POST-OP WEEK 27
week of August 3
“Don’t worry about a thing,” my dad used to always say. “Cuz nothin’s gonna be alright.”
He thought it was funny, I guess. Sometimes I think he was serious about it. It was his philosophy. Maybe he and his family and then our family had such crappy lives, it’s how he thought things regularly went. Murders, rapes, almost shooting your brother in the head, alcoholism, embezzling--- that’d be enough to make anyone negative.
He said it quite a lot.
He became known for the phrase in the family. It was his “Git ‘er done!” or “Yabba Dabba Doo.” Except--- he’d use that phrase when I’d ask him dad questions about life or I’d tell him things that happened to me.
“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing… Cuz nothin’s gonna be alright. Heh-heh.”
It wasn’t until years and years later that I found out it was the title of a jazz song by Mose Alison. We rented that Bruce Willis/Matthew Perry movie, The Whole Nine Yards. Don’t ask me why; it seemed like a good idea at the time. Actually, it was an okay movie… but imagine my surprise when the opening credits start to roll and this song comes on, singing my dad’s philosophical wisdom all over the screen.
A quick Google search tells me it came out in 1962; one of Mose Alison’s hit songs. Now, did my dad hear the song and think it was funny and so used it all those years? Was it somehow a popular song that I never heard of? Or was it a popular phrase of the time that Mose put in one of his songs? Don’t know if I’ll ever know.
If my dad thought it was joke, but it wasn’t really all that funny. Not as an answer to your son asking for advise. Maybe it’s supposed to be ironic. My dad really wasn’t all that ironic, I don’t think. He didn’t strike me as the ironic type. Maybe it’s saying: life throws crap your way, roll with the punches. Ah, but that was my Leave It to Beaver moment…
My mom used to take me clothes shopping two times per school year. I guess at first she did the shopping, picking out my clothes for me, I don’t remember. But then, after a while, I got some input. She’d still pay for it, she’d still come with me, but I’d pick out the outfits. And they’d be outfits, too.
We used to shop at Just Pants at the mall they just built in the next suburb over. Malls were a new concept back then.
I got my first pair of bellbottoms in about 8th grade. Until then, my parents didn’t “allow” me to have them. They were just pants that were wider on the bottom, but I had to nag and whine until they caved. I’d get those tight shirts/tops with dragons embroidered across the front in purple. Sometimes I’d get shirts with Mickey Mouse patterns, small little Mickeys in some pose with Minnie--- and a matching sweater vest. The sales girl would help my mom and me put together “outfits”--- things that would go with each other or separately, too.
I had a Nehru shirt, too. That I liked quite a lot. Not a full-fledged Nehru jacket, it was only a shirt--- with a plastic zipper up the front. But it had the collar.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but I started keeping a “schedule”, I guess you’d call it, of what I planned to wear and when, you know, so I didn’t repeat my outfits too often. Because, you know, everyone at school was keeping track. I’d mark them down on a calendar--- these pants with that shirt on Monday. Those other pants and this shirt on Tuesday. Like that. I don’t know how long I did that. I don’t think it lasted into high school.
[You know, I don’t keep a calendar anymore but I am conscious of repeating a shirt too often. I guess I notice when other people only have four shirts, so I don’t want that to be me. I also know that if I didn’t go to work in an office, I’d wear the same couple of pairs of jeans and 2 or 3 of my favorite, comfortable shirts.]
There was one pair of pants that my aunt Natasha MADE! Imagine that, she could make pants! They were just blue denim but I used this liquid embroidery stuff to write a saying along the bottom at the cuff: “It takes two dwarfs” it said on one leg. And “to mail a letter” on the other. It was a George Carlin joke that I liked so much, I thought I’d paint it on my pants.
Natasha made my cousin Joey a pair of pants in a thick velour-like fabric, in deep purple. It had a ring as a zipper pull at the fly. I had another pair of custom pants made out of white denim with big, blue paisley swirls all over it. I think maybe my mom tried making pants, I don’t know.
It was the early 70s, we were stylin.’
I had two shirts in high school with “pirate” sleeves, I’d guess you’d call them. The sleeves bloused out at the wrist, like Jack Sparrow would wear and Seinfeld made fun of. I loved those shirts: one was in a sort of faux snakeskin pattern.
I got a pair of platform shoes, too, covered in cork. French Star jeans with the glitter on the back pockets. I had a pair of overalls, too, they were big for a month or two. I was a real fashion plate up at the bars in La Crosse.
