A Drink After Work At The Silver Dollar (Chapter Four, Lou Grant)

31 07 2009


A Drink After Work At The Silver Dollar

MURRAY:  “Let me get this straight, Lou. You’re having nightmares.”

LOU GRANT:  “Yes.”

MURRAY: “About what? What are these nightmares about?”

LOU GRANT: “What difference does that make?”

MURRAY: “They’re about sex, eh Lou?”


LOU GRANT: “Did you hear that?”

MURRAY: “Hear what?”

Murray has this startled look about him. Like a kid in a tent on a camping trip who hears something outside. At night. Afraid at first. Then after a few moments he becomes suspicious.

LOU GRANT: “Nothing.”

MURRAY: “You’re starting to scare me, Lou.”

LOU GRANT: “I am not having nightmares about sex, Murray. They’re dreams about the low life of the city. Scumbags. Drug dealers, winos, hookers…”


Murray feigns belief. That’s how relationship works. We treat each other like equals. But Murray remembers who’s boss.


LOU GRANT: “I don’t want to have them anymore but I can’t seem to stop them. They have a life of their own. Have you ever had recurring nightmares, Murray?”

MURRAY: “Only when my mother-in-law shows up for the weekend.”


I can’t help looking around. For the source of the laugh track. It’s like a constant buzz in my ear. But more malicious.

MURRAY: “What? Something wrong, Lou? Look, Lou, if its really bothering you, maybe you should seek out some professional help.”

LOU GRANT: “I’m not nuts, Murray!”

MURRAY: “You don’t have to be crazy to seek out counseling from a psychiatrist. You don’t think Mary is crazy, do you?”

LOU GRANT: “Mary is seeing a shrink?”

I couldn’t bare it if Mary was ill. Mentally ill. God, she’s so… healthy looking.

MURRAY: “Ya, Lou. She’s dating him.”


MURRAY: “Sorry, Lou. I couldn’t resist it. No, Mary is seeing a psychiatrist. Remember, she had that problem with an eating disorder. Well, she went to a counselor and I think it’s really helped her.”

LOU GRANT: “I think I’ll stick to scotch.”

I didn’t know that Mary had an eating disorder. She hangs around that Jewish princess, Rhoda. Who knows what she might pick up.

MURRAY: “Does it help?”

LOU GRANT: “No, but I like the buzz I get off it.”

I’ve always enjoyed the playful dialogue between characters. Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series. Nick the loveable drunk. Nora, his rich beautiful and sarcastic wife. The banter in all the guy films of the last 30 years. There was an innocence about all of this dialogue. But now with Lou’s nightmares. Where was this heading? Nobody discussed alcoholism with Nick Charles. So why was mental health becoming an issue with me. Lou Grant. I didn’t want this. I just wanted a little harmless escapism.

Panic Attack (Chapter Three, Lou Grant)

31 07 2009


Panic Attack

The sun was lying on my forehead. My shirt collar felt too tight. It felt gritty. My belt was too tight. I was panting like a dog in the midday sun. Warmth filled my crotch. Jesus, I think I pissed my pants. I kept listening for an ambulance siren hoping that someone had found me out here in the yard slipping in and out of consciousness, in and out of the dreams of Lou Grant. Sweat sizzled on my forehead. Tree branches overhead creaked like a rusty gate. A thought flashed across my mind. How much of modern psychosis is a result of overcrowding? Claustrophobia. Not the fear of being closed in but the revulsion, like motion sickness, of too many bodies, too many minds, too much hate, love, jealousy, lust, greed, too much sympathy, too much of everything, too much of us. I felt like my chest was caving in. I wanted to be back in the newsroom with Murray and Mary and the gang.

The Staff (Chapter Two, Lou Grant)

30 07 2009


The Staff

Perhaps you have guessed it. I am not the Lou Grant. The Ed Asner character. But I am a Lou Grant. I work at the Corporation as we called the CBC. Even though I operated a camera on several prestigious programs, I lived in another world. My world. (Canadian programming was so dull in those days.) Dreaming each day as the forty seven year old, bald, fat, grumpy, Lou Grant. Dreaming through all the episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. God, I loved Mary. I would… well, that’s for another time. I dreamed until I had exhausted all the scripts. And then I began to create stories of my own. They were innocent enough. At least in the beginning. In my stories I had the same staff members, the same offices as WGM of Minnesota. But my characters began to evolve, to become something more than they had been imprisoned in the original show.

