Buy the book now for real money.
PG-13 in style. Rated P for “pathetic”.
Now it’s time to write about Marty. No picture of Oswego could be accurate if I failed to mention Marty Lieberman. He’s a local character, owns a bar along the river. Also known as “Crazy Marty,” he and I go back eleven years, to about the time my first daughter was born. That’s the Marty I know personally. But he was already well known about town before I met him. The rest of his story I’ve gathered from other people’s accounts of him. Some reliable. Some criminally suspect. All of them funny. For Marty is funny. Nuts actually. Cuckoo, bonk-bonk, flipty-doo! About as nuts as they come without papers to commit him. Some say it was the booze which triggered his crazy. Others swear it was acid. An old cook once told me how she spent the entire summer of ‘76 with Marty on the roof of his bar, licking sheet after sheet of LSD. That would explain it. For Marty’s not crazy like the mental health ghosts dragging their feet across the bridge and back again. No, he’s not nuts like that. He didn’t knock of a children’s hospital in ‘Nam, nor is he one of the unfortunate products of the brother-sleep-with-sister pastime made very popular in this part of the state. Old money in town has been very good to Crazy Marty. It’s provided him freedom to roam the streets without a government card. But Marty refused to walk a block on his own two feet. So old money bought Marty a shiny red SUV. That satisfied him. Now he can turn off road to make a quick getaway whenever the CIA is chasing him.
Marty is nuts. But he wasn’t born nuts. He’s one of the classic few nuttys who became whacko on purpose. Marty’s mind is a lot like that of the rock star: money, fame, and of course, drugs, have unveiled the big top tarp to his crazy. This is the sole advantage which keeps his one man circus from getting locked up. Old money and Oswego rock star fame. So what? It’s worked for him. Marty’s crazy, but he’s got an SUV and his own bar. In Oswego that is the highest position of respect a man will reach. In Oswego, Crazy Marty is as good as gold.
Marty’s origins are from downstate. Hometown son of a wealthy furniture salesman. No one knows for sure how he ended up in Oswego. Of course there is gossip and speculation. Anyone who has lived here long enough to drink six beers alone in one night knows who Marty Lieberman is. And each has his or her own opinion of Marty. Myself? Well I know that he didn’t come for the college. That’s for certain. He wrote me a letter once, a response to an angry note I slipped under his door. He told Mary I was mealymouthed. I was. I am. But he also said that the only literature worth reading was the New York Times. For some queer reason that remark infuriated me. I sat down and penned a scathing letter and addressed it to “Marty, my enemy.” I sealed it in a blank envelope, walked it down to his bar, and handed it over to him in person. The next day I opened my door to go out, and there was the envelope with his scribbling on it. He wrote back.
Ho! The man was barely literate! Suddenly I became overwhelmed with pity. Marty pity. Self pity. I nearly cried. This was my adversary? This poor bastard? He could barely scratch out a sentence. I had to get a hold of myself. Where was I going? I was making an enemy out of an idiot. No. Mary still had the scars to prove that Crazy Marty hadn’t the slightest problem expressing himself. So what if the bartender read the New York Times to him? He was still Crazy Marty, local bastard son of money from downstate New York. What if he couldn’t read? He still had the power to pick up a woman by the hair and dig his fingernails into her flesh—
But I am getting too far ahead.
Two rumors circulate Oswego about Marty’s true beginnings. Some say he’s involved in Oswego’s biggest drug cartel, the Mitchum family. Richard Mitchum is a ninety year old puritan lawyer with a blue-haired wife and an effeminate toupeed son following in his father’s footsteps right down to the polished toenail. That would make up the entire cartel with Marty employed as drug runner and pusher. No, impossible. That family is rich from white money, not drugs. They’re crooks, through and through, but not the automatic weapon toting type. Small time crooked lawyers who have used the best of time and trickery to amass a pretty fortune at their neighbor’s expense. Scum yes. But not murdering scum. I have never seen Richard senior, but every Friday night while I was employed as a cook, I cut up Mrs. Mitchum’s fried zucchinis into tiny bite-sized pieces. This was an extra effort I made on her behalf. And each time I offered up my mucus as a condiment. A generous gob of spit from a not so generous, mealy-mouthed deep fryer cook with a smoky lung. Her and I go back too, both guilty by association, although she wouldn’t know my face from one of her soiled diapers.
The other gossip, more believable, is that Marty is the illegitimate son of Senior Mitchum, Attorney at Law. Some folks say that long ago the Mitchum’s were invited by mutual friends downstate to the Lieberman’s grandiose home. It was a weekend party to celebrate the new governor’s election. Mr. Mitchum asked Mrs. Lieberman to dance, and after supper, snuck upstairs and laid her on some of Mr. Lieberman’s very fine, expensive furniture.
So Mr. Mitchum gave the Lieberman’s Marty, and since sex scandal was very bad publicity for a Jewish furniture salesman and Puritan lawyer in the mid 1950’s, Senior Lieberman made a secret deal with Senior Mitchum. “I’ll take care of Marty his first eighteen years, and then he’s yours after that, Mitchum.”
