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Monster

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 16, 2017

I watched a movie last night. It is titled: A Monster CallsA_Monster_Calls It is an adaptation of a children’s tale. It is also very intense and far too real to be just a tale. A boy’s mother is dying of cancer. He wants to believe she will recover, but knows she will not. The movie is pretty much about him, those expectations, and how he deals with them. The story has elements of fantasy, and some beautiful animation of the brilliant watercolor illustrations I expect are from the book. I enjoyed it, and, yes my eyes teared, my throat constricted and tears did indeed run down my cheek. Highly recommend, for all ages.

It got me thinking about many things, death among them, and the love I have for my stepdaughter Maya. Her struggle with cancer made me realize that I loved her, and that I didn’t want her to die. Is that selfish? I imagined it would be impossible to live without her. I imagined I would die if she died. Unlike the aforementioned movie, however, my hopes were realized and she did not die. It was the most wonderful thing I ever experienced. I felt real joy, for the first time ever. As time went on, I realized I loved her fiercely, more than anyone I’ve ever known. At first, I wondered if I felt that way chiefly because she almost died. But, I came to understand that it was the possibility that she might die that opened my eyes to my love for her. I believe I really love her, because I want the best for her. I want her to be happy. I want her to live a full life, for her, not for me. I want her to live many, many years after I’m gone. I think that is really what love is, when you care about someone you love, and wish for their happiness, regardless of your relationship, or if you live together, or even if you never see them again.

She was still quite young when I met her. I dated her mom Linda for four years, then married Linda and lived with her, and Maya, and her brother Noah. I was part of a family. It was the second time for me, and I wanted to make sure it worked out better than the first time I had tried that. I never became close with Noah, but I liked him a lot. Maya and I seemed to become friends. We only ever had one argument as I recall. It was my fault and mostly a misunderstanding, and we talked about it right away, and resolved it and I apologized for what she thought was anger on my part. When she started college, which was the same place I worked, we often met for lunch.

After both of Linda’s children, Maya and Noah, had moved out, Linda and I had the place to ourselves. She had big plans for the house, including an addition, a new roof, and many other things. I accomplished most of it before I had to leave. Fortunately, Maya and I remained on good terms after that divorce. We work together at times, bottling and labeling or selling wines. We’ve been to many wine festivals, and have helped keep a unique winery running. It is always a joy for me to see Maya, and work together, or go to dinner for holidays and birthdays. It makes me happy too, when she travels or has good times with her friends. I love her very much.

Maya’s death would have crushed me entirely. The interesting thing, to me, is that a lot of people died when I was young, and I felt no loss. There were some great-aunts that I didn’t know, so that was understandable. In second grade a classmate died, choked on a glass of water. I was shocked to hear of it, but I didn’t know him personally. A cousin died very young after that, and I felt sad for my aunt and uncle, but my cousin’s death did not touch me. One by one, my grandfathers died. I was an altar boy at both of their funerals. I never knew my paternal grandfather well. I believe I only ever had one conversation with him, one that I remember well, but I felt no grief. My mother’s father came to live with us for a short time before he died. I enjoyed having him there, but again, I don’t recall any grief when he died. I remember thinking how odd it was that he had spent so much time in a veterans’ hospital, which is often where my parents would go to visit him when I was very young. Then he seemed so healthy when he stayed with us that I was quite surprised when he died. I did not feel grief; was I a monster?

The one person I missed greatly, and had loved was my father. My parents had divorced while still raising the four youngest. As an adult, his death left me confused. I didn’t know what to feel when I got the phone call. We had not stayed in touch after I left home. Our relationship had gone downhill before I left. I had gone to see him before he’d died, but we did not speak of anything substantial, and that seemed bittersweet in retrospect, because there is much I’d have liked to talk with him about. I wasn’t going to attend his funeral, because I had just been to see him, and I felt that was better than seeing him dead. And, as well, I really couldn’t afford to fly that far again. However, when I sat down to write a letter to my brothers and sisters, explaining why I wasn’t coming, I broke into tears, and sobbed. I felt awful. I was overcome with grief, and decided to travel anyway, just to be with family. I missed the funeral itself, but arrived in time for the wake, and I felt much better among my relatives, even laughed with cousins I had not seen in decades.

Then my godfather Fred, a close cousin of my mother, died. The two of them had grown up together. Fred, aka Fritz, would visit us three nights a week after he left the bar he worked at. He usually brought us kids a treat, chocolate, or even packets of clay, leftovers from when he was a typesetter. Loved playing with the clay. Loved the chocolate. Fred helped my mother out, painting, lending her money for groceries, or especially putting up the Christmas garden, with the trains and houses, and the paper mountains tacked up on the wall around the raised wooden platform that held the little village. As a GI, he had fought in Germany against the Nazis, and brought back a toy-soldier marching band from the basement of a burned-out house in Germany.  It always marched across our village, despite the swastikas on the band’s uniforms and flag, and the little guy in front with the small mustache and raised arm salute. I remember thinking, despite Fred’s racial prejudices and those other eccentricities, that the world had lost a good man. I did not feel grief, but he had been and is still on my mind quite often.

Then again, I was reminded of my father’s death when the heart and soul of our winery, Jim Fish, died suddenly. I did feel that same grief again. He was like a father in some ways, and a mentor, and a friend. I learned a lot from him, and worked with him making wine for seven years. His death was a great painful loss to me. I loved him.

What has always kept me going is that I still have my three sisters and three brothers. We’re getting old, but still hanging in there. Even my mother, at 86, is still alive and kicking. I’ve always felt I loved my brothers and sisters more than anyone in the world, but I have to add Maya to that mix now. She is family, and more than that to me.

My love for her is unlike that I’ve felt for anyone ever in my life. To keep her alive I would gladly give my last ounce of blood. It’s seems strange sometimes, to realize that I care about someone so much. I thought I had loved others before, but never have I had this depth of feeling for someone. I admire her too. I admire her strength in coping with brain cancer. I admire her intelligence, and her continuing efforts to learn and advance herself in the world. I admire the way she cares about her friends. I admire the way she cuts off and donates her hair every year to Locks of Love. She wore a wig herself after losing her hair twice to chemotherapy and radiation treatments, so she continues to give back. I admire her for starting an organization to help people get back into school after having had to drop out due to cancer or other medical reasons. I admire her independence and fighting spirit. But mostly, I think, I just love her.

Sometimes, imperfect as I am, I think perhaps I’m not as bad a monster as I thought I was.

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Posted in family, Life, love, My Life, relationships | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Musings on Unclaimed Relationships & Utter Things

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 19, 2017

I read some poetry today that reminded me how so many people feel sad because someone they loved is gone, either through the end of a relationship or death. That is sad indeed, although an old relationships can often be rekindled, even though at a certain point in time it doesn’t seem possible. People seem to not know that, or ignore it, or conveniently forget it.

I don’t forget it. Sometimes that has happened to me. I remember how terrible it felt at times, but I no longer feel that way, about the relationships, or the two marriages, or my father’s death, or even my godfather’s death, although I still miss my favorite cat ever, and even though I accepted that he was dead, I suspect he is still alive, having seen what I’m pretty sure was that cat, with a new collar and tag a few miles from here.

I can’t go get the cat, even if I could find him, because I have a new cat, and another cat besides, and the fighting would be bad, and three cats is just too much. I am deeply saddened by not having that cat around, and knowing that with some effort, I might be able to reclaim him. But, that is somewhat like what this post is actually about: unclaimed relationships, not with cats, but with people.

I live alone, save for the cats. It could be otherwise. An old girlfriend from many years ago ended up single, and available for friendship or living together. And even though I used to think that I would jump at that, I don’t want to. For one thing, she is quite batty, with a house overrun by cats, and sometimes a dog or two, and bizarre off-the-deep-end beliefs which she will force on anyone and everyone, but also because I like living alone.

She is not the only woman I’ve met since my last divorce. An old girlfriend actually lived in this same housing complex when I moved in ten years ago. We often met at the mailbox kiosk. Once I met her walking her dog along the ditch that runs just behind these houses, and went to a mutual friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was nice. Next time I saw she she gave me a big smile, but we never hung out. She taught at a technical/vocational community college, and she worked at the nearby bookstore, so I often saw her there. But, I didn’t feel any sparks. I remembered that the sex had been nice. We attended another Thanksgiving dinner the next year, but then not again. She eventually quit the bookstore, and moved away, though I did visit her in her new place a couple times.

Not too long ago, a much younger woman gave me a couple of years of extreme pleasure, but insisted I not fall in love with her because we were friends only, with benefits. I was a bit sad about that, because I would certainly have married her, and not just for the sex, although that would have been a pretty compelling reason, but because she and I enjoyed each other’s company, sharing meals, watching movies, and even having drinking games during movies. The pleasure of snuggling up with her between bouts of sex was heavenly. She finally moved away. Contacted her and she wanted me to visit, but then changed her mind. Such is life.

I wasn’t as sad about that as I’ve been about other relationships, because she warned me from the first to not fall in love with her, and would get quite upset if she thought I was drifting that way. So, it never came as a shock, nor depressed me beyond my normal state of living life a bit less than to the fullest.

It’s not like I don’t still meet women. Being involved with the TV & movie industry in New Mexico, both in front of a camera, and behind the scenes, I meet a lot of woman, and there are possibilities there. But I don’t pursue them. There’s something about leaving things as they are that suits me. Beside the acting and crew work, I hike the mountains around here. I read a lot. I eat what I want, sleep when I want, watch TV or not watch TV. I’ve a friend I watch Netflix rental movies with once a week.

I work at a winery,

040616 (4) 072810 (8) watering, weeding, picking fruit, pumping and filtering, bottling and labeling about a thousand or more gallons of fruit wine every year. I don’t make any money at it, but it sure keeps some of my “free” time occupied.

I buy lots of things online, mostly books, and graphic novels, and I resell them. (Terry’s Books) I have a diverse coin collection:

I also take photos of the landscape around here, and sometimes I sell one, in a shop, or by hanging them at the winery.  091616-147

IRS I owe the I.R.S. way too much money every year, so I think I’m doing my part to prop up the U.S. economy.

But, let me tell you, it all doesn’t seem to mean much. It’s not that I think there’s more to life, or need a reason for life, or worry about the meaning of life. I don’t think life has much meaning, except what we each want it to mean. Sometimes though, I remember what it was like to share my everyday life with someone, sleep next to them each night, and wake up with them.

I do miss that, in somewhat the same way I miss my cat. Not the same thing of course. Even having cats leaves me feeling lonely and miserable at times.

Nowadays, I accept that I am just going to be living this way. It’s easier for a misanthrope to live alone. I suppose I don’t really dislike all people so much as I like being a recluse and not having to deal with other people.

And then again, sometimes I don’t think it matters, because I don’t expect to live all that much longer. I had a heart attack back in 2013. Before that happened, I was losing my ability to keep up with other hikers, some of whom were older than me. My energy was flagging, and I kept having to stop and catch my breath. I fell to the back position in any hike, and was wasted by the time I reached the mountaintop. Finally, one day while reading, I felt suddenly as though the world was ending, that everything was going black, and there was this intense pressure in my chest, and I called 911. The paramedics, and a cardiologist convinced me I was having a heart attack, and I had angioplasty with a stent emplacement, followed up by drugs. Things got better, I ran three half marathons, I got faster on hikes, and had more energy.

But, now I am starting to feel the energy fade again. I hiked on Monday 8.9 miles, about 6 hours, up and down my favorite trail, an elevation gain of roughly 2800 feet.041717 Panoramic

It was slow going, about 1 1/2 miles an hour, but I was beat when I was done. Felt wasted. Drank electrolytes on the way up, and a bottle of black tea on the way down, and had to drink two more bottles when I got home, just to have the energy to function. I’ve done this trail before, and I wasn’t that wasted. It was the same on another trail I hiked recently – wasted, sleepy, lethargic afterwards. I’m thinking the heart is not doing all that well. My cholesterol is the lowest it’s ever been, and my blood pressure has never been too high. I do have a visit with my cardiologist next month, and a stress test, so I’m curious what that will reveal.  Even simple exercise seems to tire me, just like before the 2013 heart attack.

I should write a poem, or a song:

I’m so sad and lonely

near my end of  time

there’s no one to miss me

and nothing left to live for.

O, o, o, I think I’ll die.

Set to music, it’d be alright, and entertaining. Of course, it’s been done so many times already. It’s the human condition, the poet’s theme, the singer’s shout, the hipster’s wail.

Meanwhile, I’m still here. A hike tomorrow morning, fruit to water Wild Cherry Farm.JPG on Friday, wine to sell on Sunday with my lovely stepdaughter, physical therapy for my aging back Tuesday morning, acting class Tuesday evening, background work for a TV crime series pilot (based on graphic novels) scalped next Wednesday. I’ve an acting gig to finish up. Then the stress echo-cardiogram next month, and a visit to the urologist, and a strange 5-day cruse with five of my six siblings, some in-laws, some nieces, a nephew, a couple of cousins and my mom, mostly to please her. Dream cruise for her, or I wouldn’t go. I’d rather not have that much interaction with people, even though I sometimes crave it.

Posted in family, health, hiking, In front of the camera, Life, love, madness, marriage, misanthropy, poem, rambling, rants, relationships, wine | Leave a Comment »

Bride of Burning Man in Pennsylvania

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 9, 2015

Sat down to write but there was a cat sitting on the desk. I was unwilling to chase him off since I’m only a day back from having been gone for a week, but I ended up picking him up and relocating him to another part of the desk. For a cat that used to live on a golf course, and only saw familiar faces once a week, he seemed to take my absence hard. I had thought, if he hadn’t disappeared, that he’d be happy to see me, but he remained sitting in my chair after I had first entered and closed the front door. A very talkative cat, he remained quiet as I petted him. His eye seemed to have been unusually leaky, with a large dark spot of something in the white fur underneath the eye. He sat so quiet and unmoving I thought he must be sick. Perhaps the eye was infected? I gave him a few treats. He had been fed treats at the golf course, and expected them daily. However, he would not eat them. That’s when I decided he must be sick, and I resolved to get him to a veterinarian, first thing in the morning.

In the morning, he was different, much like his regular self. He sought me out, and I gave him treats. He ate them. His eye looked better. He is active again, well, as much as he usually is. For a young cat, he sits and sleeps a lot. So, anyway, I sat down today to write about my trip to Pennsylvania.

It was very wet there. Joaquin Joaquin was a hurricane threatening the U.S. East Coast when I arrived on October 1. It is now a dissipating tropical rainstorm, aka a post-tropical cyclone. It rained all of the day I arrived, although I meant to run when I arrived. It rained all of the next day too, and it was still raining early Saturday morning. Not only did I need to run, as I have been training to run my first full marathon, but my sister and her family were planning their annual burning man party for that evening. All of the wooden pallets for the giant figure were soaking wet. Artists showed up and were working diligently in the garage to create a face for the burning man, although this year it would be a woman, with the face of the bride of Frankenstein’s monster. 100315 (2) The Bride of Burning Man. Those are firecrackers in her hair. There was a body too, to be attached to the wet pallets already stacked, and two huge balloon boobs to be tucked into her cloth blouse. 100315 (18)

I had left with my brother-in-law to do some shopping, and he asked me to help with the final assembly when we returned. The rain finally slowed, and had mostly stopped. I said I would help, but it was then 11 am, and I waited until 3:30 pm, without any action on the pallet creature, so I took off on a run. As I passed the field with the Bride of Burning Man, it was finally being worked on from a huge metal scaffolding. I, however, needed desperately to run, and run hard. I ran a mile up the country road in front of their house and found, past the turnoff for that road, that the road continued. After I’d run that mile I found a small track in a park built by a tiny elementary school. It measured less than one-third of a mile, so I’d have to run around it 3 1/2 times for each mile. Given that the roads around that remote countryside were all two-laned, without runable shoulders, I opted to run that little track instead. To top it off, there were portable outhouses on site, an essential part of running for an almost 65-year old. My birthday was days away, and this marathon ten days after that was to be my birthday present to myself: Take that old age!

After 32 times around that little track, I’d had enough. I had run steadily, relentlessly, and I was tired, with one more mile to go to return to my sister’s house. I had been charged by my running coach to run 18 miles, but it was late, lightly raining, and it had turned cold enough that I’d had to wear a jacket for the last couple miles, and it would soon be dark. I resolved to run the next day and the next. However, my back was very sore, and my body ached all over the next day, and the next, so I put off running for two days, and only ran another 6 1/2 miles. It would have to do.