By junior college I had a second par of platforms, beige leather, and a brown leather jacket with superfluous zippers. It wasn’t until I went to Southern that I got a little more reasonable with my wardrobe. I started dressing for comfort. Although I like to think I still have a good sense of color and what not to wear. My wife says I have, maybe, twice as many clothes as she does.
I had trouble with pee.
I wet the bed; I’ll admit it. My mom would keep liquids away from me each evening and make me go the bathroom before I got into bed, but still, once a month or so, I’d have an “accident.” This went on ‘til I was, I want to say, fifth, sixth grade, I guess. I don’t have an exact age.
My mom told me I was a sleepwalker. Getting up in the middle of the night, looking for the bathroom, thinking my build-in set of drawers was the toilet. She’d hear me rummaging around and run over in the night to steer me away from peeing in my sock drawer.
Sometimes I’d be sleeping so soundly, having this wonderful dream. Then, in my dream, I’m looking for the bathroom and I find one and start to “go.” Except it was a dream and I was still in bed so that’s where I’d actually be “going.” I’d wake up, completely shocked and feeling very bad at what I let myself do.
I grew up with a plastic, fitted sheet sort of thing under my regular sheets; it always crinkled when I got in or out of bed, that was the sound of sleeping for me. My mom didn’t let me go over to anyone’s house for a sleepover (even my best friend Bill) because she was afraid of the whole wetting the bed thing.
[I was always a REALLY sound sleeper, could sleep through anything. My parents used to tell me that when I was born, my dad had a three-day christening party--- loud, raucous drinking with music and all that. They’d bring me into the party room, music blaring, and I’d sleep right through it. It wasn’t until the heart surgery that I had trouble sleeping. It’s getting a little better, but it’s not like before.]
There was this weird moment in my childhood that I don’t really understand, even today. I was in the library at school with my class. It was probably sixth grade. And I was starting to get that “I’ve got to pee” feeling. I thought I could hold it, I guess, but it kept getting worse. But for some weird reason, I didn’t want to ask the teacher or the librarian to leave so I could get to the bathroom. So I tried some more to hold it. But it kept getting worse. Still I didn’t ask. The urge to pee wasn’t nearly as strong as the fear of asking permission to leave. See? Weird. Eventually, I couldn’t hold it any more and I peed in my pants. I don’t remember if the teacher found out and sent me home or I somehow hid it from her.
POST-OP WEEK 28
week of August 10
After a year or so, maybe longer, of living in a trailer in outside Miami, my sister Sue and her husband Fred were somehow talked into moving up here. He worked as a poolboy for a hotel; I don’t know if my sister had a job. So they came up north. I think they moved in with us at first. But, unlike my other sister and her husband, Sue and Fred were looking to get out right off the bat.
They quickly looked at real estate around the area and somehow settled on a little place on the other side of the same suburb from us, about six or eight blocks away (you can’t get too far from anything in my home town, it’s only a mile square). It was a small place, two bedrooms, small kitchen, a bath and a half with a dark brown spot in the living room floor where the former owner died.
The person who owned the place before was one of those older ladies who kept to herself, just her and her dog, living alone. The outside of the house was overgrown with trees and bushes crowding out the front and the back. One day, apparently, she died. It was somewhere in May, maybe June, no one could be sure. But one day, in August, the neighborhoods finally noticed the huge pile of newspapers stacked up around her front door and they called the police.
They found her, dead, on the living room floor. She was bloated and her skin had turned black. My cousin, the cop, showed us the pictures--- the police took pictures of all the crime scenes that happened in town, there weren’t very many, so they kept them in a folder that, I guess, they looked at from time to time to gross people out.
There was the old man who froze to death in the fishing shack on the river, a car accident or two, and this lady. They came to the conclusion that she had been closed up in her house like that for two or three months, the summer months. You could see in the black and white, over-flashed picture she was flat on the floor between the couch and a big coffee table, in front of the TV. The table was covered in condiments: salt and pepper shakers, spice bottles, everything you’d need if you spent your time eating in front of the tube. Her dog was dead beside her. The cops said, even the mice in her kitchen were dead.
When the real estate agent showed the place to prospective buyers, the body was gone but the carpet was still there, giant, brown stain and all… And by all I mean the SMELL. I smelled the carpet after it had been ripped out and thrown in the backyard for a week or two. All I had to do was pick it up from the backyard and drag it to the front and dump it in the street and it was really nasty.
