I'm twenty-one years old and just another guy right now. I used to be a college student with some vestige of respectability (you can get a good job with a college degree, work, produce, consume), but just some guy with a bad job who writes poems -- no respectability. Not even among friends, but that's okay, they don't want me to end up in the gutter somewhere. I understand friends.
But right now it's important to know I am only twenty-one, and I have at least eight more years to become a famous poet who dies young. And at least twenty more to become a living poet, forty more to become an until recently unearthed elder statesman of the arts, and fifty more to become some poet no one read while alive, but becomes wildly popular after its too late for him.
But that's okay, I've got a whole year just to be me. So I live in Bethtown, in a one-bedroom apartment in an old house that still has steam heat. The kitchen is always dirty, what can I say, I'm a slob, I'm filthy. I sleep on the floor, not because I have to (I have a mattress), but because it makes you a little tougher on the nights you can't have a bed. I work sixteen hours a week at the Chevron station, graveyard on Friday and Saturday. I wear an old Army jacket that my grandpa gave me, and it keeps me warm, and every piece of clothing I wear, either came from the Goodwill or was a gift, I live cheap. On my desk is a pack of American Spirit cigarettes, and a bottle of Merlot which I've already had a little of. A book by V.I. Lenin is on the left-hand side of the desk, which strikes me as funny. There are spare paper clips, rowdy paper clips, and a big beer mug. I have some books on a shelf, Naked Lunch, Heidegger, Studs Terkel, Jung, Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization, Lovecraft and Nietzsche side by side (singing a song, movin' along).
That last thought reminds me of another character trait, and that is my affinity for the old, for which I don't understand (the attraction, or the old stuff). I dig John Wayne and Sands of Iwo Jima, El Dorado (Robert Mitchum is a great secret hobo hero), and that one movie that's exactly the same as El Dorado, but with Dean Martin (not a hobo hero). I've got a bunch of old Bon Scot, AC/DC albums I listen to, no one else does, Highway to Hell is good, and I love it, but you've got to hear all of these songs, songs that sound like life, "Down Payment Blues," etc. etc., and it is a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll. It's all about toughness and fucking, and moving to the next show. All songs written on the run, just as this is written on the run, halfway in between what is NOW.
Woody Guthrie is up on my wall, looking our over some migrating Okies, and he's got a smile on his face and a hat on his head (I'm not sure the connection, but it seems to make sense), and Robert Johnson is on the wall, too. Running from the devil, the devil that gives him the best blues. And an old Norman Rockwell painting that I think is his best work, an old farmer in blue denim work clothes, dark and brown and balding with whiteness suggesting something about his years, cigarette dangles, waiting, precious. The kid, his son, sits next to him. They're sitting on the old family work truck, waiting for the bus -- To where? To college? To the other side of the ditch? And a collie, a lassie-dog, she's there, but I always forget about her when I remember the picture, so, it's a good thing I'm looking at it now, or you would all have a false impression of the picture.
God, how could I lead you astray like that? Well, its not hard, I'd just lie a little, I do it all the time, lies, lies, lies, yes indeed, lies. But lies are just little poems, and little stories, and music, because all the art in the world adds up to lies, because it isn't actually life of any sort, which is the TRUTH, while all the imitation is the lie, and what do you know, maybe I'm wrong, maybe Plato spoon-fed shit to me, maybe all my lies are right, and its this pesky work that's wrong, maybe I'm all wrong, and you're wrong.
Well, my friends, right or wrong, I say, it would take a lot to shake my faith, which holds on everything I see, and I see cheeks and hands and eyes on the occasions I get brave enough to look. But it doesn't hold up, and I don't hold up, I just fall apart at the seams, can't seem to hold it together for longer than a week. So I fragment (can you tell by reading this), so don't start looking for me in this, this is just what happened. My identity is safely tucked away in Topeka (see poem written on the subject of summer heat, then you will understand), and I am so fragmented, you have to read everything I ever have written to know who I am, but then it's to late, you'll never catch me, an idiot little gingerbread man.
Let me recount an evening, all right?
I'm at Tim's, Keyes's place that is. I go over about seven o'clock at night to say hello and to keep him company, because he is under house arrest for some allegations (although, most treat it as more than allegation; guilty until found innocent it seems). He's already got company there, one girl, Mae, and she's sitting on the couch (loveseat?) with Tim, and they are painting their nails. Not each other's, but their own nails. Lyle Alder, from back in Stovestock days, is over and asking for help on his Williams Honors College thesis from Tim. And Tim, banned from campus, is still twice the teacher. Lyle is getting up to leave, and we talk for a moment or two about freshman days. He is surprised to learn I am not in school. We shake, as he says, "Because you're the only one I can shake hands with here," in reference to the painted nails.