The party was awesome. There was plenty of food and drink. My sister makes her own beer, and there were two small kegs of her beer on tap, 100315 (47) as well as bottles of her reserves, and other beer that people brought, as well as wine. There were some fine dishes to sample, spicy fried chicken, and some nicely spiced home-cooked shrimp. My sister had also prepared a Hungarian goulash in a huge kettle on a fire outside.  100315 (46)

The face was dropped on the way to attach it, but it looked only slightly changed for that. Due to the high winds and problems with one arm, it was not attached. However, even with one arm, she looked good. The burning was preceded by women with flaming hoops, a man with a flaming bucket, and even one woman with a flaming whip. There was a soundtrack for the whole thing, and the music built to a nice crescendo to coincide with the burn. Before the burn, people had assembled some gunpowder “bombs” to go off during the burning. Some were constructed to simply add smoke and fire, while others, as had been done for the 4th of July, were made for noise. It took some doing to get the burning going. A lot of accelerant was used, but even so, it looked doubtful the Bride would completely burn. One man even used a commercially available personal flamethrower to help things along. The booms from the noise bombs were not only loud and startling, but I felt the shock wave from 80 feet away, including the heat of each explosion. Powerful little suckers. The next day, there was a story in the local paper that people had heard two or four explosions in the area, and one woman, on a street some distance away, claimed one of her windows was broken by a shockwave. Police are said to be investigating. The police, however, where about 7/10 of a mile away from the burning of the Bride of Burning Man, and they did not drive over to see if the explosions had come from that.

My step-brother, however, is prepared to reimburse the woman with the broken window. As well, it was decided not to use the loud booms for any future burning man parties, as local dogs were spooked, and even though they did not appear to have been affected, there are also horses in the area. Perhaps the booms will return for the next 4th of July party.

It was a spectacular event, all the more notable for its huge flames after days of cold rain and high winds in the area. One woman came to the small track while I had been running; she said she simply had to get out of the house. Photos follow:
LOTS OF PHOTOS; CLICK TO CONTINUE

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THE JOY OF BRAIN TUMORS

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 14, 2011

I didn’t know I could find joy in
a brain tumor
I never really felt love before
the brain tumor
I never felt such fear
a brain tumor!?

We joke about it
It’s not like you have a brain tumor
We compare headaches to
brain tumors.

It’s my step-daughter that had
the brain tumor
I never knew such fear
– the all-day brain surgery
– the chemotherapy
– the radiation.

I never knew I felt such love
this young woman I’d known
thirteen years from girl to woman
I never knew such joy
– after the operation she survived
– still needed chemo she survived
– still needed radiation
gamma knife
– a high-tech magic bullet.

Damn brain tumor
fuckin’ damn brain tumor
dead brain tumor.

She survived
She’s alive
She’s healthy
She’s whole.

My chest loosened
I can breathe
My heart
is beating.

I never knew such joy before
the brain tumor.

Posted in family, health, Life, love, medical, poem, poetry, relationships | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Picklement

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 16, 2010

The boy’s nickname was Terry. He didn’t particularly like his name, because a lot of girls had the same one, and it sounded like a child’s name anyway.  He’d started out with Terrance, but in 1st grade the other boys called him Clarence instead.  It always got a laugh, but not from Terry.  It sounded like the name of a clown, or some snooty rich kid in a story.
After grade school, he changed his name to Bob, although Bob didn’t have much of a ring to it.  Still, it seemed a nice unambiguously masculine name, and much more adult sounding than Terry, or Terrance.
Bob, as a name, worked fairly well for Terry.  People didn’t stumble all over it, like they did with Terry, confusing his name with Gerry,  Perry, Harry, but most often, oddly enough, with Larry.  He wondered if it had to do with Larry, Moe and Curly,  since the most common misunderstanding of his name was always Larry.  He tried emphasizing the T whenever he said Terry, but it didn’t help.  People just don’t get Terry usually until the third try.  It made introductions tedious, even though people always smiled, and often apologized.
Terry went by Bob all through high school.  He liked it.  People seemed to respond better.  He was older than he’d been of course, but high school boys are not generally known for their maturity, and Terry, or even Terrance could still have been disastrous.  If there was one thing Terry hated more than anything else, it was being teased.  Still, boys will use just about anything to tease another boy.  The school insisted that everyone wear ties.
Terry had a hard time waking up in the mornings, and taking the time to tie a perfect Windsor knot every day had gotten old fast.  Terry discovered the clip-on tie: perfect knot, perfect length, and impossible to discern.  Somehow, one day, a classmate noticed, and snatched it from him.   He chased after the perp, grabbing the tie and pushing the perp onto the ground.  Generally, Terry had always been very easy-going.  His father often said Terry would let someone take the shirt off his back, but that was what “turning the other cheek” meant in the real world.  In the religious world, “turning the other cheek” meant martyrdom, and martyrdom was preferred to violence.  However, just ignoring all the  jibes and taunts was not easy, and that one time, Terry ran his attacker down and won his self-respect. Or so he thought.
Instead of congratulating him on standing up for himself, his other classmates made light of it, pointing out that the other boy, although the same age, was shorter.  This made Terry into little more than a cowardly bully.  “But, what was I to do?” he asked, “let him take it?”  No one answered that.  Whining was not allowed.  However, this incident provided the catalyst for another far more embarrassing one, since the real bullies felt Terry was an easy mark, and could only defend himself against smaller adversaries.
Terry’s family didn’t have a lot of money, and clothes were patched, sewn and worn until they fell apart.  It so happened one day, as Terry bent over to pick up a fork he dropped in the school cafeteria, that his pants split.  He was mortified, but no one had seemed to notice.  The pants were brown corduroys, with lots of vertical lines, and baggy enough that Terry thought it would pass unnoticed if he walked slowly and kept his butt cheeks pinched together.  He sat down opposite his peers, and relaxed.  He made it through lunch without a single comment.  In fact, he relaxed too much, because as he stood, the gap widened enough for someone to see.  Ellis, agent provocateur, class clown, and always an outlaw, took it upon himself to take full advantage of the situation.  He grabbed a slice of pickle off his lunch tray  and ran up to Terry, dropping the pickle in the rip as Terry stood up.  The indignity of this was just too much.
That someone would see the tear no longer mattered.  Ellis was going down.  Terry lunged for him, and Ellis, cowardly as most bullies are, took off running.  Ellis laughed at Terry,  sidestepping and ducking through the cafeteria.  Terry chased him into the hallway.  Lunch break was not yet over, so there was no one in the hallway.  Terry chased him, gaining on him, running full tilt down the hallway.  Of course, yelling and running past the principal’s office, in a school  that prided itself on self-discipline, was not a particularly bright thing to do.  They were caught.
Now, Terry was in the equally uncomfortable position of trying to explain that someone had put a pickle in his pants.  Fortunately, it had been the principal who’d caught them.  The vice-principal was in charge of discipline, and he would have come down hard on them.  As it was, the principal referred Terry to Student Court, a disciplinary board wholly run by the students.
Terry explained the pickle incident, (picklement?) and the court, laughing behind their hands, let it go.  To add to Terry’s shame, all decisions by the Student Court were published in the school paper, although the rip in someone’s pants became a rip in someone’s shirt.  In 1965, no newspaper would dare even allude to something sexual , much less the innuendo of a pickle in someone’s pants.  It wasn’t journalistic integrity, but everyone knew the real story anyway.
Terry could see, by now, that the name didn’t make any difference.  He was kind of an oddball, it seemed, and names were nowhere near as important as he’d always believed.  After high school, he kept using Bob, although his employer and coworkers were not the types to care about a name one way or the other.   By now, however, Terry noticed that Bob was an extremely common name.  In every room, it seemed, there was a Bob. In a restaurant, in a garage, on the street, or at work, Bob was as ubiquitous as Tom, Dick and Harry.  Terry, realizing that, as an adult, he could have his name changed legally, thought about changing his name to Bilbo Baggins.  It was not a bad name, far out of the ordinary.  That would have been alright, but he knew his family wouldn’t like his dropping the surname. But, what would Bilbo be without a Baggins to go with it?  He thought about just using Frodo,  but few people had read the half a million word sequel to The Hobbit, so he would have had to spend a lot of time explaining the Lord of the Rings character to every person he met.
Of course, changing one’s name is a very superfluous thing to do anyway, as Terry had found out.  And now there were far more important things to worry about in the world, like sex and war, and getting to work on time.  He took night classes at the University where he worked, but he really wanted to go to school full time.  He applied for, and was accepted at another University a few years later, still calling himself Bob.  He kept his job on a part-time basis, as a sort of contract employee.  However, those aforementioned things, sex and war, took over most of his thoughts, as he sought one but wanted to avoid the other.  That took him to rallies and demonstrations, as well as into drug and sexual experimentation, and his studies suffered.  His thoughts were always elsewhere.  Dismissed from school on probation for a year, he decided to travel.
After a few years of odd jobs and traveling, he took a job one day in a small foundry in Arizona.  The foreman must also have thought Terry an oddball when he asked him his name, because  Terry paused.  It was a normal question, but suddenly, and without having given it any thought in years, he told the foreman his name: Terry.  It was, after all, how his family had known and still knew him.  No one he had ever met was as important as family, and he never changed his name again, even though he rarely got through another introduction without having to say his name at least three times.

Posted in 1960s, family, humor, Life, My Life | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

MORE PANCAKES PLEASE

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 11, 2010

Some people eat beans every day
some people have bread every meal
some eat anything any old way
We had potatoes, hey, what’s the deal?

Ate a lot of them growing up
with potatoes in the garden
and meat vegetable potatoes
every night for dinner

Mashed potatoes Scalloped potatoes
Boiled potatoes Baked potatoes
Home-fried potatoes
French-fried potatoes

Potatoes au gratin
Potatoes and ham
Bacon potato salad
Sweet potato pie

Potatoes in the stews
potatoes in the soups
potatoes as main course
potatoes on the side

But, ah! potato pancakes
smothered in applesauce
Couldn’t get enough
More pancakes please.

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Back to the Mainstream

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 3, 2010

Fishing is religion to many people.  Fishing in New Mexico is like that – it’s a spiritual experience.  Rick loved fishing.  He also liked to drink, and he liked to party – “Ajua!” – and he liked to grow and eat the hottest chiles you’ve ever tasted – “Yesss!” – but he loved just a few things: his wife, his sons, and fishing.  There probably isn’t a river or lake in the whole state that he hadn’t fished.
“Rick’s dead.”  That’s how I got the news.  Linda repeated it, because I just stumbled out a “What?”  “Rick’s dead.”  “Yeah, but, but, you mean, Rick, Hilda’s Rick?”  “Yes.”  “But, how? when?  Was he in another accident?”
Well, anyway, Rick was dead.  The deal was this: he was at home, “evaluating,” a friend’s gun to give his wife, Hilda, for her protection.  The reason she needed protection is a family secret.  Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet.  The story we were told was this: while Rick was loading the gun, Hilda left him to call Damien, one of her sons, and ask him about the value of the gun.  Rick didn’t know if he would buy it yet.  Rick, who had just the month before wrecked their truck, and who had broken an arm here and a leg there, having a habit of being not quite careful, dropped the gun.  The problem with an automatic, however, is that, as it’s loaded, that action cocks the gun.  The gun went off when it hit the floor, and the bullet, well, the bullet found Rick’s heart.  It had to pass through the sofa cushion, then it severed Rick’s scrotum, and traveled up through his stomach, where it managed to hit a valve in his heart, and no one could save him.
Hilda was devastated.  I don’t recall ever seeing a woman’s face so utterly deflated with sadness.  All of the skin in her face seemed to droop.  She cried, sobbing between spasms of crying.  Of course, her family was soon with her, as were Rick’s and Hilda’s friends: those that fished, and those without that particular religion.  Everyone came, and we all brought food and beer.  You come together to try to accept what has happened, you sit together, you talk, you eat, you drink.
Just days before the accident, Rick had one shot from a new bottle of tequila.  He had said he wanted to save it, to make it last.  Now, since he was gone, everyone crowded into the living room, the room with that bullet-holed sofa cushion, and shared the rest of his bottle.  It was our last chance to share a drink with him.  Martín, Hilda’s brother, sang a corrido in a great full voice laced with sadness.
Curious, I looked at the cushion.  Someone had turned it over so the hole was not so visible, but it was there.  I put my finger in it. I couldn’t imagine how it had happened.  I didn’t know at the time that Rick’s huevos had been blasted off, or I wouldn’t have touched the sofa at all.  There was, curiously, no blood, as if the cushion had not been under Rick for long after the bullet passed through it.  Perhaps he fell over onto the floor.  If there had been blood on the floor, it was gone now.
Eventually people hugged, and cried some more, and went back to their own homes.  There had been a church service earlier, but Rick had long ago insisted that there be no funeral, and no coffin for him.  He was cremated.  His ashes had been brought from the church, and rested in a jar in the hallway.  In the morning his family and friends took the ashes to Rick’s favorite fishing spot in all of Nuevo México.
It was a long drive from Albuquerque, past Bernalillo, traveling highway 550, through Cuba, through Aztec, and on and on near the Aztec ruins, almost to Colorado.  Five trucks convoyed behind Hilda, in the lead, because only she knew the place.  We pulled off the road, and plunged down an embankment to a sudden stop near the water.  There was a short hike along a thin, almost overgrown path.  Damien poured Rick into his fishing hole, a slowly revolving eddy alongside the swift flowing San Juan.  The ashes whirled round and round and round, some of them heading briefly upriver, where they slowly sank.  We all tossed flowers in the water, and watched, and waited for Rick to join the mainstream.
As the ashes and flowers slowly spiraled towards the deep rushing water, Rick’s family stood on the yellow sandstone rock that balanced over the eddy.  I thought the whole thing might just topple into the water, and the entire family drown, what with the aunt, the cousins, the sisters, the sons, the dog, and the friends standing or sitting on that cantilevered rock.  The sun is mercilessly bright when there are no clouds, and creates silver highlights on the surface of water.  The swift splashing water has shadows between the ripples.  Perhaps that helps explain what we saw.
Damien saw it first – a fish, probably dead, swirling with the ashes and the flowers.  It listed in the water, but wasn’t clearly dead, so Damien poked it with a stick.  It swam away! but only for a few feet.  It remained there, lazily pulled this way and that by the competing currents in that watery grave.  Someone said, “It’s drunk,” and it was almost certainly true.  The ashes and flowers had been followed by brandy, and beer, and tequila.  Rick was known to take a sip from time to time, well, probably more times than not.  The fish was drunk.
It wasn’t long before someone decided that the fish was Rick.  It made sense.  Rick had been coming to this spot for a long time, and he had just returned for the last time in what was left of his human form.  The fish wouldn’t go away.  It kept reappearing at intervals, and drifting, drifting, drifting, like it was waiting for something.  It seemed to be watching us watching it.
The fish told us that Rick wasn’t dead, that he would travel the San Juan now.  That he would hang around the fishing holes, drinking the beer and tequila that slipped from the hands and lips of  fisherman down the length of that river.
Gradually, the tears dried, and the sobs quieted.  People laughed about the fish.  The dog barked at it.  The shadows were creeping down the bank, moving over the edges of the water.  It was time to go.  The fish became more animated, swimming faster, reappearing less, and moving closer to the central current.  Finally, he disappeared into the shadowy, reckless middle.
Rick had joined his compadres in the water’s mainstream, and we felt relief.  Rick was free.  Rick was home.  I swear I heard something in the splashing, gurgling water, as we watched the river flow.  I swear I heard, “Ajua!”

