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

The Homecoming Game – Part 14

“‘Cos all these little deals go down

With little consequences

We share, we share.”

- How We Operate, Gomez

 

XI – SPIRITS

I leave the middle school, put it in the rearview. Open the Red Bull I brought with me in the car.

Drive.

Smoke.

Down Appleside drive. Down the hill on Scenic Way. The road we used to call “the twisty road” connecting the Heights to Clarkston proper. It used to be snakelike, whipsawing back and forth in narrow curves flanked by the dirty, unstable surface of the bluff on one side, and a steep drop on the other.  Many a drunken teenager missed one of those turns… shot out into the empty space of night, before their car went tumbling down the rocky, barren face of the embankment.  It was Known, when I was a kid. It was a Danger. An example of What Could Happen. What WOULD happen to Drunken Teenagers who were foolish enough to combine the elements of being teenaged and drunk. Like an old country bogeyman, except with “tooth”. You knew it wasn’t just your parents telling you things that Parents Say To Keep You From Doing Shit.  Every one of us had read it in the papers, time after time. Many of us knew people who had family members make the injurious, sometimes deadly, plunge.

Safety concerns have obviously overcome the molasses nature that slows down and sticks to the gears of small-town bureaucracy over the last couple of decades.  The thin twisting ribbon of asphalt has been replaced with a gentle incline coated by a wide plain of fresh black surface broken only by two shallow arcs, carefully graded to the hillside.  There’s little danger now of accidentally overshooting the turn even at high speeds. Probably even under the most “altered” of conditions. Part of me thinks it shameful, as I gently drift down this “kiddie ride” version of the hill I drove in my teenage years.  That the “improvement” in safety thwarts modern Darwinism. Allows the idiots, drunkards, fools and halfwits to survive and breed. I remind myself that these are not Kind Thoughts, but it doesn’t stop them from coming.

I hook right on Highland, and park at the elementary school, pulling out the cameras and my cigs. Putting in the earbud headphones I thumb through the thousands of songs and artists stored in MP3 form on the phone. Trying to find a soundtrack for the moment. Something resonant, but not maudlin. Something that captures the “formative years” spent at this school, but that also acts as a buffer. A prophylactic that protects against it infecting my state of mind.  It would be easier, perhaps smarter, to simply not go here. Not take “the walk” that my feet traversed hundreds of times over a five year period, but whoever said I suffers from an excess of smarts or wisdom? Since I’m back here… in this town… I feel almost like the victim of some violent crime faced with the trial of the one who perpetrated atrocities against them. Knowing deep in my gut that if testimony isn’t given… if witness isn’t borne… then “they win”. They’ll be free to continue on their dark path, damaging and injuring, raping and maiming, brutalizing and killing.

Melodramatic?

Well… yes. But only slightly.

Not as much as you’d think.

I settle on Skinny Puppy’s “Mind, the Perpetual Intercourse”… music I became exposed to after leaving, rather than songs that formed the soundtrack of the days here. Dark, and yet “bouncy”… before the band turned darker in the face of political anger and heroin.  It seems like a choice that’ll allow me to feel… whatever I will feel… and yet keep it all at a distance.  The thrumming synthetic bass of “One Time One Place” fills my ears, Nivek Ogre growls the first line and my feet move.

One after the other.

I find quickly enough that the concerns I had… worrying about emotional highwaymen lurking around every building and corner… were conflated in my mind.  Enough time has passed that the traumas induced here exist only as the faintest of echoes. Barely audible whispers of the psyche. Thin and reedy without tones or depth. Harmless white noise heard over a distance handheld am radio. The sidewalk that runs the length of the school , broken up in a pattern of angled slopes and flat planes that extend in straight lines, connecting the buildings all the way down to the blacktop and the PE field beyond, summon only the mildest of strong recollections… Walking up here on the weekends to skateboard down the length of concrete runway on cheap decks bought for pennies though the Sears mail order. Short, oddly shaped decks with hard plastic wheels. Unforgiving of any obstacle no many how trivial or minor. We could be traveling down at light speed, the echo careening off the sky as we broke the sound barrier, only to find ourselves dangerously launched without warning into the air when the unyielding surface of the the milky wheels made contact with almost microscopic pebbles.  Later… wincing and shuffling, we’d stiffly trudge home. Our skin a patchwork of lacerations and large abrasions gained from those split second moments of launch and re-entry. Badges of juvenile bad-assery worn with pride.

The memory triggers remain soft and benign until I hit the playground. I stare for minutes to my right, trying to figure out what’s “wrong” with what I’m looking at, and finally it bubble up through the soup of time.  The “Concentration camp” is missing.  Replaced by a shiny, new Boys and Girls Club facility. Perfectly manicured lawn. Safety first-oriented play equipment. Wide and open. As long as I can remember the “camp” was there… the local equivalent of a house rumored to be haunted. The site of atrocities only spoken in whisper. Aged, dying oaks cast an eerie twilight over the buildings on even the brightest of days… Long, shuttered, whitewashed buildings, arranged in symmetrical rows. Rough in finish, the kind you’d find in World War II-era barracks, or in a not-quite-acceptable summer camp for kids.

