Category Archives: Memoir

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day three.

The distant sound of transport*

*No, this is not the rejected title of a Pink Floyd from their sad late 80s chapter.
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The Lackawanna Valley by George Inness (c. 1856)

Because this is the frozen hellscape Ohio where the ice weasels roam, it’s been really cold the past few nights. Before I go to bed, I like to stroll around the yard to wind down. Most nights the cat accompanies me. She really doesn’t like to go outside during the day because birdsong frightens her. Some really bloodthirsty wrens had a nest near the porch this summer.

On nights like this the air is clear and cold like leaded glass in an old casement window. It’s frozen, but you can sense movement; the glass is thicker at the bottom. It’s flowing. The higher up you go, the thinner it gets until the glass will shatter if you so much as lay your eyes upon it. That’s how it feels to look at the stars.

railmapOne would expect, or hope, that the night would be silent. It’s not. I live in the middle of Columbus, the largest city in the Midwest that’s not Chicago. There’s stuff going on. I live a block from the High Street. One mile to the east are the CSXT and NorfolkSouthern railroads and I-71. One mile to the west lay both the CSXT tracks and six lanes of OH-315.

People and things and stuff are moving up and down these corridors all night long. Most nights, it’s just a soft woosh, about as loud as one of those beige metal white noise machines your shrink has outside his or her office. But on these nights, I can hear each individual car, truck, and boxcar. I even imagine I can tell whether a motor cycle is a Harley or some Japanese rice rocket —as the owner of the only motorcycle I have ever driven referred to his Yamaha. For the record, I went ten feet… and into the side of an Accord. Therefore, I am an expert on what bikes sound like.

It’s like lanes and lanes of individual stories to my east and to my west, heading north and south. I am surrounded by lives being lived, stuff getting done, things being used.

I am alone, but I am a part of something. My world is large even though I dare not venture out of the cat’s sights because, you know, wrens.

Distant transport has always sparked me. When I was a small child on Long Island, I fell asleep to the sound of traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Our street ended at Exit 50. By the time I was eight, I could tell what the weather was like even before I opened my eyes. Tires on dry pavement have a different pitch than on wet. Icy pavement screams.

Since then:

  • Fighter jets out of Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach off to fight the Commies.
  • The Hollywood Freeway competing with coyotes in the hills.
  • The Upper Deck of I-35 in Downtown Austin running over the roof of the Crazy Lady on the next block —a constant back and forth between “Twenty-one, and barely legal!” and “NO ENGINE BRAKES”
  • Tugboats on New York Harbor. There’s been bells helping move stuff there for over three hundred years. I doubt the sound of bells has changed much in that time.
  • All through high school, on cold glassy nights, you could hear the elephants at The Columbus Zoo. It’s the 19th century, and I’m i somewhere in the British Raj.

These are the machines in the garden, just waiting to take me out of my idyll. They appeal to my nomad brain, teasing me with what’s beyond the horizon.

But… I learned that the LIE was a different monster when I would visit my friend Francesca Klein. She lived up the hill, on Petit Court, and her backyard WAS the Long Island Expressway. Francesca liked telling elaborate stories in an odd cadence that made little sense if you didn’t catch every detail, but each car that screamed feet from her patio doors would jostle me out of the narrative. I don’t being jostled, just ask anyone who’s ever tried to get a beer with me.

A lot of Francesca’s stories involved cars that ended up next to her swings or that time a person hurt in an accident came to the patio doors and banged on the glass. Being too close to transport is scary. Cars are big; trains are even bigger. They go fast. Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s expressed in Newtons, which is too ridiculous of a unit of measure to be killed by. Dreaming of hopping on a boxcar and eating beans with jaunty hobos is one thing. Standing next to a moving train is another thing that recalls that time you swore you were going to tump off the subway platform into the path of a G Train. The G Train, not a way to die.

But from a mile away, it’s nothing to leap up from the alley and onto something going somewhere fabulous —even if it’s just heading down to Cincinnati. Cincinnati is exotic destination on clear nights. They have hills. That’s a change, and change is good.

Bonus joy…

I first encountered the painting at the top on the cover of Leo Marx’s seminal 1964 history book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in AmericaWhile researching what the name of the painting was, I stumbled upon a page that must’ve been made by some American Studies prof sometime around 2002. There, next to The Lackawanna Valley was The Peaceable Kingdom, which I just happened to mention in Day Two of this exercise.

I love when that happens. Stuff fits together even before we know it fits together.

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go figure

 

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25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day two.

Visible Storage at The Met

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Ecstatic about aesthetic.

