Visitors

Monday, March 23, 2015

Penetrating Insight


There was always booze in our home, growing up.  And everybody drank.  Beer, mostly.  The fridge was consistently lined with cold ones.  Two whole shelves dedicated to the cause.  Plus, additional cases piled high in the basement.  We had plenty at all times and never ran out.

As a kid, I saw very few bottles of wine.  There were delicate glasses kept on a high shelf over the stove, champagne flutes and a handful of goblets, but Mom and Dad never used them.  I'm pretty sure they were wedding gifts.  I got the impression that wine was way too fancy for our crew.  A luxury reserved specifically for ladies who weren't serious about their drinking.  And pussies.

Run-of-the-mill hard stuff was available, as well.  The inexpensive, yet effective kind.  Liquor was stored in one of two octagonal end tables in the living room.  My parents didn't tap these additional resources regularly.  Mixed drinks were generally reserved for company.  House parties.  I remember the first time I took a swig of something and tonic by accident.  I thought it was 7-Up.  I could not believe grown-ups drank that shit on purpose.  All the maraschino cherries in the world weren't gonna change my mind.

Although my folks approached alcohol with comparable zeal, they had very different styles and goals as far as drinking was concerned.  My mother wanted to mix it up and share a few laughs.  She could handle herself fairly well and ventured into most occasions, hoping to have a good time.  Unfortunately, her inability to control how her husband behaved prevented her from enjoying all that much.  As soon as she had a few beers, she became obsessed with his condition.  And rightly so.  He was our ride wherever we went.  And if he was wasted, we were screwed.

Dad was shy and uncomfortable in social settings.  He didn't know how to relax or make conversation.  He wasn't a gossip.  He did seem determined, however, to poison himself at every baby christening and First Holy Communion party we got invited to.  He either fell, shit his pants or both.

She might have been terrified, but Mom still chose these moments to pick fights with my dad.  She called him names and attempted to embarrass him.  It didn't do any good.  Most of the time, he was too far gone to be either combative or cooperative.  Besides, he was never a fighter anyway.  Like I said, he was a faller.

I hated coming home from school and seeing a bottle of gin or rye appear unceremoniously on the kitchen counter.  It didn't happen often, but it never ended pretty.  Hard liquor brought bigger problems than the usual Budweiser kind. My folks had a hard time gauging the effects of spirits.  Dad, in particular.  He's always been a glass half empty kind of guy.  And once that glass was emptied, it needed refilling.  Until he couldn't see straight.

I was always relieved when the dust settled.  When the vodka and whiskey were returned to the living room cabinet, and Mom and Dad went back to drinking just beer.

I think I was eleven when my father got drunk at a cop party and threatened to shoot somebody in the face.  The NYPD sent him to some facility in Virginia to dry out.  Several months of rehabilitative treatment.  When he came home, he was required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  Every day for ninety days, so he could get his gun back and return to work.  But the cure didn't take.  He was drunk again by New Year's.

In the seventh grade, my teacher explained to the class what alcoholism was, and I decided both my parents had it.  My ears became highly tuned to the sound of the bottle opener.  I started counting all the empty cans in the garbage.

Eight beers is way too many for one person, I decided to myself.  And I told my mother so.

"You're drunk," I said.  This accusation did not go over well.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" she slurred.

Who did I think I was?  Nobody, really.
And what could I do about their drinking?  Not a damn thing.

I don't recall what happened to change the way I felt about alcohol, to make me come around to appreciating its appeal.  Nor do I remember exactly when I realized that I could have a go at whatever was in those bottles in the liquor cabinet if I wanted.  I may have been about fourteen.  I rinsed out a Prell shampoo bottle and loaded it up with a combination of booze so foul, my little girlfriends and I had to hold our noses to swallow it down.

Some of my them balked when I suggested we do it again.  The buzz was short-lived, the shit tasted nasty and the headache that came on its heels lasted for days. They didn't see the point, whereas I only saw the possibilities.  I'm a glass half-full kind of girl.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Contest!

Here are the simple requirements for winning this month's awesome Spring Contest:

1.  Underneath the Spring Contest section on the website, look for Networked Blogs (Like on Facebook).
2.  Click the BLUE Follow This Blog button.
3.  When the next screen pops up, click Follow to add yourself to the directory.

That's it!  The drawing will be held this Monday evening.  There are lots of sweet prizes and river otter socks.  Two chances to win.  Good luck to everyone!