The deal was made. Mr. Lieberman did everything he could to pretend that he loved his wife’s son. He even enrolled Marty into military school, and every summer, sent him as far away from home as Mrs. Lieberman could stand. Like any successful business family in America, the Lieberman’s grew very wealthy on a diet of suppressed anger, depression, and guilt. Mrs. Lieberman drank. Mr. Lieberman taught Marty how to use dangerous carpentry tools in the basement of their furniture store. In fact, he took Marty out of school early and gave him a full time job in charge of all repair. He knew that his son could barely read or write, and smiled a broad smile whenever he thought about it.
There was a cake for Marty on his eighteenth birthday. His mother was sloshed and tried to eat the pearls around her neck. For presents, Marty got some money and furniture coupons to use for his new home in Oswego. Then Senior Lieberman drove his son to the town airport and left him there without a single gentle word.
Senior Mitchum was busy in court all day, and so was unable to greet Marty at the airport. He sent his gardener instead. The gardener brought Marty to Mrs. Mitchum, who had been waiting eighteen years for Marty. She slapped his face while he set his suitcase down in the parlor. Then ordered the gardener to go collect zucchinis in the garden. “You son of a bitch. You ruined my life. I hate you with all my soul. You wipe that smirk off your face you little bastard. You think you’re living in this house, well you’re wrong.”
So before Mr. Mitchum got home, Mrs. Mitchum set up Marty at his new quarters in the old grain elevator along the river. It was decided upon that night by Mrs. Mitchum that Marty would receive an allowance and a piece of the grain elevator to live in. Mr. Mitchum was never to call Marty, “son,” and if Marty made trouble, then he would be denied half his weekly allowance.
None of this drama affected Marty. He got accustomed to his new place rather quickly. Oswego had its fair share of drugs, booze, and girls. Plenty of girls. College girls. Marty loved girls. He wanted girls. He was always on the look-out for girls and more girls.
Marty tried his best at the local bars, and had some luck. Once he got two girls to go home with him, and they slept with his roommate. Marty thought himself a bore. He just didn’t know how to behave around women. He was popular enough when stoned or drunk. That is, he made the girls laugh, but he would not admit what it was about him that made them laugh. And he couldn’t laugh them into bed. That made Marty very unsure of himself. His looks didn’t help either. His nose was fat. His eyes were small. He had a forty year old look at twenty. It always took him a little something extra to get a pretty girl to sleep with him. Well, truthfully, none were very pretty, but Marty vowed to change all that.
He needed a gimmick, a scam, and found one eventually. Even as a young boy, Marty possessed the old school insight to make big in the present in order to secure a more wealthy future. He didn’t want more money. His allowance was quite heavy already. Marty wanted girls! Young girls. He wanted his choice of young girls when he was old and more unattractive. He had a plan. A great plan. He would trash both of his father’s old money, old school business practices. Sober rich people didn’t get pretty girls. They got old. And their wives got old. Money wouldn’t get its hands up a skirt quicker than no money. Marty recalled the advice from his third grade drill sergeant. “Ya gotta be mean and loud boys, to get what you want in life. Mean and loud. Remember that, if you remember anything!” Marty realized a man could not be his meanest and loudest selling furniture at a ridiculous mark-up. He called on Senior Mitchum.
“I want to make the grain elevator a bar.”
“Marty, now we talked about this. You’re going to open up a furniture store to compete with Goldberg’s. Why do you think I had a shop installed for you upstairs?
“I want a bar!” Marty screamed.
“Now Marty, a deal’s a deal. Oswego has enough bars already.”
“Give me a bar you dried-up white prick, or I’ll monkey dance all over your wife… .”
And that was that. Marty Lieberman, born into money downstate, gave up a career in money to open a bar to get laid for life. He got straight down to business, working as fast as other people could to carry out his plan. Senior Mitchum gave Marty a huge advance on his allowance. During the summer of ‘76 Marty dropped acid every single day with anyone who would climb up onto the roof with him. He took the advice of his half brother, Junior Mitchum, and used drunks and druggies for the construction crew. “Pay them next to nothing, Marty. Give them free draft beer on Fridays, and they’ll be as loyal to you as dagos to their Godfather.” After one real hot day, a couple guys called up to Marty demanding to be paid. That didn’t phase Marty. He had a plan. He just rolled up hits of acid into tiny hot tar balls, and tossed them off the roof yelling down, “Take two of these and we’ll see what you say in the morning.”
So the necessary work got finished, eventually. Marty opened up The Old Grain Elevator in the winter of ‘77. He taught himself how to play guitar because he knew that drunk girls loved music. It was part of his plan. Still, past experience dictated that no pretty girl was about to fall for him just because he could play “Stairway to Heaven” cold. At least not without a gimmick. The bar was phase one of the plan. The acid binge was phase two. Already there were traces of paranoia swimming in his blood. Once a customer walked in, sat down at the bar, and asked for a beer that Marty didn’t stock. Very slowly, as inconspicuously as possible, Marty got up from the barstool, and backed away, step-by-step on his tip toes, turned, and ran out the side door. Later he told the bartender that the request the man made was in a secret code the government used to hunt down communists in American bars.