I can’t believe they showed the house that way, the price must’ve been right because despite the foul smell, my sister and her husband bought it. We all came over one weekend and cleaned. I did the carpet and then chopped down trees and cleared brush in the yard. There was painting, I think, and they sanded the dark spot left in the hardwood floorboards. Over and over and over, until it was beginning to get concaved. I’m not sure why they didn’t just replace the boards (they do it all the time on HGTV) but they ended up just covering it with wall-to-wall carpeting anyway, so they stopped sanding.
It was a nice little house. I’d babysit their big German Sheppard when Sue and Fred went on vacation 2, 3 times a year because, apparently, I was the only person the dog got along with. Everyone else, she’d snarl and lunge at. Me, she’d come up to and nuzzle her nose in my hand. Hm. Anyway, I’d come over once or twice a day, maybe, feed her, watch TV, take her for walks. Sometimes I’d sleep overnight to keep her company and I’d be listening for the ghosts of the lady and her dog. Actually, I can’t say that I heard any…
My mom went to a beauty parlor when I was a growing up. I little shop on the edge of our suburb. I think it might’ve been attached to the apartment where the woman lived. Mom’d go once a week: wash, rinse, maybe some color. Then the woman (why do I think her name was Bonnie?) would rat my mom’s hair up into curly do, a shell on top of her head and spray it solid with a can of hairspray.
She’d take me with her sometimes.
The do lasted a week. My mom wouldn’t wash it or touch it as far as I could tell; it just stayed that way until her next appointment.
I’d play in the waiting room out front or come into the beauty shop part sometimes, where the styling chairs were. The whole place smelled like Aquanet and cigarettes. I don’t know if I saw this for myself or heard someone tell it as a story but every so often Bonnie would change the filters on her window-mounted air conditioner and they’d be caked in a thick, sticky film.
Sometimes my mom dyed her own hair. We’d have those little plastic Breck bottles everywhere. We’d use the ones she didn’t for dish soap and other things around the house. And eventually she went with a loose hairstyle she did herself. I don’t know why the switch but she stopped going to Bonnie’s which I guess was good--- it meant her hair didn’t get stuck in a decade.
Growing up, I got my hair cut at barbershop, probably where my dad got his cut, but I don’t know that for sure. They’d give me a buzz, as instructed by my mom, short enough to expose the scar on the back of my head so the kids could continue calling me Carrothead. He’d shave the back of my neck with a straight razor and send me out the door with a stick of butchwax, that reddish, waxy stuff to keep my hair standing up--- the 60s version of product. If it was summer, my neck would always hurt for the rest of the day because of the sun and sweat on my raw skin.
One year I reached the point where I wanted to get my hair cut at a “place” instead. My parents didn’t know a “place” so mom suggested Bonnie--- yeah, she’d do a good job. Someone who did old ladies hair for a living would definitely know how to cut a teenage boy’s hair in the mid-70s. So we went over to Bonnie’s and I described what I wanted. She snipped away. The result was this sort of hacked-up pageboy mullet hybrid; it was nasty.
I was in a state of shock. I don’t think I cried, but I was really upset. I insisted to mom that I didn’t want to go to school the next day looking like that, I couldn’t. She called me out the next day and we found a “place” somehow, maybe out of the phonebook, in the next suburb. It was a guy, who looked like a drummer for a rock band, Bernie, Barney, something like that (he called his shop The Headquarters or something). He fixed it somehow and everything was fine after that. I kept going to him for haircuts for years and years after that.
I get that way with hair people. I’m more loyal to them than doctors… I was bouncing around doctors for a while, but I followed this hairstylist I found on Lincoln Avenue when she moved to Oak Street then another place and vanished. I don’t know if it’s vanity but I know I don’t want a repeat of the Bonnie hack job.
POST-OP WEEK 29
week of August 17
My first crush on a girl was probably seventh grade. We used to only “change” for two classes in 7th grade, meaning we spent the majority of our day in our homeroom class, studying everything but two subjects when we’d get up and go into another room somewhere else on the same floor of the school. 3, really, I guess: math, English, and gym.
Obviously, you couldn’t have gym in your homeroom and, thinking about it now, we probably switched the other two because there’d be “levels” involved, kids would be at different levels of expertise in math and English (I, for one, was a slow reader, so I’m sure that had something to do with my placement in English class.)
