Nor did he bowl.

After WB’s funeral ceremony in Escondido, Carol and I went to the mortuary to collect his ashes.

wbblock

They were in a pretty big little wooden box.  It felt funny driving around with his ashes.  But that was my job.  He had asked before his death that he be taken back to the little ARP church in Ora, SC, and I said that I would do it.  Joan had asked too.  It never crossed my mind not to do what he wanted.  In my imagination, that’s where he belonged back with his mother and father and the little daughter he had but who lived less than two weeks.

 

As hard as it was on me and Steve too to leave SC, the only place we had known at that point, and felt comfortable knowing, I think it must have been harder on WB to leave that area and his family behind.  WB didn’t develop any real connections to anybody outside family.  There was his wife, of course, and the boys.  And beyond that his brothers and sisters back in South Carolina and that was just about it.

 He didn’t drink so he didn’t hang out at bars jawing with his co-workers.  He wasn’t really into sports.  So he didn’t go to football or baseball games.  Nor did he bowl or go to auto races or golf. Nor did he play pool or any manner of board games. He had fellow bricklayers that he would mention from time to time and he knew some of the brick mason tenders.  But I can’t say that he made any friends in California.

Well, there was one guy that he seems to have done a few things with or maybe a few things for.  This guy was as crazy as a loon and in fact ended up in the mental hospital.  Jack Sickler, I think his name was.  I remember that he and WB staked out Jack’s house I think because Jack thought that his wife was unfaithful.  And I do believe Jack talked about killing his wife and himself at different points.  Maybe they were friends since WB was loony too.  But I think it more likely that WB sort of looked after Jack and tried to keep him out of trouble, though he wasn’t much good at it.

WB was not social really or a scintillating conversationalist.  Even later on when he visited the homes of his children he would say a few things and then go to sleep in the chair he was sitting in or maybe disappear off into one of the bedrooms and go to sleep.

I had occasion, when I was a brick mason tender, to observe him interacting with his peers at lunch break.  They would go sit in some unfinished house to get out of the sun.  They would sit on the concrete or pull up a can of some kind. WB would sit sort of off from the rest.  And mostly they weren’t talking at all.  But then WB would say something like, do you remember that job where we had blah, blah, blah and when was that exactly?  And then if any of the other guys had been on that job they would set to figuring out when that job was.  And then WB would say, and wasn’t so and so on that job.  And if anybody had been on that job too, they would set to trying to remember if so and so had been on that job or not.  And then somebody would say that no so and so had not been on that job but he had been on this other job over blah, blah, blah, and WB would wonder when that job had been, and they would set to remembering when that job had been.

And it would go on like that for the whole half hour, if they talked about anything at all. Those were some of the damndest conversations I ever heard.

That’s WB in the picture mixing up adobe for the blocks for his masterpiece, the adobe house on Delridge.

Aunt Kitty–Late Edwardian

This here is Aunt Kitty.  I don’t know her last name, but she was the sister of Joan’s, my mother’s, auntkittymother.  So her maiden name must have been Barrett, the same as her sister’s.  But she was married at least twice and I have no idea what her last husband’s name was.

She is like a little time machine back to the era of the Late Edwardians, over there in England.  She had her heyday around the time of WWI.  She was the tutor for the children—or so the story goes—of Count Zeppelin, the guy responsible for the Zeppelin, over in Germany.  He told her a war was coming, so she got out of Germany and went back to England.  From there, she immigrated with her sister to Canada.

She ended up with her second husband in San Diego.  He was an alcoholic.  He had a house, but he didn’t work.  He mostly lay around drunk.  She had to make ends meet.  She sold eggs and kept goats and they sold the goat milk.  Also they were on relief.  She took in Joan and Aunt Betty after their mother died of breast cancer, the so-called father, Kaller, being pretty long out of the picture.

Joan went to Grossmont High School, so this picture was probably taken somewhere out in East County, the boondocks as it was called back then, near El Cajon.

That’s about all I know about Aunt Kitty.  I saw another picture of her somewhere and she has a big wart on her nose, and I thought she looked like a witch.  I don’t know when I saw this picture.