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My Birthday Was Plural

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 18, 2010

Birthdays were never an egocentric event for me. My brother and I, although a year apart, shared the same birthday month, so my parents always combined the two into one party, one song. You know how people sing it, Happy Birthday to so-and-so? Ours were always together, Happy Birthday John and Terry. As a result, I think, I never thought of a birthday as a focus on me alone.  This is a little odd, since some psychologists believe children under the age of 7 reason egocentrically, believing that their view of the world is the same as anyone else’s view.  However, I at least saw that the world didn’t center around just me, but included my brother.
I remember much of my childhood, but not all.  However, I can interpolate some things.  I have no idea what my first birthday was like, although my mother was about to give birth to my brother, so I’m certain that weighed heavily on my parent’s minds.  Knowing them, I assume they used the occasion to have family over for cake.  What was my second birthday like? Well, I don’t know, but with John one year old, they might not have wanted people over so things stayed a little quieter.  At that age, I wouldn’t have cared.  I know we were a handful.  By my third birthday, I’m sure the tradition got started to have both our birthdays on the same day.  There were no other children as yet, and mom would have wanted to light candles and teach us to blow them out.  The difficulty would have been in trying to teach us our numbers, because John needed two, and I needed three.  She baked two cakes!  By the age of four, John and I knew the drill.  When October came around, and my mom started baking, we knew what to expect.  We knew there would be a cake with four candles for me, and a cake with three candles for him.  At the time, I remembered that previous birthday, my third, but that memory is long gone now.
You may well ask how I remember my fourth birthday at all, but I think it was the trauma of moving.  I can’t remember the place we moved from anymore, but it had a long stairway outside the building.  I remember being forced into a car, and driving a long way to the new place.  The car was green, the rear sloped in a continuous curve from roof to fender. The inside had a cloth-covered ceiling.  I remember that cloth, because in later years, it was loose, ripped, and always falling down.  At the time, I didn’t pay it much attention, because I was more excited about where we had arrived.  It was a small house, but it had a grass-covered front lawn.  We had not had one of those before.  My parents seemed happy about that, but, compared to the other lawns in the neighborhood, ours looked different.  It hadn’t been mowed in a long time. It was wild and tall.  I liked it, but, of course, no lawn is ever allowed to be like that for long.  I suspect that is when my dad bought his first lawn mower, because by the time I was ten, we had moved twice again, my bother and I had the job of mowing, and that thing seemed ancient.
Those old push mowers were something else.  I delighted in the spinning blades, each one of which curved in a broad sweep, much like present-day wind turbines.  To my ten-year-old brain, the blades should have been straight, but somewhere along the line, people had figured out how to cut grass more efficiently.  Often the blades would be near-dull, and pushing that thing through the grass was not my idea of fun.  It was however, not something I had to do, but something John and I had to do.
We were sidekicks.  From birthdays to work, we did everything together.  Hell, we even got punished together. My father, discovering something broken or missing, would confront us. If neither one of us owned up to it, he said we would both be punished.  Punishments ran a wide gamut then, from standing in a corner, to no dinner, to slaps on our butts, or the dreaded leather strap, which hurt like hell.  One time, John owned up to something neither of us had done, just to get the interrogation and slapping over, and so we wouldn’t both be punished.  Odd to think that our parents thought we’d ever do anything deliberately bad, knowing the consequences, but I guess they thought we wouldn’t ever do anything bad again if they punished us hard enough. Boy, were they wrong.
Running through the yard, we accidentally trampled mom’s azalea bush.  You’d have thought we went outside just to destroy that bush from the way my dad carried on.  We took our clothes off one time, and went out on the porch roof, climbing out the second story window.  A neighbor saw us, so that didn’t go over very well.   We also thought it was fun to throw small stones out that same window at passing cars, since the porch roof kept us from being seen from the street.  We thought we were pretty clever about it, trying to determine the exact time to throw a stone, so that it would hit a car while we ducked down.  We could hear the thunk on a car roof or door, and one time a car squealed to a sudden stop, and backed up to our house.  That we had to see.  Of course, that meant we were seen. Well, it was not fun anymore, as the driver got out and walked up to our house.
Then there was the time John and I built a small fire in an empty lot behind our house.  We tried to build it up with stones all around it, but we were too young then to know to clear the entire area of combustibles.  It spread, and we couldn’t put it out.  We got on our bicycles and rode for our lives, afraid we’d get caught, and we were. A neighbor had seen us, called the fire department, and called our mother.  She made us march out to the firemen and apologize.  They were incredibly nice to us.  They smiled at us.  I didn’t know what to make of that, because we had been scared to death to go out there and tell them it was our fault.  Our parents made sure we knew the danger of fire, and read us the riot act over that one.  I doubt we could sit down without wincing for days after that.
John and I were a class act though.  One time, investigating a construction site nearby, my brother and I and Eddie, a friend, were dropping rocks into a pool of muddy water in the incomplete basement of a new house.  There was a hole in the first floor where the stairs would eventually be. We didn’t question why the basement walls and the floor of the first floor were built, yet the concrete for the basement floor hadn’t been poured yet.  It was just fun to have a huge puddle far enough below us to makes big splashes.  Three boys, a hole, a long way to fall; what could go wrong?  I fell in, but Eddie went for his parents, and John found his way down to me.  I was laying face down, out cold, in the water.  He turned me over, saving my life.
Years later, we had ridden our bikes miles away from our house, and were investigating a sewer drain outlet.  All the storm water from the street above flowed out into a small creek, and beavers had built a dam on it.  It was just too damn fascinating to leave alone.  However, the concrete around the storm drain outlet was green and slimy.  John fell in.  The slime was everywhere.  He couldn’t grab hold of the edge to pull himself back up; he kept slipping back into the water.  It was deep there, over our heads.  We didn’t know how to swim yet, and the water was dark and filthy.  In retrospect, I think he was panicking, because he thrashed around like crazy.  I got on my stomach.  I reached out my hands and yelled at him to grab them.  He did. I was able to pull him far enough so he could climb out.  We rode over to a nearby house and knocked, explaining what had happened.  John was socking wet, and reeked.   My dad drove home from work and took us home.  He was, shall we say, upset, but also happy that we were OK.
So it continued over the years, through accident after accident.  We even shoplifted together; that was a mess of trouble.   Always we survived, and both of us have all our parts.  We even fought each other.  Sometimes only one of us got into trouble at a time.  We balanced everything out by being Altar boys and Boy Scouts. We served mass and camped together.  We were a team.
High school changed everything.  I went first, leaving John behind.  John developed new friends.  Rather than follow me to the same high school, he went to a religious school in another state for a year.  It was the sort of pre-seminary school you go to if you plan to be a priest, but before you go to an actual seminary.  It was strange not having him around.  Stranger still, he changed his mind and came back after that first year.  Instead of hanging out with me however, he had other friends.  He told me about discovering masturbation.  I had discovered that on my own.  He also knew girls. He did end up going to the same high school as me, but we never saw each other.   He was one of the popular kids.  He found a part-time job after school working on an assembly line for printed circuit boards.  I rarely saw him, and he never told me how to get a job like that or what he did.   He had money, bought himself a leather jacket, and combed his hair out and down and over his face, unlike my greasy pompadour.  He was as different as he could be.  I stayed after school myself, joining various clubs: Science, Computer, Drama.  When I was home, I had to study, usually two to three hours, just to keep up.
John and I didn’t have free time anymore; no time to waste riding our bicycles randomly, exploring, getting into trouble.  I stayed to myself. He thought I was weird.  I didn’t have friends, I didn’t date.  Well, I took my cousin out a couple times, but that didn’t go anywhere.   By the time I graduated high school, John and I were like strangers.  There were no more joint birthdays.  I got a job and left home.  He graduated the next year and got married.  I went to his wedding, dressed in a funky double-breasted suit I’d picked up for myself. It reminded me of my grandfather’s suit.  I looked and felt out-of-place around the family.  I tried to look and act mature. I had even bought a packet of Tiparillos, small plastic-tipped cigars.  I thought they’d make me look sophisticated, but when I tried inhaling one at the wedding reception, I thought I’d choke my lungs out. Clueless.
John invited me over one time after his daughter was born , a year later.  He’d always been the skinny one, but he’d put on a lot of weight. His wife cooked a lot.  They had certain meals on certain nights, same thing every week.  I asked him about sex, and he whispered to me, “Tonight’s the night.”  I thought, “What, once a week? Are you kidding?” Clueless.
I however, was very involved with anti-war activities.  I’d been arrested.  John thought it was a joke, that I’d gotten arrested for the hell of it.  Neither of us had been drafted, but I was caught up in a counter-culture, one that distrusted the family unit, authority, the draft, wars, and law itself.  I liked marijuana and tried LSD a few times.  Dropped out of school, lost my job.  I moved away.  I had many lovers.  Sex was my favorite drug.  I was a drifter and a carny.  I settled on the other side of the country, poured bronze, worked as a hod carrier, then found work in a cancer research laboratory at a University.  I took free classes there, got a degree.   I got married and divorced twice.  I retired.
I still miss my brother.  His 40th wedding anniversary is coming up soon.  I think I’ll go see him.   We’re so much alike.

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Ocean City Took My Breath

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 26, 2010

Stopped breathing.  Just like that.  The ocean had been cold.  Much colder than I’d expected from a warm Spring day. It was early in the beach season.  The winter had been harsh. Cold currents still flowed past the Jersey shore where my parents had dragged all seven kids. Normally, in Summer, they dragged us out of our comfortable beds early on a gray Baltimore morning, drove us across the Bay Bridge and down to the Ocean City on Maryland’s coast. I had no idea there was another Ocean City in New Jersey, and I have no memory of why we went there.
Me and my brother John had run into the waves, let them knock us over, felt the water churning and rolling over our heads.  We never tried to swim in the crashing surf, just dived under the waves and tried to touch bottom. Felt the undertow trying to drag us out to sea. Tried to body surf our way back to the beach. That was our relationship with the ocean. The younger kids were still too young to play in the surf like that.  They were walking along the sand, sticking their feet in the frigid water and running away from the incoming waves.
Me and John were the oldest. We did what we wanted sometimes. We were always together:  walking to school, serving mass as altar boys in the early mornings, riding our bikes miles away from home, sledding down the steep city streets in winter, building a tree house, or carrying groceries home from the store down the road.
Sometimes, when fighting the wild bucking waves and swift undercurrent, I’d do my best to stay under water as long as possible. John and I were pretty good at holding our breath.  I always hoped to see fish, crabs or starfish on the ocean bottom.  I was always digging in it, hoping to find something.
I came up after a long dive and didn’t see John anywhere.   No big deal.  He’d probably gone in.  I was freezing anyway.  Even my frenetic play hadn’t warmed me up all that much.  I headed into the warm dry sand towards my father.   I still didn’t see John anywhere. I knew Dad would know where he was.  As I got closer to him, I felt funny.  My body had instantly started to warm under the 75 degree sun, but I felt hotter than that. My breath became ragged, uncertain. I sped up, saw my dad turn his head towards me, and that was all I saw.
I awoke on my back, but my hair was full of sand.  A crowd encircled me.  “What happened?” I heard a voice ask.  I wanted to know that myself. Another disembodied voice in the crowd answered, “I think some old man drowned.”  Old man? At 15, I could hardly look old.  My dad was there too, looking down at me.  He picked me up.  A beach jeep pulled up, and hands grabbed me, loaded me into the jeep. It flew along the sand, bouncing and twisting.  Suddenly we were off the beach, on the street. An ambulance waited.  I was hustled into it.  A mask was pushed onto my face.  Oxygen poured into my nose and mouth. It felt good.  I didn’t notice anything else, but I wondered where John was.
Next thing I knew, I was lifted onto a gurney, rolled into a curtained-off room.  “I’m cold,” I remember saying.  It was warm in the room; everyone was in swimsuits around me.  The air was humid, but I shivered in all that heat.  A thick wool blanket was dropped over me.  I shook, uncontrollably.  I just couldn’t warm up. “I’m still cold,” I said.  Another heavy, dark green blanket was draped over me.  I still shivered, amazed that I could be so cold, warm as the day was, and covered in heavy blankets.  I felt like a freak.  Well, I was, I guess.  Turns out my rare allergy to cold had been my nemesis. In recent years, after playing for hours in the snow, and coming in the house to warm up, I had developed swollen hands, fingers that wouldn’t bend, red blotches on my face.  But this was summer!  Somehow, the cold ocean currents had swollen the muscles in my throat, tightening around my windpipe, cutting off my air.  As I warmed up, my breathing slowed, and I relaxed.  My parents had my clothes. I got dressed.  I remember being back in the station wagon, surrounded by all the other kids, including John, next to me as always. Freaks need their families.

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New Year’s Day, 2008

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 15, 2010

A new year.  It was a new year. It was the first new year whose coming I had not celebrated.  I had not anticipated such a new year.

After a fourteen-year marriage, I was alone. The house I’d lived in, worked on and renovated was lost to me.  She had that.  I would keep my future pension. That was all.

I was uneasy in my new place.  Winter-bare trees stared in my windows.  I stared at the rented walls, the rented high ceiling, the rented hard brick floor.  It didn’t feel like home.  It was the nicest place I could find.  It had all I needed, a small kitchen space, a nice bathroom, two bedrooms and a fireplace in the living room.  I had my books, my old vinyl, my 16-year old TV.  Still, I felt like a visitor, as though this was a hotel room far from home.  It seemed cavernous, empty and cold.

After almost four months there, I decided I was going to have a Christmas tree, but I had no ornaments.  eBay to the rescue!  Over the next two months I found and purchased dozens of old glass ornaments.  I’d remembered the thin glass ornaments my parents had decorated the tree with every year, many of them German, family heirlooms.  Online, I found indents, and double indents, and triple indents!  There were  multicolored ones, all fragile, large and small, and round ones, tear shapes, bell shapes and cello shapes.

I had walked down the street to the neighborhood tree lot. They brought in-state trees down from Mora every year.  I carried my tree home, as though I had walked into the forest and chopped it down myself.

Once decorated, the tree stood there silently all through Christmas.  As the new year arrived, I’d grown to accept it as part of my house.  The place seemed more like a home.  On New Year’s day, I built a fire and kept it going all day, for just me and my tree.

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To be thankful is best

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 30, 2008

emo Sometimes I’m sad. Sad that I’ve managed to screw up three close relationships that I really cared about.  Sad that my job is boring and I want to retire. Sad that I can’t afford to retire.  Sad that I no longer have a house to retire in.  Sad that my body seems be to slowly breaking down, with pain and unwanted physical changes.   Sad that my lifestyle has left me with few close friends and very little family around me.  Sad that I live by myself and have gotten so used to it that I no longer want to change.  A friend pointed out to me that I haven’t really experienced serious tragedy in my life.  I suppose not, but sometimes it felt that way, and sometimes I feel like there’s nothing to live for.

All that being said however, I still am thankful.  Things haven’t turned out the way I expected, and the future is very uncertain, no matter what I do.  But, every year I have to remind myself, as if I could forget, that Maya is still alive and healthy.  Maya is my step-daughter, a woman so like a daughter to me as to be my daughter.  I watched her grow from an eight-year old into a woman, only to be struck with a malignant brain tumor soon after her 21st birthday.  I never thought about losing her before that, but the realization was like a physical kick in the heart.  There was always hope, and I never hoped so much in my life for anything.  I never gave up hope, and through the day-long surgery, debilitating drugs, poisonous and ultimately useless chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, she survived.  She was astute enough to opt out of the radical, shot-in-the-dark, full-head, and full-spine radiation treatments, so not only is the cancer gone, but she still has her short-term memory, and her full-strength immune system.  She is cancer free, healthy, strong (just ran a fast half-marathon) and absolutely beautiful in spirit and body.

Every time I see her is a joy.  I will always be thankful for her recovery.  Sometimes my life seems to suck, but, in my lifetime I have known a beautiful, loving person who survived a life-threatening, catastrophic illness that would have devastated me, her mother, her brother, her dad, and the rest of her extended family.  I am thankful for Maya, and I have told her so.  Life is not so bad. ren-n-stimpy

Also, see published short story here (on pages 13-14):

That God-Damned Day

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Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Thirteen

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 27, 2008

Now I’m the criminal the border agents expected me to become, Sean thought.  “Public drunkenness, failure to pay a fine, theft.Time to get the hell out of Dodge. Sean headed back to the US, to the border between the Sault Sainte Maries.  So much for Canada, he thought.  At least I’m still headed west. He had to deal with the border again.  US customs this time.  Well, at least I don’t have anything they can arrest me for.  I wonder if they’ll ask me for my draft card? I’m screwed if they do that.  I mailed the ashes back to the draft board long ago. What if they don’t let me back in? A man without a country, that could be me.

The customs agents weren’t used to seeing a man on a bicycle crossing the bridge.  They saw the bulging yellow bags on Sean’s bike, and they knew he had dope.  “It’s all these kids go to Canada for,” agent Stimson said aloud, to no one in particular.  Everyone had heard it all before.  Everyone had pulled dope out of car trunks, glove compartments, door frames, and spare tires.  They’d seen it all.  Almost.  No one, including agent Stimson, had ever seen anyone brazen enough to load a bicycle full of dope and just ride right up to them.

“We’ll have to inspect those bags,” he told Sean, hoping this hippy would run, hoping he’d have a little fun.

“What’s this?” he asked Sean.  “Oh, those are soybeans,” Sean told him, and Sean was enjoying this. “And this is brown rice, and this is granola, and these are alfalfa seeds.”  Sean smiled.  He saw the agent frown, “We’ll have to open these.”  Sean didn’t like the idea of having his food pawed through, but he knew there was no choice.  Nevertheless, he complained, doing his best to make the clown think he was hiding something.  “Well, I’d rather you didn’t, you know, it’ll be messy.”  The agent took the bait, dumping each bag out one at a time, sifting through each one, but there was nothing there but soybeans, brown rice, granola and seeds.  “What did you say these were again?” he asked.  “Alfalfa seeds.”  Stimson could tell this hippie was jerking him around.  He’d could always have the jerk held, say he’d detected an odor of cannabis.  Instead he said, “We’re gong to have to keep these.  Can’t tell where you got ’em, or even if that’s what they are.  Too risky.  Agricultural rules.  Well, Sean thought, that takes care of that. God knows when I’d ever have been ever to stop somewhere and sprout them.  I can’t eat them this way. The less weight the better. He smiled.  Agent Stimson saw the smile, and he wasn’t about to let a hippie get away with anything.  “We’ll have to inspect your bike,” he said.  What’s in these tubes.” “Tubes? You mean the frame?” Sean bleated. “Yeah,” agent Stimson said, “you could have all kinds of things inside the frame.”  Sean just stared.  It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to him.  “How could I, where, how could I get anything in?” he stammered.  “Well,” agent Stimson said, calmly, “what about right here under the seat.”  He bent down and looked underneath.  Hmm, well, nothing here, damn it.

