Keep Going, Son
As a boy I played with bugs. I was fascinated with them. One of my favorite things to do was to salvage two empty, metal coffee cans from the grown ups. Yuban. Folger’s. Then I'd find a good, stiff stick, about a foot in length. I'd fill one coffee can with dirt. That one I'd leave behind in the backyard or in the garage, wherever was homebase on that day for my ongoing experiments with red ants. The half-dirt one was gonna be my ant farm. That’s where they’re gonna dig holes. That’s where I’m gonna put the other bugs and watch the red ants attack them. The other can that’s empty still, that was my collecting can. That one I took with me, along with my stick I’d find. Then I'd head off down the street to wherever I had seen that red ant nest.
Red ants are the big ants, they bite and sting and get really mad, but that's what makes them interesting. Plus, they can't climb out of cans, not straight up on metal, they can only dig. I would crouch down, tip the empty coffee can sideways and press the rim of it on the ground, and with my stick I'd sweep red ants into the can, one by one. They'd be boiling and spazzing in the can after I’d fling them in, rolling up into an angry ball all over their buddies, but they couldn't climb out, so they’d just keep running around in there while I got more. I could safely get about 30 ants in the can before things started getting hairy. I’d be taking chances after that. After that, if I tipped the can to sweep up more, I ran the risk of letting some get out. And they weren’t happy. But I ran that risk. Over and over, every time. I'd probably bring back fifty or so red ants before I called it quits. I would always get stung on the legs two or three times, because red ants CAN climb up shoes and socks. It feels kinda like a bee sting. Maybe a little more stingy-ness that won’t go away, but a little less OUCH at the start. One time, I rubbed Vaseline on my shoes, thinking that would stop them. I thought they’d either get stuck or else slip off. But no, they just climbed right over it. Vaseline didn’t work at all. I didn't care. Stings never made me stop. I was so fascinated, the stings, never even fazed me.
I had this bravery around stinging insects that is hard for me to fathom now: I have kept my curiousity about insects as an adult, but I have lost my bravery around stings, so I mostly leave such things alone now. That, and I'm a lot farther from the ground now. I think that also has a lot to do with it.
I watch my boy now. And he does things with bugs that bring me back there. He's got that same bug bravery that I used to have.
God, I hope he doesn't lose it.
He'll pick up earwigs and tell me how much their pinchers don't even hurt. He'll pick up ground beetles--the predatory kind that hunt other bugs--and he'll do things that even I would never have the guts to do as a boy: He'll pick up a predatory ground beetle and stick the formidable-looking, carnivorous mandibles of that angry, writhing sucker up against a finger on his other hand, and he'll tell me how much it doesn't hurt either. Apparently, as gnarly-looking as those beetles' jaws are, they cannot break human skin. So they were harmless this whole time.
My son is pioneering new ground here. I remember those beetles as a boy. I never messed with them without a stick and a can in my hands. My boy has discovered something new that I never knew. Not even when I was brave. My son is already better than me. He has already outdone his old dad.
Keep going, son. Keep going.
The Stirrup Chair
So it was decided in there, bring her in the stirrup chair, let 'er rip, the baby won't come out. It won't come out all the way. Just the crown of his head would show (for we later learned he was a he), and then he'd go right back up. Just the crown of his head, and then back again. Again and again, no matter what pushing the mother did, she later said. It was like the umbilical cord up inside was like a bungee, she said, a bungee cord that was too short, and it kept letting him down and it kept pulling him back again, which was exactly the right analogy, we were later told by the midwife.
The two midwives were the best we could have found. We interviewed them, met with them regularly, checked out their knowledge and backgrounds. They worked as a team, and they were amazing. As events unfolded, I came to trust them more than I would trust any MD, that's for sure. To this day, I would go to war with those two women. I would trust their hands to have my back, though the one of them dropped my son. In time of crisis, I would trust any and all intel they had to offer to me. Their expertise was golden and rare, and they cared. And how they labored on our behalf. All through the complications.
