Stories.


“Tell me a story about when you were a little boy!”, Bruno crawls over my lap, his knees poking into my skin, “where has that baby fat gone?” I wonder as a grimace appears across my face. My memory comes in spurts and when it does, it is shaded as if it were hiding behind a soft white, almost transparent curtain. At night. This child has heard all the stories I can remember from my childhood, for the most part these number less than the number of digits on my hands. But the boy never tires of them, in his mind they are always fresh, always new but if I tell the story wrong he commands and corrects my telling, reminding me that I left a part out.

My brother lives across the country, practically in an entirely different country in fact, he lives in Texas and when we talk it is through the hic-cups of our days, mostly when I am driving in my car and he has a moment to spare. I see the other main partner of my childhood, my older sister Erica, more frequently as she just lives down the winding road of Interstate 71 in Southwestern Ohio, near my mother and my nieces. The stories have been bandied about, and if they were a piece of metal they would be burnished smooth by now, as they have traded hands, ears and tongues over the year only the rooms in which they have been told have changed. For the life of me I wish I could remember more, but a childhood spent moving from town to town and school to school (I attended seven by the sixth grade) did not exactly re-enforce memories. I struggled with making friends until the fourth grade, as my brother left my mother’s house in the third grade to end up at living with our father, Zoltan was my constant playmate so emptiness filled me much of my second and third grade years.

Long Island was uh, long, when we entered New York City for the first time, driving straight through from the soon-to-be burned out streets and houses of Youngstown, I was awoken by my mother and siblings, “wake up we are in New York!”, I crawled from the floor of the back seat, no doubt my face filled with the red lines from the plastic floor coverings. I rubbed my eyes and stared straight up out of the window, the highway twisted around high-rises that stood like sci-fi trees, with thousands of lights bursting into the sky I thought of all the people who lived in them. New York City was another world compared to Youngstown, where mornings smelled of rotten eggs from the burning and melding of steel just miles from our blue-collar house.

We lived on the far east end of Long Island, in a small town near East Hampton called Springs. It is best known for being the town where Jackson Pollock lived and William DeKooning lived a few houses down from us, but by that time in the mid-seventies, his mind must have been eaten up by dementia, although my mother remembers him talking to her about us, her children.

For some reason, my memories of Springs (which are very few) are idyllic although we barely spent more than a burp there. My step-father, at the time, David had gotten a job working as a scientist near Montauk which lies at the tip of the Island complete with a massive and brilliant lighthouse. His office, or laboratory (?!) was just down the road from the lighthouse, and I have vivid memories of walking the beach at Montauk as what appeared to be billions of mussel shells stretched over the sand in crunchy bunches that cracked and split under my shoes. The dense odor of salt and fish is still in my nose nearly forty years later. We lived in a small house that abutted a small thatch of woods to the rear of the house, with a quick shuttle through the woods, nary a spit from our back door we would be at a small harbor. We spent hours in those woods and on our small wooded street, where I taught myself to ride a bicycle, got bit by a dog and had a disastrous  first attempt at a sleep over.

There was a community picnic one evening, just off the beach, volleyball was set up and the older children had taken a group of us fishing. The sky was a whirl of clouds, twisting over the ocean, mimicking the breaking waves, filled with grays, whites and iridescence blues that appeared to be a cauldron that could come and swallow the ocean if the universe would only let it. I held an older boys hand, the rain would come, I was certain of that but for now, we were going fishing and my parents lay just beyond the lump of trees that provided a shimmering barrier between the beach and the grilling of chicken, hamburger, hotdogs and corn. In hindsight, this must have been the weekend of the fourth of July. There were piers constructed of hunks of blue and black rock that strode bravely into the sea, where one could fish and stare into the vastness of water while contemplating the smallness of oneself. These were slippery rocks and were instructed not to go to the end of the piers where the water was more dangerous and violent. Only the big kids could go there. A young fattish boy, with a yellow ball-cap helped me bait my hook, I had some experience fishing with my father and told him I could cast the line myself, which I dutifully did. Sitting quietly by myself as the bustle of ten and twelve years old, raged on further down the pier, no doubt engaged in primitive games of masculinity for girls who giggled at their antics, no doubt because they had no other idea of how to react. The fishing rod, pulled gently–a small tug and knowing instinctively to tug a little back and suddenly like shot from a gun, whatever was on the other end of the line swallowed hard and sensing immediately that the food it had just eaten was not a normal dinner as the hook dug deep in its throat, frantically tearing away from the thin line that twisted in its mouth, “good God! What the fuck is this?!” it may have thought, if it was possible for a sea creature to hold such a thought. It fled, and in doing so, my little-boy hands, soft from innocence and barely large enough to hold onto the fishing pole, wrapped themselves around the base of the pole, frantically trying to reel the fish in.