My main writer, Murray Slaughter, was an odd fellow. Like myself, Murray had a reclining hairline, but unlike myself, Murray wore a toupee. He wore it shifted slightly on his head to one side like a French beret. Murray was quite the lady’s man and was not beyond boasting about his recent conquests, keeping a record of his girls, as he called them, in an album of raw Polaroid snapshots. This is somewhat at odds with the Murray Slaughter of the television series, but then, all of my colleagues had more of an edge to their personalities than was apparent on the tube. Murray and I got along. I made Murray laugh, especially when I insisted that he was not being true to his nature, which was as a devoted husband and father. Not that Murray didn’t love his wife, Marie. Murray had vices. The ladies was one: the ponies was another. They were related. Murray followed anything with a tail. It was never difficult to find Murray when he wasn’t at work. The Chez Moi, a small bar tucked into a side street near the corner of Bloor and Yonge in Toronto, was filled every evening with gamblers and low life drifters and Murray was always in attendance. I don’t know why Marie put up with him but I guess there are women who can’t live without some abuse, not that Murray ever hit his wife, not that I know of, not that it would have been any of my business. I make it a rule — never get involved with the private lives of anyone on staff. I hate personal stuff. I was not against someone having a vice; I have several of my own and cherish them as I do my own children. Everyone has their vices and it’s better that they are out front and not in hiding where they can suddenly rise up in moments of stress like relatives who only show up at funerals. But personal intimate discussions made my skin crawl.

Gordie was my weatherman. He was coloured, though he claimed he was Italian. I hate that word coloured. No one calls Italians brown, or Swedes beige, or Irish poke-a-dot. On several occasions Gordie was ready to bust my chops because I made some reference to his ancestry. “Nothing to be ashamed of Gordo,” I would say. “There’s no one I respect more than Martin Luther King.” This was before Dr. King was assassinated. Not that Dr. King’s assassination ever came up on the show. Generally speaking. Murder puts a damper on humor. Gordie was in denial. We wanted to put him in sports but Gordo had no interest at all in football, or baseball, or hockey. The only sport he showed any interest at all was the Tour de France and no one thought that our market share would increase with Gordo’s analysis of the flying Belgians. Gordie did the weather. He loved it. Said the weather was the sound of God’s bodily functions.

Ted Baxter was our news anchorman. Although he was a few inches too tall and had a little bit too much black in his hair (which I attributed to the use of Grecian Formula), Ted had the same bumbling bluster as his television counterpart. (In the original show, Ted’s hair was silver grey. Not in mine.) It was great having Ted around the newsroom, like having a portable and moving dartboard. Ted came to us directly from the movie industry where he had been doing promotional projects for various products. One that he was exceptionally proud of was a film done for the plumbing industry on industrial attire.

Although everything else was in place, our office had no Mary Richards. The newsroom lacked a certain sweetness and innocence. And until Mary showed up, I could still return to the real world, to my job as a cameraman at the Corporation, to paying my bills, to driving home to my wife and children each evening. Each world was separate from the other but all that would change the day she walked into my office.

It was a slow news day in mid-August. I think the Pope was praying for peace some place. Murray’s tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth as he opened the door to my office and stuck his head in.

“Guess whose here, Lou?”

I looked up impatiently. I hated being interrupted especially by chirpiness.

“You gotta guess, Lou!”

I let out a low animal growl.

LAUGH TRACK. Did you hear that? I hate laugh tracks but I cannot separate it from the show. It’s embedded in my head like some indelible character. Maybe it’s the devil gargling.

Murray stepped to one side and a lovely young woman stepped in. Murray smiled at me with those adult rated eyebrows. Murray introduced us. For a moment I was stunned and said nothing. I dismissed Murray and reached over my desk to shake that small trembling hand. Mary smiled nervously. Mary always seemed to be nervous around me as if she thought I might suddenly lunge for her throat. She’d just graduated from journalism, and was hoping that she might get a job in our newsroom, making copies, making coffee, and running errands. And then she started to cry. God, it happened so suddenly. I wasn’t prepared.

“Don’t…” I barked.

Mary wept harder.

LAUGH TRACK. You see what I mean. I hate that. This should have been a dramatic scene. My first meeting with the lovely young princess of our story, but the laugh track change it into farce.

Mary reached into her purse and pulled out a tissue. I would have used the name of a commercial product but these things were still being negotiated.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grant. I don’t know what’s come over me. Oh this is…”

“Please. Miss Richards,” I muttered turning away. I can’t stand to see a woman cry. I never know what to do with my hands.

“You don’t know how difficult it is to find work, Mr. Grant. You can’t get a job because you don’t have enough experience and you can’t get experience unless you get a job. It’s a catch 32.”



“Excuse me, Mr. Grant?”

“Catch 22.”

“Are you sure? My eye makeup is running. I must look awful. It’s just been one thing after another. Mildred died last night. Well, not really died. She was eaten by Jack. Rhoda warned me about Jack but I thought they’d work things out. I guess I turned a blind eye. I woke up to find Mildred’s sweet little head and feathers in the sugar bowl.”


