Pitching Solitary

Pitching Solitare

 One day, after we got to CA, I was wandering around the neighborhood and came upon a baseball field.  Kids were playing with adults and I saw that the following week Little Leagure tryouts would be held.  As part of my never ending attempt to get out of the house, I tried out and got on a team mostly because they took everybody.

 I had never played the game before and quickly learned a) that I could not hit the ball, and b) if I accidently did, it didn’t go anywhere, and c) I was afraid of being hit by the ball, and d) I couldn’t catch a fly ball, and e) I could hardly throw from third to first.  But I was undeterred;  I was reading baseball fictions for kids and even some histories of baseball teams, and I watched parts of games on Saturday with Dizzy Dean as the announcer.

 Because I knew my limitations and faced them squarely, I decided that the only way I would play on a team would be to become a pitcher.  I had observed that pitchers lost when they could not get the ball across the plate and walked everybody.  So in the backyard, I drew a square on the block wall about shoulder high for a little leaguer and went out back and threw the ball over and over again in the direction of that square.  Over and over again, until I had the control problem under control.

 I had also observed that most Little League batters, about 75%, were in fact just as afraid of the ball as I was.  They were really afraid of big guys or short compact guys who threw the ball fast and hard.  Unfortunately, I was not short and compact or big; I was skinny and gangly.  In my readings, I had become fascinated with the spitball pitcher and generally with pitchers who threw junk.  I decided I would throw junk and further to scare the batters I would throw side arm.  I perfected the motion so that for an instant the poor batter would feel I was throwing the ball directly at him but then it would zip across the plate at the knees and sometimes I got it to drop directly on home plate.

 Something else I think was going on.  Perhaps I had settled on pitching because one could practice at it with nobody else present.  Dizzy Dean threw rocks at a barn door.  Usually one throws a ball to somebody else; but to do that one needs somebody else to throw it to.  I played pickup games of course, but I never recruited anybody to pitch to.  Instead in deciding to be a pitcher, I was beginning to show in late childhood that I was an insipient outsider or solitary.  Moreover, by deciding to become a pitcher—something at which I could practice alone—I was learning how to manage as a solitary.

 Baseball is a game for people who love people (are the luckiest people in the world).  I always loved that walk to the mound.  Alone.  And while I don’t watch baseball much anymore, I hate those commercials that keep us from watching the reliever walk causually in from the bullpen.  Out of nowhere.

optimists 

Boy of the Month

Right.  Boy of the Month!  That’s a pretty long time; seems as if someone should have done boy of monthsomething to warrant being a boy of a whole fucking month.  If I did do something, I don’t know what it was or even how the boy of the month was selected at my junior high.  But somebody said your picture is up in the case by the principal’s office.  Sure enough, there it was.

Later, the same year I was Boy of the Month, I wrote up a petition to get one of our teachers relieved of her duties.  Ms. Purdy had no control over her 7th grade english class.  We had to do oral reports, for example, and she would sit in the very front row! As if purposely situation herself so she couldn’t see any of the spitballing and pencil sticking and monkeying around that was going on right behind her back.

The poor girls who had developed breasts had a terrible time because the boys would just stare and make lacivious faces and the poor girl would be reduced to mumbling and looking at the floor and pulling her sweater over this breast and that breast which didn’t really cover them up and made one even more aware of them.  And when a guy was giving his oral report, the guys in the back row—most of whom I hung out with—would make monkey faces or stick pencils up their nostrils or out of their ears and try to make the kid giving the oral report crack up.  Sometimes one would start giggling and Ms. Purdy would say something like, “That’s alright Johnny.  Now compose yourself.” Having no idea at all what was going on.  When it came to discipline, she was clueless.

So I wrote up a petition that said something like, Ms Purdy is a decent person but an ineffective teacher.  Consequently, we, the undersigned felt she should be relieved of her duties, for the sake of her emotional wellbeing.  Pretty much like that, with some heretofores and whereass thrown in for legalistic effect.  I thought what I had written was pretty funny; the whole idea tickled me.  So I passed the petition around and people signed it because Ms. Purdy’s inability to mange the classroom was a topic of conversation among us seventh graders.  Not that we wanted a disciplinarian or anything, but Miss Purdy made it just way too easy.

