Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Everything Is Fine Part 1: A Beginner’s Guide to Re-discovering Your Past Lives
In the depths of this book there is a black and white photo of a leggy high school girl working on pep rally posters. The printed caption says her name is Cheryl and there is a self conscious attempt at describing the scene in a witty manner as though it were a cartoon. In a corner of this page is a paragraph in red ink with cutesy hearts dotting lower case "i"s and florid "t" crossings and some truly hormonal lower loops that have that fetishistic effect on me big lower loops still have. Handwriting analysis is still a hobby, and these are lower loops to make a once desperate young man, now a desperate old fart, daydream of things that should not be done with impressionable young maidens. The red ink words call me by name, wish me a happy life, assure me I’m going to do well and emphasize how "special" and "funny" I am, and what "a trip" it was sitting next to me in history class where Mr. (illegible) gave us detention for laughing too loud and passing notes. I wonder if that was the history class where I got busted out for reading a paperback of "Portnoy's Complaint" behind the text book during a lecture. The lesson was about some particularly gruesome business, maybe the Nazi death camps or maybe the nuking of Nagasaki, and I had come to the infamous scene where poor Alex whacks off into a baseball glove on a bus. I was discovered because I had disintegrated into wheezing, self-suffocating laughter and the teacher wanted to know what was so goddamned funny about what he was saying, was I a monster? Was I insane? What have you got there behind your book - and I was marched off to the principal’s office. I wonder if that was the moment I began to get excited about books. Whatever it was, this young Teutonic beauty painting pep rally posters thought I was all right, way back in the day.
The funny thing is I don’t remember her. Not a clue. Only this mysterious note written above a photo, like a lost fragment of the Dead Sea scrolls. There are a lot of names and mystery notes like this. It was a different time. A whole life lost. The young man is dead and gone, though somehow reincarnated as me, he is already a ghost. I wonder if he would have liked me. I wonder what he would think of the person his karma gave birth to. Perhaps he would sense how sometimes I want so badly to be him and he would feel afraid.
Now this photo here, this is Terri. I remember Terri. She was a senior, a year older than me, when she lived downstairs in my run down apartment building. She came from an Irish Catholic mother, no father around which was typical of most of the kids there including me. We used to hang out in the hall way of our building, sitting close together on the landing and talking late at night. Sometimes she invited me in and we fried tacos on the stove.
There was this guy upstairs named Jerome, a single guy in his mid 20's, a fugitive from an ex-wife, one of these bad boys girls at that age find so fuckable. He knocked her up and dumped her. He continued to live upstairs and more or less ignored her and her rage even after their daughter was born. Terri was the first girl who talked openly with me about sex, and what it was like for a girl. She said once you started - and I had not - it got to be a habit. That's all? A habit? Like picking your nose? Well, kind of, yeah. You forget it’s where babies come from. Rubbers feel funny, and the man complains, so to please him you do it without condoms, usually on the sofa during the commercials when you’re watching TV. You just get so you want to do it all the time. Once you start to feel at ease about being naked in front of that person, its easy to get it going anytime. When you see his cock standing up it proves he thinks you’re beautiful. Right? He must really love you a whole lot, or why would it be like that? Right? You like that feeling when he's on top of you, and when you're looking up at his face, at his intensity, and knowing that for that moment you are all the world to him, that until the moment he makes "this funny noise like a hamster" and his eyes close and his whole body tenses up, that there is nothing - nothing - in all the world more important, nothing he's thinking of except you alone.
Terri lasted in school as long as she could. But in those days, being knocked up wasn’t acceptable. She was a young woman condemned to scuttle through the halls like a troll as her belly swelled and everyone knew she was not a virgin. Kids avoided her. Other friends dropped away. She dropped out and over the summer got her GED. There was a time when it was all too much, Jerome’s indifference, her mother’s contempt, and she had a breakdown and landed in "Glenwood Hills", the local funny farm. I went to see her there. We stood on a stone bridge watching the creek run under. I noticed there were wire nets built under the bridge to keep the desperate from doing anything rash. She said she liked to stand here and watch the water go by and pretend it was carrying her troubles away like dead leaves. Her baby was named Melissa. Everybody called her "Missy". I don’t know where she is these days. They didn't have Facebook then, and I don’t suppose she would have been a Facebook kind of person. I wish I could write her sequel. I wish I could think of a happy ending just for her.
