Archive for the 'unfinished' Category

Scapegoat

I’ve been a scapegoat more times that I can count. Many’s the time I found myself tangled in some ridiculous, false, absurd accusation. Frankly, I believe that scapegoating is hard wired into human interaction.

At least that’s what my grandfather always said, and he was something of an expert on the subject. Jungian fellow, always looking for the archetype. What we have here, he said to me when I was 8, is a classic example of scapegoating. I was crushed, the ridiculous sad clown of the third grade, smacked down and beaten up by every fifth grader and even a few fourth graders every time the teachers turned their backs.

It was interesting the first time he talked about it. He told me half a dozen examples from his own case histories, each one worse than what I’d just experienced. By the time I’d heard it again and again, in 6th grade, 8th, 9th and on throughout highschool, though, it wasn’t interesting anymore. Grandpa had started to grow hair out of his ears, which I took to mean he could tell me whatever stupid Jungian story he wanted, but couldn’t hear anything I had to say back to him. Like, that’s fine in the abstract, but what does the scapegoat do about it?

This occurred to me around 17, last year of high school. I’d been a dumb suffering brute up until then, but suddenly this voice came to me — hey hey heeeeey, what about this, what about this harassment, there are plenty of other doofus 17 year old guys with skin worse than mine, worse social problems, why this relentless singling out of me? Me?  I can see myself, 14 years old, helping my mother make mayonnaise for her Sunday afternoon card game, and it doesn’t  look so bad, the white are raising, the yolks are blending, the lemon is lemony but not oppressive. Somehow, by Monday morning every jock and every cheerleader in Cherry Hills Middle School knows I’ve been making mayonnaise with my mommy. Mayo Clinic, they called me for three months.

Maybe that’s why I went to cooking school instead of medical school. I had a rich, complex, unusual relationship to the tongue, which I processed and served mixed with conventional ingredients that were presented in fantastic, grotesque shapes at the Madison Food Orgy, a three-day food festival event held in Madison in the early 90s. My tongue won 2nd place for best presentation two years running. This was a terrific first challenge.

There is a lot of disgrace in the food circuit; almost everybody has taken short cuts from time to time, but in cooking, with its small but powerful judges, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the special foods section. I forgot, for two or three years, but I’m back now.

mayonnaise

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Zola labors

She refused a cigarette and did not want to sit down.

“I have been jealous before, don’t think I haven’t. This just isn’t it.” She said. She paced and the light in the room was hard and white. She was soft and brown. Soft and brown and angry, in more trouble than she knew. Too young, this girl. Odds were against her, if you want to know the truth.

“Tell us again why you shot him,” said the younger man, who might have been good looking if it weren’t for the bad skin and that expression. A flat expression, flat like a sidewalk, that gave nothing back. Zola stopped pacing and smoking for a minute to look at him. She had the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, like she’d practiced when she was learning how to smoke, and it was burning her eyes. She wiped them dry, and put the cigarette out.

“Going to tell you again that I didn’t shoot him. You got a hearing problem?” She said and she looked at him and dared him to tell her fuck-all. She rubbed her big belly and said she needed to sit down before she went into labor. The younger man looked away, sudden discomfort marking his face, adding to the acne scars and he looked too young to be hard like a sidewalk. She felt sorry for him, with that bad skin, maybe he might not be such a bad guy if…

The older man interrupted this line of thought with a sudden hard bang on the table. Hey, she thinks, suddenly energized by loud noises at this late stage of her pregnancy, these two are playing good cop/bad cop with me. The fog and the hormones cleared like a rough weather front all of a sudden and she played her one and only card. Childbirth. Clutching the belly, she crouched suddenly down and commenced a good primitive wail, like she’d learned in that Lamaze class her social worker had been taking her to. She leaned, she wailed, she tried to pee herself but couldn’t quite manage it. Bubba one and two couldn’t tell, though; she’d scared them already with that first round of deep breathing.

Zola prayed to the gods of delivery to spare her from an actual early labor, and they were listening. She was out of the hard tile room with the sharp white light and into the warm unconditional arms of her social worker and a maternity ward, where she spent the next three weeks as a ward of the state, eating good and with blankets, stuffed animals, and unlimited cable TV. They cut off her cigarettes, but this was better than jail and interrogation, she figured, and when she did finally give birth to that hairy little girl, she was happy to see the pink skin and the long newborn fingers, and all in all, she was glad she scared holy crap out of a couple of redneck cops if it led to this cadillac delivery, all nice and clean like she’s a lady with full medical coverage and a husband somewhere waiting in the hallway to come in after all is birthed and bathed and settled to pretty rights.

