Sylvester (Volume 1)

Prologue

People call me Sil, I guess because I’m a pretty friendly person, like the type of guy people give a nickname to.  People tend to smile at me most of the time.  True, they may just be smiling in response to my smile, because I smile a lot, but what’s the difference?  Who cares where it started, we’re both smiling now, and that’s cool.

I get a lot of joy out of my life, and one of the biggest pieces of it comes from making people smile and commune with me.  That sounds pretentious, or it might, but I just mean I that I like to hang out with people, like watch TV, and simply enjoy their presence.

All through school, though solitary much of the time, I was never a lonely kid.  I always had lots of buddies and even now there are many people who I have nicknames for, which has to be some sort of friendship barometer.  In high school all my good friends had nicknames.  There was Nooty, Crunch, Dummy, Crocket, and me.  I was known by several nicknames myself: Professor, Cardinal, Backwards, MC, and any combination of these names (the most popular of which were MC Backwards and Professor Cardinal).

The thing about this though, is that nicknames can be artificial.  You give someone a nickname so that every time you greet them you do it with a kind of friendship marker, and because without this the two of you could drift apart without knowing it.  Sometimes, though, people who give each other nicknames drift apart just the same.  Next thing you know, people you consider friends and who you refer to as if they are friends are actually sick of you.

I tell myself that if people were sick of me I’d know, because I think I know people pretty good.  But knowing people well as I think I do doesn’t actually fill me with confidence that they are being honest with me.  I feel like the more I become familiar with people the less I understand about them.

My whole life it’s seemed like I’m a born sucker, I’ve just always been so accommodating.  I can never refuse anyone anything, or at least that’s how it seems sometimes.  Anytime someone’s asked me to close my eyes I’ve closed them right away, so what does that tell you?  The correct answer to the direction “close your eyes” should probably end with a question mark, but I just do it.  I don’t wanna say I’m like a pushover, but maybe I am, I guess that’ll be your call.

But anyway, I bet even if people who know me saw me stomping fast toward them with a knife in my hand and a violent sneer, they’d just be confused.  They’d probably knit their eyebrows and tilt their head to the side.  “Hey Sil, what’s with the knife?”

Not that I would do that or have ever done that, I mean stab someone I know or intend to stab someone I know, because I haven’t and I can’t think of a reason I would.  I can’t think of a reason I might march at a person with a knife even if they’d wronged me, because it’s just not like me.  If for some reason I was hurrying towards someone who knew me wielding a blade, they would probably think I was just really eager to return the knife I’d borrowed from them, even if they couldn’t remember lending it to me.  Point is, I’m a pacifist and a gentle soul.

Though I could probably attempt some reasoned underpinning of my pacifism, the truth is that I’m just not made for violence.  I guess I’m a big fan of violence in movies, TV shows, comic books, regular books, and cool stories people tell me on the subway, but I’ve never welcomed bloodshed into my real life.

Other people don’t really have a choice, and that’s their bad luck.  If you grew up with a father that hit you and a mother that didn’t care, that sucks and I guess I wouldn’t blame you as hard for any violent tendencies you might have, but I still wouldn’t like it if you were a violent person.

But I’m also sure that peaceful people like me are driven to kill all the time, and I sometimes wonder what some enemy of mine would need to do for me to make an attempt on their life.  I bet even if someone killed my mom, whom I love completely, I’d just call the cops.  I probably wouldn’t even strike them.  I’m a teddy bear and everyone knows it.

I say that everyone knows it because I’m a pretty known quantity in my neighborhood; I work at the grocery store.  It’s a small grocery store and the margins aren’t that big, but we’ve got a steady flow of regular business.  I call it “my store” because I pretty much run the ship at Harvest Time, the grocery store at the end of my block.

I started working at Harvest Time when I was a fifteen-year-old little stock boy, and I guess I’ve always liked it.  All the people from the neighborhood come in just for eggs or milk, and they see me and smile.  “Hey!  Sil, what’s new?”  and I tell them about new choice cuts of beef we got or we got a new batch of honey crisps or something and they’re like “great, gimme a bag of the apples and a half pound a’ meat” and I wrap it up for them, it’s nice.  It’s a nice thing to be able to give people what they ask for when they ask for it, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Anyway, now I manage the place and all the regulars know me by name, even if they think it’s Silvio, because it’s really Sylvester, but that’s fine.  Sil’s good enough for me.  I loved The Sopranos when it was on and Silvio was one of my favorite characters next to Tony and Dr. Melfi.

And nothing would happen if I made a big stink like “Hey, just so you know, it’s Sylvester, not Silvio.”  I bet they’d go “Okay Sil,” and then just go on with the nickname, so I’m fine with it.  Everybody calls me Sil and they know I’m the friendly guy down at the market, and that seems good enough for me.  I think just to be known as the nice guy, the guy who most everyone pretty much likes, that’s a good life to live.

I live in Chicago, in Lincoln Square on the north side, and it’s a friendly neighborhood full of lots of dogs and babies, which I enjoy.  I like when I see a cute new puppy or a baby in a stroller and they look at me at the same time I look at them and they smile.  Well, dogs don’t really smile I guess because their jaws aren’t made like that, but their eyes kind of brighten and they make a little sound that I associate with happiness, so I call it smiling and who’s gonna stop me?