“Jack ate Mildred?” I turned back to Mary who was dabbing her eyes with the tissues. She looked like a raccoon.

“Jack is my cat,” Mary explained.

“And Mildred is…”

“My cock-a-too.”


“I really need a job, Mr. Grant. I’ll work free for the first month if you’ll just give me a chance.”

“Whose Rhoda?”

“My best friend.”

“Thank God!”


I thought for a moment. Dramatic effect. “Look. Miss Richards. We don’t need a gopher. We have Ted.”


Mary’s lip began to tremble. Tears welled up in her eyes once again.

“No, not again,” I pleaded.

“I can’t help it, Mr. Grant. You must think I’m just a foolish young girl. I really am quite bright. Graduated with straight A’s.” Mary rambled on for some time in this manner, swinging from a detailed account of all her academic accomplishments to bouts of uncontrolled weeping.

“Miss Richards!” I interjected when there was a pause in the action. “We have a position as a junior writer and if you would be willing to go through a period of…”

“Oh, Mr. Grant!” Mary cried, a broad smile sweeping across her face. I stared at her, amazed. I think I might have smiled. And laughed. I have this ridiculous laugh like Goofy, the Disney character. Mary smiled. I thought I heard wedding bells. I was falling in love with her. Everyone fell in love with Mary.

I Am A Corpse (Chapter One, Lou Grant)

29 07 2009

This is the first chapter of a small novel. I’m not sure how long this is going to be. Its a canabalized story from a larger novel called The Tale of Two Cities. We’ll see how it goes. As I get older I notice that I have a natural affection for shorter pieces of fiction. Not short stories. But stories that are interesting enough and short enough to read more than once. So many of the books I see in Chapters are bloated. They should give you a pump when you buy them so you can pump them back up when they start to drag and loose their air. And I think that the new medias really prefer smaller books. Books you can play with.


I Am A Corpse

I am a corpse.

In a lounge chair.

On the outskirts of the American Empire.

On the ledge of a small blue planet.

In the suburbs of the Milky Way.

During the first days of the third Millennium.

There is a cat above me, walking along the telephone wire like a trapeze artist. Its tail like a balance bar. I wish I had a camera. Never seen a cat do that. Maybe she thinks she is a squirrel.

There is a lawnmower two houses down. Blasting out music. I swear. It sounds like a new Bob Dylan song. One I’ve never heard. There is no mistaking the great bards vocal tones. Now, that is a sweet treat. I love that boy. Can’t think of him as a grown man. When you think of it, he’s like me. An invention.

Sweat is rolling off my forehead. Into my eyes. I can’t move. It burns.

I shouldn’t have bothered to mow the lawn. Perhaps that brought on my stroke. But the grass was so long.  I hope they don’t manicure my face before they place me on public display. I was never a handsome and was proud of it. I don’t want to be painted up. To look like one of Picasso’s blue women.

My fingers tingle. The muscles on my arms and legs are flaccid. I have a craving for bacon. And scrambled eggs and sausage. On toast. The American kitchen invented the stroke.

The machinery of my existence is breaking down. Like the sound of that. Machinery of existence. You think maybe that God was Henry Ford. Weren’t we all born on the assembly line. History.

My bowels are relaxing. A pool is spreading out from my crotch. There is no feeling in my legs. The muscles on my arms are twitching. By themselves. Like something is trying to get out. Throat has dried up. My tongue races around in my mouth like some creature caught in the jaws of a steel trap. My arteries are expanding like inner tubes ready to burst. My veins turning brittle. Popping like lights on a Christmas tree. The panic of stillness.

My Absolute Moment is coming to fruition. Think about that. I’m going to see my maker. A group of writers at Warner Brothers. Most of them are dead. Or the next closest thing. Unknown.

I’m not ready. This is not a good time. I still have payments to make on the house. I was losing weight. I stopped drinking. Not all at once. And I was trying not to think about sex every five minutes. My voting habits were becoming more conservative. I voted for Mayor Anderson and his recent crusade against pornography. I supported the movement to have cats put on leashes and bicycle helmets made mandatory equipment for cyclists. And a women’s rights to choose. I can’t seem to stop talking. Inside my head. Jesus, its like a town counsel meeting.

I’m laying here looking at God straight in the eyes. God has a receding chin. No wonder he’s always wearing a beard. And he has very little personality. God is a chartered accountant. He keeps two sets of books. (He works for the mob as an enforcer. God is the original Murder Incorporated.)

God is a publisher with a musty smelling manuscript getting wet in his lap. Sitting in an Adirondack chair at his cottage. In the rain. The ink is starting to run. And he has to read quickly. I am looking my creator straight in the eyes and I have a story.

Paint the kitchen!