While we had no idea who had built the structures, or what the buildings were intended for, it was Completely Obvious to our elementary school-aged minds that this was a concentration camp. One likely built (because of its close proximity to the school) to house and torture kids who Did Not Behave in class.  This conclusion was reinforced by the all-knowing tidbits of information given to us by the Fifth Grade students.  They had survived here for five years. They had Seen Things. They Knew The Truth.  The Concentration Camp terrified most of us, keeping our levels of normal kid-related mayhem in check.  You didn’t dare even wander to that side of the playground, lest you hear something or see something that would make you a liability, and force the teachers and administrators to have no choice but to commit you live out the remainder of your numbered days in those ominous buildings. Inexplicably, seeing that they are gone… that they no longer exist to terrify future generations into being model students… fills me with sadness and loss.  One less piece of mystery and danger in the world.  One less element of the unexplained to spark imagination and thought.

I stand there for a while, at where the Merry-go-round used to be.  The corrugated metal wheel, limited in the velocity of its orbit only by how fast the kids pushing it could run, is gone. Another decision made in the name of “safety”. No more recess vertigo… gripping the curved metal bars as you hung your upper body out into empty space, spinning inches away from the ragged gravel surface. No more cries of “Mrs. Wendt! Brad broke his arm! He broke his arm!” Fewer casts for classmates to sign. Shutting another doorway to imagination and momentary escape for the sake of protection.

I look around, making sure no kids that live nearby have come to take advantage of the wide fields of the playground, looking for fun in the rapidly melting remainder of last night’s snowfall.  It’s empty. No sounds, No voices. Safe.  Another sigh and I pull out a cig, shielding the lighter with my hand as a breeze picks up. Inhaling as deep as I can. Driving nails and cancer and tar and nicotine and Bad Things as deep into my lungs as the flesh allows.

I look to my left towards the “big field”, as we called the wide, flat grassy area extending from the blacktop and the basketball hoops to the fence that separated the school grounds from the houses that ringed it.  I have to smile at the memories it ignites.  The grass area almost as long as a football field and twice as wide.  In fourth grade, we’d play epic, massive games of soccer, using the fence as one goal and the blacktop as the other.  We weren’t limited to the regulation number of players, and it was not uncommon to have teams of 15-20 kids facing off against each other, chasing the ball across the massive grassy plain like Mongols riding in to pillage.

One time, a kid got too hot, and draped his windbreaker across one of the fences before returning to the game.  I was one of four goalies protecting the fence against the marauding “other team”, and I looked over to see that the cow… a calf really… on the other side of the fence had decided that the windbreaker, being blue and floppy and shiny and pliant, must be some wonderful new food product.  I watched frozen in amazement and horror as the cow slowly, deliberately, began to eat it. Almost the entire sleeve had disappeared down the cow’s throat before I snapped out of my mesmerized state and screamed to the owner of the jacket, “James! This cow is EATING YOUR JACKET!

Every one of the players froze, their eyes swinging over to the fence, staring in morbid fascination… watching as the cow munched away.  James came running over as fast as his fourth-grade legs would carry him, screaming “Don’t just stand there… HELP ME!”  We grabbed what remained of the coat and pulled… and it came… slowly… disgustingly… inch by inch… out of the cow’s mouth and throat, covered in green slime and undigested grass.  Once it popped free of the cow’s mouth, the two of us took the logical step of dropping to our knees and throwing up. Undigested Frito’s and carrot sticks and school lasagna and chocolate milk from a carton all spattering and mixing with the gelatinous green slime coating the battered windbreaker.

Fun times.

There’s the backstop for the t-ball field. Same location, the run between the bases permanently furrowed in a dirt path carved over the years by thousands of children’s feet. The structure is metal now, replacing the towering wooden fram that used to be here, but everything else is the same. The same as it was when I was in third grade.

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

The Homecoming Game – Part 14

Even though I’m in LA for the next few weeks on work, the serialization of The Homecoming Game continues.  Enjoy, tell you friends, spread the word, etc, etc, etc…

 

…..     …..     …..     …..     …..

“You ask me why I’m weary

Why I can’t speak to you

You blame me for my silence

Say it’s time I changed and grew”

Veteran of the Psychic Wars, Blue Oyster Cult

 

X – DIGEST

It’s almost two hours later that I’m “right” with the world… if that phrase can ever be used accurately in describing me.  Post-masochistic shower experience, I make a call and Michael answered the phone on the last ring before his voicemail kicked in. In actuality it was less “answering” than it was groaning, kvetching, complaining and in general terms lamenting the fact that he had to get out of bed pre-noon on his day off… but once his grumbling caterwaul tapered off, he came to pick me up and drive me across the bridge into Lewiston so I could pick up my car.  We agreed to meet up that night, at which time I could make amends for my foisting my drunken melodrama upon him through the purchase of a meal more complex in palette and dining experience than the one we’d had the previous night.

Following the car retrieval (which included my headphones, because like a moron I left them in there before I went in to O’Briens’s), and another trip to the QuickMart (this time leaving with a dozen Red Bulls in the bag, along with a handful of Power Bars) I decided to do some more “reference shooting” before braving the hospital again.  I drove up to the Clarkston Heights, aimlessly driving in the general direction of the Middle School, unsure if I could find it after all these years. After a few wrong turns, and being disoriented by the change in landmarks… less open fields… more parking lots… the appearance of a church almost as big as the middle school itself… rows of temporary storage facilities… I eventually manage to find it, and pull in. The curved drive of the bus drop-off looking much the same as I remembered it from when I attended here. With school being out for the Christmas break, I’m free to park and wander around without the concern of worrying parents or teachers.  While I used to think about things like that in an oblique level of awareness… knowing it from a factual point of view… having kids of your own makes you hyper-aware of strangers being in places they shouldn’t be.

