What have I been doing these past whatever months? I’ve worked a little on some children’s book ideas. My rock opera is nearly complete. Mostly, I’ve been chipping away at this novel which I will be shopping around for publishing in 2014. I will post some more chapters in the coming weeks. I look forward to some comments, editing notes, etc.
I’m driving back from the funeral to get my father’s affairs in order. The car radio is on low, low enough I can’t really hear it, but audible enough that there’s no silence. It’s deliberate. How can this not be deliberate? I mean, how do you choose what music to play after “laying your dad to rest?”/ saying stuff over an urn of ashes? It’s not like you can crank up some kind of empowerment anthem a la Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” or “Love Is a Battlefield” or “Stop Using Sex as a Weapon.” Shit, Pat Benatar wrote a lot of empowerment anthems. In fact, she may have written exclusively in the empowerment anthem genre. That theme from “Legend of Billie Jean,” “Treat Me Right,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Fire and Ice,” “Little Too Late,” and “Heartbreaker.” Shit, even “Hell is For Children” takes a stand on something. She always stood for something, Pat. Is that what happened to her career? She run out of anthems?
So you can’t rock out to an empowerment anthem/Pat Benatar on the way back from your dad’s funeral. Then if you pick some kind of sad song, it may turn the whole moment maudlin, sappy, syrupy chick-flick. Find yourself putting on sunglasses and muted lipstick like an asshole even though it’s overcast. No music, then. Conversely, this bitch definitely doesn’t want silence. That’s the worrrrrrrst kind of music is silence. Because silence doesn’t last long. It runs out, flaps its filmstrip against the projector until it becomes a rhythm…and then…..your head fills up with phrases and ideas, rewinding and overanalyzing….ecchhh. Or worse, it could be your brain latches onto a song selected from nowhere, or perhaps just a tidbit, a refrain. Then you’re rolling in the car with a maniacal repeating loop of “all the leaves are brown.” In chipmunk voices.
So, yeah I choose to turn on the radio, but turn it down so there is a tiny buzz. It’s probably talk radio/NPR, and at this volume I can pretend I’m somewhere else. At a…….coffee shop and two people are having a conversation that I’m attempting to drown out. I get pieces of words like “fiscal”, “tighten,” and “bemoan.” Talky talky chat chat. “Robust.” “Well, at the end of the day…” I really don’t care for the phrase “at the end of the day” at all. You listen to enough talk radio, it’s the defacto sum-up cliche. I’m listening, I’m getting into what they’re saying and one of them will inevitably drop that piece of shit idiom. Wait, is “idiom” what i want to say? I’ll look it up later. In this coffee shop trip, I want them to just shut up so I can get a moment’s peace and eat my wedge of lemon cake but……I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn the car radio off. It’s….I’m afraid to. It’s a fear. Yet this is not an all-consuming fear, nor an urgent fear, nor a fear which needs dealing with today or ever, more like a casual fear. I know nothing bad will happen if I turn the radio off, I just “choose” not to. The car radio will not turn off unless the car turns off. It’s a kinda “step on a crack” mentality.
Getting back to this whole “end of the day” thing. I have thought of the following phrases to substitute out for the above mentioned hate-ism:
"When all is said and done…" (not much better, but less used)
"When you add everything up…"
"When you get down to it…"
"Inna final analysis…."
"If you consider the big picture…" (ok, this one might not work, but I feel you can never hate something unless you can genuinely think of something better,)
I pull up in front of the house, my father’s house: a small place with windows in front which always reminded me of a boat. The windows are slatted and you open them with handcranks if you sat in one of the two lawnchairs perched in the enclosed porch/mudroom. We’d even started calling it the boathouse, me and Dad. Our codename for his pad.
The boathouse is/was a raised bungalow, larger than it seems on the outside. Two large sets of the handcrank windows, you can imagine black-n-white miniature people from Metropolis turning those handcranks in unison. So many tools for one bank of glass, and obscured by some enormous juniper bushes. He talked about making some bathtub gin from the bushes’ berries, but I guess he never did and ultimately never will. Those bushes were evergreen, so even in the winter he could sit in the living room and do illicit activities, knowing he was far back from the mudroom and partially blocked by the junipers with their hulking powder-blue spiked berries.