And thanks, as always, for reading and supporting High Wire Girl.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Escape

I was with this boy on a fire escape after the St. Patrick's Day Parade one year.

I was not fond of the parade itself.  I didn't like the music, and I could care less about my heritage.  Besides, l looked awful in green.  It's not the best color.  But I always went anyway.  Everyone did, and I wanted to be with everyone.  We headed into Central Park to drink, looking for people we knew and finding some we didn't.

I met him by the bandshell.  It appeared he had a freshly broken nose.  There was blood still on his face and across the front of his shirt.  He said he was from Commack.  That's on Long Island.  He might as well have been from Mars.  I had no idea where anything was located.  I barely do now, but I'm getting better at directions.

I was with my friends, and I guess he was with his.  They were dressed in varsity jackets.

Maybe I will get to wear that jacket, I thought.

We all went to a bar and paid five dollars to get in.  I was already very drunk.  We were given a ton of drink tickets, like at the carnival.  I found a bunch more on an empty table and in the bathroom.  I couldn't understand why anyone would leave their tickets behind.  I wore them proudly like a necklace.  Beers, Bloody Marys and Kamikazis at 12:30 in the afternoon.  What a beautiful thing.

"I have to visit my grandmother," he said to me.  "She's in the hospital."

"I'll come with you."

This is nice, I thought.  I'm meeting his family.

I wasn't sure if that's where we were going.  He held my hand as we walked through the crowded, rainy streets.  Dudes were fighting, girls were crying and everyone was throwing up.  The city was filthy with garbage and bad decisions.

At Lenox Hill Hospital, we made out in the lobby.  We took the elevator to the seventh floor.

"Wait here," he instructed.  I plopped down in a wheelchair in the hallway.  I wished I could lay down.  A while later, he nearly passed me in the corridor.

"Oh.  I forgot about you.  Wanna meet my Nana?" he asked.

"Sure."  I followed him into the room and greeted the old lady in the bed.

"Hi," I said, but she was asleep.

"We should leave," he suggested, pulling me by the arm.

We kissed some more on the sidewalk and looked for a place to go.  We ducked between two buildings.

"Here is fine," he told me.  "I need to take a leak first."

"Okay."

When we got back to the bar, the friends I came with were gone.  Getting home seemed like a lot of work, so I drank some more.  We went to another place where I lost sight of my new companion.  But there was a second boy, same jacket.  I went outside with him, around the corner and down a flight of stairs.

"Where's the other guy?" I wanted to know.

"He had to meet Lauren.  She goes to Hunter College."

"How far is Commack from here?" I asked.

"It doesn't matter."

Maybe he was right.

"You're a big girl," he said as he tried to pick me up.  "You're heavier than you look."

I need to go on a diet, I thought.

The bricks hurt my back and tore up my sweater.  He smelled like sweat and wet wool.  A doorman came to the top of the steps and banged his flashlight against the railing.

"Get the hell out of here before I call the cops," he yelled.

It was freezing outside, and I'd misplaced my coat.  I was tired and needed to get back to the Bronx. Somebody put me on the train.

I gave out my phone number to several young men that evening.  I thought I had something to offer, and I thought they would call me.  I really did.

I consider this memory whenever St. Patty's Day rolls around.  It quietly takes its place among the others, the good and the not-so-good.  When I revisit these details, I'm not traumatized.  And I don't feel sorry for myself.  I just wonder, What was I thinking?

Perhaps I was trying to figure out how not to be so sad.  It was, after all, a parade.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Misconception

My mother saw me getting out of this guy's van on Castle Hill Avenue one Sunday morning.  She and my father were just leaving ten o'clock mass at St. Raymond's. I hadn't seen either of my parents since the day I moved out.  They looked older, even though it had only been a few months.  She walked behind him as they headed toward his car.

I don't remember whose party it was.  It's not important.  I was just getting a lift home.  We sat for a few minutes and listened to the radio.  I gathered my crap from the back seat.  Like I said, he was just some guy who was nice enough to drop me off close to where I lived.

I saw my mom right away as I opened the door and hopped out of the vehicle.  She paused in front of the rectory, one hand on her hip.  Boring holes right through me with her angry eyes, she said nothing.  I stood there, hungover and momentarily frozen in one spot.

My ride pulled away from the curb, executing a flashy u-turn in the middle of the road, complete with screeching tires.  When he stopped abruptly a few yards away, I ran toward the driver's side window.

"Hey, girl.  You forgot something!" Party Guy shouted.

