News: Dummy Falls Down on his Stupid Face in Front of Everybody

Dummy Falls Down on His Stupid Face in Front of Everybody

by: Andrew Halter

Chicago, IL — Andrew Halter, fledgling journalist and part-time stand-up comedian, looked like an idiot last Thursday when his right toe clipped the curb in front of the Walgreens at Foster and Lincoln, causing him to drop his bag of candy and painfully exclaim “Dammit!”

Most of the 11 bystanders who witnessed the event declined to comment on how foolish Halter seemed, brushing Swedish Fish off the same jeans he wears everyday, preferring instead to look at the sky as though they’d not witnessed Andrew’s humiliation.

“Yeah that was pretty funny I guess,” remarked David Grant, local father of five, after witnessing the doofus peel himself off the asphalt.

Immediately after falling, Halter tried to gather himself as quickly as he could and walk away, though he could not hide the painful limp in his stride.

When authorities attempted to reach Halter for comment, he yelled “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” before slamming into the nearby Lincoln bus stop kiosk as he attempted to hurry away.

Upon hearing him walk into the bus stop, Margaret Atwood, grandmother of twelve, was unable to keep herself from audibly guffawing at the silly boob as he hobbled down the sidewalk toward his apartment.

“I’m sorry,” Atwood explained as she attempted to cover her mouth with her right hand, “it was funny, I feel bad for him though.”

Douglas and Jerry Ignacio, local high schoolers who also witnessed the disturbance were less kind, remarking that “(the) bit*h better watch where he’s going.”

Reports say that after he got back to his apartment, Halter turned off the lights and watched Fargo on Netflix under his heavy comforter, vowing to never again mention the occurrence.

 

News: Dummy Falls Down on his Stupid Face in Front of Everybody

Poem: Becoming

Way home from Tony’s, eggs and Halava in a plastic bag, a brilliant moment exploded,

a Toyota ripped down the street, screeched and ejected a passenger, a frantic fat man undoing his pants

wearing the expression you know, he is frenzy want and need, one that left the car running

frantically panting, as if in a trance, I just took it.

 

I was only 15, and I don’t know where it came from, this conception

that rules don’t mean anything, and penalty is only consequence, catch me if you can,

I just drove, knowing no one was looking for me, until I abandoned in two blocks adjacent

scampering through bush over fence.

 

I was free of it, my decision, and I only wonder what I’ve wrought back then,

how much inconvenience, and perhaps pointlessly missed the birth of his son, or some likewise calamity

I’ll never know or care probably, as it shakes out in memory, realize that reality is what you say

that I didn’t really, I wish I had, don’t you?

Poem: Becoming

Poem: Anniversary

The big day started as big days do

with a whimper, exultant pulling from a bottle

bubbly of poison, morphing itself by the pound

into savage recompense for arrogant sins

that opened the door, for her to step through

calling me a loser, or maybe revealing

the truth of it, that I cannot shield a viper

from its own poison, but she stares at me

with hurt and disappointment, shivering at loving hands

as they caress the past, calling it a lie.

 

This poem was supposed to be about

the night of a chilly wind, smelling sparkle

dots on all sides while we fell

into each other, on the sidewalk

half a decade to the day ago, but I am poison

piss and blood, ruining everything

because I’m a fuck up

less than suitably whatever, swiping at spider

webs, hands not hot enough

to do any good, the legs and the poison

are everywhere, horrifying with love, hate, and history

in equal measure, the links of covalence.

 

Also called codependence, and it makes me

sick every time I fail her, giving her less

always than what she asks, calling it a need

moves me not into the greatness

over the horizon, is this fear or incompetence

I wonder, or maybe it is bitter

punishment for every insult paid

me by a callow cur, as it serves

her right to treat me this way, I will rise

to expectations, eventually I hope

someday, but in the fire of her eyes

I see a skunk, turning and raising its tail.

 

Five years in I disappoint the day

with truckloads of bullshit, but she caresses

my face and digs in my back

with pleasure, gazing down

a gentle spell cast wordless

soothing sounds, omit the logic

leaving me with love, future fumbles

await me as a flogging scourge, and I’m ready

so bring it on, forever onward, I’ll never turn

back, onward to the future sun.

Poem: Anniversary

Poem: New Experiences

oison, everything where stagnant, radar razor

searching dogs, swirls around above

within and without, it has dimensions unpredicted

ill prepared for and insulted thus, like steam off skin

spilling fumes, what poison the soul

in times of strife, don’t let seductive deduction

fog your mind, and never forget the struggle.

 

Remember that speech class?

 

Nice one, doofus, serves you right

to watch yourself, thinking you sound like a retard

because you do, but the top mind is uncluttered

with such considerations now.

 

My coma gave me an accent, irresistible to those

who hand out cookies at Subway, curiously

deceptive well-wishers, like parents and friends

who don’t call anymore, as if I would want

a babbling brook at my bedside, emotions and experiences

lived and felt as new, because they are new.

Poem: New Experiences

Poem: My Fucking Story

I want to write like Henry Miller

but I’m too timid, never having uttered

the word cunt before, except referentially

to the term, not speaking of that

special thing I’ve come to know, tangentially

anyway, I’ve made it’s acquaintance

but it hasn’t spilled onto my pages

yet, they’re clogged with oil

and ceremonial masks, tipping bowls

of blood, I silently speak

volumes to myself, about the pain

I endured at the hospital,

in downcast eyes and words

not spoken, I know what I sound like.

 

My brain was damaged

traumatically and I know

I sound like a retard, because

I heard a recording of myself,

sick making of the time I said

it wasn’t me, I don’t sound

like that but I can see you

being curious, if I say

I was in a coma for 6 weeks

after the car accident I almost

didn’t survive you’ll be interested,

and I fuckin’ hate that.

 

I bet you like this poem now,

because it’s honest, but that’s not it

really, that’s what we all call

morbid curiosity, and when you

ask me after if my words

are true, will it excite you

when I tell you they are?

I bet it will, because you are nasty

little pussy ears, aren’t you?

 

I isn’t your fault, though, it is natural

a response to the interest, compounding

double time drama, think of me

in the white prison of smiles

gentle toning, clawing the ceiling

with my eyes, learning to walk

talk and think again, varying degrees

of success, that’s one of the jokes

that made me a hit of the ICU,

also an outpatient superstar

for 6 months, then I went back

to college for 3 years finishing

a useless paper piece, a diploma

I don’t even look at, because I don’t

know where it is, and who cares?

Poem: My Fucking Story

Poem: The Secret

The key it seems is not to write

as it seems you should, or describe

your world, or even your perception

perverted by the lenses

laying over your mind, sealing eyes

shut striking deaf, dumb as never is

your problem on the page,

but the words are choking

raspberry sorbet, too sweet

to utter in the day, or nighttime

in sickening rhymes, dry heaving

barrels of iron over the wall

like strongman contests, Austrian

freak muscles giving their lives

meaning for eighteen minutes, on ESPN

in the morning, when I was ten

filling with dread, and what in hell

was it all for anyway, who cares?