Cautious and protective against Things That Shouldn’t Be There.

The front of the school used to be the band room.  It might still be. There’s no real way of knowing without going in to the building or asking. I spent many hours here… thought the building was so massive. With my love of Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica and Science Fiction, the design of the school felt like an Imperial Base Station or a strange Scientific Outpost on a Tundra-covered planet.  The boxy concrete walls extruding upward three or four feet from the ground, with the flat grey surface bisected across the middle by a line of glass windows a foot high. Jutting a good two feet out over the glass and concrete, the upper portion of the building towers high into the air, a wall of geometric metal sheeting, turned red by age and oxidization. Its steel surface molded into a square sawtooth pattern that extends like metallic pinstripes in straight vertical lines to the top.  When I attended here, the school was still in the “badlands” of the heights… an area that hadn’t been significantly developed… and from a number of vantage points surrounding the school all you could see were the rolling hills of the valley, covered by scrubby wild grasses, pebbles, and weeds. Dirt Bike Heaven for most kids… especially given the era.  When combined with the architectural style of the four structures that made up the school it didn’t take any significant leap of imagination to think of it as being an alien world.

Adding to the perception was the sound the walls made.  The metallic upper part of the structure, especially… appropriately…  the band room (which was the tallest of the four buildings, would make a noise when you gave a short, hard, tap on one the the metal ridges with your finger. A sound like a laser blast, KEEeeCHOOOOOWWWwww, that would shoot up the length of the metal and echo down the sides of the wall. We called it “The Shooting Wall”, and we’d spend countless hours before school… at lunch… after school waiting for the bus, pinging those walls. Imagining that galactic war was raining down on us in this last outpost of humanity.  Years later, watching an interview with Ben Burtt, the sound FX supervisor for the original Star Wars films, he talked about the process of how they created the original laser blast noises and sounds for the films. It seems they had found some high-tension coiled steel wires, that extended dozens of feet in the air to support an antenna of some kind.  Burtt showed how they had held a portable mic to the wire, tapping it with a mallet, which produced the signature ShhhEEeeePOOOOoooWWwww noise of the Imperial blasters.  It was strange and surreal moment, realizing that my pre-adolescent mind had made the connection between two almost identical sources, but that I had… even as a kid… written it off to imagination or wishful thinking.

I light a cigarette, standing in front of the band building. Looking at it. Feeling another small part of my soul dying.

Another sliver, another tiny slice, nicked.

Perry Farrell’s voice echoes in the back of my mind, Chip away, chip away

The open concrete plain in front of the band room, the one that made the metallic, extraterrestrial surface of the wall seem so alien by the nature of contrast, has been covered up now. There’s an average, boring, awning. Flat lines of wood and metal. Keeping the kids Dry and Safe.  The four monolithic blocks that had stood as a testament to this last outpost of education… of the possibilities held in mankind’s intelligence on an alien tundra… have been modified. Remodeled. Expanded. Two large, square buildings built from the four. All imagination stripped from their surface and design, they look like any other Middle School. Any other facility. The laser beam metal sheeting has been bricked over and encased in concrete.

No new messages will ever be sent by 6th Grade fingers to listening ships orbiting our world or solar system.  No faux morse code SOS ringing out along zinging metal planes at lunch time, saying ‘I am trapped here. I need help.

‘Save me.’

I leave without taking any pictures.

 

10

08 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 13

“Well, I ran away and pawned my soul for a switchblade knife

I met a man from Mars and a couple of freaks that night

I wanna take on the world, I wanna bang a million girls

I don’t wanna wear a three piece suit

I don’t wanna be you”

- Face Down in the Dirt, Motley Crue

 

IX – RATTLE

The ring of my cell wakes me at 10:30am. Squinting through the morning glaze of muck on my eyes, I try to read the caller ID. Have to blink and rub my eyes multiple times to clear my vision enough to be able to focus and see clearly enough to make out the name. When I finally see the name, it lightens me. Reduces the grinding bass, throbbing in my skull ever-so-slightly. Thumbing the answer button, I try to say hello with a voice that sounds bright, happy and cheerful. What comes out instead is something that sounds like a bear calling out in warning, or in search of a mate.

“Well, someone had a ‘fun’ time last night…” El’ is laughing. She knows my drinking days are long past. Usually when we go out to any kind of gathering or party… most of them being ‘semi-business related’ I’ll sip Diet Pepsi while El’ drinks wine. Occasionally, I’ll have a glass of wine myself. Rarely… very rarely, I will have two. El can have 5 glasses of wine over the course of a night and not be effected by it in the slightest, except that she gets more “playful”… teasing me with sexual innuendos and promises for activities to be had between the two of us once we are home and the kids are fast asleep. Whispers in my ear that grow more bold and explicit as the night goes on. Making it harder and harder… pun intended… to stay at the gathering for the duration. The combination of her talking dirty to me in her wonderful British accent, her slipping the already barely-there thong she was wearing into my hand after returning from the bathroom… eyebrow arched knowingly, the moments that we’ll be talking with someone about the most serious and boring matter… something invariably inescapable, as it deals with some detail or minutiae crucial to our business… that her hand slides unseen from its place in the middle of my back to quickly, playfully, squeeze my ass. In all honesty, I get so intoxicated by her that booze is completely unnecessary. As my wife likes to tell her female friends, I am “A cheap date.”

