Posts Tagged ‘Appalachian Death Ride’

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.


Part 51: First Christmas

January 6, 2013

Part 51: 1st Christmas

I drove several cars that were bound together with loose ends, one with a starter held in place by the end of a broom handle and it was not uncommon for a few bolts to be laying in the gravel driveway when I pulled out, bald tires struggling to gain traction on the small gray pebbles. Every car ride was a trial in hesitation, deep breaths as the engine struggled to turn over, at times a small billow of smoke emanating from the hood, was it more oil leaking or had that brave wooden handle finally caught fire? there was no money in my wallet, a small black cracked bit of leather I had been given after my grandfather had died. It never had any money in it when he owned it as well. At times, I would look in it, hoping that maybe, just maybe a five dollar bill would appear, but it only held an old Social Security card, a blemished and forged ID and my own driver’s license. Getting gas money was a trial in itself, a mad scramble around the house, pushing aside couch and chair cushions in search of loose change, a return of a few Coca-Cola bottles and a quick rummage through my step fathers change jar that sat atop his misty room. Sunshine illuminating the gray room with specks of dust, in calm panic pushing aside old buttons, scraps of paper with scribbled phone numbers and empty match books, grabbing a handful of change, hoping that there was more silver and copper. If luck was with me, there may be $1.75 or so to put into the tank. Gas was hovering around a dollar a gallon, and a gallon and a half could get an anxious high school boy to school and back a few times. Taking the bus was unheard of, an exercise in self oppression that one would avoid at all costs. It was better not to go to school than to take the nausea inducing trail of fear over the rolling hills and creaky shocks that was part and parcel of the bus number 24.

A date, perhaps the first one with a girl from my high school, even though I was halfway through my senior year, the mutual attraction between myself and the girls of Northeastern was unspoken at best, and most likely in complete abstinence. In the world of avoidance that I tended to move in a furtive glance was what I would hope for, perhaps a short moment of sparkle as quip would dart out of my mouth would give me a moment of hope but usually my own neediness in a mountain of farmer boy machismo would have prevented even the most interested gal to think secondly. My high school dates involved girls from other schools or more often during my summer and spring breaks in Athens where it was ok to wear glasses and be of minor stature.

The snow fell in clumps, big, fat flakes that swirled in circles before nestling atop a field of other frozen particles. The rolling hills leading into Catawba were shrouded in white, at times the snow fell so heavily that the road melded into the side of the road, causing the relic of a Toyota to work extra hard as brakes were pushed and coaxed into keeping the orange metal on course. There was sweat dripping from my hands, and next to me there was a portable Panasonic cassette player with failing batteries but was a better alternative to the generic teased hair music that was prevalent in the mid-west during the mid-nineties eighties. Driving with a slight amount of the overpowering testosterone  that coursed through my body, a permanent hard-on for the past four years of my life had now blended into the reality of a date. Passing barns that appeared asleep, with the white powder of snow freezing them into what appeared to a postcard of a fast vanishing America, the car galloped over paltry hills that were more mounds than hills. Catawba lay on a small bluff, that overlooked several large fields of corn and soybeans, with an abandoned corn mill on the edge of town, it provided a picturesque view of the town but upon closer inspection the years of neglect wore off its lumbering metal sides through chestnut colored rust as it crawled alongside of the mill like a giant spider web. Everything in this town failed the scrutiny test, from the perspective on my seventeen year old eyes, but now as the old mill faded into the mist of snow in a cracked rearview mirror held in place by shiny duct tape, that was no concern of mine.