So my crush was in my English class, I bet, I know I only saw her once in a while. I’d sit there, two or three seats away and moon at her. I never spoke to her, never made a move of any kind. I just had a crush. As I remember her now, she was cute: little girl, brown hair, little nose.
My best friend Jim had a crush at the same time, too. I don’t remember her name (Karen, maybe, Susan). I thought she was a blonde. Neither of us did anything but have a crush and then razz each other about it. We’d remind each other about the girl: Hey, Karen, huh… Kare-innnnnn. So nobody at school would know we had these crushes, we came up with code words for them. I vaguely remember that they’d be a play on their name and then a play on that. Like my crush’s name sounded like another name that was like a character on a TV show. So our nickname/code word for Karen-Susan would be Spock or something like that. Or Captain Kirk. So instead of saying “Hey how’s your crush on Karen-Susan that you’ll never act on?” and everyone at your lunch table knew exactly what you were talking about. You could say “Hey how’s Spock?” and everyone would think you were just weird.
Somehow people found out that we liked these girls and the girls found out, too. And then--- nothing happened. I don’t remember them being repulsed by it. But they didn’t get all moony back at us. That was just that. Hm, okay, crush. Okay…
The smell of skunk reminds me of warm, summer nights when I was a kid: in Wisconsin and at home. Whenever I’m outside walking or driving in a car or just sitting on the porch and the faint smell of skunk spray comes drifting by, I always get happy. It was a constant nighttime odor in Wisconsin: La Crosse and before, at our cabin and even in my wife’s mom’s place in Rhinelander.
My kids think I’m weird; they think it stinks. Now, granted, I’ve never been sprayed. Up close that skunk smell might not be so thought provoking. But from a distance it’s nostalgia.
That course grass smell does the same thing. There’s this grass, a course prairie-type grass that we have here that’s all over Wisconsin. It grows well in sandy soil. So the grass/sand combo really makes me melt. Gasoline, too. Growing up we had an electric lawnmower. I’m not sure why we didn’t have gas, maybe because we had such a small yard, maybe because of my dad and his electrical engineering thing. But we had an electric. So the only time I got to smell gasoline was when we were filling up the boats on the lake. Ski boats, fishing boats, whenever we’d go the gas station to fill up the gas cans, here’d be that smell.
The smell of cheap spaghetti sauce always reminds me of a cafeteria and that first traumatic lunch in sixth grade. (more on that, later)
Chanel No. 5 reminds me of my mother. The once or twice a year my dad would take her out--- to my uncle’s reporters’ dinner, where ever ---and she’d get dressed up. She’d spray on Chanel and leave her lip prints on a piece of toilet paper in the bathroom trashcan.
Burning wood from a campfire is nice. And new-mowed grass.
That smell the kids get on them from playing outside all day, in their hair and on their clothes... I love that smell. My wife always says she hates that smell and tells the kids to go take a shower. I like it, I think because it reminds me of the way our pillows smelled and our clothes that my mom hung outside to dry. They smelled like outdoors, like nature. She’d stick our pillows out the windows across the second floor of our house. The stuck up snob neighbors must’ve loved looking at that on the nice, spring day--- pillows poking out of our storm windows. To her defense, she only did it out the back windows.
Anyway--- our pillows and blankets sometimes smelled like that, like outside. She couldn’t wash most of our pillows because they were stuffed with down feathers. My mom made them. She’d get that pillow fabric--- the reddish colored cloth with the little white designs on it. She’d sew two pieces together on three sides, then go into the bathtub with piles of goose feathers and stuff them. They were big, too. She made them custom sizes, like 3 feet by 3 feet for the living room, smaller ones for bed. We’d lie on the big ones, all bunched up, tucked under us, and watch TV on the floor.
I didn’t have one for my bed, though, because allergy doctors told my parents I was allergic to feathers. I slept on foam.
When my daughter wasn’t born yet. When my wife was only 3 months along or so, they did a test on her--- an AFP test. They do it on “older” pregnant women. Her number came out high for someone her age which means that there was a chance that our daughter might have a genetic defect, Down Syndrome or some such thing. The thought was that if they found something they thought was wrong, we could have an abortion so we wouldn’t have to deal with it.
Since this was our first, we did everything they told us without thinking and my wife went in for an amnio. They stuck a needle through her bulging belly and into the amniotic sack to pull out some of the liquid in there. I thought it was a pretty nasty to watch and I think I had to leave the room so I wouldn’t faint.