I had maybe 20 signatures when I was called out of class and told the principal wanted to see me.  He was pretty stern and said he had heard I was circulating a petition about Miss Purdy and that doing so was completely inappropriate.  I said, OK.  And then he told me either to give the petition to him or tear it up myself.  In any case, it was to disappear and the whole petition thing had to be dropped. Given my treatment at the hands of my parents, I guess I had come to expect this sort of impersonal treatment from adults.  He didn’t care at all about the substance of the charges and he didn’t ask me what I thought I was up to.  

Boy of the Month! Ha!

My Love Is My Weight

My brothers to the South, who have put in the most time tending our Parental Units in their ongoing decay, wanted the brothers to the North to transport our mother to the memorial service for our defunct dad.  We were happy to do it but troubled because our mother has a game leg and weighs a good bit.  We didn’t know if we could get her in one of our cars or not.  We made various jokes about perhaps needing a hoist or a fork lift…

I should read the psychoanalyst who wrote about body armor.  Our mother has relatively little weight in the upper area and below the waist she expands enormously both to the sides and to the rear.  When she had the stroke that gave her the game leg, she was in a rest up place, hospital sort of place; and well, we wanted her to stay there while the rest of us gathered for a so-called holiday meeting at my parent’s house.  I swear I had talked the social worker into not letting her out.

 But there she was having manipulated the doctors some how and having roped my nephew in going to get her.  They had a Ford Bronco at that time, and my mother was suspended up there some distance from the ground.  We set up the wheelchair by the door and tried to lower her into it.  I will never forget the look of horror on my nephew’s face when for a second, as I tried to pry lose her game leg which had gotten stuck, her weigh shifted entirely to him.  But thank goodness we had placed the wheelchair well and wham she landed in it.

Later in the miserable evening, I am minding my own business when I hear, “Nick! Nick! Nick!”  My father is yelling for me for no apparent reason just like back in the good old days.  He is in the bathroom.  When I opened the door I see him more or less seated on the floor, his head sticking up above my mother’s buttocks which are pinning him to the floor.  Apparently, he had been trying to get her on the toilet and her weight had unfortunately shifted.  He is cursing up a storm, “Goddammotherfunckingsonofabitch,” over and over. 

Fortunately my mother had some strength in her arms; correcting the situation wasn’t a matter of lifting all that dead weight but merely a matter of shifting it so it would tip in the other direction.  I applied myself directly to the naked expanse of her buttocks, her drawers having been previously dropped in anticipation of relieving herself.  I must say I had never seen her buttocks so up close and personal before.  Looking left and right all I could see it seemed was mountainous buttock.

 I succeeded in my effort.  She momentarily stood up and swung herself on the pot with a crash. I left with my father still on the floor cursing. 

 A Kodak moment from hell, I suppose.

A History of Violence

Recently and accidentally I got in contact on the web with a scholar in England who had written an article on the depiction of white trash in horror films.  I had noticed the connection myself.  I am fond of horror films and think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a masterpiece of its kind, featuring of course white trash cannibalizing people unfortunate enough to stop in their area.  We traded, the scholar and I, a few more academic and theoretical emails.  Then I wrote that, while of course the horror films exaggerate the violence of the white trash household, that violence did occur in such households.  I went on to describe the various attempted homicides that had occurred in my family.

 I never heard from the scholar again.  What did she think: that I was going to go across the Atlantic and cannibalize here.  Obviously, another dilettante academic who really has no idea what she is writing about.

 Note first: the homicides were “attempted,” none proved successful, as of yet.  One was even sort of an accident; had my brother killed my father he might have been tried for reckless endangerment, but that’s about it.  Throwing a screw driver in the direction of a person’s head in a moment of rage could suggest reckless endangerment.  But the screw driver missed and (twang!) stuck in the garage door next to my father’s head…just like in the movies.

 Another attempt was mostly just a threat.  My father was out front of the house trying to remove some side mirrors he had rented so that he could see around the trailer they had pulled on their vacation.  But he was having trouble getting them off and flying into a rage began to strike the mirrors with a two pound hammer quite vigorously.  When he began to strike the truck my mother went out and interposed her body between the truck and the hammer.  Whereupon, my father said, get out of the way bitch or I will kill you.  My mother must have believed it because she ran into the house and locked herself in my brother’s bedroom, so he might afford her protection if necessary.

 When my father turned demented, he became more overtly and publically violent.  He went around hitting people with his cane.  He hit my brother’s father-in-law with it.  My brother picked up my father and had him upon against the fence that separated the old man from a 30 foot fall onto rocks.  Perhaps this too constitutes an attempt.  In any case, my brother had to be restrained.