On more than one occasion in the life of Zola Gorgon, she’d fallen into a hormonal trance that convinced her that all was well and safe and easy. On more than one occasion, she’d snapped out of it in time to avoid permanent damage. This was one of those times.

 

Georgia and Tom on the Oregon Coast

rainforest

“You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey, honey. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe. You get a line, I’ll get a pole, we’ll go down to the fishing hole, honey oh babe oh mine.”

Tom couldn’t help singing. Tom hitched a ride with his happy thumb on his way to Anchorage Alaska, where he intended to build an igloo and marry himself an Inuit girl, skin seal and harvest amethyst in the frozen ice caves of Siberia. Tom was a born entrepreneur, but a southerner too, at heart, and it got too dang cold for him just about midway up the coast of Oregon and he never made it to Alaska. Stopped in Gorgeous, Oregon, in the deep wet forest that runs along the west coast. For a year or two he lived on blackberries and fish and his hair grew long and shaggy. He slept too hard to snore, and was too unreconstructed to think about farming, or storing, or hardship.

Oregon is a fine plentiful place for people who don’t mind a little rain, and Tom got comfortable, although not soft. One summer he gave forestry a try, strip cutting a corner of the Kalmiopsis near Biscuit, but he found he could not bear to cut the tree people. There is more bleeding in a tree than he’d ever felt in a salmon, though he could not explain that to himself or the woman who eventually convinced him to put his shoes back on and get out of the tree. He became a spokesman for trees, a miner of bees, he cultivated honey, and made a little money. Then he planted gobble sum and toad willow and buddha fingers and poultry rhymes. He opened a nursery on the edge of a small state road where people who were not in quite such a hurry might stop and talk and buy a cold drink, a Yoohoo or a Sierra Mist. He sold plants and named them himself, as much the inventor of his own roadside stand as any other stepaway of that particular time and place.

The Oregon coast is green, wet, mossy, and cool. At one time (at the time of this story, in fact), there were not many signs or arrows pointing to particular destinations, and it was not unusual for strangers to lose their way. They might find themselves slipping from a long low road into an awning of dripping willows, lining the drive where Tom lived with his trees and the woman he eventually married. Her name was Berry, who stings the fingers and stains the mouth, but she was sweet on Tom and he on her, and this worked, out there in the small stone house where they lived together, with their bees, their honeysuckle, their ginger snap trail blossoms and their two-fingered lobulus marionettes. The garden was fresh and they grew herbs, and kept a few chickens, and wrote some books about living in Alaska and building igloos out of ice and amethyst, and swimming with polar bears in the melting snow waters of high summer in the far north.

Georgia liked to make honey syrup from the berries as they ripened. She made a blackberry syrup, raspberry, blueberry, mulberry and rye berry. Each one had a distinctive flavor and a color that was either natural to the berry or boiled in a colored honey blend to brighten them up. Tom smelled each syrup as it mixed, and measured and tested each flavor with nose and tongue and fingertip, looking for the combination that lifted the spirits and let them fly away out into the cool wet air, where smoke from wood fireplaces hung and ruffled in the cool breeze as the sun went down. The fireplace smell was ashes and fruit, and Georgia and Tom’s three big labs liked to lay there, slightly damp but warm throughout, to let the heat seep into their ribs when the nights were long. Georgia gave birth one time, then two, and Tom hung fishing nets along the fence on the deck where they sat while Georgia recovered. Georgia began to identify each of her two births from one another by markings, by sound, by temperament. She did this surreptitiously, quietly, on little padded cotton feet that did not track much into the house. Eventually, she considered naming the children, but by then they were up and ready to name themselves.

Billy’s funerals

I am so shocked and celebrated, celibate and debauched. I knew there was a typhoon, I knew there was a storm that would make my mother’s hair curl. My mother, who goes to Larry’s to have her hair washed and set every week. Please understand.

No, don’t, I don’t know about begging. My mother went to Larry’s every week to have her hair washed and set. Before the storm that drug everything out of Mayhem, everything. The pet store, the garden and farm supply store, the pharmacy, the liquor store, the churches, the churches, the churches, the banks, the banks, the banks that rose with the water and washed away our sin.

I remember it, I was planting bulbs and thinking about the wisteria and the wind was rising. Mayor de Troi was holding a press conference to say we are all prepared, we are all prepared, we are all prepared to meet our makers, and she said this with a salt shaker in one hand and a lime in the other.

