Archive for October, 2016

Jerry and Jenny: Fear, the devil and Archie Bunker

October 16, 2016

The television flickered in the living room, bouncing shadows off the stairwell, and the white walls of the living room, quivering lights made the other room almost vibrate within the otherwise dark house. Archie Bunker bellowed at his forever-suffering wife, his voice overwhelming the confines of the small shrill speaker from the black and white television, meanwhile I crouched under a blanket at the foot of the stairs, counting and checking my breath as it heaved inside my head; surely my father could hear me breathing. Laughter poked through the white twinkling lights of the television, they splattered over the walls and it was a comfort to hear my father laugh, a deep yawp the cut through the fear that seemed to grip me whenever I laid down. Life was a daily trial, as the mornings and early afternoons where spent braving anxiety that caused a child’s mind to stumble and worry, only to adjust on the playground then back into the classroom as the mind wandered, climbing up the posters of numbers, maps and playful cats and puppies that adorned the classroom walls. After school was a time of great relief, building rocket ships, tanks and caves from the prickly branches of various bushes in the neighborhood, exploring abandoned houses and playing pick-up football, eased the ill-fitting mood the fell over my mind like a shawl during school. At night, it could turn to stark cold fear, if I was unable to crawl into bed with my brother, who would at various times let me sleep at the end of his bed and at others would order me to “grow-up, you’re going to have to learn to sleep at night on your own someday.” Oddly, it would take me nearly thirty-five years to learn this lesson.

The comfort of my father’s laughter would help, soon I would curl up on the hardwood floor, the yellow blanket with the frayed corners that I would hold to my cheek, a soothing tactile comfort for a lonely scared kid, I would soon slip off into a deep slumber. Waking up briefly, while I heard my father’s heavy breaths as he cradled me in his arms and carried me up the stairs. Rubbing my eyes, looking up he excited the room, back to his own room that was littered with dog-eared paperbacks the appeared to have crawled in slow movements over his room, like they were small bulky insects exploring the world outside of their rocky abodes.

Realizing early on, I understood he was a lonely man, an immigrant not just in one country but two, fleeing Budapest at the age of four, into Austria and finally to Caracas, Venezuela where at the age of ten he was neither here nor there, not physically nor mentally. My two charming uncles, assimilated well in Venezuela, both filled sharp humor they, who in-the-end always identified as Latin while, their older brother, my father was left to grope for a place of origin. Perhaps it was the ever-moving sense of a changing idea of identity that he must have grappled with, along with the constant transient nature of my upbringing, there was an almost genetic predisposition to being an outsider, even when alone.

After divorcing my mother, he became a monk, spending his days in ivy covered brick buildings of the monastery, whose walls would echo the soft clatter of footsteps, where the quietness of the Lord’s campus could pardon the most reticent nature of humanity. Perhaps.

We would visit him, a broad smile expanding across his face, making his black moustache dance a tiny jig across his upper lip, in his brown robes and sandals, he did, in fact appear at peace; even to his littlest child. When he left the cloistered life, something turned inside, and slowly the safety of my father turned to mistrust as I grappled with swinging mood fluctuations that could result in shouting and violence. My mother had remarried several times at this point, and at the age of ten I attended a church camp where the instructor believed that Satan was walking the streets, and could, quite easily find a place to dwell inside of little boys and girls. “The Exorcist is a true story,” she explained over a plate of Nestle Chocolate Cookies, “if you don’t pray and keep guard, you too, can get possessed by the devil himself. He finds his way into your heart and mind through television, movies and of course rock and roll.” If I had hair on the inside of my body, they would have stood straight on end, mortified, I wanted to rid myself of her words. I asked my mother if the movie was true, could people be possessed? “No honey, it is a movie” she spoke while driving the car, she AM radio blasting out bits of soft-rock hits, perhaps the devil did reside in the easy going tunes of David Gates and Bread?

