December 08, 2012
* enthusiasm gap
* for reasons obvious to everyone but me
* unfortunate third time you feel the need to explain yourself
* just climbed out of 2010 this morning
* deactivated account, still showing up daily
* mad at everyone
December 08, 2012
* enthusiasm gap
* for reasons obvious to everyone but me
* unfortunate third time you feel the need to explain yourself
* just climbed out of 2010 this morning
* deactivated account, still showing up daily
* mad at everyone
October 26, 2010
I once was lost while hunting the Medicine Bow range. I’d foolishly split from my partner – more foolishly still, left him with the only set of maps – and soon realized I’d gotten turned around. I’d felt an initial icicle stab of panic, then composed myself and fired up my GPS not knowing it was to be the only time it would ever fail me. I dutifully and confidently followed its directions back to “CAMP”, feeling calm enough to relish my surroundings before I realized that “CAMP”, allegedly fifteen meters away, was a cluster of large rocks I’d never seen before. I had a brief no-thought moment of surprise (followed by another frigid gut clench of restrained panic), then started planning my strategy for shelter, self-extraction or possible walk-of-shame rescue.
I had sprinted back the last hundred yards and dropped into a prone position, snugging the sling into the meat of my bicep and trying to get sights on target as quickly as possible. The front post was still a slightly unsteady blur and I already knew the rifle was no tack driver – it had never been better than a four-minute-of-angle gun and had a tendency to shoot right – but I was suffering from a mild case of “run-and-gun fever” and needed to make some holes in things.
After months of delays, interruptions and mis-schedulings, I was finally about to drop off my second sample at the urologist’s. This was the big one – the verdict. The “go/no-go” on my sterility. And, praise Jesus, it was a “go”. Or “no-go”, depending on the goal. Regardless, it was confirmed: the baby factory was now defunct.
That, of course, is the short version. The Cliff Notes. Like saying, “World War Two was a bunch of guys fighting. The Italians lost interest, the French lost face, the Brits lost their empire, the Germans and Japanese lost the war and the Americans and Russians lost their minds.” While factually – mostly – correct, it doesn’t really convey the epic struggle that resulted in the ultimate victory. There is more to the tale.
I’ll cut to the chase, in case you’re in a hurry and/or afraid I’ll slip in some surgical details: kids are nature’s own anti-orgasm devices. Anything else you may read below is for entertainment purposes only. At my expense, of course.
At the time of this adventure, my wife was laid up with a broken foot. The soft cast had that sort of sexy, knee-high Goth thing going… kinda… if you squinted… and were already really horny… but you’d be surprised how often the outside edge of your sex partner’s foot bumps into things in just about any position. And while some screaming and dirty-talk can be really hot during sex, shrieks of agony incorporating various conjugations of profanities can be a little bit of a mood killer for all parties involved. I decided to go this one alone.
Sounds easy, right? I mean, I’m a guy, right? And it’s not like this is my first rodeo. And – hey! – my netbook arrived the very weekend prior so I could do some private surfing for – ahem – inspiration.
I decided to be discrete as ever and wait until my wife was in the shower and my kids were safely engrossed in… well, whatever the hell kids do when left to their own devices in a room full of toys and crafts.
“Guys,” I called out, “Daddy has to go, um, potty for a little while. Do you need anything before I go inside?”
“No, Dad,” from my daughter.
“Gabababum,” from my son. It’s okay – he was barely over a year old at the time. He’s a bit more eloquent now.
So I was ready. Let’s do this thing. Into the bathroom the netbook and I went, off to find some – let’s call a spade a spade here – raunchy, hardcore porn.
Failure number one: I am not a porn connoisseur and, while it’s easy to Google porn-related terms, not all sites are created equal. Or are free. It took a little while but I eventually did come across a particularly diverse site with enough variety that, if I couldn’t find something suited to my tastes, I had far bigger issues than sterility.
Failure number two: technology. Fucking technology. I had configured this new netbook for maximum battery life – which meant that both browsing time and video resolution suffer. Especially when streaming movies. Especially large movies. After a few selections that led more to drumming fingers than stroking hands, I tried to only peruse the less-than-three-minute selections. Equally terrible. It was like watching someone make a flip book of stills cut from a Penthouse magazine.
Of course, this soon became irrelevant. Failure number three was on its way. To wit, children.
“Dad!” My daughter, right outside the bathroom door. “He keeps taking my dinosaurs!”
“Sweetie, you have forty different dinosaurs. Let him have one.”
“I diiiiiid,” she whined back, “but he keeps taking whatever one IIIII have!”
Sigh. “That’s because you’re his big sister so he wants to be just like you. Look – give him one, distract him, then play with something else.”
“I don’t want to play – “
“I’M IN THE FREAKING BATHROOM, sweetie. Give me, like, ten minutes, okay?!?” Chafing had become the least of my concerns.
Sulking two-step, twelve seconds of silence, a mumbled, “Okay.”
Alright, where was I beside half-limp? Oh. Right. Strobe-light sex.
“Daddy?” Again, right outside.
Pause. “Please don’t be mad at me.”
Oh, fuck me.
“Sweetie,” doing my best to not sound like I was gritting my teeth, “It’s okay. I’m not mad. I’m just busy. Okay? I’ll be right out. But I’m not mad. Okay? I promise. Now go inside.”
I was hoping to hear her stomping away but instead I heard the zombie shuffle of tinier feet heading towards the door.
Oh, please, no.
“Gah!” a tiny fist pounded on the door and my daughter shouted his name.
“No!” She defended. “Leave Daddy alone! He’s busy. Right, Dad?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, hoping they didn’t actually ask what I was doing that was taking so long. No big loss, though – I don’t think I’d gotten past first base with myself. Yay.
“Gah! Gah!” By now, my son sounded quite happy for having invented such a fun game with Daddy. Fun enough, of course, for my daughter to start giggling. And smacking on the door herself.
I shouted her name and she replied with, “It wasn’t me, it was – ” and she blamed her brother. While giggling.
“No, it was NOT – ” And he then he made a liar out of me by smacking the door gleefully, shrieking, “Gah! Gah! Gah! Gah!”
