POST-OP WEEK 101 & 102
Week of January 3 - 10
CONTINUED FROM Week of DECEMBER 27:
I was jealous of my Cousin X for a while.
For the most part we got along pretty well, hanging out together when we were really little, playing bank robber, going swimming, thick as thieves. When we were older we hung out together, hitting the bars in X-ville, when we were 18. But there was a time in the middle there when I was really jealous of her. We didn’t have a falling out or anything, it might’ve been “all me.”
But around the time we were 12, 13, she started “developing” already. Of course, I wasn’t. I felt like my mom and Aunt X (her mom) were fawning over her, oooo she’s becoming a woman kind of thing. I didn’t know how to handle it.
She was also much better at school than I was, her grades were through the roof and mine were wallowing in the middle, B’s and C’s kind of things. We’d all go to the library together and she’d check out a huge stack of 10, 12 books. I’d look at her stack and check out a huge pile of my own. A week would go by and she actually read hers. I’d open one, leaf through it, then run off and play somewhere. She’d speed through her books (though there was no way to check, I suppose) and I’d return my stack untouched.
Cousin X graduated high school number one in the state that year, I’m pretty sure; she got a 35 on her ACT. I only got a 28. She went to a private college in upstate Wisconsin; I ended up at a party school after flunking two others. I visited her once.
We spent more summers together. I got my wisdom teeth out one summer up there. I guess when you have no health insurance and your dad pays cash for all your medical stuff, you can go wherever you want.
I recovered so well after the tooth surgery that I was out at a drive-in movie “party” the next night. (Two or three Beatles movies that we didn’t watch, pay by the carload, smuggle in some beer--- good times.) Cousin X, Jr. wanted to pick up some girl, so he made me hang out with her girlfriend (I guess I was his wingman that night), which I did. I can remember him coming to find me, after the movies were done, in the bushes on the grass, making out with her.
Around this time, my older sister and her husband started inviting his relatives up there for weekends or weeks at a time. My mom liked my sister’s husband’s family; they were wholesome. They didn’t run after each other with scissors in a fit of rage. Sometimes, and I’m not kidding, they’re sit outside by a campfire and sing songs while one of them played guitar. All of them played some kind of instrument.
After a while the two-bedroom cottage was so crowded with “guests” that there were bodies sleeping wherever there was a flat surface. I’d get the prime spot on the living room floor. After a night at The Local Disco, I’d crash in the middle of the traffic pattern of all these early risers traipsing back and forth. My brother-in-law would kick me, “Hey, wake up! It’s 10 o’clock, the day’s a wastin’.” Then he’d go out water skiing. He loved water skiing. If you didn’t water ski, if he didn’t get you up and drag you around the lake once or twice, if you graciously begged off you were less of a human being, there was something seriously wrong with you. Of course, I tried it, did it for a while to shut him up, but stopped because I didn’t like being pulled around without any control as to where I was going, without my glasses so I was blind as a bat…
Anyway, when he’d kick me and tell me to wake up, I didn’t think to remind him that he was this 29-year-old, married for 8 years already and I was this 19-year-old party animal who stayed out ‘til all hours picking up chicks at drive-in movies. I think about it until now… A little late!
By the time I was in college a year or two I wasn’t coming up as often; I’d be taking full semesters of summer school (to catch up after flunking out my freshman year) and only going up occasionally, certainly not for the whole summer.
I came up from school to be in Cousin, Jr.’s wedding party, the one for his first marriage. He got married to his high school girlfriend. They were both 18. After the rehearsal dinner I ended up dancing with her at The Local Disco. We were doing a fast dance and a slow song came on. Just as I was ready to leave the dance floor, she came over, put her head on my shoulder, and we started to slow dance. Hm. When it was over, she picked up her head and there was an orangey oval of makeup on my shirt!