Going straight to the authority on all things God, I asked my father then next time I visited him and my new step-mother, “Dad, it the Excorcist true?” Sipping a glass of burgundy wine, his eyes peering through gold wire-framed glasses, “Of course it is true, you must always be on guard of the devil.” He swallowed a hearty piece of beef, and stabbed a tomato, “The devil could be anywhere, in a store, on the street or even a restaurant, and he will be charming, maybe even seem nice at first.” He took another gulp from his glass and looked over his wife, her lip quivered a tad and her eyebrows scrunched together, “Bela, yes, he can come at any time, it is why you must pray and go to church. You might see him at the playground or a party, most likely he will be a gay man.” At this, she lost me, “a gay man?!” I asked myself, that makes no sense. Turning off my ears at that point I was ready to pack up my twelve-year-old self and go back to my mother’s, this made no sense but the seed of fear had been planted. The weekly dinners with them always ended in this, a discussion of evil, Satan and to be vigilant and to attend church as much as I could. “But I do go to church, every Sunday, the Methodist church with mom and Bob, don’t worry we go.” I would answer while planning on how I could leave dinner early. “Oh, God doesn’t recognize the Methodist Church, you must go to the Catholic Church” my stepmother would answer as her face grew darker, more serious, my very soul was at stake. “I have to go, I have homework.” That summer between 12 and 13 was a time of constant fear, especially at night when even soft brushes of wind could startle me my deepest core, and while at the same time I was making an effort to distance myself from a father that grew longer in stature but much more distant, an almost statue-like presence in my life, who was harder and harder to relate to. Whose constant paranoia and fear of evil stood in pointed contrast into the stories I read of Christ, as I had delved deep into the New Testament and within a few years after graduation I would return to the Catholic Church, not out of fear but as a spiritual migrant. The rituals, and the deep quiet of the wooden pews, lending a salve to a drinking problem propelled by inner uncertainty. Eventually, the exploration would be solidified in eastern philosophy, and a keener understanding of suffering, and that in the end a breath is just a sacred as a prayer.

My children laugh and go to bed, relatively easy on their own, there are mornings when my bed is stuffed to sides with a clamoring of elbows, knees and feet fighting for space, somehow they migrate to their parents’ bedroom but the nightmares are few and far between. I desire them to laugh and not to fear the world, a world filled with forts, with comic books, with music that moves small limbs in extraordinary positions. Where bedtimes is a time to celebrate the day and a map to the new day of tomorrow, where differences are celebrated, and always a lesson to learn, to help, to be chip away at the loneliness that is a part of everyone, because in the end love should be on a child’s breath not fear.

Advertisements

Jerry and Jenny: Holding

October 2, 2016

Desperation filled the room like a bomb, overhead lights flickered on, stuttering for a moment as if they were rubbing their florescent eyes and then illuminating the quiet loneliness with a shimmering pale glow. Women eyed nervous men, whose boldness was powered by Pabst Blue Ribbon, Jack Daniels and Rolling Rock, the upper hand danced upon arched eye-brows and the hesitation of whatever the next moments would unfurl, the anticipation danced as if on the tips of floating curtains through the window of minor death that comes from walking home alone. For many in the bar, home was filled with roommates who crowded spaces with loud voices, broken cigarettes they balanced on moist lips as words hurried out of manic-y mouths, all competing for a chance to share their bed, to keep the emptiness away, in this context the bar was more home than the cramped and messy student housing was. Dating was difficult when trying to be heard over a room-mate’s stereo, television or the constant interruptions of political or personal discourse. The bar was easier, with a wiggle into the wooden booth two people could wall off the world around them, the invisible barriers that shot up from the dark stained brown of the back of the booth shot to the ceiling, with the wooden table making the perfect meeting point for early forming crushes. Beneath the table, legs and feet could get intertwined sending an immediate message that one may not muster the courage to voice out loud.