I groan, not even bothering to try and cover up the hangover. “Fun? Heh… don’t know about that. Went out with Michael, drank too much. Had Taco Time. Tried to pass out, but didn’t get to sleep until sometime after 3am.” She laughs harder “Drank too much? What, you had a whole three glasses of wine? Glad I told you not to call me… as amusing as hearing you blotto would have been.” I sigh and look around the room, wondering if I thought ahead and bought Red Bulls when I was at the quick mart yesterday. Unable to remember, I force myself out of the bed and do a hunching, crawling walk… Gollum of the Rural Climes… to the minibar fridge. The beer is there, but there’s no Red Bull. No Rockstars or Amps. Not even Monster, the rubber soles of aged tennis shoes that masquerades itself as an energy drink. Fuck. I’m looking around to see if the room has a coffee maker when El’s voice snaps me out of my single-minded quest for life-restoring caffeine. “Jack? You still there, hon?” There’s no coffee maker. Double fuck. “Yeah, sorry babe… just looking around for caffeine of some sort. Actually, last night I was drinking scotch.” I pause a moment before telling her “About a half a fifth if memory serves.”

There’s a soft inhale of breath across the line. This is Not Like Me and, as such, I know El will worry. Part of me feels bad about this, while the other part… the part dealing with a hangover that is getting more and more vicious with each passing second… that part grumbles ‘Good… this damn trip was her idea in the first place!’ Of course I don’t say this to her. Instead I wait. Silent. Knowing an expression of concern is incoming. “Jack…hon, are you doing OK?”

The internal voice is screaming and raging now. The lack of caffeine and the hangover doing a number in double time on me. It howls and gibbers like an escaped lunatic ‘Fuck NO, I am not ‘ok’! I am trapped here in this inbred shithole… a place I spent my whole fucking life trying to get away from… and you made me come back here! My heart is breaking and I hate myself more with every second I spend here, and I want to leave and why do I have to stay?!?

I say none of these things aloud. I bend over the sink. Run the water. Splashing it on my face with my free hand. Taking some of it in to my mouth. Trying to use it to slick down the forest of hair and grit that seems to be growing from the surface of my tongue. It’s incredibly ineffectual. “I’m… surviving. I guess. Looking forward to being back home.” I say the words like the uttering of a whispered mantra… ‘this is not your home, this is not where you live’. “I miss you and I miss the munchkins.” I cut myself off before she can hear the tightening in my throat. The emotional lump that’s growing, painful and hard. Twisting words from calm phrases into choking and tears as they pass over it.

I feel the warmth from her through the receiver “We miss you too. So much, hon. You’ll be home soon.” She pauses for a moment, cautious. “I know you don’t want to be there, and I know that you think it’s a waste of time, but I’m glad you’re doing it.” I’m silent. Thinking. Trying not to think. Trying. “I also know you don’t believe me, but you’ll be glad you went… maybe not now. Maybe not even for years, but honey… I love you, and I know you, and you will be glad you went. Someday.”

I respond with a snort. Disbelief, sarcasm, contempt all shooting out of my nose with the burst. “Yeah, OK… well, while I believe you love me, and that yes… you know me… but I hope you won’t be pissed at me for saying that I don’t hold out hope about feeling this trip is a good idea.” She sighs and the sound instantly fills me with longing and need. Even with this fucking hangover, there is nothing I want more at the moment than to have her in my arms. To have her sigh and clutch at me and whimper and call my name as I slide into her. “Jack… my love… please try to have an open mind. Please?” She let’s the request hang for a moment, waiting until it becomes obvious that I’m not about to accept this easily before she makes the move to drive the nail in. “For me? For the kids? Please?”

I drop to the bed. Exhausted. Sad. Lonely. Empty. Hollow.

Weak.

“Allright” I finally say “I’ll try, ok?” I once told Elispeth… in the early days when we were dating, right before I proposed… that I would do anything for her. Anything. All she had to do was to ask. Over the years, she’s proved to be the woman I thought she was by not invoking that ‘clause’ often. She saves it… knowing that it’ll cause resentment in me, and that… more importantly… it will lose its value, if she were to frequently ask me to do things “for her” against my own desires. The net result is that I can’t refuse her in this. It’s the type of person I am. I would do anything for her.

She knows this.

“Thank you, Jack. I love you very much… remember that, ok?”

I tell her I will, and that I always do, and we agree that it would be wise to wait until my caffeine-to-hangover ratio has been inverted before I talk with the kids. She recommends taking a “Old Country” shower… getting the water as hot as it goes, and standing in it until the skin no longer feels it as scalding, then slamming the faucet control to cold as fast as possible. You then stay in the freezing water for at least one minute.

I tell her, as I have many times, that the “Old Country” is full of fucking masochists. She agrees and tells me to do it anyway. She’s teasing me, poking from a distance at my “condition”, when she reminds me that it has worked every time I’ve tried it, and that I always grouse and grumble like a crotchety old man prior to doing it. I mutter at her that she’s a “saucy wench with a flip mouth” and she laughs, hard and bell-like. Agreeing with me, and shooing me off the line when I try to flirt with her. “None of that, now… call me later.” We tell each other, once again, that we love each other, and she hangs up.

Minutes later I’m still sitting on the edge of the bed, the phone pressed to my ear.

Straining to hear the ghost of her voice across the silence.

 

06

08 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 12

“The moon sheds light when all is dark

The dog’s reaction is to bark

Is that the moon’s fault?

