Serial Installment #8 of “On Rainy Days The Monk Ryokan Feels Sorry For Himself”, Pages 146-167


This section might fall between a PG-13 and R rating. If you buy the book now, there will be less chance of the innocent reading over your shoulder.

What am I going to do? And this isn’t enough I suppose? You want me to fall back in line this morning, find a good job, and do to Saturday what every man does with a Saturday after he gets a good job. I could make a thousand Saturdays to come my own private, special world, and grow up just like that miserable neighbor of mine, Tim the snow-blower. Of course if it’s snowing on Saturday, the day after I get the great job to beat all jobs; if it’s snowing and I could be leaning back on the couch in celebration, I’ll make sure to shovel the driveway first, just to relax and not get too excited about my excellent job. Of course it must not matter to you that I would actually jump through the roof if I sold a piece of my writing for five dollars to an interested reader. No, the great job has come into my life with benefits and all those sick and personal days accrued. That there is a difference between being sick and personal I never knew. The employer must anticipate the employee being a fat liar. The personal day was invented for the employee to call in sick and not worry about being seen at the McDonald’s drive-thru.
401K, dental plan, health insurance, excellent pay with room for more? I could shovel my driveway and hope to get a great job. I could spend all day Saturday dreaming that I am as good as the next guy. But I don’t want to be as good as him. Probably because I don’t think he’s any good. It’s too careful and safe a thing to be employed with benefits. Because somewhere at the top of that ladder there’s a millionaire kicking over his filth onto you. The price paid for security is high, too high to spend any night on a couch waiting patiently to view a movie made for television. Was it just a dream last Saturday, of some time long ago when I ran shirtless along the rock face and leaped off into the shimmering light dancing on the water? I don’t want the past. I’d rather the holy spirit slap me on the back and my teeth fall out. 401K? Man, I repel the future as much as the past. God, how can any man think that far past tomorrow? Why would he want to? What spell has come over the men of this country for them to wonder if at seventy there will be any hair left to comb? A powerful spell it must have been to have such foolish worries when knowing that hair or no hair, there’s still those flabby titties to consider? Is everyone with a good job a frightened, quivering bunny with a car payment? If I ever got a good job I’d be too embarrassed to walk out my door with my head held high. How humiliating to be given a title that the world of men can understand.
“What does he do?”
“He’s a mailman.”
“Wow, I hear they got great benefits at the post office.”
“Yes, but he had to pee into a tiny plastic cup. He got some drips on his fingers, and walked over to the nurse with his head down. She got pee on her fingers too, when he handed it over. She blushed and giggled with embarrassment, not because of the piss (she gets that all day), but because she knew that getting a good job is a very humiliating thing to happen to an honest man.
And then there is the rectal exam to consider. Your employer needs to know about your colon. In fact, a good interviewer will decide immediately if you’re the right man for the job. Any man is the right man who would allow a stranger’s finger in his ass. It can only go up so far, but once that’s checked out, it’s three percent of yours to five percent of theirs until you hit sixty-five, and are considered by your employer to be dead and gone, no matter how many strong Saturdays you think you have left. Don’t bother getting your shovel out to prove a thing! You could have cleared the whole block of snow, but if you pick up a fifty pound box of staples and a disc pops out of your backside, then it’s an early retirement for you. We’re sorry, but the truth is you are a highly expendable piece of furniture. Which means we don’t give a bird about you, Mr. Folding Chair! Your great personality cannot pick up that box of staples, can it? So sayonara! What good are you to us without a strong back? Heck, you can always fall back on the benefits, which is a safer thing than finding a gruesome abnormality up your ass, which might have eliminated any hope for you to get hired in the first place. A bump in your colon or a broken back? Neither are very beneficial, but one is much safer in the long run, don’t you think?
I like to think of my brother in law, who shovels his walkway like a pro because he has a good job and would never eat crow no matter how many times they got him to drop his drawers for pay. I like to think of him bending over the exam table talking about drill bits or the Tuesday Night Movie to a frustrated doctor, who is having the damnedest of times trying to find his anus. (My brother-in-law has a very big ass.)
Well his colon and urine got a clean bill of health. Now he is as free as he’ll ever be, with a good job to boot. It is always his own special Saturday to be exactly the same as the next guy.
Here is something men these days will not talk about. I think they buy new trucks to cover for the humiliation of dropping their pants for a job. Any job that pays well with benefits.
You might think that it is a personal quirk of mine, but no amount of money or security is worth a stranger’s finger in my rectum. Thank you. Now I’d like to welcome prostate cancer and poverty to my retirement dinner. And leave all empty pillboxes at the door. I don’t have a penny to fill them.
