eyes twinkle with benign mischief. “That’s what I say anyhow. Let’s me write most of the house off on my taxes.”  She asks if I would like a glass of water, which I gladly accept.  I drink deep, happily noting that… while the water from the hotel faucet may taste like purified dishwater, the clear liquid from the pipes here is just as cold, and sweet, and pure as I remember.

She asks if I’d like to see the rest of the house… what she’s done with it, and I nod. Tell her that I’d like that. We walk down the hallway, and she points out that she’s taken out the closet that was next to the bathroom door so that she could expand the bathroom, adding a large, sunken square tub in black ceramic, ringed by grey and white natural stone tiles which jut out here and there to form a stair-step series of shelves, which are populated by white column candles and ornate bottles of oils.  I laugh and tell her if the bathroom had looked like this when I was in high school I would have been a lot more popular with the ladies.  She laughs with a slight “shame on you” tone to her voice and tells me that she’s gotten more jobs after potential clients have seen this bathroom than with the entire rest of the house.  I tell her I believe it, and that it’s an exceptional job, and that she should be very proud of it.  She beams at the compliment and we head further down the hall.

At the end are two doors. To the left is the room that was my parents. To the right, the room where I spent 18 years of my life.  June asks which one was mine, and I tell her “this one” motioning to the right.  She chuckles and tells me that it’s a good thing that it’s that room, because the other room is her bedroom and right now it’s a horrid mess.  She has the room that was mine decorated and outfitted to serve as a “guest room”.  She opens the door, and I stand there in the doorway, looking in…

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

01

09 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 16

“God finds you naked

And he leaves you dying

What happens in-between

Is up to you”

-The Luminous Rose, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians

 

XII – PASSAGE

 

I eventually get past the gate, but take a winding, circuitous path towards my destination.  My Logical Mind is speaking loudly with the bluster of a politician caught doing Unmentionable And Sordid Acts with a congressional page. Harumphing loudly that I’m doing this in order to “see the old neighborhood.”

My Logical Mind knows it’s a liar, but it keeps saying this over and over, trying to make itself heard over the grinding throb of  “200 Years” on the headphones, and my Realistic Mind scoffing in disbelief at the shit my Logical Mind is trying to pull.  The samples Skinny Puppy lifted from the Twilight Zone TV show thread in and out of the heartbeat pound of the drum machine… “Maybe we’re being made to see and hear what we hope to find, the sights and sounds of home!”… and I’m thinking that perhaps this album was not the best of choices to make out of the hundreds available.

I walk the handful of blocks from the gate, and turn down the alley, finding humor… with the perspective of distance and having traveled to many other locations… in its very existence.  A dirt path, wide enough for one track to barely drive down.  In cities or even larger towns, this would either be paved over as an access road… one allowing trash collectors and power company servicemen to take care of their scheduled tasks of maintenance out of the sight of Good Tax Paying Citizens… or it would be obliterated. Each property owner arguing about how much of the precious real estate was theirs as the back yards expanded and became fenced in and walled off. Fortified. Eliminating any vulnerable entry point for potential thieves and the criminally-minded.  But it’s still here, like hundreds of others across the Lewis-Clark Valley.  Overgrown dirt and gravel runways. Shortcuts, and hiding places, and escape routes for kids on foot or on bikes.

There’s the cluster of bushes. It’s still there after all of these years. A scrubby grouping of prickly growth that seems scratchy and painful and uninviting.  The truth is that there’s a hollow chamber in the middle of them, with a tunnel entrance at the back near the fence. It was likely created by strays… cats, dogs, other wandering critters, looking for some kind of shelter, safety and escape. We called it “the brier patch”. It became a handy place to hide and drink whatever cheap bad beer we’d managed to score, or smoke weed from crooked, amateurish joints.  We’d hide there, get buzzed, call each other Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear in the worst approximation possible of a southern accent.  We’d forget what our lives were for a moment in the middle of the lattice of twigs and stickers and dried, poking branches.

Escape.

