new memoir/novel…a few pages…
working on the memoir is slow. slow going. feels good to clean it up, edit, take away, chip away at it. not adding to it. it’s a lot of work.
here is what I have so far: I mean, I have about 440 pages but this is the cleanest…
troubled sleep, a memoir
or novel? still not sure…
The way upward and the way downward
is one and the same.
“What on earth prompted you to take a hand in this?”
“I don’t know. My… my code of morals, perhaps.”
“Your code of morals. What code, if I may ask?”
· Albert Camus , the Plague
I miss my father. Sitting in my apartment in San Francisco in Bernal Heights feeling the fallout from a breakup in Covid times. My father was sober for a long time and I was sober for about two years until the summer of 1989.
1989. Sitting in a small apartment in Kent, Ohio, I was struggling, this was the summer of the big earthquake in San Francisco. I had a big black and white TV, I don’t think it worked at all actually, but I thought I could communicate with aliens through the TV. When I was living in Philadelphia, I thought they were angels orbiting the planet. They were nice and told me things like “brush your teeth.” I was in bad shape and when I relapsed that summer in 1989 things got a lot worse.
My Aunt Dorothy, my dad’s middle sister, could have been a great CIA agent, but she drank herself to death instead. Of course her husband beating her up didn’t help. Also an alcoholic CIA agent, Uncle Ben. I found an article she wrote in 1957, which was declassified in 1994. About Cicero a special agent in Turkey in WW2.
My father was not around much when I was a kid. I grew up in Ohio, like him, in the Akron area, although he was born and raised in Akron itself, Goodyear Heights. There was a small shop there I used to go to as a kid to buy comics on Goodyear Boulevard I think, or close to there.
He grew up on Sumatra Avenue where my grandparents lived. We both went through a lot and now that I have a daughter, and my father has died, right before she was born, I want to talk about him and what he meant to me, and what he means to me now, and also how being a father has changed the way I see and feel about him. He never thought he was too bad off maybe except maybe in the sixties when he found his first wife in bed with another man and drank so much, he had DTs. His neighbors found him, and he went to St. Thomas Hospital where Sister Ignatia was taking care of people like him and he got sober right around that time. We had a lot of conflicts when I was growing up but basically, I was afraid of him as I got older and he got more angry.
I was in fourth grade in Tallmadge Ohio. I held the shotgun up and pointed it at my mother. She moved toward me, she seemed calm. I was going to elementary school about a half mile from where I lived on a dirt road in the suburbs of Ohio but next to a big farm; corn and black angus cows, early seventies, that morning I took a shotgun shell to school with me probably got it from a box of shells in my dad’s top dresser drawer I wanted to do something fun and this was yet another way for me to try to connect with kids at school, where I wanted to be liked I wanted to be cool and had been on a downward spiral of problems. Fighting a lot.
Things at home had changed a lot since we moved from a nicer neighborhood, more suburban, with lots of kids and nice families around, my sister was born when I was five, which was great, the focus was off me and I could do whatever I wanted. And now we were out in the country on the edge of the suburbs.
That day, after taking the shotgun shell to school with me, the red plastic casing and gold end the case with the button that the gun triggers the shot with. Not really understanding what would happen I threw the shell on the blacktop in the playground, hoping or thinking it would go off like a firecracker, trying to hit the button on the shell casing on the blacktop of the playground. Kids all around. Nothing happened, just a few dents on the shell, but I got caught somehow and ended up in the principal’s office again.
I had been in the principal’s office many times due to fighting other kids. He said that the shell could have gone off and hurt someone, he was a hunter he said, like my father. He said he would tell my parents about it, which scared the shit out of me. I ran home down the side of the dirt road past a few houses, a red house, the road with no sidewalk, just a small path, toward the house with brown aluminum siding where we lived.
The love I had felt when I was a child, younger, had vanished as my mother went more into paranoia, alcohol, pills. My father became more stressed and angry although he did not drink for many years. I was acting the way many kids would act or act out in that type of situation. So that day I ran upstairs avoiding my mother who was in the kitchen in the 70’s style split level house. I pulled my dad’s 20-gauge shotgun out from under the bed, put a new shell in it and went upstairs by the attic to hide and wait. My mother came up, she came up and I pointed the gun at her. She walked toward me, and I started crying, throwing the gun down, running around her and down the stairs to go outside in the backyard. I wanted to get away from her and then she started hitting me with thin, biting willow branches that cut deep into the flesh and sting the skin like jellyfish.
After that they made me sell milk instead of going out to recess with the other kids, white milk and chocolate. I got to keep my lunch money and buy comic books.