 

I used to hate school, but none would

ever guess, the secret in my smiles,

I was a god boy, smart like a whip

sharp cracking, my teeth shone

brown cavitied, for brushing was a bore

I did not care, about painful procedures

or all the lost hours, taking the bus

to the orthodontist on Tuesday

after school, polishing Krispy Kremes

in a dumpster with my homework

pencils, stuck in imaginations throat

twisting with glee, wrenching till

I didn’t even notice it, my own dying

death of spirit, thinking it was me

wanting to supplicate, crying

because I didn’t care enough,

but I was lucky, growing strong

flexible and artistic, I know now

I should never have gone back

to college after the accident.

 

Social psychology is bullshit

like all art classes, english too

unless it’s called “appreciation,”

because that’s all it teaches

you to do, loving what none can

create cause it’s been done,

so get a mentor and you’ll see

it’s all like jazz, sounding the same

every time unless you’re alive

inside, with a library pulse

it will soak in, but I was even

worse, a philosophy major

staring into the void, asking

what it all means though bones

know the secret, the number

zero, calculating the secret

in the stars, go to sleep.

Poem: The Secret

Sylvester (Volume 9)

When I arrived at Harvest Time that day at one thirty I was surprised to find Boss Jorge standing in front of the entrance holding his arms open.  “Your ma was a wonderful lady,” he boomed as he grabbed my shoulders and held me at arms length.  I could tell by his expression that he was squeezing me as hard as he could, and he was very weak.

He was trying to pull me in closer, so I opened my arms and hugged him back.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he spoke with compassion.

I hugged him tight, which I assume he took to mean I was trying to stifle a sob, but actually meant that I was suppressing a giggle.  I’d heard Boss Jorge say these exact words in the exact same tone of voice at many times in the past, but now they were slower, and it was funny.  It was the type of funny you can’t admit to anyone, but he sounded like Mr. Rodgers now.

I worked hard to successfully stifle my laughter, because I didn’t want to laugh at the way Boss Jorge spoke.  Boss Jorge had a minor stroke only eighteen months previous, after which he’d been back to work in just four weeks.  I told him it was too soon to come back, but he said he would “die on his feet.”  In the time since I heard him say this, I had often thought that his vertical death was immediately imminent.

Though he’d been a whirling dervish of a man in his younger days, he was 68 years old now, and he seemed to be melting.  The skin over his eyebrows appeared loose and his jowls were so long they looked like mud flaps.  His signature black curls had been growing lighter since 1995, and now they were white, which made him appear far gentler.  Guadeloupe had even remarked that he was “handsomer” now.

Guadeloupe and I agreed that he no longer looked like a computer or a communist overlord, now he looked like a very old tree; specifically a Weeping Willow.  We’d chuckled to each other when things were slow that the pockmarks and crags that decorated his checks looked like bird’s nests.  There was a boil on the tip of his nose that had grown so large and jagged we called it Widow’s Peak.

For all the nicknames and private jokes we shared amongst each other, all those well acquainted with Boss Jorge held him in the highest esteem.  Many of his employees loved him, I’m sure, I know I did.

So Boss Jorge, placing his hand on my shoulder, ushered me into the store as smoothly as he could manage.  Harvest Time was mostly empty, which was normal for a Tuesday afternoon, and Guadeloupe was the only cashier working.  I stood at her side as she checked out her last few customers, and she gave me a doleful look, grimacing and shaking her head slowly.  This indicated that she’d heard of my mothers death, but didn’t really feel like offering any condolences out loud, which I appreciated.

Boss Jorge’s meaty yet soft hands directed me to my office in the back of the store.  “We need to talk,” he said, “this might not be the correct time, but we have business.”

This was a phrase I’d heard Jorge say many times before, and based on the inflection he used, I could usually tell what we would talk about.  If he said the word “Talk” short and sharp, it meant I was about to be reprimanded; if he emphasized “We,” it meant I would have to fire someone; and if he pronounced “Business” more loudly than any of the other words, it meant I was getting an “Atta Boy,” and maybe even a raise.  This time, however, I couldn’t tell.

“I am going back to Mexico,” Boss Jorge said, glancing at the floor underneath drooping eyelids.  “I don’t want to, but the doctors—“

As his speech cut out, he landed heavily in the armchair before my computer, emitting an audible “Oof” as he did so.  Automatically, or rather instinctively, I bent over, clutching at his shoulder as he landed with a type of thud that shook the chair.  I said “Whoa,” as if he would somehow fall through his seat to the ground.

He took his right hand and placed it over mine, so that my knuckles could feel the thin rough skin of his palms. He cackled bitterly.  “The doctors tell me I need to stay home and drink tea on a porch swing all day, and you know,” he looked up into my eyes, before sputtering into hacking coughs and covering his mouth with a handkerchief.  He looked at the ground, and his voice softened as he clearly felt defeated.  “I am retiring this year and going back home to spend time with my family, and I want to put you in charge.”

He was staring at me as he told me this news, so I smiled, acting as excited as I could.  “In charge of the store?”

“In charge of everything,” he said, glancing at the floor.  “My son don’t care.”

Jorge brought his wrist down on to the table slowly, letting his hands lay on their palms, limp.  Boss Jorge’s son, Eduardo, had been someone I’d liked the few times I’d met him.  There was once at what I think was probably a new year’s eve party we were introduced.  Eduardo had gone to a good college and was by all accounts a well-liked and productive member of society, but he did not have the passion for retail that his father did.  We talked about “The grind,” as we called it; that is, dealing with the daily ins and outs of dealing with even a small retail conglomerate, and he said it made him feel like he was dead.  This was heartbreaking for Boss Jorge.

“Your son,” I said the only thing that I could think of to say, because it was exactly the same as what he’d just said, “Don’t care?”

I could hear the air whistle out of his nose as he exhaled, and I could hear it trail off into silence.  The whistle sounded like a strong breeze zipping through abandoned railroad ties in a wasteland.  “No, my son, my son don’t care.”

“Well that can’t be all bad,” I began, automatically, because it was the kind of thing I’d thought a father would want to hear.  It was an insensitive thing to say, I realized then because Boss Jorge reacted with rage.  I’d seen his rages countless times in the past, and when he was younger it seemed like anything could make it bubble in him, but this was different.

He stood up, looking me straight in the eyes, and punched the top of his desk as hard as he could.  “He is supposed to have pride in us, what our family has created.”  He raised his fist and slammed it knuckles first, onto the surface of his desk.  The pain must have been tremendous, because when he next looked up at me his eyes were full of mist.

I didn’t know what to do.  Thank god, at that exact moment, my cell phone rang.  At times, I’d considered downloading various joke ringtones, like the opening lines of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played in belches, and at that moment I was very glad I’d never done that.

I pulled the phone out of my pocket and stepped outside the office, holding one finger up to indicate I’d only be a moment.  As I did, I could hear Boss Jorge land heavily on his chair as both his palms slapped the top of his desk at the same time.