Thinking on my retirement… How wonderful it will be to work for minimum wage again. I am practicing that feeling now, by considering a bookseller’s job. Who am I kidding? I want it. I’ll take it and keep it for as long as it remains in business. Provided the boss doesn’t ask any more of me than greetings to the customers, general shelf arrangement, dusting, vacuuming, and register check out. If I decide to retire come old age, rotten teeth, and an all-night wrenching abdominal pain, I will bow to my employer, expecting nothing in return besides the good memories we shared selling books. First I’ll make sure my wife and I have a little something put away. Enough for first month’s rent and deposit, plus two bus tickets to the Florida beaches. Leave it all up to providence I say. I’ll get a job cleaning pools or selling bait and tackle from a stool. Because I want no one tickling my stool, I have thought out my retirement through and through. I will not pay that high a price for shoveling my walk on a snowy Saturday. I don’t need to dream about the golden days, which was any time before succumbing to the acquisition of a good job. I am living them right now, for as long as I can hold out against the piss-in-the-cup and finger probing mob.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone you knew took on a minimum wage job? Your brother and sister? Your best friend? Joy is poverty shared. I know this to be true because I have experienced it and so have you, dear reader. But you have forgotten. We were all young yesterday. I write to tell you that tomorrow we can become even younger. Why wait fifty years not knowing where or what will become of you. The age of beauty is just around the corner. Prepare for it now. It is easy to see the end of money. I am a living example of that future world. And I am not a lone anomaly. There are millions alive like me who desire life shed of all its warm and cozy money blankets. I cannot find many of them. I should not have to look much further. I already know enough people who are fit to play some of the many games which the creator has graciously set up for us. Life is play. Your wife, brother-in-law, best friend, your father, mother, and anyone else that you know and they know, must burn their stinking piles of pretend money. It’s time to play. We have our homes, the knowledge and ability to make food and collect it with our hands. But there is a long time lasting between the first seed planted and the harvesting of crops. I get so damn sad watching the old people die off without ever coming to this realization. Well.., never expressing it anyway. I suggest a playtime for the rest of our lives. Can you show me a better way? Can you honestly say the path you’re on now is the right one? Or is it just the safest way to afford your coffin and save you the embarrassment of being dead and in debt?
But I tell you the truth and the truth says the reality of tomorrow is Ron’s poetry today. I like you all well enough for surface conversation. Don’t you think now is the time to dig deeper and pull ourselves out of this pit money’s buried us in? Moments of clarity sing of this one, all encompassing truth. That we have suffered enough already, no one would deny. The age of beauty is flowering before our very own eyes. Why do we remain blind and crouched low inside our deep holes? We don’t want to know about the easiness of sharing. We think that is a sin because the President tells us communism is a sin. Stop. Put the book down and dream about the sweet and happy passing of your childhood. I like to think about the football games I starred in after school. There’s my room in the evening, and those mysterious jaunts to the dangerous lands within the boundary of my parent’s yard. Even then they had us practicing to be alone. To take things as they come, alone. To live alone to die alone. It was a rare occasion when I was forced to share with my little friends. But when pressed, I didn’t complain. A toy truck, a train, the igloo block maker… The grown-ups paid lip service to the virtue of sharing, but never practiced it. No example. Never. Never ever. Oh, Mom might offer her friend coffee, but not the house, at least not for too long. She would share her dinner, four, maybe five times a year, but not one square inch of her land. She would share the money with the borrower’s promise to pay back fast and on time. But share it all as if it wasn’t hers to give? And for a lifetime? Holy mother of God no, no, NO!
Now I will show all of you how to share. Let’s have just enough money to buy us some time with friends who are smart enough to want to play games. This is what everyone needs after the roof, the food, the clothing and the heat. What is all this stuff we got if not a constant reminder of what little we have? Imagine now without my help the massive, smothering amount of waste laying about you. Layer upon layer. This is not an earth of you all alone with wild animals and no place to sleep. We have many places to sleep. We have the heaps of crap we’ve accumulated thus far. Some of it is worth keeping for survival in the age of beauty. In our homes, among our things, each will find what he needs to live out his natural life alone. Yet who is strong enough to brave the poverty and loneliness? In the age of beauty, it’s time to use each other, to exchange only those ideas which bring us closer together, to share our energy and love before we die. This is not a good will paragraph. This is the truth. Once we remained together for the purpose of survival. That was noble and necessary. A warm wisdom in a cold world. Fences went up. The work was hard. For some, getting food was the most demanding chore. Now in the world of 246,964 boxes of Fruity Pebbles waiting at this moment on grocery shelves all across America, can we stop for a day and reevaluate the meaning of our existence? Do you think it will all go to pot without the Fruity Pebble factory? I don’t. In fact I think our lives much improved without it, and the million or so other useless commodities. Uh-oh, without them some of you will lose your jobs. When a grown man loses his job he might as well slash his throat, since he has been conditioned to believe all his life that the job is the man, and vice-versa. Inside yourselves you are laughing at the man who lost his job. You’re just happy that it’s not you. Oh what a pleasantly cruel and pitiless intelligence we are! Human beings capable of wisdom again? What a long shot! In fact, all other creatures in existence are the wiser. The human being is a million years old? And this is what he has to show for it? God mocks us. But I don’t have to tell you that. Go to your home old man, and I’ll drive over to mine. And someday we’ll visit our daughters and go out on Friday night with the Miller’s and the Moody’s. Everyone condemned to their separate house, separate home, separate family, separate friendships, separate possessions, separate ideas, separate hopes, separate plans for a future that most certainly will come exactly how we imagined it, because we bent over willingly and allowed a stranger’s finger up our butts. It is the cruelest of jokes we play upon ourselves, to be so separately the same until death sets us free.
What is any wisdom worth if it cannot provide the outline for a deliriously happy existence? What old man wants to die unfulfilled? How can we respect the old man who died without ever giving us permission to play for the rest of our lives? These are questions to ask yourself before you are an old man, young man. I don’t think I am crazy to desire my street to open up its doors this Saturday morning to show the people running out into the sunlight looking to catch the start of the next game. But it is so quiet today. All I can hear is the lone, cold snow shoveling from the nice old lady next door.