“He asked for Utica Club, Marty.”
“Nah. That means, ‘Bartender, are there any communists in the room?’”
“No Marty. My Dad is the brewmaster at Utica Club.”
“No he’s not! Get the hell out of my bar spy! I don’t want no communists here!”
“But Marty, my girlfriend’s pregnant. I need this job.”
“You guys married?”
“No, but we plan to be after next month.”
“Get the hell out of my bar commi-pig. I know you’re an agent!”
So the acid made Marty crazy. It was his plan. Yet he wasn’t getting any younger, and the paranoia did not attract prettier girls to screw. He was drunk so often that a permanent white slime grew on the corners of his lips. Never washed away until the benders were over, when Marty looked in the mirror to brush his teeth. He needed an improvement to his existing plan. He needed to consolidate. Not all women were for him. Some girls never set a foot into his bar. Some girls didn’t get drunk enough to puke. Most girls were repulsed by the white slime and the physique that was looking more and more like a bumpy albino squash. These girls were out of Marty’s league. One afternoon while feeling sad and depressed, he took a drive down to Fulton to watch the naked girls dance. All of them were so friendly for a dollar. Some were pretty. Most of them were young. He asked the bartender for the manager’s name.
“I’m him. Name’s Freddy.”
“Are you married to any of these dancers?”
“All of them.”
“Oh… Okay Snippers, so would you like to tell me how you get them to take off their clothes?”
“They get to keep all the money that they find in their holes.”
“Yea, but that’s not enough.”
“Fifty bucks, and I’ll tell you my secret.”
“Fine… Here. Now tell me.”
“I’ve scored with some of the prettiest women in the county. I’ve been around. I was a lot like you—overweight and old with a yen for little girls—”
“Hey, hold on there! I don’t want them if they’re too young.”
“What, are you in business?”
“Yea. I own The Old Grain Elevator.”
“That’s right. I heard about you. Crazy Marty! Man, you should know better. Any fifteen year old can dress up to be eighteen. You just have to get the right fifteen year old and a fake I.D. She’s more girls than you would ever believe. I know. I’m up to two thousand minors, and six hundred broads between eighteen and twenty. And I’m as old and ugly as you, Marty. The only difference? I go for the babes with no self esteem. Remember that and your fifty dollars is the best money ever spent.”
“Yet again Snippers, how do I get them to take off their clothes?”
“Usually with the prettiest girls there must be a preliminary investigation. Say you hire a bartender at your place, and she’s gorgeous and just old enough to serve drinks. Chances are she hates herself already. Or she’s confused. Very confused. Or she thinks that if she must live in Oswego, then the highest life she’ll ever find will be at your bar. Great. Now is the time to make your move. She’s come into your house expecting to get paid. Start prying into her personal life whenever possible. It would help if you acted a bit crazy about town. Then she’d expect you to be rude.”
“I am crazy.”
“That’s right! Excellent. So you’re all set. Look, I’ll stop by your place in a couple hours. Wait, I like you. And anyway us scumbags got to stick together. Miranda!”
“Come here, I want you to meet somebody.”
“It better be good Freddy. That guy was reachin’ for his wallet.”
“Miranda, Marty Lieberman. Marty Lieberman, Miranda.”
“What’s your scam Marty?”
“Ah, I just stopped in to lose the choppers.”
“Yea. FBI. You wired?”
“Yes. Can you guess where they put the bug?”
“Did your father ever make love to you?”
“No. But my Mom’s boyfriend did. He took me truckin’ all over the south.”
“Do you know what real French Champagne is? How old are you?”
“Can I tell him the truth Freddie?”
“Yea Miranda. Go ahead.”
“No. And 15.”
“You want to come back to my bar? You can live in my bed. And you won’t have to take your clothes off for money—except for me.”
Marty was in love.
His relationship with Miranda was rocky, to say the least. She bartended for a while until the temptation to take her shirt off every time she saw quarters lined up on the pool table became too great. Then puberty arrived and Miranda fell for a lead guitarist. She wrote Marty a “Dear John” and sealed the letter with wax and her favorite pink tassel. The bartender read it to him. Marty was devastated, but glad to have the tassel and a loved-lost experience to mark upon his crazy resume.
That’s about the time I come in, give or take a few years. It is a time in my life when I have everything a man should ever need, but I think I am missing something. A time when foolish, carefree youth becomes stupid youth, and steps onto the path of the wrong-way adult. Everyday I fought the truth. I hated the truth. I was young. Youth is forgiven repeatedly when it might as well be shot in the stomach to put it out of its misery. I will always regret participating in those younger days when I acted like a complete idiot for my own, miserable sake. I don’t believe in a man having no regrets. I believe in man’s desperation, which is an active, breathing regret. It inhales the self and exhales despair, and coughs the life force out of every one of us. I feel it. I wish it wasn’t there.