My dad would work a lot of overtime, driving a car for Goodyear as a chauffeur for the executives, back and forth to the Cleveland airport. A big black Lincoln Continental. He wore a black suit, white shirt, black tie. Smoked Benson and Hedges with filters the white cigarettes in the gold packs. The cars were big when I was a kid, like Cadillacs, big boats, but they got smaller over the years.
Once when he picked me up not too long after I drank in 1989, I was at a Greyhound bus terminal in Cleveland. I was tripping on acid and the Lincoln felt like a spaceship. He had a CB radio type setup in it or maybe one of the first car phones, something like that. Obviously, it’s hard for me to remember, but I remember the floor of the station moving like big waves, the dirty old floor of the bus terminal.
He would leave for work early, 4:30 a.m. most days when I was a kid and would come home late after 9 or 10 even on weekends and my mother would keep me up late so he could rock me to sleep at night. It was like he worked the jobs of two people, lots of overtime pay. He was in a union, I learned much later. He wore Old Spice aftershave. I remember when I was older and he helped me learn how to tie a tie, standing behind me feeling the scratchy stubble on his face. That Old Spice smell which I tried when I was older, reminds of wood and shotguns.
My father sang to me when he rocked me to sleep. Old Man River, Do Rae Me, from the Sound of Music, just parts of it. He sang the Lord’s Prayer in his baritone voice. He loved The Sound of Music and he listened to Glen Miller but not too loud, and he loved Christmas Music. We lived in a blue house in Cuyahoga Falls, outside of Akron, a suburb. It had a yard, with a black picket fence, and black shutters, a garage, lots of trees, a garden in the back, neighbor houses close by. An apple tree I managed to fall out of. A swing, a sandbox, small bottles in the garden by the strawberries full of beer laying on their side to attract and kill slugs. My dad was sober, and my earliest memory was of trees behind the garage being cut down, the brown stumps. Sawdust from the cutting all over. I can see other image, memories of sawdust — this is how memory works as these images collage and transpose on each other.
At Christmas time he would sit and listen to the songs and smoke cigarettes in the dark with the tree lit up. My mother listened to Harry Belafonte and Elvis but in general it was not a musical family. When I was in London in school I started listening to Coltrane and jazz and was amazed at this music. When I mentioned Miles Davis to my dad in Atlantic City, he said “Oh he was black wasn’t he?” Later I heard that our town was often called Caucasian Falls, and I think many of the African Americans in Akron lived in the South Akron area, or North Hill, although that may have changed over the years. My grandmother certainly did not like black people.
My dad wanted to seem normal, an everyday Joe, growing up in the thirties, forties. His first movie he saw as a kid was Geronimo. We watched golf and football on TV. He loved James Garner in Maverick and The Rockford Files. He said he “hated” Hasidic Jewish people and I heard a lot of racist jokes and sexist comments when I was growing up, from him and his friends, my uncle.
It’s sunny and cool in San Francisco and a still a partial drought in 2017. Not much snow in Tahoe. Trump is President. Tomorrow night I’m going to see The Juniper Tree with Bjork in her first film role, at the Roxy in the Mission, where I used to live, where I still have an art studio. The film is in black and white, set in Iceland.
That particular Brothers Grimm story I don’t remember but I loved those stories as a kid, as weird and creepy as they were with the Maurice Sendak drawings. They were not my childhood, they were not the reality I lived in, which was not fun at the time I started reading those books, and Poe, others. They were controlled horror. But kids often have fun, have toys even in war zones and I had some. Tinker toys, Lincoln Logs, legos before you could buy sets and directions, you just made stuff. I had two teddy bears and a blankie and a green and white caterpillar stuffie with bells on it. I had a room of my own in the blue house and when I yelled fire once loudly running around maybe I was three or four, my dad took off his belt and whipped me. He had plenty of anger and scared me. Fear was a great tool for his generation, to use to discipline us. Even if my mother stopped being scary in that way she would say “Just wait until your father comes home”.
I now have memories from my first few years as a child waking up in the morning and jumping into bed with my parents. That was a warm and happy time. Lots of love from them and the family. In the first few years of my life my father was happy, if reserved, like a lot of men in his generation, he was born in 1928, he was not super emotional but loved babies, loved my sister Mary and I when we were babies and then would pull away as we got older, did not not know what to do with us. Put us to work.
Dad was a “dry drunk”, not sober in the sense of long-term happiness, deep calm or happiness. He was pretty happy when I was very young, I think. Things were great, the first few years, my mother was pretty stable. His sister Michelle died of cancer when I was born, that year, so she left just as I was arriving. But he seemed ok, but then more death, and troubles, and he did not do so well.
