POST-OP WEEK 75
week of July 5
My dad used to let me puff on his cigars. He’d be drinking at the kitchen table, puffing on one. He’d let me have the little glass tube they came in and the paper band. I was probably about 12 or 13, maybe younger. He showed me a trick where he’d blow smoke into the tube and seal it with the plastic stopper and the smoke would hang inside there, swirling around.
He got tired of doing that trick over and over for me so at one point he just handed me his cigar and let me puff on it and fill the tube. I can remember lighting them for him, too. I’d clip off the tip, light a match, and roll the cigar around until it was lit. Then I’d hand it over.
Eventually he just let me have one of my own.
[My cousin transferred some of his family’s old 16mm movies to video a while back and gave us a copy. It’s a bunch of different things, family gatherings, parties, and one little sequence where I’m sitting on my dad’s lap mimicking him while he smokes a cigarette. From the looks of the grainy film, I’ve got a real cig, not a candy one or pretend, it’s real. It looks like it might be lit (although it’s hard to tell) but my dad’s smoking and I’m putting the cig to my mouth, then to the ashtray, tap, tap. So cute.]
The weird thing is, I can’t smoke cigars now. Two puffs and I’m green. I’ve thrown up after trying to smoke a cigar. The comedy group guys and I went up to Wisconsin to hang out and try to be “guys” and I’d pick up a couple cigars. We’d smoke ‘em outside by the campfire at night. Or rather, a couple of the other guys would smoke ‘em, I’d have a couple puffs, even in a stiff wind, and have to stop.
But back when I was 12, I could have at it.
This was during my fire stage. I’d melt wax on stuff— Christmas lights, my fingers, whatever. My dad would show me how whiskey could burn: he’d fill a plate with Canadian Club then set a match to it and it’d flare up into this cool, blue ghost flame until the alcohol burned off and left only some clear liquid.
I used to set fire to my plastic models: fighter planes and car models I’d spend hours gluing together. I’d set a match to them and watch them melt in a cloud of black smoke. I’d go out behind the garage although I don’t know if anyone would’ve cared.
I don’t know if we did this more than once or twice but my best friend and I made some paper airplanes and threw them out the open bathroom window onto the driveway. On fire. We’d set their tail ends on fire and toss ‘em. They’d fly for a bit until they lost too much wing and then crash.
And then there were the plastic sticks we set on fire to burn ants. Hm, a regular Bevis and Butthead.
My sister’s husband called us pyromaniacs once and we thought it was funny. We marched around the house singing: “We are py-ro-maniacs! We are py-ro-maniacs!” I’m sure that made him happy.
I used to remember my dreams— the ones I had at night. I don’t seem to anymore. They happen, I guess. I vaguely remember having dreams the first 10 or 15 seconds after I wake up. But then for the most part, they’re gone. By the time I tilt myself up at the edge of the bed and walk down the stairs to turn on the coffee, I got nothing.
I used to remember these elaborate dreams with “movie endings,” with credits rolling across them as the camera zooms out in a dramatic crane shot. I’d have creepy, gloomy dreams in black and white about riding on the train to a mental hospital. (I wrote about that in a journal somewhere, if I remember correctly. I’ll have to try and find it sometime.)
I kept a pad of paper and a pen on my bedside table for years to write stuff down that I dreamed (or at least stuff I was thinking about as I fell asleep.) I’d get some good stuff that way, taglines for work sometimes. I still have a pad, but it’s on the dresser because a lot of times, now, I think of things in the shower.
One time I had a dream that I wrote this REALLY funny joke. In the dream, I performed the joke on stage and the audience peed their pants laughing. It was hilarious. People praised me for this incredible stroke of comic genius. Oh my God, it’s the funniest joke we’ve ever heard! Luckily, I had a pad and pen next to the bed, because I reached over, half asleep, and scribbled it down. Then I laid back, satisfied that I had captured this gem… In the morning, I pulled the pad over to read this beauty, having remembered the dream. It said: “Jacob,” and then a scribbly line.