Down the dirt alley. Ruts worn by cars and bikes and water sluicing down, carving away during rainfall. Patches of puncture weed are scattered here and there, lying in wait to flatten bike tires and bloody the bare feet of children foolish enough to no heed parental warnings to not run down the alley without the protection of shoes. Rabbit hutches stand on the other side of the fence, empty.  The years having taken their toll, the wood is weathered and rotting. The warping of the wood beginning to force the rusted nails out of their hammered positions.  The ghosts of screaming rabbits still clinging to the decaying plywood. Even in this elliptical, oblique path of re-entry… this attempt to shield myself from the heat and burning damage of coming in… unseen cosmic rays leak in, penetrating the protective shell. The Geiger Counter chattering in response to the rising level of danger.

Tick tick tick tick

…..

The first rabbit had been given to me by a neighbor who was moving. “No place for rabbits in the big city” he’d said gruffly, as he passed the quivering ball of bunny to my waiting arms. The “big city” being Spokane.  I’d always wanted a rabbit. I thought that they were adorable… second only to Sea Otters in terms of the Official Animal Cuteness Scale… with noses that never stopped moving, and the loping motion they made as they hopped across the grass.  My father was gone on one of his “salesman runs”, and my mother… having grown up on a farm… loved the idea, so she helped me assemble a rough hewn hutch out of scrap wood and wire mesh that we had in my father’s shop.  We did this quickly, as we both knew… although it was a fact that remained unspoken… that if the rabbit’s presence was not firmly established by the time my father returned, that it would be easier for him to insist that we get rid of it.

“Boo-Boo” was a Silver Marten, a type of rabbit that, completely by happenstance, was a rare… “luxury”… breed.  An offshoot of the chinchilla rabbit breed. Noted for having a silky black coat, tipped with silver. I fell in love with her immediately.  I had no idea how to take care of a rabbit, but I did my 10-year-old best. I fed her alfalfa pellets, and snuck her stubby, twisted carrots from my Mom’s garden, as well as leaves from the rhubarb plants that grew there.  My father, in a completely predictable manner, went ballistic upon arriving home from his “business trip”. He spent over an hour in the backyard, screaming as he paced in circles, throwing rocks, branches, and whatever random pieces of detritus he could find in the yard at the hutch, sending the terrified bunny scurrying in frightened circles within the small confines of the hutch.  “A FUCKING RABBIT?!? What the FUCK?!? Do you think I’m made of money?!? You take MY scrapwood and build some shitty shack for that fucking THING… A fucking BEAST that should be served for DINNER?!? All rabbits do is eat and SHIT!  Who’s going to PAY for its food?!? It sure as fuck isn’t going to be ME!”

Welcome to the family Boo-Boo.

When that spring rolled around, one of my Mom’s friends suggested we enter Boo-Boo in the Asotin County Fair.  I had no interest in the idea until I discovered that… for the top prize winners… there was money involved.  I knew it was unlikely that Boo-Boo would win anything, but the very possibility of money was tempting enough that I agreed to register her.  The fair came around, and on judging day, the whole family went to the fair… dutifully trudging through dusty barns, heavy with the scent of straw and livestock and manure, slowly making our way to the “small animal” area, where chickens and rabbits were displayed. As we rounded the corner, my eyes widened with shock. There was Boo-Boo, lazily munching on a leaf of lettuce within her cage.  A cage that sported a giant, purple, best-in-class ribbon.  My father, Mom and I all stood there in frozen, stunned silence… finally approaching the cage and examining the tag that stated… yes, “Boo-Boo: Owner Jacob Saren”, was indeed the winner of the small animal Best-in-Class. That meant she had not only beaten out all of the other rabbits, but the chickens and other ‘small breed livestock” as well.  The award came with a $150 prize.

We entered her in the fair the following year, and again she won Best-in-Class. Again the year after that. This streak lasted for five years.  It likely would have lasted longer had my father not gotten one of his Sure Fire ideas.