They do an ultra-sound the whole time so they can see were the baby is and not poke her with the needle going in. When it was all over, I came back into the room and they told us it’d be a week before they’d have the results, go home and relax.
The next week we waited and tried not to think about it. Except we thought about it. We came to the conclusion that even though we believe couples, moms, women have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies, we’d love our baby no matter what genetic problem she might have had so we wouldn’t dream of aborting her. That’d be our choice.
So when the time came and we were sitting in the genetic counseling office at the hospital waiting for the doctor to come out and give us the results, we weren’t exactly in a super serious mood. Everyone was very quiet, speaking to each other in hushed tones, huddling together in bunches of two. My wife and I, for some reason, were kind of “up.”
They gave us a questionnaire to fill out, my wife had it on her lap and I was looking over her shoulder as we went over it together. It was, like, 18, 20 questions about our ethnic background, family history, diseases, stuff like that. Then we came to the last question: “Are you and your spouse related to each other in some way other than by marriage?”
For some reason, this question struck us funny. I said, “Don’t you think they should’ve asked that question first? That would’ve saved us a lot of time.” My wife did a Southern accent: “Dang it, sis they done caught us!” And she started laughing… And laughing… And laughing… She could not stop herself. It was a fit of hysterical laughter that kept on going. There were tears in her eyes. The other couples looked up at us in shock. A doctor, passing through the doorway, stopped and scolded us: “There is nothing funny about genetic counseling,” he said. But she kept on.
Eventually, she calmed down and we had our interview with someone who told us everything was “normal,” there was nothing to worry about. But that was the start of it--- my wife’s laughing fits. She’s had them since. Used to be only when she was pregnant, but now she’ll have them every once in a while. The kids love to watch her, egging her on.
POST-OP WEEK 30
week of August 24
I used to go on errands with my dad on weekends. Sometimes it was with my mom, too and little sister. I used to think that he was just going shopping, which we were. But now that I’m older with kids, I realize he was doing what I do on weekends--- getting things done, buying stuff you need--- errands. And just like me, he’d take a kid with him.
We’d go to Topps, I think it was called, a big K-Mart type place. I don’t know what he’d get for himself, but he’d always get a little something, some GI Joe accessory or a Hot Wheel car, for me. (That’s another thing I do with my kids, get them a little something--- it’s a tradition!)
One day he had to go to the bank. We parked the car and went inside and up to a teller, a young woman. I’m sure I found something to do, I usually did. [I liked to fiddle with the pen on the chain in banks, I still do. I’d take the pen out of it’s holder and lay it down on the counter, a foot or so away. Then I’d flick the top of the pen back and forth, quickly. This made the chain ripple across the countertop in “waves,” bigger at the pen, getting smaller by the time it got to the base of the holder. The wavy pattern fascinated me. Tons of fun.]
My dad finishes at the teller and we leave. I think we made it as far as the car when he said we had to go back in. He went back to the woman and told her she gave him too much money, $400 too much. She was shocked; she was overjoyed. They probably would’ve taken it out of her paycheck. My dad saved her from a very short payday that week. She was falling over herself, thanking him. My dad said something like “don’t mention it” or “no problem.” Then we got in our car and finished the rest of our errands and he didn’t say another word about it.
I had a friend named Scott Scott. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Scott, thought it’d be funny, I guess, to name their first-born child Scott. They thought they couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. So people called him Scott-Scott or Scott2. His middle was Bradley, mom and dad didn’t want to go overboard with the joke; they weren’t cruel.
I didn’t really know Scott Scott when he went to the same high school as I did, he was a year or two ahead of me. I didn’t know him then. I knew OF him, everyone knew Scott Scott, especially if you were a girl. I met Scott after we had both messed up in regular college and were going to junior college to bring our grades up.
He was a ski instructor at whatever the slope is nearby (Wilmot, is it?). He was into meditation and self-hypnosis. He could hypnotize other people, too. We hung out together quite a lot, really, the more I think of it. When his little sister needed a date to her senior prom (but didn’t like any of guys she went to school with) I took her and Scott took her friend--- so we double-dated to our old high school’s senior prom two years after we graduated!
When I somehow got talked into performing in a play at the local all-girls Catholic high school--- Our Hearts Were Young and Gay ---he got talked into it, too.
