A month or two into our sessions, my therapist started digging past my heart surgery and my adjustment disorder and into personal things, self-esteem issues, daddy issues, depression. She assigned “homework” activities like indulging myself (that’s when I got the messages) or doing something different with my kids (laser tag). And she told me to write whatever I wanted to tell her in my diary. So I told her stories of my family.
POST-OP WEEK 18
week of June 1
Ah, more memories
My dad smoked dope. I guess he had been since he was a kid, on and off. I found his rolled up stash one day under the seat of his car, the green Ford LTD when I was in there looking for a flashlight or a wrench or something.
But, back then, I didn’t even know what it was, this little baggie, bunched up with a pack of rolling papers, held together with a rubber band. I pulled it out from under the driver’s seat, tilted it around in my hand, then shoved it back.
By high school, I kind of figured it out. My friends thought it was pretty cool that my dad smoked weed. Me? Not so much. “Aw, man, yer dad is so cool.”
I never really smoked grass. I tried it, in my crazy junior college days, for a couple of weeks. I never liked it; never liked what it did to my head; it made me lose control. So you could count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve smoked it in my life. I actually smoked it WITH my dad once. I’m not sure how, but he got invited to my friend’s bachelor party. My friend was just out of college, about 23 or so. I was probably 20. My dad would’ve been 60 and he went out drinking with us. We went to the Millionaire’s Club, a place that served you a questionable cut of beef and all the house liquor you could drink. Then they’d let you out to your car and on your own to get home. When we got there another friend of mine rolled a joint and passed it around.
Years later, after his second or third stroke, dad wasn’t hiding it anymore. I’d come over for a visit and you’d find a roach in his ashtray. I’d tell him he was smoking dope and he’d get all mad: “I do not smoke dope!” he’d say. “I smoke weed…”
[My dad started smoking-smoking again, too, after his second or third stroke. When I was taking care of him, I wouldn’t let him have any cigarettes, but once my little sister took over, he was at it again and she didn’t stop him. So there’d be a few butts from his Eve cigarettes (yes, my dad smoked women’s cigs. I never knew why. Maybe because they were longer) in an ashtray on the side table by his chair in the living room next to a roach.]
He used to get it from a “Puerto Rican guy I know,” he’d tell me, “named Red.” I met Red once, he looked like an Irish guy from the movies but he spoke in a thick Spanish accent. Red used to get dad his dope back when dad was still going downtown, when my little sister’s boyfriend at the time would drive him around. But that connection dried up. Maybe Red went back home.
So one Christmas I bought my dad a nickel bag of marijuana instead of the usual annual shirt he never wore. I didn’t smoke it, so I got it from my friend from my old comedy group who smoked it every day. He thought it was cool that the dope he sold me was going to a 70-something man as a Christmas present.
I’d wrap it in festive paper, twisted on either end with a ribbon, like you’d wrap a big piece of candy. I’d stick it in the glove compartment for our ride from the city to his house in the ‘burbs. My wife always thought we’d get randomly pulled over and arrested on the expressway, spread-eagle on the hood of the car.
I got him a pipe once--- a dope-smoking pipe ---but he never used it. I got him this little joint-rolling device, too, because after his strokes, he had trouble rolling joints. They were always too big and loose. Sometimes my little sister’s boyfriend rolled him some, that was helpful.
My dad always appreciated the gift, his eyes lighting up when he saw the little package I pulled out from behind my back.
I went to the hospital the summer between 1st and 2nd grade. It was for my lung. It started out as a fever according to the records from then that I still have. There was a fever with heavy congestion in my lungs, I thought it said pneumonia but I’ll have to check.
Whatever it was, it must’ve been serious because they took me to the hospital. That didn’t happen much in my house because my dad “didn’t believe” in insurance. So we never had any. That was fun during check in at the hospital at the front desk when they asked, “what kind of insurance do you have?” And my dad would answer, “we don’t have insurance.” They take you into a special room when you tell them that.