The floor was ruddy, with cigarette butts flicked away in detached mannerisms, as if the calm they just supplied for an anxious fellow had never existed. The black and brown bits of tobacco soaked up spilled beer and dashed late night dreams like a sponge of rejection. The music blared from the speakers as bartenders, tired from a night of mixing cocktails, pouring doubles and opening endless bottles of beer shouted above the panicked din, “Last call!! This is your last fucking call! Turn them in, it’s time to get the hell out of here!!!” Just twenty minutes ago these bartenders were the masters of wisdom, able to parse small bricks of knowledge as they slid a drink across the counter or keeping fainter hopes alive with a wink and the sashaying of hips. The exposed brick walls wore a fine film of cigarette phlegm that grew in insignificant degrees as ladies and men stuffed inward anxiety by deeply inhaling from thousands, if not millions of these thin paper-y tubes of mental health supplicants, exhaling with a passion, the smoke leaving their bodies after digging deep inside their nervous souls it would settle on the walls, ceiling and light fixtures. Turning everything a bit yellow, as if the innards of the bar were in fact an alcoholic slowly beating his liver to death, one icy beverage at a time.

Outside, the autumn wind flew down from the black sky, making the leaves dance their dances of death before being torn from chilly almost naked branches, the wind gathered its strength to bring in rushes of cold air near the top of the sky and although we were huddled inside, amidst the noise of guitars and rickety cymbals, the clanking of bottles and deep sighs of anticipation we could just feel the cold outside, it was understood that when we exited the building, pulling ourselves in, cuddling ourselves or grabbing a hold of another nervous hand the chill would remind each one of us of how the fragility of our lives were.

Her bedroom was cluttered, small piles of clothes dotted the floor like musty landmines, an unmade mattress stacked upon a pitiful box-spring mattress was shoved against the wall. The walls were covered in art, placed in uneven rows as if a bird had decided to decorate the room, here was a painting of a nude woman and ten inches to the left, and five inches lower hung a poster of a shirtless Iggy Pop, his pubic hair tempting the viewer as if someone could mount Iggy right there on the wall. On another wall were a line of post-it notes, each one marked by day-glow ink that listed a person and date, no other explanation. The far window was covered with a wooly blanket, thinned in the middle by one to many bodies digging in deep with the passion that only the mid-twenties could bring, the splotch of meager fabric was almost as see-through as a bowl of broth. Books were stacked against the make-shift bed, Anis Nin, Kafka, Betty Friedman, Ken Kesey and hardcover copy of Susan Faludi’s “Backlash” informed any visitor that the woman who slept here was smart, concise, funny and suffered no fools. Inviting a person to her bed was not something that was given lightly.

We were drunk, leaning against one another as we entered the room, she grabbed my elbow with one hand, the other in the small of my back, pulling my shirt up. Skin on skin and the ceiling twirled as if it were made up of helicopter blades. The night started early, at least for me with the 75-mile drive from Columbus to Athens fueled by a six pack of Natural Light before arriving at the Union Bar and Grill at nine p.m. There was no plan that evening, stopping at my brother’s and finding his house empty except for a pack of dogs that climbed over one another while trying in vain to run out the front door. No lock was needed and I barked at them louder than they barked at me, “Get back! Get Back, it’s just me”, squirming some of them were so large my knees almost buckled, “God-damnit, get the fuck back!” Putting a brown shopping bag with a change of clothes and one of Robert Caro’s books on Lynden Johnson (as if I would get any reading accomplished), in my brother’s room and I drove back uptown.

That night as former art students plugged in black amplifiers, sat behind a drum kit whose kick drum had a painting of a laughing clownish man whose crooked eyes followed the audience as the thump-ba-thump pulsated across the floor, we smiled at one another while melodic feedback brought us closer than any word could ever do. The music extinguished the anxiety the bubbled up between us, the past or future didn’t matter while heads bobbed back and forth, nobody had to speak and if they did nobody could hear anyway, in fact nothing could be said while the music blasted all internal fears like a coal mining company blowing the top off a mountain. Her black hair rolled down past her eyes, small languid curls the bent and bounced while light glinted from the various wisps that fell under her quilted hat, she smiled broadly, displaying perfect white teeth that fell into order almost in a regimented fashion. During the course of the next fifty minutes we stood closer and closer, and by the end of the last three songs our legs were in unison, and as the last notes rang in humming ears she grabbed my hand.