I’m finally at a time in my life when I can forget what day it is. Yesterday was St. Patrick’s day, but I celebrated it the day before. Corned beef and boiled potatoes. There’s an imagination in that which could keep a sensitive man cheerful enough until May. But a wise man would go deeper to tell you they chose the worst piece of beef and set it to boil for hours until it fell to pieces. Throw in the pig’s vegetables and cook another hour. This was the faultless cooking of the Irish. The drunk’s dinner. And we know it was the frigid night air that called him to drinking. I say they saw snakes because of the DT’s. Saint Patrick picked his head out of the mud, puked green, and saw the snakes coiling all around his soiled clothes. I know it. You know it. So let’s stop asallabratin’ this instant Mr. O’Grady and march straight home to apologize to the wife and kids.
Also yesterday, during a heavy snowfall, I saw a cardinal fly over my yard and land on a fence. These are good signs. Northern inhabitants should change their new year to begin on the first of May. Of course for such luck to happen, drastic changes must occur in the business world. Did I say drastic? I meant murder. All the business people would have to be slain. Might as well scrap the calendar altogether and let nature tell us what time to get up, and which holidays to celebrate. St. Patrick’s Day? No, Cardinal’s Day. A green shag sale at the carpet outlet? No, our eyes pecked out of our heads. You didn’t think the cardinal was fluffing his feathers out to impress us, did you?
My oldest daughter Rachelle is waking up in Frenchland. She’s in Quebec with her mother and her mother’s new acquisition to the family. This is the third man mommy has taken to bed in five years. There might be more, plenty more, but only three Rachelle thought worth mentioning.
He’s brought them to the Frontenac Hotel. Quite an expensive weekend for my daughter to be on. He’s booked a double suite. Why I wonder? Would their making love damage her mind? Yes, if they made love in America with Long Dong Willie and Moanin’ Marilyn Mascara. But they’re in French-speaking Canada, and if he loves her Mom, she should already know how much he loves her mom. The French don’t screw each other like drunken cowboys mounting a mare in heat. They live in small houses with locked doors, and are very careful how they make love in front of the children.
So many strange, disturbing thoughts come to mind whenever I think about the new acquisition. I still have not met him. I know why too. He’s an American flapdoodle and I haven’t the legal nor strong arm power to kick him out of Rachelle’s life. I don’t trust him a bit, and why should I? Last month he took her to a cabin up in the Adirondack woods outside of Lake Placid. He brought his own daughter along. Rachelle said she was bratty, but I already knew that because she attends an American public school. Anyway, he drove up to our house on their return trip from the mountains, yet stayed in the mini-van while Rachelle and her mother walked up the snowy path. “What chunk of brain has melted out of his ears,” I wondered to Marie, “for him to think I don’t expect to be introduced?”
That night while our little family kept busy with the newborn beauty, I got a phone call from Rachelle’s mother. She said the new acquisition has a crazy x-wife who got their little girl to confess that she and Rachelle watched them have sex on the floor of the cabin in the woods. The x-wife called social services to react to the situation, and make arrests if necessary. Again, so many mixed feelings I’ve been having. Supposedly all this happened a month ago, and since then, Rachelle has been interviewed by a county worker who came into her mother’s home to ask questions that should never be asked of children. County law decrees that I was to receive a letter in the mail explaining the delicacy of the situation. But it happened that the social worker was a friend of Rachelle’s mother, and held back all pertinent information. She made a visit to their house anyway, to ask Rachelle about her weekend in Lake Placid. Did she see something to disturb her? Enough to admit to a complete stranger that she watched mommy jumping up and down in the sheets with the new acquisition?
Yet again, a mixed jumble of feelings. Very soon I will go off in a thousand directions. Hopefully I will stop before I end up scaring myself. Unfortunately logic always circles back to a life or death situation for me. I see everything as night or day. Probably because logically, that is all existence can be. Logic is never the law unless the latter adheres to the statutes passed by life and death, night and day. Who do we believe in, the county government or the sun’s light? Or both? No, logically that is impossible. You believe in the county government but expect the sun to shine down on it, and a moon to look pretty lit up over the roof of it. Logic is life and life is the sun. Logic is death and death is the moon. We are animals born into the world of life and death. We are a tiny fraction of a world which does not need us. Man’s law goes unheeded in a dark forest until the day he inhabits it. If a tree falls on a man’s head in the woods, and no other man hears his screaming, does he make a sound? We should burn our books collecting dust on the shelf. We should finish our ill-spent lives with a bookless moon to base the new law upon.
Grown up people screw. It’s just something they do when boy meets girl and girl presses his privates. The woman who came over to talk to Rachelle about her mommy’s promiscuity should hang from the ceiling by her wrists and licked all over by your most obese and sweaty county worker. She should suffer sexual humiliation. Why? Because she accepts an annual salary, paid in weekly installments for the perversion of stepping into a stranger’s home uninvited, to ask guilty questions of innocent children. “Did you have a good time?” “Was there a lot of snow?” “How long is the new acquisition’s penis?” What a perversion! How can she drive home at the end of the day unscarred? Any attempt to cross my threshold and I swear to God she’d be whipped in front of the children. Or I could let my dog hump her first, then whip her. That would give the county secretary a hot little book of perversion to file!
These sick, twisted minds hiding behind the desks of governments… Are they to look after my child? Are they the society caring for her? Who are they? Listen, I am in charge. I will decide if the new acquisition has harmed her. And if he has, I will be the one to stuff his colon full of rusty car parts. They will be delicate with the children. Judge? Secretary? Representative? Do any of these porn dogs know what dangers await behind the doors the caseworkers are paid to walk up to? Are only those hired who write on their application for employment “absolutely not!” after the “Do you have any self-respect left” fill-in-the-blank question? If it was my home, only bullets would get strangers personal time with my daughter. Remember that! I might be one to waste words, but they’re shot from the Gatling gun of a dangerously truthful heart.