It was decided by the mother that she would use "the stirrup chair" after all. She just couldn't take it, not anymore. That day, or at least for a few brief moments, it was the only time my narcissistic-personality-disordered ex-wife ever appeared even slightly feminine--I can be exactingly sure of that--and for a nanosecond that day she could even feign an artificial form of pseudo-vulnerability and artificial intimacy on a day and an hour such as that. The bringing forth of Life and the stalking so near of Death made even her closer to what we normal folk think of when we think of humanity, real, normal, human-being-esque humanity. So it was a rare time, a window when I could pretend that I was a husband to her. I could be fooled into thinking that I was more than just an animated object in her world, more than just the codependent puppet I really was. So I went with that. I was all in with her at last. My codependency had paid off. She'd seen at last what kind of man I was. I was a man and a husband and a father that day to her--at last, I was--especially at that moment. That moment he came and was with us, with us and was breathing beside us on that bed.
My baby was in trouble, that was beginning to become clear, increasingly apparent as the long day wore on. It was so long an ordeal for his mother, and I was so proud of her in there. The Lamaze teacher had said that every birthing mother is different: some mothers scream, some cuss like sailors, some howl or cry out in other ways, some are even quiet unto themselves in their ordeal, somehow. My children's mother turned out to be a puffer. She huffed and puffed with the inordinate pain. Every breath, incoming, outgoing, was a huff, then a puff, and her lips went in, and then came out, and they beat together on the coming out of the air and they made the sound of a soft but incessant, rhythmically pleasing kazoo. I was so proud of her. So codependent and proud.
That it would be a "he" would be a surprise to us. We had wanted it that way, we had wanted to wait. The first time around, with our daughter, we had had the ultrasound and had found out early that we were having a daughter. This time around, we had opted to go "old school." So old school that we had opted for the midwives this time, and the home birth, the C-back. My narc and I could even agree sometimes. Yes, it was possible, occasionally, provided it aligned with her controlling solipsism. I had to be orbiting around her in a way she was already going, that was key to any of our agreements.
The midwife had been hesitant about using the stirrup chair, but at last she acquiesced. She had said that it often made the mother tear down there. Stitches would be needed; stitches in delicate places, count on it. But my child's mother finally said, ENOUGH already, tearing or no tearing, get me on the stirrup chair, this baby has to come, this is not working. The huffing and the puffing and the pacing around the room and the little home whirlpool we'd set up were not enough on their own, something more was needed, this baby would not come out.
The stirrup chair was metal bars formed into an austere, cruel-looking toilet seat apparatus; the mother, who would surely be a mother in agony by the time she would choose THAT, would sit down and sag bare-assedly on top of the wide-open, bare-metal hoop seat, with all of her parts, all her inner folds hanging down, her bare feet wedged into the metal stirrups at the bottom ring of the cruel stool, and then a stuck baby ought to be hanging down too, hopefully, prayerfully, with more pushing now it would soon be protruding beyond the hanging-out inner unmentionables of the desperate mother, the crown of the baby's head leading the way, let's go, let's do it. Let it be done, oh Lord. Oh please, Lord, let him come out.
I had been praying in the other room when my child's mother opted for the stirrup seat. I had been making my deals with God. I would stop doing this, I would start doing that, I promise, if He would only let my baby come out and see the world and be okay--and for his mother to be okay (for I was still then under the delusion that she was ever okay).
And then I heard the call of the midwife. The baby. The baby was coming at last.
I saw the bare metal stirrup apparatus and my baby's mother perched atop, heaving and blowing, huffing and puffing as ever, as she had been all day long. But she was giving agonizing commands now to the midwives. So unlike her. She has to be liked by everyone. By everyone but me. The main midwife was on her knees between the birthing mother's legs, on the floor at the bottom of the stirrup chair; her partner, judicious, sagacious, taciturn, holding onto the seething, grimacing birthing mother, and my gut picked up on it--yes, indeed the it was more serious than we would like--more than these experienced midwives would like. But then the one on her knees had her hands out, like a football player ready to catch a punt, ready to catch my son at last. But there was multitasking to be done, things to move aside, things to reach for and get ready--medical things--and the timing was off between push of the mother and catch of the midwife, and out of the pressing, burgeoning intensity down here, down here between my wife's naked legs, our homebirth was going wrong gut rolled over and sank, though my head was beyond the clouds still, it was either lost or flying, I don't know, and my fleshly hull, it's what crouched down there with the midwife, as they had told me that they needed, but that had been a ruse, it was just to humor me, they had wanted me here as a mascot. A witness. A helpless bystander.