Out of the shower and alarmed by the racket, my wife then joined in from upstairs, “Honey? Is everything alright?”
I cracked open the bathroom door and bellowed, “YES, SWEETIE! JUST PEACHY! I’M TRYING TO ‘GET A SAMPLE’!”
Snickers from the stairwell. Yeah. Ha fucking ha, gimpy. Did I laugh when you demanded that epidural? By now, my son had wedged his fourteen month old fingers into the door crack while my daughter tried to shove her face through the same space. And then… the dreaded questions: “Why do you have the computer in there? What are those people doing?”
I will remember that moment. There will be vengeance and much cock-blockage when they reach puberty. But, just then, my defenses were limited and I settled for snapping, “GO INSIDE AND TAKE YOUR BROTHER! NOW!!”
This, of course, resulted in my daughter weeping, “Mm. Mmmm…. Mmmwwwaaaahhh!!!! Please don’t yell at mmeeeeee!!!”
As Thomas Jefferson wrote, reproductive freedom is never free and the tree of sexual liberty must from time to time be watered with the tears of nosy children who can’t give their dad just a few goddamned minutes of peace and privacy. Or something like that. Surrounded, beleaguered and cut off from resupply, my only choice was to counterattack. I shoved their tiny, tear-and-booger-painted fingers back out the door and closed it. And locked it. And braced one foot against it.
I suppose it speaks to my inner horn-doggedness that I could even maintain a modicum (if you’ll pardon the term) of focus through this barrage of buzzkill but c’est moi. I killed the browser session, eschewing technology for old-fashioned, low-tech “happy thoughts”, begrudgingly got the goddamned sample and stormed out of the bathroom.
Failure number four: I now had a sample cup with no discrete method of transporting it. Crap. It was too big (the jar, not the sample – stress is counterproductive to, well, production) to stick in my pocket so, obviously, I needed a simple paper bag.
I had no paper bags. I had plastic ones that were all nearly translucent and were actually too big to be discrete. I finally found a fairly smallish, solid white one. And, of course, it had “Wal-Mart” emblazoned on the side.
So… there I stood. Frustrated, mortified, avoiding the gaze of my sniffling children, with my jizz jar in a freaking Wal-Mart bag. I kept thinking of phrases like “discount ejaculation” and “cheap fuck”. The really warped part of my brain thought it would be amusing to see if I was asked for a receipt if I approached the customer service desk but I really wasn’t in much of a mood for such frivolity. Beside, any misuse of the jar might result in my having to do this again.
I left for the interminably slow drive to the doctor’s office and recounted the tale while Nurse Helga searched for signs of life under the microscope. Finally, the verdict.
No survivors. No more kids. No more deferred intimacy. No more condoms. No more gut-wrenching “I thought you were supposed to buy them!” moments. And, most importantly, no more “gathering samples”. Well… not alone, anyway. Or into a jar. And definitely not if the kids are awake.
Ego is a funny thing. It can buoy you in times of need but it can also raise you to dangerous heights from which to fall. Deadly, even.
I’ve had an interesting life or at least I think I have. I’ve learned over the past weeks to question most all of my self-perception and the colors of my memories. I had thought myself a self-made – and therefore heavily scarred – survivor. A man who started life as a violent borderline sociopath, emotionless and cruel, manipulative and opportunistic. A man who then found love, turned his efforts to good and heroically carried himself and his bride to redemption. Over the past month, I have found that I was, in fact, little more than a terrified, sensitive and brilliant child who became what he did to avoid the physical and psychological abuse that surrounded him and that preyed on such displays of weakness. Who saved no one but was, in fact, saved by the woman he married. And who, in fact, then victimized that woman, making her into a sacrificial lamb for his insecurities and fears. My insecurities and fears. My self-hatred and self-loathing. My own Dorian Grey portrait.
June 27, 2010
I clawed at the unforgiving cushions of the back seat of our rental Camry, sweat pouring from my brow and running down the sides of my neck to pool unpleasantly around my shirt collar, my back arched as my muscles clenched and spasmed. I don’t know how long the drive was, only that the minutes screamed endlessly, like a man getting sucked into a wind tunnel in a better class of action movie. Traffic lights shone bright – so bright! – scorching my retinas, flaring like an ammunition dump explosion in a lower class of romantic comedy.
If you ever get the chance – and yes, I am aware, chances of this nature are thin on the ground – then take the drive through Utah into Colorado.
There is a lovely Denny’s in Utah.
My father died on January 13th, 2007, which would have been my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary. Even in the midst of her grief, my mother remarked that it was the only gift he’d ever given her in all their years of marriage. Sounds horrible but that was the nature of their relationship and, frankly, it was an accurate statement. It was also more of a relationship than he shared with me. We were never as close as I had hoped as a child, needed as a teen, pondered as man or wished for as a father myself but I didn’t hate him. I would have had to know him to hate him and he kept us all at a safe enough distance that there was little chance of that.
His name was Nicholas, though his birth certificate said “Nicolai” – a point that was often mocked but never actually addressed. He was the youngest of thirteen children, thankfully the product of two different women who had chosen to marry his father. My grandfather died long before I was thought of and I knew little about him aside from the rumor that he was a man with a temper who had little to do with his children. And that I supposedly have his eyes. His youngest offspring was coddled mercilessly by his mother, though, and later showed noticeable artistic talents both in sketching and as a clothier (a skill that served him well when, in the depths of poverty, he literally made my mother’s and siblings’ clothes from fabric obtained from the Salvation Army). His brothers, in contrast, were all supposedly bitterly competitive and perpetually in-fighting, later exhibiting great psychotic tendencies. Of the entire clan, I only met his half-sister, married to my Uncle Tony, and “Uncle Frank”, whose claim to family fame was that he lost his first wife. Literally. He one day told their pre-teen son, “Your mother ain’t here anymore,” before shipping him off to live with a series of other relatives. Given that Frank seemed to have an endless supply of fifty-gallon drums in his yard and sailed a lot, we sort of did the math and never brought it up.
There were – and will remain – many things unaddressed about that side of the family.