It was a struggle and I was shy, my brother was towards the forbidden end of the pier, no doubt throwing small chunks of rocks into the sea with the other boys, some shouted out behind my slight shoulders, “that kid’s got something!” By now my fishing pole was bending into an almost half moon and the sweat and excitement was now pouring from my brow. “I’m sweating!” I thought, “I never sweat.” Suddenly the fat boy with ball cap, cupped his hands over mine, “let me help you,” he whispered behind me, “wow, you got something big here.” A small group of children hovered around us, trying not to slip on the wet rocks, “be careful” somebody hushed to another. The line was taunt, and for every spin of the reel, the fish would take another foot of wire deeper into the sea. The struggle of the fish was apparent in the effort we were putting into bringing it ashore, with our feet and ankles wading into the sea. Careful not to slip. At one point, it became obvious that we were winning, as the pole almost dragged us into the water, and with a couple of yanks and pulls we managed to shore a long, slick black eel, its body twisting out of the water and the sharp teeth clutching tight against the fishing line. “what is that thing!” yelled yellow cap. “It’s an eel, they are delicious!” I spoke for the first time, “my dad eats smoked eel.” Someone behind me shouted, “that little kid caught an eel!” The realization that I had done something exhilarated me, “hold on!” I screamed and went yelling towards the picnic. Leaving the group of children with the frightened animal, whose entire world had just been transformed into nightmare absurdity, I ran across the sand, “I caught an eel! I caught an eel!” If I had died then, I knew in my heart that I had accomplished something extraordinary. My gravestone, tall and proud, scripted with the words: “He caught an eel.” My mother hearing my shrieks had thought my brother had fallen into the sea, “where is he? is he ok?” She must have thought I was screaming, “Z fell into the sea!” instead of “I caught an eel!” or something like that. Quickly settling things, my parents and others ran towards the pier, and upon arriving on the wet rocks, the wind picking up with thick pellets of rain striking our faces we were informed that the eel had slipped through the rocks and was back out at sea. “did you get the hook out?” I asked, not wanting it too suffer. “Yeah, I was taking it out when it squirmed away” yellow shirt replied, “you are a good fisherman kid,” and he rubbed my head. Zoltan told everybody what happened, how I was fishing by myself and off on my own, and then how I caught the fish, “it smelled real bad!” A part of me was disappointed that the eel had gotten away but I was also relieved.

Bruno loves to hear this story, as I sit on his bed, behind me a large framed Spider-Man puzzle given to him by a close friend and on the other wall a huge Avengers poster (the comic book, not the band), his room littered with Lego’s, Charlie Brown books and on top of his book shelf and Dinosaur Jr. poster. Some nights, as the wear and tear of trying to patch together people’s tattered emotional lives takes its toll on me, I climb in next to him and I tell him a continuous unending story of a father and son, alone of a dingy hiding the plans they had stolen from a mad scientist titled “How to Take Over the World.” His world is simple, easy and I can tell him stupid shit and he’s cool with it, as I tell him the story of the father and the little boy, how they avoid getting caught, I fall asleep. “Daddy, wake up, you’re falling asleep.” Of course I am I think.

 

and a few of Bruno’s favorites:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqZPGT0TsZ8085gaunt-93040805bela2

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