I’d fall on the ice and sprain my wrist and my parents would pretty much tell me the 1960s equivalent of suck it up. I’d soak it in hot water.
The funny thing was, we didn’t need any. It worked out for him, He gambled and won. Outside of my lung thing and a little stroke business my dad went through, which the Veterans association paid for, he never used it. My mom dropped dead of an aneurism, no medical expenses there. He paid for my lung thing with cash (or, you know, a check).
One of my doctors did an x-ray and found a cyst. At first, and I’m not kidding you, my parents used to tell me this, it sounds really nutty, but they thought, at first, that I inhaled some kind of toy. Naw, even these guys couldn’t’ve gotten it THAT wrong. I’ve seen the x-rays and there’s a round, little sack on the right side of my lung that’s clearly some kind of growth.
Along with the cyst was a little infection, a form of tuberculosis that comes from birds: mycobacteriosis intercellular aviarium (okay I looked that up, I had to, that’s just the kind of guy I am). It comes from breathing in the bacteria from birds, in my case probably ducks, we figured, in the lake in Wisconsin; we never owned a bird.
[NOTE FROM 2012: in the interest of accuracy--- I’ve since been to a modern day pulmonologist and he told me that what I had didn’t “come from birds” but is something middle-aged women usually get that comes from unfiltered tap water which is just as weird! Back to the diary.]
So they stuck me in the hospital for about a week. I was in isolation because of the TB scare. My mom and dad were supposed to visit me wearing gowns and masks, though they never did. My sisters couldn’t visit at all. I remember I hated it. I just wanted to go home. It was so dark and quiet and lonely at night in the hospital, in that room all by myself. My mom or dad might’ve stayed with me overnight, I guess, I have no memory of it. I think my mom was probably busy with two teenaged daughters and a new baby.
I was confined to the bed the whole time, they didn’t let me out of the room, as far as I know. I had trouble walking at first because I hadn’t for so long; my legs were so stiff. When I got home it was my birthday or very close to it. My parents got me a new bike, black with a basket on the front. Because I couldn’t go outside, at first, they let me ride it in the house! I thought that was pretty cool--- riding through the living room, the dining room, and into the kitchen, then back again.
POST-OP WEEK 19
week of June 7
Ah, yet more memories
Somewhere in fifth or sixth grade, about 1967 or so, in the middle of the Vietnam War, my best friend and I felt we needed to put out the flag. We both had one of those brackets you can nail onto the post in front of your house that holds the flag out at an angle. We did that for a while.
Apparently, we were so into this flag-hanging thing that my dad did one of his rare home-improvement projects and put up a flagpole. (At least I think it was him, maybe it was my brother-in-law. Bro-in-law would’ve been around by then and sinking a pole into the ground and pouring cement all around it, sounds like his kind of job to me.) It was pretty much a metal pipe painted silver with a pulley at the top. Poor Best Friend still put his flag in the bracket on his house.
But me... I had a pole. I’d hoist that thing every morning before school and take it down again in the evening after dinner. Somehow the local newspaper, the Suburban Life, not the Trib or anything, heard about our flag hanging and asked if they could do a story. A “reporter” came out and interviewed us. “Who, What, When, Why, and How.”
We told her that we were raising the flag every day ‘til “the boys came home from Viet Nam.” That made for good press. The story ran and we kept raising the flag--- for about another week or two. After a while, it got to be such a chore… I’d raise it okay in the morning but night I’d forget to bring it in. My mom would yell at me when I’d forget and I’d be on my way to bed. She said that you weren’t supposed to have the flag out at night, in the dark, there needed to be a light on it, or you bring it in. Same goes for weather. I had no reason not to believe her and, in fact, that’s where I get my flag etiquette, today. She had no reason to lie to me.
Even if she was wrong, she was yelling at me so much about forgetting to bring in the flag, that I just finally stopped. Unless I’m mistaken the boys stayed in Viet Nam a bit longer. No one came out from the paper to do a follow-up.