He was mainly trying to be a provider, helping us, his family, working lots of overtime — decent money, but no spiritual or emotional life, it was not enough. He was angry and miserable I think for years before he took a drink. Lots of tragedy, sadness, death. He had friends die from suicide, drink. His friend Tiger. Paul. Aunt Jane died when I was about eight after a stroke, his middle sister, after she had been in an abusive marriage and through rehabs. Someone told me she fell down some stairs, it’s hard to explain a stroke to a child, but of course my parents lied to me all the time anyway. Watching my aunt cry, after her stroke, trying to talk, it was awkward for me, age eight, visiting her in the nursing home. She had a Styrofoam board with letters and words she would point to to try to communicate.
We moved to Tallmadge Ohio in the summer after I was in first grade. We looked at one house somewhere with a cool spiral staircase that I liked but we ended up on Munroe Road, which was a dirt road then, and we had a well and a septic tank.
I was easing into the water, it’s cold, the pond behind the house, where I grew up, clear and sandy in one spot where someone had dumped sand. Over the hill covered in cornstalk remains that have been cut just an inch or two high but dense, a speckled field, farmed and grown for the black angus cattle that were raised on a large farm. That first summer after swimming in the dark pond, in it’s raised area, out of sight of the houses, this happened. There was a path around the pond in the tall grass and there was a little dock made from metal siding, brown rust and plastic pieces, green and sun-bleached. The dock was not sturdy, out by the deep end, which was maybe 6 or 10 feet deep, on the other side of the pond. We stayed by the sandy beach, but you could swim out by the dock on the other side, in the thick mucky green weeds. I liked to stay by the sand.
One day out there with my friend from his old neighborhood, Cuyahoga Falls, a boy my age, and my parents, there was the neighbor back there also, a big white guy. At one point the parents got concerned, they had not seen the neighbor in a while. My dad went over to the dock, the other side, the deep end, and saw something and dove in, he remembers the dive, my pale white father thin and agile, pulling the man out of the water, boys feeling fear, my mother saying get help, m and my friend from the Falls running barefoot over the sharp cornstalk cuttings. My dad’s blue checked swimming trunks that he had for years.
The boys ran back and the other neighbor was there a young fit Marine guy in red shorts watering the lawn, they told him the deal and he took off running back to the pond. I remember going back to the pond then with my friend, following the Marine guy as fast as we could, over the sharp cornstalks again, and watching the Marine try to save the man which he did not do and the ambulance went back there too, rolling over the corn. The friend, the boy from the old neighborhood, never came back and I never saw him again. He had a sister with downs syndrome who was older and sometimes wore curlers. In the morning before school we would watch Captain Kangaroo.
Even by 3rd grade my dad was taking me hunting and taught me how to use a 20-gauge shotgun, clean it. Kept it in the case under their bed unlocked. Gotta love the seventies. Kool aid and Black Cat firecrackers, m-80s, secondhand smoke and coke and fresca. My Grandpa Keatts smoked cigars and Gma’s white filtered cigarettes with the red lipstick traces, playing Old Maid with me. The scuba diver.
America is the land of a thousand suns, a place where anything is possible, where sometimes the reality of the day burns through your truth like fire, when there is nothing left.
Sitting here in a Peets in Oakland, listening to Peter Murphy and Nine Inch Nails play “When the Minutes Drag”, a Love and Rockets song. I had an amazing date last night…Laura, her friends. It’s 2019. She’s a dancer. We saw part of Mother Courage at Mills, it was long, I liked it but the others did not, we left at intermission and I was ok with that, more time with Laura. I had a hard time hearing the actors, but they were really trying.
Every day is a new day, the sun warming us, burning through us with joy, rage, sadness, despair, lust. Burning through our desires and our egos like dust. I realized that after you face your inner demons, your internal labyrinth and minotaurs, because I had many, you then can look outside yourself to the External Labyrinth…and whatever demons you see there…my dad was a Taurus, his zodiac sign, the sign of the bull. We face many demons outside of us now, we really do, these times.
Writing opens up everything.
I grew up in the white suburbs then the white rural/suburban city of Tallmadge next to a farm. And my family on my mom’s side had a farm in Ravenna. Corn and cows, chickens, horses. I grew up getting good grades, reading, playing track and football. Went to Penn on an NROTC scholarship. Was a Goodyear-sponsored National Merit Scholar.
In my twenties I was severely depressed, I was in despair, also the drinking and the chain smoking, the chronic bronchitis. I remembered almost nothing about my childhood until I was about twenty, during a period of brief sobriety, no drinking, no drugs, living in London…and after that it came in giant terrifying waves or in bits and pieces, and then of course I wanted to forget most of what I had remembered.
I was sitting at dinner with friends in college, at Penn in Philadelphia, my freshmen year. I was 19. They were talking about some memory, of their childhood, some detail and I realized I could not remember anything. A general amnesia.