When I visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I turn left once thru the main doors and enter the art proper thru the Greek and Roman Galleries. The other way leads to the Egyptian galleries, which are a little too samey and deathy for my taste.

The first attraction in the Greek and Roman Galleries is a giant column, ionic. Turn left here for the first bathroom break. When visiting The Met, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the locations of bathrooms as their locations follows no logic.

Beyond the Greek and Roman Galleries, I go to the Oceanic Gallery. It’s bright, and most of the stuff is huge and amiable.

From there, the route anybody’s guess. I just start turning and twisting from Islamic to Impressionist, from photography to iconography. I cannot rest. I must see it all. Or not. It’s too big. I’ve been to The Met dozens of times, and I still find new rooms full of new thing each time. I like to go with others. Half the fun of going to a museum is chatting with a friend and figuring out what they like. I usually pretend I’m following them.

But I have a destination, Visible Storage in the American Wing. Visible Storage is where I can finally rest.

Visible Storage is exactly what the name implies. Objects —all American, as the name of the wing would imply —are on shelves behind glass, labeled with accession numbers. So many objects. Ever want to see twenty-seven examples of 19th century American glass salt-cellars? They’re here, next to any number of chicken-shaped serving dishes. There’s bronze sculptures from St. Gardens and Remington down the aisle from a Tiffany Studios workstation. The Peaceable Kingdom is here, along with a very scary porcupine-themed screen. Empty frames as objects in themselves. Chairs on shelves!

It’s cool and dark. Orderly, yet chaotic.

And empty of people.

I can twirl and not knock anything over. My main standard for whether a location will or will not send me into a claustrophobic spiral is the availability of unencumbered twirling space.

When twirling’s done, there’s actual couches in the place of hard benches. This is good place to eat Cheetos without having to worry about getting orange dust on the art or being hassled by The Man.

I also think it would be fun to make out on one these couches with only The Peaceable Kingdom as witness.

 

Then we can twirl some more.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day zero.

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Part One… The return of the cheap advent calendar…

A few years ago, I did a Christmas writing thing on Tumblr based upon my purchase of a suspiciously cheap chocolate-filled Advent calendar. Just a little something each day. Helped keep my spirits up during a difficult Holiday season. And it really got my creative flows juicing:babyjeebus

$1.98 Advent calendar I got at the C-Town across the street

The other week, I found an even cheaper choco-calendar at the Tuesday Morning’s in the shopping center with the good Vietnamese food.

There is freshly-tilled brain dirt up in my head after a fun season of stuff you can read about in Part Two if you so choose: There’s medication withdrawal, hip pain, a not-stroke, a psychotic Valtrex reaction —all overlaying a year where I started, for lack of a better word, honoring my big-ass ADHD. If my ADHD were on the menu in a Thai restaurant, there would be four bright red peppers next to it, and the waitress would ask, “Are you sure?”

It’s been a scene. Continue reading 25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day zero.

A Lamprey with a Gavel

 

I had to turn away from the television during his testimony. I just couldn’t look at his garbage mouth any longer.

I got through hers. I rooted for her because I related to her being terrified, her asking politely for caffeine, and going all nerd under stress. Thank the baby jeebus nothing in her account triggered me too badly. I’ve never encountered physical sexual abuse. I have been “persuaded” into providing unenthusiastic consent on numerous occasions, some much worse than others. Example: here’s a special place in hell for the woman in college who asked “You do like girls, don’t you?” as a negotiating tactic. But nothing physical. I’m lucky. I’m a pretty big guy. As my grandpa would say, “Strong like bull; dumb like ox.” I can look real mean, like I’m about to go berserker, and I have a very low center of gravity.

But the Brett Kavanaughs of my life did physically abuse me. Sometimes it was fists. Once it was milk crate. Or it could be having to run until I felt like my heart would burst. Or it was the constant stress of never knowing where the next attack would come from.

And when the bullies cornered me —and they always eventually did —all I could focus on would be their mouths. I couldn’t look at their eyes because that would only enrage them. I would focus on the mouth because it was always pointed in my direction. And the mouths were always moving. I would fixate on those mouths until my entire field of vision was some twirling psychedelic bully-mouth kaleidoscope. Whatever crap they were spewing pulsated into almost-music. Sometimes it would seem like the bully’s toadies were dancing like go-go toadies to the almost-music of his hate. It’s easier to take the blows if you imagine they’re dancing.

If you turn away from the mouth, you start to react. People don’t like it when you react to bullies. How people react to you reacting is worse than whatever you’re dissociating away from at the present time. So you stare at the mouth.