I used to have a recurring dream when I was a kid, maybe a teenager. I can still see it in my mind after all these years. The first time I was standing in a huge expanse of cement, like a parking lot or an airport runway. The cement was cracked with grass and weeds growing out of the cracks here and there. It was a lot like our neighbor’s driveway but different, bigger, more expansive.
That one was in black and white, too, and vivid, stark grays. I was alone. It was completely silent. And it scared the crap out of me… I couldn’t tell you why, but it was frightening and I’d have to wake myself up and stay awake a few minutes to clear it out of my head.
I’d have that dream a couple times, standing in on the cracked cement in total silence. Then the dream started to “back itself up.” I can remember dreaming about a set of stairs, like basement stairs that, in the dream, I KNEW led to the cracked cement place. I’d get scared in the dream at the sight of the stairs just like it was the actual place. I’d have to force myself awake from that.
I’d have that dream a couple of times, then it’d “back up” again— this time I’d be moving through a black and white living room, decked out like the late 60s: flocked wallpaper and puffy couches with plastic on them. And, in the dream, I’d KNOW that that living room led to the stairs that led to the cement place so I’d get frightened and wake myself up.
I think I told a few people about the dreams and for some reason I used to refer to it as the silent runway the “dead place.”
But I can’t say that I remember my dreams anymore, they’re gone almost as soon as I wake up. I miss that.
POST-OP WEEK 76
week of July 12
“Be a man!” my dad would tell me. He’d be slouched in his regular chair at the kitchen table with a Hamm’s beer in his hand. I guess he figured that’d be enough guidance, he didn’t need to go into any more detail, I could fill in the rest.
Of course, I was a punky teenager, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I pressed the poor guy for specifics. “What do you mean? What’s a man?” I asked.
“You know—” he stammered. “Someone who takes charge. Gets a job. Supports his family.”
“You mean like auntie Natasha?” (This was a trick question. Ever since her husband ran out on here, she was raising two kids on her own while trying to make good on all of his outstanding debts without declaring bankruptcy. I knew this. I was a ballsy kid.)
Dad was pissed. That’s not that he meant. Even though, by his definition, my aunt was a man. He obviously had some vague notion of what I should aspire to and I wasn’t measuring up. It was probably the same vague notion he was trying for up to that point and I wasn’t nodding knowingly and moving on. Sorry.
I had a linoleum floor in my bedroom growing up. They didn’t call it vinyl flooring. Pergo hadn’t been invented. It was one big sheet of linoleum, whitish with a speckled pattern. It was held down at the doorway, but around the room, at the edges, it was turning up so you could see the thick, black wax backing.
I didn’t think about my floor one way or the other back then, but it was really a kitchen floor, a bad kitchen floor, or maybe one for a bathroom. There was one advantage to linoleum— I made an “airport” on it.
On one of my trips to my dad’s factory, I came home with a roll of really skinny masking tape; it was only a ¼-inch wide. My dad used it when he made transformers. I used it to make a tape outline on the floor, first the perimeter of the airport, then inside a runway, hangers for the airplanes (paper airplanes), roads, parking spaces for Matchbook cars to park. Everything an airport should have, except, of course, flat on the floor.
POST-OP WEEK 77
week of July 19
We went on exactly two vacations, growing up, three, I guess, if you count the time we visited my uncle in Seattle when I was about 1.
Okay, that one would count, it would’ve been in 1958 and I can’t remember any of it— the only part I “remember” is the old, scratchy home movies we have of me jumping on a trampoline at some “trampoline park,” a place, apparently, like miniature golf, with trampoline after trampoline at ground level. I guess you rented time on them. Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.
(Oh wait! My mom took my little sister and me to Florida, too, but that was to visit my oldest sister after she got married. My dad didn’t come with us. I don’t know if he was feuding yet with my brother-in-law, I think that came later. He just didn’t come with us. So it wasn’t really a vacation.)