When I was in high school, I somehow ended up in room with a teacher, a woman. She was not one of my teachers. She said she was sober, and she didn’t drink, and I said my dad used to be sober. Then I could see him drinking tall glasses of red wine my mind, the memory clicked open and I saw it and I knew he was not sober anymore and I told her.
Later I remembered the exact moment he drank after eighteen years sober. And the night he threw my mother across the room around Christmas time when he was not drinking. But she was, she told me so the next morning in the basement, but there were no marks on her that I could see.
So first my mind, in its way of protecting itself, as a child, buried all the memories, which emerged later, and then, traumatized and overwhelmed and basically nuts I started drinking again. And that worked for a few years. I could not have told you anything. I learned later to not dig so much. Until you want to, are willing to dig, and write, and then you do it. You know what you are in for, and the writing helps.
I said “I miss my dad” on Father’s Day last year, Rose sitting with me at Mama’s in Oakland having our late breakfast. She was almost seven.
“He is always with you,” she said.
He died about eight years ago of lung disease/cancer. I talked to him a few days before he died, on the phone. He sounded scared.
We can’t focus on the present moment all the time. We can try, our feelings, thinking, fears, memories take us all over the place. Of course, when we say we want to focus on the present, it’s not that we want to forget the past per se, but we want to loosen its hold on us. As if it was possible to truly focus on this present moment all the time. Today, sure. Or this week. But this exact moment, this second, that just slipped by. Meditation is best when I forget about these ideas, present, past, focus etc. Our bodies, breath, feelings do not know what time is, even our thoughts just happen, time is only a concept including the “present moment”.
And then we write books about the past, and the present, for specific reasons. Fathers, being a dad, fatherhood, being a son.
He was intelligent. Sober or not. Just did not utilize the intelligence he had, too many doubts about himself, adapting to the new world, the future, the seventies, eighties, etc. He could play poker or blackjack pretty well. Often won.
And he would already be worried about what I would say about him. Negative or positive, critical or loving. He had a hard time with that word…love. Fear and anger were easier for him. I get it.
We are ok with losing parts of ourselves, memories, maybe we intuitively know that we are not really those things anyway, not at our core. Or are we? And how much of those parts, memories, do we need, really, to be happy, useful, grounded? Some memories we hold onto. Some are fictions. Versions of the truth. Distortions. Or we try to let go, process them. Use them for insights, these fragments, these stories about ourselves based on fragments, splinters.
He loved to read, and my mother wanted to name me Mark, but he overruled her. Since they both grew up during the depression, WWII, they did come from a generation where the father seemed to have more power a lot of the time. Maybe it was economic, as my mother, like many new wives and mothers in the sixties, gave up her career, as a nurse, when she got married. He had dark hair that turned grey, wore glasses later in life. He drank lots of weak coffee, usually Folgers, in the morning and loved to cook lamb and eggs and bacon. He was a great cook. Looking back, I know my mother was not, but it was good healthy food, beef from the family farm, vegetables from the farm or the garden.
We were living in the suburbs, and when I started Kindergarten I walked, maybe a few blocks, to my school. He saw me late at night, sometimes on weekends. When all the boys in my class talked about their dads going on a trip with them called Indian Guides, some weekend or summer camp thing, I lied and said my dad did too. I felt very different, with a dad who was not around that much. My dad was 39 when I was born, and I was his first child. I was 44 when my daughter was born. I tried to have kids before that, as far as meeting the right woman, etc. But three abortions, three different women, was my path, their path.
Many things caused me to hate my dad over the years, but even before he died, a few years ago, before my daughter was born, I had made my peace with him, but being a dad myself has given me even more, deeper feelings. I didn’t really grieve his death intensely until last year, after Fathers’ Day, after I met Heather. I wanted to write about my life and about him, and being a son, and a father, and I have written about that and many other things. Labyrinths, more than one.
Being a father is hard work, staying employed, making money and the loving parenting part, with or without her mother living with you. So many joys and moments of exhaustion, sometimes losing patience with Rose, trying to be patient, failing at times, but always trying to be like my father in some ways but also better.
Trying to be present with her, trying to get her to eat well, sleep, stop watching screens, brush her teeth. Using love as a way to guide and discipline her instead of fear and anger. Empathy, that’s the key word I learned after Emily complained about how lenient I was. Empathy with consistent firm limits.
It’s a good job, not full time now, but when I have her, I am focused. A lot of fun and giggles and joy. Her mom and I split up over three years ago, after she said I should find someone else, I just fought that for a few months. Like a tiger. And then I accepted it in June of 2014 or so, and then in November I moved out to a small one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, back to SF, to Bernal Heights, Leslie’s place. The little magical jewelry box. Antique ceramic cats and Iggy Pop concert poster, electric bass, all the cool stuff she had, Rose loved it too.