Where was I? Oh yes, disturbing thoughts. So I still haven’t met the mysterious man in the mini-van. He must want me to create these illusions I am having. Or maybe they’re not illusions because he can’t hold his head high knowing that I know he ejaculated near my daughter. If he knew me, he would know that I don’t care, as long as he loves like I do—with dignity and devotion. At least I didn’t care, until he avoided meeting me again last week. He refused to come into the kitchen while I patiently waited for Rachelle to tie her boot laces. Her mother asked him if he was afraid. He told her no, yet he sat still with his back turned to my outstretched hand. All that I needed was his hand to make my acquaintance. No. He wouldn’t even turn around to look at me! Then I knew he was guilty—for something, for anything, for everything!
I cannot get angry today. I hate waking up like this, boxing ghosts. So far, and probably forever, I think the new acquisition might be a lying fake snake. He even had the nerve to send my little girl a letter. Said she’s a good example for his daughter, and he’s glad he got to know her, and blah, blah, blah, kiss some more ass, American flapdoodle. Mister new acquisition, you foolish fop, she is my daughter’s mother, and you can wine her, dine her and goose her thirty ways to Saturday for all I care. But don’t think I will sit by with hands folded and eyes closed while you earn Rachelle’s affection without first receiving her father’s heartfelt blessing.
And finally a word to all county workers inquiring about my sex life—You do not want to come over to my house. Trust me. The same goes for any new acquisitions henceforth and including the latest cowering fakealot.
He is probably very nice. A fun guy to stand around the fire and drink beer with in a manless world. But I guess I’ll never know because we are a no-community of broken-backed men and cowardly security-grubbing women, weighing new acquisitions for what they are worth to ourselves and never for what joy or harm they may cause the children.
Oh well, so goes my life in Oswego. Never a dull moment, until one happens, and then someone else is always to blame.
Night is falling on this side of the earth. It’s impossible for me to become cosmopolite. I am an Oswego man and I am not to make a stir when a drunk college kid pisses on my lawn. I can certainly see myself cracking his skull open for pissing on my lawn, but it’s just not wise to be so rash. We’re even told to allow them pissing rights on our lawns and their yelling, “motherfucker” while our daughters sleep six feet above their steamy, stream of eighty proof white water. I may never live in Paris or even Montreal. Oswego will probably be my big city for always, I am afraid. But it’s better this way since the men here are incurably stupid, and it’ is easy for me to aspire to an illusion greater than theirs. I pretend that this is a beautiful place to live. That I never knew a lake to be so blue one August morning was a good start. I saw a stillness there during my last summer at college, and thought, “Well, hmm, this could be a happy place to live.” And the college library being so close to the lake… I could make a most charming paradise of this! What else does a poet need but room for thought, some good books, and a shallow shoreline to wade in? But the lake gets cold in the wintertime, the men get mean, the women produce a deep, prolonged sadness with weight gain, and if it wasn’t for the old brick buildings to save my sanity on countless imaginative walks downtown, I am sure that by now I would have committed murder.
That’s not entirely true. I had a daughter to care for in the early years. And I moved out to Red Creek twice on a whim. But in Oswego, alone in my youth, especially in thought, I had the strength then to imagine my city to be the greatest place on earth for an artist to take up housekeeping. A small city of artists just like me. It didn’t matter how cold the gray sky, I would walk beneath it dreaming of some fantastic world. I had imagination. I had hope! I had time! I had beauty waiting around every corner. I walked with my head held high. And I had a best friend to keep me company.
His name?
Mr. Glorious Life of Poverty!
Great friend, but such a poor contributor.
I think that anyone pursuing a dream should move to Oswego. Here is a fine testing ground for a dream’s fat chances. Only the strongest immunity to old men and their mind disease can keep steady to a dream after the onslaught of an Oswego winter. The cold is bitter and almost forever to a dream, but it’s never the cold which finally kills it.
What then? There are colder places to pursue a dream. Regions left on earth that get frigid below zero in February, yet still welcome men bringing hope and idea and action. I believe, but I don’t know where in the world, do you? Alaska? The North Pole? Houston, Texas?
Houston comes to mind because I have been dreaming about it all day long. My daughter says it is the fourth largest city in America. I imagine it flat with oil drills downtown. A city without nature in the way. The new city. The American city. Houston has the envy of every township in Texas hoping to become a Houston some day. And being such a huge hungry city, eating and belching millions of wayward souls each day, all of them thinking alike, dreaming alike, and not a single one of them arriving on foot or by mule, the chances are slim that at the tail end of one of its many brightly lit fast food strips, there awaits even a trailer’s kitchen full of artists for Houston to devour. Maybe on the outskirts, on a treeless plain with pools of dust and rolling tumbleweed, where tornadoes still rip by after the storm, maybe there might live and breathe a teensy-tiny community of dreamy artsy folk. But I doubt it. Why? Because a true community of artists must create without means supplied via the millionaire’s pocket. That means no government jobs. No part-time secretaries to the oil mogul. No art-inclined landscapers to discover new, decorative ways to make the rich man’s lawn look even richer. Artists who earn a paycheck by other means besides art? “We have to eat!” they exclaim. Fine I say, fine and good. But eat and eat alone. Eat for fuel. Eat for fecundating. Eat for creation’s sake. No chewing while you eat. Swallow fast and hard. No matter how belittling work was today, it had better be rice or corn in some form at sunset. Then a walk to chase the sun down and start the blood flowing again in Houston. The rich are rich because the poor want to be rich too. What is the middle class but a sour clump of feeble-minded wanna-be rich people? What are the poor and degenerate classes but the temporary disguise of filthy rich people with extremely bad tastes? Would any of these fakers pass up the chance to be a millionaire? Absolutely not. Everyone is eating. Sleep is inevitable. Creation remains on schedule. What pray tell is the problem with Houston?