24 07 2009

Went up to a friend’s cottage for a few days. He tortured fish while I sat in a chair staring at some ducks on the lake. They did not move all the time I was there. It was a great mystery to me and one I was determined to figure out. The next day I learned that they were wooden ducks anchored to rocks to warn boaters. I’ve been doing so much visual work that I haven’t spent much time doing any writing and there are several projects that I promised myself to work on this summer. And my wife wants me to paint the kitchen. And God, I’d like to get drunk on scotch again and watch Casablanca again. Its great to be as drunk as Bogart in that famous scene when he asks his buddy to play As Time Goes By. ‘If she can take it…’


18 07 2009

Time for a new look as I begin to reworkshop some old pieces that I would like to get a better feel for. See my book Trash at http://trashpoems.wordpress.com/

Biography of X (illustration)

17 07 2009


Biography of X

17 07 2009

I remember that I wanted to write a story about someone who didn’t exist. From their point of view. It might seem impossible but I noticed that there were a lot of troubled souls at university who fit into this category. I was sure they didn’t exist. Or at least they didn’t know they existed. They lived in their own universe so how could they live in ours. At least that was my conclusion. And so I wrote this story about a young woman I knew. I wanted to know her carnally but she wouldn’t let anyone get close to her. Years later, I heard that she had committed suicide. Her universe had imploded. This story is not a pleasant one. In fact when I began to compile a group of stories together I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to include it. There is something offensive about it. Some arrogance in its telling as if the author was above this girl’s pain.


Biography of X

“Why doesn’t she ever laugh? I remember my father asking my mother when I was a child. I wasn’t unhappy, but I never seemed to laugh. Thinking that perhaps I was possessed, my parents brought in the local priest. The priest blessed me with holy water, which wasn’t at all ticklish.

“She has the Madonna complex,” the priest declared.

“What the hell does that mean?” my father barked.

The priest, a timid man, began to tremble, which irritated my father who had no patience with people who wasted his time.

“Out with it for God’s sake!” Father cried.

The priest fled.  Not satisfied with the priest’s declaration my parents sought out a lay opinion. Dr. Lightfoot, a psychologist, was perplexed.

“You say she laughs when you tickle her but otherwise she keeps a somber face?”

My parents nodded.

“Perhaps she is a dull girl?”

“Dull!” my father responded indignantly.

“Retarded!” my mother screamed. “No daughter of mine is going to he retarded!”

I was tested and found to be above average intelligence. Actually I was of average intelligence but my IQ jumped several points at the insistence of my father who argued that he was footing the bills for the tests and so should have some say in their outcome.

Special tutors were brought in to teach me how to laugh. Excerpts from Mark Twain were read to me. I was taken to Neil Simon plays. My mother engaged a stand-up comic but nothing made me laugh. Usually I fell asleep. My mother lectured me on how inappropriate my behavior appeared to people. How could I ever be introduced into her circle of friends if I didn’t learn to laugh? They would start wondering about our whole family. Nothing worked until one day my brother, Jack, ran through the house stark naked wearing his underwear over his head. Without letting anyone see, I laughed inside so hard I pee’d my pants.

I wasn’t meant to he born. There had been a miscarriage between my brother Jack and me. The miscarriage was going to be their final child. I was an after thought. I’m not feeling sorry for myself. Most of the world has been born as after thoughts, but I always got the sense that there was no place for me. God had a big plan for the universe and because of my late arrival I hadn’t been included. I had crashed the party and the only one I knew there was my brother.

When I was a kid, father would take Jack and me to the park. Jack would take a kite and run the length of the park as father fed him the string, the two of them screaming at each other and laughing. I would sit on a bench watching. They were so beautiful together like two angels playing with God. We are going to be happy, I used to think, but then father became successful.

Father was one of the richest men in Windsor, a friend of Frank Sinatra, a cousin of the mayor, chairman of the University Building Committee. Father ran several businesses including a trucking company, an ice cream firm and an import/export dealership. Although he showed up at all important functions, birthdays, Christmas, the holidays the family took to Europe, father was mostly absent as I grew up. Each time I saw him he seemed to have grown fatter, and balder and more abrupt. He had little patience with small talk.

“Are you happy?” he would ask. It was the same question he asked me throughout my life. I don’t think father saw me as anything but a little girl sitting on his lap. When I was younger I responded honestly and answered  – No.  But as I grew older I could not bear the look of guilt and helplessness in his eyes and so I lied.

“How could I not be happy, father?”

Mother, a glamorous sophisticated woman, was fifteen years younger than father. Mother and I were not close. There was no affection except the courtesy kiss on the cheek when we met. Our only intimate conversations concerned the welfare of my older brother, Jack.

“Watch out for your brother!” she would say. “He worries your father.”