“What happened, are you okay?”  The moment I heard Sonia’s voice crack through the phone an inappropriate smile broke over my face.

I suddenly was wracked by guilt, realizing how quickly and without warning I’d left Sonia’s house, I thought about what I could say to gloss over my actions.  I searched my mind, trying to think of some explanation, before realizing the perfect response had already been dropped into my lap.  “My mom is dead.”

Sonia responded at first with what felt to me like a long lingering silence.  The longer the silence became the more comfortable I was with it.  The quiet stretched for what seemed like minutes, and I languished in it, happy for the respite.  “I’m, uh, sorry,” she said first, before realizing what may have been a faux pas and restating her assertion.  “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, but I’m fine.”  I responded, automatically.  I didn’t know if I really was fine, but it seemed like the right thing to say so I said it.  “What’d you want?”

She seemed taken aback at first,  “Uh, I’m—uh, and, um, I’m—” she sputtered and coughed while she tried to arrive at her first word.  When it finally came, her words flew easily.  “I just wanted to tell you that I really liked our time together, and if you still wanted to you could come over tonight and we could work on my material before my show at Gallery Cabaret tonight, that’s all. But I understand, you probably have other things to do, tonight.”

“No I don’t actually, and I’d love to come.”  This sentiment spilled out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about it.  When I did think about, I realized why it had.  “After I wrap up here and call some people I need to call, I’ll be at your place, and we can write some comedy.”

As soon as I finished speaking, Sonia’s thunderous laugh burst through the phone.  I’d heard it many times since I’d been getting to know her, and I wasn’t getting tired of it.  “Write some comedy, sounds like a good euphemism for sex.”

I guffawed, doubling over with laughter that shook me from the spine.  Embarrassed, I peered up at Guadeloupe and the customer she was serving, peering at me with one eyebrow raised higher than its partner.  “Yeah,” I spoke softly, embarrassed now, “I’ll see you soon.”

In a voice more tender than I’d heard from her before, Sonia said, “Looking forward to it,” and hung up.  Walking back to my office, ready to tell Boss Jorge, as quickly as I could manage, that I had to go home and deal with funeral arrangements.  I felt like I was floating.

As soon as I opened the door Boss Jorge asked me what the call was about.  “Nothing really, or nothing—“ I suddenly realized that my most pressing concern was to get out of the door, so I changed tactics.  “It’s just family stuff, so you think I could go home?”

Boss Jorge looked disappointed, though resigned to the fact I was dealing with the death of my mother.  “Oh okay, yes,” he said, watching the ground.

I felt for Boss Jorge, as it seemed like the aspirations he had for the the future were likely crumbling to dust, but I had my own hopes.  If I’d had the presence of mind to consider it, I’d have realized that he was trying to hand me the reigns of his business empire, but my mind was elsewhere.  “We will discuss it soon, but—“ it seemed cold, then, even to me, but I could not deny the strength of my own desire.  “I have to go and figure out funeral arrangements.”

“Yes, yes, we will talk,” I could hear his bones creak and his tendons stretch as he collapsed back onto the seat.  “Sorry for your loss.”

His shoulders and arms were held in a posture indicating he intended to hug me again, but I turned from him and left the office, saying “Thanks for your concern.”  I didn’t know and hadn’t considered whether I was being rude or not, as I figured that any slight I gave would be quickly forgiven.

 

I arrived at Sonia’s house roughly twenty-five minutes after I left Harvest time, having stopped at Walgreens for a small bottle of brandy.  It had already been kind of a heavy period of drinking for me, so I figured it was as good a time as any to give myself over to the Beast.  The Beast, a term I’d used at times for my mother’s alcoholism, was now an umbrella term for many different things.

The Beast was compulsion itself, and it had me.

I knew I should’ve been calling my aunts and uncles, and cousins and their kids, but the Beast told me it could wait.  I didn’t feel like I needed their tones of voice right now, angry at me for “enabling” my mother, as they’d been before and I assumed they would be again.  I could just imagine what they’d say when they find out my mother died of alcohol poisoning, which is what I assumed to be the case.  Their half-heartedly hidden smiles would make me gag every second, like they know they could’ve saved her if it wasn’t for me.

I trotted chirpily up the front steps to Sonia’s door.  I knocked on the wood with a smile, but my offer of brandy ran into a block of concrete.  “What, you think I’m a drunk?”

Her voice was flat and her finger outstretched toward the bottle I’d brought.  Her eyes told me she was not kidding, so I thought fast.  “No this is for me, you think there’s enough for you, too?”  I smiled, trying to create a funny moment.

Her expression, which had been a grim scowl, softened into spongecake.  I felt an instant wave of relief as she stepped forward and hugged me.  “I’m sorry for your loss,” she spoke softly, pressing herself into me.

I could tell from the way her eyes had been downcast that she wasn’t so open to joking as she had been the night before, so I tried to speak seriously.  I held her shoulders at arms length.  “She’d been on her way out for a long time, good a time as any, I guess,” I said, attempting to quickly indicate that I wasn’t really all that sad.

This statement may seem cold to some, I know, to say that your mother’s death didn’t really bum you out much, but I think it’s a good goal to strive for.  Ideally, after you die, those whom you loved when alive will remember you fondly for just a moment, everyday when they wake up, and then forget you.

I think it’s a good goal to strive for, not being a burden on the hearts of those you leave behind.  After I’m dead, I don’t want the work of being someone else’s baggage.

“Yeah I guess,” she said, picking up an empty glass off of her front room table.  “I didn’t really know my mom, so, I guess it was really—“

“Yeah I know, I guess I didn’t really know mine either, towards the end.”  I said, realizing how drunk I was, I thought that I might be getting away from myself.  I poured another glass of cheap brandy.  “She was so drunk all the time,” my head dropped as I whimpered faintly, “I didn’t even know her those last years.”

I dropped my head, bringing my chin to meet my chest.  I walked out of her kitchen and took my shoes off before laying down on the couch resting head face first on the couch cushion.

I realized something the moment my face hit the couch.  I was mourning my mother, who died decades ago, not the drunk who died in my house that morning.  I wept, but not for my mother, the alcoholic co-dependent, why did it have to be my responsibility to see her well?

I cried, sobbing tears like I hadn’t in years.  This sobbing lasted only seconds, as I collected myself “—but you said you didn’t really know your mom?  Why was she real distant?”

“She died when I was eight.”

I laughed.  It was an automatic reaction at first, but  when I saw her lips start to curve into a grin, we both laughed without shame.  “My father died when I was two!”

That was when, for the first time, Sonia asked me a question about my life.  “How’d he die?”

I grinned as I chirped back right away, “I don’t know!”

We screamed with joy into each others faces, just laughing.  We have reflected on this time, each remarking to the other about how odd it was.  Eventually the laughter died down and the room was filled with a pause.  “My mom killed herself.”

After Sonia revealed this piece of information, the room was silent.  “So, we both have dead parents.”