Well, at age twenty-four I was young and dumb. I have no good feeling for that early Ron. Not one. The twenties. What a wasteful good-for-nothing rock, the young American man. So cocksure! So empty. So volatile, yet erupting nothing! And I thought I was the center of the universe! Youth is not wasted on the young. Youth never comes to the young. Youth is the old man’s regret. I don’t ever want the energy I had when I was a so-called “young” man. What a disease! What a lie! What a painful memory it becomes for those lucky few who desire to age with dignity. When I am forty-four, I will most certainly regret thirty-four, but I will never hate it. Not like I hate twenty-four. Now I am where I want to be. If you asked me what I wanted when I was twenty-four? Easy. I wanted whatever it was I wanted. Perfect selfish lonely moon!
There’s a youth worth preserving. The one regret we all share: Our lost childhood. Our greatest possessions are those little memories of innocence and real joy we keep to ourselves and seldom reveal. They end the moment we know and can juggle in our minds the cost of three or more things at a time. That is, we want ice cream, but think about dinner too, and gasoline, and fixing something. Youth worth preserving would have stopped at the ice cream. Fifty-five cents for a double cone. And then the next hurdle for the day. For most men, twenty-four is sixty-four. Only sixty-four is physically and, in our country, mentally unappealing. That would explain why most sixty-four year old men long for twenty-four again. What a grand, happy, healthy, energetic youth, twenty-four! Thirty-four was older. Forty-four—this is the straight and narrow path the physically weak and mentally deranged old men of America wake up and go to sleep on everyday of their lives. These are the people who know the exact number of brain cells which die every second. They love and adore twenty-four. They are yearning for the wrong youth of twenty-four. How could they ever understand that eternal youth is the only wisdom of old age? We live in a time when old men identify their lost years by that era’s make and color of automobile. That is not at all a part of the joy of aging which I imagine.
America can have it’s twenty-four. I’ve buried mine.
Still, I will need to uncover bits and pieces if I want to continue with Marty’s story. I’ll try to focus my thoughts more on him, and less on Ronnie, the mealymouthed masochistic, narcissistic moon at twenty-four.
It’s ten year’s ago last Thursday. I am living with my newborn and her mother in a very cramped, furnished upstairs apartment. It’s a time in a young couple’s life when everything should be handed over to them with the words, “Don’t worry, life is beautiful”. Instead you find yourself never more alone with a room full of cheap, plastic stuff. All except for the oak podium, a request I made to my father for a college graduation present. I stand behind it and attempt to write down my lofty inspirations. The baby cries. Re-runs at seven, but first the CBS nightly news with Dan Rather. Twenty-four had the absurd idea that current events exercised the intellect. Events? Of what? Whose events? I probably crossed my legs too while watching, and made witty political remarks to Mary which marked the beginning of death and the tucking in at bedtime any tiny flecks of passion left to fall asleep. This was twenty-four! The stage was set. The tragedy would come. The only light to shine shown out of my daughter’s eyes, and yet, I was simply too selfish to notice. All eyes were focused on the array of goodies behind her. I read books like Black Power and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Holy crap, my poor baby girl! I was too selfish to know, and much too weak as a man to care that I would be better off blind, and preferably deaf and dumb, or just dead and gone too. Blindness is a beginning to the humility men are in dire need of. A wise rite of passage would be surgical eye removal for every boy on his eighteenth birthday. And then a ten year stretch of a life without eyes. The perfect cure for a nation sick with fear and bad taste. Blind men cannot form opinions with discrimination. They are forced to doubt their power, which is like hugging on to dear life a live ticking humility bomb.
I was not blind. I was twenty-four. So if Dan Rather said, “Bombing in the Persian Gulf,” I’d jump from my chair and yell at the television. “How could they? What monsters! Why can’t anybody see?” Oh, but how ignorant I was of their perfect eyesight! At twenty-four I could have had the wisdom to cover my beautiful baby within the bomb shelter of my arms. But I wasn’t blind. I could see the child of Baghdad held up against her mother’s breast. Myself and the twenty-four year old fighter pilot saw the same scene. Both awake in the morning, putting on our pants, pouring cow’s milk over cereal, and leaving the nest to explode the flesh off human beings. A blind man would immediately smell and feel the heat from the glowing fires of fear behind their lies. And if he could write legibly, would pen letter bombs from his podium addressed to the sixty-four year old men killing babies in Iraq.
Nope. Twenty-four was frightened without power. Oh, and the helplessness of being enrolled in my last semester of college… There was no hope for me. I was without any reason to claw the eyeballs out of the men in my way. So vulnerable, so ready to leap into a pool of boiling acid with my ideas. Another man’s ideas that I cherished like my own. That autumn I baby-sat for the socialists. I won’t name them for you because now I have the wisdom to know that all of them were twenty-four. Useless, incurably selfish creatures, neglecting, abusing, and/or abandoning their own precious children for an idea. They had no intentions of paying me for my time spent looking after them. Oh, and such a rowdy bunch of crying babies they were! My baby girl waited patiently for the sound of my steps climbing up the stairs. A man’s steps. A man with big hands to wrap around her tiny body. A man to be proud of his hands. No. He’s not coming. That man will never come home. He got a job in Marty’s bar selling slices of pizza to wobbly beer drunks.