In any case, Nick joined the navy right out of high school and served in the Pacific during the second world war. Although his official occupation was “pharmacist’s mate”, his actual duties included the unenviable job of pulling what was left of pilots, sometimes burning, from their shot up planes in the brief window between the time they stopped skidding and the time their fuel tanks went up. I did not know this as a boy and took his near debilitating fear of flying to be still another sign of his weakness.
After the war, he returned to the states where he married a nice Irish girl – alienating his family – and was accepted into a reputable school for commercial artists. Unfortunately, both he and the nice Irish girl were Catholic and they soon found themselves in a family way. School would have to wait. Then they had another. And another. School would have to go. Luckily, his garment making skills impressed a local tailor with connections into the fashion world and my father was offered an apprenticeship with intimations of bigger things. It would be unbelievably tight – almost impossible – with three kids but, if they tightened the family belt for a few years, it might be an investment worth making.
Then they got pregnant with my sister. And my father gave up hoping. He took a job as a “floor walker” at a department store and that’s where he stayed until the company went out of business two years before he was due to retire. Thirteen years after conceiving my sister, they had me. By then, my father was a sullen, withdrawn, passive-aggressive, pedantic, chain-smoking borderline alcoholic with few friends to speak of and no social life. He walked me to school until about second grade, when I apparently (I have no recollection of this – I was seven) told him he “needed to make friends his own age”. He never walked me to school again.
That was our relationship for almost two decades. He and my mother moved out of our rental apartment when I was seventeen, leaving me to fend for myself so they could finally buy their own place in Florida, a small condo in an “adult community”. They were snowbirds at first, coming back up in the summertime, disrupting my life and moving back in for a few months before abandoning me again. It was during this time that the congestive heart failure which would take over fifteen years to kill him by degrees announced its arrival with a sudden heart attack. I remember how grey his skin became and how the sweat beaded on his bald crown. When he was finally released, he seemed bent on passive-aggressive self-destruction. Dying to make my family worry about him, well, dying.
My mother usually answered the phone when I would call but, on occasion, he would happen to get to it first. On hearing my greeting, he would usually say, “Oh! Hello, Andrew. Let me get your mother.” And that would be that. Rarer still would be the times he was home alone, in which case he would tell me where my mother was – with implications that whatever task she was on was frivolous and wasteful – and that he’d let her know I called. She hardly ever got the message. Over the years, we spoke more, though only about current events or when he wanted to criticize my mother and only when I initiated the contact. At least it was communication. I don’t ever recall hearing him tell me he was proud of me or that he loved me. In fairness, I also can’t say I ever recall telling him, either.
He was a rail-thin man in my youth but, between his endless medications and restricted activity, ballooned outrageously in short order. The closer he got to the end, the worse the bloating became. His legs swelled up horribly and he suffered from gout. Walking anywhere was exceptionally difficult. Travel soon became impossible. My mother had to call 9-1-1 so often that he was on first-name basis with the ambulance crews and the ER staff. The orderlies joked about “having his room ready” and once put up a fake sign, renaming the hospital wing after him.
I brought my first-born child to him since flying had been out of the question for years by the time she arrived. I am not a “manly man” but I remember – with a little surprise – a particular outburst I had at my siblings. He was fighting to stand on his own feet just to look at the babe and I asked if he wanted to hold her. He shook his head almost sheepishly and my siblings – older siblings, I might add – let forth a chorus of “Oh, no! He’ll drop her! He’s not strong enough anymore.” And, without warning even to myself, I turned on them fiercely and positively bellowed, “He is a goddamned man and he can hold his fucking granddaughter if he wants to!!”
And he did. And he did not drop her. And he held her for a full minute, cooing at her before he grew tired and asked me to take her back. Then he sat down of his own accord. He lasted another two years or so after that, slowly wasting away. I remember flying down to take care of him towards the end (my siblings, living only two hours away, refused to do so), helping him use the bathroom, showering. How frail he was. How his skin seemed to hang on his bones like wet paper. How that damnable pacemaker bulged out from beneath that parchment like a Christmas gift from Hell, daring you to see what was inside.
On my last birthday, of all days, I was going through a box of “deal with it later” papers and stumbled across a sympathy card into which I had stuck photos taken of him in his last hours. He was already a skeleton. Cadaverous. One eye was shut, the other lid partially open, cheeks gaunt and sunken. All I could think was, “My God – he looks like Tutankhamen.” This is the lasting memory I have of my father.
I often find myself missing him but then chide myself for the sentiment. I missed him when he was still alive so what’s the difference? He’s simply gotten the distance he sought while he walked among us. Hopefully, he’s also gotten the peace he always seemed to be missing. I can’t say that I ever knew him but I understand him a lot more, now that I’m a father. He taught me a lot about that job – mostly as an example of what not to do but that’s still valuable. I have often started down a bad road and thought, “This is what he was feeling. This is why he broke my heart.” And then backtracked, corrected my course and made the right decision for my children.
I am much more like him than I am comfortable admitting to myself but, for all my bitching, my kids are my life. I hug them often, tell them I’m proud of them regularly and that I love them to an embarrassing degree. I can be a cold, clinical and sometimes vicious man but I try desperately to choke it down around them and to be mindful of how my words and actions could wound a tiny soul. They will never wonder how I felt about them. They will never question my pride in them. They will never be lacking my support or encouragement.
I did not “know my father”, much as I wished to, but there was, somewhat in my life, a man named Nicholas who tried his best to do the right things, who had many faults, shortcomings and insecurities but who, in his odd, detached way, loved me. And I loved this man back as much as he would allow.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We’ll do better next time.
June 12, 2010
“Give me one reason!” She stared at me, defiant, nostrils flaring. She was already three steps down the spiral stone staircase that led to the park below… to the remnant of woods beyond. To the place beyond my reach, where she would meet her fate. Pimped out by her boyfriend of the time. Addicted to heroin and cocaine. Prostituting herself for her habit. Infected with HIV. Dead.
It would take all of three years’ time.
But then, at that moment, she was still nineteen – as was I – and there was still a chance. She’d dabbled in drugs but wasn’t hooked yet. She used the company of men in their late twenties and early thirties but was still held the reigns and pretended they were real relationships. She was street-tough. But I’d seen her other side. Briefly. Long enough to know it was underneath. Hiding, crying, in a closet somewhere while her bulletproof persona drove them both straight for the cliffs ahead.