And then the thing happened. A squish of baby shot down and out, and my head went with my gut down into an abyss, and the ecstasy that was in my head went blank and void as I witnessed it, an oblong, lopsided water balloon, the baby, my baby, multicolored and wobbly, slipped and flopped right onto and off of the midwife's hands, a jellied stain of formless flesh and goo, fallen with a splat on the stainproof floormat they'd laid down in our bedroom, and I died for time number one right then. I heard the squish and saw the gloop, I saw it bend how bodies shouldn't bend as my baby hit that vinyl floor, and I died for number one, the first time that I died that day.
The kneeling midwife scooped up what she'd dropped, what I thought would be a baby. In helplessness, I think--or else I was directed--I stood up to help her partner instead, the other, more businesslike midwife, to lift and ease and hoist the mother of my baby onto our bed, our bed we seldom shared save for when we'd conceived this second kid; I gently pushed and pulled her, carefully, lovingly, up onto her back to the pillow at the top of the bed so that her legs would fit.
Down at the foot of the bed the activity of the midwife was hurried but measured. Her hands were making up for the fumbling of our baby before; her hands worked with alacrity now, working at getting our baby to breathe, to breathe its first breath. I lay upon the bare chest of this woman that I loved who was incapable of loving me or anyone, but who was a virtuoso at fakery, as I later learned with a horror so surreal; I lay there with the greatest of care upon her, supporting my own weight carefully, but skin to skin nevertheless upon her, feeling a most acute and profound and vast love for her, still thinking, not knowing, that I was but an object even then to her, had always been an object to her, would always be an object in her solipsistic universe. Never was I more deluded than that day, when I loved that woman to that refined degree, as I lay there with her, on her, in my wishful, longing, ecstatic, other-worldly delusion that I was a husband to her, a man, an equal, and not a gaslit, lied-to toy.
But then, as more seconds passed, my soaring and flying love and admiration for this woman who had just accomplished this astounding thing for us--for so went my thinking--my attention was pulled to the bottom of the bed, demanded to the bottom of the bed. It was required by the absence, the continued absence of our baby, the awkward growing absence. I was drawn to look to the midwife and her hands with their dexterity and expertise; she was working with precision, fixity, and haste. A grave double-time to her movements, doing these things to our baby. Medical things.
Then I heard the one, then the other back, hushed, firm, serious. I got the why of the current action, the what was going on. The umbilical cord had snapped. Before breathing, they first had to stanch the bleeding, which they did with skillful hands. Hands that had dropped him but had rebounded. Redeemed themselves. I too have made mistakes. I cheered for the redemption of those hands.
Still, I became aware of the presence of Death trying to enter right into that very room. I became aware of it when the midwife demanded the oxygen tank from the other midwife. There was another quickening of pace, another ratcheting up of her tone, and the phrase "give me the oxygen," it killed me again for the second time. She fumbled at first with the valve of the tank, a just barely perceptible mishandling of it, and that was time number three that I died, over that one second and half of missed oxygen flow to our baby. We were right at the perimeter of the midwives extensive range of capability, I could see and sense it. Those sickening 30 seconds. Those times I died and soared and died and died, and finally would fly away and soar that day.
That moment when my boy was lifted to us, when entering Death had been kicked from this room, when they told us it was a boy and she laid him up there with us, upon this woman, and with this man, right there next to me, this new and tiny, pink-souled being, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, fruit of my loins; next to me, his tiny breathing, he's breathing, up and down in the blanket, I watched it rise and fall in the little blanket and I fly up to the stars of heaven, I did so in my flesh and I stayed there for an hour, maybe two.
That day was Death thrown back that tried to enter; but it had made itself known, intimately introduced itself of its reality; and more than ever I knew it would be back again someday.
But not then, not that instant, not that day; that day Death was thrown back by Life.
It was thrown back by my God and his mercy.
And now I have these things that I promised Him I would do, and to stop doing those other ones. To this very day, though I continue to fail Him.
Forgive me, Father. And thank you for your mercy. And thank you for those midwives, thank you for their skill.