“Have a seat,” he told Sean.  “We’re going to take a look at this. I’ll bet this seat comes off.  Who knows what we’ll find.”  He imagined the hippie was squirming now, sure he had him.  Sean, however, was not looking forward to reloading all his gear.  Stimson took the bike into the interrogation room. Sean pulled out a paperback from his back pocket and read.  Stimson took the seat off, and looked inside, tapped the frame all around, and decided that was enough.  He kept his eye on the hippie, but he was too young to be so calm if he was hiding something.  “Alright,” he told Sean.  “Here’s your bike, and all your stuff is on that table.  You can go.”

Sean grabbed a leaflet he found and used it as a scoop to get all the grains back in their respective bags.  At least they didn’t mix everything up, he thought.  He reattached the saddlebags, gathered up all his tools and loaded them back into the small basket under the handlebars.  He refolded all his clothes, and had to roll the blanket up again, laying it out on the floor and pulling it tight, banding it with bungee cords.  He strapped it down under the spring on his luggage rack, in between the saddle bags.  Giddy up, he thought.  And, Hi-yo Gypsy, away.  He rode back into the US, back into Michigan.

There wasn’t much to see in Michigan’s upper peninsula that wasn’t beautiful: lots of birds, water, and trees, but on the road and along it there were also lots of trucks with camper shells, and lots of Winnebagos, the RVs, not the Indians.   It was cold at night.  Sean began the afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt, but ended up with a long-sleeved shirt and long pants by nightfall.  He rode for days, weeks, crossing into Wisconsin,   then quickly into Minnesota. Every state looked the same close to Lake Superior.  Beautiful, Sean thought.  Gorgeous country up here.  I had no idea.  Looks more undeveloped that I thought anyplace in the US was. And colder.  The nights seemed to be getting colder as he went.  He rode, days and nights, stopping to buy a piece of fruit and a small carton of milk for his granola every morning.  In the afternoons he continued cooking brown rice and soybeans, then cooking some more for dinner.  He slept out of sight.  There weren’t many towns, gas stations, or restaurants as he got farther from the lake.  He stopped in a bar one chilly night, on the road to Hibbing, Minnesota, asked if they had any coffee.  They didn’t.  Didn’t seem very friendly to Sean either.  That night he wore socks, two heavy shirts, and long pants over his shorts.  It was getting harder to pedal with all that on.  The lights of towns and homes were farther and farther apart as he continued west.

It became routine.  Get up, ride for awhile.  Stop and eat. Ride for awhile. Stop and eat. Ride as far as he could, eat, sleep, get up and start it all over every day.  The miles flew by, and Sean was happy.  Sometimes he stopped to wander through old ruins of houses.  Sometimes there was a pond he could jump in.  He sang songs, thought about things he’d forgotten, nursery rhymes, Captain Kangaroo’s riddles, and Tom Terrific. Rocky Jones and the Space Patrol with the booming voice over.  He sang songs out loud: I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, Bingo, Eency Weency Spider, The Farmer in the Dell, Hickory Dickory Dock, Hokey Pokey, If You’re Happy and You Know It  (clap your hands),  Ring around the Mulberry Bush, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (when she comes), Take Me Out to the Ballgame, This Old Man, Three Blind Mice, and even Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  It didn’t matter what.  I didn’t even know I knew those songs, he thought.  There was something about the rhythm of the pedaling, the steady push and pull.  Sean decided it was like meditation.  He had never tired that, but decided it must be something like this.  Get your mind off of everything stessful; let it go; spinning, caroming through the dusty corridors. He felt better than he ever had his whole life.

I’ve always lived by others’ rules, he thought.  He had always done what he was told. The nuns and priests had told him to love God is to obey God, so he had.  They told him that heaven was the goal of his life and hell waited for him if he failed to follow the rules, the commandments, the laws.  So he had.  He had aspired to heaven, to see God, to experience the bliss and rapture of this God being’s presence in his life.

His parents told him to go to school, to do his homework, to babysit, to do as they said, so he had.  The priests and nuns had made it very clear that, after God, one must obey one’s parents, and the law.   Rules and laws told everyone what to do with their lives, he had understood that.  His parents told him that, as the oldest, he must set an example for the younger kids, so he had.  He did what he was told to do.  Through countless sinks full of dishes scrubbed spotless, linoleum floors that shone cleanly through the Johnson’s Floor Wax, the near-spotless bathrooms, the hand-waxed hardwood hallway, the lawn manicured with a push mower, and the weed-free beds of flowers and tomatoes, he had done as he was told.  He was as perfect as he could be, although his parents would dispute that.  He had thought of himself trying to be the perfect son, the pious altar boy, the virtuous boy scout.  Good grades, but bad dreams.

Often, in his dreams, he had been chased.  At first there had just been the wolves waiting in the shadows, waiting for the hand to fall alongside the bed, or for eye contact.  Sometimes Sean had lain awake hours at a time, trying not to look, holding his body stiff, arms tight against his sides, afraid the wolves would strike if he moved.  In his peripheral vision he could sometimes see their eyes shining in the night.  He knew they were there, snarling, waiting to bite and tear bloody pain into him.  He kept his breathing even, and stared straight up at the ceiling until he passed out into fitful sleep.  As he dreamt, he was still terrified.  He was pursued by dark, threatening things that towered over him, chasing him until he fell into holes, terrified of pain at the end of the sudden stop at the bottom, but the darkness went on and on, and it terrified him, this endless falling.  He never stopped, but he would suddenly know he was awake, and see the grayness of dawn.  Sometimes he woke up sooner, with the urgent need to pee, but when he went to the bathroom it wouldn’t start, and he knew it was his fault, and he tried to relax, to let it happen, and eventually it would.  The relief was wonderful, and he was happy, relishing the relief, the warmth, but he was still in bed, still half-asleep, and he knew he had to get up then, and tell his mother.  She didn’t want wet sheets on the bed all night.  And it got cold anyway.  After awhile all that stopped.  He sometimes had dreams about a girl in his class, and she lay there in bed with him, and they kissed and snuggled their bodies together. He didn’t learn what sex was for some time after those dreams started, but when he did, he finally understood the dreams.  Sex, however, was forbidden, especially to teenagers, and girls didn’t like him anyway.  Sex was just for marriage and making babies.  Sean had decided he’d like to be married and make babies.

Maybe.  Sean wasn’t so sure of that anymore.  The world was facing enormous problems due to overpopulation.  He didn’t want to add to that.  He learned how to have sex without making babies, and that was just fine by him.  Right now, however, he was all by himself, and, he was running low on money.  Pretty soon he’d have to find work.  He stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere one evening.  The guy there told him to check out the carnival down the road.  “There’s always work to do tearing it all down.  Tonight’s their last night; they’ll be looking for people.”  Sean thanked him, and practically burned rubber.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, crime, Dreams, faith, family, Life, My Life, rambling, sex, Travel, Writing | 1 Comment »

BREAKING POINTS

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 29, 2008

Things happen

violence flares

mom throws things

yells at Dad

Dad yells at Mom

throws things

Mom threw a glass at me

broken shard cut my leg.

Dad, angry knocked me

into walls or

my breath out

backhanded me

from across a table

spankings,

leather strap too

didn’t faze me

much

but

when he falsely accused

and slapped me

one way and back the other

and back again and

his hand swung

and I snapped

knocked him down

and raised my foot

to kick!

his head in

smash his brains

but

he caught my leg

in powerful arms

smiling

never hit me again.

35 years later

married

arguing

she accuses

falsely

she yells

calls me a liar

coffee cups in our hands

I empty mine at her

she throws hers in my face

and I snap

What is wrong with you?

escapes my lips

between clenched teeth

and I slap one way

and the other and swing

my open hand

to slap again

with fingers only

but she backs away

and I sit in my chair

and smash a remote

against a wall

I am my father.

she calls the police

domestic violence, she says

I’m in a domestic violence situation

she says

I listen from my chair

disbelief replaces anger.

the police come

while I clean up the coffee

she is not there

cops are suspicious

stained rag in my hand

no one else around

oh shit! I think

yes, of course, come in

search the house

she is not here

I don’t know where

crap!

I show them neighbors

where she might be

they find her

tell me I have to leave

counseling for me

anger management for me

Later on

She tells me to stay

unless it ever happens again

It never does, but

she keeps drinking

moody

angry happy sad up and down

never satisfied

impatient

demanding and hard

belittling and mean.

I left all that as a boy

but, now, in love

I can’t leave her

my heart beats

in a hollow

relationship

year after year after year.

Posted in family, Life, love, madness, marriage, My Life, poem, poetry, relationships | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter seven

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 4, 2008

One thing the 1970s is known for is the beginnings of large-scale environmental awareness and activism. Sean, through his readings, was aware that the planet was in danger, from pollution of air and water, from overpopulation, from fallout from nuclear testing, from ozone depletion, and from the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, possibly leading to a hothouse effect. The envelope of air around Earth is very thin in proportion to the size of the world, but few people seemed aware of it. He’d read Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring,  Gordon Ratray Taylor’s The Biological Time Bomb,  Dr. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, and excerpts from the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth.  Sean decided, first off, that he wasn’t going to father any children. Perhaps he would adopt. A moot point unless he found a woman to share his life with. In the meantime, he decided the least he could do was have as small an impact on the earth’s ecosystem as possible. He decided to get a bicycle.
Bike (bique) is French slang for penis. He wasn’t aware of that when he first bought the new ten-speed. He rode it home from the store, much to the consternation of his body, which totally freaked out. He had to snatch a nap on the City High School lawn. It had been a long time since he’d ridden one.

His last bicycle had disappeared when he was thirteen. Sean heard that a few of his rowdiest classmates had been stealing bikes in the neighborhood. Sean decided to confront them. “Hey, Marconi. I hear you know a thing or two about stolen bicycles?” “Yo, Emmet.  So, you lost a bicycle. We’ll look for it.” Marconi tried to look serious for a moment, but smiled at his two buddies on either side of him. Sean didn’t have any proof, and he had already learned from his dad, by way of negative example, not to assume guilt. “You sure you don’t know anything about it? A Bendix two-speed?” “Look, Emmet, I’ll keep my eyes open for it, OK?” “Sure. OK. Let me know if you see anything.” This was before Sean’s confrontation with his dad, and it was a good thing too, because, not only was Gino Marconi much larger than Sean, but his friends were tough. Sean would have had the shit kicked out of him. I was stupid enough to leave it leaning against the store; I guess I deserved to have it stolen.   His father had gotten the Bendix Aviation bicycles for him and his brother through an employee discount.  Sean didn’t dare ask for another. Eight years later he was lying on the grass, wondering if he’d have to walk home again.
His brother John, a year younger, had been the first to learn how to ride. He was also the first to date. He was already married, and had fathered a child.  John drove a car. Sean had failed to learn how to drive one, and couldn’t afford one anyway.  You might say Sean was kind of deficient in many skills, especially social skills: no home life, no wife, no lover. He worked in a Physics research lab, buried underground, sitting in a chair behind the x-ray equipment he operated. He spent most of his evenings taking classes at the university he worked for. He was not athletic, had never participated in sports, and hadn’t ridden a bicycle in too many years; his muscles were rebellious. Before long, however, that bicycle became his constant companion. Shortly before he bought it, he had quit his full-time job to attend school outside the city, at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His boss had agreed to let him work part-time after school and Saturdays. The first day he rode it to classes was a killer – ten miles in rush hour traffic across Baltimore City. After that, he rode the twenty mile round trip every day, and enjoyed it. He was getting stronger. He felt more alert, more alive. He pedaled to the theater, to movies, or to local demonstrations. He didn’t have much of a love life, but he sure had transportation. 
He could go anywhere on a bike, and he wondered just how far he could go. To California? Canada? He might need to do that yet. Could I afford to go? I want to travel, to see the country, other states, other cities; to swim in clean rivers, and walk through mountains, canyons, and forests – that would be my version of happiness.
Choking on fumes, greasy air, and soot, however, he fought his way through herds of buses, semi’s, beetles, caddies, mustangs, and ‘vettes. He crested a small hill one morning and saw clear road in front of him. An electric current surged through him as his thighs orbited the pedals of his Schwinn Suburban. Warp factor seven, Scotty. Cool morning air caressed his sweaty forehead and ripped tears from his eyes. On his left he noticed the metallic beasts slowing. He thought he must be overtaking them. I’m good at this, he crowed to himself. Then, there was a gap in front of the beast next to him. A white whale was pointed right at him! Trapped within, the look of panic on the face of the whale’s prisoner mirrored his own slack-jawed expression. He felt air beneath him. He knew he was airborne, but his eyes didn’t focus on anything as he spun high through the air. The car had made contact with his foot first, and he had kicked up and forward down the hill. He had time to think, as people oddly do in times like that, I’m gonna die. All these cars; I’m going to get crushed. I guess I won’t make it to classes today. What? where? who? slipped through his barely conscious mind when he came to rest. There were no answers available. Up. I need to get up. As he started to lift his head, he couldn’t imagine where he was. In a sudden panic, he realized he didn’t know who he was. He felt like he was dreaming. A name, I must have a name. I’d better just lie still, maybe I’ll wake up. But, there were vague noises, and voices, somewhere.
“What about him?” penetrated his haze. He strained to listen.
“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s dead.”
Me! They’re talking about me! Of course – the car – an accident. Am I hurt? He forced his eyes to open. He saw a typical blue-grey Baltimore sky above him.
“Don’t you worry about it none, Miz Penny. I saw the whole thing. It wasn’t your fault. I’ll testify to it.” He turned his head slightly; saw a group of black and white men clustered around a well-dressed white woman about 10 feet away on the sidewalk. The men, wearing coveralls and carrying lunch pails, weren’t looking his way. Time seemed frozen. No one moved. Even traffic, backed up behind the red light about a block away, had stopped.
He had been bicycling for over a year already, every day, so he rolled onto his feet, catlike. He felt like a ghost rising from a forgotten grave.  He tried walking, but one leg was weak; it seemed to not want to hold him. He limped towards the crowd, who turned as one man to look at him. The woman noticed. She ran out to him.
“Are you alright?”
A quick “No!” was all he could manage. Waves of pain were spreading up his leg with every step.
“Here, you come sit in my car.” He sat on the spotless white upholstery and she left him there. The pain in his foot was throbbing now. He eased his leg onto the seat, and lay down. He was staring at the plush interior of the snow-white Continental when a fireman appeared in the doorway. “Are you hurt?” No, I always sleep in Continentals, Sean thought, angry that none of the firemen had come over before. “Do you need anything?”
“My foot hurts, a lot. I don’t think I can walk on it. It’s already swollen.”
“Hang on, I’ll get you something,” and he disappeared, back across the street into the firehouse. He came back with a plastic bag that he pulled onto Sean’s leg.
“What’s that?” Sean asked.
“It’s a temporary cast. Here, I’ll fill it up.” Fwoosh, and the bag stiffened. “Is that any better?”
“A little – yes – thank you.”
“You should go have this x-rayed. Where do you want to go?”
“Could you possibly take me to the closest place, please? Soon?”
Hours later his roommates came and helped him limp, bruised and sprained, out of the hospital. The neglect and lack of concern in there had vindicated his contempt for establishment medical practice. “Don’t you have insurance? Can you pay for this visit? Sign here, and here, and here.” And then, hurry up and wait. Lie there alone until they’re ready. Listen to the children crying, one of them with a head wound, another with a broken arm. Smell the antiseptic. Watch people ignore everyone. On the way home, Sean had his roommates stop at the Free Clinic to get some crutches. It seemed he had only sprained the upper part of his foot, and gotten some nasty-looking bruises. When the bill came from the hospital, he was amazed to learn that they were charging him for crutches! But ‘Miz Penny’ paid the bill, and sent him a check for a new bike.
Of course, it wasn’t all the hospital’s fault. There were very few doctors in the poor neighborhoods for people to go to, so people used the emergency rooms as their family doctor.
That was why the People’s Free Medical Clinic  has been founded. That was the reason why such a diverse group of people, including Black Panthers, women’s libbers, and war protesters had worked to start such a place. The Clinic stood for socialized medicine. But, there was also draft resistance advice, birth control counseling, and the obligatory V.D. screening and sex education. There was a commitment to humane health care, community control of the Clinic, and the redefinition of the doctor-patient relationship.