[One of my other friends had a friend who had a sister at Trinity High School. They were having auditions for guys. They needed guys. So, one night this friend said: before we go hit the bars, I’ve got to go to the girl’s high school, read a few lines, audition, and then we can go. You don’t have to do anything. But, somehow, we ended up reading, too, and my friend and I got parts. His friend didn’t, of course. But we did. We convinced Scott Scott later. He wasn’t with us that night we auditioned, but somehow he got a part. I told you, they needed guys!]
So Scott hung with us and the Catholic girls. We drove down to Ft. Lauderdale on spring break, the two of us taking turns behind the wheel of my Mustang II. One of us drove while the other one slept until it was time to stop for gas, then we’d switch. Twenty-two hours, it took us, to get from Illinois to our Holiday Inn in Ft. Lauderdale. And we only almost drove off the road into on-coming traffic once!
This drive and sleep and drive method worked okay for a while--- except the driver never got any company, no one to talk to while he was behind the wheel, to keep him awake. And the sleeping guy never really got enough sleep to be really rested when it was his turn. So during my turn as driver, in the middle of the Sunshine Highway in the middle of Florida, I started to drift off. I can still remember dozing, trying to keep my eyes open, when the bumping and jostling of the median strip grass made me pop them open again. I was driving through the dip in middle, headed for the other side of the highway when I brought the car under control and pulled the wheel over, getting us back on the shoulder of our side and to a full stop.
Scott sort of half woke up, looking around, huh? I told him what had happened (Man, I just drove off the road…) and he said we should switch drivers. So we walked around to the other sides of the car and he started driving. I fell right to sleep in the passenger side and don’t remember anything else.
I guess we got there alright.
Somewhere along the way, in the middle of the night, I saw a car stalled on the side of the road, hood up, a woman standing outside it. Something made me pull over. It turned out to be a mother and her four little kids, all under about 10 or 11. Her car had just crapped out, she didn’t know why. Of course, we didn’t either. I don’t know if we bothered looking under the hood, but we ended up calling the State Police on our CB radio (they were BIG back then), who called a tow truck.
We waited with her while the tow truck driver got the car up on his hook. He was going to take it to the next exit where her husband would meet them. But he told her he couldn’t drive her family in his truck. So we piled them all in the backseat of my two-door, four-seat Mustang: Mom on one side, her FOUR children crammed onto the other. Seven humans in a four-seater compact car! When we dropped them off, I think she tried to give us some money but we refused. Then we went on or way.
We spent our spring break week hanging out on the “The Strip.” We didn’t go to a lot of bars, didn’t stand around in pools with gallon jugs of booze, we just hung out and watched the cars go by, waving to the girls--- whether they had boyfriends with them or not. We knew some people who were down there, too, friends from home, and we hung out with them a little. Nothing weird, nothing that I’d regret. It was all pretty innocent, really.
We drove down to Miami one day and had some trouble. A big bare spot wore itself into the side of one of my front tires and we had to stop at a tire place to get a new one. We paid cash. (If my parents had a credit card they could’ve given me for emergencies (just like this one) they never told me about it, so we were stuck paying for the tire with our gas money.)
We started back, making it all the way to the Georgia border before I did the math and figured out we’d run out of gas somewhere around Indiana. So--- we turned around and drove back to borrow money from the friends we knew in Lauderdale who hadn’t left yet. Why we didn’t borrow some BEFORE we left, I’ll still ever know.
When I transferred from Triton to Southern, Scott Scott drove the six or so hours with me. (Why not my parents, I don’t know. My mom and I went down for a visit before I applied there, but that was it.) Scott helped me move my stuff in, I think, what little I had, but I don’t remember him staying overnight. I do remember him getting on an Amtrak to go back home.
“Don’t screw up,” he told me as he boarded. That was the last time I talked to him. And I never saw him again.
I had a regular bike for the longest time. I got it in second grade, as a birthday present after I got back from my 1– 2 week stay in the hospital. It was black, a Schwinn, one speed, normal handlebars, the kind that stick straight out at the sides, and a normal V-shaped, seat. It even had a basket bolted to the front.
As the years went by my parents let me “supe it up” for the 60s: Big, “Y” handlebars, banana seat, got rid of the basket. As I ventured out away from the house--- to hobby shops and such --- my bike took me there.