Thank you for my children. Though I barely get to see them now. Thank you for their wholeness, their health. Perhaps my barely seeing them will change someday, though I'm all out of promises that I can't keep, and you knew that I never would keep them, you knew that I never could, and yet you were merciful still.
Young. Strong. Stupid. Lucky.
We’re here. The Owens River. Me and Justin. We got here a day early. Doug had to work. Him and Chad’ll be up tomorrow. We get to have a head start.
The whole way up, Justin was telling me how to fish this place. Like I needed it. But he’s been here before, a couple of times, so maybe he knows something, so I listened. Fish the whirlpools, fish any little eddy you see out there, especially if there’s tulies nearby. Be on the lookout for tulies. I was just nodding the whole way, thinking, Okay, okay. Just listening. The whole way up. I already know all that he said, but it gets you excited, just listening to it, because we’re going. Riding shotgun and listening. Man, the whole way, I just couldn’t wait.
Here at last, we hop out. It’s late morning. Got enough road snacks to last us. Time to fish. Supposed to be brown trout in here. Tons of them. I only ever caught rainbows.
Step and pull and gallump and shimmy into our waders, then pull the straps, then the stooping and the boots. I strap on my tackle belt. It’s for traveling and fishing. I got this. I got my tackle box loaded with spinners and spoons—Mepps, Rooster Tails, Panther Martins, you name it—putting on our fishing vests, grab our poles out of the back of my cousin’s new truck he’s all proud of, so proud he had to drive the whole way up, all three hours, which was fine by me.
The sun’s out, the fish’re hungry, I’m 28 and I feel great. My weightlifting arms bulge out of fishing vest, and I’ve a crotch of virility, rubbing and squenching in my waders as we walk towards the river, my cousin and me, shiny-sharp metal clinking at the end of my pole—you better believe I’m tied up and ready to go alread—the rest of my lures and equipment rubbing, banging, smacking together in my pack with each eager pace on the dirt as we get closer and closer to this river here.
So this is the Owens. This is what you guys were talking about this whole time, huh? Interesting. All dirt for miles, and a bunch of yellowy-dead grass for miles, and then right in the middle of it there’s this long, curving-around, deep trench about 20 or 30 feet across, and the river is way down there, about eight or nine feet down from the cliff here, straight on down there.
”So there’s brown trout, huh?”
”Dude, they’re everywhere,” says my cousin. And he tells again, some more hot spots to look for, where to cast, what lures to use.
Like I needed it.
It is decided that we should split up. He’ll go upstream, I’ll go down. We’ll meet up later and talk about our score. My very first cast. I’m gonna work this sucker. These fish are gonna wish they’d never seen me.
Every couple steps, you make another cast. Everytime you see a hotspot, or what looks like maybe a hotspot. See the gold spinning off of my lure as I’m reeling. I got a gold Blue Fox on. Gold spinning blade, yellow feather skirt. Treble hook. Can’t miss. Trout go crazy over this sucker.
”You guys‘re dead meat,” I whisper. Didn’t have to whisper. Justin’s way far up there, can’t even see him anymore.
You have to cast sideways to get down there. Wonder how long it took this river to cut through this meadow and get all the way down there. That’s a real gully down there. No rapids or anything, no boulders, nothing like that, but it’s MOVE-ing, all right. You can tell by the way—
I’m snagged. My lure’s stuck. Right on the bottom. Right out there in the middle. Dammit, I see it. I SEE the damn thing. See the gold. It’s tinkling away down there. Right there. Little reflections of the sun. The blade’s still moving. C’mon man, not my Blue Fox. I pull my rod leftways and right. That gets it sometimes. You never want to pull straight back. It could come flying at you. That was two-fifty, man. Two and a half bucks. And it’s a surefire fish catcher. And it’s right there. It’s RIGHT THERE. I SEE it. Look how shallow. I can get that.
My body makes the decision without my head. My muscle-bound body said, “Two or three feet deep“ to itself without saying anything to my head, and it set down my pole and it did it all on its own, and off and away I went. And down I went.