There was a church wedding and the reception was at some kind of VFW hall. It’s a townie tradition to have a short reception with the relatives after you’re married, then go hit the bars downtown in our wedding clothes. So that’s what we did.
The marriage lasted less than a year. Cousin X, Jr. was going to college and she worked at McDonald’s and partied with her friends ‘til all hours.
After my mom died, I pretty much never went up to our house in X-ville. Occasionally, I guess, for some reason. I’ve got pictures of my wife and me up there. My brother-in-law flew us up there in his single-engine plane.
Cousin X went on to graduate from that college on the other side of Wisconsin. She studied in Yugoslavia, I think, afterward and met a crazy-cool, creative artist I’ll call Yugo X. She brought him home; we picked him up from the airport. They might’ve lived in X-ville for a while but eventually bought and old, run-down bar under the Dan Ryan Expressway to live in. There was a “living space” in the back, an apartment sort of thing, but the front was a beat-up bar with plaster falling down. They washed dishes in a tub in the shower because they had no sink. Roughing it when you’re first married is okay, and I’ve rehabbed a place or two, but they never fixed this place up.
Yugo X went to work for an artist for a while, then a car company, making prototype models out of clay. He’d only work at a place for a short time, my cousin said, because he’d get into fistfights. Cousin X had a child, a boy they named after some artist Yugo X liked. Then a girl. They stayed together for 10, 15 years, I think; I lost track of them after a while. They got divorced, their son joined the Army to fight in Afghanistan. Their daughter got into punk or emo. Cousin X moved back to X-ville and started dating a guy 10, 15 years younger who played gigs in a bar band around central Wisconsin.
Cousin Jr. lives in Washington State with his second wife and two kids. My Aunt X lives in an apartment there, she’s in her 80s, and has had several strokes. After one stroke they said she spoke nothing but fluent Russian.
Cousin X, right now, is in the hospital with near liver failure. She’s been diagnosed an alcoholic and there’s fluid that keeps filling her abdomen. She severely jaundiced so she’s completely yellow.
I think about how, when we were little, I felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t enough like Cousin X. I didn’t do as well in school, didn’t read as well. Not that we should go around comparing ourselves to other people, but these days I can’t help but compare where I am in my life now compared to her, how we turned out, where our paths took us. Funny where life takes you...
POST-OP WEEK 103
Week of January 17
My Aunt X worked, part-time, at the Osco drug store in town to supplement her husband’s house-building business. My mom would take us there in the summer when she was working. She’d use her employee’s discount to get us stuff, toiletries mostly, but toys sometimes and other Osco things. Her discount was their cost plus 10%.
To help the employees know just how much that was, they had a “code” incorporated into the numbers printed on all their product’s labels. Above the $4.50 they charged you at the register for, let’s say, Dr. Scholl’s insoles, it would have, let’s say, “HLT” printed above it. (I’m making this up. I don’t remember the actual price.) That was the real price in code. Aunt X told us the code so we wouldn’t have to keep asking her when we came to shop.
The extra super secret code was: “CHARLESTON.”
That name was the key to the secret land of what Osco paid for everything.
If you assigned a number, one through zero, to each letter of that word, the world was your oyster…
C=1, H=2, A=3, R=4 and so on.
So, the $4.50 insoles cost Osco (H=2, L=5, T=8) $2.58. Nice mark up. We’d walk around Osco counting to ten on our fingers while spelling: C, H, A, R, L, E and the other employees gave us dirty looks. I was like a retail spy. Isopropyl alcohol was marked up the most; they’d charge, like $.80, $.90 for a $.12 bottle of stuff.
They didn’t chance the code for years. And it worked in Illinois, too. Who knows, maybe it still does.