I’ve been writing for this little weekly newspaper for 12 years now, since I came home to take care of mom, who’s been washed away, washed by the blood of the lamb, only truthfully it appears that it was high tides and bad management that washed away everything in Mayhem, Texas, other than Helen’s big mouth and that parrot. I suppose if I’m a journalist, I’ve got a responsibility to write what I see. And so I did.

 

Billy Gumball became a man the day his mother was washed away by Hurricane Margarita. Zola always thought so, and when she came home to attend the funerals and wear the hair shirt that the prodigal children all wear, she saw him and he was not the same. They embraced, cotton meeting cotton with the familiarity of cousins, and she smiled at him.

That first funeral was numb like novacaine, like stroking out, and half of your body is missing. Half of your body is missing, and my body is my home, my neighbors, my mother, our candy shop and my celibacy. It rained and the wind blew and on my knees I met my maker and I was good and made. Then mother was dead, the parrot was sitting in the window of the candy store where the glass used to be and he was singing yo ho yo ho far away on the Santa Fe Trail.

That was when I knew I would be leaving, and when Zola showed up with her little girl and that coat with the fringes hanging down like she’s Custer only tougher, I knew we’d be going together.

Have you ever been to a funeral for an entire city? Have you ever carried your pen, your laptop, your tiny voice recorder with you to death after death to record in the mud and the stench that all is lost and somehow that is not a dramatic overstatement, but an actual statement that is more literal than anything you’ve ever said before in your life?

I had insurance. Not being dead, I was actually able to collect on it, unlike most of my neighbors, my mother, and Zola’s entire clan. We shook hands at the funeral, I gave her some lemon drops, some ginger chews, some extra hot peppermint, and some rye. In the evening, as the waters receded and the bones of my life were exposed, we drank the rye, and we planned out first steps out, away from Mayhem.

Chocolate A Minah

 

Minah had a butterfly collection that she inherited from her grandfather. Her grandfather’s favorite food was meatloaf, with mashed potatoes, green beans, and angel food cake, that her grandmother made with fresh goose eggs every spring. Minah never got the hang of baking. Her angel food came out tough – you beat it too much, she can hear her mother’s voice, whining like a buzz saw.

Don’t listen like that, she thinks to herself and beats the eggs some more. Poor eggs. Throttled. No greatness, no soufflé, her eggs were always fallen like angels. This did eventually lead her to chocolate, which can accept some brutal handling, some sweet heavy evil, some shame. She reminded herself to be grateful for her failure with eggs, especially after chocolate shook her loose from home and into her own sweetest baking moments.

Chocolate was the name of Minah’s first dog. He was an unintentional mastiff, rescued from the shelter as a tiny tiny pup who suddenly and like the incredible hulk became much larger than expected. Holy cow, she said to her mom, to her granddad, to her kid. OMG, said the kid to his friends. WTF said the friends to each other. They compared Chocolate to Clifford as he grew and grew, as he grew too large to lie with his monstrous feet under the dining room table. They compared Chocolate to Puff as he grew huge, affectionate and exiled out in the yard, where he fit and yet did not fit, lonely dog, lonely dragon.

One day they met an unusual man, a spelunking man who had no fear of dark spaces, big dogs, butterflies or the exact science and mystery of baking. He became the friend and sponsor of one large dog, Minah, and her son Kel.  This man had a talent for dogs, friends, chocolate, baking, teaching, and mixing things up.

The first time they met was in the caverns down south, a series of deep caverns with one wide open mouth. Invisible in the dark on the trail into the main cave, Kel was singing songs to himself about his big dog, songs that rhymed and almost rapped. He could see his hands making gangsta moves in the absolute darkness and he felt cool as the inner sanctum and the wet inner wind licking his skin. The guide turned off his light and then the darkness was absolute, an absolution, an absolute acceptance that the eyes would find nothing. The earth shifted around them, there was a smell of damp and guano, and the lights came back on.

Later there were sodas and sandwiches in a brightly lit cafeteria at the bottom, then the walk back up to the surface. They came out just at sunset and the bats were coming home, dark clouds, red sky, air 104 degrees. Arm hairs shaken and rising in the interim space between dark, light, hot, cold, childhood, death. They laughed as strangers on short journeys do, but met again later at the hotel pool, where they talked generally about caves, bats, dogs, baking and butterflies. Then more specifically about chocolate, Chocolate, grandfather’s butterfly collection, and Minah’s difficulty with angel food cake and eggs. This was a natural friendship of man boy dog and woman, lightly mixed, risen and set to cool.

Chocolate lived a very short life, as large dogs do. Minah and Kel had a box of recipes for chocolate desserts with his picture on the lid, and thought of him every time they made something sweet, and thought of the darkness, and thought of the bats rising up into the sunset sky. 


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