Water. Water. Everywhere water and bubbles. Water up over my head, way over my head. The sun’s up there and I’m down here in all this water and bubbles and it‘s bubbles going different directions and I’m being pulled—and pushed—and I’m going, I can’t stop, I’m going, it’s taking me, I’m going down, still under, bubbles up, bubbles sideways, quick grab the sides, steep-cliff dirt sides, dig my fingers in like claws, but all dirt clods, disintegrate in a second in the current, quick grab the sides again, all dirt clods, disintegrate in a second going faster, grab on, claws, more dirt, more dirt going down, I’m going down, I screwed up, I screwed up, grab on and there’s a rock—big rock—both hands now—Do it arms! Do it!!—pull and push and launch. Hands on the cliff, dry cliff up top, pull with all my might, leg up in soaking waders, swing up on the cliff, last pull and roll over, over onto my back.
Let me just lay here. Laying out in the sun. Chest goes up and down. Arms laid out. On this dirt. Face to the sun. I just did that. I just did it to myself.
It wasn’t shallow.
I don’t know how long I’m here. I don’t mind this dirt. I got nowhere to go. I’m okay just right here. There’s the sun. This breeze feels nice. Everything is nice right now. Everything’s really nice.
Then it hits me. What am I gonna say? I’m all wet still. What am I gonna say if he asks? I suck at lying, but no way I’m telling him.
And then he does ask me, because he’s right there, standing up there. He’s back from upstream. I’m older than him. Oh God, this is embarrassing.
”What’d you do, fall in?” my cousin asks me.
Oh, thank God he made it easy. Thank God. I was worried he’d say, “What happened?” and then I’d be in trouble.
But one word I can do.
”Yes,” I say.
And I’m saved. Hallelujah, I’m saved, he thinks it was an accident. I‘d’ve never outlived that one.
Back Side of the Lake
The grass is tall like corn, but it is thin like grass stems taller than teenaged us. Yellowy, beigey, sagey-greenish wave after wave of grass stems all around and over us, and us with our fishing gear tramping around, watch the tip of your pole where you’re going, trying to see through all this corn-like grass and going in circles, I think. Scuba divers in murky water can see this far ahead. Where are we? Blue-golden sky is above beyond the lanky grass frills way up there.
“I didn’t know grass grew this big.”
Now with the cows. The mooing is all around us, mooing, snorting, mooing from any direction, every direction. One from there. One from there. One’s over there now. A heavyness behind those moos, and we’re suburb kids sowing our oats, and we don’t know: How close are they? and how many cows? and do cows charge?
”Wait,” says my brother. “Are they cows or are they BULLS?”
”How the hell should I know?”
”Do cows charge?”
“I don‘t know,” says Chad. That’s who got us into this. Back side of the lake. Come on. Let’s do it.
”Duuude,” my brother contemplates.
“Wish I could fly,” says I.
“Where‘s the lake?”
”I don’t know.”
”Dude, shut up. I think I hear something.”
”Yeah, no shit. It’s cows.”
”Or else bulls.”
There’s quiet and then there’s cows again (or bulls). Sure sounds like they’re surrounding us, the mooing-honking-mooing-snorting-mooing all around us getting closer, now at times from new directions, weird directions—did they move or is that a new one?—hidden, hiding cows all stalking us from this ocean of oversized grass.
”Where are they?”
”I don’t know.”
”Can’t see anything.”
”Where’s the water? Where’s the friggin’ LAKE??”
”Sure wish I could fly.”
So much for this way. Don’t think we’ll ever get out of here. No idea where’s the car, we just wanted to see some fish that had never seen a lure before, and NOW look at it, it’s all just grass and cows we walked into. Or else they could be bulls. And I sure wish I could fly. This is not a good way to die.
When I caught that fish it was incredible. It made my pole bend way far over. I remember my bobber was moving, it was going sideways, kind of zig-zaggy. He was trying to take off with it! He was trying to steal my worm! But he was hooked already, so I just reeled. I reeled as fast as I could, I pulled and yanked as hard as I could, and there he was. A giant catfish. He was two pounds probably! I KNEW he was bigger than all those little guys. Right when I saw my bobber moving, I knew. He was black and yellow, my biggest-ever fish. When I got home, I looked him up in my book. It said he was a bullhead. But I still don’t know if it was black bullhead or yellow bullhead. Every time I‘d read the page, it made me think the other one.