Tell me true.”

– The Dog’s a Vapour – Bauhaus

 

VIII – SECONDS

Back in the room. Half-laying on the bed. Knees draped over the edge, legs dangling. Room in slow spin. The food slowly countering the booze. Don’t feel sick. Not yet. Hopefully won’t. Head lolling side to side. A negative pendulum… ‘No, I will not drink again… no, I am not in “drinking shape” anymore… No, this is not productive or helpful…’ Tick Tock Tick Tock.

Keeping time.

…..

Michael drove us to the Clarkston Taco Time, just on the other side of bridge. The site of many post-drinking-post-bong-hitting escapades in our youth. While there are very few… VERY few… things I miss from the LC Valley, Taco Time is one of them. When I muse wistfully about the majesty of Taco Time to friends in LA, they ignorantly point to the Southland fast food Mexican staples of Taco Bell and Del Taco.

The poor, ignorant fools. That’s like saying canned dog food is the same thing as a good, long-simmering, homemade chili because they are somewhat similar in appearance. Caught up in the surface appearance. Never bothering to examine further. As I’ve noted many, many times… LA is full of idiots and assholes.

My lovely wife, having experienced Taco Time’s glory in Seattle… caving in to my somewhat rabid insistence that she must try the greatest Mexican fast food invented by mankind… mused that perhaps it wasn’t the food that was so good, but instead that it was the memories associated with it. The “good times” I’d had growing up with Taco Time present as a kind of sensory element. That these “fond memories” had resulted in a flawed and inaccurate objective assessment of Taco Time’s culinary merits as a fast food chain when held in direct comparison to others.

I love my wife dearly. She is the sole object of love and lust that fills my heart, and that spurs my desires to heights I had never imagined possible. She is beautiful, intelligent, witty and compassionate. She’s frankly, perfect in every way.

Except in this matter.

We all have our flaws.

(and besides, she’d only tried the crisp bean burrito, forgoing the recommended Chalupa and Mexi-fries, so really… she’s working from incomplete information at best.)

Taco Time hasn’t changed. Not significantly, in any regard. There’s new upholstery on the booth benches, but it’s still Naugahyde. The workers behind the counter have new uniforms, but they are still awkward looking, ill-fitting, and made of polyester. The menu has some new items, but the old standards are still there. Chuckling and swaying, I roll up to the counter, squinting at the kid who waits to take my order with a crooked smile. I pound the counter with my fist. Hard. Startling not only him, but the half-dozen workers behind him… freezing them all momentarily as they scurry back and forth in their efforts to fry up more heart-attack-inducing fast food mexican goodness. My face is a cartoon scowl full of menace, as I track my head left, then right, then back again, as if expecting a hired gun to come into the saloon at any moment. Ready to draw. A high noon shootout. I glare back at the kid. Staring at his face. The state of his skin reminding me of how grateful I am to be well past the age when oily skin and acne used to be a daily concern.

“Gimme a bottle of anything! And a glazed donut… TO GO!”

The kid looks back at me, nervous and weirded out. I might as well have been yelling at him in Farsi or Mandarin.

He doesn’t get the reference. He doesn’t understand. The insane, surreal majesty of David Lee Roth in his prime was well before this kid’s time… possibly even his parents. The realization instantly makes me feel very tired, and very, very old. I sag on the counter in defeat. A marionette with cut strings. Hearing Michael sigh with his best “Jack-this-is-why-we-can’t-go-anywhere-nice” sigh, I raise my head and tell the kid (who’s now leaning away from the counter and my slumped form as if I’ll explode at any minute) “OK, fine… Steamed Chalupa with a side a’ sour cream, Plate of Nachos, Mexi-fries with cheese n’a side a Ranch.” The kid is still cautious as he punches in my order from a distance as far from the cash register as the length of his arms will allow.

He swallows the billiard ball lodged in his throat and manages to squeak out “OK, will there be anything else?”.

I stand, turning unsteadily from the counter, my hand flopping in a dismissive waggle as I dig for the wallet in my jacket with the other hand. “Need a’Big Gulp too… ‘n whatever Nancy McTightass over there’s havin’.” I pull out a $50 bill and slap it on the counter, and give the trembling cashier my best Clint Eastwood (Which I’ll be the first to admit, isn’t very good) “Keep the change… punk”

Mission accomplished, food ordered, I go. Turning and swaying… a human pachinko ball clattering and rattling down the aisle between the booths. Passing teenagers who are likely as drunk as I am. A couple of families with parents staring daggers at me in disapproval. I am a Bad Influence. A Poor Role Model.

Well, no shit… I grew up here.

How could I be anything else?

I slide into a booth, hearing the cashier telling Michael in strained, not-quite-hushed tones that “Sir, this is a fifty-dollar-bill, we aren’t allowed to cash fifties!” Michael attempts to explain that the crazy drunk man is indeed serious when he said to keep the change, and that yes… both he and I understand that the order placed is well below $20, and no we really don’t want any other food to take with us to make up the difference, when I interrupt him, shouting down the aisle to the counter. “Mikey… get s’mma those cinnamon crispios things… whatever their called… if they still got ‘em”. Michael’s a patient man, even if this was not the event he planned on attending tonight. He rolls with the punches, accepts the change to the title card, and straps in for this special limited engagement tour of “Drunken Jack does his hometown”. He calms the cashier down, convinces the night manager that ‘No, really, it’s OK for this kid to keep the change, because if he doesn’t get to, Drunky McHollywood Ass will end up making the previous trauma he subjected everyone to seem pale and mild in comparison.’ A lifetime/10 minutes later, Michael slides into the booth with a tray holding our order. I hadn’t registered it until that very minute, with the cheesy goodness of mexi-fries wafting up, but I’m starving.