One of the last things Jenny had said to me as I walked out the two story house on Norwich was “go ahead and leave, your life is going to be miserable and you’ll never get laid again besides you suck in bed.” She continued yelling through the screen door and the large black walnut tree casted even darker shadows that then cloud filled night was already doing, as I trudged across the lawn, these small pockets of inky blackness would swallow me whole for an instant, a reverse strob-light as I bounded away from the insults. A part of me yearned to turn around, as the words nicked the insides of me like a small pen-knife, that section of my being wholeheartedly believed her, that in the end being defective was what I was in essence while another part did not believe her and continuing the way we existed was a life that was doomed to eventual death by my own hand. Alcohol had risen around our ankles and although I was only twenty-two, life had become quicksand, the vomit looking quicksand found in nineteen-sixties B-Movies and there wasn’t much left to do except exist with no hope for happiness. It was October just a few years prior to the experience described at the beginning of this entry, the ground was muddy, there was very little that would grow on the slight slope of the front lawn. Wet leaves had already started rotting into the soil, a slight breeze swept from the west with a tablet of cold attached just to make sure that a person felt small against Mother Nature. Against the backdrop of the stone church that bordered the yard, I glanced up, a few small tears trickled down my face, feeling nothing except for the hope for a God that I wasn’t really sure about I said a prayer and climbed into the car. I would spend that first night in Athens, the hour and a half drive providing thoughtful calmness and solidifying, what was perhaps, up to that point in my 22 years, the most terrifying decision I had ever made. It felt as if my entire life was one melodramatic scene from a shitty movie when all that was wanted was a slap-stick comedy.

A small, damp and disorganized apartment in the basement of the James’s house, they were lifelong family friends, the eldest child, Lisa was my sister’s best friend in high school. While the middle son Ian was a tall blond haired, intellectual rabble-rouser bonded with Zoltan, both of them made well-worn paths in plenty of the townie bars. The apartment had a side entrance, from a brick constructed alley that climbed up from State Street to the toppermost street in the county. In the winter one could easily slip near the top of the hill and slide straight into State street in a whoosh. The apartment was small, hardly an apartment at all, a bedroom, a hallway and the stairs led up into the kitchen, itself cramped with dishes, grocery bags and a coffee pot that had almost fossilized bits of burned coffee grounds molded into its base. Arriving in the middle of the evening, sitting on the edge of the bed holding a Rolling Rock, it had seemed that the future was but a panic attack away.

I stayed in Athens for the weekend, keeping to myself as I nursed the broken bits of ego and raw self-esteem, and drove back to work at Used Kids early Monday morning. The start of a pin-ball styled existence that would ricochet my life from bed to bed, bar to bar and of course, record to record had, unbeknownst to me, commenced and would continue for the next decade. As my Monday evening shift ended at Used Kids ended, the thought of driving to Athens and sleeping in the musty, sad apartment, itself a veritable crumpled brown paper bag of a room, almost staggered me. I called my friend Joe Moore, whom I had met while living in the Ohio State dorms, Joe and his friend Frank Peters had won my friendship by plastering their dorm room walls with posters of the Rolling Stones, Husker Du and the Replacements. “Joe, what are you up to?” Without flinching, “you need a place to stay tonight? I heard about you and Jenny.” That night after a few drinks, and listening to records, lying next to a woman with long red hair in the back bedroom, telling her stories of a broken heart and how it had been laid-way by the jabs of Jenny.