He threw a jacket at my feet.  I picked it up and gave him the finger.  He sped away, beeping the horn twice and waving.

Had my mother not been a witness to this exchange, the whole thing probably would have been super funny.  But with her there, not so much.

It isn't what it looks like, I thought.  But what did it matter?  She was gonna think whatever the fuck she wanted anyway.

I turned on my heels toward Zerega Avenue and that dreary little apartment on Fuller Street.  I picked up the pace, hoping to put some distance between my mother and I before she had a chance to tear me to shreds.  She looked like she might.

"That's right, dummy.  Keep running!" she called out over the sound of cars whizzing past and the church bells marking my time.

My sandal strap broke as I crossed the street, and I nearly fell.  I hurried around the corner, carrying my shoe.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Nerds!

I really need to clean out my pocketbook.  It's disgusting in there.  I just haven't gotten to it.  Instead, I carry all this extra junk around with me, these little souvenirs from nowhere particularly noteworthy.

I probably should make a point of dumping most of the crap out into the trash. Start fresh.  I bet it'd be less work to simply remove all traces of my identification, douse the sack in lighter fluid and toss a match.  Walk away in slow motion as the fire ignites and sets off a chain reaction to the gasoline truck parked adjacent to the fuel pumps.  As the massive 'kaboom' lights up the sky, I can saunter calmly toward the Kangaroo in search of orange soda.  Gosh, I love a clean slate scenario. And soda.

This morning when I was in the Kangaroo securing my breakfast beverage, the gentleman standing in line behind me approached the front counter with a question.

"Would you happen to have a pen?" he inquired politely.

"I do," I volunteered.

I knew I had at least twenty five of them in my bag of useless keepsakes.  Quite frankly, I was thrilled for the opportunity to dispatch even the smallest portion of my garbage.  I gladly offered him one.

"Keep it," I insisted.

While swirling my hand around the bottom of this portable abyss, I also found some candy I forgot was in there.  I offered to share that, as well.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Nerd Rope.  It's a gummy licorice string with little pieces of sugar glued all over."

I should have quit while I was ahead.  As I was explaining the chemical composition of this tasty treat, it started to dawn on me that perhaps Nerd Rope might be a little too intimate a share with a complete stranger in line at the convenience store.  But I was so excited that this random individual had come into my life and asked for something I actually had.  How often does that happen?  A situation where one person requests a specific item and the other person is in a position to oblige.  It's a remarkable exchange.  So I hung onto the celebratory magic of the moment.  Too much coffee might very well have had something to do with that extra boost of generosity, but that's neither here nor there.

"No, thank you," he replied.

Suit yourself, I thought.

I completed my purchase and returned to my vehicle, unwrapping what was left of the candy I can't remember buying.  Had we been to the movies?  I guess so, but when?  How long have I been carrying this magnificent treasure around?  I wish I knew I had it with me last Tuesday.  I was so hungry coming back from the podiatrist with my dad.  I reached down under the driver's seat and fished around for some almonds or maybe a few pieces of cereal while I waited at the light. Nothing.

I guess it doesn't matter.  I'm just really glad I came across it when I did.  If I could make a wish for anything worth finding in my pocketbook, it would be delicious Nerd Rope.  It is inarguably the pinnacle of confectionary technology.

I wonder what else I've got in this bag.  Perhaps I'll take another look later.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hands Off, She's Mine...


Parties!  God, I love them.  But they make me nervous.  I drink before I get there.  It helps me loosen up.  I have a few beers.  Maybe two or three glasses of wine.  I listen to music and get dressed.

I wonder who I'll meet and see.  I imagine conversations I might have.  I look forward to the laughter and energy that comes off a group of people all eager to do the same thing.  Mingle, kick back and have fun.  These are my favorite activities.

I pin all of my hopes and dreams on this particular occasion.  I prepare the most outlandish expectations.  I cannot see beyond the moment that's about to occur. Nor do I want to.  Right now is all that I require.  A little money, the clothes on my back and the pills in my pocket.  I am totally focused.  I am good at parties. Tonight will change my life.  I believe this.

I hook up with some friends, and we hop in a cab.  I'm not sure of the address, but I don't really care about the details.  Another girl knows.  I talk about whatever comes to the front of my brain.  Loose thoughts encouraged by the drinks I've already had, that joint we smoked.  I can feel myself leave the gate open in my mind.  All the plastic toy animals skip into the pasture and roll around on their backs.  They bask in the sunshine of an unconventional freedom.  Hey, man.  You have your high, and I have mine.