POST-OP WEEK 104 - 105
Week of January 24 - 31
After my mom died, in the fall of ’79, I went back to college and sat. I finished my movie but didn’t talk to my teacher enough, he said, didn’t have regular meetings with him to discuss my creative vision, so he refused to pass me. That was 4 semester hours of the 8 had left to be able to graduate. The other 4 was a color photography class that I didn’t go to much, either, but handed in the work. Near the end of the semester, when that teacher wondered where I’d been, I told him my mother died. He told me, and I’m not making this up, “we all have problems.” I flunked both classes.
I came back home for the Christmas holidays and played video games. I didn’t give up, though. I could’ve. I knew plenty of other kids who got real close to graduating, but dropped out with a few hours left. I re-enrolled, signing up for 8 hours of easy classes: beginner’s economics, stuff like that, and graduated. I didn’t go to the ceremony. I just packed up my apartment and left. When I hadn’t gotten my diploma in the mail, I called my movie teacher to find out why. He told me I could come in and talk to him, maybe come up with another movie--- together ---and see about bringing my grade up. I told him to give me an “F”, so I could graduate.
I really wish I had a better college experience. I always hear about people who LOVED college, they met so many good friends, met their future wife there, it was the best years of their lives. I really wish college was that way for me. Most of it was torture. My first year at IIT, I hated. Didn’t meet anybody, didn’t like the classes or the school. I went to a community college after that to bring my grades up, which was okay. Met some people (one kid was my across-the-street neighbor, had been for 15, 16 years, who I had never met before), liked some of the classes. And SIU, studying in my major, should’ve been fun, but it wasn’t either. Except for the degree that probably got me a few jobs in my life, it was a waste of time.
I’m not sure why I had such a problem with authority. Or maybe it was male authority, these were all male teachers. I just had such a belligerent feeling of “my mom died, it’s none of their stinking business.” I knew I was messing up, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to them. I hear about kids who talk their teachers into all sorts of extensions and grade upgrades. My own kids talk to their teachers all the time about all sorts of stuff. Not me. I’m still not good at going in and talking to the boss.
My sister, on the other hand, my little sister, had been raising herself, pretty much. She was 15 when my mom died, a sophomore in high school. My dad was around, technically but my little sister was on her own. Dad put some cash in a bowl in our china cabinet in the dining room. We called it “The Kitty.” That’s where she was supposed to go if she needed to go to Taco Bell and get dinner.
She was on her own.
But she graduated high school early, in three years, and went to college. She wore short leather skirts and leather jackets and shaved her head into a Mohawk. My older sister pulled me aside one day an asked me what “we should do about the way she dressed and cut her hair, etc.” I told her little sis was getting A’s and B’s in school (better grades than either one of us ever got in college), what did it matter how she dressed. I reminded my older sister that she used to wear lime green, vinyl, micro-mini skirts back in the day…
My little sister started dating a radio and club DJ who was into that Rock-a-Billy craze that lasted for a bit. He’d put tons of grease in his bouffant hair-do. He’d drive my dad around after he’d had several strokes and couldn’t do it himself--- to the Shop and restaurants and such. I always thought he was the son my father never had.
She broke up with Rock-a-Billy Guy and eventually started dating an African American gentleman who worked as bouncer. This shocked my family who were pretty much long-time racists; my dad routinely used the “N” word. Out loud, without any shame. Then karma stuck:
One afternoon, the lint in the dryer exhaust vent of my sister’s clothes dryer caught fire. It moved quickly up the inside of the walls and into the kitchen. They had taken the batteries out of the smoke detectors several months earlier because they were beeping, so they weren’t warned right away. Eventually my sister smelled the smoke and started heading for the door. On her way out, she woke her boyfriend up, who was napping in an upstairs bedroom, nude. He jumped up, ran downstairs, and picked my dad up out of his chair in the living room. My dad couldn’t walk by this point so my sister’s boyfriend carried him out to the front yard. So, here it is: the middle of winter and this big black man is standing on the lawn, nude, holding a 75-year-old white guy as the fire engines pull up.
I can’t say for sure, but I think my dad’s opinion of other races improved that day.
diary continues in February, 2011...