In a corner of the book is this thing from "Scott". I do remember Scott. I have cause to remember him. In my last year of school ever, (I never went to college) Scott and Dennie Gordon were my little gang. My nickname "Garce" was in fact the name Dennie gave me. She had nicknames for everybody. Dennie was in the school drama group. Dennie was pretty slick.
Scott was kind of a rich kid, rich compared to the rest of us anyway, which wasn't saying much. He was one of the few kids around who had both parents living with him. His father was an engineer at Honeywell, and for his birthday bought him a laser you could build from a kit. This was 1970, when lasers were new and big. It made a sparkling penny sized spot of red light. Scott made a hologram of chess pieces and if you shined the laser behind the film and looked at it just right you could see the plastic horse from different angles. After high school he began to drift. He was unhappy about something, but he wouldn’t tell me or Dennie why, and he was clearly in love with Dennie.
When a woman named Wendy contacted me by email about ten years ago, I was wondering a little wistfully if it was this girl I knew in those low rent apartments named Wendy. Another doomed girl with an angry single mother who drank and smoked like a dragon. Wendy had a big, lush body and dazzling breasts that attracted every male loser in the place like a bug zapper when she went swimming in the pool. Was it that Wendy? What would be the sequel for her? A movie star I would wish. Anna Nicole Smith, but with romatic success, better management and without the terminal messiness.
Wendy played Guess Who at first, she had a secret. A secret crush? An adult movie star? That Bug Zapper Wendy? No, Wendy it turned out was cautious because she was used to expecting rejection. Really wigged out rejection.
This Wendy it turned out, was my old friend Scott.
He had spent some time in John Hopkins. She was now a transsexual. We corresponded, and it was my first chance to learn the sequel of my friend's life. She/He – depending - had always been a woman trapped in a man's body. Her family had rejected her and she had made the decision, hell or high water to live the authentic life. I haven’t heard from her in a long time. I wonder how she’s doing. The thing about transsexuals that makes their life so hard, is that they are usually heterosexual. Wendy still likes girls. She had a hard time.
Dennie Gordon became a Hollywood movie director. You can look her up on Wikipedia under "Dennie Gordon". She directed episodes for the dozens of TV shows, and she directed the unfortunate "Joe Dirt" as well as "What a Man Wants" with Mel Gibson. I haven’t tried to write her, and I couldn't write a better sequel for her life. I like the idea that if I want to conjure her ghost I can go to Blockbuster, pick up a DVD and she'll be there in the "bonus" features.
I can’t remember ever being that young man, with so many friends, surrounded by wounded people. I just have the relics, the flotsam that has survived the years as evidence. I wish I could go back and rewrite the sequel of that young man's life. Tell him what to watch out for. To treat religion cautiously. To take it all slow. Tell him not to follow the vision of any person but himself. Tell him to have faith, but not too much faith. Tell him Everything Will Be Fine.
On another page, where there is no writing, there is a photograph of a girl. The Girl. In three years from the time of that photo, on a hot summer night in Minneapolis, we will sit at a small table in a restaurant and talk. I will ask The Girl when she first noticed me in school. She is a year younger than me, which means a lot when you're that age. She was a junior when I was a senior. She will cross her long sleek legs under the table, showing them off for me tonight in hot pants, and watch my eyes. She will say she used to try to stand behind me in the lunch line and listen to me talk with my little gang, Dennie and Scott. She says I sounded "really smart", like I would be an interesting friend. Am I am interesting friend? Definately, she says, leans across and kisses me on the mouth.
I wish I could write a lovely sequel for her. The very best. The most happy ending. Some wonderful, affectionate lie to make her life turn out perfect, though I know it will not. Especially her.
We will leave the restaurant. I will take her home.
Before the night is over this girl with the beautiful legs will make herself unforgettable.