It lives! Stop! Man stop! Don’t let it get any bigger. Don’t let Houston grow another hand to slap you in the face with nigger! You’re down on your luck because of Houston. Houston is the cruel, faceless, unanimous vote against you. It passed a thousand new laws today. One would put you in jail for stealing food. Houston is not a sheep farm in the country. Laws. What laws? Laws to help build a huge house for him and a plastic poor box for you. This is not Hammurabi. If Mesopotamia had Houston, archaeologists would uncover petrified shoe boxes stuffed with porn, plastic wrap and mummified cheeseburgers smelling like Houston. Houston is not the artist’s hope. It is his Antichrist, his judgment day, his netherworld, his hell on wheels. Every man for himself? Okay. I’m ready. Are you? I want that loaf of bread and I will set your house on fire for it. Houston is the monster of death. Houston is death brought back to life in order to create more death. Houston eats her degenerate poor, then shits out streams of laughing coins. Reflected from the monster’s eye is a picture of your loving mother. Mommy would never hurt you. She smiles asking you to come closer so she can see. You move closer. Then she kicks the sap out of your brain with steel-toed boots. Houston laughs the collected roar of a thousand whistling twisters mopping up your blood. It is not a war I call between the haves and have-nots. There are no have-nots. Everybody has and gots too much already. I hate the rich, but I despise the poor, and I could strangle all the fakers in the middle. The poor aren’t great. The poor are not noble. The poor have not been noble in over six thousand years. The noble poor in Houston? Grandma buying her own coffin and plot, rotting peacefully underground until Mr. Bush drives an oil drill through her skull. There’s a noble pride for you, Houston. An example of a sturdy citizenry. The poor are not beautiful. There is no poor beyond the naked and the hungry. Artists want to create something beautiful, while naked and hungry. Copy the artist’s life. Especially if you are poor.
It is the people of Houston who make the ugly of Houston real for me. They have allowed Houston to happen. And Houston rewards their reticent acceptance of brain smashing-ins with splendid arrangements of trees and flowers in magnificent, irrigated parks, quiet air-conditioned buses with friendly bus drivers, new museums stocking the latest dead crap uncovered in France, a thousand “howdy, friends!” heard a day from the shoddiest looking bunch of human beings ever gathered together in one fat, greasy, malignant macrocosm—the best frame, plastic siding and asphalt roof offered in twenty-first century quick-build architecture, and extremely favorable conditions for the ordinary citizen to become a millionaire, provided he keeps wanting and hoping, always thinking new cars, and playing the lottery. The pretty landscaped drives are slick and friendly. It’ is a warm and lovely day in Houston. Soon dark clouds will billow on the horizon, when the oil gush will paint a lighter shade onto a blacker sky. Do not fret, good citizens of Houston! Turn the radio dial to “Weather-talk” and listen for instructions. Click on the TV and wait. Don’t bother to watch hail balls the size of human heads bouncing off the freshly paved blacktop. Just close your eyes rich or poor man, cause here comes Houston, gonna bust open your skull and rain on the sap of what’s left of your brains.
Just warming up folks. A silly introduction to Houston. What I set out to do this morning was to relate another depressing, American love story. Houston could be a perfect backdrop in the following short take on woe. But since I’ve never been there, I better keep to what I know.
Jane and Dick moved out to Houston last year. Oswego got to them too, but in a different way entirely. This story begins with a rare and beautiful love song sung by two little lambs of Oswego. It ends on a note of bitter dissonance, to the sound of sheep being slaughtered with chain saws. Their carcasses hung in the sardonic cold room of Jane and Dick’s manipulative mind-thoughts.
Everything human is interrelated. The wheel is human. Whatever I write or think is only true in the sense that it is human. Animals don’t give a fucktadoo about us. All trees want us dead. I don’t like people as much as I do crows and dogs. So when I write a book about Oswego, but go off on a tangent dreaming about Houston, I do it for the human wheel, the interconnectedness of all things human. I would want the people of Houston to know that I am on to them too. Oswego is my home. Houston is a hundred Oswegos without snow. How do I know this? Well, Jane and Dick of Oswego relocated to Houston because the money was good. The money is always good outside of Oswego. People should be happy enough to want to make money. So who could blame Jane and Dick for moving closer to money? For watching money like a hawk? For stalking sexy money? For sneaking up and pouncing on gorgeous, sexy money? Life is too short to not want a lot of money. I think Jane and Dick deserve a slap on the back for finally breaking out. Some applause for them please. Then straight to a drunken party of booze in a plastic cup. I don’t think these folks ever received a proper send-off out of Oswego.
Me? Oh, I would be delighted. To begin then…
Jane and Dick are Amy’s parents. Jane is her mother and Dick is her stepfather. Amy has a father. He married a bird, and is living on a hill where there is always money and a good job.
Amy was my third love. I was her twenty-third. I had a kid (Oswego terminology). I lived in a cellar. I settled down in it after two long months of living in the open air. I got retarded. I got happy. I saw some things the animals see in late September and October. You wouldn’t know until you’re homeless in the wild North. The trees are very careful about who they show themselves too. One must be either blindly ecstatic or retarded. Either way, it takes a lot of trial and error to get yourself mentally prepared for the tree’s respect.