The boathouse had/has a basement which gets more light than you’d think. With a raised bungalow, the first floor is actually closer to the second floor and the basement is closer to the first floor, so lotsa light and big windows down there. One whole fridge in the basement was/is stocked with nothing but beer. I wonder what I’ll find when I clean everything out. Part of me is afraid to look, afraid of what my mind will do. Dad alive, the beer was just beer. Dad’s beer. Now, with him gone, I’m afraid my mind will needlessly staple meaning to everything. Was dad saving this beer in the back for a special occasion? What occasion? Should I drink it, should I not? Was it for me and him to share? In what order? What is the most treasured beer in the collection because I want to drink that last. Is this pumpkin ale being saved? It’s way past pumpkin ale season, so was he aging it? Or was it the last of a six pack that just sucked and he didn’t have the heart to throw it away? This random double A battery… what did it go to? Why would he save it? Or is it just here because…….batteries.
I know Mom won’t want to throw anything away, so I took her out of the equation. She’s doing the funeral after-party. I lied to her and said I didn’t want to go because I was “too emotional.” I don’t like lying to her, but I need to clear some things out before she gets here and tries to start saving everything. Like every scrap of rubbish in this place can reconstruct the husband and father and family she pictures.
It won’t work.
It can’t work.
They’ve been apart too long.
The “them” has dissolved, the partnership, marriage, all that. They’re more like people who used to be in a band together and the style of music they made is no longer fashionable. No amount of “stuff” catalogued, stapling meaning to it, can form the man who was my dad. Plus, I don’t want to mingle at the after-party with the stuffed shirts I barely knew putting their hand on my shoulder and shit. You knew my dad? Well you don’t know me, take your filthy hands offa me. It’s so not my style. Plus, Mom can’t really cook. Never could. I don’t want to sit on the couch, choking down her tasteless pasta salad while some mustached stranger assures me everything’s going to be alright. Is it? Is everything gonna be alright? Yeah? Have you tasted this? You get spiral-noodle fork in the eye. Stuffed starched shirt. Collar fuck.
I should probably mention I’m on my period. Aunt Flo, the ol’ redhead come to visit once a month. Just what I needed. Up at that podium on the altar, shifting uncomfortably, trying to say some things about Dad and everyone probably thought I was nervous/grief-stricken or whatever. The issue was I had my little mousefriend up in there, familiar but uncomfortable.
"Hickory dickory dot,
The mouse ran up my twat,
He got a bad angle, the tail did dangle,
Let’s hope the panties don’t blot.”
That would be a helluva eulogy.
Back in the idling car, my boyfriend texts again. I don’t read it. Not now anyway. It’s probably some variation of “Be strong” or “Thinking of you” or “Where’s the cashew butter” like that. I’ll sort through all of them later.
Still in the car. That fear is getting more urgent, so I kill the radio along with the engine and immediately open the door before any vacuum of sadness can fill the car. Walking up the sidewalk I expect to see Dad’s neighbors, but no one’s around. Stan, the guy on the left whom I’ve met a few times, is one of those fishing hat and hiked-up pants guys who obsesses over his lawn. Hybridized fine fescue from Sweden, his grass. Got a weather-rotted rancher fence separating the property line.
Mitch, the guy in the house on the right: I’ve only ever seen him in one of three stages: taking the cover off his car, putting the cover on his car, washing his car. He appears to have added a fourth stage: not at home. Or else he’s hiding in his place out of respect for Dad, chewing his nails because he wants to Armourall his dashboard to orgasm; his. There’s nothing to denote perimeters on his property-line apart from lawn quality. There’s a distinct line of dude’s okay-grass and Dad’s don’t-givva fuck-grass. I’m going to keep with my estimate that neither one of them is home. There’s no motion save a light drizzle on dead leaves. I’ d expect if either one was home they’d be running out falling all over themselves to console me. Or maybe they’re lying in wait, waiting for each other to make the first move so they don’t seem like creeper old dudes trying to take advantage of the bereaved daughter beaver.