There was always a television set on our dining room table in the place father would have sat if he’d been present. Walter Cronkite was our father figure at dinner. We loved the CBS Evening News. Mother claimed to have known Eric Sevareid intimately. The only Canadian news we watched was the weather. Canada was cold and it always rained in Windsor. As we grew older Jack became more and more interested in American politics. Mother, an American by birth, was a big Adelai Stevenson fan and fell in love with Jack Kennedy. His assassination was the most traumatic event of her adult life.

I loved my brother Jack. He felt such passion about ideas and the world. And yet it seemed to me that he lived in a dream, believing in things that meant nothing to him. What did Jack know about being poor, or black, or exploited? His ideas insulated him from his own privileged upbringing and the cold loneliness inside our family. Jack was not alone. The world was buried in an endless expanse of space, like an obese creature’s soul inside light years of fat. We all wanted to believe that the events of our lives or at least of our time were important when the awful truth was that we were nothing more than an echo in an empty universe.

I grew up on television. Captain Kangaroo made me curious. What was inside those huge pockets in his trousers? I learned to cry from Queen for a Day. On this program the woman whose life was judged to be the most miserable won all the prizes. The Millionaire taught me charity. I learned how to apply makeup from the Loretta Young Theatre. Spirituality was taught to me by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and art appreciation by John Nagy. But the most influential program in my youth was The Price Is Right. It was the America dream – intelligence measured by one’s ability to shop.

I lost my virginity when I was fifteen to father’s chauffeur. He was so cute with his trousers around his ankles, his hat on the steering wheel, and his jacket and shirt still done up. The blessed event took place in the back seat of our Chrysler in the garage with the motor running. Ricardo wasn’t much good as a lover. He was a professional chauffeur: polite, prompt and inconspicuous. I was happy to get it over with.

On my sixteenth birthday I was arrested for shoplifting. I’d taken a case of eye makeup. Father fixed it so that all charges were dropped. He never asked me why I’d stolen the goods. Instead he raised my allowance. My shoplifting continued for a while. Finally mother sat me down to have a heart to heart.

“You have always been a strange girl,” mother said. “Do you understand why?”

I shrugged.

“You’re a spoiled little rich girl and if you don’t smarten up, you won’t amount to anything.”

I grinned. This upset my mother.

“I don’t understand you. Are you angry at us?”

I shook my head. I wasn’t angry with my parents. I didn’t feel anything at all. I felt empty. The thing about feeling hollow is that you don’t feel as if anything is missing. When I looked inside all I saw was mother, and father, and Jack. I didn’t see me.

Mother sent me to a shrink, Dr. Zwetiak. I was diagnosed as manic-depressive. At first I felt relieved. Suddenly there was a name for people like me. The doctor said that research indicated that some manic depressants suffered from a chemical imbalance. And he added that there were a lot of manic depressants. I felt giddy. Soon, I thought, they’ll have special parking spaces for manics, and ramps outside public buildings, and psychedelic canes. Great white rabbits would replace seeing-eye dogs. They’ll have Special Olympics for manics. I’ll enter cross-country insomnia.

“Why are you smiling?” Dr. Zwetiak asked. Dr. Zwetiak had a permanent smile on his face but he was uncomfortable with people who smiled.

“Why are you smiling?” I asked.

“I’m not,” the doctor smiled.

I told the doctor about my vision of a world of manic depressants.

“And that makes you smile?” the doctor smiled though he tried not to.

I followed my brother to the University of Windsor. My best friend at college was Owen, a fellow I met in an introductory philosophy course. Owen was a slightly built man, almost frail. But his delicate frame was overshadowed by the strength and force of his face, which was large and flat with a great wide grin and a strong sloping forehead. His receding black curly hair made him look much older than his years. His voice was filled with a fire and passion that overwhelmed all arguments. Owen was black. Owen had two children. I never met his wife.

“Poetry is the glue of the universe,” Owen said. “Without poetry atoms would float aimlessly around, blind with white canes, bumping into each other, constantly apologizing, strangers in the night. Without poetry there would be no love, just a series of one night stands called the physical laws of the universe.”

I replied. “I think there is much less poetry in life than we can bare to imagine. I think life is frugal.”

“You’re too melancholic,” Owen said.

“You’re afraid that I may be right,” I countered.

“I’m afraid for you,” Owen sighed. “I’ve never met anyone who was so serious. Hasn’t anyone ever made you laugh?”

“I’m happy.” I said. “Just ask my father.”

I tried to make other friends. Girls didn’t like me much though I did make some acquaintances. I dated boys though most of them were more interested in how much money my father had. If they wanted, I slept with them. Middle class boys love to fuck rich girls. It makes them feel better about themselves. After a Bob Dylan concert in Detroit, I went to party where Dylan appeared. He sat in the corner, smoked dope and spoke to no one. I sat beside him, shared a joint and hoped the great man would sleep with me. I met a boy named Michael some weeks later. I told him about Dylan.