We met when I was fifteen. God, did we know each other for that long? I hadn’t considered it until now. Regardless, we moved in the same circles, already fledgling ferals, connecting within the same pack. We never dated. We never even “dated”. But there was something there. Something that made her twenty-four-year-old “boyfriend” jealous. Something that her friends teased her about to the point where she, in typical teen fashion, went out of her way to be dismissive of me in public. Yet we always hung with the same crew and would orbit each other like moons of the same planet.
My parents went to Ireland for two weeks when I was sixteen, leaving me alone in the apartment. Of course, drunken teenaged revelry ensued. Most of the crew – including her, with her girlfriend, “M”. She’d since had a breakup-worthy fight with her latest boyfriend. We drank and partied throughout the night, then passed out pretty much wherever we fell. I ended up in my own bedroom, Lord of the Manor that I was, with M, two other guys… and her. She passed out in my bed. On my pillow.
M decided it would be the height of cruel hilarity to tell her in the morning that she’d stripped for us and we’d had our way with her. This is what passed for humor in our world. I was still half-drunk/half-hung over by the time she awoke to this news so I certainly came across suitably subdued and contrite. She threatened everyone in the room… except me. M for letting it happen. The other two boys for doing it. But not me. One guy noticed and made a sullen comment about it but nothing was ever said directly. We came clean and she seemed to see the humor in it. She never looked me in the eye the rest of that morning after she found out we hadn’t slept together. I don’t know if she ever knew we had spooned all night, fully clothed, arms entwined.
As a side note, a death threat for such an offense was not to be taken lightly. Her father – drunken, meth-lean, coke-head that he was – was the closest thing to a made hitter in our neighborhood. I was one of the few kids to meet him in their apartment. He was so wired he was giving off sparks. He had a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachinegun – cutting-edge technology back then – in pieces on his bedspread and a 1911 .45ACP tucked into the back of his pants. In case you were wondering, nothing about that scene was remotely legal. He liked me and got pretty exuberant when I was introduced by name, though I didn’t know why he’d even heard of me. Guess that was another clue.
I played hero for another girl then actually began to date her seriously. She lived in an even shittier neighborhood but had an innocence about her. She did the tough-girl thing, too, but you could tell there was a limit. Her soul hadn’t been touched. The wall went up in time. She would make it out on her own, she just needed some cover, while she built up enough escape velocity.
But Jill – her name was Jill, so fucking write it, Andrew – grew very distant and aloof when it was obvious that I was serious about this girl. Eventually, in another drunken bacchanalia, Jill accosted her – completely apropos of nothing – to slur that nothing had “ever, ever, ever, ever happened” between us. My girlfriend though that was funny. I thought I was dying inside.
By the time I was eighteen, I was in bona fide love and wanted to make a better life for us, to get off the path I was on before it was no longer an option. I became more “mainstream”. I went to a trade school. I cut ties with the crew. Jill became more involved in the drug scene and her older boyfriends became a lot more controlling. We wouldn’t see her for months at a time and, when she surfaced, she always looked more haggard and strung out. We wouldn’t say much to each other at those times. Sometimes, she wouldn’t even get out of her guy’s car.
I began my life as a corporate drone, commuting into the city and making good money. I had made it clear that I was out and not to be bothered with the local scene anymore. But someone told me that Jill was moving in with her latest guy, sharing an apartment in an area that I knew to be… unsavory. I suspected what it meant. I sent word that I wanted to talk to her.
And she came. We met at that public park. On those stone stairs. I told her I was thinking about moving, too. To another state. Halfway across the country. Away from all this crap. Clean break, start over. I let the unspoken hang there.
“Why are you telling me this?” She spit it. I mean it. Like venom.
“Because…” I was speechless. That was rarely a problem I had to face – I always had something to say, even if it was an order to give. “Just – “
“Why?” She interrupted, demanded.
“This isn’t good for you. You know what the fuck is going to happen if you keep doing this shit. You’re gonna end up fucking dead. You don’t deserve this.”
She scoffed, “Deserve? What the fuck do you know about what I deserve?”
“You don’t. You are beautiful. You are smart. You are a good person. And you fucking deserve to be treated like it for a change.” She wouldn’t look me in the eye. She chain-smoked what seemed like half a pack of Marlboros.
And then I saw the tears. Leaking out like rain down a window pane, divorced from any expression on her face.
“What about – ?” she asked, naming my girlfriend.
And I was speechless again. My girlfriend needed security, love and nurturing. Jill needed someone to save her life. But I loved them both and… I was fucking nineteen. I didn’t know how to handle emotions like this. And I paused. For longer than I should have.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” And she turned and walked down the steps.
“WAIT!!” I shouted.
“Give me one reason!” That’s what she shouted back. That’s what still echoes in my head, two decades later, because I also heard the words that never left her head. Tell me you love me. Tell me you’ll take me. Tell me you won’t ever leave me and I’ll never share you because what you just said wasn’t just words. Tell me you love me and I’ll never have to look back or come back or remember anything I ever did here.
And I didn’t. I paused again. This time, I didn’t shout anymore because I couldn’t. No, that’s a lie. I could have. But I knew there was only room for one passenger in the lifeboat I was rowing and I did not have the heart to throw my girlfriend into the water just to pull Jill in. Even though I could see she was about to slip under.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought. Go move. Go get married. Have kids.” She wasn’t shouting anymore. She wasn’t bitter. She’d seen the ending of this movie before she’d even bought the ticket and she was simply resigned to her fate. And mine.
Not once, not for one single moment, did she look back at me when she descended those stairs. Symbolic. Into the underworld.
Soon after, I invited my girlfriend to move with me. Not long after that, I’d heard the first rumors of Jill’s life. I proposed when I was twenty-one. Some time between then and getting married the following year, I’d heard about Jill’s HIV status. Before my new bride and I pulled up stakes and left for good, I’d heard – though never substantiated – that Jill had been found dead. Unknown if it was the disease or an overdose. Or suicide.