It’s late afternoon, that magic time before evening. Too late for lunch but just right to start cocktails. I wonder if Dad has left any gin. None of this seems real, by the way. He’s not gone, he’s just “away.” That’s how it feels. Half a city away, a metal urn with his ashes is on a white painted mantel, being stared at by people with plates full of pasta salad. Flavorless dry pasta salad. But he’s not gone, he’s merely “away.” He’ll be back. And when he comes back, the key in the door will sound like this: Skuh-chunk. Thrunk.
I open the door. Inside: Mess. Dark. And smell. But not an unpleasant smell. Can’t pinpoint it. Just the smell of him. The mess however, I can pinpoint. So I go with the tangibles. Empty glasses laced with beer foam residue. A bowl of pistachio shells. Little scraps of paper, receipts. Notebooks, the dollar ninety-nine ones, some half-open with a phrase or crude cartoon, or series of dialogue. Dad described himself as a pugilist. “I punch up dialogue,” he said. Some screenwriters would write some stuff and he would be called in to punch up and polish these scripts and that’s how he put me through college. Dad was a ghost writer. Now, he’s just a ghost. (Rimshot) That was stupid.
The dialogue would need more “pepper and pop” he would say. He’d flesh out conversations between characters, stretch scenes. Most screenwriters can write stories but they suck at dialogue. My dad was the opposite. He couldn’t come up with any original ideas…. okay he did, but they all turned out to be accidental variations of something already produced…but man, could he riff on dialogue. He was a master of beefing up two people talking about stuff and getting at a root trait or plot point. And mostly it’s uncredited. My dad’s life’s work is mostly behind-the-scenes stuff, much like his extra-curiccullars.
I drop my keys on the coffee table and the impact/vibration sends a pistachio shell to the floor, just missing the Mexican throw-rug. The rug, a gorgeously cheap array of rainbow color swaths evoking New Mexico from a road-trip he had once. Though moth-eaten and faded, the rug still bursts with adventure or alludes to an adventure-in-promise. There’s a patch next to the coffee table’s leg that looks like a mouth; a cantaloupe wedge with threaded teeth, made from years of pulling the rug flat while most of it’s pinned to the floor. A dead leaf has beached itself on the southwest corner.
On the south wall: a green silkscreen print of three Indian horses housed in a rattan frame: he had found it on the street during an evening walk post tacos. Cheap. Beloved.
Warm-white roped Christmas lights wrapping around the pedestals of his mantel, plugged in whenever the sun went down, December or no. They set the mood. I plug them in now, so that they’ll be aglow when the sun goes down and I won’t have to get up. Plus, it seems like a beacon, a lamplight to his memory. To not have them lit is like flying the flag at full mast. Dad’s place needs the damn mood lights plugged in.
His beat-down couch, armrests vomiting cotton, is/was still one of the best things to sleep on. It would rival any futon anywhere anytime for comfort and pass-outability. The pattern on it is floral, nearly grandma-ish, but with the sun-n-moon tapestry across the back (which doubled as a pass-out blanket many a night) it transcended style, it simply WAS. I lay my coat across the back of it, head into the kitchen.
Ecch. Dishes in the sink. I put my hands to my hips and survey the nasty. What was the last thing he ate? How long was he going to let this pan of burnt scramble egg patina soak? Seventeen knives and only three forks. I shake my head and a half-grin takes over my face. I feel a familiar scene unravel before my brain can shut it down. My half-grin used to vex him, but it vexed him adorably. “Kenz,” he would say. “You can let the rest of that smile out.” Then he’d touch the corner of my cheek and I could feel an uncontrollable dimple crease and a blush develop. Every time.
At the funeral there were a number of women neither me nor Mom knew. (Who?) In these situations you always assume they’re past school chums (Are they really?) without ever pursuing the hunch that perhaps something more (A ‘sexy’ more?) is there. (Who were they?) And why dig up? (How can you NOT dig up? This is the time for truth and no more hiding from uncomfortable facts.) What good does it do? (What good can come of ignoring a gnawing question mark?) Who has ever healed by ripping stitches? (Who has healed by turning and ignoring certain….indiscretions?)