As soon as he's gone, I five into Tim's pleading and I start painting my fingernails, some sort of electric blue color. I'm really bad at it. I paint my left thumb (I only do my left hand) Superwoman Blue, which gives me a chuckle.
I hand Tim a book. "It's my Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. You said you were reading The Odyssey. Thought this might be good supplemental reading."
"Thanks, I might just read the whole thing. Thanks. I'll get it back to you when I'm done; that might be a while. Damn that's a thick book." He starts looking around.
"Here, I've got something for you," and he hands me a card, it's addressed to Orbit and J.R., also, "I didn't have any of your addresses, so I just figured if I gave it to one of you, it would get to all of you."
The music stops on the stereo, and Tim says, "God, Stan's the only one with a dry hand." My right hand is clean of polish, "We'll have to trust him with the musical selection." So I pick out a Miles Davis CD, put it in, it's cool.
I visit nice and quiet, and Vlad calls a little later, and he is watching a basketball game. Vlad is a great guy, odd in the head, wonderful. He's of foreign stock, as they might say back home. "Yeah, Stan's painting his nails," Tim says to him.
"That faggot better not go back to Harriston, or he'll get the shit beat out of him," I hear him say on the phone, with his thick accent.
Tim hangs up soon after that, and he starts needling me about San Francisco, when I was put off by a lemon in the water -- I'd never been to a fancy restaurant before, and at the Stinking Rose (all garlic stuff) I was exposed to culture.
"You know Stan, you realize Vlad was fucking with you when he said he was teaching you how to be 'cultured'," Tim said. "Yeah, I know," and I remember the lesson, which was about how to put the cloth napkin on your lap. It was very easy to fall into routines with the people around Tim, the people like Vlad, or Jake, or Carter, or any of the people, who were all pretty interesting.
Like with Vlad, it was easy to be the bumpkin, fit the part, play the role assigned, whereas in other situations I prefer the appropriate gender role thrust upon my by my white working-class background. All just parts to play.
And when Sandy came over, I fell into my absurdity character. There was a brief bit of seriousness while she discussed Derrida (mind boggling shit), and Tim started sounding more professor like as he spoke, until he would mutter something like "This guy is fuckin' great," which would sort of destroy the college professor effect. But afterward, I briefly asked Sandy about her cousin, Beth, who happened to be from Harriston, same as me. Odd connections.
Then we all played a game, where we would write a paragraph of a story, and cover up everything we wrote, except for the last line, and then pass it along, and the next person had to keep going. It went something like this:
I was amazed at Brazil. I had never felt so deep a connection with anything. The land, the people, the sea, all haunted my dreams, and tinted my waking moments. The people especially, and they made me feel like I was home for the first time. There was one woman, who motioned at me, and then I heard a voice behind me and I turned around, and
There were rocks, lots of them, and I couldn't figure out what had made the noise. Just then a cat leapt up, and it was my kitty cat, only it wasn't. It had a six-foot fang. So I turned and ran away from it, and I could here it behind me, and I was running, tripped on a root, and when I came to
I was lying in a bathtub with Vernon Smalls. I couldn't figure out how I got here. It wouldn't work. My memory, that is. Suddenly, a realization came to me. I looked at Vernon and said, "I'm gay." Then I got up, went outside, shouted, "I'M GAY." And Blobbo the plumber came up, menacingly, and looked like was going to hit me, but then a soft look came over his eyes, and he said, "I'm Gay, too" and everyone was gay, and we marched down the street singing 'Life is a Cabaret".
And just then someone said, "Shut up, all of you, you're loud and you make no sense." And I shouted, "But don't you get it, life IS a cabaret, it's the meaning, it's life, it's cabaret, don't you understand?" And then I went under water and
I came to, and I knew I'd made a horrible mistake. Brazil was not my home, home was somewhere else, this was just a terribly creepy place and I can't go on. So I've changed my life; I don't go to Brazil now.
For some reason, the story made sense to us, and it was funny to read. Made more sense than Naked Lunch. Maybe it had more sense? Had we created true literature? Probably not. It was amusing though.
Tim made fun of my hometown (doesn't bother me, I do it too), and he said he wanted to drive up there and see the famous Texaco where everyone hung out.
I said, "No, it's a Shell station now."
Tim didn't care, and Sandy interjected with "I stopped at the gas station once" and I nodded my head, "I got gas there."
I replied, "What did you eat?" and she looked at me, full incomprehension for a few moments, as Tim and Mae and I fell into fits of laughter at the stupid joke, and continued even after Sandy joined in.
"How did you get this way?" they all asked, and I gave them a few anecdotes (My dad wiggling his bare ass at us as he walked through the dining room, in order to prove he could moonwalk, and my Edgar Cayce-reading logger mystic uncle), and they said, no, never mind, we'd rather not know.