I guess my dad was still in a halfway decent mood when I was little and we’d drive up to Haywood to that cabin. We’d listen to the radio for a while ‘til the signal got fuzzy and we’d shut it off. Then we’d sing songs. Maybe my mom would start ‘em, I don’t know. But we’d sing “I’ve got sixpence… jolly, jolly sixpence. I’ve got sixpence to last me all my life.” Stuff like that. “I’ve got tuppence to spend and tuppence to lend and tuppence to send home to my wife. Poor wife…”
There was the “caissons going rolling along…” Army song (which I guess they’ve since changed the words to). “Oh it’s hi, hi hee in the field artillery! Count off your numbers loud and strong--- One! Two!”
We’d sing another Army song (I guess there was a lot of singing in the Army?): “Oh, the donuts that they give us, they say are mighty fine. One fell off the table and killed a pal o’ mine. I don’t want no more of this Arr-mee. Gee mom, I wanna go. Oh mom, I wanna go. Gee mom, I wanna go home.” Then the second verse: “OH the chicken that they give us, they say is mighty fine. One fell off the table and started marking time! I don’t want no more of this Arrr-meee! Gee mom, I wanna go. Oh mom, I wanna go. Gee mom, I wanna go hoooome!” there was a verse about coffee, and maybe others.
I think that segueway’ed into: “My eyes are wet, I cannot see. I have not brought my specs with me, I have… not… brought my specs with meeee.”
My dad’s factory, everyone called it The Shop, didn’t advertise but he did have pens and pencils made with the company name, address, and phone number on them. The pencils were white with black writing and he had boxes and boxes of them at the Shop. When I’d visit, I’d load up. He had boxes of pens, too. Ballpoint pens, the old kind, with the button on top that you clicked to get the point to come out on the other end. There were lots of different styles.
I don’t know where I came up with this but I use to build moonbases with them…
They came apart, these pens, some unscrewed in the middle, some on top, but I used to take them all apart: the body in two pieces, the ink cartridge, and the little clicky button on top which was three or four pieces all by itself.
I’d disassemble the pens and place them, just so, all across my bedroom linoleum floor to build the kind of “artist’s rendering” moonbase picture that were quite popular back in those days. Those drawings of the future when we’d all be living in space, I’d make my version of those.
The barrel of the pen would be the tall tower where all the tiny explorers lived. There’d be another one next door, connected by the ink cartridge transport tube. The little clicky pieces were the airlocks where the lunar ships could take off and explore. One after another after another connected across the floor, handfuls of them. My moonbases.
One day I got a bed sheet from my mom. I tied heavy cord to each corner and the other ends to the “banana seat” of my bike. I folded up the sheet, just so, until it was small enough to fit in that space banana seats had between them and the fender. I also figured out a ripcord that would release the bundle when I pulled it from the front handlebars.
I’d get the bike going, pedal, pedal, pedal and then: fooomp! It’d drag me to a stop…
I got a little reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was in Cub Scouts. I lasted in Cub Scouts through the first level, whatever that was, Wolf, maybe, then dropped out. I’m not really a “joiner” but really it was the kid whose house we met at every week. He was nuts. His mom was our den mother, and he’d be okay ‘til she went upstairs for something, then he’d jump on your back and want to ride you around. So that didn’t last.
But I got a pocketknife out of it, a cool, little telescope, and a tape recorder.
We also had this bigger one, a Rosscorder. It looked like the kind we’d have in school, the size of a record player, portable. My dad was pretty much at the cutting edge of technology such as it was back then. You could record on small tape reels, about 3 inches in diameter or all the way up to 9-12 inchers.
I liked recording stuff. I recorded everything. When my favorite TV shows would come on, I was there with the mic to the TV speaker recording its theme song. I Spy. Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission Impossible. I’d record them once and then, the next week, record them again… I don’t think I thought they’d change. I just liked recording stuff.
I recorded my own version of Batman and Robin called Junkman and Garbage in fifth or sixth grade that I wrote myself. I recorded phone calls my mom made--- mic up to the earpiece of the extension upstairs. When my sister up and left to elope with the poolboy she met 8 days earlier, I recorded the call my mom had with her old roommate about what to do with her stuff and how it would never last. (I still have that tape!)