She died a few months before I was born.  So in addition to her normal depression, Joan was depressed by Aunt Kitty’s death about the time I came into the world.  I would say I sucked in depression with my mother’s milk, but Joan’s breasts “caked,” so I wasn’t breast fed much.

And, oh, that dog lying over there in the right side of the picture–that was Joan’s dog, according to Joan, and it’s name was Teddy.  My brothers and I had for years to suffer with another dog named
Teddy.  Joan named it and I don’t think we knew it was an incarnation of the Teddy lying in this picture.

Till Then

I started entries here a month or so before my father died (and I knew he was dying) and not long after I turned sixty.  It felt like the thing to do.  I have long externalized stuff by writing about it and that sometimes gives me at least a momentary hold on what I am feeling.  But I don’t know crossroadsabout all this looking back.  William Blake said, drive your plow through the bones of the dead.  That I think means “screw the past” and/or “forget.”  I like that idea really and am a firm believer in the powers of positive forgetting.  Thank god, we do forget.

 But I have long worried about the death of my parents and how that might affect me.  I remember at college a Professor of Philosophy, much beloved, who, a month after his mother died, committed suicide.  Psychological dependence is a powerful thing, and while I cannot say that I have positive feelings about either of my parents, I do think that powerful negative feelings may also indicate signs of dependence or at least attachment.  Working these feelings through may be important.

Also over the years, I have tried to tell, now and then, stories about my growing up, and while my auditors generally laughed, at one point somebody would always say, “You should write a book!”  In light of my paranoia, I did not feel people were saying, “You have great material there,” but “Would you please shut up, go away, and write a book.”  I can understand how stories of homicidal rage might perturb people, and I have a strong anal streak too that some find offensive.  I guess not everybody liked hearing that my father had become so constipated that he had taken to digging out the shit with a spoon.

Well, what can I say?  It happened.

While I did want to do justice to the darker material, I wanted also to be humorous about it.  But I am not sure I have always managed to achieve comic effects, and some people might find funny some things that I don’t.  So that part is confusing, especially since one of my readers says that I appear in these entries too frequently angry, rage full, mentally and perhaps criminally unstable.  In addition, this reader continued, you are not the person in these pages.  You are in fact caring, compassionate, very intelligent and don’t use fuck every other word.

Well, that’s true too. But when I wrote these entries I didn’t try to filter them through my more compassionate side.  I wrote from the emotion that the particular memory evoked, and these emotions were not always compassionate or caring.  Sometimes, they were homicidal.  I can’t do anything about that.   Though I should say that I have never murdered anyone and am in fact opposed to murder on general grounds.

I write these remarks because I feel that I may be reaching the end of what I wanted to remember about my mother, my father, and my family.  But who knows, something may turn up in the memory banks or I may go in another direction.

Car Keys

 The old lady didn’t want any of her boys to get married.  This is pretty strange if you stop to think abandonedcarabout it.  Especially since, as I believe I have documented, she pretty much hated men down to her and their very core.  But living in the semi-delusional world that she regularly inhabited, I don’t think she was able to distinguish us, her sons, as men, from her father, as a man.  He, as I have said, was a pretty wretched guy who abandoned my my mother and her family.

My spot analysis then: we are dealing with abandonment issues.  For her boys to get married would mean they had abandoned her, and that meant moreover, at another level, that she had lost control over them.  It’s all symbolic sex/gender stuff and runs, in my estimation, deep down into the old unconscious.  That’s how she kept the old man around, not by her inherent attactive or lovable qualities, whatever those might have been, but by stark manipulation.  And, of course, being able to manipulate a man in that way pretty her much put her in the driver’s seat of her odd universe.

When I let it be known that I was planning to get married—this is some time in the early 80’s and I was almost 39 years old—the old lady and the old man decided to pay me a pre-marriage visit.  I tried my best to dissuade them, but one of my brothers too live in the area and so they pretended that they mostly wanted to visit him.