Anyway it’s pretty peaceful most of the time in my neighborhood, people shuffling from one thing to the other, so quiet it’s like they’re not touching the ground, everybody going about their day.  One thing kind of makes me a little sad now and again, well not sad exactly, but kinda.  I’m 35 years old, and I know it shouldn’t effect me like it did when I was young, but girls like to look at the ground rather than at me, it seems.

I’m fat, that’s the first thing, and my face isn’t great either.  I have a kind of a snub nose and my forehead’s pretty greasy; it always looks like I’m sweaty.  I’ve heard lots of times from people trying to cheer me up tell me that I’ve got a nice smile and my hair is soft, but that doesn’t seem to help me with the ladies.

It makes me frustrated, being so objectionable to women just because of my face and my gut, and sometimes it makes me wish someone would just grab them by the shoulders and talk to them in a way they would listen to.  But I don’t even know what that would be.  “Maybe that this guy, Sil, he has qualities you can’t see, and qualities that they might not even know to look for, but you’d like ‘em if ya just—“ and that’s where I lose them even in my imagination.

I don’t know what I’d tell women about myself.  “I’m Sil and I work at the grocery store on Lawrence.  If you’ve ever been there you’ve probably seen me, and I’ve got good news, I’m on the market in more ways than one.”

They’d probably say “Yeah I know you are, or could have guessed you are, and you’re a very nice man, but I actually have a husband.”  And they’d say that even if they were really single, because that’s what girls do.  It’s a fascinating ethical dilemma, come to think of it.   How do you let someone off gently, if you’re not attracted to them?

Logically, the most direct method is the way to go, simple and honest like ripping off a band-aid.  But the temptation to lie must be so great, a line running in your head saying “he’s a really nice guy but I’m not attracted to him, I gotta say something encouraging.”  So they lie in some situations, and I think their lies are perfectly reasoned and just.  I’ve read philosophers who talk about lying like it’s always bad, and logically I see their point, but I don’t think they talk about the world as it really is.

I mean, what do you do in that situation?  I mean what do you tell a guy who you’re not attracted to when he asks you out, I mean if he’s a nice guy and you don’t wanna hurt his feelings?  You tell him you’re already attached, thinking he’ll snap his fingers and lower his head in frustration, saying “ah, nuts, not again.”

I’d just become really fed up with it.  Disappointment, shame, helplessness, I was just so tired of it.  So I say alright, I get it now.  I’ll just stop trying, and I do, pretty much all the time, which works well for me.

But this system doesn’t really work a hundred percent of the time, because despite learning the same lesson over and over again, I will at some point try to ask someone out.  It always goes the same, I see a twinkle in some girl’s eye and I blow it way out of proportion, and then next thing I know I’m getting’ turned down for a date again.  Maybe one of these days the clouds will part and she’ll be standing in front of me, but I’m not holding my breath and I don’t need to, because I’ll be fine either way.

And if reading this you’re making certain assumptions about me, I’ll tell you that yes, you’re correct, I do live with my mother.  Though as she says and I sometimes believe, “I don’t live with her, she lives with me,” semantics don’t really mean much.  I jumped at the chance to have her live with me, and apart from my four years at Cornell College (a tiny liberal-arts school in Iowa), I’ve always lived with her.  I can say that she needs a place to stay and I’m the perfect person to supply it, which is ostensibly the reason I proffer her room and board, but if I were speaking to you face to face my timid voice and darting eyes would tell you that this is not the case.  The truth is that I love her wholly, and wouldn’t have her live anywhere else.

This is not to say that there aren’t things about her that aggravate me or that we never conflict, because there are and we do, but never in a really major way.  A typical conflict between us would arise if I forgot to set the timer to tape Price is Right in the morning, which never happens anymore.  Her name is Alexandra Mull, and from the floral dresses she wears everyday like a circus wears a tent to the way she is absolutely always ready to whip me up a fresh grilled cheese, it seems like she was made to be a mother.

Of course I would say that, being her son, and her’s is the picture next to the word “mother” in my mind.  She’s my mom, and she can never be anything else to me.  I guess that could seem like a pretty stifling existence, to some.  For the rest of your life you have nothing else to do but simply be a mother, it sounds kind of depressing when I lay it out like that.  But it’s not depressing, or it doesn’t seem to be, as I see many people in my day-to-day life who seem to be infinitely exploding with the joy of motherhood.

What if they’re not though?  I mean really, what if they’re just so sick of crying and dealing with leakages and a little monster that it makes them bitter?  I’ve seen news stories and episodes of midday talk shows about women who hate their babies or drown their babies in rivers, so I guess there’s always outliers, but by and large I think most mothers are pretty loving.

Anyway my mother is extremely loving and loves me a lot, and I live with her, and she lives with me, so that’ll probably give you an indication of my romantic prospects, which are few and far between.

But anyway this is just a little introduction to me, laying out for you who I am and what I do.  I’ve also kind of done a little preparation for the story I’m about to tell, I also might have just done some foreshadowing, but you’ll have to find that out.

Sylvester (Volume 1)

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