The other two vacations were to Disneyland in L.A. and Disney World in Florida. We went to both by train. My dad wasn’t a big plane guy. Maybe, like doctors, health insurance, and a union for his workers he “didn’t believe in them.” So we took the train to Disneyland. Okay, that was cool. It was about 2½ days, I think, one way. I would’ve been 11 or 12.
I can remember the domed observation car and eating in the dining car. We had a two-room arrangement with foldout “bunk beds.” I can remember going through the mountains and pulling into Needles, I think, California in the middle of the night. I remember drawing in my big pad of paper in our stateroom.
I have vague recollections of the hotel we stayed in. And a pancake place where my dad forgot his hat. I don’t remember too much about the park: The Pirates of the Caribbean (we bought an album of their music!) (I think we have a Small World album, too). My little sister would’ve been 7-ish and was REALLY into Winnie the Pooh, so we spent some time there watching short movies that weren’t out yet. The heffelumps and woozles movie. Then we bought a lot of Pooh-related toys.
My older sisters would’ve both been married by then or just about, so this was my mom and dad’s vacation with their second family. We didn’t vacation much; we had our cottage in Wisconsin. I can’t say that we went to see the state’s capitol or spent the day at the Indiana dunes. We didn’t take in the colors in Michigan in fall. I’ve never seen Mt. Rushmore. I don’t know if my parents vacationed with their first family when they were young, before I was born. I can’t imagine it, but maybe. But me, we had the Disneys.
Our second vacation was to Disney World and dad booked a train for that, too. This was probably 1971 or 72 when I was in high school. Amtrak had changed quite a lot since the last time, so the trip down wasn’t what you’d call pleasant. The train was crammed with people sitting in seats, sleeping, babies crying. I don’t remember much of the trip except the time we waited in this loooong line for the dining car only to be seated and told that they were pretty much out of everything but peanut butter and jelly.
When we got there, my dad cancelled our return train tickets and booked us on a PLANE coming back— he must’ve been really pissed.
The rest of the trip was one big fight. My parents liked to get up at the crack of dawn, have breakfast and get to the park early to try and “beat the crowds.” I was 14 or 15, my sister would’ve been 9 or 10, so we weren’t exactly morning people. Of course, everyone else had the same idea, so the place was jammed by 8 or 9. We tried that once or twice, all of us going in the morning.
It ended up our “walking styles,” too, were different; we all walked at much different speeds. As we’d try and fight through the crowds, going from one long line to the other, I’d end up way out in front of our group because I was going the fastest. My sister would be next, ten feet behind me. My mom, trying to keep up, would get strung out ten feet behind her and then my dad moseying at the end, bringing up the rear, well out of sight through the crowd. Good family fun…
After a day or two, we came up with a “system.” My sister and I would sleep in while the parents got up early and went somewhere— Busch Gardens, whatever. By the time they got back we’d go out to eat somewhere and then by mid-afternoon or evening, we’d go to the park. Honestly, the place was open until midnight or so. Going later, the crowds were about half and the Florida sun wasn’t beating down on you. It kind of worked out.
When we’d get back to the hotel, my parents let my sister and me explore the lobby and stuff. We’d play these new fangled things, called video games and talk to some of the other kids wandering around, too. There was a girl there I talked to who told me about meeting a guy and “making out” with him outside in the bushes. She said she was lying on the ground during this and got attacked by fire ants. I wasn’t sure how to react to that.
Yeah, we weren’t vacation people.
POST-OP WEEK 78
week of July 26
I guess you’d say I was “remembered” in high school for the parties I threw at my house. There weren’t many, actually, 2 or 3 but they were BIG. Half my yearbook from senior year had something about those parties written there. At the 10-year reunion, that came up a lot.
The first one, I think was a New Years Eve party. I’m not sure how it happened but I’d say, and I’m estimating here, 60 or 70 kids came over. At one point, the basement was crammed tight with bodies (that’s how I estimated it: one kid per square foot, 60 square feet of open basement floor), music playing, kids coming in and out of the house, down the basement stairs.