And now he’s under there. The Indians were right. When you bury a fish in the dirt, then if you plant a seed right there, it makes it grow bigger and faster.
That’s the biggest corn. Bigger than all the others. It reaches up to the sky, higher than the others. That’s my catfish doing that.
It All Started on the Beach
You got knocked up
On a beach
To escape your home
That was me
Then came me
Then you built me up
You knocked me down
You kept on imploding
Inploding all over those
Who came after me
Like a collapsing star
You took in all light
You sucked in all strength
To a point of oblivion
Feeding on angst
Of vast swirling vortices
Of light and strength
Into pinpoint nothingness
I thought Jorge was asleep, but guess not. Feel like telling him but I don't. I saw them go already. He knows. Jorge sleeps like a log, but not when he's taking a nap. He says he had a bad dream.
Tell him, Aunt Donna is here.
He won't tell me his dream, but I keep on bugging him. He says Mom was little in it. Mom was next to the carrots on his plate. He almost ate her in his dream.
Tell him, Where'd you get THAT from?? What the HECK??
I'm looking and I'm looking at him. Jorge was never scared before. Now he is.
Dad took Mom to the shrink, I tell him.
Isolation Tank Exercising While the Walls of Life Close In
I’m lifting weights in the garage, got the barbell loaded up and I’m bench-pressing. I got my favorite mix-tape in the cassette player, my little ghetto blaster up there on the beat-up workbench, my favorite band blaring out of it as loud as I can get away with out here; gotta drown out the yelling; the Chameleons; and it's even my favorite song of theirs playing on the whole killer tape I made: “Second Skin.”
Uh, oh. Here comes Dad. Not just in here but he's coming over to ME. He’s come THIS WAY. Now he's standing here. Now he's fumbling around, turning off my music. Aw, shit. There it goes. Really?? Why are YOU here?? Why NOW??
Aw, crap. Look at it, he's bracing himself up for something. What could it be? He's got something, the idiot.
I get out from under the bar and I sit up on the bench press right at the leg curl extension, and I look up at him, I guess, sort of; he’s standing right here, so what ELSE am I gonna do?--What is it?--he wants something--look at him fidgeting around--okay, here we go, can you just get to it already??
Hey, uh—he starts out—now that you’re all done with high school, did you ever think about, maybe, going to college?
A shrug of the shoulders and he’s gone. Back in the house with him. Get the hell outta here. What the hell was THAT about?? Hear Mom yelling. Turn this back on, drown her ass out again. It’s Sunday or he'd be at work. Did SHE put him up to that? Why should she SHE care? Since when does HE care? College?? What the--??
It takes me a little bit to get back into my lifting. It's like I just got derailed or whatever. I'm still sitting up on the weight bench. There's a part of me, it just wants to barge in there and ask 'em, What the hell was THAT about??
Yeah. No kidding. The more and more I sit here, the more it hits me: Shit, Dad. You never said shit to me. All these years. Nothing. Not a damn thing. NOW you think you’re gonna start? NOW?? For five whole seconds? Are you that stupid??
Huh. Geez. Son of a bitch.
College?? What's THAT?? How the hell should I know?? What--you want me to sit in a room with 35 other people and not be able to talk all day long for even MORE years? Are you f--king CRAZY? I’ve done my time. I'm DONE with that shit. I don't know what the hell's wrong with me. You guys made me. Now you think you're gonna fix it?? And in a couple of seconds??
Oh, great. That's just great.
I lean back, slip under the bar, mutter "F--k them," and go back to my bench pressing. The song playing on there now is “Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In).” Also by the Chameleons. There’s a chorus line, it goes,
“And now the baby needs to grow,
But the mother is crazy.”
This part of the tape I kinda lose myself in. I get into a zone and just lift. This tape kicks ass. I made it perfect. It’s my best mix I ever made to work out to. Got the bar off the rack, down against my chest, strain, flex, push, up and exhale, and again, and again, and again.
Next up'll be “Isolation” by Joy Division on that sucker.--God, with the yelling; I can hear her in there. Over my music, I can hear her--Shut up. Shut the hell up already.--"Isolation." Awesome song. That one with the chorus that goes:
“Surrendered to self-preservation,
From others who care for themselves.”