So… I am married. I have moved. I have children. I have a wonderful life. And some small part of me will never forgive me for it all. And I will always see her, mascara drying in streaks, unheeded, on her taut cheeks. Waiting to see if the words she craved but never expected would come after all, one last – last – opportunity for salvation just a small sentence away.
We all go to Hell in our own way and time. We cannot be responsible for the choices of others. But I don’t believe I will ever forgive myself, regardless, and I hope her death brought her more peace than it ever will me.
It’s spring. I love transitional seasons but they also frighten me – they tend to take my mind and moods on random, unpredictable journeys. Existential vertigo, as it were.
I just like saying it that way – “snipped”. It freaks out the guys I know. Seriously. Some men to whom I mention it literally cringe. Others take a solemn pause in conversation, as if acknowledging the passing of a comrade in arms (or groins, I suppose). Many make polite “Oh. Really?” sounds and swiftly change the subject. To watch them just shut down amuses me. I sometimes want to reassure them that I’m just preventing unwanted pregnancies while increasing my own selfish pleasure (Dear Trojan, Inc: Thank you for your many years of loyal and excellent service. Regrettably, upcoming reductions in headcount make our continued relationship unnecessary, although I will gladly and emphatically recommend your services to my son. In about fifteen years.) just so they chill out. I’m sterile, not a eunuch.
I get it, though. I think if I hadn’t already had kids and wasn’t currently suffering through raising an infant, I might be more disturbed by the thought of someone taking pokey-cutty things to my nether regions. While I don’t recall my circumcision in the least (I was born in Jewish Memorial Hospital – just color me doomed on arrival), I’m still a little surprised that I don’t have to fight any repressed-memory panic.
After disregarding the best-recommended specialist in the area (his name was, you guessed it, “Dr. Wiener” and I suspect you really don’t want to be giggling at the name of the guy needling into your ‘nads), I made an appointment with the second-best and not at all amusingly named specialist, had my consult, confirmed that I had both testicles and means to pay for the surgery, then set a date. As luck would have it, it was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and you’d better believe there were more than a few “Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!” jokes. Yes, my big day. What I sometimes thought of as my vas mitzvah – “Today I am a sterile man.” Well, almost. According to my crack medical team, it would take about thirty ejaculations to “clear the pipes”. The doors to the baby factory would be closed but there would still be twenty thousand or so shoppers that needed to check out before we turned out the lights for good. So I guess I would be pre-sterile. I would’ve signed a letter of intent to be sterile. I’d be sterile-ready.
And when that day rolled around, I was obscenely happy. Almost giddy. Let my wife’s biological alarm clock wail like, well, our latest addition – I wouldn’t have to care! Sorry, happy to attempt to oblige as often as you’d like but, well…. Plus, I have to admit, I’m a big bio-nerd by nature, always curious about the workings of the human body. I’d closely watched my own dental surgeries and Lasik procedure – it would be nice to see something new. I bounced into the doctor’s office, already on first-name terms with the receptionist and my nurse.
Empty my bladder? Why, now that you mention it, it probably couldn’t hurt to try! Brilliant idea, really. Hmmm-hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm-hmmmmm. Tap-tap-tap. Wash thoroughly. And we’re bopping down to the surgery room.
Drop ’em? Already? Everything? Well… nurse Helga was no looker and likely wasn’t even back in her prime during the Johnson presidency (heh – “Johnson”) but I complied anyway. I can keep my socks on? Well, that’s a nice touch and keeps a sense of propriety about the whole thing. And I chattered away, wearing naught but a t-shirt, socks and a smile. She told me to lay back on the table and we compared favorite, obnoxious “impact injury to the groin” stories as she manhandled my manhood, yanking and flopping this way and that while scrubbing me with Betadine.
“This stuff’s brown, so don’t freak out when you get home and go to clean up. We had one guy call us, thinking he was bleeding out. Idiot.” I generally dig gruff and blunt but Helga was sort of scaring me. I don’t want to be a future story. Especially one ending in “idiot”.
“Okay, spread your legs.” Yoink! “And now close ’em. And relax.”
Yes, ma’am. Just… please let go of my junk, per favore.
And we chit-chatted some more, with me flat on my back and my twig and berries flopped to one side and painted ochre, like some sort of primitive Kabuki porn.
“Now, the doctor’s going to give you three shots. Down here.” She poked roughly, in case I thought she meant my patella, because that makes perfect sense. “After that, you shouldn’t feel anything sharp or pointy.” Holy shit, did she just say that? “If you do, say something! Don’t be all macho and manly on this!”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I felt that I’d gotten to know her and that she’d appreciate this sort of candor. “I’ve manlied my way through a lot of shit but we’re not yanking a tooth here. What kind of idiot doesn’t say something with this?” I figured I’d score big points with the “i-word”, a little mirroring to ingratiate myself.
“We had one. I asked him after, ‘How was it?’, and he tells me – ” She affected a look of mocking horror. ” – ‘It was HORRIBLE!’ and then he says he could feel everything!” She shook her head and I pushed the envelope of our sympatico.
“Idiot.” I mutter.
“Exactly!” Another brownie point for me. I will provide several tips for anyone considering this procedure. The first is to always score brownie points with the nurse.
Enter Herr Doktor. Nice enough fellow but certainly not much by way of a sense of humor and he looked disturbingly more than a little like The Tall Man from the 80’s “Phantasm” horror series. You know – the guy walking around with a giant, stainless-steel, contextually-apropos Flying Ball of Slicing, Cutting Death? Frankly, I’m more than a little amazed that my schlong didn’t suddenly become an “innie” when he walked in.
“I see you shaved. That’s good.”
That almost sounded creepy. Okay – drop the “almost”. But he was right – it was good. Yes, the doc, during our consultation, warned me that long hairs may get sutured in and so I may wish to consider shaving. I am, in large part, of Sicilian heritage and we are a somewhat hirsute-of-body kinda people. So a-shaving I had gone, another new experience to me. I had never “manscaped” before. And, um, I liked it… a lot. Continue to, in fact, but that’s another story. Should you be contemplating a similar move – for surgical reasons or otherwise – I highly recommend the Norelco Bodygroom.
