BELOW THE WATER LINE
In the previous chapter, writing as I did about things -
I can't imagine what would have made me skip this,
probably the most important and fun part of the story,
but I did. That green 'telephone chair'. That was our
initial reference to it only - as I said it was in place
thorough many years. It was used - for piles of folded
clothes sometimes, or books and packages at other times,
and generally a catch-all place for things. I heard a
hundred times, at least, when looking for something,
'I left it on the gossip bench', or 'it's on the gossip bench.'
Yep. Gossip bench. That was how we referred to it for
years after. I never knew if that was our own family
name for it, or if that was some sort of official furniture
name. And also, I neglected to mention, for those
not familiar with, or uninitiated in, what I meant by
'baby moon' hubcaps on that guy's car. They are rounded,
chromed, convex, disc hub-caps. Quite popular back in
the day, and I'm sure you've seen them on old cars. There
were 'full moons' or a disc, larger, covering the entire
wheel, and 'baby moons' which were smaller and covered
only a center section. Like a pie plate versus a dinner plate,
or maybe a cereal bowl versus a soup bowl, or something
of that nature - size. That brings me to another point, a
word thing I always liked - convex vs. concave. I figured
it out by the word 'cave' built in - the concave is curved
inward, and the convex is curved outward; sort of a
distorting mirror thing. Years back there was a very
important poem written by John Ashbery, entitled 'Self-
Portrait In a Convex Mirror'. That always captivated me
and added huge dimension to the concept : it's an odd poem,
and a bit long. It's about a painting back then, by a painter
named Parmagianino, which had thwarted men's thinking
at the time. But it determined the declension of the
space and the Being of the world we see. Pope Clement
and his court were 'stupefied' by it. Think about that -
their closed and sealed concepts of the very world they
were proclaiming by doctrine, were herewith torn
asunder. How startling! It was the same, about 1300,
as when both Giotto and Brunelleschi began painting
perspective and people were flabbergasted. A real-to-life
depth and view! Starling again. And this modern-day
poem expressed all of that perfectly to me. I was an
Avenel kid, flying high, also stupefied by a hundred things.
I don't know if, today, we face off things in the same way,
except maybe if the Higgs Boson gets properly discovered
and explained - it would be about the same thing.
Earth-shattering time and space stuff.
Forget Einstein and MC squared.
An inputting of too much information may have sometimes
moved me away from others. I didn't know. My friend Donald,
the guy with all the comic books in the attic, he spent one
Summer entranced with 'The Guns of August', by Barbara
Tuchman, whatever year that may have been. It was a good
treatment of the root causes and the day-to-day politics of the
matters that came to a head to begin WWI - Gavrilo Princip
assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand and all that. It was
beautiful stuff, nicely portrayed, and sleek. It caught me up.
There was a bunch of stuff in his house that interested me :
we'd hang about. He had, or they had, in the house, some
interesting record albums. We'd play 'North to Alaska' a
song about just that - Klondike people or something. He
also was a big-time Civil War guy, as was I in my way -
it being, as I mentioned before, about then the 100-year
anniversary of the Civil War, or at least that's what we
called it up here. Everybody's got their own view of that.
His dad drank vodka too - so I got to know about the
potato fermentation which made it, and how it was clear
and odorless as well.
I've always had a tendency to go overboard. About things,
and people too. I hold things dear, quickly, of a sudden, and
close. Won't let go until it's too late. Soft heart. Easy touch.
I mean that - not just a bunch of muck. It's a sad part of me,
sometimes something that I can't control. I sense it happening,
but my intentions towards goodness take over and run me. I
feel like a overly-tender leech pole, reaching out in the hopes
of affecting others maybe in the same intensity they've affected
me. It's very strange; it's missionary and it's zealous. It's like in
that story by John Steinbeck, where the guy, Lenny, a big dumb,
emotive oaf, he winds up loving something so much that he hugs it,
to death. Just squeezes it dead. That's me. Never learning. I never
knew if others had that same feeling about anything or anyone.
It's part of what made me just go away - seminary and cloistered
living and all that. I was vulnerable all the time and to everything.
Still am. Just like that. Tender as a fucking lamb, to put it blunt.
It's the reason, even at the most base, I do so many simple and
dumb things - like bother other people's lives and beings when
they were getting along just fine without me. It's the reason, for
God's sake, I buy a lottery ticket - so I can win that dreamy
billion bucks and touch and change the lives of a thousand
people. Yeah, you believe that? Some people go off and want
to buy an island. I'd start feeding the hungry and take pity on
the poor. Good God. I don't think, ever, that that's anything
Avenel taught me - mostly it was the opposite it taught me.
I think : to laugh at others, to throw up opposition and
interference, to get in the way with attitude and trouble.
That's it? I don't know, I just really don't. I live this freaking
life with a God-damned heart condition which I
can't neither break nor control.
My mother and father argued a lot. Maybe I got sensitized by
that. I hate conflict. I try to steer blindly between extremes and
to bring people at opposite ends to some middle point of an
approximate agreement anyway. It's totally stupid and it never
works. Someday it could get me killed. In Avenel, you were
usually able to see trouble coming, before it got to you. The
big oaf with the mouth and all the muscles - if he was
gunning for you, you usually knew it beforehand. There
were ways. 'Senses of the swamp' I called it. You had
to be ever on the alert. A lot of places, we thought of them
as ours and ours alone, but they never were at all. Anybody
at any time could come and bust it all up and take it all
from us. There's some lesson-learning for you. I was
too quiet sometimes to be real. When I started working,
a few years later, I noticed people calling their paycheck
their 'compensation.' Now there was a word that never
worked for me. As I just said, I was too quiet to be real,
and for that there was no one to give you compensation.
I'd say that, and then I walked right into it as a word being
used for getting paid. You get hired at some crummy job
cutting cinder blocks or something, and they ask you,
'what's your compensation?' What they mean is how much
are you being paid. What I answered was more like : 'Well,
fella, compensation? There ain't none, believe me. There's no
way anybody can compensate me for this shit and what it's
draining from me.' For years and years people stole from me,
draining, like I said, all I could give and giving me back crap
in return. Measly three-buck an hour jobs. I once worked
seven years with no one giving me an extra nickel, no
increase ever, no nothing. You think those rat's-ass bastards
cared? No way. They traipsed off to the bank each week
with the money they'd deposit that they'd gotten off my back.
Now people get fifteen bucks for changing god-damned toilet
paper in a saloon. Damn, if that's not Avenel talking back now.
The first real thing I ever owned were the words I could write
myself. My own freaking million-dollars worth of 'Product.'
Part of the problem in my life was in thinking others
cared about me. It was just work, work, work.