Archive for September, 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…

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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.

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“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!

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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