Under the table work. Minimum wage. In at four. Out at two in the morning. Pizza to drunks. On any Monday Oswego is teeming with drunks. However, with more than a hundred bars, they seem to spread themselves out quite evenly over the city. So each bar might give the impression of having only five to ten hardcore drinkers in Oswego, when in fact, simple multiplication divided by half the college population being drunk at the same time, says that three out of ten Oswego men is stone drunk every single day of his life.
Marty’s bar was popular on band nights, when the co-eds came down from the college to get looked at and laid. Then the regular drunks made their customary stop to drink from a plastic cup at Marty’s. On Friday nights his place would fill up fast. Monday’s crowd was small. Thin-faced, red-eyed, draft beer sipping pool players all working jobs that they hated enough to come to The Old Grain Elevator afterwards for artificial gladness. This was Marty’s awake time. When he walked back and forth from one end of the bar to the other. A lackey kept to his heels, always the most hopeless drunk with just enough personality to keep himself from being committed to Oswego’s own, rarely vacant funny house. Earl was Monday’s lackey. Earl with the afro. A piss drunk loser of the first rank was Earl. “Earl here, reporting for duty!” Marty paid him in beer, never shunning the great advice his hair-piece half brother gave him years ago. Earl worked with me on weekends in the pizza room. Slobbering drunk was Earl with the afro. Loved Marty’s pizza like it was his own child.
“Marty got this secret recipe from an Italian in New York. We’re making the best pizza in Oswego, man. Maybe the world.”
“What about the Italian in New York?”
“What does he know? Fuck him!”
We’d be lucky to sell one whole pizza on the slow nights. Weekends were a little busy. I didn’t have time to read about my precious socialists. I got to watch the girls though—all silently working like mad to make eye contact with the best looking guy they’d allow inside themselves. Such a pathetic, alone thing, a pretty woman in a bar. More sad than the loneliest man who will end up there after a thousand insults from a world that wants him to hang. On Mondays there were no girls besides the attractive bartender Marty hired after many long hours spent searching for the prettiest and most self-loathing girl beer drunk in Oswego. Chances are that he already laid her, or at least received the proper signals for a future laying. I’d come in at four in the afternoon to make the dough. The first and only pizza had to be out by five thirty, so the paying drunk would not go home to his wife’s dinner waiting for him. Marty was a brilliant businessman. Pay lackeys in beer. Pay everyone else under the table. Write up bogus w-2 forms for the one or two self-loathing bartenders who were loyal to Marty for the shallowest of reasons. Calculating Marty. Not so nearly acid nuts Marty after all. Draft beer in plastic cups made ready for whatever comes out in decent weather to hope for the manness or womanness to express itself openly. In a public bar. Put the quarter in the jukebox. “Listen, everyone. This is my song, my personality. This is me singing.” Enough beer to wake up to think, “I am a man! Everyone look at me.” Marty to collect the dollar bills of their hope and to pretend along with the best of them. To sit at the end of the bar using whatever means necessary to get laid and paid at the same time. And who cares? Not me. I got a job. At the end of the night I walk over to Marty for my money. He wants to be smart and funny.
“I didn’t see you work tonight.”
“No, I guess we didn’t sell any pizza.”
“Why should I pay you?”
This exchange will go on for a few more minutes at two in the morning. I stand exhausted, waiting for my forty dollars because I am twenty-four kissing the idiot ass for loathsome money. He’ll pay me, finally, in front of his drunk lackey army. They already know about Crazy Marty’s “Why pay you?” routine. He knows I’ll come back tomorrow, even after humiliation, because I am twenty-four. Why bother holding my baby when I get home? Already, at what should be such a hopeful, promising age, I am ashamed of my man’s hands making the best Italian pizza in the world for an illiterate Jewish acid freak. Why should she anticipate my steps up the stairs? They only startle her to wake up and cry.
Calculating Crazy Marty. Not so crazy after all. Crazy men don’t chase a skirt strollering a newborn baby. Scumbags do. Especially old scumbags with some money and a furry paunch. A crazy man wouldn’t scheme tomorrow and the next day to win what’s under a skirt a year or two from now. Sad old men do that all the time. If Marty was full crazy, he would have goosed her right there in the street. No, his sensors were lit up. Mary was young and pretty. That was obvious. She came up to the window of the pizza room so I could give our daughter a kiss good night. But her skirt sent out signals in a secret code known only to men like Marty who live their scam like a religion. She must have had a masochistic aura about her, a scent which Marty picked up easily after so many years of practice. It informed him to bag this girl immediately, at any cost. Experience knew what a loyal pet she would make. Marty could realize this after just one meeting in the street! A pro. A real pro Marty Lieberman. He knew I wasn’t satisfying her. Not in the ways she wanted to be satisfied. Mary wanted to be taken care of. Whatever she was going to be, would become manifest through a man. A man was what she wanted. She never wanted herself. She wanted a man. I was just a pizza boy who read books and kept a journal. I knew I was on the outs when I asked for authors for Christmas presents and got a box full of tools instead.