I can hear music from down the street, and I start to get excited.  The place is mobbed with guests.  The doorway is a sweaty gauntlet of barely moving bodies, all gripping bottles of Budweiser and red plastic cups.  I am groped by friendly strangers as I squeeze through.  It is thrilling.  I find my way to the keg in the kitchen and establish my lifeline to the evening's events.

I hardly know anybody here, and for a minute, I'm intimidated.  But as long as I have a drink in my hand, I feel better.  It gives me something to do while I assess the situation.  It seems like lots of kids are in college, and I don't know what the fuck they're talking about.  They rattle on, discussing their course loads and professors, subjects and lectures.  Yeah, yeah, whatever.  I feel like I want to just throw myself on the ground.

Look, I was smart in high school.  I got good grades.  But I chose to go to work and get my own place, make some money.  Even though I struggle and I'm clueless as far as saving anything I earn.  Studying is stupid.  Then why am I so jealous of something I don't want?

I'm in a grown-up world now, an employee in a huge company.  Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, distiller of fine wines and spirits!  This is my destiny, I tell myself.  But when I go to my job, I feel like a little kid.  No one takes me very seriously.  How can they?  I don't know that much about life or business.  I pretend I do.  It's exhausting, and I am bored.

I slept with my boss, and things got weird.  I transferred to one of the marketing companies in another building across town.  The guy I report to now is a nervous little man, the work is a snore and I'm just not into it.  Thank God there's alcohol. We get to take home booze all the time when the labels are stained or torn.  Plus, it's easy to steal bottles.  The shit's laying around everywhere, and nobody's counting.

I love drinking.  It's such a magical part of everything.

Now, where were we?  Oh, right.  The party.

So I'm talking with this guy, Chris.  He's a student at St. John's, I think.  He lives in the dorm with one of Jill's brothers.  Or maybe they have a lab together.  I don't know, actually.  I guess he's cute, and he seems interested in me.  He asked if I have a boyfriend.  I told him 'yes,' and that he's in the Air Force.  I started explaining my relationship with Jason, and then I realized he doesn't really care. It's not like I feel as though I belong to anybody, anyway.  I'm just floating around in the right now.

Hours pass, and I'm having a great time.  In case you're wondering, I am wasted. My friends want to go home, but I'm determined to stay.  I can't seem to find Chris, but I don't think I'm looking too diligently either.  There's another guy. Ernie.  Or Bernie, maybe.  He's got coke, and I have money.  We are a good match.

Here's when it always gets ugly, that moment when the rubber meets the road. The girls want to leave.  They have classes in the morning.  My heart's breaking for them.  They remind me that we came together.  I tell them I appreciate the ride, but I'm not going anywhere.  Don't worry, I'll find my way home.  We hug goodbye and I can tell that they're pissed, but I'm not currently concerned about their feelings.

I shrug it off and dash down the hallway, into the back bedroom where all the kids who don't have school tomorrow settle in for what's next.  Perhaps drugs are my area of study, a specialty to which I seem to be devoting more and more time and effort.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Weed in Her Garden

John was my mother's upstairs neighbor.  A nice enough guy, I suppose - friendly and outgoing.  He worked for the cable company.  Some kind of installation technician.  I think he could have benefited from a couple more showers a week, but that's just my personal preference regarding routine cleanliness.  Everybody's different.

John drove a small, red convertible.  A Chrysler Sebring, I think.

"Fancy wheels," I suggested to my dad one morning.  We carried garbage past his vehicle on our way to the dumpster.

"That car's for ladies," he replied.

"Are you kidding?  I was gonna get you one."

"Why?  I'm not a lady."

It didn't take much to turn Big Mare's head, however.  Butcher, doctor, priest, pizza guy - she didn't really have a type.  John carried the laundry basket down the stairs for her and unclogged my parents' toilet twice when Mom couldn't find the super.  He took a screwdriver and unearthed all the dandelions that grew in the cracks between the front steps so she could sweep them up.  She instantly developed a crush on him.

"John's divorced," she confided over coffee and Munchkins at the Dunkin Donuts.  "His ex-wife fooled around on him."

"Says who?"

"He told me.  I've seen her in the parking lot.  She's a dirty-looking bitch.  I wish I knew someone to fix him up with.  Too bad you're married."

"Yuck," I protested.