Things are stressful now, because of work, Oracle. Working out and making art helps me destress. And sleep comes fairly easily as if I don’t wear myself out the kid does. She is five. And full of rebellion, she is tough, and smart, and I am tired a lot and an easy mark. But I have my moments, I am not always exhausted…
Sitting in the Oakland apartment again. I moved back, after Patricia found her new guy and moved out, got engaged. This is the place where Rose was born, her home birth. Finally I had a baby. And everything changed.
And I sit here again the world has changed, this new politics, this new era of the white Right, which started officially in November with the election. 2016. November. Like the Yeats poem, Easter 1916.
But I am sitting here listening to Happy Mondays, thinking about my father, and the past, and our lives, his life, mine, how they intersected with my birth, how he must have imagined me, before I was born, and there I was, in the hospital, then in the blue house with black shutters and the black picket fence on Anderson Road. But he went to the track, to see the horses, or hunting, the day I was born. Beyond the typical macho attitude of his male generation. Just stupid, but it’s hard for me to relate, my sensitive feminist gen x attitude. But he held me his baby boy too and rocked me to sleep after driving his car all day for work and sang to me, prayed over me.
The blue garage, the trees and grass. Did he have the garden in the back yet, were there flowers, yet? Or did they come later. The house where he had delirium tremens, the neighbors found him. His first journey with alcohol. His minotaur. Also, he was a Taurus. Like Melissa.
Last summer, a hot day in San Ramon, I was playing Frisbee with Emily and her brother in law and his daughter and Rose in a park in San Ramon, on Labor Day and we had water from a hydration pack, and a banana, and an apple, and Emily brought us tacos and a burrito for Rose with black beans, rice, and cheese. The beans were a little spicy but Rose ate it anyway, a first for her to my knowledge, she hates anything spicy.
And I got her to leave the playground easily by saying that vanilla ice cream at Emily’s house would really help with the spiciness of the burrito. Just like that. So we left. It can be easy like that, parenting. Emily was the first woman besides her mother she spent a lot of time with, they had fun together. Then Cindi, Laura. It’s getting harder. She seems ok though, handles it better than me.
The process of forgetting can take many forms, and the process of remembering can be writing, or talking, or looking at a rose that Emily gave me in a coffeeshop in Walnut Creek and talking about my grandma’s rose garden in Akron on Sumatra Avenue in Goodyear Heights. And remembering their driveway, for the first time, just an image, but the recollection of that leads me to think more about the rose garden, my cousin Carla, who can tell me more about the roses, I can ask her, my father is dead. The old Victrola in the basement, Barney Google, the thick 78 records, wind it up. Camptown Races. The collection of old Edison tube record players that my friend’s partner had, Scott’s partner/lover had them, I saw them on Penn campus right before Scott died of AIDS. 78 rpm. 45 rpm. Old black wax.
But some memories, some reality started to return in high school when a teacher asked me if my father was drinking. What was I, sixteen? Before that, my memories of anything that had happened to me had been shoveled under a very big rug. I lived in a constant present/future. My father of course loved me and I him, and later I would discover John Coltrane, the great saxophonist, when I was in London, and my new English friend Michael would make a cassette tape for me with A Love Supreme…and we would become friends, best friends for years, and he and I are still alive now in 2016. Which is a miracle, it’s unlikely that we are, really. And similar to my father, Coltrane was addicted to a substance, heroin. And kicked it. But had his issues with sugar. But believed in some kind of God.
Hitchhiking from Nice, Villeneuve-Loubet, to Cannes, with Michael, picking up cigarette stubs by the side of the road, going to a bar and teaching him how to drink Tequila the way we did it in America, with salt and lemon, and the Doors blasting, a big video screen. Break on through. So drunk on tequila that night, running from death, my death, recent suicide attempts, then looking for the blond French girl in the estates, walking around that night, passing out on someone’s doorstep. She had given me a ride earlier on her scooter. I did not find her, just laid there on someone’s porch. I did not speak French. Woke up somehow before dawn, found my way back to Michael’s parents’ house. How? Cannes, tequila, the Doors. Broken. Wrote a short book that summer and left it there in Europe, London, with Michael: Fire Alcoholism. So, I had some awareness. And it was about Rimbaud, somehow, also.
Paul Brunton’s spiritual journals, a book Andy gave me, Michael’s older brother: “The I in the sun is the God in me.” Hindu-influenced spiritual teacher. That was in London in the nineties, on one of my trips there.
It’s March of 2016, and Rose will be five in June. She said she misses my dad, who she never met. Actually, we were sitting at the kitchen table and she said, “I wish your daddy was here”. I talk about him a lot around her, just the good things. She can learn the other stuff later. I know she says that because she hears my voice, how I talk about him, miss him.