She walked away, and Marty peeked his head around the corner.
“You married?” he asked.
He was already out the door, practically running to catch up to her.
A couple weeks later I quit Marty. He came into the pizza room for the first time, and looked down at my book lying on the chair.
“A book about Lenin.”
“Oh! So I got commie-pinkos making my pizza!” He picked up the book and threw it against the wall.
Phase two of Marty Lieberman’s plan.
Phase one was hiring Mary to bartend after her twenty-four-year old boyfriend quit the pizza business. (Marty never schemed in order. It was part of his crazy.)
Phase three happened right on schedule, according to plan, the moment she received her first penny from Marty.
It’s not my intention to write the story of my lost loves. I was twenty-four. Marty was forty. I liked staring off into the changing colors of the sky. Marty liked to poof up an ass with cocaine dust and lick it. I went for walks pretending to be a wild animal in the forest. Marty went searching for antique furniture at garage sales. I could not trust any man who made business his business. Marty was afraid that the FBI would get him. We were different people, Marty and I. Secretly Mary chose Marty. I should have known. Then one day Marty called me up on the phone to ask why I wouldn’t let him send a plumber over to fix the hot water heater. I was overcome with rage. Mary thought Marty’s actions were perfectly normal. I left Mary that night.
It was July. I carried a paperback Leaves of Grass and collected cans to buy peaches and bananas. I slept on the lake rocks. I woke up and bathed in the lake. To be fair to Mary she needed Marty. At the time I needed Walt Whitman and a warm, very deep, blue lake to clean out my mind. My mother was sick. Her intestines got gangrene. She wasn’t supposed to live through the night. I walked down to the bar to tell Mary the devastating news. She said she would drive me to the airport in the morning. Just call her for a ride. I went back to my rock bed on the shore to lay awake all night listening to the creeping waves roll my memory over and over.
Up bright and early, trembling. I brought my soap bar in to the water, and after bath, got dressed and found a pay phone to call Mary. What? Nobody home? At six in the morning? Where is our infant daughter? I didn’t know if my mother or my child was dead or alive. Holy God, the bar! Oh, that pig! That slut! Now I’m really mad! A hazy, hot morning jog downtown. By far my longest walk in twenty-four years. “Oh my baby girl. Oh my dear mother! My world is coming to an end!” I got to the bar and Mr. Mule, Marty’s full time lackey, was spraying down the previous night’s beer and vomit in the street. Marty always took good care of his drunks. I’ll give him that. He let Mr. Mule live in one of the unheated rooms upstairs. For drinks Mr. Mule was Marty’s morning clean-up man. The alcohol drove him mad. One could barely understand a word he said. Vicious public Tourettes and violent conversations with himself hid quite comfortably behind Marty hiding behind his old money. But I hadn’t any reason not to like Mr. Mule. I asked him where might my recently departed girlfriend be. He grumbled and swore something incoherent, then pointed his finger up to the third floor. I took that to be an invitation inside.
Up the dusty stairs I walked in the early morning of my first fear. I knew exactly what waited for me behind the door at the end of the hall. It was left open a crack.
I walked in whispering “Mary?… Mary?”
Oh! There was pretty Mary and Crazy Marty, both stark naked on the floor, sleeping. Marty was snoring. I walked over to Mary and got up close. I smelled the morning booze breath which I had grown accustomed to during those break-up months. Jesus, as much as I saw it coming, I never got myself to believe she’d actually sleep with the sickly bastard. But there he was, naked and heavy, lying beside my daughter’s mother, with his white slime lips, dreaming his happy-crazy dreams.
I walked over to Marty and squatted down beside his penis. I scanned the room. In the corner an oozi leaned up against the wall. “Just a prop for the scam,” I said to myself. “Otherwise the door wouldn’t be open and the gun would be within his reach.” How clear and open was my mind. I saw into my future. Marty’s penis told my fortune. I felt a peace and calmness that surprised me. I was not upset in the least. Not about Marty anyway. I took more time to study my surroundings.
Hundreds of dollar bills were scattered about the room. I imagined he set that crazy up in his mind a few hours earlier, while Mary downed the plastic cup shots he lined up for her. The windows were filthy. Every other one had a neon beer sign. The floor was sticky and stunk from old booze. The furniture consisted of an old couch and a small bar in the corner, with a few stools from downstairs set before it. A bag of cocaine lay next to Marty’s head. I picked up a dollar bill and covered his penis with it. Then I stood up and walked over to Mary’s side of the floor. I brought my face right up close and stared into her eyes to wake her up. She woke up. She jumped up, calling out, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” while fumbling around for her glasses. And I laughed a loud laugh almost hoping Marty could wake up to see how well I was taking his scam. My first question was a presage of many future last words I would have with Mary. “Where the hell is my daughter?” I picked her up by the shoulders and carried her to the toilet. “Where is my daughter?” I was loud with tears and rage. I knew that Marty was opening and closing his eyes to the scene. No man could have slept naked through my spasm. He was calculating, that Marty. Damn did he know when to keep his gingivitis closed to the world! Play possum. Very important rule to follow while floating naked in the pool of another man’s agony!