Sometimes it seems like their teeth have come detached from their jaw and are just swimming around in pink spit.

All bullies have the same mouth. When that much anger, illogic, and saliva get forced thru a small opening, the force of the hate begins to change their faces. The mouths cease being human. They become mere conduits for an ugliness so old, so gross that you’d have to go really far back in time for an analog, to some back channel of the evolutionary tree. Continue reading A Lamprey with a Gavel

Telling a story about telling a story…

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Look Comrade! I’m speaking! I’m speaking!

Last month I finally got up the nerve to get up in front of actual, non-cat, people and tell a story. I went down to a function called Speak Easy, got up on stage, and told a story about a closet case me stumbling into a donkey show at a cinder-block brothel a few miles outside of Ciudad Acuña, MX in 1991. People seemed to find listening to my Psychosexual Corn Maze™ somewhat amusing. And, really, what more can you ask for?

A day later I was on the phone with my ex-fiancée and part-time muse Lynda. After the requisite convo about politics and cats and the politics of cats, I told her about my experience.

“I like it. It’s an other-directed activity, but it’s still all about me.”

“I don’t think you understand what is meant by ‘other-directed,” said Lynda.

Normally, I concede all matters of semantics to Lynda because she is so much brain-having. However, I think I’m right. Storytelling is too other-directed. For five minutes or so last Thursday I took a break from skating on the Möbius Strip that passes for my psyche and interacted with people in a manner that didn’t involve me standing off to the side with my arms akimbo at them.

[Actually, my arms moved way too much; I need to work on that.]

For the first time since I moved to Columbus, I actually felt like I was doing “something.” I was putting something out into the world instead of reacting to things. I did something concrete, and people did something concrete in return. Continue reading Telling a story about telling a story…

It’s like Shark Week, but with despair instead of ocean.

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This is what you get when you Google “melancholy shark.”

CUE VOICE (FROM BEHIND ME AND TO THE RIGHT):

Remember how the Sugar Free Dr. Pepper fizzed in your mouth and all over your face? Remember how a little fountain of Sugar Free Dr. Pepper shot out of the gap between your front teeth? Remember how one of the Xanaxes got loose and, through a forced perspective, seemed to hover in front of the faces of your dorm-mates. And, drama queen, they’re there because you summoned everyone to their windows for the fountain spectacular. Now we’re just going to freeze it here and zoom in on your roommate, Larry, standing naked in one of full-length stairwell windows. And let’s put one of those shadow circles around Larry’s ridiculous penis. Wow, if everything had gone according to your impulsive non-plan, one of last things on your retinas would’ve been an image of quite possibly the largest member you’ve ever side-eyed.

Y’know how during August, when it’s Shark Week, how you have Shark Week proper on The Discovery Channel, but there’s also Shark everywhere else? All the little ancillary remora channels of the Discovery Network are shark-flogging. Then Colbert does a bit about how the Mueller probe is like Shark Week. Then one of those weird retro channels that have decimal points in their ID programs a block of sitcom episodes where the shark is jumped. Yes, the Fonz is there. Then your Facebook feed fills with sad pictures of sharks with their dorsal fins hacked off because shark fin soup is cruel, and sharks are not the mindless killing machines that Discovery portrays! Didn’t you know that?!? Why do you hate Mother Ocean? You suck at being woke. Then, in response, Discovery has a night where they assure everyone that sharks are perfectly reasonable denizens of Mother Ocean. Sharks gotta shark. Then they will show slow-motion video of hacked-off dorsal fin set to whatever Sarah MacClachlan-ish collection of chords they own the rights to. Then there will be a BP commercial.

You cannot escape Shark Week. That is the whole point of Shark Week. It is a merciless engine.

Well, it’s June, and this June it isn’t Shark Week. It’s Suicide Week. Continue reading It’s like Shark Week, but with despair instead of ocean.

Behold My Big Hairy Internalized Homophobia!

dragqueenheelsThe words stung even though they weren’t directed at me. They stung even though they were only in a Facebook post about someone I did not know, existing only in ones and zeros. They stung even though the person who typed those ones and zeros has never been anything but really nice to me, and again, they were not directed at me.

But, you know what? Everything’s about me. The words stung.

The post’s author noted that he got blocked on Facebook a lot by “old white men suffering from much internalized homophobia.”

And then someone replied, “So no real loss.”