Dad’s funeral drew all types of women. One gal was fairly immense, and one could have blown away with the right umbrella. “Put both of ‘em in a bag, shake ‘em up, and pour out an average woman.” That’s something he would say. Many others, unknown women, each with a face and maybe a story. And all with names, signed in a book. One was named Judy. Who is Judy? What was the nature of their contact? Was Judy one of the skinnier women, plain women or big women at the funeral? There were more women than men. I’m not going to do these dishes.
I open the fridge and there’s no light on in the inside. How long has that been out? I take the phone out of my pocket and make it light up. It’s not dark outside, but the angle of the kitchen window allows precious little of the fading overcast light. I see the last text from Teddy: “Be strong. Thinking about you.” Called it. I shine the phone for as long as it lasts over the contents of the fridge, feeling like a crime scene investigator looking for semen. I find it. Gin, not semen. Dad always kept the gin in the fridge. This is a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, barely touched. Was he saving it for a special occas…oh shit, I’m starting to do that. I locate the vermouth and hope it hasn’t oxydized. Unscrew the cap, take a whiff. It’s fine. I trigger the phone light again. Olives. He’s got to have olives. Ooo. Jalapeno stuffed. Huzzah, Dad. Good call.
Top shelf behind the dessert plates, I find the stainless steel cocktail shaker and a cocktail glass. I don’t know why he kept them all the way back there out of the way. The dessert plates rarely got used, whereas the shaker and glasses got used nightly and daily. He could have moved them to a more accessible spot. Why have to move and remove dishes because you won’t rearrange the…..Keeping up appearances even to himself, I guess. Or it was habit from when he lived with Mom.
Ice. The freezer iss snowed over, but the ice bucket is in a well-hollowed cavity. There’s a pint of ice cream captured stock-still in the avalanche, ice crystals sprouted all around the rim from where it burst. It’s on a ledge above the ice bucket never to be rescued. Some darker shapes are imbedded in the ice behind it, equally hopeless. Mint chocolate chip, we hardly knew ye.
Arms full of the kitchen payload, I sink into the couch and spread everything before me. But I forgot something. I sigh, slap my thighs, go back into the kitchen, retrieve a toothpick from the junk drawer, return to my seat, begin the martini ritual Dad had taught me. The ratio is the 1901 recipe, which is 2 capfuls of gin, one capful of vermouth. This is a wetter martini than what’s fashionable present day, but Dad also taught me that vermouth (German for wormwood) packed a body high punch, much like absinthe, whose active ingredient is wormwood. I like the taste of vermouth, or else I’m just accustomed to it, much like someone who’s never had a porter thinks a beer should be yellow and tasteless. A dry martini might eat my pussy harder than the one I’m used to, but I like what I’m used to.
I make a double, which I know will push the limits of the glass but I do it anyway. If some spills, fuck it. I spear only one olive (a martini should either have one olive or three, but three to me is like a damn salad bar kebab) set it in the bottom of the cocktail glass. Three ice cubes tumble into the shaker and I suddenly realize how quiet the house is. It’s like I’ve woken the dog or something. Pulse getting rapid. There’s a remote on the coffee table and I press it, the stereo lights up piece by piece until finally there’s some other sound in the room. The song: “Fannie Mae” by Buster Brown, one of Dad’s old blues tunes. The first words: “I want somebody /what’s wrong with me”
I continue the ritual, pour two capfuls of gin into the belly of the shaker. Then two more, because it’s a double recipe and I had forgotten. Two capfuls of vermouth next. Then I affix the cap onto the lid, place both cap and lid onto the cylinder and… I shake in a waltz signature about seven times, remove the cap and pour through the strainer, drowning the olive which seems to grow larger in the cloudy liquid. The juniper and bitter herb scent stings my nose as I sip. Exotically simple, o martini. You have warmth despite your iciness. My throat seems to enlarge as the alcohol soaks into membranes, grabs hold of my spine with cartoon hands and through some sort of vertebrae asphyxiation, it relaxes me. I toast Dad in mid-air as the second sip goes down, shake my head. He’s gone. This is one of the last times I’ll be in this house, on this couch. The gin works quickly and I realize later…
A buzz wakes me. My eyes are closed? How did that happen? It’s dark and I’m confused. I’m on the couch. Dad’s couch. A light in my pocket. My phone. I pull it out and squint at the new light filling the room. I see a half-bitten olive in the glass before me. I squint at the screen. Teddy. “Mmyeah?”