I recorded our sixth grade class talking about Viet Nam and the domino effect during social studies one day. I recorded my parents’ drunken sing-a-long one night in our house in Wisconsin when I was ten. I used to record Dark Shadows, the vampire soap opera, for my sister who missed it because of school.
There was a time when I liked to pretend that I was a kid at a “space school” on Mars and I’d record my “daily log entry” like Captain Kirk on Star Trek. Those tapes I wish I still had. It was during one of those entries that I did something that ripped the wire out of the mic so it wouldn’t work. I remember feeling so afraid that I’d get in big trouble with my dad that I shoved the mic in its holding compartment in the side of the recorder and put it away somewhere. For months afterward, whenever anyone brought up the recorder or recording something, I’d change the subject. My best friend would suggest we record whatever and I’d talk him out of it.
Eventually, I think, my dad needed it or my sister, they saw the ripped wire and repaired it, no big deal. No one ever said anything to me…
My best friend’s mom sent a Playboy magazine home one day. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but she sealed one up in a big envelope and told me to take it home and show it to my mother and she’d take it from there. She had gotten it from her sister or sister-in-law who was a maid in a hotel, she said, and someone had left it behind in their room.
I’m 12, maybe 13. I don’t think she was letting her son have a Playboy, but me, it was okay. I guess she thought it was some sort of sex ed. And so did my mom because she let me keep it.
I don’t know if this had anything to do with that, but a year or two later, I got subscription to Playboy for my birthday… If I remember correctly, my oldest sister gave it to me. She was moved out and married by then. I think she maybe thought it was funny, but my parents, again, let me keep it. And every year after that, if I paid for it myself.
So here’s this freshman in high school getting a Playboy every month delivered to his house in a brown paper wrapper. No sneaking around in daddy’s sock drawer for this progressive teen. He’s got is own stash. And I didn’t have to hide them under the bed, either. I kept them filed, like books in a library, in my built-in shelf unit, organized chronologically, for easy access.
I can’t honestly say I read many of the articles but I kind of liked the cartoons. I kept the subscription all through college and after for a while. One day, after the big fire in my dad’s house, I went over there to clean out some of my stuff and there was my extensive Playboy collection. I put them out on the curb during my sister’s suburb’s once-a-year spring cleaning weekend. Finding Playboys in a pile of give-away stuff was always an extra-added surprise on cleanup weekend, so I wanted to be part of the legacy.
I wonder, sometimes, if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Did it skew my sense of females or did it demystify them, somehow? Not the pictures, but the openness about it. And, in the continuum of girlie pictures, Playboy was, and still is, the tamest of the bunch. So it really wasn’t like my parents condoned porn. Then, on the other hand I couldn’t imagine giving my kids a subscription to Playboy… Hm.
POST-OP WEEK 20
week of June 14
My dad didn’t do a lot of shopping at Christmas for presents for us. My mom didn’t either, for that matter. He’d hand us the Sears catalog toy edition--- the Wish List, I think they called it ---and tell us to pick some things we wanted. One year, I remember, he tossed it at me. I was on the floor, lying on the living room carpet and he walked up and dropped it down in front of me with a thud.
Something like the twelve days of Christmas, only not as many, we got to open one present a day ‘til the actual holiday.
But then there was some kind of Santa deal, at least when we were little, because my mom, dad, little sister and I would go to a church service on Christmas Eve. It was the only time my dad went to church. It was in the evening, 5, 6, something like that. We’d go, I guess, while my two older sisters would stay behind (wink-wink).
And, whaddaya know! While we were out, Santa came and left some gifts. Awww, you juuust missed him, too. “But we always thought Santa came in the middle of the night while we were sleeping.” “Well you see, Santa has to cover the whoooole world in one night. And he has to start somewhere. So to get a head start, he begins at our house.” It’s extra special when you think about it…
My dad must’ve assembled some of those toys, too, I’m thinking, like metal bikes and ride-along metal tractors and other metal stuff because he’d always manage to cut himself on something and there’d be little dabs of my dad’s blood here and there on my toys. Everything was made of metal in those days, I think, not a lot of plastic.