"He's such a nice guy."  Her voice trailed off.

"Well, maybe Daddy will die soon, and you can go out with him."

"That's never gonna happen," she said wistfully.  "They have a little girl, you know.  Kayla.  Kylie.  Carla.  Anyway, such a pretty face.  But the poor thing is heavyset.  She'll be a whale in no time."

"That's too bad."

Mom looked down at the diminishing container of treats.

"How many of these have I eaten?  Did you notice?" she asked.

"I'm not sure, but the box is half empty.  Maybe you should stop.  You don't wanna give yourself a bellyache.  What'd you have for breakfast, anyway?"

"Tums.  No, I'm wrong.  Metamucil."

*******

John this and John that.  The John Lovefest went on for several months.  Until one day, my mother came across a joint in the hallway, right outside her front door.

"I have to show you something," Big Mare whispered.  She pointed to the apartment above us and put her finger to her lips.  She immediately returned to her customary loudness.  

"Gene, go get that thing I found yesterday.  It's in the ice box."

Dad shuffled into the kitchen with his vague instructions.  So we waited a few moments.

"Your father thinks I'm stupid.  He's out there sneaking jelly.  Gene!" she shouted.

"Why do you keep bringing jelly into the house if you don't want him eating it?"

"I couldn't pass up the sale, honey.  It was 'Buy one, Get one free Smuckers.  The good shit."

Dad returned, carrying a large ziploc that contained a rather meagerly assembled doobie.  She snatched Exhibit A from his hands and thrust it in my direction.

"Is this what I think it is?"

I looked at the sad little cigarette, all alone and half frozen at the bottom of the bag.

"It's probably weed," I told her without examining the contents too carefully.

"No," she insisted.

"Yes."

"I knew it.  Son of a bitch.  And I trusted him."

I'd seen my mother like this before.  Reprogrammed by half-assed information. Intimately insulted by casual conduct.  It was a miracle she ever forgave my roster of indiscretions.  I didn't have the strength to rescue John.  Plus, I don't think he really cared as much as she did.  Actually, I'm almost certain.

"Mary, honey.  Tell your father to put this back in the refrigerator, will ya?"

"I'm gonna throw it in the garbage, Mom."

Fom that moment on, everything was changed as far as Big Mare's new ex-boyfriend went.  Marijuana had knocked John from the pedestal upon which my mother personally placed him.  She always took great pride in professing that she understood the drink, but not the drugs.  Never the drugs.  So selectively philanthropic.

I couldn't see the difference, really.  They both got you fucked up.  But I guess she felt that drugs were illegal and, therefore, unacceptable.  Case closed. Unbeknownst to John, he'd been demoted to the depths of Mom's shittiest shit list.

That evening after dinner, the telephone rang.  It was her.

"Listen, kid.  I smell something.  I think he's up there, smoking his pots."

"So what, Mom.  What are you gonna do?  Call the cops?"

"I wouldn't give him the satisfaction."

"Did you ever think maybe the poor guy has cancer?"   It wasn't an unreasonable assumption.  John looked like hell.  "It could be part of his treatment."

"I wish."

"C'mon, now.  That's not nice."

"Oh, I'm disgusted, Mary.  More disgusted than usual," she said and hung up.

The following week, we ran into John at the pizzeria across the street from my folks' apartment.

"Mrs. Dall, hey!" he called out cheerfully, shaking my father's hand.  I said 'hi.'

He stood there for a moment as my mother deliberately ignored him, facing the wall to avoid eye contact.  The exchange was incredibly awkward, especially since Big Mare was the only one who seemed to appreciate the point she was trying to prove.  These points were generally so overwhelmingly pointless, the experience often left her hapless victims somewhat stunned as a result.

After a silent minute, John ventured toward the counter to retrieve his greasy bag of lunchtime cheese and sauce.

"Okay, then.  Better get back to work."

"See ya, John."  Save yourself, I thought.

After he left, Mom leaned across the table.

"There was always something about that creep that rubbed me the wrong way," she said.

I watched through the window as John's cable van pulled out onto the avenue.

"My conversation with Lori confirmed it," she continued.

Oh dear, there's more.  A new boyfriend.  And this time, a girl.

"Who's Lori?" I asked, merely going through the motions.

"You know Lori."  I did not, by the way.  "She's his ex.  I ran into her at the A&P yesterday."

Here we go.

"I feel so sorry for that woman.  No wonder she left him.  I just wish I knew somebody to fix her up with."