Sonia looked back at me curiously, “Yup.”

“Maybe we can write some jokes about dead parents.”

I listened as she made ticking noises with her tongue against her teeth.  Eventually she answered calmly and confidently.  “Yeah okay.”

Sylvester (Volume 9)

Sylvester (Volume 8)

All right, when did she die?  This was the first calm thing I thought to myself after I found my mother dead, because I couldn’t remember her groaning or stirring as I lifted her to the couch, so she might have already been dead.  I might have lifted my mother’s corpse over my shoulder and dumped it on her bed, or she might have been unconsciously hanging on when I’d moved her.  It didn’t make any difference to me.

It was 11:13 PM when I checked on my mother for the first time since I dumped her on her bed, and I found a dead body.  Upon discovering the death of my mother, I gasped and fell into the wall behind me, striking it with my shoulders at the same time and forcefully enough that I knocked the wind out of myself.  The sensation of it was nostalgic, calling to my mind instances from childhood when I’d felt the same thing.  I’d often slipped off the swing set in the backyard and landed painfully on my back; I remembered staring up at the sky watching the empty swing I’d been riding twist in the wind, gulping air to fill my empty chest.

I’d just lay there for what felt like fifteen minutes, waiting for my mother, who I knew had been watching me, to come to my rescue.  When she didn’t, I flipped over, erecting myself and hurrying back to Mom in a huff.  “Why didn’t you help me?”

She picked up the pitcher of tea from the table in front of her, retrieved her cup of ice cubes, and slowly began to fill it.  She tipped the pitcher as gradually as she could, and I watched the level of liquid in the glass rise gradually while she peered up at me and smiled.  When it was full she lifted the glass to her lips and took a pirate captain’s swig of it, sighing loudly after she did.  “You’re ten, you had a good run.”

This was my mother’s sense of humor, and thinking of it my eyes started to water.  I had laughed, and she’d responded by grabbing my rib cage with both hands and tickling me furiously.  I remembered pleading for her to stop, knowing that she wouldn’t right away, at least until we’d both had our fill.  I remembered looking up at her, watching as her smile became wider and madder.  Her pudgy face lit up, and her teeth glowed bright white as she cackled.

I fell against the wall staring at the dead body on my mother’s bed, and a single sob almost burst through my lips and seeped out of my eyes, but I strangled it down.  I made two solitary yelping sounds back to back, like a rim shot, and put my hand over my mouth.  I looked at the ground as my wrist hit the front of my chest and I crossed the fingers of my hands so hard that it hurt.

I grimaced as my back slid downward against the wall, and my ass landed on the floor with a painful thump.  I sat there for a period of indeterminate length, remaining still and allowing sadness to fill me like water fills a balloon.

My Mom was dead, finally, and all I wanted was to play Scrabble with her.  The guilt I felt, that I’d not made it back sooner almost bowled me over.  What if she’d been waiting by the game board for hours, praying that I’d burst through the door, and I never had?  Would that, I wondered, have given her the motivation to drink herself to death?

I started to hit myself, pounding my fist into my right thigh and left shoulder, and then turned around to face the wall.  I put my palms up to it, as if testing that the wall were really solid, and began to strike it with my forehead.  Steadily and rhythmically I met the wall with my face, forcefully enough to create a large divot in the drywall.

You idiot, you idiot, how could you?  My head started to hurt, not just from the outside, the pain spread out from the center of my head in waves, bringing me to my knees.  This too had been a childhood habit of mine, and one that mom hated with a passion.  “If you keep doing that,” she’d begun, I’m sure intending to threaten me with something.  When there wasn’t even hesitation in my masochism, she’d just scream “Stop it!” and run out of the room.

This occurred at a consistent rate for the first sixteen years of my life.  I’d do something wrong, like spill pop all over the living room carpet or fill my desk with incomplete homework assignments, and then punish myself in this way.  This continued until my Sophomore year of high school, when mom finally put a stop to it.

It was after I’d spent a weekend at my friends’ parents’ summer house in Michigan, without telling her beforehand.  When I called from Michigan to tell her where I was, she screamed at me.  When I got home I was ready to handle her anger, and sought to diffuse it by head butting the wall.  After putting my head into the wall four times, I turned around and saw her.

Tears were falling down her cheeks, “I won’t tell you to stop anymore, just know that when you do that it hurts me too.”  As I recalled this moment, I felt a pain in my head that was a lot worse than I remembered, so I stopped.  I turned to look at my mother’s cadaver, fell over her, and wept.

 

Eventually I called the police, and people in uniforms started filing in and out of my house, taking care of all the necessaries.  I told them with a twinge of pride that I’d spent the previous night at my girlfriend’s house, and had come home around four in the afternoon that day, at which point my Mom had been alive though passed out.

I told them my mother was an alcoholic, and that I had no idea how much she’d drunk that day.  One officer, a not-unattractive woman with pockmarks on her left cheek and her hair in a tight auburn bun scribbled on a clipboard as I answered her questions.  I think she was probably conciliatory, but I hardly noticed, distracted by the war raging in my own head.

I grappled with a deep sense of guilt, but of a different kind than I’d ever felt before.  This guilt was not the result of anything I’d said or done.  This guilt came from knowledge of the fact that within myself, deep down, I was joyful.

Ding dong, the witch is dead.  Which old witch?  The drunken witch!  As I considered that now I could bring my new girlfriend Sonia to my house, fuck her as loud as I wanted, and that she might even want to move in, a grin unfurled on my face.  As soon as this smile revealed itself my face instantly transformed into an expression of horror.  This isn’t fun, your mom is dead.

While I watched the sky turn powder blue, and the coroner carried my mother’s carcass away, I sat on my couch and turned on the TV.  SportCenter was on, and as I watched it I realized that I could use a drink.  I checked what had been my mother’s regular hiding places and found a half-full liter of vodka in the bucket of supplies under the sink in the bathroom, and I used it to make a drink.

I sipped my mixture of two parts Coke and one part vodka, followed by another, and still another.  I was woken at 10:30 AM by my phone vibrating in my pocket.  After a few moments of half-drunk contemplation, I reached my hand down and retrieved it.

It was Boss Jorge calling.  I looked at the name on my phone and remembered that I hadn’t been to work in two days. I poured myself another drink and immediately returned the call.  “Boss Jorge?”

“Where are you?  What are you doing?”  Boss Jorge sounded angry, but more than that he sounded worried.  “You missed two days in a row, were you attacked?”

I smiled, feeling an almost familial closeness with my boss of twenty years.  “My mom died last night, I’ll be in after lunch.”

Sylvester (Volume 8)

Sylvester (Volume 5)

There was a single staircase that came up from a tiny entranceway next to the hardware store, and to many, it seemed spooky.  It was lit by a single light bulb that had been flittering for at least twenty years.  This led to Lincoln Square Lanes.  “The Alley,” as I’d called it my entire life, had become my normal bar of preference for what were primarily sentimental reasons.