He had decided that… Boo-Boo was a “champion”… all the fair personnel and attendees knew it. They saw her win, year after year. So, what do you do with a champion?  You breed them. Make a bunch of Future Little Champions. Make a lot of money from rabbits doing what rabbits do best.  Both Mom and I thought this was a bad idea… Boo-Boo was at least five years old. That was how long she had been with us… and we knew the neighbor had her for at least a year or two prior to that.  Both of us thought it might not be safe. My father wouldn’t hear of it, screaming us into silence… telling us he had “talked to people” and that he “knew what he was doing!” I don’t know where he found the male Silver Marten, but within weeks my father had expanded the dimension of the crude hutch, dipping into his reservoir of precious scrap wood, and Boo-Boo had a “mate”.  Even though I wasn’t yet thinking of everything in sexual terms… still teetering precariously on the line of demarcation between “kid” and “teenage horndog”, the two rabbit immediately struck me as the most unlikely sexual pairing imaginable.  The new rabbit, dubbed “Hoo-Hoo”… my father’s idea at being clever… was small.  So small in fact, that I actually risked triggering my father’s wrath by asking “Ummm… he’s so small… how’s he going to… you know… get on top of her?”  My father looked at me with a scowl before laughing “Awww, Boo-Boo will prob’ly get on top of him and ride him like a pony!” He slapped my back hard enough that it knocked me off balance, then turned to go back into the house… leaving his puzzled son in the back yard. Staring at the two rabbits in the hutch, so disparate in size, trying to imagine how the larger female would “ride” the smaller male “like a pony.”

Four weeks later, I awoke before sunrise to screams in the backyard.

Inhuman screams.

I looked out my bedroom window, which faced the backyard and saw fast, shadowy movement back by the rabbit hutch. The screams… terrifying and unlike anything I’d ever heard… increased their intensity.  I went blind momentarily as either Mom or my father flipped on the back patio light, flooding the darkness with light. Eyes needing time to adjust to the abrupt change in illumination. I stumbled out of bed, making my way through the darkened house to the back door.  The screams were bone chilling, but I wasn’t afraid for myself… we lived close enough to the “wilds” for coyotes and foxes and badgers and skunks to come wandering in to our neighborhood from time to time, and I was certain the rabbits were being attacked.  The back door stood wide open, letting the night in. My mom was a flurry of white in her nightgown as she raced to the hutches. My father was already at the hutch, shaking it, moaning and swearing loudly.  The screaming changed… as if it has lost amplification or an aspect of its sound. I ran, bare feet cold and wet and slippery from the heavy dew on the grass. Teeth chattering in the chill of the early fall morning.  The first thought I had, approaching the hutch, was “paint? Why is there paint?” It was a fleeting thought, one barely formed in my mind before it was replaced by a colder, harder one.

Blood… there’s blood.

A series of rapid-fire images were frozen in my mind, as if captured with a strobe light, before I turned and ran… stumbling and falling… spattered my drops of dew and tears… back to the house.

Hoo-Hoo torn apart, entrails and blood and fur in an explosion, his dead milky eye staring… seeing nothing. A half dozen grey, hairless, bloody rats… mutant creatures malformed and twisted. Boo-Boo screaming… the piercing howl decaying into a guttural, bubbling sound with pink and red foam pouring from her mouth… lips pulled back impossibly wide over her teeth. My father on his knees before the open cage, blood coating his hands and arms to the elbow… his eyes full of terror and fear, mouth hanging open in speechless shock.  Helpless and afraid.

Not knowing how I got there, I wrapped myself in the blankets on my bed. Cocooning myself. Bundling. Trying to block out the rabbit’s screams that were slowly dying away.  The noise fading as Boo-Boo’s life went with it. I didn’t return to sleep, but lay there… shivering in the middle of that ball of blankets and cloth. Chilled to the core by something greater than a drop in temperature. Morning finally arrived, and my father left for work. Mom insisted that I go to school, saying we’d “talk about it” when I got home that afternoon.  I was never the chatty troublemaker at school… never the one teacher’s had to admonish to keep quiet during class… but that day… for the duration of the day… I’d be surprised to learn that I uttered even one solitary syllable the entire time.