 So I was worried a bit about my mother.  Elders could I knew abuse each other, so I called to ask if she was afraid at all of my father’s behavior.  Oh no, she said, he is afraid of me and went on to tell of the time she had gotten a large kitchen knife, gone into the bedroom where he was napping and attempted to plunge the knife into his chest.  But at the last instant my father flung out his arm; the knife hit the arm bone and its tip broke off.  Another botched attempt, though penetration had been effected and there was a good deal of blood.  “Funny,” she said, “he wrapped up his arm and never said a word about it.”

 Apparently, according to my very unreliable mother, another brother who has spent more time tending to the elders’ needs that anybody, very recently attempted to kill her.  I didn’t ask about the details.  But it seemed to involve having been nearly strangulated by some band of material that is used to stabilize a person in his or her wheelchair but had in this instance gotten up around her neck somehow.

 I think this is an outright lie. 

 I wonder has anybody ever killed anybody simply because that person annoyed one to death?

 

Bingo, Bango, Bongo

My father was a racist.  He used the word “nigger” freely outside of the house.  Inside, my mother, the proper English woman, insisted on the word Negro.  But it never came out sounding like that.  It came out Nigra, sort of a combination of “nigger” and “Negro.” Or maybe it was just the accent.

When we made a visit back to SC when I was in high school, we stopped in Alabama somewhere for gas.  And my father said to the elderly black man there, “Fill her up, Uncle.”  The black man said, “I ain’t your uncle.”  He was angry, and I was surprised that my father just laughed.  Back in the community of Ora, I sat in the car watching him interact with one of the blacks who was a long time member of the community; he would send Christmas cards to all the white children in the area.  My father had bought a six pack of cokes to give to the elderly black man; and as the black man did his obsequious routine, I could see my father, in his gesture and his tone, swell up with self-importance.  I felt disgusted.

But my own experience suggests how easily one might become racist.  It was just in the air, like the “nigger piles” in the school yard.  Or in songs, the version of “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dina” that we sang ended with: “She’s my one black, two black, honest to goodness shoe black, chocolate to the bone.  You better leave her alone.” And in horrible phrases that stuck in my mind like lint: “nigger-rigged,” for example, to describe a repair poorly and hastily made. 

As a child, if I wanted to socialize with kids my own age, I had to bike two miles to the nearest white boy.  But from the top of a tree near my house, I could see past the field, over the abandoned peach orchard to a house that had kids all around.  But they were black, and I knew without being told that I was not to go there.

My father forced me to work with him on a weekend scab jobs; he would sing the same song all day long.  Too frequently, he got stuck on: “Bingo, bango, bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo…”  I think this song is racist; but it’s a bit more complicated than that.  It’s not just about blacks not wanting to be made into slaves; it’s also about “savages” not wanting to enter the world of civilization with all its misery.

I wonder if my father didn’t in some way identify with those who did not wish to leave the Congo.  Perhaps the South was for him the Congo, a backward part of the world and not civilization proper, so that in, a twisted and convoluted way, his racism was an expression of self-hate.

As a brick layer, he had to wait sometimes from a call from his boss to learn where he would work the next day.  He would call the boss to find out, but sometimes he could not get through.  He would slam down the phone; one evening he slammed it down over and over.  We all retreated to our rooms.  My mother pleaded with him to stop.  Finally, the boss called, and my father’s tone was as obsequious as could be, as if he had not been raging for two hours at how late he was having to stay up to hear where he would be going at 5 am the next day.

Being a “nigger,” in the vilest sense of the word, is not entirely a matter of skin color.

90% Mother

Were I to quantify my mother’s identity I would say she was 90% mother and 10% other (wife, sister, relative, friend, house keeper, cook). Unfortunately, for her self-esteem, she lacked any nurturing capacities whatsoever.  She mothered as it were by remote control; in her later years, she did much reading on the subject of being a mother and so kept up to date by that means.  But given her nearly complete self-absorption she was unable to recognize her children’s’ feelings.  If one was sick, one had to tell her.  If one was upset, one had to go around sighing deeply or groaning.