She changed her name to Sparkle the other day because “my eyes sparkle when I smile.” Her eyes, they are brown, like mine. My father accepted the fact that he might not ever meet his grandchildren, he knew that was possible, and he never pressured me to have kids, and my mother never pressured me either. And she loves seeing pictures of Rose.
What else do we like to forget? Lost loves, relationships that hurt in the short term but then become part of our history later, when the pain fades. I went to college when I was 18, in 1985, at Penn, in Philadelphia. Other kids would talk about memories of their childhood and I would have nothing to say. I had repressed it and did not even know it, I had forgotten everything, the good and the bad, that’s how it works. I have not been able to sleep too well on my own, really, for decades. Most of my life. Like the dr said, alcohol turns to sugar at night and keeps you up, so that didn’t work either. For a while, in my apartment in West Philadelphia I would stay up until the sun came up and then sleep until four. I could not relax until the sun came up, like a vampire. Then I would drink strong coffee, smoke, eat cookies. Try to stay up all night and all day sometimes which never worked, I finally took Nardil and that worked for a while.
At least I had a social life. Until London, when I lost it. Like digging up graves and finding the most noxious corpses, sleeping with them, those memories of my aunt, what she did to me. Brutal, incest. Aunt Medea.
Memory, an image of a grey house, or building, in the woods, in Cuyahoga Falls, the two men, drinking, raping me. The memories themselves, the idea, once recalled and seen, that can be worse in some ways than any actual damage, which is real.
This lack of memory, it did not really seem odd to me until the memories came flooding back. We can’t get rid of the memories forever, I tried. I tried to burn them out of my brain with LSD. That was a bad idea also. It didn’t work.
And then later my sister had a bunch of Super 8 movies transferred to VHS tapes and I watched them all. That filled in lots of gaps for me. She added music to the tapes, which were silent, so I also got to listen to sounds of my teenage years, from the 70s, albums like Dark Side of the Moon, Sound of Silence.
So much of my childhood was on those tapes. It all came back…most of it. And I saw it for what it was…terrifying at first, but then, I got used to it. Saw the good times and also was able to remember more of them. And reminded of the hard times, Aunt Jane.
I played in the yard on Anderson Road, pretending to hunt dinosaurs with sticks with my friends. My dad made me a swing, and I climbed an apple tree, played in the sandbox, roamed in the woods behind our house by a creek.
My dad had a 1965 Shelby Mustang when I was born. Not a good family car, so he told me later, it would overheat on the suburban streets. More of a hotrod, race car. Too loud and crazy for his new dad life in suburban Ohio, his drag racing days and hotrod single days were over. He drag-raced his dad’s car on Goodyear Boulevard when he was 16 or so and wrecked it. He started smoking Pall Mall non-filter cigarettes when he was 13 in pool halls, that was about 1951 or so. Sounds very rough, romantic, Brando, On the Waterfront. Such a different time, for the world, for men, boys growing up. Geronimo was his all-time favorite movie, from those days, his whole life. From Here to Eternity. That meant something different for me, in my twenties, with Wings of Desire, Nick Cave, from Her to Eternity.
He remembered he was playing basketball with his friends on D-Day. And he told me that he would have died in Japan, if we had not dropped the bomb, I would not have been born, so I should be grateful for the bomb, essentially.
I thought about all those people burned alive instantly in Hiroshima and didn’t let it bother me, just another crazy thing my dad said.
When I was twelve or so I asked him why Mom was crazy, and he said, sitting in the car, smoking, some restaurant parking lot in rural Ohio, Chuck all women are crazy. And that one stuck with me a bit more, I think. Of course men still say that, a lot. Cassandra, the truth, the prophecy, fear, they fear her, I fear her. I am afraid of getting hurt, of being with my mother again. It happens.
I was the first born, was an only child for five years until my sister Mary was born. I had a loving home, dad worked a lot, overtime, for Goodyear, his dad worked for Goodyear. Akron Ohio was the rubber capital of the world. A lot of the actual factories had moved overseas, of course, by the time I was born, and continued to do so, but the corporate headquarters were there, and that meant executives, and money. They needed someone or wanted someone to drive them to the airport, so my dad worked, and he worked, drove long hours, overtime. He was glad to have that job, but he did not like it most of the time. And he felt terrible, knowing he could not see his kids as much as other dads with 9–5 Monday through Friday jobs. Even though that was not always the norm. He still felt bad. His whole life. I have not made that mistake, with my crazy job, not yet.