This was about all the small talk I could extract before we got down to business. I managed to squeeze a smirk out of Cap’n Clip’em when Helga grumbled about “opening up the wrong end” in regards to a surgical sheet and I replied with, “As long as I don’t hear him say that, it’ll be a good day.” I know how to work a room, even with exposed and Betadined genitals.
We chatted some more about kids, sleep deprivation, more groin injuries and then Helga warned, “Okay, you’re going to feel a little stick and some burning.”
Pfff – okay, lady. You have no idea what I’ve been through in my life and the kind of pain I’ve endured withouwowowOWOWOW!!! I think I actually started to levitate a little because Nurse Ratched started to sound concerned.
“It’s okay! Caaaaalm down….” And I did. Breathe, burning feeling is fading, needle is out – Oh, crap, not the left one! Breeeeathe…. Not as bad as the first. Ooooookay. Now he’s going to poke me in the middle, too, but I’m already getting a bit numb down there so it’s okay. Kinda.
Whew. Okay. Then there was some… other stuff. I mean, man, it was weird. Nothing hurt but I could feel moving around, tugging, et cetera and the anticipation was a little unsettling. Especially when I heard snipping. And when the doc reached for the laser to cauterize me and I saw smoke rising. Wow. On second thought, I think I won’t be having barbecued pork for lunch… ever again. Then he added to my unease when he seemed to be, well, looking around for something on the second side.
“Everything where it’s supposed to be, doc?”
“Oh, yes. Here. You still want to see what this is all about?” He remembered that, during our consultation, I had readily admitted my geek status and medical curiosity. And, well, I did want to see. I am a twisted fuck.
There we were, discussing blood supply and seminal distribution, with me sitting up and mostly naked and him illustrating various points on my vas… well… sticking out of a hole in my scrotum. I elected to lay back down before he cut and cauterized it. Probably best – I may have had a moment of weakness and asked if I could do the actual snipping. I see I have already referred to myself as twisted. Just go back and re-read the sentence.
And just like that, we were done. Stitch here. Wipe there. Direct pressure. After-care instructions (mostly given to my doting wife) then a spousal chauffeur home with one brief stop at the local supermarket’s pharmacy to pick up some Percocet that I was assured I would want (never did take it, though).
On getting home, I almost immediately began to learn many valuable and interesting things. For example, you should explicitly specify “including when he’s laying down on the couch” when you warn your children ahead of time that no, you will not be playing with them and no, there will be no climbing on Daddy. Ice packs really are your friend. And instructions that include the admonition “if you screw up, your scrotum will swell to the size of a grapefruit – at least” should be heeded.
Really, really, really take note of that last one.
Now, men, a lot of activities you might not expect end up tugging on your balls through the course of a day. Like coughing, sneezing, sighing, clearing your throat, yelling at misbehaving children, laughing heartily, reaching across your torso with an extended arm holding a laptop and, um, thinking about sex… a lot. But stupidly going up and down stairs multiple times to ride herd on workers replacing a tiled wall is just courting disaster, something I had frequent occasion to contemplate on subsequent nights when jolted awake by pain every time I rolled onto my stomach in my sleep.
As I left my home this morning on the way to work, how could I possibly have anticipated our encounter? I assumed it would simply be another Monday, another dull start to a week of mindless drone work and perhaps – just perhaps – some clever and creative breakthrough with my writing. But you had left your home too, hadn’t you. On your way to work, perhaps, or possibly on some random errand. Did you know, too, that our paths would cross? That you would foolishly risk your very existence just to illustrate to me that I am one of the most stunningly attractive men in the universe?
Certainly that’s the only explanation I can think of for why you nearly sideswiped me as you merged onto the highway this morning. I mean, there was no one – NO. ONE. – behind me for, near as I could tell, almost a full mile. Any normal, sane, courteous non-moron would think, “Hm. I shall simply let off the gas just a smidge and fall in behind this fellow rather than attempt to speed up to pace him before I try to cut him off.” So the only thing I can think of is that I am far more attractive than I give myself credit for and, upon stealing a glance at my profile, you felt compelled to do anything – even risk mutilation and fiery death – to get a closer look. It’s the only thing that makes a lick of sense.
You were driving a Prius, for fuck’s sake, whereas I was driving a truck. A much larger vehicle with bark-&-sap-encrusted scrapes running down the side and dents in the body. A vehicle that says, “Not only don’t I give a flying fuck about my ‘carbon footprint’, I also have little regard for hitting large, nearly immovable things with my vehicle – and you are neither large nor immovable.” Still… like a moth to a flame you drifted inward.
You were not distracted – no cell phone to your ear, no beverage at your lips, no yelling at your dashboard radio. I could even see your eyes click to your mirrors and register my presence before you locked your gaze forward and punched it, goading all four of the hamsters under your hood. “Onward, Fluffy, Brain, Moloko and Mister Whiskers! Onward! I must not lose sight of this Adonis!” I just know your very heart must have cried out these words.
Or perhaps it was something deeper. Perhaps it was nothing so shallow as a base physical attraction. Perhaps my very soul shone like a beacon for you. You knew, as you careened brainlessly toward me that I was different. That I could transition easily from gutting an elk to holding a tea party with my daughter, from killer to nurturer. A creative savage, a warrior monk, flitting from ascetic to epicurean on a whim, from discussing technology to theology, listening with equal pleasure to Corelli’s sonatas or Korn’s “Freak on a Leash”, comfortable in all worlds. “Surely,” you thought, “this is Heinlein’s ‘human’ idealized – changing diapers, planning invasions, butchering animals, et al!”
How could you resist being pulled into my orbit? Hurling yourself at me, quite literally.
Sadly, though, I could not allow it. I am a married man, with a family that depends upon my presence, fidelity and income. I will not lead you on and can return neither your infatuation nor your passion. I tried to slow down and wave you in but, stunned by my rugged, masculine pulchritude and the blazing inferno that is my soul – the morning sun gleaming more brightly from my bare scalp than from the cup of coffee I sipped as this drama unfolded, the pendulous parenthood-and-late-night-writing-inspired bags beneath my eyes flapping in the wind – you were still too blinded by your desire to notice the obvious-to-anyone-who-hasn’t-performed-a-self-lobotomy gesture and so, hamsters frothing, could do nothing more than pace me as the onramp ran out. And so I goosed the gas so slightly and left you in my wake.