“Did you sleep with him?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“That’s too bad,” he responded. “I always wanted to sleep with someone who had slept with a star.”

After graduating from college I hung around the campus for a couple of years. With a couple of girls who had befriended me, I rented an apartment in the basement of a house. Our landlord was a professor in the French department. The other two girls moved out and into apartments with their boyfriends. When the French professor’s wife found her husband and me fucking in their kids’ room, I moved out and found an apartment downtown over a Chinese restaurant.

Owen and I remained friends though never lovers. He thought of me as a younger sister that he had to watch over. One afternoon at the corner 0uellette and Wyandotte, Owen was dragged by the police out his beat up Chev before a lunchtime crowd and beaten with nightsticks. His two kids sat in the back seat of Owen’s Chevrolet watching. I accused my father of trying to break up my friendship with Owen.

“The police don’t need an order from me to beat up a nigger,” father said, dismissing me with a wave of his hand.

I hadn’t intended to get so fat. There had been no overwhelming depression or anger or incident that had pushed me over the edge. I was bored. Eating was something to do. And I loved Chinese takeout.  All my friends at college had graduated and begun careers. After the beating in downtown Windsor, Owen didn’t drop by as often. Jack abandoned his early anti-capitalism and joined my father in business.

Everyone loves a fat person. Look at Oliver Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Mama Cass. People love to watch fat people laugh. All that jiggling makes them feel that all is right with the world. And there are so many fat people. You don’t notice them so much when you’re normal. It’s like when you’re having your first child. Suddenly you notice how many women are pregnant. Most of North America is fat, suffocating in affluence. The oath of allegiance should have just two words – FEED ME!

There are all kinds of stereotypes about fat people: fat people love to read tabloids; fat people have sweaty necks; fat people are constantly farting; fat people don’t enjoy sex; fat people don’t recycle; fat men have small wieners; fat people can’t dance; fat people are overly sensitive to pain; fat people like to gossip, drive big car’s, and wear bright baggy clothes; fat women are married to skinny men whom they physically abuse; fat parents are bad role models; fat people have small dogs as pets and treat them like spoiled children. The only stereotype about fat people that is true is that they eat a lot.

My parents stopped coming to see me in my apartment because they found me so disgusting. For a while I tried to keep up appearances. I bathed, wore fashionable oversized clothes, poured huge amounts of exotic perfumes over my body. My father said I smelled like garbage. He was surprised that I wasn’t attacked by seagulls like the city dump. My brother showed up one day with a friend and beat me up. He thought that if he threatened me with death I would change my ways.

And then my father died of a massive stroke. My mother’s greatest concern seemed to be what I would wear at the funeral. It was a hot sticky day in August. Clouds of mosquitoes swarmed the throng of people that showed up at the grave sight. A drum roll of slapping could be heard.  Jack stood beside mother comforting her, while she swatted frantically at the mosquitoes with a handkerchief. Sweat soaked the dress my mother had bought for me. I could feel the fat melting off me and flowing down my legs into two pools at my feet. The priest spoke glowingly about my father as mosquitoes lay siege to mother. I looked at Jack and recalled the day as a little boy he had run through our house stark naked with a pair of underwear on his head. I started to laugh.


Dear Brother (illustration)

13 07 2009


Dear Brother

13 07 2009

Dear Brother

I have grown up as if you were always beside me. When darkness falls over me, I feel like I am in a boat drifting into a fog. I want to step off the boat and sink and sink forever. Without you, I felt so confused. Father would sit in the garden for hours, in silence. He said you were so much like our mother. All I had was your letters. You talked about the size of the school, the classes you took, the trips you made to Detroit, the friends made, the books read. It all sounded so exciting. There was a lovely urgency in your quest for order and truth. The world and you were so desperately in love. You were like one of the great explorers reporting back to me, your queen, your benefactor. Finally the only thing to do is to remake yourself. That is what you told me. The old has to be buried in the new. You must wear a suit that charms and excites. That’s what an adult is. That’s what you told me. The world of the child is chaos. The child must be buried alive. Michael, I don’t want to grow up. I want to stay here with you.

Remember grandpa’s farm. I loved those days. How our teeth would ache from the cold spring water. And the fun we would have in the hayloft when you pretended to be a werewolf. And the buckboard with grandpa riding over to the Leaming’s farm to buy a Crispy Crunch for each of us. I used to sit on the fence for hours watching the cows graze. A soft breeze would stroke my cheek, rustle my hair then hide in the blossoms of the nearby apple orchard, Standing in the long grass, looking down the sloping fields of grain to the river in the glen where the mill stood, you could hear the grinding sound of the saws, and the slapping of lumber against lumber and the men in the mill yelling and laughing. There were other sounds: the screen door of the house swinging open and slapping shut, the bawling of the cattle, a truck kicking up stones on the road, crows in the back lot crying. Turning toward the silhouetted house, shielding my eyes against, the setting sun, I could see mother’s long shadow crawling up the long hill toward me.