When I lived in Cuyahoga Falls, I had a yellow bike that was single speed but had curved handlebars like a ten speed because that is what I wanted. I wanted to have a cool ten speed with the drop-down bars. But I was too little for ten speeds, obviously, at age four or five. No training wheel, my dad put me on it and just pushed, it worked.
My mother was a nurse, quit her job with the public health field when she got married the year I was born. She was sad and/or bitter about that for a long time, among other things.
My parents were married on Christmas eve 1965 by a judge, not a big wedding. They were both on their second marriage which was unusual for that time. I have pictures of my mother looking young and beautiful, she was in her early thirties. Dark brown, almost black hair. My father looked young although he was thirty-nine when I was born, he was always thin and vibrant looking and handsome in those old pictures, had the classic male look of his generation. They both looked like movie stars. He had been sober for several years at that point. They met on a blind date four months before they got married. He smiled a lot in those early pictures, stills and super 8 movies. He loved babies and little kids. He would play with me a lot as a youngster, tickling me and putting me in the air on his feet, sticking me up in the air, airplane, like I was flying.
My mother had grown up in Ravenna, Ohio, on a farm on Lake Rockwell Road. Her parents were young, about 20, it was the depression, and her father came down with polio. They struggled raising chickens, pigs, cows, and vegetables, including potatoes. My mother raised her younger sister and brother as her mother struggled to manage the farm. She also took in borders at some point. My grandfather would fish. My grandmother described watching him crawl across the field by their house, watching from the kitchen window I think, knowing that she couldn’t help him because he needed to learn how to get around on his own.
My mother described her mother’s mother, grandma Roberts, as a mythical, interesting, tough, loving figure. She described her father as a mean, nasty, angry man, a “dry drunk” as she called him. Just like my dad until he relapsed. She said she was molested by her grandfather and also a border at their house, a man who was renting a room there. It explains a lot. Her own brother was apparently quite violent toward her also, maybe a normal brother maybe worse. She grew up traumatized also by the strict church where the minister did not allow the girls to wear makeup, etc.
My mother at an early age took an interest in UFOs, the paranormal, ESP, Edgar Cayce. She believed in psychic powers. She was also a seamstress. She describes one scene during a thunderstorm when she was using the sewing machinge, a ball of lightning somehow entered her room at night and rolled down the floor toward her. She also witnessed at least one terrifying tornado.
My Grandpa Pittman, her father, told me that when he played basketball, and he was six four, the coach in high school pushed them too hard which lead to a heart murmur in him and possibly his polio. He had a lot of interesting theories including his belief that the moon landing was a hoax. My grandmother studied accounting although she mainly ran the farm, she was the bookkeeper for that and their other businesses. My grandfather also collected arrowheads and other stone tools in the field when he ploughed. He had them in a cigar box. Even though my grandmother was a devout Christian and went to church, he never went, and was I think closer to nature and a Native American spirituality. After being traumatized by the conservative church as a girl my mother was always a Christian but almost never went to church.
When my mother was old enough, she went to nursing school and then took off for southern California. She was partying before that in Hudson, in Kent, on Water Street, she was wild in her own way and very independent. She loved Elvis and hated James Dean, did not like the way boys or young men imitated his pouting attitude as she called it. She also loved Harry Belafonte and I great up listening to him a lot.
2017, listening to Radiohead, Kid A, while Rose puts toys in the bathtub, talking, brushing a mermaid’s hair, all of them…several small mermaids, different colors. Lots of toys, a Gup, Nemo, Octonauts, gifts from Emily. I feel sad about her, the sudden breakup. Stress of the tech sales job, the fears of losing deals, competition or other issues from coworkers, other salespeople. Brutal at times. A small shot of strong coffee, Nespresso machine Emily gave me. New girlfriend Leigh is in Maui with her two boys. I was there a year ago with Emily. Relaxing time, but not without conflict. During the time Rose spends in Vermont with her grandparents. Going to see my mom in a few weeks in Ohio, and my sister, her husband. Their son Nick. They were also married in a courthouse like our parents. I was married in a Unitarian Church in Kent, Ohio… that was a long time ago.
My father’s parents were from farms in Kentucky and had moved up to Akron and his father worked in the rubber factories. My dad had two older sisters, Michelle being the oldest and Jane the middle child. Michelle had two children, Carla and Annie, and died of cancer a few months after I was born. Aunt Jane died in her forties with no children, she had a stroke, my cousin told me she had fallen down the stairs, I was maybe 7 or 8 and did not understand. She had been in and out of treatment centers for alcoholism and pills for years, and it probably caused her stroke. I found out that later, and knew it was all genetic and I drank myself near death anyway.
My father was kicked out of Ohio State for drinking and worked in various places, managing restaurants, accounting offices, and served in the Army Air Corps at the end of WWII. That was what the Air Force was called then, before it was separate from the Army. He spent a lot of time peeling potatoes, once falling asleep in the back of a bus and going awol as a result.