She did of course observe us.  She noticed when we tracked dust onto the hard wood floors.  She noticed when I did not empty the catch in the sink after washing the dishes. She noticed when we did not pick up the dog poop on the back lawn or when we had not taken out the trash. She noticed especially our language.  She noticed if we had crap behind our ears.  She noticed when we did not observe proper table manners.

She kept a log of my first year of life on which she noted having noticed many things.  She noticed there that I was bowel trained before the age of one.  Several persons to whom I mentioned this considered it an abomination.  Why, one person said, a baby isn’t physically equipped to be bowel trained before the age of one.  Nonetheless I was.  When a child should or shouldn’t be bowel trained seems to be determined by the fad of the moment. And my mother is on record as having found the experience of feeding me at one end as I pooped at the other “disgusting.”

Also her breasts caked making nursing a very painful experience.  Mostly I was bottle fed and since she got most of her nurturing tips from reading she actually tried to feed me by the clock.  I consider this practice an abomination; a form of torture inflicted by the so-called parent upon the infant.  People so readily give up their simple human sense when some bug of an idea gets into their empty heads. How could a parent let a child wail in its crib at night, knowing the child was crying because it was hungry, and not feed the child because it was “not the right time?”  Would a human being do this to his dog?

But my mother had no extended family; no one to help or counsel her.  Her husband was off in the Army somewhere washing out as a pilot.  And her Aunt Kitty had died sometime during the months of her pregnancy with me.    So her breasts were caked, she was alone and in need herself, and I was jaundiced and starving to death.  No wonder she experienced me as “needy.”

Overgrown Babies

My mother is on record as having indicated:

            a. that I was a very needy infant;

            b. that she thought I was “the Devil’s Spawn Sent to Torment Her.”

To find the basic reason my mother was unfavorably inclined towards me one need look no further than my pants. I was born with a penis.  My first great mistake.  Some women love men, as men; my mother did not.

            One need not look far either for the reason for that.  Her father was a cad, a philanderer, a cheat, a Mason, and a member of the Klu Klux Klan.  Blessed with the gift of gab and some culinary skills, he started and drove a number of restaurants into the ground with his fondness for the ponies.  He was married six times and abandoned my mother, her mother, and sister for brighter prospects.

            She would, always tearfully, tell her tale of the Marston Clock, how she had been standing next to it, when a man came up and asked the time.  She pointed to the clock; the man walked on.  She was 18 years old, and the man, her father, failed to recognize her.

            When my mother was 12, her mother died of breast cancer.  She was then put with her sister under the wing of her mother’s sister, Aunt Kitty, a tiny yet pugnacious woman who had once been the tutor for the children of Count Zeppelin.  She was married to an alcoholic who spent most of his time sleeping in a room with curtains drawn while she did her best to make ends meet.  Still, they had to rely on the dole.

            Finally of my father, my mother said, that he was not a real man.  She was not referring to the libidinous since in that area I was told, “Your father is like a rabbit.”  She was referring to something deeper, her desire probably for the complete protector and provider.  My father proved a failure there by taking her back to SC, to a place near the edge of the universe, where he tried in 1946 to raise cotton with a mule.

             My penis made me one of those: idiot creatures, untrustworthy, unreliable, those men who are overgrown babies and worry a mother to death.

Lickings

The beatings I received as child in South Carolina had a ritualistic flavor.  I was told to go into the living room, to drop my pants, and to stand in the middle of the room till my father arrived.  Sometimes out of forgetfulness or laziness or just plain meanness, I was made to wait for some time as, while picking at my nose, I worked myself into a frenzy of dread.

The three blows were usually administered by belt.  It could be applied two ways: one with the buckle out and exposed; the other with the buckle clasped in the hand.  I preferred the latter naturally and could find no rhyme or reason why one instead of the other.

Sometimes, I took the blows silently.  Sometimes I cried fiercely.  I don’t think this had to do with the pain of the blows, but from the way they were administered.  My father’s face would get red, his eyes would start to pop out, he would bare his teeth and hiss spit through them.  At those times, he was enraged.  That’s why I cried.  Perhaps I sensed the depth of his hatred of me, his desire, as I later concluded was the case, to kill me outright.  I can think of no other reasons for his having, in his last demented years, brought up to me so frequently the story of Abraham and Isaac.  He had wanted to kill me, yes, but because God had ordered it; and if I had lived, I should thank god.

When I cried, he would say, “If you don’t stop crying I will give you something to cry about.”  I didn’t know what to make of this saying except that if I didn’t stop crying I would get more beating.  Consequently, I would stifle the tears in my chest and pull myself together.