The Alley was important to me.  I’d spent my adolescence there.  This wasn’t a bowling alley where little kids had birthday parties, this was a bowling alley where unemployed people drank beer and played pinball.  It was like the “Townie” bars I’d known in college, where people went to shut up and drink.  Most afternoons after school from sixth to eighth grade, I went to The Alley and bowled.

I wasn’t drinking yet when I used to hang out at The Alley, I just went there to pass the time.  I guess I liked bowling, or anyway the soundtrack of pins tumbling down was distracting.

In grade school, though I had a few close friends, we never really did much.  I was pretty lonely most of the time.  That evening at Sonia’s open mic, things would be different.  The Alley was no longer going to be a monument of isolation.  That day, there was a chance it was going to get me laid.

As I climbed the staircase to The Alley, I wondered, excitedly, what Sonia’s open mic would be.  I’d been to open mic’s in college, maybe even participated in a few (I couldn’t be sure either way), but those were mostly comprised by stoned singer-songwriters.  This was a mic Sonia had earlier that day assured me was “Just for comedy.”

Comedy open mic’s are events that occur mainly in bars, and give aspiring stand up comedians the chance to test out and advance their material.  I wondered about what it would be like.  What kind of jokes would these open mic comics tell?  I thought about about the standup comedy that I’d loved in the past.

I’d once loved Emo Phillips, and I thought about my favorite bit of his: “I saw an old school friend yesterday, Jimmy Peterson, I hadn’t seen him since third grade, and I slapped him on the back, saying ‘why Jimmy, how the hell are you?’  Jimmy started crying and screaming, “Mommy!  Mommy!” and I realized that if that were really Jimmy Peterson, he would’ve grown up too.”  Halfway up the stairs I burst into laughter considering this bit.

I loved the absurdity of the routine, and the way it told the story of an adult striking a child with wit and lightness.  That day, since the time I’d been with Sonia, I’d been trying to think of something similar; a fractured way of seeing the world.  I thought about my own childhood, and the ways I’d thought.  This was the joke I came up with:  “I like that Beethoven guy, well, the beginning of the fifth symphony, anyway.”

The moment I thought of this joke, I knew I didn’t feel strongly about it.  Anyway as I stepped up to the bar I told myself that I wasn’t going to perform that night, even if asked, as I had work in the morning.

On the other side of the wall adjacent to a row of bowling alleys there was a small, roughly one foot high platform, and on it stood a mic stand.  Behind this “stage,” Sonia was at work setting up an amplifier.  She switched it on, stood on the platform and began to perform a mic check.  “Hello everyone, is this microphone on?  Is everything cool?”

Sonia gave the bartender a curious look as he placed a bottle of cheap beer before me.  The bartender nodded and gave a thumbs up, saying “Yeah it’s good, no louder.”

“Cool,” she said, extending the microphone past its stand before pulling it back into its regular position.  She noticed me, and lowered her head to hold it just in front of the mic.  “And we have a new guest, Sil, who I’ve only recently met and has already turned me down for sex, give him a hand everybody.”  She raised her hand towards me, holding her thumb up and fingers out, like a model on The Price is Right.

For a moment I was stunned, preparing to feel humiliated.  I hadn’t turned her down, I thought, we’d just had a missed connection.  I was going to jump up onto the stage, pull Sonia close, and explain what had happened between us.  I would explain that had been my fault, and that I was still totally into her, but several sharp cackles cut the air between us.

There were four people at the bar, all of them seemed like teenage boys.  Despite the fact that they were all wearing baseball hats and jeans, I figured they were in their mid-twenties.  These boys all sort of reminded me of myself at their age, or they made me imagine the way I might have been, if I’d had a “Crew” of “Bro’s” like they did.  I pondered it, but couldn’t picture it.

As I pulled a stool out from the bar to take a seat, the white boy nearest me seemed to yell with a booming voice, “What were you thinking, man?”  He had a goofy face, and he seemed to be opening his eyes as wide as he could.  He had loose curly bright red hair that popped out the back of the bandana he was wearing like water from a fire hydrant.

I must have looked confused, as my mouth was slightly open and my eyebrows were knit tight.  “Um. . .” I spoke, trying to think of something funny to quip, and hopefully reduce the tension of this interaction.  I pulled a stool up close to the bar, sat on it calmly, and told the truth.  “I don’t know.  I was scared, I guess?”

The young man laughed and clapped in a way that seemed to be more at me than with me.  I ignored what I might have considered a slight as I felt Sonia’s arm lay across my upper back.  She wrapped her palm around my shoulder and brought it tight against my bicep, squeezing me harder than I’d have expected.  “Sorry about that.  I just saw you, and I’d had a few and I was holding a microphone.  So, ya know?”  She shrugged adorably.

“No, no, it’s fine,” I said truthfully, as it really was fine.  Sonia hadn’t embarrassed me by blurting out into a microphone that I’d refused her offer of sex.  Just the opposite, it made me seem quite the gentleman.  “I just wanted to come up and see, uh, what’s goin’ on.”

Sonia went about showing me the list of comedians and explaining its workings with a simple summary.  “I put the list up at eight, and it’s pretty much first come first serve, but if you wanted to go up early I can slide you in.”

“The list?  Slide me in?”

Sonia chuckled putting her hand on her hip.  “Slide you in just means put your name on the list to perform tonight.”

I would’ve probably objected, saying that I couldn’t possibly go up tonight, but I was caught by Sonia’s eyes.  I figured it was probably some obvious touch of makeup, like a dusting of blush or rouge wherever, but her eyes were stunning and they caught me; I was helpless.  From the wit in her eyes I could tell that she expected me to fumble, but I held strong and acted cool.  “Yeah okay, I’m in.”

Smiling and clapping, Sonia picked up a pen and the clipboard that held the list of that night’s performers.  The numbers one and two were blank, but the numbers three through fourteen were filled with names.  I turned to Sonia, as I was not quite sure what to do, but she told me that I didn’t need to put my name on the list, because she’d get me up whenever I was ready.

“Bullshit!”  The kid with the fire hydrant hair waved his arms and stomped his feet.  “He turned you down though, Sonia, fuck him.”

“You’ve already met Cali,” Sonia said with flippant disregard, “I guess you can tell he’s a shithead.”

“Shut up, bitch,” Cali responded quickly, and they each moved on.  It seemed like they’d been joking, or at least had some sort of prior understanding.  I laughed neither nervously nor excitedly.

Sonia introduced me to the three remaining young white boys.  “And that’s Jerry, Nathan, and Bob,” she said, pointing to each in turn.  “They’re awful too, like we all are, but they’re nice at least.”

The lad in the middle, Nathan, raised his hand as he called out.  “I’m not awful, I’m awesome.”  He was the one who seemed oldest, as his face was a bit pudgy and his hair seemed to be receding.

All the comics laughed, and Sonia put her shoulder to Nathan’s and leaned against him.  “That’s right,” she said, extending her lower lip out past her chin, “Nathan’s our favorite.”