“What are you doing?”
“I’m checking your lungs.”
“Yeah, but why do you do that?”
“I’m timpaning. By tapping on you like this, I produce sound in your lungs. I can tell by the sound where there’s fluid.”
“What does that mean?”
“That would mean that you have an infection of some kind.”
As a patient “advocate”, Sean’s job was to interview patients, find out why they had come in, and if anything else was bothering them. Advocates encouraged patients to ask questions of the docs, and followed their progress through the Clinic. No one was ever lost in a shuffle of bureaucratic paper.
“Mr. Stefans, did you get everything taken care of?”
“Sure. But you know, he gave me these prescriptions, and I don’t know which one to take once a day and which to take three times.”
“Let’s go back and ask him.”
“Oh, no. I don’t want to bother him.”
“No bother. That’s what he’s here for.”
“Hi Lillian. All squared away.?”
“Yes, thank you. Can someone take me to my appointment at the hospital tomorrow?”
“I’ll arrange it with the day staff right now.”
“Can you tell me when my test results will be in?”
“We should have them by this time tomorrow night.”
“Am I covered by Workman’s comp?”
“Let’s find out.”
“Is there anything else?”
“No. Yes, I do have a sorta problem.”
“What’s that?”
“I don’t know if I should talk about it.”
“Would you like to talk to a counselor? Everything you say is confidential.”
“No one can find out?”
“Absolutely no one, not without your written permission.”

There were interesting counselors at the Clinic. Supervised and trained by psychiatrists, and then by each other, the “People’s Counselors” helped people open up and express their angers, frustrations, and pain. There might be only a simple physical need to be remedied or there might be something more.

“Have you thought about using birth control?”

“I can’t, my parents don’t believe in it.”
“Do you want to get pregnant?”
“No way! Not for a long time, at least until I’m twenty.”

“I’m so mad I could scream!”
“Why don’t you?”
“Scream? It’s OK?”
“Sure, would you rather be mad?”

The basic philosophy of the People’s Counselors was that it was not always the patient who was fucked up, but society itself. Unreal expectations, peer pressure, media-created role models, and laws against “victimless” crimes drove people into self-depreciation. It was radical, it was revolutionary, to just help people without judging them.
The counselors, staff and volunteers at the Free Clinic worked hard, hoping to renew a society of, by, and for the people. They questioned everything. Does the nuclear family form the basis for repressive authority? Are male and female roles only learned, conditioned behavior? Is competitiveness the root of war? Is bisexuality the future of sex?
Could we create a society in which war was impossible? Could a racist, sexist, patriarchal, avaricious, hypocritical society become one loving caring family? Sean juggled all of these questions and more, hoping to understand why the U.S. was at war, why people got into fights, why people killed each other, why there was so much violence in the world.
He was not a counselor, but one night he found myself pushed into it. For some reason, there was no one around to help a woman freaking out from some drug, presumably LSD. She was agitated, depressed, and could hardly speak for crying.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“There’s nothing with you, you’re just having a bad trip, that’s all.”
“That’s all? That’s all? Why do I feel this way? Help me. Help me. Help me.”
Someone put their arm around her, and Sean took her hand.
“It’s OK, really, you’ll just have to wait for the drug to wear off.”
“How long?”
“Sometimes it takes up to fourteen hours.”
“Oh god, no. I can’t. My parents! Why do I hate my parents?” she sobbed suddenly.
I’m blowing this, I’m in over my head, Sean thought. “Look, you probably don’t hate them.”
“Yes I do! I thought I loved them, but now they hate me.”
“They don’t.”
“Why do I feel this way? Make it stop.”
“We’ll try. OK?”
Eventually, she was alright. People with more experience in those things took over.

Sean went upstairs to the empty childcare room, grabbed a broom and swept it. He got the wet mop and filled a bucket with hot soapy water to wash the old wooden floor. The kids played on that floor.  He was mostly trying to stay busy.  LSD.  He was remembering his own experience.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, family, Life, madness, My Life, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Four

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 29, 2008

“Leaving home is a kick, you know? kind of like summer vacation? Only it’s no more screams, no more fights, no more parents’ dirty looks,” Sean had told Lenny a few weeks before he would graduate from his high school. Lenny had a new job teaching, downtown, and a new apartment nearby. Sean’s part-time job was only eight blocks from the apartment. He could leave home now, and he was gradually shifting his books and clothes into Lenny’s new place.
“So when are you moving in?”
“Just as soon as I graduate.”
“Have you told your parents yet?”
“No. Why should I?”
“Well, I don’t want any trouble with them. You are kind of young, Sean. And you told me how they run your life.”
“Don’t worry about it. I looked into it. There’s not a damn thing they can do if I have a job, and I start full-time a week before graduation. I’m really looking forward to this.”
“Won’t you miss home?”
“Are you kidding? What’s to miss? An old house with bad plumbing? Holes in the walls? Freezing in the morning because the heating oil ran out again?”
“What about your parents? Won’t you miss them?”
“No fucking way, Lenny. I think they’re crazy. You should have heard some of the fights they had: cursing each other, throwing things, breaking things.”
“Kind of infantile, huh?”
“You said it. I couldn’t see much difference between them and the younger kids.”
“Don’t you love them?”
“No, I don’t care anymore. I’ll miss my brothers and sisters, but I don’t want to ever have to go back there once I’m out.”
“Well, you’ve gotta go back there now. Do you want some help?”
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine this way, moving things a little at a time. I don’t want to get into a fight right now.”
“Why’s that?”
“Hell, Lenny, I’ve got finals coming up.”
“For high school?”
“Hey, it’s a good school.”
“From what I’ve seen, public education sucks.”
“Maybe so, but I’ve got a job already, at Johns Hopkins, in a Physics lab.”
“Well, don’t forget the rent. I hope you can give me some money soon. I have to have it by the fifteenth of every month.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t be such a worry-wart. I’ll have the money. Look, I’ll see you later, O.K.?”
“Sean. Wait. I was planning on going down to David’s tonight. Don’t you want to come with me?”
“Can’t. I told you I’ve got finals. I’ve gotta study.”
“I’ll help you.”
“With Chemistry? Analytic Geometry? You teach English!”
“Oh, you’re right,” Lenny laughed. “Well, when are you coming back?”
“I’ll bring some more books down tomorrow or the next day.”
“How come you have so many books? I thought your folks didn’t have money?”
“I stole most of ’em, one or two at a time, and I flipped burgers for the rest. See ya later.”
“Yeah. See you,” Lenny said, but he was thinking about keeping his dresser locked.
Steve didn’t have much money. His new roommate worried him. The guy’s only eighteen. Can I trust him? We’ll have rent and bills to pay. What if he won’t pay his share? I want him here, but I sure can’t afford to keep him.
Lenny was not the most stable of people himself. Sean didn’t know it, but Lenny had almost not finished college. His relationship with Henry had almost destroyed him. Henry had quit school and disappeared. Lenny hadn’t taken enough pills to die, but the psychiatrists had helped. Now he was getting by with weekly outpatient visits and a little help from his Thorazine pills.
Oh, well, at least Sean’s good looking. Maybe he’ll come around. Things are looking up, Lenny thought, as a smile brightened his face. I hope he doesn’t get drafted.
Lenny didn’t have to worry about the draft. He was eighty pounds overweight and the letter from his psychiatrist had assured his 4-F (last to be called) status.
Sean passed his exams. His parents looked forward to the graduation ceremony, but Sean didn’t want to go. He wanted to just grab his diploma and join the real world. The more interested they were, the less interested he was. It’s just another dumb ritual, he thought. He had read about the protests and boycotts of college graduations over the war and other things.
“What do mean you’re not going?” his mother asked.
“I don’t want to go.”
“Since when do you decide? This is your graduation. It’s important to you, to us. You have to go.”
“I have to go? No I don’t. Not anymore.”
“Not anymore? As long as you live here you do what we say.”
“I don’t live here anymore.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m moving out.”
“What?”
“I’m leaving.”
“You’re not going anywhere. Your father will talk to you.”
Mr. Emmet took Sean to the cellar to “talk.” There had been a lot of spankings, whippings, and lectures down there, so Sean wondered what kind of talk this would be. His father preceded him down the narrow stairs. A small piece of old linoleum flaked off a stair onto the concrete floor below. Sean was acutely aware of the damp smell of the cellar, ducking his head to avoid the ceiling joists at the bottom of the stairs. His father turned around to face him. Sean almost didn’t recognize the look on his face, but then he remembered. That look, I saw it before. Yeah, it was the way he grinned when he gave me and Paul that cryptic birds-and-the-bees talk.
“What is all this about your leaving? Where are you going? What are you going to do?”
“I have an apartment, and my job is full-time now. I’m moving Saturday.”
“Saturday? You can’t go just like that.”
“You’re the one told me to go.”
“What? Me? When?”
“You said, ‘If you don’t like it, get out,’ so I’m going,” Sean said, defiantly, but ready to duck.
“What?” Mr. Emmet asked, more puzzled than angry. Then he snapped. “That? That doesn’t matter. Uh, you know your mother doesn’t want you to leave. This will be real hard on her.”
It didn’t matter to Sean. His mind was set, but he agreed to go to the graduation. What does it matter, he thought, I’ve won. In two days I’m out of here.
On Saturday Sean was up and dressed faster than he had gotten up in twelve years of the same routine. He threw a tie around his neck, adjusted the two ends and let his hands take over tying the knot. I can do what I want, go where I want, stay out all night, Sean thought, as he pulled the longer end over the other, and up and over, and around the left loop, and behind the right side. And I don’t ever have to talk to them again. He pulled hard on the almost completed knot, wrapped it all the way around the front and up the back and then down through the front of the knot. He pulled it tight. “Aw, shit,” he yelled – the wide front end was too short.
“You’re gonna be late for your own graduation,” his mother yelled up the attic stairs.
He pulled the tie apart, and slowly, fixedly, re-tied the knot. He tucked his shirt in, grabbed his rented black jacket, and ran down the stairs – sideways, in order to give his feet maximum purchase on the crumbling narrow boards – fingered the attic door lintel and swung through the gap. From there, he jumped the rest of the stairs from the second floor three and four at a time, grabbed the railing post and swung onto the hallway floor.
As soon as he and his parents got back from the ceremony downtown, they were going to give him a ride to his new apartment with the rest of his things. He was ready.
No one talked on the way down, except for Mr. Emmet’s ritualistic cursing of all other drivers: “Where’d you get your license, in a box of crackerjacks? Horn works, try your lights. Idiot! Learn how to drive,” etc. Sean was used to it, only this time he was as anxious as his father to get somewhere – he wanted to get this over with and finish moving.
He found his seat on stage and looked around. There were four hundred and ninety-one other guys on stage, and four hundred and ninety of them in black suits. One guy came in a white suit, all the way from the white tie down to his white shoes. Now that was an idea, Sean thought, better than not coming at all.

Baltimore’s Mayor Tommy D’Alessandro gave out the diplomas. Principal Burkert had the people stand up who were going to college; over half the class stood. Then he had the people stand who already had a job. Most of the rest stood, except for Sean, who didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore.

Mr. and Mrs. Emmet brought their son back to their house. He left his diploma on the table in the hall while he ran up the stairs to gather his few remaining clothes and books. The small roll of paper looked out of place with all the family rollar skating trophies and medals. Only Sean had rejected the competitions. Trophies and medals weren’t sufficient incentive for Sean. The endless hours of practice and travel hadn’t interested Sean in the least, and his school work had required endless hours of study, just to graduate. Somehow Paul did both, but Sean had struggled through his courses, even repeating his junior year.
“This is all your fault,” Mrs. Emmet accused.
“How do figure that? You’re the one that spoiled him for so many years. I’m surprised he had the balls to do this.”
Before they could continue, Sean came down the stairs with some clothes, a few books, and an old suitcase that once belonged to his maternal grandmother. She’d died when Sean was two. He didn’t remember her, but the suitcase was still good, and the stuffed animal she had bought for him before she died was in the case. His father took it out to the car, and they drove silently to the apartment on Twenty-fifth and Calvert streets. The buiding was old but well-maintained. Not far away the city was already tearing whole blocks of dilapidated slums down.
They carried his things up the two flights of stairs – against his protests – and looked the place over. He was anxious for them to leave.
“I guess this is it,” Mr. Emmet said.
“Call us sometime,” Mrs. Emmet urged.
Sean just nodded his head. His mother moved to hug him, but he backed away. “We’d better get going,” she told Mr. Emmet, and they left. Sean was elated. That was easy, he thought, This is all easier than I thought it would be.
“Welcome Sean, I see your parents brought you.”
“Yeah, yeah, they insisted.”
Lenny carried the suitcase to Sean’s bed in the small bedroom. “You know,” he said, “You don’t have to sleep here.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean I have a nice king size bed out there. We could both fit easily, and then we could use this room for storage.”
“Uh, no thanks, Lenny. I like it just fine in here.” Aw, hell, what have I got myself into now?

Posted in 1970s, family, Life, My Life, relationships, Writing | 1 Comment »

Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Five

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 17, 2008

Sean found a room to rent, from an Indian doctor, closer to the University where he worked and attended classes. For twelve dollars a week, it was OK, he thought. He shared the upstairs floor with a real quiet cabdriver, John, who mostly watched TV or sat in a stuffed chair by the window overlooking the street, newspaper in hand, and a strange little old lady who always wore white gloves, expensive-looking dresses, lots of makeup, and a puffed out hairdo. A smell of Indian spices drifted up from Dr. Thakkar’s kitchen all the time, but, the aloof Dr. Thakkar never offered the use of it. Without a kitchen upstairs, Sean would eat out on paydays, and then he lived on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and jars of grapefruit slices. The little old lady, Just-call-me-May, had a hotplate in her room for tea, and hundreds of mementos of her life. There was a silver tea set, and knickknacks, and clocks, and framed pictures, and more things that Sean thought possible to cram into one tiny room. She was friendly and nice, but even older than Sean’s grandmother. He couldn’t believe anyone could be that old. She was wrinkled and wattled, and smelled old.  The cabdriver never talked, and May talked too much, so Sean spent most of his time alone, reading or studying.

The machine clattered along, pap-a-pa-pap, pap-a-pa-pap, ching, pap-a-pa-pap, sometimes for fifteen to twenty minutes, unattended, which gave Sean time to wander through the lab. He spent eight hours a day there, turning dials, flipping switches, and moving an x-ray detector back and forth. The machine he operated could measure the physical length of an x-ray, or it could use those values to measure the spaces between atoms in a crystal of some mineral.   It had all seemed very exciting to Sean, fresh out of high school, but the novelty was wearing thin. Every day he moved dials along the “great circle” at the base of the instrument, and pressed buttons to send information to the teletype, which punched out coded rows of holes – pap-a-pa-pap – in rolls of pink or purple or yellow paper. He took these rolls to the computing center at the end of every day; a machine there turned them into piles of rectangularly holed punch cards. He added a small stack of cards to the top of the stack.  That was the program to interpret, average and print the data points he’d collected all day.  He left the stack of cards there on a counter, to be fed by hand into the great computer, which would turn it into rows of data points, averaged and printed in tabular format.