I was then treated to the spectacle of my mother sitting at the kitchen table in the wretched apartment I and my wife-to-be were living at the time and going on for a good twenty minutes about how awful marriage was; how if she had it all over to do again, she would not do it; how it only lead to heart ache and misery; how you never knew what you were getting into; and how she had been led into it only by her innocence and the fact that my father had deceived her into thinking that he was a gentleman.

And all this was delivered with vehemance with my father—the man she had been married to since 1943–sitting right at her elbow.  Whatever effects her description of marriage as a regular shop of horror might have upon him apparently did not concern her.  He for his part sat perfectly still and absolutely mute.  He uttered not a word.  And after a while—thank the Lord–they left.

I walked them out to the street and as I turned to return to the house, I saw the old lady fumbling to open the passanger door and the old man rearing back to throw his keys and key chain with considerable force directly at her head.  He missed however and the keys went over to the other side of the street.  She, without a word, retrieved them, unlocked her door and off they went—into whatever hell it was they lived in.

Who knows what he felt?  Who knows what she felt?  I don’t know and in some ways I am glad I don’t.  Although in some ways, sadly, I do.

Pigeons

Sometimes I wondered if something might be wrong with the old man, aside that is from his being a curser, a farter, and a petty tyrant.  Something, I mean, instead, wrong that might explain these “behaviors” as mere epiphenomenon of the phenomenon itself, what ever that might be.  Many scannerstheories as to the source of his sudden explosions or spasms of rage were bruited about over the years.  That he had a “bad temper” did really not get at a cause and didn’t either really do justice to the phenomenon.

A kind of genetic cause was hinted at.  Over the years, I became familiar in larger family circles with the phrase “Tingle Tantrums.”  At one family reunion, one of the non-Tingles put up a sign, I have heard, saying “No Tingle Tantrums.” These tantrums or fits were then generally recognized, acknowledged, and were in part to be excused as something to which those who had any admixture of Tingle blood might be prone.  When struck by a tantrum a Tingle would spit, sputter, stutter, curse till he turned red, throw things, and generally exhibit signs of a person about to blow his top.

More locally, at different times, the old lady thought the old man had high blood pressure, low blood pressure, a thyroid problem, a digestive disorder, diabetes and hyperglycemia.

I have no idea myself.  But I found most curious his attitude towards the pigeons that one of my younger brothers had decided to keep.  I don’t know how many there were, maybe a half dozen, and they lived in a pretty large cage that hung, appended to a rafter, over the deck that was the roof of the hole where I stayed.  I did not like these pigeons much, though I generally like animals, because they looked ill at ease so cooped up and they were quite dirty with their droppings and all.

At any case, when the sun came up, the pigeons would wake up.  Many birds it seems sleep at night just as humans do.  They would tuck their heads under their wings and stand on one leg the night through (though people do not do this).  Come dawn, they woke and began to converse with each other in friendly morning greetings. Pigeons do make a noise, but nothing like your cackling chickens.

Their sounds never woke me, but on more than one occasion I heard the kitchen sliding screen door squeak open, my father’s footsteps pounding on my roof, and then I would hear the old man yelling at the pigeons, “Shut up.” I would lie there then wide awake very aware now that the pigeons were talking up a storm.  I grew tense fearing another eruption.  And indeed, at least, on one occasion it came; the old man returned, bellowing in fury at the pigeons to shut up and this time shook and rattled their cage.

Now, I know I am dense in some ways, but even I had the sense to see that screaming at pigeons to shut up and rattling their cage was bound to have the opposite effect of shutting the birds up.  True, for an instant of a moment, dead silence reigned but then the pidgeons would launch into a panic striken discourse. And then I would hear from inside the house, the old man screaming in a fearsome way for the fucking birds to shut up.

How could one become so irritated at the sounds of birds that one would forsake all reason and logic in one’s attempt to get them to shut up?

I don’t know what was wrong.  But I know it frightened me.

To Meet the Faces

During the time I was living in the hole,  brother number 3 broke his arm falling out of a tree up at the elementary school.  I guess he fell out sort of sideways and to protect his head stuck out his arm as people do and broke his forearm.  Those are pretty big bones and to think of breaking brokenarmone—well, one has to hit the ground pretty hard.  I have never broken a bone, though, playing basketball once, an idiot tripped me and I fell and hyperextended my arm so that it swelled up, at the elbow, to the size of watermelon and I lost all strength in my fingers and the x-ray showed I had fractured the bone a bit right at the joint.