Ouch. Those couple of phrases divorced themselves from the larger context of the thread, which, again, had nothing to do with me. The second those words hit my optic nerve, my brain separated them out and transmogrified them into a Broadway marquee dripping with flashing, chasing incandescent bulbs. How could I not? I may not be sure of a lot of things about myself, but one thing I do know is that I AM AN OLD WHITE GUY SUFFERING FROM MUCH INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA.

At first, I tried to slough it off. It’s just ones and zeros. That didn’t work; still lodged in my brain. Then I tried to laugh along with it. I typed back something to the effect of “I’m a quivering, sentient mass of internalized homophobia, and I still like ya.” Ha ha… way to internalize a comment about internalization, Chris!

Nope, still stings. Then I decided to really use my words and write about it. After all, I’ve been blocked lately and was looking for something to cattle prod the muse. I thought about latching on to the word “old,” focusing on the all-too-typical and typically boring ageism rampant among the homosexual element. Everyone two or more years older than you is “old,” and everyone two or more years younger than you is “a baby.” I could go full Gen-X Cranky on it with something along the lines of a listicle titled “Eight Ways Millennials are Ruining Internalized Homophobia.”

That still didn’t scratch that itch because the ageism really didn’t trigger me. One gets inured to it. Turn, turn, turn. Sands through the hourglass. Blah blah blah. No, it was the phrase “internalized homophobia” and the way it was just tossed off like a random salad. Continue reading Behold My Big Hairy Internalized Homophobia!

For art, go stand by an eagle.

It was the first day of kindergarten, and free time had begun. Importantly, I had done everything Miss Petersen had said to do –to the letter. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself for having identified and found an eagle in the visual cacophony of the kindergarten classroom at Manasquan elementary. There I was standing underneath the flag to which we had earlier learned to pledge our undying allegiance to the great man who made America possible, Richard Stanz, and yet I still had no painting supplies in my hand.

I had art to create. I felt I had done some amazing work with finger paints in pre-school, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do with an actual brush.

“Everyone who wants to paint, go stand by an eagle.” Those were her words. Eagle. I know –it made no sense. Some kids went into an alcove and stood by big, propped-up boards. I didn’t know what you called those big, propped-up boards in the alcove, but they certainly weren’t eagles. I looked around the room. You could say I had an eagle eye. (Sorry. Not sorry) We had a bird book at home, and eagles looked exactly like what was at the tip of the flagpole at the end of the blackboard by the classroom door. So I stood there. Certainly she would get around to me sooner or later and lead me to that arting heaven I was promised in church. But she never did. Why did Miss Petersen hate me? I had half a mind to tell on her to Richard Stanz if I ever met him. Continue reading For art, go stand by an eagle.

Russell Drive, the end

[Because I’ve been quite blocked lately, I’ve been doing Writing Prompts. Here’s one… What is your earliest memory?]

Looking back, I’m surprised I wasn’t killed.

We moved out of the house on Russell Drive a few days after my third birthday, so consequently I have very few memories of my time there. All my recollections of what it looked like –white with reddish-brown trim and shutters –come from driving by on visits back to the Milwaukee area in subsequent years.

My only memory of the interior is looking up at my mother while she stood in front of the kitchen window while yellow lightning bolts hung in the sky behind her. And that’s not really a memory of the interior when you come to think about it. I have never seen lightning that exact color and duration again. One’s first memory of a thing always comes with a quality that makes it seem not real. You can spend your whole life chasing that first memory. Continue reading Russell Drive, the end

Aqua-Possum

Right now, here in Ohio, it’s about 92 and humid today. This got me thinking about pools. That in turn got me thinking about the first important lesson I ever got in a swim class…

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Youth swimming was a big deal at the Strathmore subdivision’s pool. Whether you were a pollywog or a tadpole or a minnow determined whether you could use the intermediate pool or were relegated to the kiddie pool. The big, big pool was beyond all our dreams and was only for those who graduated into levels with exotic names like “beginner” and “advanced beginner.”

I was five and just trying to get myself from tadpole to minnow so I could flop around unhindered in the intermediate pool. No one ever pooped (hardly) in the intermediate pool. Once you’re past pooping indiscriminately, the thrill of swimming with poop kinda diminishes. To get away from the poop, one had to learn such difficult moves as holding onto the side of the pool and kicking and pushing off from the side of the pool –all real minnow material.

But standing between my minnow badge and me was the instructor, Scott. He was a high school guy with hair that looked the same dry as wet, and, in place of regulation swim trunks, he wore too brief cutoff denim shorts with extra fringe. All in all, he gave the impression more of someone who herded children into a windowless van than into the shallow end of the intermediate pool. Continue reading Aqua-Possum