Years later, when I was a photo assistant and then a photographer, I’d take pictures for Sears catalog, including their toys… Hmmm.
I’m not sure how we put this vacation together but my best friend Jim, my college girlfriend Molly and I flew up to Michigan to go snow skiing one winter. Jim could fly. My brother-in-law owned a single-engine plane so that part made sense. Molly and I were living together in an off-campus apartment, so that made sense. But Jim by himself, without a date, seems odd now that I think about it.
But that’s not the story.
We somehow ended up in a plane, in the middle of winter, flying to the upper peninsula of Michigan, Iron Mountain.
Take-off went okay, though some buffeting made me get sick into one of those little bags. I don’t usually get sick on planes, even small ones, so that was a little odd.
Molly and I were sitting in the back, Jim up front at the controls (limo style?). The windows started to fog up, then frost over, but Bill barely had any heat on, he was trying to see through a small clear spot in front of him, about six or eight inches around.
I can kind of remember snow and lots of tress whizzing by as we skimmed rather low to the ground. Eventually we get close to the Iron Mountain airport and Jim says something to them on the radio. We land okay and he taxis to the small terminal building near the tower. He opens the door and the cold air rushes in. That’s when everything suddenly turns into a fish-eye lens; I put my foot out through the doorway and it looks seven or eight feet long, everything in slo-mo. I’ve got my head wedged up under the wing of the plane for support as I turn to look for Molly who’s flat down on the icy tarmac, passed out. I turn to Jim and he’s on the ground, too. A guy comes running out of the building to tend to us, but he’s talking to me, asking me “pilot stuff” and I point at Jim, flat on his back. “I’m not the pilot,” I tell him, “he’s the pilot.”
Another guy comes out and they take us inside and we sit in stiff airports chairs waiting for the ambulance they called. My hands are white; my fingernails a deep blue color. At the hospital, they give us straight oxygen from a mask and tell us we have carbon monoxide poisoning. Jim later tells us he doesn’t remember landing the plane or the last part of the flight, really. The doctors tell us it’ll be a while before the carbon monoxide gets out of our system.
My brother-in-law tells us that he KNEW the muffler was cracked and that he KNEW carbon monoxide was probably leaking into the cockpit, but that he had just flown it back from Florida and didn’t have any trouble--- but maybe that’s because it was warmer and they had the windows open most of the way. I guess I have to believe him.
We leave the plane in Michigan for bro-in-law to come and get whenever and Jim flies home commercial. Molly and I stay to do some skiing. It’s really cold there, so cold the water in your eyes freeze after a few minutes. Everyone at the lodge keeps looking at us, asking us “are you the ones?” “are you okay?” “so you’re the two from the airplane…”
POST-OP WEEK 21
week of June 21
I wrote a letter to Penthouse. Yes, one of those “I never thought this kind of thing could happen to me, name and address withheld” kinds of letters. And they published it!
I completely made everything up. Except I set it in Carbondale where I went to college (“a large state university in Southern Illinois”) and made it about a bartender with strong hints as to which bar it might be (“a popular hangout across the street from a late-night pizza joint”).
It was right after I graduated. I wanted to see if I could get published. And, what do you know, I did. Yeah, I guess it was pornography, but I like to think it was well-written pornography. I tried my best to make sure I came up with creative words for “things” and went out of my way not to repeat too many terms. There’s not really a thesaurus for that kind of stuff, so I was on my own.
I still have a copy of the magazine it appeared in--- though it really is signed “name and address withheld,” so you’d just have to take my word for it that I wrote it (I used to have the rough draft of it somewhere).
I spoke to a few kids back down at school after it was published and they told me that the place was buzzing about who the bartender was and where it all happened. Unfortunately, I had to tell him them the truth and spoil their fun.
The diary continues in July, 2009...