It could never be, Prius driver. My heart belongs to another. I’m no good for you. We are from different worlds.
Plus, you know, you drive like a fucking asshole.
My childhood was pretty bleak, growing up on the edge of poverty and being raised primarily by… well… myself and the television. My parents were unhappily married and equally unhappy about an accidental pregnancy in their forties, my mother once confessing that she was about to file for divorce (scandalous for their generation) until she found out she was pregnant with me. They were distant both to each other and to the accident that bound them, a distance reinforced by the fact that both worked just to barely keep our heads above water. When I say this, I don’t mean it in modern McMansion-we-couldn’t-afford terms. It was only when my eldest brother kicked in his entire construction paycheck that we had the luxury of paying the rent and affording food for the month.
My mother was a neurotic mess, believing that the best way to handle this late-in-life burden was a mix of barked orders, slapping hands and shrieked dire warnings. My father was a passive-aggressive sulker who, not wanting to divide his parenting efforts in a similar manner, specialized almost exclusively in ignoring my existence. On a good day, it almost looked like he was encouraging my intellectual curiosity by meeting my questions with silence or by responding with either “Ask your mother” or “Look it up.”
On the bright side, with both parents working, my life was pretty simple and structured. From third grade on, I came home directly after school – no time for friends or hanging out, since my mother worked a four-to-midnight shift – and let myself in with my own key. My mother would then berate me for being late anyway and fly out the door with the usual litany of all the potential deathtraps to avoid – don’t go near the windows (proximity would lead to my being sucked out and plummeting to my death sixty feet below), don’t answer the door (I would be kidnapped, molested and/or murdered), don’t touch the kitchen knives (they’re known for turning on their masters and severing wrists). Lighting the gas stove to cook my own dinners ironically never came up on that little morbidity and mortality report but whatever. My father was a floor manager at a retail department store (long since defunct) and, being salaried, was pretty much an indentured servant from opening until closing, not usually getting home until after seven each night, which left eight-year-old me on my own for a good four hours.
On my own except for the man referenced by my mother as an afterthought to her daily Cassandra routine. “If something happens, call Uncle Tony.”
There’s lots of missing and conflicting details about Anthony Gianquitto and it wasn’t until after my cousin died – barely surviving her parents – that anyone attempted a genealogy of that branch of the family. I always remember Uncle Tony as being “old” – although that was anyone over forty to me back then – but exceptionally hale. As it turns out, he was born in the late nineteenth century, making him about fifteen years older than he looked. He married my father’s half-sister somewhere between world wars and sired one child, a daughter. But he became the father-figure to most of the neighborhood, myself included.
He was a small, wiry little Sicilian monkey of a man. Looking back and picturing reference points, I’d probably guess he was about 5’6″ and I’d be shocked if he was ever more than a buck ten in weight. He was quick with a smile and a laugh – always genuine – and spoke the most horrifically broken English. He was gentle and generous, understanding and philosophical. He also once bit off a much larger rival’s ear in a fight over my aunt’s hand.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
During World War Two, he wasn’t allowed to serve in our armed forces – perhaps because of ethnicity, perhaps age – but he was a patriot as only an immigrant can be and, in an effort to serve his adopted homeland, he got whatever job he could, eventually literally working on the war machine of America as a machinist. It was a different world back then, one in which “Italians need not apply” was still a recent and socially acceptable attitude. Combining that bigotry with the fact that Italy had sided with Hitler, it wasn’t entirely unsurprising that Tony was threatened on his second day. So, on his third day, he went to work, grabbed a flat of scrap steel, ground a crude edge on a knife that would’ve given Jim Bowie a hard-on, beat the shit out of the guy that threatened him the previous day and generally announced that he would gut like a fish anyone that tried to keep him from doing his part “for-A-may-ree-ka” (it was all one word, the way he spoke it) from that point forward. He carried it under his shirt every day. One of my brothers inherited that knife when Tony passed. I may have to steal it some day.
That was the only tale I’d ever heard that involved him being employed. I have no idea what job skills he possessed or what he did for a living before he retired but I had unwavering faith that there was nothing in the universe this gargantuan little man couldn’t handle, negotiate or make right. He was – and I suppose, on some level, still is – my idol and the closest thing I ever found to a superhero. A superhero whose only costume was his fedora.
Tony was always a part of my life and I don’t remember ever seeing him outdoors – even on family trips to the beach – without that fedora on his dome nor do I remember ever seeing him indoors without it in ready reach. It is visible in almost every picture I have of him. I don’t recall any transition, either. It was like this binary magic trick: outdoors on – poof! – indoors off. I would visit downstairs early (he lived on the third floor of our apartment building, we lived on the fifth) and find him already awake, almost always dressed in dark slacks, a “wife-beater” undershirt and a simple dress shirt over it. Tucked in, of course – Tony was no cafone. You could tell the seasons by the length of the sleeves and how many buttons were undone. You could also tell the time of day by his seated activity. If he was sitting in the kitchen, reading the newspaper, having espresso and a single slice of toasted Italian bread, it was morning. If he was sitting in the dining room, having espresso with a few fingers of Sambuca, it was mid-morning. If he was siting in the livingroom, watching a baseball game, having a Miller Lite (I worship him, so I forgive this) and a slice of prosciutto on a single slice of untoasted Italian bread, it was noon. If he was sitting in the dining room, eating like a longshoreman who’d just come off the Bataan Death March and washing it down with more espresso and Sambuca, it was five o’clock. I usually had to go back home before I could see what he was eating and drinking to denote bedtime.