Wandering through the lab, he came upon the glass case where the bomb fuses developed for World War II were on display. These were not the kind of fuses one could light, but instead were clever mechanical devices that used a mercury switch to prevent an artillery shell from exploding too soon. After that war, Sean’s boss had turned to measuring x-rays. Dr. Bearden was out of the lab, as he often was. Sean went into his office to look around.
The molecular models were interesting, but the bookshelves were even more so. There were stacks of papers dealing with Dr. Bearden’s research into the nature and use of x-rays, and papers on a variety of topics in Physics. A high school kid could think up some of these, Sean thought. With a Physics book in one hand, and a funding request in the other, he could imagine himself making a career out of Physics research. I want to investigate what would happen if I did this to that, under these conditions, he fantasized. Growing the perfect Crystal, by Sean Lee Emmet. Or, The Structure of Compound X, by Dr. S.E. Emmet. It wouldn’t be too hard, he imagined. But how much of all this goes into new and better weapons? he asked himself. I’m going to be just as much a part of the war machine as anyone in ROTC, or the people in the weapons factories. Why does this war just go on and on?
Even without Lenny’s interference, his relationship with Plask never went any further. One day he received a letter from her, a Dear-Sean letter. He ripped the envelope open. On the top was a nude sketch of herself. Sean stared at it. He had never seen her nude. It was a good likeness of her face, so the rest of it looked to be accurate too. Under it was written, in a banner trailing under the feet: “All I want from living is to have no chains on me.” Next to that was neatly printed: “Look at me. 18, Naive, and Vulnerable,” The rest of the page was written in a clear, flowing script. Sean read down to the end of the page. She had written that Sean was too serious, that she didn’t want to be tied down, and that, “I think it’s for the best if we don’t see each other anymore.” Sean read the letter again, and traced the nude with his fingertips. Then he called her.
“Plask?”
“Oh. Hi Sean,” she answered, lightly. Sean hoped she would say that she wasn’t serious.
“I wondered, Plask, why you don’t want to see me anymore?”
“Oh, you got my letter?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I tried to explain. I thought you would understand.”
“No. I don’t. I want to see you, to talk to you.”
“That’s not a good idea, Sean.”
“Look, Plask, I need to see you. Can’t you explain it to me in person? I don’t understand.”
“Well, alright. Can you come over to my grandma’s?”
“Sure. When?”
“How about Saturday?”
“Two o’clock?”
“Just this once, Sean.”
Sean got off the bus, and walked over to Plask’s grandmother’s. He had never been there before. The neighborhood seemed unusually quiet, until the dogs started barking. Sean imagined that everyone was looking at him from behind their curtains. As he walked up to the door, he could hear yelling: “God damn it, I’m her father. She’ll do what I want, not what you say.” Sean hesitated. The yelling moved away from the door. He knocked.
“Who the hell is that,” Plask’s father yelled. Sean heard Plask say: “I’ll get it,” but her father yanked the door open. His face was beet-red, and his eyes glared accusation.
“What do you want?” he demanded of Sean.
“I came for, uh, Susan?” Mr. Plaskowitz turned and yelled for her, and left the door open. Plask came to the door and motioned for Sean to go out into the yard. “I’ll be right outside, daddy,” she called in, and she closed the door behind herself.
“What’s going on, Plask?”
“You came at a bad time. You heard my father yelling?”
“Hard to miss.”
“We’ve been fighting.”
“Why?” Sean asked, and they sat down on the iron lawn chairs.
“I can’t explain. My father is the reason I moved away from my house. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Should I leave?”
“No. Oh, no. Let’s talk out here.”
“Plask, I don’t understand. Why is it exactly that you don’t want to see me?” Sean asked, desperate to hear a reason, any reason. Just then her father came out. He walked clumsily over to Sean, and Sean smelled alcohol, lots of it.
“You stay the hell away from my daughter.”
“Why?”
“Listen, you long-haired punk,” Sean’s hair just covered the back of his shirt collar, but Plask’s father grabbed it and jerked him to his feet. “I don’t like you, and I don’t want you coming around here, understand?”
Sean was confused. He wanted to punch this drunk in the face, get his clammy hands off of him, but, It’s Plask’s father. She’d never forgive me. He tried to pull away, but his hair was wrapped tight in the older man’s fist.
“Daddy!” Plask screamed at him, and he released his grip. He turned toward her, fists clenched. Sean moved to intercept him. He’s toast if he touches her, he thought.
Her father pointed a finger at her, “I’ll talk to you later.” He turned back to Sean and told him to “Get off my property.” Then, the old woman, Plask’s grandmother, and the mother of this strange man who so little resembled the man Sean had met earlier, came outside and talked to him by the door for a few minutes. Sean looked over at Plask, but she avoided his eyes. “You’ve got five minutes,” Mr. Plaskowitz yelled over.
“Jesus,” Sean said softly, “What was that all about?”
“Let’s go for a walk, OK?”
Sean took Plask’s hand while they walked. His hand was sweaty around her cool fingers. “Plask?” he began.
And Plask cut him off with, “Sean, I’m sorry about my father.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” he answered her, “I think I understand.”
“No, I don’t think you do.”
Sean stopped, took hold of Plask’s other hand, and looked at her. He looked at her lips, compressed into thin determined lines, and he shuddered. He felt alone, and hurt. He pressed her hands tight and looked into her eyes. She looked back at him, and he thought he saw the face of the happy, lively coed he’d first danced with. He could almost feel the impression of her lips on his and her arms around his neck. Her eyes are such a beautiful brown, he thought, and so friendly, so alive. He wanted to kiss her eyes, but she suddenly looked away. “What do you mean?” he asked her.
“You don’t understand family, Sean,” Plask said, turning to him.
“What?!”
“Didn’t you tell me that you don’t want to see your parents anymore?”
“Well, yes, but I don’t see – ”
“How can I explain it to you?” she asked. “Don’t you see? My family is important to me. My priorities are too different from yours. I can’t be that way with my parents.”
“Doesn’t look as though you’re getting along real well.”
“That’s family business. But we’ll take care of it. Do you understand how different we are?”
“No. I don’t. That’s the way my father is too.”
“Sean, we can’t see each other anymore, OK?”
“Well, no. It’s not OK. But if that’s what you want, I don’t think I have much choice. Can I call you?” he asked.
“I don’t think that would be good idea. Look, Sean, I told you that I had a boyfriend who went to school in Michigan?”
“Yeah?”
“Well, he’s wants me to come up there.”
“To live?”

“Maybe, I don’t know. But even if I stay here, he doesn’t want me to see anyone else. You do understand, don’t you?”

“No.”
“Sean, I have to go. I have to get back. Good-bye,” she said, and she kissed Sean lightly on his lips. He kissed her cheek and she turned and ran back to her house. Her cheek had been wet, and Sean couldn’t forget the salty taste that remained on his lips from her cheek. He started walking towards the bus stop, but later on that night, as he was undressing for bed, he suddenly realized that he couldn’t remember what bus he had taken or who had been on it.

Sean wasn’t a quitter, however.  Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, was playing in movie theaters at the time. Sean hadn’t ever thought to ask Plask to see it because it was a kid’s flick, but now he called his mom.

“Mom.”

“Hello stranger.”

“Hey, I was wondering is the kids would want to go see a movie with me.”

“Probably. What movie?”

“That new Disney movie? Fantasia? ”

“Well, it’s OK with me. I’ll ask them. Hang on. Kathy! Karen! Brian! Betsy! Get in here!

Sean could hear her talking to them. They got excited. They missed their big brother a lot, and he didn’t visit. He missed them too.

“OK, they’re excited. How are you going to take them?”

“Oh, I think my girlfriend will drive us.”

“A girlfriend, huh? ”

“Yeah.”

“That’s all you’ve saying?’

“Yeah.”

Sean called Plask the next day.

“Hey Plask?”

“Sean?”

“Listen a minute, OK?”

“OK.”

“I want to take my sisters and youngest brother to see Fantasia. I can’t take them on the bus, and I really want to spend some time with them. This is real important to me.  Would you be willing to take all of us?”

“Well, I guess.”

“Great!” How about Saturday afternoon?”

“That’ll work. I have time if we go early. You know, I’ve been wanting to see that myself.”

“There’s a show at 3:00. I can meet you at your grandmother’s house.”

“No, that’s OK, Sean. I’ll pick you up.”

Saturday came, and Sean was as excited as he could get. Maybe there’s still a chance, he thought. Plask drove him to his parent’s house, but waited in the car. “We have to hurry, Sean,” she said. “If I go in we’ll end up being late.”

They were ready. Betsy jumped right up on Sean, clumsily. Sean didn’t know what to make of that. He didn’t think they’d been that close, since she was the youngest. She gotten bigger in the last year, and he couldn’t just pick her up like a baby. She calmed down. Kathy and Karen looked excited. Brian was a little sullen looking, but he wasn’t going to miss out on something the others did. It was, after all, an adventure. They’d never gone anywhere before without the parents around.

They drove downtown. Sean introduced everyone. None of the kids said more than hello. Like Sean, they’d been trained to not talk to strangers, or ever discuss family business outside the home. They seemed surprised to see Sean with someone else, but didn’t have much to say. No one in that family ever talked much.  Plask seemed animated and really happy to be around the kids. Sean was ecstatic. He hoped to sit next to Plask at the movie, hold her hand, maybe put his arm around her, but she shooed all the kids in behind her so they had all four kids sandwiched between them. After the movie, they drove the kids back to their home. She and Sean drove away together. Sean asked if she wanted to go get something to eat, or maybe some ice cream.

“I can’t, Sean. I really have to get home now. I’ve got studying to do. And my boyfriend is going to be calling, so I need to be home when he calls.”

Sean was crushed. He had hoped and hoped beyond reason. He looked at her, and sadness spilled out across his face.

“Look, Sean, I told you we can’t see each other anymore. I agreed to help you see your brothers and sisters, but that’s all. ”

“But, but you said family was real important to you. Family is real important to me too. I wanted to show you.”

“Sean, Sean, Sean. Is that what this was all about?”

“Well, I really wanted to see you. And, I do love my brother and sisters.”

“Sean, I don’t want to talk about it anymore, OK.”

She dropped him off at his apartment. No kiss. He never saw her again. Except. Except, one night, many years later, long after Star Trek had been resurrected as Star Trek: The Next Generation, he happened to catch the closing credits on an old repeat, and one of the Klingon women was played by a Susie Plakson. He looked up the actor on the internet, but couldn’t find any information about her except for her appearance on that Star Trek episode. They did, however, have a picture of the Klingon character she had played. It just might be, he thought but the alien makeup was thick and dark.  Damn, but she looks good, if that’s her. I’ll never know. Plask, Plask, Plask. If only, if only.

UPDATE: Found out who played the Klingon woman, and there’s no way it could have been my Susan Plaskowitz. Internet searches come up empty for her , so I’ll never know what happened to her, or what she did with her life.

Posted in 1970s, family, Life, love, My Life, relationships, sex, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through The ’70s Chapter Two

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on July 5, 2008

Sean lived in the left-hand side of a garishly green and yellow stuccoed duplex in an otherwise quiet neighborhood. The house looked as if the people on one side had wanted green, and the people on the other had wanted yellow, and they had compromised by rolling both colors, one right over the other, onto the jagged surface. The low smooth areas were yellow and the high rough spots were green. A windowed gable projected from each half of the steeply pitched roof that covered both attics. In the right half of the duplex lived an old bachelor and his mother. Nine people lived on the left.

Sean was the oldest of the children, an altar boy, and a boy scout. He was a “good” boy. He loved his parents, his three brothers and three sisters. He did his chores, not necessarily cheerfully, but dutifully hand scrubbing and waxing the kitchen floor on Saturday mornings, scrubbing the cellar’s bathroom, mopping the concrete cellar floor when asked, and he alternated washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, and weeding the small strip of land in the back of the house with his brother Paul. He played games with his younger brothers and sisters and read them stories whenever his parents were out. He went to confession on Saturday afternoons and never missed Mass on Sundays. Sometimes he just sat on an attic window ledge, wondering what it would feel like to hit the gravel in the driveway below, and what the most painless way to fall would be. Sean wanted out.
“Sean! Get in here!” Sean’s mom bellowed while he sat watching the old black and white one night.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, jumping up and running into the kitchen. Only twenty years older than him, Sean’s mother looked tired. She had gone upstairs to “lay down” before Sean’s dad had left for his second nighttime job with a janitorial crew. She was wearing a faded pink house dress, one or two sizes too small, and what looked like hundred-year-old pink cloth slippers.
“Look at the mess Brian made,” she said. A bowl of leftover peas was upside down under one of the table’s long benches. Brian was the six-year-old. “This is your fault. How come you haven’t done the dishes yet?” she demanded.
“I was watching Star Trek. I never get to see it, and I was going to clean up when it was over.”
“And this is what happened.”
“It’s not my fault.”
“Of course it’s your fault, you were supposed to have the dishes done.”
“What does it matter when I do ’em? Brian spilled the peas. Why aren’t you mad at him? Why don’t you make him clean it up?”

“Listen you. You don’t talk back to me. I’m your mother,” she screamed. At that point Sean knew he was in trouble, knew he should shut up and ignore it, but he was tired of seeing the four youngest get away with murder, and he was tired of being blamed for things he hadn’t done.
“Why are you yelling at me? He’s the one,” pointing at Brian, “that made the mess,” Sean yelled back.
“How dare you raise your voice to me?” she screeched, and she picked up a glass and threw it at him. The glass broke on the wall and a flying piece of it cut Sean’s leg. He stormed around her, dripping spots of blood, out of the kitchen, along the hall, and out of the front door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she screamed. Sean looked back as he closed the door, but he didn’t say anything. He closed the glass storm door slowly, suppressing an urge to slam it into pieces. It had been shattered at one time or another by all four brothers.
“Your father will take care of you when he gets home,” came through the door.
I’m sure of that, Sean thought, That’s what you always do, sic him on us.
He trotted up the street, past all the quiet houses, and slowed to a walk up the hill that had been paved into street. The old tree house was gone, of course, but a few of the trees that used to cover the whole hillside still stood along the edges of the new sidewalks. He climbed an old maple and sat on a thick branch that forked into two near the trunk. It was a sturdy seat. He noticed squashed peas on one shoe, which he scraped off with a rare leaf. There were just a few tenuous leaves hanging on, fluttering in the autumn breezes.

“Damn it! I want to get away from here,” he shouted at the stars, and he laughed, bitterly, crazily, almost crying, when he realized that he’d spoken out loud. He often gazed longingly at the stars, hoping to see a UFO, hoping that aliens would land and invite him to come with them. That’s such a stupid idea, he thought, I don’t know why I think of it so much. But he wanted a new life, somewhere, anywhere, and he knew it was all up to him: I’ve got to finish high school. What will I do if I don’t graduate? Wash dishes? I sure can shine and polish. Scrub floors? Yeah, a floor’s not done unless the corners are clean. And I can wax without leaving streaks. What else do people do? Drive trucks? Hell, I don’t even have a driver’s license.
“I’m sure as hell not going to make the same stupid mistake they did and get married so young. Seven kids later, all they have are bills, bill collectors on the phone, bill collectors at the door, and fights over money
.
“Tell him I’m not home,” he had to tell the ones who came to the door actually expecting money, even while his mom hid behind the door. Often the aggressive ones wouldn’t believe he was old enough to be home alone, and they challenged him, insisting on seeing his parents. On the phone he was told to say: “The check’s in the mail.” Sean shifted uncomfortably on his perch. Why do they fight so much? It doesn’t help. Why did they have to have so many kids? The memory of last night’s fight echoed in his mind, as it had echoed through the house to where he had lain in bed in the attic.

“More money? What did you do with the money I gave you? You sure didn’t spend it all on food.”
“You want to bet? There’s hardly enough as it is. I still have to send Sean or Paul down to the store every week. We run out of things. Maybe we’d have more money if you didn’t stop at bars on the way home.”
“I’ve got to cash my check somewhere.” His voice got louder, angrier. “Why can’t I have a few lousy beers, damn it? You’re spending too much, that’s all.”
“Beers? That’s all you spend it on? I spend too much? The kids need shoes, for Christ’s sake. And clothes.”
“Clothes? They just got clothes last Easter. And what do you mean ‘That’s all’? Tell me. Tell me.”

“They grow out of them. They’re growing, remember? And you know what I mean. You know damn well what I mean.”

The wind was getting stronger, and colder. Sean tucked his hands under his arms. Last night he had tucked his head under his pillow, trying to shut out the noise, but it hadn’t helped. I’m not going down there, he told himself, I’m tired. He and John had gotten in between their parents before, and stopped a fight by staring at them, or laughing at their inanities.
There were crashes mixed in with the shouting. That’s mom, throwing things, and he could see her arm winding back for the pitch. There were bangs and thuds, too, as his dad smashed his fists against walls and tables. He tried to ignore it, to go to sleep, but some words drilled through the pillow into his ears.

“Divorce? You know we can’t get divorced, the Church doesn’t allow it.”
“We can’t go on like this. Something’s got to give. We’ll have to separate, or something.”
“We don’t have any choice. What about the kids? You know we can’t separate with seven kids.”

Sean shivered, and wished he had brought a coat. No way I’m going back for one. I’m staying right here. I don’t care. This is never gonna to happen to me. I’ll be damned if I’ll have kids before I have the money to bring ’em up right. I’ve got to go to college. Shit, I’m gonna have to study my ass off to get accepted anywhere after failing last year. Wouldn’t it be something if I could go to California?
He dreamed about living on his own, buying food just for himself, buying his own clothes, and having things that were his, just his, for his own use. He wanted to be a chemist, mixing solutions, investigating the unknown and creating new things. He wanted respect. People will know who I am, he mused, I’ll be somebody.

But, it was getting pretty cold just sitting in that tree. He had cooled down by then, so it was time to get himself home, even though he knew he was going to get his butt kicked. Funny how cold the night is, I hadn’t noticed it when I left, he was thinking as he jumped out of the tree and double-timed it home. The street was dark except for his house; someone had turned the porch light on. Well, that’s something. At least I’m expected. The old Ford ‘wagon was in the driveway, so Sean’s dad was home. Sean crept up the porch steps and stood outside the door. Now or never, he decided. He walked in through the hallway to the kitchen and started cleaning up the mess. He heard his father come down the stairs, but he pretended not to notice. Sean’s dad came up behind him. Sean found himself amazingly calm.
“Why were you yelling at your mother?”
Sean started to turn around, but before he could speak, he heard the familiar command: “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and his dad grabbed Sean’s chin in his hand.
Sean worked his jaw muscles against that hand, “She was yelling at me.”

“Why was she yelling at you?” his dad bellowed, and let go of his chin.

“Because I hadn’t washed the dishes yet, and Brian knocked the peas off the table, and I don’t think it was my fault.”

“You don’t think? And why weren’t the dishes done?”

“I wanted to watch a show that comes on after supper. I thought I’d watch it and then do the dishes.”

“Who told you to think? Come on, tell me, who told you to think? How dare you talk back to your mother? Listen you, you speak when you’re spoken to, and don’t ever, ever raise your voice to either one of us.”