My grandparents on my father’s side were very kind people. I played at their house a lot and watched Nixon cry on their television. I had a green metal tractor, the kind that was basically indestructible, that they don’t make anymore, or even then, as more and more toys were made out of plastic. At home in Cuyahoga Falls in our blue house I had tinker toys, Lincoln logs, a chalkboard, legos, stuffed animals like a green caterpillar, two teddy bears, and GI Joes.
My Gma Keatts watched lot of soap operas, taught me to play solitaire and how to cheat at it and we played old maid and go fish while she smoked white cigarettes and my grandfather drank cokes and smoked cigars and listened to the Indians on the radio.
My Gpa Pittman smoked a pipe, I remember the bags of tobacco, riding in his tan pickup truck. Being on his farm, the land he owned, corn fields and hay, and then the lake he built, for fishing and the campground, was a lovely, magical time for me as a kid, a fun safe place, with the big red barn, chickens, cows. But my other grandparents in Goodyear Heights, the more suburban home, with lace curtains and red and white enameled stove…they were gentle and loving and kind also. And they lived next to a park so there was nature there too, and the rose garden.
My Gma Keatts loved to cook and bake, of course I got to lick the frosting off the mixers, but I also learned how to work the dough for the pies, use the flour sifter.
She had a beautiful rose garden and canned a lot of fruits and vegetables. Her white filtered cigarettes would have red lipstick traces on them. The small basement had a green rug in the middle, concrete floor, lots of jars of preserves and other stuff she canned. A small white door in the wall that scared me. I never knew where it led to. The scratching sounds of the thick black 78s going after you turned the crank and put down the heavy needle on the record. Did I ever look behind that door? Was there anything there.
Gma Keatts was not perfect. She sometimes made negative comments about black people, and northerners…who she actually called Yankees. I was told she also did not like Catholics and was a Methodist. She tried to teach me the 23rd Psalm once, I remember. I did a much better job of remembering it later when I learned it from a Pink Floyd album. Sheep, from Animals, their version [see footnote #1]
I was born in the snow belt, where the snow falls heavier than points south. Cold winds and snow from Canada, just on the other side of Lake Erie. I was born in November, as winter was just beginning, and it would be overcast and cold instead of overcast and hot, but almost always overcast in Ohio, where we rarely saw the blue sky. In winter more than other seasons. But amazing for me to arrive in Berkeley 16 years ago, the sky blue and warm all day in September. And then the towers fell.
The fall in Ohio is beautiful, taking a hot, humid, beautiful green landscape and making it multicoloured. Winters had the wind chill factor, extremely cold, but fun for kids, making snow forts, having snowball fights, sledding down big and small hills and hills that seemed big and looked small later when you were older.
I was tough but sensitive as a child, growing up, and lost it in 87 in London really after some mild depression. A love supreme. White Rabbit. Disconnected from anything solid really, I was 21. Legal age to drink in the US, I was sober, but bonkers. I was sober for about two years.
My parents looked normal enough, based on the polaroids and super 8 films when I look back, but they did look beautiful. One could see how they fell for each other. They looked so happy in early pictures and super 8 films. My dad was sober, she was relatively sane at that time. Dad said she was seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist when they met, he checked it out. But I think she did not start to unravel until she had me, but it was slow, and then when we moved it got worse. No wonder I felt guilty. She made no bones about telling me it was mostly my fault, later, her endless breakdowns. Me and my gma Keatts, and the rest of the world, it was all our fault. I just happened to be close enough to hear it the most. My dad heard it too. It wore him down, I know, although he was stubborn too.
When I look at pictures of my mom in her thirties, when I was growing up, visually I see some of the women I have dated in the last few years. One woman in particular, the short dark hair, similar age, there was comfort there. Feisty personality. A lot of similarities. Independent. Then I veered away from that type for a long time, until I dated a woman more like my dad in some ways. Tough, stubbon, distant. Kara was distant as hell. M was great and then would pull back into her turtle shell as she said.
What can I say about my mother? That she had PTSD? A survivor, and signs of psychosis or schizophrenia. Delusions, which I understand. I had my own manic psychosis later. Like I said, I did not remember anything about my childhood until I was living in London in 1987. After having been sober for about a year and reading self-help books about childhood, that triggered it. I remembered being molested, sexualy abused, and well I went off the deep end, did not have a therapist or any really good support for the reality of facing that stuff. I thougth I was in control, but the break happened, the first break. In 1989 there was not a lot of talk about boys who had been abused, not yet. If there was I was certainly not aware. And I had to get sober first, there was no way around that. Before I could deal with any of it.