So I got up an left, and bid farewell, now I have a note for Kirsten and J.C., and I have colored nails on my left hand, and as I type I see a blur of color, and that's my memento of the evening, my memento that will fade away, as will all of the details I haven't recorded in this little story. Or is it a story? Life imitates art, but life isn't very good at imitations, it's mostly a put-down artist.
My father was a logger, a real tough man. He left home when he was sixteen, because his step dad used to beat him, and beat his mother (my grandmother). He used to sit in his room with a baseball bat, wanting to go and beat up his step dad like his step dad beat him with a baseball bat, to invert it all -- but somehow never did so. I think it was weakness on his part.
Then he lived in a boiler room, partied, drank, raced motorcycles -- I think he probably has owned at least two-hundred motorcycles in his entire life, and either sold or wrecked one and went on to the another. Of course, he would look back, and wish maybe a particularly sweet bike were still with him, but only for a moment.
Then Dad left school, and he got in trouble with the law so many times that he joined the army -- it was that or juvy, the judge said. Dad was almost eighteen.
He went to Germany and was a tank driver, and he drank whenever he could, passing out in ditches in the cold German fog. He recalled taking the tanks down the Autobahn, and waiting on a train, ready to go to the Middle East, and being the only combat-ready tank unit in Germany. That was the one point of pride, the rest of it was doldrum, monotony. Everything he ever told me about being in Germany leads me to suspect that Martin Heidegger would have been very different if he was born somewhere else. Angst, angst, angst.
Dad tried to volunteer for Vietnam, it was so bad, but got into helicopter tech school instead. He tore apart Chinooks and rebuilt them as practice. And he'd finally passed all examinations, was on his way to doing something he actually liked (Dad is a manual man, he has to have his hands on it, no cerebral shit). And some tattooed asshole who sniffed glue all the time was in the next room. My dad couldn't stand the guy -- just an asshole. Dad didn't get people like that.
Dad was sitting and drinking a beer, listening to "Hey, Jude" on the radio, happy.
This guy yells out, "Hey, Blakeman, turn that shit off!"
Dad was tired of taking shit from this guy, and he snapped. He beat the guy nearly to death, and beat up a couple of MPs. He just lost it, couldn't stand to get hassled in such a fashion and I think it's a weakness in his character.
He got out of the army (the target of his aggression survived, so Dad got an honorable discharge), and he tried going to school up in Moses Lake. He was sitting in there taking a class one day, realized he could be outside, and earning good money, instead of sitting here spending money to get a job for a-couple-a-bucks an hour -- minimum wage and prices so different then. It's difficult for me to comprehend previous eras within American history. Doesn't it lead you to suspect our understanding of ages, without a human source, to be even screwier? (Who were the Greeks?) And Dad walked out of school, last time, never to return -- Fuck it.
He went to work in the woods, flew airplanes, raced motorcycles, had trophies, saw Alaska like God sees Alaska, and roamed, roamed, roamed across the woods, harvesting timber. It was a job, no desk, no assholes yelling "Service!" Just unmediated freedom and simplicity and fresh air that didn't choke you up, unless you were sad. And then there were days it rained so hard that it poured down your back, underneath your raincoat, and down the crack of your ass. Miserable, miserable, miserable.
Then he flew six hours in a Piper Cub to a buddy's house and met my mom, and he said, "I'm gonna marry her."
He asked three times, the first time the week after he'd met her. And when he asked the third, Mom thought he was splitting up with her, and she was mad, but then understood, and oh she was happy!
They got married at the Methodist church (Dad, an atheist, Mom, a who-knows-what hippie Christian). They didn't have a limo -- they had an airplane, and Mom and Dad took off in the plane. Mom threw her bouquet out the window down to the ground. More time for someone to catch the bouquet and go with it, more time to watch it come down, and think Do I want to catch it?
I came along, an accident, an incident in an old VW bug, as I understand. A squeaky old bouncy bug, that's where I came from. From a car that hippies drove that was originally for Hitler's war machine, and I think there was something symbolic there, but I've already forgotten. I just laugh now, to think that ever I thought this was significant.
The real story for me starts with the Popeye hat and the roaring chainsaws. My dad didn't want me to be in the woods. He never wanted me to do what he did, and it cut me off from my heritage, made me alone. And because of this I'm not my dad (thank you Kirsten, you always take the obvious, and shove it in my face, I'm a dope!), I'm not a working-class ass, I'm not a white-collar ass, just an ass, a stupid ass.
The Popeye shtick, yeah, it suits me perfect. Be a regular guy, and if you needa be a tuff guy, then just eat something magical! And you can beat up the bad guy. Well, spinach always tasted like shit to me in real life, and that's what being a real big tough guy tasted like, 'cause you can't do it just by eating something. No you've got to have the right temperament.