Mother was beautiful. I have her red hair but not her stunning eyes. They were dark and deep, and brooding. We used to have such wonderful walks on the farm through the fields of clover. She showed me where she and her sister used to watch the local boys skinny-dipping. Mother never learned to swim. Folks didn’t think it was proper for a girl. Mother showed me the field where kids played baseball, and the old chicken coop where she and her sister played house. We hiked up a hill to a tree where a boy named Wendell had carved her initials. The tree had healed over Wendell’s message of love. And there was a rock wall where grandpa used to hide his western magazines. And mother showed me her secret place, a small cave that overlooked the meadows and glen.

I remember the accident like it happened yesterday. We were two kids giggling, sitting head to head in the back seat of the Pathfinder, our bare feet hanging out of the open car windows.

“Doesn’t it tickle?” I howled.

“Feels like the wind has a cat’s tongue,” you laughed.

Father glanced into the rear view mirror at us and smiled. Mother turned in her seat, brushed her hair from her eyes and laughed. I thought I was going to burst with joy that day. It didn’t seem like life could be more perfect. I shielded my eyes as the car moved through a curve in the road and into the sun. For a brief moment I was blind. Then father hit the brakes. And now the nightmare begins: glass breaking, tires screeching, the punch of metal against flesh.

Remember Michael when President Kennedy was shot and you wrote me a long letter expressing your grief, your anger at the assassination of hope, of the rupture of order, expressing your longing for a world where good would triumph There is a defining moment for every generation and each individual you told me. Kennedy’s assassination was such a moment for our generation.  On the day of the killing I can clearly remember you sitting on the couch watching television, your eyes comatose.  I was too young to understand. I do remember Walter Cronkite’s voice cracking as he spoke: “The President has been shot.” I remember pictures of the President, waving, his hair tossing in the breeze, and the hat, the hat Jackie wore as she tried to climb out of the limousine. I remember the poor lighting of an underground garage and Oswald’s shirtsleeve hanging out when Jack Ruby shoved a gun in his belly. I remember the scene or was it a photograph of Robert Kennedy standing in a line next to Jackie, his hair turned prematurely gray. I remember gray skies, wet avenues, handkerchiefs, a wagon being pulled down a Washington street. I was sad because heaven itself seemed sullen. It was a day in which everyone stopped dreaming, when sleep itself had lost its dearest companion.  Later I heard a report of a classroom in California where the children cheered when they heard of the assassination. You told me that after that day you realized the world doesn’t need any of us.

Remember the spring I was trying to study for a history final? What a mess I was, but you were calm. You took four chapters out of the book and told me to memorize them. I got a B, my best mark, a grade high enough to get me accepted at Windsor. I went to my high school graduation, stayed out all night with Adele and our dates and ate breakfast the next day at Two Tonys.

During that summer, I saw very little of you, Michael. You spent all your time downtown, hanging out in Yorkville with your new friends. When you were home, there were terrible fights between you and father. Your hair was long and you wore worn out jeans and an old suit coat you picked up at the Salvation Army. You spent hours in your room banging away on that guitar. It drove father crazy. I felt like a referee breaking up your constant scrums.

Father frightened me on the way to college. We were driving along the 401. He had the gas pedal pushed to the floor. The car flew silently along the asphalt. I braced myself. As the car picked up speed, it began to shake.

“Daddy!” I pleaded.

“Want to see what the old girl can do,” father laughed.

“It scares me, daddy! This is what happened to momma.”

Father eased up on the gas. I took a deep breath. Father laughed like he used to before the accident. I turned on the car radio. The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun was playing I turned the volume up. After a few moments father reached over and turned the volume down.

“You deaf too?” he cried.

I did not respond.

“What’s wrong with your brother he couldn’t come with us? Why spend money on a train? I don’t understand that boy.”

“He’s trying to be a man, daddy.”

“Well, he’s doing a mighty poor job of it.”

“I think he’s doing fine.”

“Never wants to do anything with the family. Ever since your mother died, he’s crawled into a shell. Blames me for her death. He’s got to get over the accident. Put it behind him. It’s been seven years. Treats me like I’m already dead.”

I looked out at the road, at the telephone poles, trees, fields, farmhouses whizzing past faster, and faster, and faster as if the whole world was in a blender and picking up speed. I wish I had understood what was going on between you and father. There was a war between the two of you with both of you knowing the cause and keeping it a secret from me. Was it the accident? Or something worse?