It was so tight, guys were hanging onto the drop ceiling for support and pulled it down in one place. The tiles started coming down on people’s heads along with a speaker and the metal piece was sagging to the ground. I ran over and grabbed it and put it back, but there was still a tile missing. I found at the end of the night on the floor, soggy and flattened.
I didn’t supply any alcohol, but there was some, lots, really, I guess. My parents were home, sitting in the living room with my two aunts who were visiting. They never came down, never said anything. Even when a girl wandered upstairs, drunk and staggering over to, I guess, say hello, and Merry Christmas. My aunt from Seattle was huffing her disapproval. And then the girl pulled down our Christmas tree when she leaned on it for support. (I must’ve been there, because I remember it very clearly— I don’t know if I was drinking.)
During the countdown, I remember, a girl I knew from Lutheran Catechism had me pinned against the doorframe of our back door and we were kissing. I hadn’t seen her in years and the church was in the next suburb over but she somehow found out about the party. I opened my eyes to see my mom watching me, waiting for me to be done so she could tell me to go clean something up. A couple of minutes later my dad came out into the backyard with is .45 automatic and blasted three rounds into the ground before the gun jammed and he had to stop.
One of my dad’s cop friends came over to say hello to him but came downstairs to the basement first looking for him. Kids saw him in his blue shirt and started to panic until I led him upstairs to do shots of Crown Royal with daddy-o.
I had a graduation party 5 months later, in May.
That one was about as crazy, but because it was warm out, people could roam around outside. I also put a big board across the kitchen door at the back stairs so no one could get to the rest of the house. Guys on motorcycles were giving rides to cheerleaders across the lawn— it was one of those kinds of parties. Animal House, for real.
My dad came downstairs for a while. He was drunk and he wanted to hang out with my classmates, I guess. He lit up a joint and passed it around. “Your dad’s cool,” they told me later. Yeah, real cool.
The first school day back I was doing my usual class to class rounds as an Office Assistant, picking up attendance sheets, when I opened the door to a math class to get their slip from the little plastic carrier mounted right by the door. All heads turned to me when I poked my head in and the place broke out into thunderous cheers.
See. That’s all it takes to be popular.
I was just driving home from my last session with my psychologist, thinking about what had happened, what we talked about, going over this and that. I took the turn out of the hospital onto Main Street as I thought about when she told me: that she thought I was doing a great job, I was progressing. That I did a good job with my “homework” with my boss.
It wasn’t easy. I’m still “working through some stuff,” so I don’t know how ready I was, but I plowed through. And thinking when she said those things, complimented me, made me feel good… She complimented me and I heard it. Okay, it took me 15 minutes for it to sink in, maybe, but I heard it and I took it in and it felt good. It was a compliment from someone I respect so I accepted it? All the “you’re a great writer,” from my boss meant nothing.
But this made me feel proud. Of myself. It was difficult, I really didn’t think I could do it, but I kept at it. I squirmed and kept mulling it over in my head. I wanted to quit but I didn’t. And then my doctor told me I did a good job.
It was small but it was there, inside me, like a spark. It wasn’t warm it was sharp and icy maybe. I felt like a kid accepting praise, good boy. But I accepted it— inside.
And now as I type this I’m sort of reliving it, re-feeling the feeling.
I wake up these days pretty much without an alarm clock. I mean, I have one, I set it, but I’m usually up before it goes off. Sometimes it’s a minute before, sometimes five. Even the mornings I have to get up earlier, 6 or 5:15 to catch a plane, I’m awake before the alarm. Okay, sometimes it goes off, I have to admit, but I’m right on it, switching it off.
This is really different than I was growing up.
Back when I was in school, earlier than High School, one alarm clock wouldn’t do it. I’d reach up and shut off one alarm clock, without even opening my eyes, without really waking up. And it wasn’t the snooze button; I’d just shut the whole thing off and keep on snoozing.
I added a second alarm, set for a different time, and put in a different place, away from the first one on my bedside table. I’d put it one the floor, three feet from the bed. I think that worked for a while. But then I’d shut both of them off— one at a time or shut them both off when the first one came on —without missing a beat.