While his father was working himself up, Sean had maneuvered himself around to the other side of the table by continuing to clean up. He knew he was going to get hit – as usual – but somehow he didn’t want it, this time. Parents, he was taught in Catholic school, are second only to God. You obey everything they say, unless it violates God’s laws. Sean’s father made sure of that. Sean swore he never tried to piss his father off, but he managed to find fault with most everything Sean did anyway.
“Come over here, I’m talking to you,” Sean’s dad said. They started playing cat and mouse around the table. Sean didn’t like the look on his father’s face.
“No,” he said. The older man’s snarled face told Sean that he’d kill him if he could.

“You don’t talk to me like that. If I have to come over this table to get to you, your lazy ass is going to be sorry.” He don’t know exactly why, but Sean suddenly took a swing at his dad. He tried to pull his arm back, even though he was too far away to connect anyway, but it was too late, his father had already seen it: “What? I’ll kill you!” And he probably would have too. Sean’s mom usually interceded before her husband did any real damage, and she had to drag him off of Sean this time too.   His father had jumped right over the table and backhanded Sean through the wall before Sean could move. Sean crawled under the table but he was trapped in the corner. His father alternated between screaming in his ears and whacking him on the head until Sean suddenly realized it was over. His mother had his father’s arms pinned behind his back.   By the time Sean left home that hole in the drywall still hadn’t been repaired.  He loved his dad. Most of the time he figured he deserved whatever punishment his father came up with. There were times, like this, when Sean doubted his father’s sanity, as his father doubted his. Once, when Sean was much younger, his dad had found a little bit of laundry detergent on the cellar floor and two empty boxes,  and he had threatened Sean and John with the strap if they denied doing it. He had made them stand there and sweat. “Someone poured all the soap out of those boxes,” he said.

“I don’t want to hear one word, unless it’s: ‘I did it.’  Well?  Speak up.”

“But, we didn’t…” Whack.

“I said not a word.”

The next time he challenged Sean like that, Sean kept his mouth shut.

“Why don’t you talk? What’s wrong with you?” Whack.
“But, you said not to talk unless it was to confess.”
“You literal-minded idiot.” Whack.

Sean lived in fear for most of his childhood. His dad had told him, more than once, how much he could really hurt him if he tried, and how much he had to hold back. Sean believed him. He tried not to ever step out of line, not at home, not at school, and not in church.

It was years later before he understood that his dad was probably keeping inside all the shit he took at work, and the problems he had stretching money to cover the bills, and was dumping it all on any convenient scapegoat once he had a couple beers in him. At the time Sean was not really sympathetic. Damn, but I want out, was his constant thought.

As it was, he stayed late at school as often as he could. There was sometimes dinner in a pot on the stove when he got home. Coming home from a Drama Club rehearsal one night, he looked in the pot, and tasted it; it was still warm, so he sat down to eat. His mother came down the stairs and into the kitchen. She was wearing a red dress with red high heels, and she had painted her lips deep red
“Wow. You look different,” he told her. 
“Yeah, we’ve got a contest tonight. And we need you to watch the kids.” Sean shoveled some more food in his mouth. That was nothing new, they were always at the roller rink, practicing, practicing, practicing. Sometimes, he thought, I wish I’d kept taking lessons. At least I wouldn’t be the one they use to watch the kids.
“I was hoping you’d get home before now, we have to leave soon,” his mother emphasized. Sean swallowed quickly, so he could ask, “What about John? or Pat? I have a lot of homework to do.”
“You should have come home sooner. John’s already at the rink. And Pat’s not here. He went to Pennsylvania.”
“Again?” Sean asked. His brother Pat had disappeared three times already, the last time was when he and their father had broken the dining room table during a fight. Pat was a feisty one. He always ended up with Aunt Millie, but he usually came back.
“Well, yes, but this time he’s going to stay there.”
I should have come home earlier, Sean thought.
“What about school? What will he do about that?”

“Your Aunt Millie will put him in high school there.”
“Oh, he’ll like that,” Sean said, cynically. Aunt Millie was a teacher herself.
“He’ll have to, there was nothing else to do. You know how he and your father get along.”
Yeah, Sean mused, I wish I’d thought of that.
Just then his father came down the stairs yelling, “We’re gonna be late.”
“Yeah, I’m ready, I was just waiting for you,” she yelled back, but to Sean she said, “You can let them stay up to watch TV, but make sure they’re in bed by eight-thirty.”
“OK,” Sean agreed.
After they left, he tried to study, but the kids were fighting over which show they were going to watch, so he went in to arbitrate. “Look,” he asked Karen, if you’ll watch what Brian wants to watch, I’ll let you pick the next show.”
“But mom said we have to go to bed after this.”
“I’ll let you all stay up for another show.”
“Yeaaaah,” they all yelled, and Karen came over and climbed on his lap, so he sat and watched TV with them.
Of course, when the next show was over, they all saw the announcement for another one, so they pleaded for one more.
“Alright, one more. But, this is it, understand? You can watch this show, but then you have to go to bed, OK?”
“OK,” they all said, in unison. Sean was pleased. It wasn’t often that he’d ever been able to stay up late, so he was glad to give his sisters and little brother some freedom. And, they did get up when the show finished, and Sean turned off the TV. Karen, Betsy and Kathy were already on the stairs, when Sean heard the TV. Brian had turned it back on and sat down in front of it.
“I said it’s time for bed.”
“No.”
“Hey, I let you stay up an hour later than you were supposed to already. Now, get upstairs.”
“No, I wanna watch TV.”

Sean turned the tube off, Brian turned it back on, and Sean saw red. “I told you to get upstairs,” he yelled, but Brian just sat there. Sean picked him up, and then lifted him up over his head. “When I tell you to do something, you do it,” he yelled, and he carried Brian up the stairs that way, and threw him down on his bed. “And stay there, you little twerp.”
“Ow, ow, ow. My arm. My arm. You broke my arm. Aaaah. Aaaah. Aaaah,” Brian started screaming.
Sean looked at his arm, decided that he was OK, and told him: “Shut up and go to sleep,” and went back to his books. He listened to his brother crying and screaming. When he didn’t stop crying he went back upstairs to check on him.
“Brian.”

“Aaaah. Aaaah.”
“Brian, let me see your arm.”
“Aaaah, aaaah, aaaah. It hurts.”
“OK, OK, it’s not broken. Just go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just mad at you, like Mom and Dad get mad at me. They told me to put you to bed, I have to do what they tell me. Understand?”
Brian stopped crying, but he was still whimpering into his pillow. Sean sat on the edge of the bed until Brian fell asleep. Damn, I hope he’s not hurt. They’ll kill me, he thought. Damn, I’ve got to get out of here. I’m becoming just like Dad. I don’t want to hurt these guys, not ever. This is ridiculous. I almost hurt Brian. I’m not going to be like them. I’m not, I’m not.
As it turned out, Brian wasn’t hurt, but the girls told their mother what happened, and she chewed him out.
“Didn’t you realize you could have hurt him?”
“I didn’t think about it. I was mad. I just carried him upstairs. I didn’t throw him on the floor, I made sure he fell in the middle of the bed.”
“And what if he hadn’t? What if he had hit the frame? or the headboard? You can’t lose your temper like that with them, they’re too little.”
“I know that. I’m not the only one with a temper around here.”
They left it at that. Sean just stared at his mother, and she just looked at him. There was a sadness in her face that made her look far older than the 20-year difference in their ages.

It hadn’t always been that way.  Sean liked his father’s laugh, but it wasn’t heard much anymore.  As each new kid had come along, things had gotten tougher: more bills, more arguments, and less of him around.  They had moved four times that Sean could remember.  Mr. Emmett came home from his job every day, and they all sat down promptly to eat at 4:30.  Dinners were quiet affairs, unless Sean’s mom had a complaint about one of the kids and wanted Mr. Emmett to “take care of it.”  Usually all he wanted was to eat and take a nap before he headed out again to his second job.  Sean remembered him helping put the kids to bed, fixing things around the house, and watching TV together. Mr. Emmett had shown Sean how to sweat copper tubing together; how to splice electric wires, how to take a sink trap apart and fix a toilet.  He used to take Sean and John for archery target practice.  Sean could pull his father’s big bow all the way back now, but there wasn’t any fun to it without his dad along.  It just didn’t happen anymore.  Trips to the drive in or to the beach were a lot less fun, usually cut short because one kid or another was sick or crying. It was quite a hassle to get seven kids organized and transported anywhere.  Between the jobs and the roller skating, there wasn’t much going on at home anymore.  The younger kids all saw their dad more than Sean did, as no one else had opted out of the endless skating competitions and practices as Sean had.  However, practice was hard, and Sean’s parents made everyone work at it.  Good for some, not for others.

Mr. Emmett was increasingly irritable, and demanding.   Sean loved his dad; missed the times they’d talked or done things together.  No amount of discipline could make Sean forget he loved his parents.

However, there is sometimes a breaking point, and Sean’s came one evening.  Mr. Emmett had called him down from the attic, stood facing the hallway from the kitchen doorway.  He had then accused Sean of stealing some money from his wallet, something Sean knew better than to even think of doing. “I didn’t do it,” he insisted.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well, I didn’t do it. What do you want me to say?”
“I told you to not to ever talk back to me.” Whack, he backhanded Sean across the face.

“Well, speak up, damn you.” Sean didn’t say another word, didn’t want to make the situation worse. Whack again. Again. No tears now.  Sean stared directly into his father’s eyes, rage building up in him.  He couldn’t speak, because he knew his voice would be too loud.  That would be another heresy, raising his voice.  He stood his ground.  His dad slapped him again, and again, on either side of his head until, suddenly, Sean’s rage took hold.  He pushed his dad hard, knocked him right over. He jumped on him, and all he could think of was killing him. Sean’s dad grabbed his arms so Sean brought his foot up and tried to kick his dad’s head in. Fortunately, his dad was strong. He grabbed Sean’s leg when it was inches from his face. Oddly enough, he was smiling. The rest of the kids were sitting at the kitchen table a few feet away, and they were screaming, “Sean and Daddy are fighting,” and they started crying.  Sean and his dad both got up, looked at the kids, looked at each other, and walked away.

Posted in 1970s, family, Life, madness, My Life, Writing | 4 Comments »

THE DAY I TURNED 50: Dad, a Cat, & Death

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 15, 2008

THE DAY I TURNED 50

I awoke on my birthday
The day I turned 50
Cat asleep under the bed
I saw my father
Standing in the corner
Next to the open closet
I was surprised.
He was years dead.
I called to him
Asked him how he’d been
What he’d been doing
He smiled at me
The old superior smirk
He didn’t speak
Moved away quickly
Watching me watching him
Passing by.

I woke up again
Staring at the empty corner
The open closet door.
Under the bed the cat stirred.

I dreamt one morning
I held my cat on my lap
He’s dead too
Died that same month
The month I turned 50
I felt his purring weight
Knew he was dead
Two feet under
I spoke softly to him
Glad to see him
Felt the muscles rippling
Under striped orange fur.
He spoke to me
Said he was fine
The only thing was
He wished he’d lived
In the rain forest.
I didn’t think this strange
Even though his eyes
His eyes were blind
At least he had eyes now
They’d disappeared that day
That day he slept
On the bathroom floor
Trying to get up
His eyes were gunked shut
I tried to clean those eyes
But they were gone.
He went back to sleep
I held him felt him
Stroked him missed him.

He used to be my father’s cat.

Posted in family, Life, My Life, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Motorcycles and Old Trucks Are Like Cream and Sugar

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 10, 2008

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Roadblock

I ride my bike to work every day, or, I should say, I used to ride it every day until it wouldn’t start anymore. I jumped it from a car battery – wouldn’t turn over. I checked fuses, charged the battery, checked the fuel line, and the spark plugs. Everything seems good, but it won’t start; it just grinds and wears the battery down, even the jumper battery. I replaced the starter solenoid – no luck. I jumped the solenoid across the terminals and the bike still just grinds, over and over, but real fast. Now it seems the starter button is dead too. I finally give up. I decide to take it to the best repairman in town. I have to schedule an appointment, and they squeeze me in as a favor, since I want to ride in the Ride for Kids that benefits pediatric brain tumor research and treatment and provides scholarships for the kids too. My step daughter went with me last year, and after all she went through with her brain tumor, I really look forward to her company.

I called to verify my appointment, but before I did, I had to make sure I’d have a truck to use. My friend Mark always has his good old Dodge, and after helping him build his house, he always lets me borrow it anytime I need it. He’s like that anyway. He’d lend anyone anything, even money, although his newest wife ameliorates that a bit, I think. I called him, and left a message on his cell phone, and I wasn’t expecting a quick reply, as he’s often busy or traveling. Amazingly, he called back in 20 minutes or so, from his plane. He had just turned his phone back on and got my message. Good timing. He was off to speak somewhere. I told him what I needed, and he apologized for being out of town, and that the truck was not available – it was at the airport. I was prepared to go get it, pay for it, and put it back before he returned, but he said, “But! There is another option!” (He often speaks in exclamation points, and loudly, as he is hard of hearing these days.) He said he had just bought another old truck, a ’59 Ford. It was in the field behind his house. “It’s a little tricky,” he said. I might have to spray the carburetor in order to get it to start. He had a can of spray on the seat, and the key was in the ignition. 1959 ford

So, OK. I come home, eat, and head over to his place. I leave my car inside his yard, and head for the field. It has been raining. The field is muddy. I traipse though the mud. I close the tailgate, noting that the bed is outlined in leftover manure, so I know what he uses it for. It doesn’t start right off. I spray into the air intake, several short bursts, as it says on the can. I try again – it fires right up! It is a very old looking, beat-up truck. However, it has all its windows, and they aren’t even cracked, which is damn good, because I can’t get stopped for anything, as the truck isn’t registered yet. The seat is high. It is narrower than the original, and welded in place in the center of the floor, so I can’t move it up, and it’s a little short on the ends. It reminds me a lot of the ’51 Dodge-post-office-parcel-post truck I used to drive. This one has four speeds instead of three, but in the darkness I can’t tell. The lights come on, but go off if I turn the knob too far. I don’t have instrument lights, which is why I can’t tell right off how many gears the truck has. I think it has four gears, but I can’t find fourth. I put in the gear where first was in my ’51, and head out, shifting into what I think are second and third. At the first stop the engine revs really high. I hit the gas and it dies. I spray the intake again, and it restarts. Off I go down the road. Playing with the light switch, I notice that I can get the instrument lights on, but it’s a delicate balance between having all lights, having only headlights, or having only instrument lights.

At every stop the engine races like the timing must be way the hell up, or the carburetor wildly adjusted to keep it running. It takes a while to understand what’s going on. I finally get a rhythm going for stopping: push the clutch in, and tap the gas before braking. I make it home in one piece, without the engine dying again.

In the morning I move the truck around (after spraying the air intake) and lay a board from a small grassy hillock onto the bed. The bike is heavy, and simply pushing it up a ramp isn’t going to be easy. I notice that I have put the truck in second gear, where I thought first was. It is the simple H pattern, but my tired brain and bad memory forgot all about that. I think it starts alright in second because it revs so fast. I push the bike up onto the grass and run towards the truck, but a neighbor stops to help and we push it on fairly easily. I’m wired on coffee, because I thought it would be a major effort by myself. I tie the bike down, noticing, in the light of day, all the colors. One door is a turquoise green, a fender is pink. The roof of the cab is painted white with black, zebra-like stripes. The rest of the truck is a faded pale blue, where it isn’t rusted through. The moistened manure smells really fine. I’m surprised my neighbors didn’t torch it the minute they saw it in the parking lot.

The truck fires right up this time and runs much the same, except after a few miles there is a popping noise from the accelerator, and it is suddenly unstuck, and I don’t have to hit it anymore to get it unstuck. Linkage? Anyway, it runs fine, but I try not to stop with the bike in the back. When I see the sign for the motorcycle shop, it is beautiful. I have never been so happy to arrive there. it takes three of us to get the bike down, and I abandon it there. Carl, the best bike mechanic in the world, chats a bit. I tell him how I am hoping to take my step daughter on the Ride in ten days, and how happy I am that she is healthy again. Carl tells me about his wife Teresa, who had three surgeries on her ovaries, and how one operation left her bleeding internally, but she is much better now. His mother has also been operated on, and had her hips replaced. It is early in the shop. No one else has come in yet, and he is relaxed and calm. Later, people will be lined up, and the phone will not stop ringing all day. It rings now once, and he picks it up, but it is a fax coming in. I tell him how busy I am these days, with little time to work on the bike, and he tells me how busy his life is. He is in his church choir, and also plays drums for the church’s band, so he is often practicing. My step-daughter is in a similar sort of church herself. I am not religious, thank god.