Before Thanksgiving I had already made two trips home from college. At first father was annoyed at me for spending the money, but underneath he was pleased. The house, he said, was hollow without us. He asked about you, Michael. I couldn’t tell him anything. How could I say that we don’t talk, that you won’t even recognize me on campus? He told me to watch out for you.

“We don’t want to lose him,” he said.  What did father know?

I once saw where father worked, the factory where they manufacture automobile parts. Mother took me. When I stepped inside the factory I started to cry and could not stop. All the smells, the heat, the low ceiling, the machines all jerking away, the terrible concussion of noises. I thought I had stepped into hell. Father was so angry with mother. He told her never to bring me again.

When father and I arrived that first day at college, I found the package you had left me. A long black cape, a stem pipe, several pairs of glasses, some silk pajama tops and an assortment of other off beat things found at second hand stores. I died laughing. And your note – Invent Yourself. I took your advice. For the first week at college I kept my own company. I never hung around the cafeteria or coffee shop or loitered on the grounds of the campus. I dressed in black, wore sunglasses and my long black cape, smoked a long stem pipe, and read the Village Voice. Word spread. For days I could he seen around the campus and then I would disappear. Some said I was involved with a married professor. Others said I was a nightclub singer in Detroit. Suddenly I had all these guys after me. To them I was that mysterious woman. It made me laugh. All these boys were so good looking. That made me real nervous. I looked in the mirror and I saw the same old frumpy girl I’d been in high school. What they were after was this image I had created. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the attention, Michael, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable as the mysterious siren. You told me we all have to play a role so pick one you enjoy. A role will organize your thoughts, your feelings, place them in the context of a personality. I’m not that well organized. And even with this newly found attention, I was lonely. You were never around.  You said I had to find my own way that I had to stand up on my own feet, make my own friends, and create my own world. It’s a lie. Michael, why did you want to get rid of me? Were you ashamed of me? Didn’t I fit into the image you had created for yourself? I needed you.

I never told you about prom night. Gregory was the perfect gentleman. I wanted something to happen. I don’t know what. Maybe I wanted to get it over with? It being the virginity thing. When was my life finally going to begin? Why was I at university? I had no career plan, no ambition, and no great dream. I felt like a blind woman standing in the middle of a busy intersection waiting for an accident to happen. If mother had never died in the accident, would we have had to pay a different price for being alive?

Things happened to me last summer. If only mother were alive. If only you hadn’t been so busy with your friends. I had that stupid job waiting on tables at the Skyline wearing that ridiculous harem cocktail waitress outfit. Father thought I was working in a coffee shop. Some of the girls there were prostituting on the side. When they found out I was a virgins they made it a regular joke. I got to know one of the bartenders. Jeff seemed real nice. Somehow he managed to talk me into going up to one of the rooms in the hotel. I was so naive. He said there was a terrific view of the whole city. We started to kiss. I let him touch my breast. Then he took his thing out and put it in my hand. I stared at it like someone had thrown a dead fish into my lap. I was revolted. As I bolted from the room I could hear the laughter from all the other girls who had been hiding in the next room. What a fool I had made of myself! And I couldn’t quit. There were no other jobs and how could I explain quitting to father. I needed to talk to someone, Michael, but you weren’t around. Finally I let it happen, Michael. I played the dumb red head and let myself fall in love. At least, that’s what I called it. After class one afternoon a boy name Errol approached me. He had apparently been building up to our meeting for some time. He invited me to the University Center where over coffee and cigarettes he unlocked his heart. Errol was so handsome and I had to find out if love really existed. I let go of everything, abandoned myself, and pretended it was love. Errol stole my heart, carried it around like a trophy to show his friends, boasted that he had fucked me, that I had laid there like a wet blanket, that I was a rotten screw. It hurt so much! Michael, you should have warned me! All I wanted to do was sleep, hide in my sleep. But in my sleep. I kept having the dream. We are laughing. I see the back of father’s head, mother looking hack at us and brushing the hair from her eyes. And I am waiting for the car to swerve, for the sunlight to come pouring in, for the glass to shatter, to see my big brother flying past me, to hear the grinding metal, blood spraying all over the place. And I am waiting to hear mother cry out, waiting to hear her praying to exchange her life for yours. And then you threw it all away.

I watched father grow old, more from guilt than old age. Why was he driving so fast? Why couldn’t he have made that turn? Why did she have to die? Why wasn’t it you? And you knew that, didn’t you Michael? All those years you carried it around inside yourself until you couldn’t live with it anymore. I’m a middle-aged woman now, Michael. For twenty years I’ve been coming to your grave carrying flowers and all this pain. You never met my husband or my two sons. They’re both taller than you were.  My heart rages like a caged animal inside me. How can I forgive someone when I don’t know what there is to forgive? Love is the leap into the dark, trusting that the darkness is someone’s arms. Why were you afraid to trust me, Michael? I would have caught you.