So I added a third clock. This one I put all the way across the room; I’d have to physically get out of bed, no leaning out of the covers and back under stuff with this alarm clock. I’d get up, out of bed, crawl over to it and shut it off… then go right back to bed.
Usually my mom had to yell me awake, after all the clocks failed. “Wall-leee! Get up!” She could’ve climbed the 10, 12 stairs but instead she yelled.
[I go into my youngest sons’ room weekday mornings and kiss them awake. Maybe that’s why?]
Come to think of it, I may have had problems waking up in the morning because my parents never really gave me a bedtime. They’d let me stay up until I fell asleep on the floor in front of the TV watching Johnny Carson. A teacher, in fact, “scolded” my mom at a parent/teacher conference for letting me stay up so late. It was part of my report card. She said I’d come to school telling the other kids about this show I watched called Johnny Carson that they had never heard of because they weren’t allow to stay up that late. This would’ve been my kindergarten or 1st grade review.
I got to high school later and later as the years went by, cutting it right at the bell by the time the end of senior year rolled around. Actually the last week, I think I was officially late. My first couple of weeks in college, I got there early enough for my classes, I guess, at 8 or 9, but slowly started slipping. I’d set my clocks ahead at different times— this one 5 minutes, this one 7 minutes, room clocks, the clock on my car. I was trying to fool myself into not knowing exactly what time it was so I’d just kind of get wherever I was going earlier somehow.
Even when I switched to my college’s design school, I was getting there later and later until I just stopped going all together. (I always attributed that to all the meds I was taking for the cyst in my lung, but I don’t know. It could’ve just been that I hated it there.)
I was sort of okay at getting to jobs on time, though I think I was pushing that, too. I lost a job entirely once because I overslept. I didn’t like the job anyway, but still… I was an assistant to a photographer downtown, a little guy with super-jacked muscles. He was only a mediocre photographer, but he had a nice studio his wife paid for. He thought it’d look “cool” if the entire staff wore blue jumpsuits as our “uniforms” so he forced me to wear one— sweeping up, developing film in the darkroom, any time I was at his studio: blue jumpsuit. Wherever I’d reach for anything it’d pull up at the sleeves, which pulled up everywhere else— including the crotch.
We’d be working and we’d need something from the hardware store. He’d send me. I’d take off the jumpsuit. He’d always ask me why. The weird thing was, he kind of looked good in a jumpsuit. Maybe he had his custom made, like Eric Estrada’s shirts on CHiPs.
Ah, but I lost that job the Saturday morning I was supposed to be at the harbor downtown on the lake but I over-slept, by, like an hour or two, because I’d been out with a woman really late the night before. I called him, I think, to tell him sorry and he said don’t bother coming at all. Or into work on Monday.
I used to do odd things in my sleep. I woke up one morning with my bulletin board on top of me. The one that was supposed to be hanging on the wall over my bed was now in the bed lying across me like a blanket. I also woke up one morning hugging the cactus that used to be on my headboard. I used to sleepwalk, too; my mom told me she heard me rummaging around in my room one night and came to find me standing in front of my open, built-in dresser drawer trying to “use it for a bathroom” (if you know what I mean).
Yeah, but these days I set the alarm for 6:30 and wake up, usually before it goes off. The same on business trips; I set the alarm clock in the room and call the front desk for a wake-up call, then never need either of them. Even in another time zone.
I used to wear a watch, back when I got my first advertising job. I think I was pretty punctual by then. When I got laid off I took off my watch because I didn’t need to know the time. I was Mr. Mom back then, taking care of my two youngest all day while my wife was rehearsing and the two oldest were in school. The younger two were on kid time. They’d know when lunch was or when it got dark but in-between we just were. Hanging out, watching trains or spending the day at the pool.
When I went back to work I stayed with the no-watch thing. I have a clock in my office and one on the computer, of course. But other than that, I’m watchless— and I’m on time or early to meetings for the most part. I’ve only been late for the train in the morning 2 or 3 times in 10, 15 years.
Maybe it’s the responsibility thing…
diary continues August 2010...