"Hey. Everything ok? Your mom said to call, she says you haven’t called her since the service."
"Mmyeah. I’m fine. I’m, over at the boathouse. Guess I fell asleep."
"You sure you’re ok?"
"I know, I said I wouldn’t do this."
"Aaaand you’re doing this."
"I know. Are you going to call your mom back?"
"No. No, can you do it for me? Just tell her I’m at Dad’s sorting things out."
"Do it. I’ll blow you when I get home. And swallow."
"(Snort) I’ll hold you to this."
"Kiss kiss. You’re the best."
I hang up. I have a second wind now. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s falling asleep before the sun goes down and waking up after it’s night. I feel like I’ve missed something, some event the rest of the world was privy to. Even if that event was opening a can of Chef Boyardee, I missed out on it by skipping that all-important transition from day to night. I was cheated of a life happening, no matter how mundane. What if the day never comes back again? I would have missed the last minutes of day ever. What’s funny is I could care less about seeing the goddamned sun come up. That transition is for assholes. No one needs that. That only makes you think you could have been sleeping. Waking up at night when you fell asleep during day makes you think you could have been awake.
Fucking Teddy. I love that guy. Sure I’ll blow him. But I’ll forego the swallowing. I feel like if I do it once, he’ll expect it every time. Best to let it be some unattainable horizon for him. It’s best for everybody. Most of all for my gag reflex. Now. Two things: Change the ol’ tampon and find Dad’s stash.
I take my purse into the bathroom. Random hairs everywhere. Dad had no hair on his head, but had a plentiful crop of it everywhere else. He rarely wore sunblock, because it would just smear into his arm hair and leg hair. Messy. Didn’t rub in like for the rest of us. Teddy’s not as hairy, although he could trim his bush a little more often so I wouldn’t have to go fishing for his cock out of a pube nest. Hairs. In Dad’s bathroom. I’m not disgusted. I more feel sorry for him. What could he do? After a while he would have to feel like his own body was against him and not give a fuck anymore. Dad in my gin movie: “I clean up the hairs, the hairs come back. Fuck it.” Good for him. Teddy, you still need to manscape though. Just a little.
I sit on the toilet, pull the tampon out. There’s always a discomfort at the first tug like I’m unsealing a secret scab up in the business. Ridiculous, I know, but tell my brain that. Then there’s the decapitated mouse down there in the bowl, gore trailing off in a thick cloud. Mad props to Teddy for being such a voracious pussy-eater. He loves it, is driven by it and moments like this right before I see a spiraling bloodweb and string whoosh away, I wonder how anyone could want to put their mouth anywhere near girljunk ever. I prep for the next one, the peeling back of the paper, applying the pantyliner, the unwrapping of the new tampon, the sigh of the new insertion with “toxic shock” in the back of my mind the whole time. Ecchh.
It’s funny. Dad loved the desert, the sun. His body had a natural sunblock of hair so he didn’t wear sunblock. And skin cancer got him. That which he loved destroyed him. Allegory. How has that changed me? Well, me and Teddy have been together five years and we’re still not married. He’s tried, I’ve postponed. Dad and Mom didn’t work, why should I believe we will? Whatever we are, I like it for now. Maybe it’ll change to something else later, but if you force it to change to something else before the other person is ready, it’s a recipe for disaster. Maybe a double recipe. Now. I pull the liner-fortified panties up, fix the skirt. Where would Dad keep his kit?