But my brother had a real broken arm that you could see with the naked eye.  Clearly something was not right with that arm; the forearm is supposed to be straight, but this one took a good 60% turn at one point and was clearly headed in the wrong direction.  The bone was not poking through the skin with blood coming out, but it was poking enough to show through the skin that the bone was not in the right place.  Also my brother had gone pale and he was groaning in pain also indicative of a broken bone.

Maybe it was a Saturday or a Sunday; had it not been one of those days I would have put my brother in the car and taken him straight away to the emergency room at the hospital.  But because my parents were there, they were going to take him to the hospital.  I stood by the car waiting to see them off, but when they didn’t come out right away I became alarmed and went to see if something was wrong.  I heard my parents in their room and went to the door to peer in; it was not a room I liked to enter.

My brother was lying on one of their beds—by this time they had separate beds—moaning, and to my consternation, my parents, rather than taking my brother to the hospital, had apparently decided to prepare themselves to go to the hospital.  My father was changing his clothes.  He was putting on his church pants and my mother was telling him what shirt to put on and she was in her little half bath changing into a dress.  Meanwhile my brother was lying their groaning; whereupon I suggested that I would be happy to drive him to the hospital where they could catch up later.  Perhaps detecting a note of judgment in my voice, I was told, in so many words, to fuck off.

I left the room and to this day I don’t understand their behavior.  One of their children was lying there in pain with a broken arm and they decided to take 20 minutes to prepare themselves to go to the hospital.  The old lady even applied make-up.  One would think they were going to see the Pope or something.  I don’t wish to stereotype poor people, but I have wondered if perhaps their dressing up had something to do with having been very poor and feeling that because they were they would be ignored by people like doctors and lawyers and nurses unless they appeared in appropriate attire.

Whatever the underlying cause, I find in the occasion yet another instance of my parents living out their pathetic psychodrama in which my brothers and I were but bit players or even perhaps pieces of furniture. I suspect we are all just bits of each others imaginations but humanity lies in trying to see beyond that.

Realist

While, as I have said, my father was no philosopher king.  He did say four things in my presence, if not directly to me, –folk or class wisdom, I guess I would call it—that stuck with me over the years and that have given me reason to ponder in an attempt to understand my father’s zietgiest as well as my own.

Once, he sang:

 Skeeter fly high, skeeter fly lowworker
If that skeeter bite my peter
That skeeter ain’t gonna fly no mo

Well, this isn’t wisdom exactly, but I pondered it wondering when a person would give a skeeter a chance like that to bite his peter.  We forget so easily! Our own Heritage.  These are the verses of a people accustomed to pissing outdoors in thick skeeter country.  Like Orlando, Florida, in 1955.  The land of a thousand lakes, or as we dubbed it on our swing through in 1955, the land of several trillion skeeters.

He also said:

 “Same shit, different bucket.”  This is a saying of rather universal dimensions, seeing that it can be applied to any two things—or pieces of shit—that are the same but have different packaging.  This might be said for example of whatever difference there is between a Big Mac (piece of shit “a”) and a Carl’s Junior burger (piece of shit “b”).  Or of most so called celebrities say, Brittany Huston (piece of shit 1) and Hilton Simpson (piece of shit 2).  But I feel it most effectively applied, as my father did at the time he spoke it, to the two political parties.  It bespeaks, when coming from the mouth of a working person, the great distance he feels between the affairs of his daily life and the mucky-mucks up there on capital hill who cannot tell shit from shinola.

Additionally:

“Shit’s like cream.  It rises to the top.”  Considered aesthetically, the co-mingling of turd-like brownness with milk like whiteness (along with the suggestion that one might accidentally drink a turd along with one’s milk), this statement is somewhat disgusting.  But it is a point well made, even more so in our present day, where well packaged shit dominates the movie industry and men of the lowest, shit-like qualities, appear to run the country and the globe.  In fact, the theory expressed in this saying seems so representative of experience as to be irrefutable.