Somewhere in the midst of these repasts, several times each day, he would make the rounds. I used to say that he was the mayor of our neighborhood but that doesn’t show enough respect or convey the love he inspired. He wasn’t some mere elected official. He was at the very least our beloved knight errant if not our fedora-crowned king. Uncle Tony taught me the difference between power and authority. Keep in mind, there are some… “unsavory” relatives in my family. I don’t mean muggers and pickpockets. I mean guys with interesting nicknames who tended to spell “family” with a capital “F”. Uncle Tony not only wasn’t one of them, he used to routinely run them off. His wife, my aunt, was pretty much estranged from her family because this corrupt, murderous, violent pack of classic Guinea gangsters was scared shitless of this affable little monkey-man, who possessed a genial forthrightness that camouflaged a hidden but unstoppable intensity. You did not want to piss him off. Remember that whole ear thing.
Uncle Tony would don his fedora and just wander the neighborhood. He’d walk the tenth-of-a-mile to the local bodega and buy the morning edition. He’d chat with the owner, with half the customers as they stopped in on the way to work, with the other shop owners along the block. In a city suffering from severe racial tensions and in which there were some places you just didn’t go unless you were “the right kind”, Uncle Tony walked with relaxed impunity. He would identify people as “Chinaman”, “Portoriccan”, “da Black” but they were statements of obvious features, like saying “the one-legged bald guy”. There were no connotations – people were just people and you treated them with human respect until they earned your contempt, which you delivered with equal sincerity. I went with him a few times and it was a veritable cacophony of “Hey! Tony!” the whole way.
And he knew their names. He knew their family stories. He knew their problems. He remembered every detail and asked – sincerely – “Howz-i-goin wit dat…[fill in the personal problem here]?” And it wasn’t a manipulative thing nor was it a “community organizer” thing. It was just… Tony. Every person he talked to was his best and only friend yet was nearly forgotten as soon as he saw the next face. He listened, he heard, he offered a little advice and a large side order of “So what? Life’s good!” He was totally invested yet completely detached and everybody felt better after talking to Tony. They called him “Boss”, like the rest of us in the family did. I’ll always remember that. Those “other relatives” might be called that, too, but they demanded it. It was extorted respect, borne of fear. My uncle? It was tribute. It was honor. It was respect, freely given.
Of course, he had his quirks. He was utterly baffled by my Irish mother’s resistance to his giving her seven-year-old a glass of wine with dinner. He would smuggle me shots of Sambuca on Sunday morning. For some reason, he treated Bulova watches with absolute reverence and would occasionally show me his, ensconced in a mahogany box, like he was revealing the Ark of the Covenant. He always carried a pocketknife. Nothing “tactical”, just a simple folder – but I saw him cut through rope with it like it was a fucking lightsaber. The admonition to “don’ never touch da blade” came out of his mouth every time the knife came out of his pocket. He taught me how to oil a sharpening stone and hone a razor’s edge. He taught me a lot of things, all by example. About honor, about respecting others, about being true to your word, about the irrelevancy of odds and effort when you’re doing what you believe is right. About forgiveness and compassion.
When I was an early teen, he saw that I was drifting towards “certain bad elements” and did his best to keep tabs on me. When one of my less-proud moments came to light, I found I wasn’t the least bit afraid of the law nor did I care what my parents thought. But the idea that I had disappointed Tony devastated me. I bawled like a baby when I apologized to him, even though he wasn’t at all involved in the incident. He waited until I was done, patted me on the thigh, smiled, and simply said, “Don’ be sorry. Jus’ be safe.”
When I was sixteen, he had a stroke and lost the ability to speak. It didn’t seem to impact his English skills too terribly and had no effect on his daily neighborhood interviews. There’s something to be said for the expressive qualities of Italian hand gestures. His wife eventually had a brain aneurysm and died instantly on the bathroom floor. I was in my late teens by then and the only one of my clan still in the neighborhood but I was at work. He hollered and gestured out the window for help for over three hours before somebody called the cops and they came to investigate. It wouldn’t have helped my aunt any had I been there but… that took a toll on him, which took a toll on me. He was never the same after that.
My cousin, then a “spinster” in her mid-fifties…. Well, I won’t speak ill of her because I can’t imagine what she was going through but I don’t know what the fuck she was thinking. She put Tony in a nursing home. Each of my siblings and I begged her to let him live with us. Nothing doing. And it was worse than the fucking dog pound. Every time I’d visit him, he’d start putting on his slacks and fedora and I had to explain – again – that he had to stay and I wasn’t taking him home. I was a nineteen year old kid and screwed up in my own right but to this day I am shamed to my soul that I stopped going to see him because those scenes were just too hard on my heart. Whatever I may have accomplished in my life since then, I will always consider myself a coward for that.
The nurses loved him and, even nearing the century mark, he was doing his best to return the favor. Hardly a year later, though, he was gone. They said he was in the best mood ever, had a nice dinner, flirted with them (hand gestures only, mind you), waved goodbye, closed his eyes and just died. They said he was still smiling when they took him away.
A few years later, when my cousin drank herself to death, I flew back out and helped go through the apartment. There wasn’t much I wanted. Just one thing, really, since the knife had already been spoken for. And now I have a trunk in my basement and at its bottom is a very small-headed fedora. It’s seen better days but that’s okay. It’s not for wearing anymore. It’s for looking at. For talking to. For confessing my weaknesses and recounting my proudest moments.
I am now a forty-year-old man and have led, I suspect, a far different life than Tony had, with a lot more time spent in shades of moral grey. I have eschewed an urban environment for the quiet privacy of suburbia and the quasi-rural. And I have little use for a watch of any brand. But I have a reputation for being garrulous and gregarious and am well-known at the shops and restaurants I frequent. And I remember – and actually care about – all the small details of the lives of the people there as well. I know the busboy, Brian, spent seven years in the navy; that Melissa, the barrista, is fluent in Russian; that David, the manager, is studying to be a doctor and is a volunteer medic at night; that Devon runs a girls’ lacrosse camp in Florida every summer; that Steve wants to move to Oregon with his wife to make a clean break and start over. I am trusted because I listen well and take great pains to keep secrets hidden, even when revealing them would hurt only others rather than myself. And I have involved myself in people’s problems because it was the right thing to do, even though it may have cost me much and profited me nothing. And I carry a simple, rather sharp pocketknife – among other things – with me everywhere. But I only wear a fedora on this website because I am not much of a hat guy.
I do sorely miss a man that was, though.