Home from school, I went straight to my bedroom. Sat on the edge of the bed. Emotions raw and my ability to respond pressed flat. Dried flowers between the weight of books. Once vibrant and colorful, now abstracted. Minutes passed, and my Mom came in. Sat beside me. Silent for a while, before putting her arm around me. Slowly, quietly, she tells me that she knows I’m hurting. That she’s so sorry that I had to see that. That there was nothing that could have been done.  I listen. I don’t react. No tears. No frown. No shaking of the head. I listen. I file it away. Facts organized and put in their drawers. Boo-Boo was too old for her first litter of kits. The vet came by after I left for school. Examined the two adult rabbits. The stillborn kits.  He told my Mom that the pain from the birth had driven Boo-Boo mad. That she had reacted by attacking Hoo-Hoo. Gutting the smaller male with her teeth and claws before the first kit came.  He had told my mom that the birth had caused Boo-Boo some kind of membrane rupture and that she suffered massive internal bleeding.  The vet concluded that, even if the birth had not been fatal to the mother, that the kits… all five of them… were not “viable”. Some had been born without any limbs. All of them were malformed, incomplete. The vet mentioned that Boo-Boo had been much too old to attempt breeding, even if it wasn’t her first litter.  The vet said that he was sorry, but that even if he would have been there at the moment the rabbit started labor, there would not have been anything he could have done.  I listen as my Mom tells me these things.  I file each fact away. One by one, each in its proper place. I do not cry. I do not react.  My Mom finishes talking, and after a while she gives me a hug, and tells me again that she’s sorry. Tells me that it’s ok to be sad and upset. She tells me that if I want to talk about it later, to just let her know.

I nod to let her know that I hear her words.

I do not cry.

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

28

08 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 15

Been so busy with the pilot re-writes & meetings I’ve barely had time to breathe recently, much less post. My apologies for the delay, here’s the next installment of the serialization of The Homecoming Game.  This concludes Chapter 11 (in “book” form). Enjoy, spread the word on the Tweeters & FacepalmBook, etc!

…..

Growing up, I had no idea there was even such a thing as “being gay”, until I inadvertently stumbled into the fact.  Another life lesson lovingly taught via a branding iron of hate and humiliation pressed… sizzling and crackling and smoking… into my young mind via my father.

In school, to my peers as well as my teachers, I was “the reader”.  The kid who wrote chose to not run around on the playground, opting instead to stay in the library to either consume or create stories during recess.  I was “The Kid Who Didn’t Play Sports.”  In a nutshell, the kid who didn’t fit in.  I remember… very vividly… being an voracious collector of new words and phrases.  I reveled in the opportunity to use them and display the one area of superiority I felt I had over the kids in the area.  Since he took pride in his vast vocabulary (even if it was used primarily to bullshit or con people) it was also the only area where I felt like I had anything in common with my father. It’s possible that, on some level, I devoured and accumulated new words in order to gain his approval or praise.  Possibly.

I remember being in the elementary school library, when I came across a book in the school library during recess with the title “Something Queer is Going on Here.”  I can’t remember what the book was about… other than something odd or strange must have been occurring… but that was a new word.  Queer.  I looked in the dictionary for the definition. “Queer – n, Something odd or strange. Something different than what is expected

Now… I had no idea the word had any other usage or context. It was a “new word” filed for use in my growing personal lexicon. So one day, feeling particularly upset about being called weird and a freak by members of my t-ball team, I sat on top of the steps to the gym… humiliated, hurt, upset… wracking my mind.  Trying desperately to figure out how to deal with this situation that kept arising.  Trying to figure out how to “show them” that I was above it all… That it didn’t hurt me… That it didn’t matter… so they would stop. I finally arrived at the conclusion that the only solution was to embrace the things that made me different.  Those things, I realized with an epiphany that was so clear it hit me with the force of a physical blow, were the very things that made me special.

Unique.

Better than them.

That watershed realization, combined with the book I’d recently read, formed a rallying cry in my mind.  I went inside the building and climbed the service access stairs to the top of the gym roof and walked to the edge.  I stood on the thin edge, 100 feet or so above the ground below, overlooking the playing field where the t-ball teams were still gathered along with their families.

To these groups, still caught up in the heat and sweat and adrenaline of youthful competition, I shouted like a carnival barker “listen one and all, I want you to recognize that I am the queer of the year, that is my power and you will recognize that fact!

Dead, baffled silence and stares from the crowd. A hundred or so fathers, mothers, kids and coaches all stared up at me in slack-jawed disbelief.