Finally, and mostly sadly and stocially:

“Life is making the best of a bad job.” In the literature I have read, working class people are, over and over again, described as realists.  This saying would certainly take the wind out of the sails of any idealist.  And once again, the distance of the working class person from the forces that control his destiny is suggested.  He works a job he did not create.  He did not plan it, he did not finance it, he will make no money from; he knows moreover that the job is ill-designed, tossed together, constructed from inferior materials, and  probably completely unnecessary.  The one hope one has is a personal hope.  If one is not to be irrevocably stained and ruined by the bad job, if one is not to lose all dignity, one must do one’s best.  If there is any honor, that’s it.

Perhaps along with my tooth pick legs, and my great regularity, I inherited from the old man, as representative of his class and times, a dark realism that when brought into contact with my idealism produces an admixture of rank pessimism.

Who knows?

Lower Back Pain

I heard the old man’s truck pull up on the gravel out front.  It was about noon on a work day.  I had never known the old man to come home in the middle of a day unless it was raining. But it was summer and it wasn’t raining.  So thinking something might be wrong, I went to the front window as the old man tried to walk down the slope of the driveway—the house being set down below road level—bent over at 90 degrees.

lowerbackHis back had seized up he said, and he couldn’t straighten up.  Then he sat down at the kitchen table and ate his lunch from the paper bag because nothing was going to disturb his routine.  He munched in his Fritos while old lady called to make an appointment with a doctor. He came back still bent at 90 degrees.  The doctor had said that the only thing to do was to get him on his back resting in traction.  The  doctor said it might take 4 weeks, even longer for him to straighten up.

 I am not a fucking ingrate.  I might not have much positive to say about the old man as a human being; but he was a good and steady worker.  Seeing him knocked out of commission like that made me feel vulnerable and rightfully so.  He was the bread winner.  The old lady hadn’t worked since WW2 and she didn’t drive.  Also according to the old lady, we were always teetering on the brink of destitution.  She was an expert at poor mouthing, and if you asked anything about the family money, she wouldn’t tell you or she would lie.

 One hot summer afternoon the old lady told me to go into their bedroom and collect the glasses in there the old man had been using.  He loved canned lemonade.  So I went in.  The room was close and hot and stuffy, and the old man was asleep with his big belly sticking out from under his t-shirt and half of his old, pale and gnarly looking penis hanging out from under the stretched out elastic of his underpants.  He was snoring and drooling.  Flies buzzed over him because of all the sticky lemonade glasses around.

I got this horrible feeling that he was never, ever going to get.  The guy had just died and gone to pig heaven.  I don’t mean he had died really, but he had found pig heaven right here on earth.

But after about six weeks he got up and went back to work.  His back never seized up like that again.  But when ever he sat for while, the back would stiffen up.  When he got up, he would give out a groan and sort of launch himself out of the chair.  About half way across the room he would straighten up, and if he knew you were watching and he had it in him, he would let out a fart.

Farting was his highest form of humor.  He was a good farter, so why not.  I remember hearing a comedian say if something makes people laugh keep doing it till they stop.  I had stopped laughing a long time ago, but if his farts irritated the old lady, I still enjoyed it as a form of masculine bonding, I guess.  About the only thing I inherited from my old man, aside from my toothpick legs, was a vigorous and robust bowel.  I am incredibly regular.  Once when I was constipated and couldn’t shit for three days, I thought I was going to fucking die.

Brick layer

I can say authoritatively that the old man never talked to or with me about anything.  Not about politics.  Or cars.  Or women (thank god for that!) Or even sports.  Come to think of it he wasn’t really interested in sports.  That may be because he never played any.  They had sports in his high bronx brickschool; the basketball coach asked him to try out for the team because he was six feet tall.  But he couldn’t do that.  He was needed at home to work.  He was not graduated from high school till he was 21 because he got kicked back three grades; not because he failed but because he missed more than 30 days of class per school year.  That was a law they had to stop farmers from keeping their children at home to do field work.