I’d spend hours just riding up and down our street. Then I began to branch out, get bolder and ride around our block. My side of the block was completely familiar; I knew every patch of uneven sidewalk, every bump, every jog around a tree root. But when I’d venture out to the other side, the backside. It was strange and different on the other side, they had traffic on that street whizzing by and apartment buildings mixed in with the houses. Bumps could spring out of nowhere. I could do that new route for hours, and I did. Around and around. Usually clockwise.
At some point, I was ready to tackle a round trip on the block across the street. That side of my neighborhood, to begin with, was foreign enough and took some getting used to. But going around to the other side was like exploring the moon. Their block wasn’t a perfect rectangle, either, my hometown was like that, one side had a looong swirl protruding out. But I rode that one, too again and again. Mostly clockwise.
One time I hit a bump wrong and went over my handlebars onto the cement, landing on the palms of both hands and my forearms. I used to have two round scrapes near my elbows that eventually formed scars. I used to call that “the time I wiped out on my bike.” You can’t see the scars anymore.
There was another time I wiped out on the other block. It was just onto the grass but something sharp put a big gash on my right leg at the knee. I remember looking at the gaping cut that looked like the inside of a peeled apple. I covered it with my hand as it started to bleed and rode home, still holding onto it the best I could.
My mom and dad weren’t home and my oldest sister was babysitting. She had guests over, I think they were relatives, her biological sister, I think. When I showed the gash she freaked out, not knowing what to do. I remember her sister’s husband taking charge, picking me up and putting me on the sink so he could wash out the wound. Of course, they never took me anywhere near a hospital. I still have that scar, pretty wide, about three inches long.
POST-OP WEEK 31
week of August 31
When my mom died, I was home from school working on a movie, the movie that was supposed to have been my senior project. I had written the script, rehearsed the actors, and set up the locations so I was able to shoot the whole 45- 50 minutes film in a three-day weekend.
Come to think of it: I’d gone about making that movie all wrong. It was a senior project, a four-credit-hour class. It was an elective, I could’ve taken anything at that point to graduate, but I wanted to make a movie. I was supposed to sit down with a teacher and talk out what I wanted to shoot, I guess, submit a script maybe, talk, talk, talk. I’m not sure what got into me, but I wanted to skip all that, so I just did. I told him I had a script, actors, everything ready, and I was shooting the thing. He said, oh no you don’t (or something like that, I didn’t actually talk to him.) I rented the equipment myself (instead of checking cameras, etc from the school supply center) from a film place in Chicago and did it myself.
Yeah, I guess you’d say I had a problem with authority.
(There weren’t many teachers down at school at that point that I liked anyway. The one guy I REALLY liked, got along with really well, was a first-year teacher who had been out making movies for a living in Philadelphia, mostly with George Romero, the Night of the Living Dead director; he was George’s sound man just before he took the teaching gig. I had one class with him when he got a call from George to come work with him again.)
(He was walking around asking people what he should do, anybody and everybody. When he came to me, bumped into me in the hallway, he asked me, this mid-20s teacher asking his late-teen student--- “what should I do with my life?” “What would you do?” was what exactly he asked me, as I recall. I took all of a half a second and told him: “If I were you, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to me; I’d be gone by now, making another movie with George Romero.”)
(Him, I liked. The other teachers, not so much. So, by the time I started working on my final project, my favorite teacher had gone. There was this one geeky teacher, more like a science teacher than a film teacher--- I didn’t end up with him, maybe he didn’t do final projects. I ended up with a guy who looked like Willie Nelson and hated narrative films--- films with a story and actors and stuff. He liked documentaries. I don’t. A match made in heaven.)
Technically, school had started; I should’ve been down in Carbondale. But I had no roommate; no one would be looking for me. I hadn’t gotten that bartending job yet, so no work to call into. Besides the senior movie project I had only one other class--- a four-credit-hour still photography project. Teachers wouldn’t be wondering where I was. I was home, sitting in my kitchen with two of my sisters.
It was August of 1979.
I’m not sure what we were talking about but the ringing phone interrupted us. Marilyn was closest to it, our wall phone with the 25-foot cord, so she picked it up, even though she didn’t live there. She listened for a few seconds, saying very little, and then went limp. She looked physically weak and she started, instantly, to cry. She moved the phone away from her mouth and said something simple like: “Mom, died…”
I heard the words. I knew what they meant. I accepted them as fact. But they really didn’t sink in, exactly. I didn’t cry then. I felt sort of resigned, somehow, like, yeah, here’s that bad news I was waiting for. (Maybe it was: “don’t worry about a thing, cuz nothin’s gonna be alright.” coming true) My dad’s first stoke was a shock because nothing life-threatening had ever happened to me before that, so maybe my mom wasn’t such a shocker?