Once I cried out that I had not done it.  He said he didn’t care whether I had or not, for surely, during that week I had done something that had deserved punishment, and this was the punishment for that.

In California, any pretense to ritual was abandoned.  He struck me with whatever came to hand, most frequently wire coat hangers, and on several occasions a broom handle. 

One day in junior high, as we undressed for gym class, a kid said, pointing to my ass:  What’s that.  Looking around I saw in a big mirror four deep blue bruises starting just above the knees, extending evenly across both legs, and ending in the middle of my buttocks.The kid asked me what that was.  I said I didn’t know.  At that moment I really didn’t.  It took a while for me to connect the blue welts with a beating I had received. 

 The following year, the beatings stopped.  I asked my mother why, she said I was too old to receive beatings.  Who knows perhaps she had read something about beatings at a certain age causing sexual confusion and possible erections.  Deep in my heart, I have always hoped somebody in authority noticed my wounds and spoke to my parents.  But most likely my mother, realizing that people other than she and her husband would see the damage done, ordered the beatings stopped to avoid any possible public shaming.

You’re Invisible!

About a year after we arrived in San Diego, we started attending Trinity Presbyterian Church.  Set jutting from the hillside, the bottom of the church, under the part that jutted, housed the Sunday school, and on top of that the Church proper.  An A-Frame structure, somewhat futuristic looking, in a Disney Land way.

GodMore troubling than the non-traditional architecture were the sermons.  While I can’t say I understood the sermons delivered in Ora, S.C., I had the feeling they were generally gloomy and featured Calvinistic ruminations on grace and damnation.  But in California, we received, as I slowly came to understand it, heaping dollops of Sweetness and Light.  This was the pap upon which Sunday Morning Christians Suckled.

God was no Yahweh bent upon retribution for sliding from the path; he was instead the God of Forgiveness.  In fact, He would forgive almost anything.  He was not I felt a God John Wayne could respect.  His Son moreover loved everybody.  Nobody need feel unloved as long as He was around.

 This whole sickly conglomeration was mixed up with grotesque and macabre events featuring persons rising from the grave and being tortured to death.. The whole business was distasteful, even vulgar; I couldn’t make any sense of it either.  I could find no connection between the macabre events and the meanings assigned to them by the Bible as interpreted by our Minister. 

How did getting strung up on a cross when one could have easily left town equal “dying for our sins.”  How did dying and then rising from the dead equal “dying.”  Deadness by definition is infinite.  At best the Son spent a brief three days in the other place.  And what was the big deal about a God becoming human.  Was it so awful being us?  Had God humiliated himself by assuming the form of what he had supposedly created?  And to top it off, he returned for a while to this earth as a ghost.  I am probably wrong; lots of odd things happen in the Old Testament but I don’t remember any ghosts.

I would sit at the sermons trying to understand but feeling more and more repulsed.  How could the Minister use such word as “but” or “therefore” or “however”—those precious logical connectors—to create an edifice of unreason?  I tried to understand.  But that was difficult, not only because of the subject matter, but because the year before while a sophomore in high school, I had decided, not that I did not believe in God, but that He had not ever existed, for to say I did not believe still implied a disjunctive relation to Him.

I don’t recollect having been in any particular way upset that Sunday morning, but rather than get ready for Church I continued to read my novel.  When my mother asked why wasn’t I getting ready, I replied calmly that I was an atheist and that going to Church struck me as hypocritical and a waste of my time.  Perhaps I suffered a temporary lapse of sanity or maybe it was something like hope. 

 In any case, I should have known what would happen.  My mother reported that I had become an atheist to my father.  She then fell to weeping and wondering aloud what she had done to deserve such a son.  He, having stopped striking me directly sometime before, thundered around the house, slamming doors, and cursing up a storm.  Whereupon my youngest brother who was 14 years younger than I and about two years old began to cry at all the racket.  The din was unbelievable.  I was then informed by another brother that nobody would be going to church that day unless I went and we would all accordingly go to hell together because of my action.

 I put on my church clothes, went to the car and waited; they all came out and got in the car, as if nothing had happened; the incident was never brought up again, nor did they ever ask me if I had changed my mind or why I had become an atheist or what my reasoning was if any.  Really, they were not in the least concerned with what I felt or thought only with how I “behaved.”