I search the bathroom lazily knowing it won’t be in there. Medicine pantry has mouthwash, toothpaste, bodywash, powdered cleanser, TP, etc. I move to his bedroom. The nightstand has another notebook, open to a page reading “Is she real? Pursuit is bad idea but non-pursuit is recipe for madness.” (Double recipe?) Top drawer has a garishly day-glo green camera bag or something in which I feel a lumpy bonelike something and a soft something. Smells like burnt pork. Paydirt. I take the bag and contents out to the living room. That was none-too-hard. I guess Dad didn’t hide his stash during his final moments. Unzipping, I immediately see a plastic bag of some pretty shit weed and a tacky glass bowl. After sorting out some decent smokeable stuff from the myriad of stems and seeds, I get enough to pack the bowl. It’s a bad hippie nightmare of a bowl, blown-glass and colored yellow, with swirls of blue and white. Crap, but at least it’s got a carb hole, which is more than I can say for the first stone bowl I bought in college. Lighter?
Me. Smoking my Dad’s weed. In his house. The day of his funeral. He would approve. And I have a martini. He’s “smiling down” whatever that means. The familiar burn on the thumb-spot, which no amount of guitaring will numb. And I’ve tried. My father is a man with appetites and passions I will never understand. But I get his thing with the weed. He and I share that creative headspace when we alter ourselves. Mom couldn’t. He told me one time about how he tried to give Mom pot brownies and she woke up for work the next day thinking someone was clawing the inside of her skull and she repeatedly asked him if she was going to die. So when I went to college he told me that story and then said matter-of-factly, “Yeah, so this is the thing about weed and you have a 50/50 chance of it being really great and a creativity tool or you could be allergic. I’m not going to tell you what to do, just be aware these are the two options and make your own decisions based on that.”
Self medication. Not for everybody. Dad and I have always been responsible with our herb intake. Never missed a shift at work, never late to anything, never flaked out on plans. Libertarians, us. Where that’s concerned. Coming home from college and getting baked on Dad’s couch. Great times. It softened the blow of he and Mom’s separation. Made it make a little more sense. And now that he’s gone it seems like a brave decision. The proactive happy approach. Owning it. There’s only this life and we’re not going to suffer cogs that don’t mesh. Gotta end it.
Oh, how we laughed our asses off. Years and identities melted away. We were one singular voice and vision cackling on the couch. I’ll never hear his laugh again. I mean in memory I’ve got several, but a new peal of laughter will never drop. I imagine a grape raisining on the vine. That’s Dad’s laugh. Withered. Gone. Still there, but dead and soon to be thrown away. The schwag has a little potency after all, or else it’s the gin and weight of the day all cloaking me. I get stirrings.
I have an urge to go to the bar a few blocks down, to flirt. Maybe even make out with a guy. Nah. I have a tampon in. And I have Teddy. The Urge is still there. I can ignore the Urge, but the Urge is standing there in the hallway. It needs an RSVP. I’m sure other people don’t even get a visit from the Urge. I feel bad that I even have to deal with it, but I didn’t invite the fucker in the first place. He just shows up. Some nights I turn him down, some nights I give in. It’s a struggle. It helps to have a tampon to fall back on.
I have no idea how guys say no to the Urge at all. I sometimes wish Teddy would cheat on me so I could identify with him, relate to the Urge. And I could make fun of the skank he took home. But he doesn’t seem to even be aware of the Urge. He’s so damned polite. I need it to balance myself, but I wish he would be a little dark and selfish in the bedroom sometimes. Tear my clothes off, bite my nipples, turn me over, put it in my ass because it’s his idea, his Urge. It seems like he’s too eager to do whatever for me, too giving. I want him to take. Take me. Throw me down, collapse on top of me with his manweight, drive into me, thrust away as his lust gallops and overrides his brain. Lose himself. So I won’t feel bad when I do it.
I contemplate opening a window but the paranoia of having two weird neighbors smell the potsmoke overrides the fear of having Mom smell it when she comes over tomorrow to clean and organize. It’s Dad’s place, it’s Dad’s blame. I can justify. I’ll spill some cleaning chemicals before she gets here, cover my tracks. She’s got a powerful nose, Mom. I could go to the bedroom, but the boathouse’s couch is what cushions my sleeping form this evening.