But it’s good to keep the past in the past. Start believing in these tricky mornings before Easter and one is likely to let too much out at once. That would be devastating. My wife and I just returned from the best walk of our lives. April has finally arrived with its bright blue sky of original energy. We are funny people, my wife and I. Happy. We laughed out loud on our walk along the river. Laughed about Marty after he drove by in his SUV staring at us. The brightest day of the year, this fifth of April. She’s twenty-seven now with an easy laugh and eyes that wander like those of a sleepy cat. Who knows who she is at midnight when her eyes meet mine and we travel to the land of sleep with the baby in the middle? She’s a beautiful girl who makes me laugh. That’s what I know, and that is enough for me. How lucky I am to have her love! We revel in our shared joy. We congratulate ourselves often for being so smart. How many husbands and wives are out walking with their babies this fine April day? It’s not a weekend. So it is true that most good folks have abandoned their families to amass a fortune. A few young families show themselves. Mostly Oswego’s welfare dressed up in their finest Starter jackets and sixty dollar pair of sneakers. They could even look respectable, if not hunched over so. They are of a lower order. In Oswego’s human junkyard we stroll down from the mountain-top like royalty.
During the course of our walk we spy Marty three more times. Is it him or his SUV that’s so curious about us? My wife laughs while telling her own Marty story. She’s laughing but she also sees right through him, and I can tell that it makes her a little angry. “Marty is thoroughly manipulative,” she says. “He works girls over with shameless attention until they finally give in. He tried it once with me, remember? I told you about the Japanese lamp he wanted me to copy. That was going to be my summer job. I was psyched! Then he showed up at my mother’s house and asked if I was ready to go to New York. Whacko! I told him before that I wouldn’t go. He took me to Syracuse once before that, picked out music I liked and bought a hundred dollar bottle of wine. Said we’d have to finish it that night. I told him no, but he was fast with a back-up plan. He said the least I could do was have dinner with him at his restaurant. We could talk about the lamp. What a laugh! But the lamp. I really wanted to start work on it. On the way back to Oswego he began to complain about the helicopters following us…Whoa. At first I thought he was kidding. That he was just trying to make me laugh. He kept it up though until I realized he was serious. Okay whacko, let me out of the truck.”
“He wasn’t serious.” I said. Then I offered her my theory about Marty Lieberman. How remarkably similar was hers and Mary’s story. Right down to the hundred dollar bottle of wine.
“Young girls are vulnerable,” she agreed. “He has a perfect seat at the bar to seek out his prey.”
“Exactly,” I said. “But how did you meet him?”
“My car broke down on Route 481. He and that pervert…Ah you know the one I’m talking about. The guy who tried to sell his sex movies around town. The hairy pig. Mac Davis’ cousin. I forgot his name.. Anyway, the two of them stopped when they got a look at me standing against my car. I must have been as crazy as Marty for letting those drooling old men drive me home. That was one of the few bad decisions I ever made in my life. But that’s how I met Marty Lieberman. Soon after that I swear he started to follow me around town. He was everywhere I was. He’d come to the restaurant to watch me work. He’d stop in alone and sit at the bar looking at me. He knew exactly when to change the subject. He noticed that I was getting uncomfortable. So he began to talk about the lamp. Just the lamp. As if he thought I would just ignore the fact that he was watching my ass for the past three hours!”
“But you didn’t sleep with him, did you dear one?”
She laughed. “Yea in his dreams. He is so repulsive!”
Yes, it is a new and glorious April morning when I can see Marty’s SUV drive by with his big head turned to look at me, and not feel a rage unsettling my stomach. I am lucky to have a wife who also knows that Marty is a manipulative fake. It must drive Marty even more nutty to see us together out walking. Poetic justice in my favor.
Great walk. Early spring’s big tease. I say though, Marty stayed in my life much too long after I caught him and Mary in bed with the dollar bills and cocaine. Not long after my absence of love with Amy, I decided to go back to Mary. She was changed. She gave Marty a baby boy—something he wanted and was determined to have. I swear the boy was just phase four of Marty’s plan to get girls. Get a small child. As far as I know, he still hasn’t learned how to care for it. He would have thrown it away, if it wasn’t for me. I asked Mary to move in. That got his attention. Then I asked her to marry me. That made Marty simply furious. He took Mary to court. He beat her up a couple times. He would pull the SUV up to our apartment building, beep the horn incessantly, and yell out the window, “Hey slut bag! Hey witch-bitch, give me my son!” Mary would turn to me while getting the boy ready, saying, “Now don’t do anything Ron. Don’t you see? He’s trying to get you to flip. If you raise a hand to him and he calls the police, it’s your word against his, and he’s got Mr. Mitchum’s crooked fingers into everything.”
Going to court made Mary crazy. It made me crazy. Marty, who was already very crazy, became a regular reality in my life. Several times I would watch helplessly from the window of our apartment while Marty argued with Mary in his SUV. Actually, I think she began to like it. Once when I got home from work, she was standing at the top of the stairs holding some neatly ironed Oxford shirts. “What are those?” I asked. “I’m doing Marty’s laundry for him. He’s coming over to pick it up.”