Her bed was cramped, almost glued to the wall as the room pressed in upon us, it could have been a large closet instead of a bedroom. Joe had mentioned to me earlier in the year that he had been sleeping with her for a while, but now, the hallway between their rooms might as well been the Atlantic. Her hair lay around her head in bunches, we were like eighth graders, talking to the ceiling as we talked to each other, unloading the worst experiences of our lives while never looking at one another. After a while, the words lost all fuel and the room was filled with separate breaths trying to play catch up with the other. A soft nervous panic rose from the middle of my bones, cut through soft skin and hovered just centimeters from my body, it was soon punctured as she placed her left hand on my thigh. And soon, we rolled to each other, sharing soft kisses while the hands roamed and fumbled and finally I pulled away. The thought of Joe sleeping in the other room, the pain of Jenny and finally, and most loudly the doubt that this was a real thing. “I can’t do this, can we just sleep?” “yes, if that’s what you want,” she murmured, gripping my uncertain hand.

Larry’s was emptying out, as wounded egos shuffled out with a six-pack in hand, the lights flickered on and some of us, with the hope that glistens like a bronze bell during the noonday sun inside of us giggled into the street. Bouncing with drunken giddiness I held her elbow as she cupped her hand into mine, my other hand holding fast to the cardboard handle that held the beer that would take us deeper into the night like a beacon sitting in a far off hill. She laughed freely, and smiled against my shoulder, we had not yet kissed but at this point it was a formality. Sauntering up High Street as a fistful of cars passed slowly by, on the lookout for the police we soon headed to Pearl Alley as it provided more privacy amongst its bits of broken glass, crumpled up fast food bags and the smell of alcohol and piss. Roughly was block down, we stopped as she backed me into the cold brick of a building long torn down, and kissed me full on the lips, flitting herself into my mouth she held me with eyes wide open and felt me against her. Cheeks flushed, kissing while street light hummed above us we walked some more, cutting up to another, more residential street, the large maple and oak trees swayed above us, mimicking my drunken gait, the soft shadows of the leaves making small splashes of darkness against our bodies as if nature had constructed an organic strobe light to frame our slow dance of loneliness deferred. In her bed, we kissed and giggled some more, as we lay naked in her bed, candles stacked like small wax trees around her windowsill, her dresser and her floor. “I need to tell you something before we do this, ok?” lifting her head as she looked me in the eye. Her smile disappeared in that moment, “what? Is something wrong?” I whispered, waiting for the other shoe not to just drop but splinter like a raindrop on hot cement. “I’ve been sleeping with Jerry on and off for about six months.” Bubble thought burst in my head. “I don’t care; I won’t tell him if you won’t.” leaning back into the her bed. “I won’t” she smiled as we grew closer. That night, it wasn’t guilt that closed the evening as if it were made of soft doors shutting it was too much beer and whisky as after some struggles we decided to sleep as birds yawned their early morning songs.

Saskia takes her time dressing every morning, and after we go to the gym together she says,

“dad, wait for me I will be out in 20 minutes. I have to get ready.”

“Honey, no you don’t we just worked out for an hour and your mother is waiting. Hurry up” I sigh annoyingly.

“I just have to put on my makeup.”

“Nobody puts on make up after leaving the gym, not even Taylor Swift” looking for someone she can relate to.

“Ok, give me five minutes” she shouts from across the lobby of the gym.

She is eleven, experimenting with her looks, her discovery of fashion and now, with sparkling whispers she tells her mother of boys and happenings at middle school that her father, no doubt could ever relate to. Offsetting everything with humor, I make her laugh, she tosses the sarcasm back at me, and shakes her head. “Dad, you are not cool, you have no idea.” She wears her mother’s clothes, and balances her growing tall body on skinny shoes, as I stand in the kitchen nursing another cup of black coffee, hoping that while she walks into adolescence and young adulthood she is spared the self-doubt and ache of solitude that has hung around her father as an invisible cape since the third grade. “Dad, seriously you don’t understand what I’m even talking about as she dances clumsily on high heel shoes while holding her phone to her ear. I suppose not.