Nathan laughed, shyly nodding his head as he did so.  “That’s right I’m awesome.”  Nathan squeezed his eyes shut in a mock sob as he lowered his head.  Both Jerry and Bob patted him on the back, offering their own condolences.

Open mic comedians, in my experience, are a strange bunch.

 

“Hello and welcome to this, the second edition of: The Bowling Microphone!”  Sonia stood in the center of the small, makeshift stage that rose only two feet up from the ground.

“It’s a straight first-come first serve, you can put your name and only your name on the list.”  She raised a single finger and wiggled it side to side, telling me that she wasn’t really that serious.  “Your time is four minutes.  You get the first light at three, this is the light.”  She opened her cell phone and held it above her head, “This means wrap it up.  If I’m waving at you and flipping you off, get off the stage.”

She finished her opening spiel in a way that seemed very practiced, and as she wrapped up by announcing the night’s drink deals, she moved on to her comedy.  As it would happen, most of her hosting set was spent discussing me.  “Okay, gang, so here’s what happened,” she bugged her eyes out a little and chewed her bottom lip, “I met a boy.”

She almost giggled, putting her hands over her waist and bending her knees slightly.  I giggled a bit too.  Her impish grin melted away in an instant and she pointed at me, saying plainly, “It’s him, so. . .”  She shrugged, “I’m not, ya know, wild about it.”

I burst into laughter so hard I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt its like.  I was able to keep my composure, so this guffaw was short-lived, and Sonia continued her set.  From this opening quip, she segued into written material.

“I’ve done a lot of research, and I believe I can say, with confidence, that without a doubt, the itchiest spot of the body,” she let the joke draw out smoothly, like a master calligrapher.  “Is the taint.”  She then took her free hand and inserted it between her legs, scratching the spot where they were stitched together with her nail.  As she at least pantomimed digging her nail into her crotch (though I think she probably actually scratched), she let out a soft groan.

Huoawhoah,” she sounded satisfied, releasing rather than creating her own unique call.  “This is one of the most important things in life, the little pleasures.”  She stood and looked out over her audience, moving swiftly on to the next joke.  “When I was a kid I thought the world was speaking to me.”

I was confused by the way Sonia’s material seemed to meander around.  “Like you know the sound of a stomach growling?  I used to think it was a little voice saying “stomach.”

Sonia was able to manipulate and shrink her voice such that while it did sound a lot like the sound your gut makes when it’s empty.  “You know, ‘cause I thought it probably knew what I called it.”

After just these few opening bits, Sonia retrieved the list and read the first name off of it.

“Uh oh, this first comic, this guy’s trouble, Lyle the Cutter.”

A tall, pudgy, clumsy-footed man with what I used to call a buzz-cut ambled onto the platform and faced his audience.  “My name is Lyle and the doctors told my parents to make sure there’s nothing I can strangle myself with at our house, I guess it was because I cut myself a lot.”  Lyle spoke in a monotone, varying the distances between his words very little.

This manner of speaking was unsettling to me.  It sounded as though he might have some kind of mental disability.  This consideration left my mind as soon as he told his first joke: “No seriously, I love to draw but they took my pencil away ‘cause I stabbed myself with it.”

I cracked up.  It was hilarious, and I didn’t consider even for a second how tragically honest Lyle the Cutter may have been.  The open mic comics who’d seen Lyle many times before laughed, with several of them also cheering and hooting.  Other than that, the three or four regular bargoers chuckled nervously and glanced at each other.

From there, Lyle’s act devolved into near-robotic recitation of facts and lists.  His joke about stabbing himself with the pencil really made me laugh a lot.  As I thought about it, most of the humor of this statement seemed to come from the lack of a comma between “away” and “‘cause.”  If you pronounce the joke like that, I felt, it would be like you were reading the joke like a news bulletin, and that there was nothing odd about it.

After Sonia and Lyle kicked the show off with a very weird pair of sets, the mic was off and running.  To tell the truth, I’d admit that the majority of these comics were forgettable, but there were a few standouts.

One guy, Bob Avaro, whom I’d sort of been hanging out with at the bar with just prior to the start of the mic, seemed to do his best to bring down the energy of the room.  He held the mic in front of his chest, lowering his head to meet it.  “I usually wake up pissed cause I don’t wanna go to my work, but then I remember I lost my job yesterday, and that calls for a celebration drink.”

After Bob, both Jerry and Nathan, his two compatriots from the bar went up in direct succession.  Their acts were sort of hackneyed, blatantly obvious, and distinctly forgettable.  The same could not be said for the comic who went up soon after them, Malcolm, “cali” Kavanagh.

Cali, who I’d met earlier and had made an annoying impression on me.  His long, curly red hair, as well as his obnoxious demeanor, made me want to push the palm of my hand into his face.

His “jokes,” if they could be called that, meandered from reflecting on the fact that he was performing at a bowling alley to noticing the people in the audience that looked weird.  At one point he even said “Get a load a’ this guy, what’s with his head, right?”

As Cali performed in this way, each “joke” only earned only silence and derision from the audience, until he turned to me.  As he looked over his audience, groping for something funny to say, his eyes locked on me and he smiled wide.  He pointed at me, “And did ya hear?  This guy turned down Sonia, what the hell man, she’s a milf!”

I raised my hands, pointing my palms to the ceiling, trying to think of something to say.  Cali’s mention of Sonia and I had garnered the only laughter his comedy had received so far, so  I knew he wasn’t likely to just move on without getting my response.  I wasn’t fast enough at it, though, as before I could respond to him, Cali resumed aggressively questioning me.

“So what’s the deal man?  You gonna hit that or what?”

I just stared up at him and watched him point the microphone at me.  Having no response, I looked at Sonia, and she was jumping up and down, waving an open cell phone in the air; I pointed to her, “I think your time’s up.”

“Just when I was finally getting laughs!?”  Cali gesticulated with his hands, pretending to hurl the microphone on the floor, and then placing it gingerly on the top of the stand.  “I apologize, as always, for everything I’ve said into this microphone.”

Cali dropped his head as he placed the mic back on its receiver and lowered his head.  Looking out over the audience, which by that point was comprised almost entirely of aspiring comedians, and then sat on the stool to my right.  As he was doing this, Laura resumed her hosting duties.  “That was our main man Cali, give him a hand.”

At 11:43 PM, I was feeling tipsy, so I decided it was time for him to go home.  I considered heading out, and I remembered that I’d told her I would perform I would perform that night.

Will she hold me to it?  This thought wrapped itself around my head and would not let go.  What would she do when I told her he didn’t want to try standup?  Would she make fun of him?  These open-mic comic people seemed to be pretty quick and nasty with the insults, what would they say?  What if they pressured me to perform after all?  It could become a very embarrassing situation, and I hated those.

As the second-to-last comic was just about to come to the mic, I feebly sidled up to Sonia.  “I don’t think I’m gonna go up, actually.”