I got a basement apartment and a dishwasher’s job all in the same week. Lucky me. I had to call a friend to borrow money to use as a deposit for the apartment. I was so perfectly poor, wide open, impressionable… Practically overnight I fell in love with the bus girl, Amy, leaving her dirty plates, forks and knives for me to clear and clean. She was pretty and parrot-mouthed, with teeth awfully stained and crooked. But she was twenty and I loved her young, ugly beauty. I was the first poet to ever fall in love with her.
Jane and Dick liked Amy enough. She lived with them while attending college. She never went to class. She got dressed to go, waved goodbye, and at times even waited for the city bus outside Jane and Dick’s bedroom window, to create the illusion of her going. She would get on and then get off over the top of the next hill. She never went to school. She came to my door instead. She failed on purpose.
There she is now, standing in the doorway of the November dawn. The wet air blows. Wet leaves stuck to the soles of her penny loafers. She’s dressed up like a catholic school girl. Plaid vest with black skirt and tights. Ah, but she’s beautiful this morning, and I’ve had my coffee. I touch every part of her body from door to golden bed, where we will make love and talk and sleep all day. There’s not a window in the basement. I prefer it dark with the smells of coffee, mildew and sex. At three o’clock I get up to brush my teeth. I leave her there while I walk to the restaurant under gray, still, November skies. I am singing songs.
Jane and Dick take a cheerful liking to me straight off. How could they not? My eyes are wide open. I have a beautiful daughter. I love Amy. What more could they want for their loopy kid? Of course I don’t think she’s crazy. I think her heart is overflowing. I have seen her eyes well up with tears. I walked her home in the dark just before dawn, and she remarked about the black boughs and spider web branches of the young trees shining so wet in the lamplight. Sometimes the light is on in her little sister’s room. She’s up early getting ready for school. I let go of Amy at her door and walk back the way we came, wearing a wool overcoat and fishing hat. Now I am a man who knows ecstasy.
A short introduction to Jane and Dick: Jane worked for the power company. Dick worked as a button pusher at an automated garbage burning plant. Jane worked in Syracuse and drove a new car. Dick worked the swing shift in Fulton and had a sweet black pick up truck to ride. Jane left her husband to fuck Dick. Dick looked like Tom Selleck and Jane was going out at night with her girlfriends looking for Dick. She wanted more than anything his mustache tickling her lips so she could say she lived once before she died. She wanted Dick bad because all that her husband gave her were children and a garage littered with tools and PVC. He bowled with the fellas every Saturday night and drank himself a belly full of beer. Back then Jane was a hot teller and Dick liked music and dancing. He was single, over ten years younger than Jane. Dick had a sports car and respectable savings to begin their new life together.
So Jane left her husband to marry Dick. Dick always thought how lucky—now there was Jane and three little blonde girls to raise. Dick liked to think touchy feely, and over the years, got smart on how to make it look like an accident. Oops, up the stairs he lost his balance. Or when he couldn’t reach those cobwebs in the high corners, and it was hot some summers so the girls dressed light… Oh Dick was a man and wanting enough to marry Jane, even if it was true that her tubes were tied. So he took on the responsibility for teenage girls not of his own blood. Dick was young but he wasn’t dumb. He loved the children very carefully, from a safe distance, especially while Amy’s Dad still had input.
Amy was the middle sister, and probably the most upset by divorce. She never found her cozy spot within the bosom of either family. Once she even dyed her hair blue and green. She was unknown in high school. Her older sister Lisa was the popular one. She was much prettier with straight teeth and an empty head, so typically forgiven of an American high school girl. The youngest was Melinda who would have Lisa’s beauty if she didn’t have Jimmy Durante’s nose. She was young and impressionable and did not want to grow up to be like Amy. All three sisters liked Dick, but it was Amy who liked Dick a little bit too much. At the time, (simply because that time was so desperate to me), I never allowed such a disturbing thought to enter my mind.
One would think Amy might get closer to her Dad. This was not to be. Daddy forgot about his girls after he married a woman who looked just like a bird. In fact he called Amy a “freak for a daughter” when she showed him her new hair color, blushing and smiling her crooked teeth smile. “I have a freak for a daughter!” I don’t think that the Oswego man is ever quite sure what his dick is really for. He creates a human life, and thank God it’s a girl! But then he consumes the limited space in his brain with fattening dreams of advancement at the power plant. Why should he remain a lowly meter reader when he could change jobs in the company, aspiring to one with a better pension plan and a roof above him on rainy days? He bowled on Saturday nights and the boys slapped his fat belly and joked out loud, “You better watch it Johnny, you’re getting fatter and Jane’s looking elsewhere.”
So Johnny reserved any real feeling he had for his girls to crying after the shrimp plate was passed on Christmas Eve. He broke down in front of me and the shrimp. We’re standing in his living room, talking about football, and then suddenly he begins to bawl, gathering the girls up in his arms. “It’s okay Dad.” “Oh Daddy don’t cry.” “Why are you crying Daddy?”
Oh I know why your dad cries real tears girls. I know because I am a Dad. I just won’t ever call my daughter a freak, that’s all. I won’t ever be guilty for building a big house expressly on demand from my birdlike wife. I won’t buy a big truck while my daughter’s living with a dishwasher in an apartment they can barely afford. I will never bowl if I can be with her. I won’t allow a raise in my pay to buy another tropical vacation without her. I will keep my wife enthusiastic and happy and never choosing booze or a Dick over my strong arms and gentle heart.
Here I am girls, half your father’s age, with the smarts to know what a dick is for. I’m a dishwasher with a daughter and a desire to watch football tonight before Santa Claus comes. I would be home with her now if her mom wasn’t just like Jane, and in the beginning knew the real value of the egg she had fertilized.