Michael lets me plow through the Chalupa and Mexi-fries in silence, watching with bemusement at my ravenous consumption. Three teenage boys… I’m guessing they clock in around 16, maybe 17 years old… stare at us from the booth on the other side of the wrought iron divider. More accurately… they stare at me. I start to stare back, hackles up, ready for it, but Michael stops me. “Dude… DON’T.” He’s said the same exact words to me thousands of times in the years we’ve known each other. Many of the occasions being when we were the same age as the three tittering teenagers who’ve gained my attention.

I’ve been those kids… stupid, drunk, invincible. Sure that you know everything and that the world should drop to its knees in supplication before you… that you are “bad” and “dangerous” and “edgy”.

I want to shake them and tell them how it’ll go for them. I want to shove them to the ground and beat them bloody with my fist… cracking open the skin on their faces that hasn’t even begun to think about sagging as I scream “Not so ‘bad’ now, ARE YOU?!?

I want to hold them and pat the back of their heads and tell them that there will be times… many of them… when it feel like eating a bullet or driving as fast as you can into a concrete retaining wall is the best option, but it isn’t and never will be.

I want to cry and tell them I am sorry.

I want to make them see.

I look away. Close my eyes. Lean back. Sigh. It’s staring at myself. Staring at the sun for too long.

Staring at the son.

I hear Michael’s voice, pulling me back to the here and the now. “Jack… hey man… You OK?”

I open my eyes and look at him. Having eaten… having my blood sugar stabilize… I start to realize just how drunk I am. I lean forward and hold my head in my hands for a moment. Thinking about the last time I was drunk and in this place. In this restaurant. I wasn’t even 21. My fingers laced around my scalp, I think about the fact that… back then…my hair wasn’t thinning daily, nor chopped short by necessity. That it was long and wavy and the point of derision for many of the inhabitants of the Valley. I pinch the bridge of my nose and look up at Michael. He’s waiting patiently for me. Knowing eventually my frustration and anger will flame out and I’ll get past all the bullshit and actually talk to him. Like the drunken and/or stoned trips to taco Time, it’s a pattern established back when our daily existence was driven by little more than hormones and anger and an undying belief that no one truly “got” us. “Emotion parties”, Michael used to call them.

“Yeah… I…” I gesture, ineffectually, as if trying to pull the right words out of the air. “This is just…So… y’know… it’s just…”

“Fucked?” Michaels adds helpfully, smiling at my lack of ability to talk. The one guys he knows who can produce run-on sentences like there’s no tomorrow… that can drop $20 words into everyday conversation without giving it a split-second of thought… the guy who makes his living writing… is stumbling on even a basic level of description.

I sigh. There’s no other reaction possible. I shake my head and look up at him “Yeah… yeah, it is. There’s really no other word for it.”

Michael waits while I pick at the nachos, thinking aloud. Half talking to myself while answering his question. “I swore I’d never come back here, and now… all joking aside…” Another sigh, and I drop the chip I was using to mix guacamole and sour cream into a pale, swirly, green mess “Now, here I am.” I gesture around us at our surroundings “…and it’s the same shit. Drunk to try ignore the situation. Trying to sober up at Taco Time…” I throw him a grin “harassing the staff…” which gets a small, silent chuckle from him in return “…and emotion parties. Same shit, almost 20 years later. Just like I thought it’d be.” I bite my lip, fighting off the wave of emotion flooding up “I fucking hate this, man. I hate being here… I hate most of all that I have to be back here because of him. After everything that happened… everything that fucker put me through… put my mom through…. He’s the reason I come back here?!” My shoulders start shaking. Small, involuntary twitches. “It’s a fucking sick joke, man. It really is.”

Michael nods “I know it is. But…” he pauses, trying to find the most diplomatic way to phrase what needs to be said to me. Gives up after a moment and plunges ahead. “Y’know… you are the one all boozed up at Taco Time, man. It’s not like it has to be that way. ‘No destiny but that which we make for ourselves.’ Or whatever the phrase is from Terminator.” He puts a hand on my shoulder, gives me a sharp, short, shake. “It’s your choice, dude. He’s is the one dying here. You’re just here to witness it… an end to all the shit. Then you go home.” He leans back, taking a sip from his drink, giving me a look of mock-pity while he sucks from his straw “Home to your miserable life with two adorable kids. Home to a wife that could be a model except that she’s actually got brains and a sense of cultural history. Home to your dismal little shack in the Hollywood Hills, just around the corner from Quentin Tarantino. Home to a career where you make more on one project than your old man made in his entire, lazy-ass lifetime.”

Michael puts the drink down and looks me dead in the eyes, making sure I don’t miss this fact. “Your home is there. That is your family. Your Mom died, and let’s be realistic and blunt here… those two kids and that woman waiting for you to get back… that’s all the family you have.”

I think about what he’s said. I know he’s right.

I know it intellectually.

I know it.

When Michael drops me off at the hotel an hour later, after deeming me “too wasted” to drive, there’s something down inside… crawling and scrabbling with glittering claws and sour, rotting breath.

Something dark and hateful and bitter that’s coiling just out of the light.