Which I never have had, 'cause I remember how Dad and me would start yelling at each other, and we'd take swings, and it'd be over with, done, all aggression blown out of us. But I remember the first time, and it wasn't so pretty.
Dad had no model to be a husband or father, and there was an incredible violence he had about it. I remember being two or three, and packing up clothes with Mom, and getting read to leave the house, I remember tape recording an argument (screaming match) between my parents and calling it (with five-year-old scrawl on the tape cassette) "Family Discussions."
That first time I hit him, was about in seventh grade, I was relatively weak then, no radical growth and building as of yet, no wrestling and football, but he was yelling and screaming. We were in the process of losing the house, and being in debt, Dad out of work 'cause of the spotted owl thing, and just frustration, and no outlet except us. He pushed Mom, and I couldn't stand to see that, so I hit him as hard as I could, and this was no argument-between-men hit, this was a hate hit. It hurt him bad, He never expected me to do such a thing, and I was told to go to my room.
He came in, and I could only cry tears of anger, and he asked me what was up, and asked, very angrily, "do you hate me?"
And I told him, "I want to fuckin' kill you."
And he walked out. A real man would have beat the shit out of me for hitting him, would've taken charge, would've killed me.
It wasn't pretty or any such thing, but that moment, looking back, I realize I really hurt him and that makes me sad, because what did I really know? About beatings with baseball bats, or a childhood spent in a boiler room, what did I know? Nothing but the good life from a man sorting out his demons. And who was I?
My dad wasn't really a violent man; he was a weak man raised in a violent time. My dad was really just a weak, weak man. And now, looking back, looking at what he could've done, looking at the lessons he could've learned from his step dad, that could have been implemented on me, it turns out that's why my dad is such a strong man.
There are other concerns besides this, of course.
But sorting out my feeling for my father, and my need to justify myself to him is a central concern in my life. He was gone a lot when I was very small, which may lead me to believe there is some credence to the absent father equals homosexual son, Freudian equation. This also leads into another concern.
When I was in the fifth grade, I was on my way to becoming a Tenderfoot, I thought. I was a Webelos, full of tiger and bear knowledge and all that hyped up bullshit of youth. My Scoutmaster at the time molested me. First time I've wrote it down. It's not pleasant, I don't like it. I remember when it came out that he was child molester, my mother was at the meeting, and I remember peeing myself in fear as I heard what went on, Because it was too ugly -- he wasn't getting caught, I was, I was, I was, oh no, ohnohnohhno.
I went to bed, in my sleeping bag. I hated making my bed, so I just slept in a sleeping bag on top of the covers. My mom asked me if Mr. J had ever touched me, and I angrily denied it. Angrily I thought, but, really just tearfully. It was sad-fear, not "Arrgh, stop asking me."
I was a young boy who liked other boys, or was it girls? I don't know anymore, and my sexual history is muddled beyond belief, you have no idea. I remember a babysitter when I was in second grade who was making out with a boyfriend while I was supposed to be asleep, and I snuck down with a tape recorder and listened and recorded, and I still have the recording, believe it or not. I'm quite the pack-rat. At the end of it, you hear lots of giggles and moans, and you hear little Stan go, "Hi!" And then you hear hell breaking loose for a split-second before the tape recorder is turned off. Heeheeheehee!
I was sexually aware from the second grade on, and politically aware before that. I remember Reagan running against Mondale quite clearly, and I remember kissing a neighbor boy when I was in third grade. I was frightened of girls, secretly lusted after the boys.
Where does this go? Where does this lead?
I'm like my father in one way, Kirsten, and that is that I'm a weak man. I look around and I'm driven to fits and sorry tears at night for ugly things, 'cause I can't stand what I see. I'm sad all the time, and I remember when I was seven I had a big hunting knife, and I tried a couple of times to fall on it, so it would puncture my heart, killing me instantly, I thought. I couldn't stand the idea of cutting my wrists, because I hate blood, and don't want to linger. Which is funny, because that is all I am doing now. I just linger a little while longer, bleeding, bleeding, bleeding, and all out of the smallest, littlest, insignificant paper cuts. Oh, lemon juice! No! -- I mock my whining here.
So death is frightening, and life is too. And that leaves me waiting for the balance of power to slip, for one to get scarier than the other, to drive me one way or the next.
But maybe, and I cry here, one can become more beautiful than the
other, no more waiting for two negatives to drive one out into the open field
of choice, but maybe life will become so beautiful that it isn't a choice
anymore, just a long yes, a long continual Braaaaahhhh!
scream at the top of my lungs, a kiss on your cheek and Artie's cheek, my
mothers cheek, my sisters cheek, on everyone's full lips, a great big soulful
kiss and orgiastic expression, all tumbling into each other; I can't describe it!
© 1999 Stan Blakeman, all rights reserved
appears here by permission