I never got to know Johnny well beyond an occasional beep from his shiny green truck. Once he stopped by to visit while Amy was baking popovers. He wanted to give her the name of a man he thought to be a good catch. Another time he came over with the bird lady while Amy was painting and I was cleaning up my poems with a typewriter and new paper. Amy loved me then. A small temporary paradise discovered by his daughter, but poor butter-gut Johnny didn’t know where the hell he was!
It’s true, Amy had shitty parents. I loved her anyway. We moved to New York after she failed out of school. How embarrassing to Jane and Dick! At the time, they thanked me for taking Amy off their hands. Dick even drove us to the bus station and shook my hand as we boarded. But I was a fast failure in New York, and we returned to Oswego before a month went by, abandoning apartment and deposit because I couldn’t stand life away from Rachelle. Simply put: Never again would I attempt to build a new home without her.
Amy went to Jane and Dick. I went back on the lam in Oswego. Unemployed. Penniless. Homeless. March. Still cold. Still too cold to wake up under a tree, but I did. Jane and Dick thought I was living at a friend’s house. I was not. I was freezing close to death. At dinnertime I’d sneak around the back of their house, and Amy would hand me a bag of food out the door. I’d steal a kiss and be off. That was good. In fact after failure and let down and reduced to begging my food, we still had hope for each other. By April I was back to work at the restaurant scrubbing dishes and trying to save up enough money for a deposit. Another basement perhaps? Why not when you’re miserable cold and in love in Oswego?
Then one rainy night after another rainy and miserable day, I called up Amy from a pay phone in the park. Melinda answered.
“Is Amy there?”
“Yea, hold on. Amy!” she yelled, “The welfare case is on the phone!”
When Amy picked up, I heard them laughing. Dick and Jane and fourteen-year-old Melinda. They were laughing at the welfare case. I loved Amy and they were laughing at the man who loved her. Ah, “the bitter dance of loneliness”—I didn’t realize it at the time, but the moment I hung up the phone, my life took a turn for the better. I discovered hate. Real hatred. And I rather liked the feelings hate stirred up inside. Hate was exhilarating. Hate was sublime. What was this fine line nonsense I heard so much about? Standing in the rain, wallowing in misery, poverty, love, I realized then that hate was something I had never experienced. Once I liked Jane and Dick. But I never loved them. And if love and hate were opposite sides of a fine line, once I must have loved them for as much as I hated them at that moment. No. Impossible. I realized that hate was a separate universe to love. It was not love’s opposite as most believe. Oh no. There was hate and I had it. I was free to hate. Love and hate could no longer be expressed together in the same mood, in differing degrees of hot and cold. There was never any fine line at all. Now I knew beyond a doubt there was love and there was the absence of love. I felt hate and it had no intercourse with love whatsoever. If love was the supreme virtue, hate was never its vice. Hate would have its own place. It’s own virtue. It’s own life.
On that miserable cold and bitter night, I discovered the healing powers of hate. Because of the humiliation I felt, wrought by Jane and Dick and big schnoz Melinda, all snug in their cozy pajamas, laughing at my predicament… Because of the rainy night realization that love didn’t matter a lick to these monsters, after the hanging up of the phone, the standing in the rain, the shock of tears pouring from my eyes, the idiot crying out, “Why would they want to hurt me?”, I vowed to return their cruel carelessness with a hate so great it might kill them. I was going to love their daughter to make them sick enough to die. I would show how easy it was to hate and love at the same time. Oh there’s your fine line Jane and Dick! The welfare case is going to love her all over. Are you ready? I may love every orifice of her, Jane and Dick, night after night, and you’ll have no control. One day I will marry her and have children and raise them to love and hate exactly like their Dad. I’ll pull each kid out personally, with fiendish glee, impatient to teach the newborns how to despise the smiling faces of their grandparents, Jane and Dick.
And for a while it worked. I most certainly drove them to distraction. They shook at the sound of my name. I admit that I helped fuel their hatred whenever possible. If Amy and I were out walking, and I spied Dick’s truck coming our way, I’d pull Amy up close, take hold of her arms and kiss her. Then I’d turn my eyes upon Dick’s hateful glare as he passed by. Oh that must have made Dick’s prick shrink up inside. There was a time of desperation when Jane made an attempt at reconciliation. She wrote a note at Christmas, “Dear Ron, please let bygones be bygones. Love Jane” I wrote back a note telling her that was impossible, my hate is non-forgiving. Once, and this was when I knew for sure that I was hating them good and proper, she was so beside herself with rage that she actually called up my mother in Florida, and threatened to send Dick over to kick my ass if I refused to quit Amy. That is how crazy Jane was. I was a full grown man, long gone from the nest, with a child of my own, and this frazzled woman was calling up my mommy in sunny Florida. She never even met her. She was trying to persuade her woman’s finer sensibilities. “Your son is angering my husband who is a six-foot-two, 210 pound Irishman with a bad temper.” My mother wrote to me immediately, “Oh my God, honey, that woman is crazy. Watch out for her dear.”
All in all in the end, Jane and Dick got the best of me. Or maybe I received hate’s blessing, and was spared an eternity of loving Amy. Hate didn’t want it’s “A” student playing the fool again and again. Amy made a pass at my best friend while I was visiting Tony in New York. I said I would stay with her anyway. We could work it out. I think that I even blamed myself because I truly did love her. That’s not what she wanted to hear. All night she packed her things. The next morning I awoke to Dick standing in our kitchen with a face on that warned me not to voice a single word of protest. I remember Amy trying to squeeze by me with my black teapot and cups. I grabbed the box out of her arms and ran downstairs out to the backyard. That was our last day in the love nest together.