When it gets there, I never hear “others.” I always hear “mothers.” In my universe, in the place where I live and hide, where there's the real me under covers, it's mothers. It's always mothers. It's all that matters is what it means there.
My final set, rack the bar, sit up, and listen.
Here it comes. Joy Division.
“Mother, I tried, please believe me,
I’m doing the best that I can,
I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through,
I’m ashamed of the person I am.”
Like you care. Like either of you give two shits.
Uncle Keith, he's my favorite everything. I tell Mom, When I grow up, I’m gonna be just like him. She says, Don't even think about it. Then she tells Dad, Does he have to keep coming over here? He SMELLS.
Dad says, No, he doesn't. C'mon now.
Mom says, Burt, he wreaks. Can't you smell the B.O.?
Dad says, Aww, c'mon.
I don't know B.O. I know it's a smell thing. But I don't know what it is. But who cares?
Uncle Keith does EVERYthing like how I want to do it when I'm a grown up. He drives a sports car with the top all the way down. It can go up or down. Down is way more fun, so thats how he always keeps it. It's a MG. It’s red. It’s dark maroon red, and when he takes me for rides, I sit right next to him, and he has yellowy-brown hair that's long, and the wind makes it go like super-fast waves in the air like a cape behind him, and all over I feel the wind on me, on my face, on my hair, on my mouth, it's the only time I ever felt wind like that, and it's in my hair, and I lift my hand up and down and let the wind keep it up there like it's a sailboat, I don't have to lift it now, it's just the wind blowing that's keeping my hand up, this is amazingness. This is amazingness of life again. This is it.
Sports cars don't have a backseat. Only two people can ride in it. Me and him. Uncle Keith says it's a bachelor car. That's what I'm gonna be when I grow up. We always go to the liquor store. He always gets me something when we're here. They have drinks here you can’t get at a big store. They have red soda and green soda and blue soda, and tons and tons of others, and all kinds of candy you can't find any place else. Liquor stores are way better than big stores. This is the BEST place ever!
Uncle Keith says I can pick out a couple things. I already picked out three. My Big Red soda and these Bottle Caps and these round things that say NECCO. He says "couple" means two. I say to him, I thought it was the same for when you say "few." I thought couple meant more than one, but when you don't know exactly, so you just say couple or you just say few. I made him smile and he gets it, that's what I like about Uncle Keith, he always gets it. He says again when he calls me Buddy, couple means two, and I can tell in his voice that he knows it, he knows for sure it's two, so I just learned a new word that I didn't have right. Now I know. He's my greatest teacher. But he lets me get all three still.
Okay, just this time, he says. And he smiles like he's my brother. That's how it feels like. Like he's my older brother I never had.
I put my few, not my couple, up on the table so the man can do the money on them. The store man says what a nice uncle I have to get me all this stuff. Uncle Keith says, Heyyyy, as long it doesn’t go over a couple of bucks.
But then the DING happens when the guy does his buttons and I can see, it goes over. That's more than a couple. The store man looks at Uncle Keith, and that's a grown-up look, but Uncle Keith says, Heyyyy, man, it's only money. Then he's my brother looking at me and it's funny. It's funny 'cause he was way off on the money, it was more than just two bucks.
Then we go back to his MG car and I get in with him, then there's the VrrRROOOOM and it's more and more wind in my face, I love it, it's all over my hair again till I can’t control how it goes and it's fun, everything's fun, fun is everywhere right here now, and it gets funner everytime Uncle Keith grabs the stickball thing sticking up, he pushes it forward, then he goes back, then he does it this way and up, then he goes back down with it, and everytime there's another vrooom when he pushes it, everytime we go faster, everytime we get more wind again, till I have to close my eyes, it gets too good in here with all this wind.
When we get back home, Uncle Keith says if Dad got 'er done.
I say, Dad, Dad, what a great ride we had. Me and Uncle Keith. We had a GREAT ride.
Dad says, Ha, looks like everybody went riding today.
Then they do a great big laugh together. And I'm just like them. I can do grown-up stuff too.
I love it when Uncle Keith comes over, and if he sticks around, he and Dad talk about grown-up stuff in the front yard. Uncle Keith is Dad’s little brother. He looks the same as Dad, but his hair is not as brown and it's long, and his nose isn't big like Dad's.