I’d spoken shyly, as though ashamed of my cowardice, and I expected her to denigrate me.  Or worse yet, she could’ve acted disappointed, hanging her head and shaking it slowly.  However, in response to my cowardice, she smiled and spoke with a warm voice.  “Oh no problem, maybe you’ll do it some other night.”

Hearing Sonia say “some other night,” excited me, as it indicated she was already planning to spend more time with me.  “Yeah maybe I will,” Sonia responded, switching off one of the microphones on her PA system.  She walked over to me, laying her wrist on my shoulder.  “You stickin’ around?  We’re almost done.”

“I got work tomorrow, sorry.”

She fired back like she’d been ready.  “At least stay to the end, you’re almost there.”

I agreed.

Sonia stepped to the mic, holding her eyes on me.  “And now, here we are, the last comic of the mic, let’s hear it people.”  The seven or eight people that were still listening clapped and hooted half enthusiastically.

It was an eighteen year old with lame jokes whose name I don’t remember, but during his entire set, Sonia and I were ensconced in the “looking” game.  This is the game that occurs between people when there is both a mutual attraction, and a public shyness shard between two people.  I would stare at her until she looked back at me, then I would avert my eyes.

We did this until Sonia noticed that she should’ve called the comic off the stage a minute ago, and she jumped on the stage, closing the show up as quickly as possible.  As she did this, she added a bit in the end that caught my ear.  “And so, thank you for coming to this, the second installment of The Bowling Microphone, now let’s all get laid!”  The significance of this quote from Back to School was not lost on me, and I smiled wide because of it.

After she slid the microphone into its place on the stand, she stepped off the platform towards me, cutting the distance between us to almost nothing.  She stood before me, our noses almost touching, for what felt like a long time.  Though it was not at all like me, and afterwards I was never able to adequately explain to myself where I gotten the courage to try such a thing, I kissed Sonia.

It was not for more than a moment and it was very sweet.  We flowed into each other, as it seemed our energies fed off of the inspiration of the other.  At least that’s what I felt, and Sonia seemed to feel the same.  We made out a little before traipsing down the staircase to the street.  When we left The Alley into the deep dark starless night, Sonia took a left when I’d have taken a right, and I followed her.

I thought about the reasons not to go with Sonia, from the fact that I’d promised my mother I’d return to the fact that Mondays are often a hectic day at Harvest Time, but none of them received precedence.  I was with a groovy chick at 12:39 on a Monday morning, and we were going to have sex.  I forgot everything else I could possibly have been thinking at the time.  I was about to have sex

Sylvester (Volume 5)

Sylvester (Volume 2)

I woke up the next morning with a headache, which told me that I’d drunk a lot.  Also there was an empty bottle of vodka on the kitchen table and my mom was passed out on the couch, so those were more clues.  I could only guess at the events of the previous night, but it was an educated guess.  II took what evidence I had and pieced the night together as best I could.

I figured I’d probably rolled in around 1 a.m., found my mother passed out on the couch next to a partially drunk liter of vodka on the table, and then finished the liter.

Or that’s what I allowed myself to believe had happened, because it delayed the realization that my mother probably drank the entire bottle.  If she had drunk the entire bottle she probably wouldn’t remember.  If she didn’t remember drinking the bottle she may demand that I go get her more.  This was a regular occurrence.  Sometimes I would fight her about it, refusing to get the vodka, sometimes I would fold.

These arguments, the craziness in them, made me chuckle to myself on a regular basis.  I would categorize these chuckles under the word ‘bitter.’  The worst chuckles came when she said that she had finally kicked it, meaning her alcoholism, and poured out all the vodka in a flash of self-righteous masochism.  “I poured it all out because I know that I deserve the pain of withdrawal, but now in the harsh light of day, I realize that I could sure use a drink.”

I chuckle when I think about it, and imagine I could write a funny sitcom about an adult son living with his alcoholic mother.  Maybe I could call it “Beans and the Wheeze.”  “Oh mom, you’re such a drunk bitch!” (laugh track).

If I showed her the receipt proving that I had indeed purchased vodka for her just two days previous, she would either call me a liar and a forger, or start sobbing and promise never to drink again.  Living with an alcoholic is a bizarre experience.

Years ago, I remember thinking that my mom was probably an alcoholic, but I wasn’t gonna say or do anything about it, probably because I was scared.  I told myself that she felt it was her life, and she was seventy-eight, so what business did I have telling her anything?  That was what I told myself, but I think the real reason I turned a blind eye to my mother’s alcohol abuse was sadder and more troubling than that.

Honestly, it’s sad to say, but I probably figured it was as good a way out as any for her.  I know it sounds cold, and it is cold, but she didn’t have much to live for at the time.  I mean whenever the two of us were alone together talking seriously, which happened rarely in those days thank god, she would launch into wailing and gnashing her teeth about this or that.

Sometimes I got really mad at her because she was such a bummer to me.  If she wasn’t a generator of constant trouble in my life she was certainly a beacon to it.  Trouble constantly patrolled her sphere of influence, but I couldn’t be anywhere else because she was my mother and I loved her.

Even then though in many ways our mother/son relationship had flipped over on itself, she still held a lot of authority over my emotional life.  I wanted her to be okay, all the time, and when she wasn’t it pained me.  Paradoxically, it seemed before the drinking took hold, anyway, she was likewise emotionally chained to me.  If I was sad she was sad, so I preferred to gloss over my fits of loneliness.

Sometimes I would lie to her about some new gal from Ohio I’d met at the library and had a date with that night, but then I’d just go see a movie or something.  There were even a few times when there’d not been a movie I wanted to see, so I just went home, saying that she stood me up.  My mom would hug me and say “At least you’re trying,” which was the most depressing thing for me to hear for a variety of reasons.

“HuhWHOA!” through the wall I heard my mother’s morning groan, followed by a series of thuds indicating that she was clumsily pulling herself together.  Her bedroom door flew open, making the doorknob slam into the indented section of drywall behind it.  “Bright in here, huh?”

She was still drunk, it seemed, but barely.  She opened her door with enough gusto to slam it into the adjacent wall when she was tipsy, a level of intoxication that indicated she was either on her way to or coming from a full drunk stupor.

I was laying on the couch watching a political roundtable, paying no attention, of course.  “Sure is, Mom.  Whattya want for breakfast?”

Her eyes softened, “Oh I couldn’t put ya’ out, I’ll just have a bowl a’ cereal.”

There wasn’t any cereal, and I knew there wasn’t any cereal, but I preferred for my mother to figure that out on her own.  After hearing drawers open and close through the wall separating the kitchen from the living room for what felt like long enough, I finally spoke.  “Find the cereal?”

“No, I guess we’re out,” before she spoke her next words I could see the game she was playing.  She was gonna find that we didn’t have any cereal, and she would need to make a quick trip to Dominick’s to pick up some more.

Along with cereal, the Dominick’s near our house also sold vodka, which I assumed was her true aim.  I knew that if I let her go for cereal, and even if she promised not to, she would also get vodka.  So before she even suggested it, I jumped up.  “Yeah I was gonna go anyway,” I said pulling my shoes on and heading out the door.  “Goin’ to Dominick’s, I’ll be back soon.”