He was out picking peaches one summer in that sweltering heat, working his butt off I imagine, and he fainted.  They revived him and he went right back to work, but it happened again the next day.  He was working the orchard of one of the big land owners in the area, and this man, I forget his name, said, “Damn, that boy ain’t cut out for farm work.”  And he offered to pay the old man’s way to Clemson if he would major in engineering.  So off to Clemson went the old man who up till that time had been studying by the light of a kerosene lamp, and he flunked out immediately though he got an “A” in blacksmithing.

That was the extent of his education.  He did read a little in later years, mostly detective fiction with a little smut in it and Zane Grey western type books.  I don’t know if he could write.  I got one hand written letter from him and that was it.  According to the old lady it took him three hours to get those couple of pages down.  He couldn’t spell for shit.  When I last saw him, he was demented and said God had been giving him spelling quizzes and then he said a word god had asked him to spell and then he spelled it incorrectly.  I can only hope God was not a harsh grader went it came to spelling.

 Every boy wants to look up to his father and not because the father feeds him but because of some quality in the father like, maybe, being a good father.  But my father wasn’t one of those.  Or maybe the boy will look up to the father because the father is real strong or because other people look up to his father because of what he does or his place in society.  My mother told a story that Queen Elizabeth had sent a messenger down to Dorset requesting that my mother’s grandfather come to court to be the Queen’s blacksmith.  He didn’t go but sent his son.  And I remember having a fantasy that the President would call upon my father to do some special brick work in the white house.  Because as I said, a boy wants to look up to his father.  He wants to be able to say with pride, “That’s my dad.”  But the President never called.

I remember driving through the Bronx in the mid-80s.  All over the place they were knocking down old ten or twenty story apartment buildings.  Many of them were actually made out of Brick!  Twenty story structures, brick from top to bottom.  It hurt in a particular way to know those buildings were going to be knocked down.  Those buildings will never be replicated.  Not because of the cost of the brick, but because of the cost of the labor.  It hurt to think that all the human energy compressed in those buildings would simply disappear into thin air with one blow from a wrecking ball.

My Feminism

One of my stock witticisms:  “I favored and will continue to favor for as long as I live all manifestations of woman’s liberation because I hate my mother.”  The logic here might seem femistbuttonsunclear or even perverse, but really it’s simple.  I like to believe had my mother been born in more liberated times she might have been at least partially saved from herself.  But she was raised when women were supposed to marry and be mothers and nothing but.  She had a couple of semesters of college.  In the second one she had to drop out because of pneumonia, and in the first she was given a theme, in one of those obligatory English classes, to write on: give 10 reasons why a woman should be married.

This was like 1941.

I probably idealize but I think the old lady might have been a not half bad principal at an elementary school.  I think she was intelligent.  In saying this I know I am on thin ice.  My brothers probably would not agree and insist that the capacity for cold and manipulative mendacity is not the same as intelligence; or if she had any intelligence at all she put it at the service of pure evil. So to qualify I would say she had a knack for book learning and might have prospered at it had she had the chance.

Instead her knowledge of things great and small was another weapon in her ongoing castration of the old man.  Partly that was his fault.  He let her keep the check book and forfeited the power that might have come with that. True, he couldn’t read or write much, but he could do numbers.  Or if we got screwed by the phone company or some lemon of an appliance, my mother was the one who launched a mail writing campaign to get our money back and usually did.  He would just run around yelling, if I had a shot gun I’d just shot my fucking head off.  I don’t think they would have ever returned anything to a store, had it not been for the old lady, and all of the life changing decisions, like coming to California, she made.

When the old man’s mother died, he flew back to S.C. for the funeral.  Since the old lady didn’t drive, I had to drive them to the airport.  I just stood there, watched and grew increasingly depressed.  The old lady just kept at him: did he have his ticket, did he know where it was, and did he know his seat number, when he got to Atlanta when was his next flight, had he packed a razor, and on and on.  And standing there, I knew that if my mother had dared she would have put one of those cards on his coat that they put on little kids when they fly alone, like, “Hello. I am WB.  Please help me not to get lost.”

And he—and he—for god’s sake just lapped it up.