Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Compendium of Well-Worn Memories: Youth: Precocity

  "cheer up, son":  Apocalypse Now Death Cards scene


-In fourth grade my teacher was a flamboyant gay drama coach whom I adored even though sometimes he was high-maintenance, requiring constant attention and adoration from his students.  He had a very lesbianish friend he'd known for forever who was a part-time flight attendant - because she loved adventure - and also a substitute teacher; she taught our class whenever our teacher was out sick.  They were probably both in their forties.  He wore a professorial cardigan and a goatee.  She was tiny, with thinning short hair and an appealingly ugly face, and when I saw Rocky Horror years later I was reminded of her by the character of Columbia.  I was very attached to them and always imagining what they were like in their regular lives outside of school, just hanging out with their friends, and what their respective apartments may have looked like and what music each listened to.  One day, the woman must have been on campus to sub for a different class, and she peeked in on our class to say hi but the door was this really heavy monstrosity, made of iron or something instead of just a regular wooden door, and when she poked her little head in without securing the door open with her body, it closed on her head and it looked like it hurt so much, but you could tell she didn't want to turn it into a big deal so she was just sort of like "ouch" and said goodbye -- but you could tell it really hurt.

Pride mixed with a Sense of Foreboding:

-When I was an older kid, like twelvish through my teens, and I'd be super-bummed and pouting, mom'd say "Cheer up, son," quoting a line from "Apocalypse Now," the scene where Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore is putting "death cards" on the bodies of Viet Cong civilians his platoon has just killed, and one of the soldiers looks really sad and scared about it.  The perfect gallows-humor irony of this private joke of hers coupled with the fact that she'd groomed me to pick up on it made me feel proud of our household, but also, uneasy with the certainty that this would be me someday, a cool, depressed mom with an impressive appreciation of film.


-In college my freshmen and sophomore years, there was a kid named Rory who was in many of my classes.  He was very quiet and looked like Kurt Cobain (same hair and clothes but without Kurt's handsome face), and I was always curious about him and wanting to be his friend, but I was sort of a jerky punkish girl so I would be mean sometimes when I wanted to be nice instead, and one time when I was with a friend who also knew him from classes, he was petitioning to legalize weed, on behalf of a socialist group he must've been a member of, and even though I was probably stoned at the time he approached me for my signature, and I believed in all the good, kind generosity that comprises socialism, I made some crack about him being a hippie, and blew him off.  The following year, he killed himself, jumping out of his window in the tallest building in town, which happened to be the dormitory he lived in.  I should have been his friend.

*Side Note:  Painful Awareness of Mortality:  I was a campus janitor at the time of his death, and in fact, the Janitorial Headquarters were located in the basement of the building he'd jumped from, so I'd actually seen his dead body covered up with a sheet before I knew it was him.  In a very understanding way, my supervisor had asked if any of us would be willing to help clean the blood off the pavement with the pressure washer.  I didn't offer, but I'd considered it, and then felt guilty about it, realizing how much I'd enjoy the sympathy and gratitude of being one of the brave ones. 

**Further Side Note:  Coincidence/People's Interwoven Experiences in Some Grand Cosmic Design of Interconnectedness: 
I'd had an awful on-campus psychologist who'd threatened to have me put on a 72-hour hold in a psych ward, clearly on a power trip and not because I was a danger to myself or others.  I remember being truly scared of her and the damage she could do to me.  Later, it came out that she'd been Rory's counselor and had possibly sort of fucked him up by pushing him to come out of the closet when he was still figuring out his sexuality.  She was put on administrative leave or fired or something. I guess I dodged a bullet. I had survivor's guilt, though.

  Little Nell as Columbia in "Rocky Horror Picture Show"

Monday, August 1, 2016

Fiction: Wild Animal

Here is the first chapter of my recently completed novella.

Alfred Mainzer

Wild Animal

My mother’s big trick for survival was to imagine herself as a blameless, incognizant wild animal.  She didn’t want to be forced to admit culpability for mistakes, or to feel the need to examine these incidents for causalities later on.  I think this whole philosophy of carelessness may have been an extreme reaction to her feeling like a failure.  When she was young, she used to write poems and stories and paint, all with the assumption that such a careful record of self-reflection and observation would set her apart as someone special.  It probably could have, but unfortunately, my mother has always been lazy.  She let herself decline intellectually and physically more than any normal person would, though she is, truly, the most special person I’ve ever known – she’s the one who draws everyone’s attention on a crowded street.  She was pretty like a flower that’s starting to turn brown, and the kind of smart that sounds dumb sometimes – if you caught her at the wrong moment she’d stall with uh’s and um’s, but if you gave her just a minute more to collect her thoughts, she’d treat you to an inclusive private joke or express opinions formed in part by important books that she’d assigned herself to read.
“I never, ever imagined myself with kids,” she said once.  “I know, you hate it when I talk about having you --you think I sound too objective when I talk about having carried you and how hard it was to give birth and all the drugs they had to give me and everything like that.  But just listen to me a sec -- I didn’t want to have a kid because, when I was a kid, I always thought I needed to grow up to do something; I thought I needed to be, like, some solitary woman just living and breathing art all the time, no kids or anything else to distract me from some lasting work.  But then I had you, and you are my purpose.  You’re what I did.” 
She’d woken me up to tell me this in the middle of the night, of course, because she’d gotten sad watching some movie on TV or something, and wanted the company.  I adored my mother, Gloria, but to adore her, one had to figuratively roll one’s eyes at about half her declarations, especially if they were slurred.  One had to figuratively shrug one’s shoulders in a gesture like “That’s our Gloria,” only in response to a benign destruction, though.  Only when she was just telling white lies or asking to borrow money while joking that she’d never pay it back.  Some of the damage she caused scorched the earth, and sometimes those who adored her wished we’d never known her, wished we’d never even be born.
I was fully awake by now, so she kept on:  “Remember that man Jake that used to come in to the bookstore?  Did I ever tell you he was a writer?  He had two novels published, and he was really great.  He got everything just right on the page, like, the most perfect way to describe something.  And he was really handsome too, remember?  But when we’d talk sometimes he’d just sound so self-obsessed and depressed, and after a while I couldn’t stand it – I’d just avoid him when he came into the store.  It was really sort of maddening that he thought his ideas were so important.  Sometimes I’d hear him talking to George and I’d just want to go over and shake him and tell him, ‘Stop thinking so much!’  I wanted to tell him he’d be happier if he just gave up and had a kid.”
Now here I am trying to painstakingly record the details of my upbringing.  It seems that I’ve been saving up all these details over the years, though I thought that I’d been throwing them all out or forgetting them along the way, trying to keep my story spare and current, like mom tried. She spent so many unsuccessful years trying to teach me an unfettered enjoyment of good sensations, like when you know you don’t have to record or remember a significant moment later on, and you can just move beyond bad experiences, no reflection necessary, the way a pet that gets lost outdoors will accept the stranger who takes it in, with no apparent longing for its old family.  We’d taken in several stray cats over the years – at least eleven -- and without exception, each animal eagerly adapted to its new life.  Or at least I think so.  

John Everett Millais, Ophelia (1852)