It isn’t drowned out by booze.

It’s not silenced by facts and logic.

That  black fetid thing softly hisses to me “No he’s not right…it’s not true

….

It’s 3am. Haven’t taken ambien because I’m pretty damn sure the level of alcohol in my system is still too high for that to be a wise decision. Post-booze-and-cigarette headache is starting to come on, and I can feel my guts starting to coil up again. Now that there’s sustenance in them after a day of being empty, my intestines are reacting in their predictable way to the stress. Too exhausted to sleep. My guts feeling like the chestburster from “Alien” is going to come tearing out at any moment through my abdomen.

Too tired to crawl to the bathroom.

In too much pain to doze off.

Back and forth like this, the hours go by.

Morning crawling painfully forward, minute by minute, until finally… exhausted and aching… I fall asleep.

 

04

08 2013

The Homecoming Game – Part 11

Continuing/concluding chapter 7 of the serialization of The Homecoming Game…

…..     …..    …..     …..     …..

I pull out my smokes, and start to shake one out of the pack when Michael stops me with a tut-tutting noise and a shake of his head. “Nope, not inside man.” I stare back, mouth agape. Honestly, truly stunned. “What??!… There’s no smoking inside a bar. In Idaho?! Are you serious?!” He nods grimly “Yep, been that way for a while now.” I’m shaken. Rattled. Like a friend died.An expected “No smoking in a bar in Idaho… the world is completely ending. There’s the proof. Last time I was here, I got asked if I wanted ‘smoking or non-smoking’ in a restaurant! Not being able to smoke in a bar in Idaho is like trying to imagine California without convertibles, or Texas without cattle and oil… The world is upside down, man.”  I need a drink. Badly. Now. I need that waitress to do a bump in the back room and get her ass in gear. Michael shrugs “Yeah… but the last time you were here was over 16 years ago, dude. Shit does change, even in Idaho.” I look at him with a wry twist to my mouth “Yeah, but I bet the Highway speed limit is still 55mph, right?”

He can tell I’m losing it a bit, and motions toward the bar to hurry it up.  The bartender responds by getting in the waitress’ face, angrily pointing over towards our booth, before giving her a hard slap on the ass. Giddy-up little doggie, there’s booze to sell. As she trudges over, holding the bottle in one hand, with the glasses dangerously balanced on a tray in the other, Michael confirms my suspicions. “Of course it’s still 55mph… safety first!” She plants her cargo on the tabletop with a crabby gesture that threatens both the stability of the table, and the integrity of the glasses and stomps away with a sour look.  I’m the kind of person who normally tips servers and waitresses very well. I know how shitty and hellish and exhausting it can be slinging drinks, serving food, busing tables. I’m silently pondering what would have more impact with our waitress… not tipping at all (which she is likely used to), or tipping an idiotically generous amount.  Would getting a $60 tip make her second-guess her behavior, or would it just reinforce her habits and patterns.  All of the variables of how it could play out are running through my head as Michael cracks the metal seal of the bottle’s cap, and pours us each 3 fingers of mid-shelf scotch.  I guess we had to specify ice. In all likelihood, it’d melt to water by the time we got it anyway. We silently toast each other, the thick glasses clicking together, and I slam half of mine down in one gulp. There’s the fire down the throat… rising up out my nose and ears on the exhale. The warmth blooming out from my center… slowly expanding to my chest. Another swig and the glass is empty.  Michael’s looking at me wide-eyed.  He’s drained a finger’s worth of his glass, and I can tell by his expression as I refill my glass that… while he was expecting to drink tonight… he didn’t think we were going to be doing this kind of drinking.  The kind teenagers and college students do before they learn better. The kind you do at parties when you don’t know anyone around you. The kind you do as a form of passive suicide.

 

The kind you do when you’re trying to shore up the dam of denial.

 

I ease back a bit, recognizing the concern in his eyes. I want to talk with my friend. I want camaraderie and brotherhood and laughter and tales. I don’t want him concerned about me. I don’t want him to wonder if I’ve started back down that road. That won’t help me here, and whether I’d say it aloud, I need all the help I can get. “So… other than the usual monkey business of hoping planes at the last minute to go to see Mt. Fuji or attend the Electric Daisy Carnival, what’re you doing?” I clarify myself “…besides agitating the locals for amusement, that is.”
He drains his glass, fills it again, with less this time. “Doing promotion and support for a satellite company out of Portland. They are doing a big push into the “rural” northwest in order to try and beat the cable companies to the punch. Washington State just approved some initiative that’ll lay fiber optic across the state… every home by 2014… so who knows how long it’ll last.” He takes a sip, shrugs “The work’s easy, I get to travel, mostly on my own schedule so I can go see gigs in Seattle or Portland if there’s something worth seeing. It works for now.”  He looks around… slowly… as if really examining our surroundings for the first time. “Whenever this gig is over though, I’m thinking of moving. Head to Seattle or San Francisco.”  He takes another swig and grins at me “Hell, maybe I’ll move to LA, and you can hook me up with a Fahncy Johb in Hollywood with lohts of Mahdels and ACTresses.” He draws the syllabels out like he’s a stereotypical society man seen in a million B movies. Dan Akroyd in Trading Places.I sip from my own glass, then hold it in both hands, looking down at it as I roll the short cylinder back and forth between my palms. “Dude… I hope you know, you ever decide to get out of here… whether it’s two years from now, or two days from now… I’ll help you in whatever way I can.” I drain the last of the second glass, reach for the bottle, pointing at him with one finger as my hand pulls the bottle to me. “You’re too smart to be here. You’ve got too much potential to just exist here.” The caramel liquid splashes into the glass and I look him in the eye so he knows this isn’t me joking or pulling his leg. “You’re smarter and more capable than 90% of the assholes and morons I deal with on a daily basis, so yeah… if you want to come to LA, please do.”