South Vienna, which some of us referred to as “South-by-God-Vienna!” was roughly six miles or so from Catawba, it was itself a tiny burp of a town, located between I-70 and the old National Road, it almost dwarfed Catawba as it had at least five traffic lights, curbs, a carpet store and a grocery. Jenny lived at the edge of town, in a small ranch right smack dab in the middle of the National Road. The car chugged and surged in the snow, with small burps of exhaust it behaved like the Engine-That-Could while snow swirled around in a winter ballet of young lust and the hope of opportunity. I knocked on the door, trying to make the large lenses on my wire framed glasses smaller by leaning away from the porch light. I wore a bigger-than-me camouflaged US Army jacket that my brother had brought me back from his first foreign deployment in Germany. Jenny answered, and I as I stepped hesitantly into the living room, I eyed her family as much as they eyed me. A little boy lay on the carpet with tiny action figures spread around as if they had been blown apart, two younger sisters lay on opposite end of the couch, staring into the television. One I recognized, Rachel, who nodded at me. She was a freshman. The other just a few years older than the boy, said “hey,” and resumed watching the television. Jenny’s mother, got up from an yellow easy chair, “well, you’re this Bela everyone has been talking about. I have heard so much about you, Jenny says you are very funny. And you live in Catawba, did Jenny tell you we used to live there. I grew up in Catawba. You can see how far, I’ve come,” laughing she added, “all the way to South Vienna.” Wearing a shaky smile, I stammered, “yeah, um, yeah, hmmm….Jenny’s pretty funny herself.” “well, I’m Ginger, and welcome to our house” she turned her head, and raised her voice towards the kitchen, “Harry, Jenny’s date is here!”

Upon those words, the insides of a young man’s stomach crunched a little, and for the first time in what would be a lifetime of emotional hesitation reared its head in my belly that I would lead to the fact that I would be figured out. Jenny’s father entered, carrying a bowl of chips, “hey, how are you” with a quick glance, “you kids better watch this quick, me and the boy will be watching the game in a little bit. By the way,” looking me over again, “what have you got planned tonight?” “Well, I thought I would take your daughter back to the parsonage and fuck her brains out” was the first thing that I thought of but instead I replied, “maybe get a pizza or something, I don’t really know, I thought I would ask Jenny”, turning my head towards her for a rescue. “Sure, that sounds good, Bye mom, bye dad.” She said and pulled me out the door. “you don’t wanna talk to my dad too long, he loves to scare any boy that comes to my house.” I had no money for a date, in fact I only had about $7, five of which I had given to Chris Biester to buy a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. “I thought we would go back to my house, hang out—listen to music.” Jenny thought this was a good idea. She was amazed at my record and tape collection. She had never seen so much music in anybody’s room. My brother Zoltan, home on leave was doing what most young mid-west American’s were doing on Christmas break were doing, getting loaded on a nightly basis. My stepfather was out, most likely at a support group meeting or in Columbus.

Jenny had never heard of much of the music I had, “Who is R.E.M.? Is that short for something? What is the Replacements? I have never heard any of this, oh wait, I know who the Beatles and The Rolling Stones are, you listen to them huh?” She scanned the wall of tapes, “how did you get so many of these, there must be at least a hundred.” Opening the first beer of the night, “Well, I love music, I got to DJ at the Wittenberg radio station for the past few years, so some I taped from them, some from my friends in Athens. You can pick whatever you want to.” Leaning into the wall of cassettes she would pull one out and without looking towards me, hand it over. “Wow, this is a lot. Who is Lou Reed and if he has so many records how come I’ve never heard of him?…..Oh, here play this, I love Pink Floyd and then play this” pushing a Cars tape into my hand. We stayed there in my room, drinking beer, eventually having our first kiss together and with the clumsiness that comes from teenage love, discovered one another’s body’s. When she pulled her top off, she wore an emerald green brassiere and later, to my astonishment, matching green panties which she refused to remove. By the end of the evening we were finishing each other’s sentences, laughing at how we had appeared to know one since birth but had only, tonight really talked to one another. The anxiety I had felt, slipped away, replaced by an inner confidence that, somehow, this is the way things were supposed to be and I was ok with this. The snow covered the car as we left the house, it was nearly ten o’clock and Christmas was just a few days away. Praying for the car to start, the key turned in the ignition, it seemed to have a gasp while groaning, “it had better start, my dad would kill me if he knew we came back to your house.” A deep breath seemed to do the trick, as the ignition turned again, and in some manner looked to have winked at me and came to a shuddering start. The exhaust convulsed with black smoke, the caused us to laugh nervously, and we roared out of the driveway into the twirling snow.

Two days later on Christmas Eve, as we sat in hard wooden pew while Midnight Christmas Services went on, we exchanged notes. Holding sweating hands, one said, “only two days.” It had felt like forever and at the same time as if the future was complete in our twitchy arms.

Below: Jenny playing for only the second time in 14 years, nearly 27 years to the day of that first date. (thanks to Shirley Tobias for the video)