Sure that I’d proven my point and that the crowd was sufficiently stunned by the proud declaration of my unique and superior attributes which separated me from the likes of them, I came down off the roof. I chalked up the crowd’s whispers and stares in my direction to expressions of envy or fear, and I proudly hopped on the banana seat of my cherry red bike and pedaled home.

I arrived home. Happy. Relieved. Feeling liberated. I’d thrown off the shackles of fear and oppression. I was defining myself as a new, superior, kind of human being.  That feeling lasted through the afternoon, burning and warming me inside until that night at dinner… That night, I found out what the other meaning of the word was.

Feeling empowered by this new sense of identity and unique power gave me a sense of fearlessness for the first time in my short life. I arrived at the dinner table with a smile for the first time.  I didn’t eat in meek silence for fear of triggering my father’s rage.  I ate. I talked. I asked how my parent’s day had been. I decided to tell them of my gym roof proclamation.  My mom responded by dropping her fork with a loud clank as she began to tremble, her face turning white as a sheet.  My father was a contrasting shade as he turned beat red, also shaking… with rage as I sat there, beaming proudly in the proclamation of my own ignorance. My father erupted.  His blow across my face came so fast, so hard, so sudden and so completely unexpected that it threw me off of my chair and left me sprawling a good six feet away from the table.

I was the one shaking now.  I had known my father might not like my story or my actions, but I’d never thought it possible that he’d kill me for it.

He screamed with animal rage, a jungle predator unleashed on an injured gazelle, as he towered over me, flecks of spittle spraying and spattering my face even across the distance.  “What the fuck did I do wrong?!? How the fuck did I fail as a father?!? That you… you… you’re…?!?”

I couldn’t respond. I was frozen in shock. I was scared to death. Terrified that if I said the wrong thing, the next blow separate my head from my shoulders

Fucking answer me!  What the fuck did I do to you, you little SHIT, that made you decide to be a fucking QUEER?!?”

My mom, sensing my complete confusion and fear quietly asked me “Honey…What do you think queer means?”

My father didn’t even let me answer “He fucking KNOWS what it means, it’s you fucking coddling him all the time… letting him spend all his time on stupid shit like comic books and Science Fiction that’s MADE him like this!  Jesus fucking Christ!’

In the lull, with them focused on each other, I managed to find my voice and stammered out “It… it… means you… you’re different… or…or weird…” and immediately shrunk back anticipating the next blow.

My Dad leaned back with a look on his face like I had just shit myself.

He finally started laughing. It wasn’t a laughter born of humor or amusement. This was laughter fueled by cruel hatred, contempt and disdain. “You fucking moron!  It means you are a fucking FAGGOT!  That you want men to fuck you up the ASS!  That is what a fucking queer is!”

Now… mind you… At the time, I’m like 8-9 years old.  I have the vaguest, cloudy notion of what sex is.  It’s incomplete and inaccurate, and nauseates me slightly. My knowledge at the time, is that it has do have something to do with a man sticking his penis somewhere in or on a woman.  That thought of heterosexual sex alone is a territory of alien and frightening nature to me, but this new piece of information just flat-out explodes by brain into overload territory.

“NO! Oh, no!  I don’t like guys at all I like girls, guys are ass—I mean… they’re mean and I don’t like them at ALL!”

My Dad, sitting back in his chair starts cackling maniacally “Well you stupid little fuck, you just told half of your fucking school that you do like guys, that you want to kiss them or fuck them…”

I was the one shaking now as I crawled on my hands and knees to the bathroom, locking myself as I vomited with such force I thought I’d snap my spine in two.  Whimpering in denial, I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad, that my dad was wrong, that half the class wouldn’t think I liked guys in that way.

But this time… It was one of the few times

(unfortunately)

that my dad was right.

Even ten years later, in high school, the fallout of that event still haunted me…

…..

I don’t remember walking across the field, but I’m down here, standing in front of the gate in the fence… leading to the thin gravel road lying between two of the houses, which gave the kids who walked to school a path allowing shortcut access to and from the school is still there. While I’m grateful that it’s unlocked… I won’t have to go back to the car and drive around to complete this “walk”… I find myself unable to open it and pass through. Facing the gate I smoke the cig down to the butt, light another, smoke it down to the butt, light another.

Rinse, repeat.

Delay as needed.

 

 

25

08 2013