 

He takes the bottle from me, filling his own glass “Thanks. Maybe I will.” A sip taken, he holds it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. Perhaps reconsidering the wisdom of recommending this locale as our drinking destination. “It’s something to think about.” He nods, toasting me with his glass, letting me know that he understands I’m serious, and acknowledging in kind that he is as well.

 

He pulls out the hammer. Tapping the ice. Trying to crack it gently. Not send shards flying that would cause injury or trauma. “So… how’d it go with your Dad?”

 

I drain my 3rd glass. Pour another. Look around the room. Deflect. Misdirect. “I can’t believe how… I know I grew up here, it should be second nature, it shouldn’t surprise me… but it doesn’t matter.” Another sip. Cover the stuttering. The stammering. I mean to talk like this. “Every time, I can’t believe how people talk here…”

 

Michael reaches for the bottle. His glass still half full. He’s not needing to pour… to top off… his own glass. He’s trying to get me to slow down without being a dick about it. Breathe, man. Relax. All these things said in gestures. Shorthand communication between lifelong friends. “What do you mean, how people talk…?”

 

I take an oversized breath, Like a diver that’s been down to long, trying to oxygenate the lungs. Trying to clear the head after having been down in the depths and the dark. “You know… ‘Sure thing sugar’… I actually had a nurse at the hospital say to me with a straight face, ‘good heavens son’, completely unaware of how it sounded. It’s like stepping in to an episode of Green fucking Acres.”

 

Michael snorts, and points toward me, injecting a critical note of clarification “If Green Acres was written by a meth head living with 5 kids by four different fathers in a trailer, using a bucket as a toilet.”The analogy is scary in its precision, and underscores just why I really would like Michael to move to LA. Work with me. If you have any pride in your work at all, you always want to work with people who are smarter than you are. I laugh. Hard and loud, tears rolling down the side of my face. It’s stupid to do so… it draws attention from the cluster of rednecks in the back corner, but I can’t help it. “Dear God… exactly. Dead. Fucking. On.”

 

He smiles and waits. Letting my laughter and tears die down. Watching amused, sipping his scotch, as I slowly pull myself together. The tension that’s been building since I first stepped on the plane at LAX this morning… less than 24 hours ago… a lifetime ago… has been broken. I’m feeling pleasantly buzzed. Warm around the edges. No longer brittle and fragile, capable of shattering at any moment.  The cracks established in the hard surface, Michael tries again. “So… speaking of trailer park life… your Dad?”

 

My head goes to the side as I look at my glass. Resigned now to being “in this”. Accepting that the only way out is to go through it. “Well, on the plus side, he isn’t living in a trailer home anymore… not like he was when I left.”  The corner of my mouth twists, anticipating the completely inappropriate humor in what I am about to say “The down side is that he’s shitting in a bedpan and dying. Hardly ‘movin’ on up’, y’know?”  I get the giggles. Exhaustion. Scotch. The release of tension. Being here. Being in the presence of one of my dearest friends. No other way to put it, I’m fucking loopy.

 

Michael isn’t laughing. His isn’t even smiling.  He purses his lips, looking at his drink while my hysteria subsides. He finally looked up at me, squinting. Measuring. “You had anything to eat today?” This is the flip side of having a friend that knows you so well. They can read… usually without error or flaw… between the lines.  It’s annoying as fuck sometimes. In other moments, it’s what you truly need.  Like now.  I sigh, shake my head. Caught out like a kid caught sneaking a cookie before dinner. “Nah, I…” I snort in self-contempt, knowing how idiotic I sound as I say it “I had some pork rinds before I went over to the hospital.”  Michael’s up, pulling his jacket on, and motioning me to do likewise. “Well, no wonder you’re acting like a 15 year old with his first beer… c’mon buckaroo, let’s get some food in you.”

 

I fumble to get up, miss the sleeve of my coat as I try to put it on. Miss a second time. Manage it on the third, avoiding Michael having to put it on me like I just rolled off the short bus. I’m patting my coat… OCD habit, checking twice that my phone, wallet and keys are where they were put last.  I’m patting a third time… just to make sure… when I notice Michael throwing four $20s on the table as he starts to turn to leave.  I grab his arm, clumsy. Unstable. “Dude… I… I gave you a hard time, bro… but… I… I’m getting this.”  Looking over his shoulder, he cocks an eyebrow. The look of an babysitter annoyed that their charge has proven to be more trouble than initially anticipated. “Jack… c’mon. You can buy the food if you’re really determined to prove you’ve got money.”  He watches me try to process the words. All clever thoughts gone. Dribble-drabble-drop. Down the drain. Finally he puts a hand on my shoulder and gently… but firmly… propels me towards the door. “Now, young man… food.  Jesus, didn’t we learn as young hooligans? ‘Always eat at least 2 hours before going swimming in Lake Drunk’?” I nod, numb and dumb. Eyes heavy, room turning in slow… slow… motion. He steers me out the door and the drunks and barflies, rednecks and washouts, watch intently as we step out into the cold.

30

07 2013