Whenever I went anywhere I once felt an intense need to tell someone where I was going and when I’d be back.  I used to tell a lot of people these pieces of information all the time.  It had even become sort of an inside joke some of my close friends had with one another.

They’d get up to go to the bathroom and they’d say “Hittin’ the shitter, be back in five,” and everyone would laugh.

The thing that’s kinda weird about this, I guess, is that I only actually did this when I was a little kid.  When I was a teenager I was just doing it because it made people laugh.  It got embarrassing though, so I stopped.

After my dad died I started telling my mom where I was going and when I’d be back every time I left the house, just to remind her of something cute I used to do when I was little.  I think it helped us through a difficult time, or I like to think that, anyway.

It was a behavior pattern my mother had instilled in me starting from a very young age, though she didn’t pay much attention to my announcements anymore.  I can’t exactly remember her telling me to always keep her informed of my plans, but I imagine she began this tradition from the first words I spoke.

Things between us had devolved quite a bit since then.  Thee to five days a week she just drank and sat in silence all day.  It was definitely unsettling, and probably would have been fully disturbing if it happened less often than it did.

When it did happen, she’d fix herself a few stiff screwdrivers, drink them, and sit on the couch staring at the wall for as long as two or three hours.  When she’d stared at nothing for what I supposed was long enough, she’d lie on her side and close her eyes.  Living with my mom while she was spiraling downward wasn’t really any fun.

That’s not to say there weren’t positives to my mother’s drinking, because there were.  Sunday mornings had become considerably more pleasant for me since my mother didn’t bother so much with church anymore.  There were no more shaming glances at me as I stretched out on the couch instead of praising His name and begging forgiveness.  Forgiveness for what?  For acting just as He designed me to act?  Fuck that.

Anyway that’s the point I came to way back in 6th grade, and I’ve never looked back.  Whenever people talk about the heavenly father or the way they are imbued with celestial purpose, I roll my eyes and make the ‘jack off’ motion with my right hand.  Like get a load a’ this guy, you believe this?

I had to stay stealthy about my agnosticism all through grade school and the start of high school, just to keep the status quo stable.  Eventually I told my mother that I no longer believed, and her response was less negative than I had anticipated.  My my mother held out hope that I would come back to the church on my own.

Sunday afternoons were quiet in my neighborhood, most people are in church.  Outside it was pretty sunny, pleasant and empty.  It was the type of day I might have enjoyed had I been in a better mood, but I wasn’t.  All noises were annoying and light pulsed in from every angle.  I just wanted to go to the store to get cereal, probably a little candy, and maybe a little vodka.

I was gonna get Raisin Bran Crunch but I got distracted by all the options, so I just stood and stared.  As I stood still in the grocery store, I heard a familiar, unexpectedly timid voice.  “Um, hi, I don’t know if you remember me but. . .” her voice shrunk and disappeared as she approached me.  It was Sonia, from the night before, and she held her hand out fearfully as if warding off an aggressive dog.

I wanted her to go away.  “Listen I’m sorry, but—“

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, really, I—“ she seemed to be considering what to say next, silently mouthing some words and rolling her eyes to the back of her head.  “—I was just such a bitch, and I’m so sorry, you don’t deserve that.”

Now that she seemed to have pulled herself together, or maybe I was just seeing her through sober eyes, she was cute.  She had thick, soft, curly black hair.  Her eyes were shiny and soft, and through her smile I could see all the sweetness that had ever existed or would ever exist.

Oh shit, I thought silently to myself, here we go.  I had a crush on Sonia.  “It’s no problem, I don’t even remember anyway.”

This was a lie of course, as I did remember and had been thinking about the insult she’d paid me the previous evening, but she apologized, so why should I tell her that I’d been insulted?  She hadn’t requested that information and I didn’t feel like providing it.

Sonia rocked back on her heels slightly as she kept her hands in her pockets and looked at the ground.  “O—okay.  I’ll see you around, buy you a drink.”

I raised my hand just above eye level as I smiled and nodded slightly.  I then hurried away in a way that I tried to make not look like hurrying, over to the candy aisle.  As I looked over the candy deliberately not looking behind me, I was very curious about what Sonia was doing back there.

Sonia had probably gone on to whatever she had to do next in her day.  I always reminded myself that other people’s lives do not revolve around me, and everyone’s got their own stuff to deal with.  I turned around just to reassure myself that she wasn’t there, and she wasn’t.

All right, I told myself, that’s fine.  I didn’t even care, and it just would have made me scared anyway, if she’d been back there waiting for me.  I picked up a little bottle of vodka, just in case my mom got really crazy that night, I’d have something, at least, to soothe her.

I did a complex set of moral gymnastics for me to justify buying my mother vodka on Sunday morning.  In the end I landed on a simple reason to buy the alcohol: it is necessary.

It was necessary for me to get vodka because if I didn’t there was a chance I wouldn’t have any when my mother wanted some, and that would spell trouble.

So I got the liquor, and I was feeling pretty guilty about that as I stomped away from Dominick’s in a huff.  When I was about to get to the corner where I’d make my turn for home, next to the turquoise Abraham Lincoln statue, I heard Sonia’s voice call after me.  “Havin’ a party?”

I startled so sharply I almost fell down, and raised my arms up as if to defend myself.  “W-what?”

“Are you having a party?”  She advanced on me, “I mean vodka, candy, cereal, kinda weird.”

I was stunned for a long moment.  It took me a while to turn around because I wasn’t sure how I should react.  I was supposed to get back to the house soon with the cereal, and mom would probably demand liquor once I got there.  On the other hand, Sonia was intriguing.

Sonia waited near the exit of the Dominick’s, having come out of the store just after I did.  “Oh-oh I don’t mean to insult you.”  I stopped and turned around to see Sonia looking very embarrassed and holding her hand in front of her mouth.  “Sorry I just overheard the cashier tell you your order.  Maybe I was following you a little too close in there, and, I don’t know, I’m an asshole I guess, sorry, ignore me.”

When she spoke her last two words I wondered if she realized how ridiculous they were.  I couldn’t ignore her anyway, if I tried.  “No no, I just—you surprised me is all.”

“Didn’t mean to,” she said, letting her hands drop toward her sides.   “I just wanted to apologize, for the way I acted the other night, It was just—“

“—no I don’t, there’s no need.  Sorry, I—”  I raised my hands up, palms forward, and shook them left to right, warding away Sonia’s embarrassment.

She coughed with purpose, just to shut me up.  “Don’t apologize, stop it.”  As she spoke these short, crisp words, her aspect seemed to soften.  Her left hand slowly wrapped its fingers around my right elbow and held them there, not grasping my arm but hovering near it, touching it only lightly.  “I’m trying to say that I liked you, and I know that I was weird about it, but I saw you bought some vodka, do you wanna party?”

I was terrified, horrified, and more excited than I’d been in years.

Sylvester (Volume 2)