I spent the next 2 or 3 days before the wake and funeral helping get things done. Marilyn was calling people, relatives, flower people, that kind of thing. I took it upon myself to call the relatives she’d forgotten or her old friends from high school so she wouldn’t have to tell them. I called my aunt in Seattle who I think I saw twice in my life. As soon as I said hello, she said she knew it was bad news.
I took my contact lenses out at the wake and funeral, so my mom would be blurry shape in the coffin and I’d remember her some other way besides dead. At the grave site, after the funeral as my dad was getting in the car he said to me: “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you KIDS!” I’m still not sure exactly what he meant by that.
Sue and Fred were in from Florida and we spent the next day walking around the Brookfield Zoo, pushing dad in a wheelchair, not saying much to each other. That night we hung out at my sister’s house next door--- she rented a movie to watch for some reason, maybe to cheer us up. “Bachelor Party” starring Tom Hanks. I thought this might be a good time to talk, get reacquainted. We watched in silence.
It wasn’t until a day or two later, in the middle of telling Molly, my ex-girlfriend I shared an apartment with down at school, that I broke down into tears, gushing, violent tears.
I had a job down at school, bartending, those guys I called and told them what had happened. My teachers, I didn’t call, didn’t tell.
I went back down to Carbondale and sat in my empty apartment. (Empty except for a parakeet Molly left me with when she dropped out of school and moved out. It was a mean little thing that never got tamed; there were many times I felt like doing some kind of fatal thing to, squeezing his little head, but, of course, didn’t.)
I’d go to work and come home, watch TV, curse at the bird. Sometimes I’d get up enough energy to go to one of the editing rooms and edit the movie I shot. But I didn’t tell my teachers about my mom. At the time, I thought it was none of their business. So I worked on my senior projects, but never talked to them about it. I’d put in double-shifts at the bar, then sneak into the editing rooms after 2AM and edit until 9 or 10 in the morning. I probably should’ve seen a therapist at the school clinic; they were probably free. But I just wandered through: work, TV, a little editing. A CHiPs rerun about Ponch getting a visit from his mom would make me cry.
Eventually, I told my teachers what had happened; maybe a month after. My photo teacher’s reaction was: “We all have problems.” The film teacher told me “we’d” have to start over, talk about a new movie, write an outline, start over with him watching over me the whole way. Needless to say, I flunked both classes; eight credits short of graduating.
I wasn’t about to get that close to graduating and not finish, so I signed up for the next semester, but took 8 hours of anything (I didn’t need to do a movie), beginning econ, and a couple of really easy classes that’d count toward graduation.
I spent my winter break playing video games. I went back to my apartment, took my easy classes and worked in the bar a lot. I passed my classes and graduated (or so I thought). My sister Jayne and her husband drove down with a U-Haul and we packed up my things. They were only the second visitors I had the whole 2 ½ years I was down there. I skipped the graduation ceremony and we drove back home.
I didn’t find out until that summer that my teacher was still holding that final project grade open, expecting me to come to him so we could talk about a movie to make. He had given me an incomplete. I called him and told him to give me an “F” so I could graduate. He kept insisting we talk about making a movie. I told him more than twice to just give me an “F” and he finally did. They mailed me a diploma later that month; I never finished that movie.
I did start on another movie. I don’t know what got into me, but I thought that making a small film would be a way into the business, somehow. I sat up nights writing a script, talked the old actor friends I knew from high school. Rented equipment and shot another movie. I used the $8,000 I had saved over the years to fund it.
It was a comedy with a little drama about four friends from high school who get together after ten years. Looking back, it was an okay concept, that needed some work on the script. Or maybe I should’ve stuck with what I knew. Or maybe I should’ve done the Blair Witch Project--- something quirky and marketable ---before the actual guys did the Blair Witch Project. Anyway, this was before video and computers and I ran through the $8,000 pretty quickly, paying for 16 mm film with processing and camera rental and big, honking editing machines. I never finished that movie, either. It’s sitting in our crawlspace in a plastic box with no way of projecting it.
We didn’t talk about mom much, at least my sisters didn’t talk to me about her. It seemed, though, that there was a “hole” in our family where my mom used to be.
The diary continues in September 2009...