A couple men show up outside the door, so I head out. I notice the CD on the truck seat. It is my Honda Magna 1993-1997 manual. I run it back inside to give to Carl, but he has already gone back into the shop. The men are explaining what they need to Carl’s substitute helper. I don’t know her, but with Teresa out, someone has to be up front to order parts and help customers. I hear her tell them that the earliest possible day she can fit them in is a month and ten days away! I am a very, very lucky man.

What kind of life would I have without motorcycles and old trucks?  It would be like drinking black coffee all the time just for the caffeine, without enjoying the drink.

Coffee in a white cup served on a saucer with stirring spoon.

That’s a cup of coffee.

Posted in coffee, family, humor, Life, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, Writing | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Cops, Priests, and Altar Boy Scouts

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 29, 2008

badpriest.jpg (me in costume, years ago)

I wanted to be a priest. Yeah, a god-damned priest. Why? Well, for one thing, they have a good break in life. They don’t pay taxes, and they have an easy life. All they do is give sermons and repeat the same old shit all the time.

Just because I said that, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t religious. You couldn’t have paid me enough to miss Mass on Sunday – a mortal sin. I didn’t want to go to hell. elevationofhost.jpg I was an altar boy too, serving God in the cold, damp fucking early mornings before school. I should have become a priest. I was primed for it. After eight years of Catholic schools I was ready to believe that God saw everything I did, knew everything I thought. I didn’t dare hurt Him by sinning. My classmates didn’t like my attitude. I was a true believer, and they weren’t. Of course, much of that was my reaction to their thinking of me as an idiot, so I had to have something that made me better than them, if I wasn’t ever going to be their equal.

I could see them laughing at my perfect, good-little-Catholic-boy responses to the nuns’ prompts in class. A good example is the story I wrote in fifth or sixth grade. We’d been told to write something about winter. Could have been about snow, and sledding, and snowball fights, and snowmen, and fun. Instead, I wrote a sermon. It was only a paper to be turned in, but I wrote a reminder to everyone to think of Jesus being born into that cold winter snow, much like the storms that were so terrible we couldn’t even go outside in them. I was proud of it. I was a religious Sambo, grinning and jiving that Jesus stuff, hoping to impress people with my virtuous love of God. A goody two-shoes in the extreme. Better than other people, with the correct relationship with God. Hah! It worked too well. The nun read it to the entire class. I’ve always been an idiot.

Father Kirsch didn’t think I was perfect. He kicked me out of “the altar boys” for talking and clowning around in line while we waited for his sorry late ass to show up at May Day procession rehearsal. talking-in-line.jpg He made us line up in twos, and stand that way until he got there. Since he was late, I was bored. When authority figures weren’t actually in the room, my virtue seemed to evaporate. Kirsch outdid everyone in the self-righteous department. He stormed and fumed about our performance, whether by the altar or on the street. He fired me right then and there, the moment he walked in, since I wasn’t standing there perfectly quiet and still. I was horrified. I cried on my way home. I couldn’t tell my parents about it. My dad had been a deacon himself for years, and had taught altars boys himself at a different church before we had moved, before we were old enough to be in ‘it’. Serving Mass was a kind of calling, akin to being called to the priesthood. You took it seriously, and, like everything else my parents told me to do, there was no such thing as refusing. For weeks I pretended to go to rehearsals. I walked down to the church and even looked in. I hung around the shrubbery until they were almost through and went home. My parents didn’t ask me where I’d been. Why would I lie about that? Eventually someone told them, and I was back serving Mass again, for awhile. Serving Mass under Kirsch was stressful however. Once I missed my cue to ring the bells, without which no one in the pews knew when to stand or kneel. Horrified, I missed the next one too. One rings them three times during the raising of the host, three times during the raising of the wine. That day it was once, then three. I could hear the confusion in the pews, but I never heard a word about that one.

I was also a boy scout – uniform and all. boy_scout_with_oath.jpg Weird that that organization finds so many ways to get money from parents, money mine could ill afford to part with when six other kids needed basic necessities too. Poorer kids didn’t join at all. All that crap: manual, merit badge books, field trips, uniform, compass, knife, and camping fees and gear too. There were times when I had to wear my uniform to class. Green was at least different than the tan shirt and brown pants I had to wear every other day of the school year, with the iron-on patches on my elbows and knees. I wore my knife on my belt. That was a odd thing to get away with, but when you’re a “boy scout” you are also close to perfect: trustworthy (people depend on you), loyal (to family, leaders, school and nation), helpful (without pay or reward), friendly (a friend to all), courteous (good manners), kind (strength in gentleness), obedient (obeys the law), cheerful (whistle while you work), thrifty (save), brave (can face danger), clean (in body and mind), and reverent (to God, and faithfully). So, there I was, on my way home one day, all gussied up in my starched shirt and badly creased pants (I had to iron my own clothes). I stopped by the drugstore where I read comics. Some of my classmates were hanging out there.

“Hey, pretty boy.” “Are you a good little scout?” “That’s a nice bandanna you’ve got there.” “Can I try it on? I want to tie my hair up.” Rough crowd. Even white Catholic boys have gangs, toughs and petty thieves. These guys regularly stole from the store. I was told a story once about being chased by cops down the alley, with gunshot warnings. These guys were 13 and 14. Like I said, tough neighborhood, of sorts. However, enough was enough. I saw red. boy-scouts-bigotry-e.jpg I was a boy scout, brave and all that, so I pulled my knife out and waved it at them. “Come on,” I told ’em, come and get me. Here I am. ” Of course, they backed away. They laughed too, but they weren’t smiling as I moved toward them. No one else in that school could possibly have carried a knife. I’m surprised they even let the Scouts carry one. I was insane, and waving a knife. And it was sharp too – I always made sure of that. I probably had a whetstone in my pocket. Even Maranelli backed off.

Maranelli was one of the tough ones. One time, a couple years later, walking home late one night, I got jumped. Two guys grabbed me from behind. I was surprised how strong they were, and how firmly I was held. I wasn’t optimistic until the third guy came around in front, saying, “Got any money?’ I recognized Maranelli. He recognized me too. “Hi Frank,” I said. He told the other two to let me go. “He’s OK,” he said. We didn’t say much else. Didn’t really know each other outside of grade school, and I was already in high school by then, downtown, away from there.

It’s a good thing I didn’t stick around that neighborhood, considering those kind of career choices. I was, as I said, a good boy – oldest of seven, responsible, the ‘good’ example. Washed dishes, mowed the lawn, picked weeds, scrubbed floors, babysat. Didn’t talk back. Studied. Went to Church on Sundays. Went to Monday night religion classes after eighth grade since I was in a public school then. Still. Still, I had been in trouble enough. Used to swipe candy bars on a regular basis, especially Kit Kats. kitkat.jpg Mmm, chocolate. My parents weren’t about to buy crap like that except at Easter. Since I’d read the whole Science Fiction and fantasy section of the local library, I took paperbacks from the same store too. I had a whole library of purloined paperbacks at home. A nearby toy store had lost several model cars to me and my brother. Somehow, I always forgot to confess such things on Saturday. Really. Never entered my mind while I was in the confessional. I had a routine, and I followed it. It was supposed to be instructional, but I used my littlest boy voice, and the priests rarely asked questions.

Got caught stealing a couple times only. The first time, the toy store owner just called my dad. He made me and my brother wait in his office. I ditched the razor blade there. I’d been using it to neatly open the clear plastic coverings on the packages. I stuffed it into the corrugations of a cardboard box. fluting.jpg The owner was no dummy. His desk was locked. He did come in and search us. Looked all around the office too, even in the trash can, but nobody would think to rip apart all the cardboard on a box for a razor blade. He thought we had knives. I told him the packages were already cut. My dad took us home, read us the riot act. I don’t remember the punishment for that one. He told us the story about how he had been caught stealing and his dad had left welts all over his legs for that. Leather straps or a belt were not an uncommon punishment for us, but never that severe.

The second time, I was not so lucky. I’d stuffed some paperbacks under my jacket, but I’d done it so many times before that I actually forgot they were under my jacket as I reached for the door. The drugstore owner was pissed. He accused me of being with a gang; wanted to know which one. Told me that the gangs stole stuff for fun. Tried to convince him I wasn’t in a gang, didn’t know anyone in a gang. He had already called the cops though. 1967chev.jpg Too late for cuteness and innocence. The two cops put me in the back of the squad car and headed out; said they were taking me downtown to the station. I started crying. Seemed the best thing to do, and really, I was scared. I wanted them to know I was really sorry. I was really scared of jail, and scared of my dad when he found out. I started telling them not to tell my dad, begged ’em not to. Did my best to convince them that my dad would beat the hell out of me, and it was a possibility, after all. They didn’t turn at the light. They went on across the main street, up the hill and down the many blocks I walked each day. Took me home. My dad was at his second job. My mom came downstairs with two kids in her arms and two more screaming bloody murder upstairs. Cowards left me there. They left faster than I had imagined. Maybe they knew my mom’s dad, who’d been a Baltimore cop for a long time. bpdpatch.jpg My mom told ’em, “His dad will take care of him.” Dad probably would have too, except he didn’t touch me anymore since I’d knocked him down and tried, really tried, to kick his teeth in. He was still stronger than me, after all, but that had made him proud somehow. He’s spent years trying to convince me not to turn the other cheek to bullies, to stand up for myself, and not take abuse. So I did. He started slapping my head back and forth. I knocked him down. He wasn’t expecting it. But he smiled the whole time, that time, and never hit me again.  We talked this time, and that was it. He yelled some, as I recall, but we both knew he wasn’t going to hit me.

Posted in crime, faith, family, humor, Life, My Life, rambling, religion, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A Comedy Duo

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 29, 2007

abbottcostello.jpg You think of comedy duos, you think of Abbott and Costello, Laurel & Hardy, laurelhardy.jpg Cheech and Chong, cheechchong.jpg or maybe Burns and Allen, burnsallen.jpg depending on your age. However, I think my parents were one of the best comedy acts I’ve ever seen. The driving trip was their specialty.

Somehow, they always thought, first off, that waking up three, four, or all seven kids hours before we usually got up was a good idea. Sure, they’d warn the older ones we would all have to get up early, and there was always a strict deadline to be on the road, like 5:00 am sharp. Of course, that never worked, but it never deterred them in the slightest. They’d drag us all out of our dreams and make sure we dressed, or were dressed. My mom went on to make the sandwiches and boiled eggs, while my dad was doing things to the car. There was barely enough light to see when we all finally stumbled out to the car, and fell back asleep, but not before we were told to pee now or forever hold our pees. That rarely worked either. Somebody always had to pee, of course, before we’d gone a mile or two. That was easy enough when we stopped for gas. I never saw us go anywhere without having to stop and put in a whole two dollars worth of gas.

family.jpg However, on the return trip, all of the younger kids were asleep, and we were not allowed to stop for any reason. Me and my brother John were usually awake or woke up on the way back, and we always had to pee. My mom was prepared for this after a few such trips. She carried a mason jar with her, and she’d pass it back to us when we had to go. canning-jar.jpg We’d fill it up, and she’d open her door just enough to pour it out onto the road. Woe onto any of us if we lost time or gas mileage because we had to stop. It’s pretty embarrassing to pee with your parents listening a foot away, but having to pass that jar of hot piss to your mom just seemed really odd. We handled it carefully too, since the thought of spilling any in the car seemed terrifying. stationwagon.jpg

Going or coming, my parents were always fun to watch. If my mother was driving, my dad was always reaching over to grab the steering wheel – to straighten out the car, he said. He was nervous watching someone else drive, and couldn’t stand to see her not drive straight down the center of the lane squarely between the lines. Eventually they would teach me to line up the edge of the hood with the highway stripes, and that would put me dead center. I don’t know why it was so vitally important. Of course, since we couldn’t stop, sometimes the driver would fall asleep, and start to drift, so I can understand how grabbing the steering wheel came about. If my father was driving, he rolled the window all the way down, even on a cold night, to help keep himself awake, and we’d freeze our nuts off in the back seat. Even with that, I remember waking up when the car went off the road onto the shoulder. That was nerve-wracking, since the shoulders often sloped down away from the highway, and the car could roll over. My parents always managed to straighten the car. I learned from that that you don’t panic, you keep going, and gradually slow, until you can pull back on the road smoothly. Worked for me one time, but I never went off the road again after that. Nowadays I stop as soon after dark as I can, eat dinner and hit the sack. steering_wheel.jpg

By far the best part of the whole routine was watching them trade drivers. Remember, they couldn’t stop the car, even to pee, so stopping to switch drivers appeared to be out of the question too. One of them would suddenly say, “Grab the wheel,” and the other would do it. Then would begin the incredible acrobatics, as one person slipped under as the other climbed over, all while one person held the wheel and the other kept a foot on the accelerator. Keeping the car straight always seemed to work OK; the hard part was transferring power to the pedal. “Get the accelerator!” “I can’t, your foot’s in the way.” “Well, I can’t let go.” “Well let go now, damn it.” And suddenly, they’d be completely on their own part of the seat, and I’d relax. It was the best show I ever watched, and it played a couple times each trip, each and every time. Loved it.

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Who does Santa support for President?

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 11, 2007

santa.jpg Oh, you’re looking for another celebrity endorsement, are you? Well, you won’t get one here. I will tell you this: Santa is a man of peace, and not peace when it’s convenient or politically correct, but now. Those of you fighting in Iraq, and Santa knows exactly who you are after all, need to get out of there. Santa does not endorse any of your gods either. Get out. Get out now. You say you still want to know who should take over as President of the United States? I haven’t seen much good will coming from Republicans or Democrats, and not much effort has been made by any of these politicians to seriously end this war. Now they are even preparing for another war, even while occupying two countries. No, my friends, it is not for Santa to say who US citizens should vote for in their Presidential circus. That said, however, I think you should all search your hearts and vote for whoever you think will end this mess quickly and bring all of your loved ones home quickest. That’s all Santa has to say on this subject.

santafish.png

Posted in celebrity, christianity, Christmas, current events, family, Holidays, Human rights, islam, Life, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized, war, World, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Gold Glasses for Grandmom

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 13, 2007

rubyred.jpg“There is gold in them.” The woman in the antique store told me that the glasses were made with gold. They were old glasses. She didn’t know how it was done. They were red. I couldn’t understand why glasses made with gold in them could be red, but there they were. She said that was how you could tell, that only glasses made that way could be that color of red. Blood red. Nothing else is that exact color. She thought they had been made during the Depression. I was so intrigued that I came back a few days later and bought them. People have been coloring glass for centuries. The ancient Romans knew that adding gold to glass would convert it into a ruby-red material when heated in a controlled fashion. My favorite colors have always been blue and green and black. I think I liked the glasses more because I imagined the gold swirled around in their making. I’d done some blower.jpg glass blowing, so I could appreciate the red hot glowing balls of molten glass being formed into joints, into tubes and balls and shapes. The hot glass is so pretty that you want to touch its perfection, but you cannot. Years later I was to work in a printed-circuit board shop, and learn how gold is applied to the finger tabs along the edge on each board, the tabs that connect the board to other boards, and to power. Gold’s properties as a conductor make it almost perfect for connecting these thin circuits. circuit-board.jpg One need only apply a current across an object in a tank of acidic dissolved gold, and you can coat that object with a layer of gold. Of course, on a circuit board, under the gold is a layer of nickel. I do not know exactly what the nickel is for, unless it is to create a thickness and strength for the very thin layer of gold, which could otherwise be worn off quickly. And the gold must have something to adhere to. I don’t remember exactly why nickel was used, for once you see the gold tank, you forget all else. chrtank1.jpg It is a shining pool of red, the color of blood. For gold does not dissolve into any old solvent. To dissolve gold and maintain it in solution you need cyanide – actually hydrogen cyanide is its proper name. The structure that forms is similar to a structure found in hemoglobin. Cyanide is also necessary for the commercial preparation of amino acids. It is considered likely that hydrogen cyanide played a part in the origin of life. It is released from molecules in cherries, apricots, bitter almonds and apple seeds. At the right concentration hydrogen cyanide will kill a human within a few minutes. The toxicity is caused by the cyanide ion, which prevents cellular respiration.
It occurred to me to ask my grandmother gm-on-crusie.jpg if she had known about these glasses, and she said she remembered when Ruby Reds were popular, but had never owned any. I had only five of the small juice glasses. Five. She had five children left before my father died, but she had raised six healthy children. Six.  One of my aunts had died, hit by a car, while still a young and beautiful mother. I brought the glasses with me to my father’s wake and gave them to her then. I don’t know why. I seldom saw her, and wanted to give her something. After a while at the wake I saw her, and she was a little on the tipsy side as my father might had said. She was carrying the glasses around the house with her. I dismissed it at the time as an old woman having had too much to drink. But she was hugging the glasses, and would not put them down. After that I looked for more. I finally found one, and bought it, for it had finally occurred to me that she might have found more significance in the number of glasses than I had intended. I sent it to her so that she could have six blood-red cyanide glasses of gold, one for each of her children. auntsuncles.jpg

Posted in family, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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