He says, Heyyyyy, man!
He says, Farrrrrr out!
He says, Riiiight on!
Uncle Keith makes records. Mom says he's a bum. He doesn't want to work. He just wants to figure the easy way out. Uncle Keith cleans carpets of people’s houses. He also has a van. His van I LOVE riding in. He puts stickers on his van that are magnets that he takes on and off. It depends if he's at work doing carpets. The magnet stickers say the name of his company for doing carpets, and every magnet sticker has a different number. Mom says he's trying to trick people, he makes people believe he's got a bunch of vans, but really it's just him and his one van he has. But I just think that's smart.
When he doesn't come over, sometimes he's making records. Uncle Keith wants to do a hit song on the radio. I gave him all my song ideas. I wrote them all down and made a list. I stayed up all night and did it and he liked two of my ideas. He liked my song called “Boogie-itis.” And he liked my song called "The Brightest Star in the Universe." I told him, the "Boogie-itis" one is just perfect, because they already have a song on the radio called “Boogie Fever.” So they might as well have one called “Boogie-itis" then, because "itis" also means sick, just like "fever," plus they both have the word "Boogie" in front of it.
He said, Riiiight on, Buddy.
He said he liked where I was going.
Uncle Keith and Dad talk about when they were kids. They do that out by the gutter. When they were kids, their dad would take them fishing. That means Grampa, my Grampa that is dead. So that's what they can talk about a lot is places they used to go for fishing, and all the fun they used to have. One time when Uncle Keith came, they were talking grown-up stuff out by the gutter, and there was a mud puddle of water in the gutter from Dad washing the car before, and me and Dad and Uncle Keith were standing, and Uncle Keith got down low when he sees the puddle all of a sudden, and he makes a fishing pole sign with his hands, and looks up to Dad, and flicks his hand and he goes, Zzzzzzzzzzz! That's the fishing sound, like he was casting his pole out there. Like he was gonna catch a fish right there in that little mud puddle. Dad got it, so he laughed. I also got that he was pretending, so I laughed. I can do just like them. I know what they're saying.
I just want to go fishing with Dad and Uncle Keith. You don’t have to be a grown up. You just have to know how to cast. That's what I remind them. They say that they will.
I say, Farrrr out!
But Uncle Keith and Dad just go back to talking grown-up stuff. No more fishing. Just boring. But I watch them and I stay right here, because it's Uncle Keith.
When I grow up, I want to be just like him.
Sometimes if I tell him, he gets it and he likes it. He goes, Riiiiiiight on.
Surfacing Signs of Success Must Be Smothered and Stamped Out Speedily
I like Mrs. Butke's Spanish class, and I am surprised. It's my only class I've liked in high school so far. I like this learning-a-new-language stuff. It’s kind of cool, I don’t know. It’s like a secret code or whatever, and only you and a few others can decode it. But only if they also know that secret code. Screw everybody else who doesn't know it. This is kind of cool.
There’s a girl in my Spanish class. She’s a 10th grader. She has dark brown everything. I love dark brown. She said I have a nice butt. Can’t believe a sophomore girl would say that. I’m sitting here at the dining room table doing my Spanish homework for tomorrow. Maybe I'll raise my hand tomorrow. I might. I could. That’s how come I’m actually doing it. I actually LIKE doing it—it's WEIRD. And I’m THINKING about liking it, too. Like, I'm thinking about liking it even more maybe, I don’t know. Practicing my pronunciation. I can’t do the two r’s right yet. The "doble-ere." I can’t do it. I can do it once in awhile, but not always. My tongue screws up. My tongue muscles won't go that way yet. But I can do the one r that sounds like a d. Then there’s the b sound that sounds like a v, but only a little bit like a v. And there's the j that’s silent. And the h, I don't know what the heck it does, really.
I kind of like this. I don't know.
Mom wants to know, what am I doing?
Tell her it’s my homework, it’s for Spanish I.
She says, Aw, c’mon.
She says, why do I want to learn that BEANER language for?
Feel my mind just go off the tracks. I’m a train that just went off a bridge and off the tracks and the thing I thought I had in my brain, it died. It’s nothing.
Why’m I staring at this?
I could be out playing basketball.