For a while she stubbornly kept her job at his bar. He told Mary he needed her. She would draw out fancy advertisements for him after our dinner of eggplant parmesan with the kids. We would be sitting on the couch casually discussing lawyers and court, while she concentrated on her pen and ink pattern that needed to go to press by morning. Marty drilled his manipulative screw deep into poor Mary. She was locked into his crazy power, becoming obsessed with Marty’s negativity, as if she actually yearned for his abuse. Many times I suggested that we leave the country, or the state at least, to make Marty weaker in a court without the Mitchum’s power to assuage a judge. Nothing doing. She was determined to lose her boy in the Oswego County Court, well known for its illegal promises and payoffs. Oh well. The masochist found her sadist. To this day she still accepts his abuse regularly. He gives it to her via the boy’s innocent mouth. Marty tells his boy that Mommy is a whore. “Daddy says you’re a whore Mommy.” And she still allows the kid to visit him. Marty sure knows how to pick his women.
Poetic justice. An incredible learning experience in humility. I went back with Mary, no matter how wrong I was in doing so, to make things right for our daughter. Mary came to visit me at work one day during the summer of our reacquaintance. I leaned over to give her a kiss, and she turned away to look at Marty’s bar across the river. “Are you serious?” I asked. “He’s well over six hundred yards away. And we’re sitting under a tree with thick August leaves. Anyway, why the hell do you care if he’s looking at us?”
“I know he can see. He’s probably filming us right now.”
I put up with Marty and Mary’s nutty behavior for about a year. I have always been the wiser for persisting in my folly. People should not learn from their mistakes. At least not the first time. I say if you think you’ve done something wrong, do it again just to make sure. Marty isn’t the only crazy duck in Oswego. He just happens to be the loudest.
A final thought from the mealy-mouth to the illiterate, bastard sitting all alone in a bar along the river…
You’re getting old you dumb fuck. You better make some more money fast. Senior Mitchum will soon be dead. I believe Senior Lieberman is already dead, and Mrs. Lieberman too, who was your last hope—I think she’s dead. Junior Mitchum is bound to hang himself someday. So you can’t depend on him. Where is this going to leave poor Marty Lieberman? You’re getting older Marty. Even the most retarded little girls won’t touch it unless you got a fortune to share. Invest your money. Start a trust. Or else, start sweeping up like Mr. Mule at your own bar. You better watch out—I might secretly persuade the new judge to sign your commitment papers. You crazy aging idiot! The acid buddies of the seventies all got their SUV’s too. Only difference is they got little girls coming of age and old wives who are disgusted by your presence. They’ll sign the papers. The coke sniffing girl-men that you partied with all through the eighties? Embarrassed! Caught red-handed pretending to be rock stars like you Marty. Anyway, most of them are into politics now, and have their own little girls to worry about. Many of their constituents are the old mothers who hate you with a passion. The girl men and their wives will sign. What about your favorite drunks? Your devoted lackeys? Where are they if you don’t have any money? You had better start saving Marty. No amount of crazy can keep you from Mental Health on the hill, or the more modern facilities in Syracuse where they possess an official okay from the government to use electronic machines on your brain. Or perhaps one day the FBI, the CIA, or the IRS will actually be following you. Maybe they’ll be looking for some back taxes or a fifteen year old girl buried in your basement. “Vay have vays of getting view to talk.” As soon as Mr. Mitchum kicks, his wife’s gonna take you out for zucchini. She’s got a few papers you need to sign. Look left, look right. Call Earl, Matt, Monty, call every red-eyed loser in Oswego. Without a bar, without drugs, without money, you got nothing. You might have a little boy to wash your face and wipe your ass when you lose control of your faculties, if you weren’t such a manipulative, selfish, nutfuck now. It would also help if you knew how to love.
Love. Marty, you and I go way back. Do you remember this piece of loving advice you gave the boy when he was three years old playing with trucks?
“Hey boy, remember this if you remember anything. Women are good for only one thing.”
“Blow-jobs. Remember that. Blow-jobs. Just blow-jobs.”
And your loyal circle of liver-waste lackeys laughed. You laughed. Even I laughed, but not in the manner you would expect me to laugh. Did the boy laugh? No, I don’t think so. He rolled his eyes. He didn’t know what you meant. He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes, and pushed his backhoe through the used pile of plastic cups. He didn’t laugh. He got another memory of his Dad named Marty who was crazy and could not love him.
Sign Mrs. Mitchum’s papers Marty. They’re for your own good. Then follow her up the stairs to the roof. There’s a helicopter waiting. Lick this sheet of acid here. Step into the chopper. It’s going to take you away. “Are we going to Halifax?” you ask the pilot. “Because I want to go to Halifax. Gimme, gimme, gimme! I want to go now!”
The pilot turns around, takes off his head gear and grins his crooked teeth grin. “Guess who Marty? Didn’t think I’d get my turn, did you, you dirty old man?” And I laugh the wild, exaggerated laugh I always wanted to laugh while I fly crazy Marty over my calm ocean.