Afterwards I kept to my daily routine as if nothing had happened. I cooked the meals, cleaned the house, played with my daughter, and on breaks, took my favorite book with me into the tub. Amy? She went on a fucking spree soon afterwards. Her spring time of life became a beer drunk and a sex binge. Never in my wildest dreams did I think she would go that road. Never a pretty sight in Oswego, no matter how popular. Still, I had to see Amy almost every night at the restaurant. I was promoted to a cook’s position, and she to a waitress. It was the absence of love that kept me at such a safe distance. Once, soon after our break-up I did feel a sting of hate for her. It was in a bar, where she sat on a stool, snuggled up close to her man for the night. Fully inebriated, I bounced over to their stools to tell them that after sex, she would poop and pee with the door open. I looked into her eyes and saw such a rage flare up, I knew right then she didn’t know what I knew—that love and hate could never stand together along the same line. Over the years we worked together, me in a state of the absence of love. She in a fire of hate she once thought was love. Cooks, managers, dishwashers came and went, and she scrumped enough of them under my nose, to be sure. Outside of my hours of cooking I lived quiet and slow like the snail. Poor Amy banged a big gong every night of her life, thereafter.
A particular agonizing memory stands out from the years we were together. One spring morning her father came over to visit with Amy. He’d stop by whenever the guilt got too loud inside. I wasn’t there at the time, but Amy confided to me the gist of their conversation later that evening when I got home from work.
Amy wanted a Dad, but Dad wanted his daughter to be more like her Mom. What a masochistic spank-me-hard that Johnny! Over coffee he made his intentions quite clear. He told Amy she was too young to be living the married life. That she should go out and experience more. She wasn’t ready for one man. Dating was a wiser choice than being shacked up with a line cook. Take on more pricks, dear. The more the merrier. Make a name for yourself in this small town Oswego. Be a slut or be nothing much of a woman. Life is too short, but the pricks are many. Don’t forget that! Keep a ruler by your bedside to measure their lengths. Compare one man to another by the size of his pee-pee. Your mother did. I still love her. You look just like Jane when she told me about Dick’s prick. Said it wasn’t much bigger than my own, but he looked more like Tom Selleck, and I was growing a bowling ball and boobies, and that made all the difference in the world to her. I’m telling you this, believe it or not, because I think Ron’s too good of a guy for you. When I see the two of you together, I sense the spirit of your mother smirking from your eyes. Ron should go bowling and have someone who is happy enough to live the quiet life with love and children.
Long after our break-up I had the naive belief that she was always true to me while we lived together, (except of course for the one attempted digression with my best friend). Over several year’s time while going to the bar for my beer after work, I saw no less than twenty different men seated beside her. All looking the same, possessed of a like composure in assurance of the lay at the end of the drunk. What did it matter? I had absence of love for her. She took her father’s advice. I understood. It was something she had to do. Then just last year a dishwasher got hired. He told us after the first night that he almost quit when he saw Amy walking by.
“Why?” asked the sous chef.
“Man I was dating her little sister when we were in junior high. I stayed over one night and she fucked me in her own sister’s bed.”
“Jesus, where was her sister?”
“In the shower, man.”
“How long ago exactly?” I asked.
“Easter night. I know ‘cause that’s the day when my Old Man kicked me out for good.”
“Easter night when?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, “92, ‘93?”
“Please remember. It’s important to me. A fish sandwich for you if you can remember.”
“All right man. 1992. I know for sure. I was fifteen. That’s the year, I’m sure. Boy was that girl nuts!”
That was the spring she fed me out the back door of her mother’s house.
Amy never loved me. We met, made love, had good times, began to have bad times, accompanied by the absence of love, and then she learned to hate my face for getting in the way of her every fuck. Jesus, but I loved that crazy nut! After all it didn’t matter. I was so much like her Dad. Just another masochistic spank-me-hard.
She’s moved out of Oswego. Went to Houston to live near Dick and Jane. She’s going to be a teacher. Oh I say, there are some mighty lucky teen-age boys in Houston! A mother and daughter team, a line up of tenth-graders looking just like Brad Pitt, and a 260 pound aging Irishman to bite his lip and watch. Oh I will hate Jane and Dick for as long as there is a Houston. But they’re getting older to someday die unhappy like Johnny and the Bird, the drunken band of twenty-plus Oswego men, and dear parrot-mouthed Amy, who dared to fuck them all in the presence of my absence of love. Everything here is just a run away to find more money and flabby sad sex.
So now when I think of Houston, I know it’s the right place for anyone who has never hated very well. It’s for the masses of people who close their eyes to love and art and the paradise these wiser roads lead them to.
Impatient to get off and get rich are ya? To Houston then. To Houston everyone! It’s the fourth largest city in America. Whosoever is searching for a new life should come to Houston. A new wife, a new job, a new cheat, a newness beginning and already complete. A ready-made life awaits you in Houston along with a friendly government to help you get rich. Everyone is screwing someone else’s sweetheart in the sun. Houston is clean. Houston is a smart, new shiny thing. Houston is the fourth largest city of proof that the human heart is burned out. Everyone to Houston then for the finished life of more money and security, more Burger Kings, and an endless array of choice in hair care products. Houston has everything in store for the stupid and getting more stupid. The most stupid never get to Houston. They live in Oswego restlessly searching for their Jane or their Dick. Some find an Amy to help piss and screw away another drunken Friday night. Some already had their Amys and are happy with a bird. All the people in Oswego, though, are interconnected with the lives of Jane, Dick, Johnny and Amy. All desire the help of Houston to protect the lies that keep them here growing old with nothing but money.



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