The good old days

It all starts with the childhood right? If my B.S. in Psychology taught me anything, it is that a Shrink would think that all Fucked Up Shitheads (from now on will be known as FUS) are the product of hating or wanting to fuck your mother. They would be wrong. I was the product of a loving home. I had honest and hard working parents. To my knowledge I never needed for anything.

My town was lower middle class at best. If I had to guess, we were on the lower-middle end of it. My parents bought our house when I was 3 and from that moment Dad spent every spare minute working on it. The man left the house at 5AM, got home at 6 or 7. Mom kept his dinner warm. I would sit and watch him eat, careful to point out that we had left the biggest piece of steak for him. Sometimes he was talkative, other times he was quiet as he ate. If he was in a bad mood he would still give me a wink to let me know it wasn’t me. When he was finished he put his plate in the sink and went to pound nails or cut some boards. God bless him, he was the hardest working man I have ever met. Ever.

Mom walked the tightrope between Gloria Steinem Feminism and the good housewife brilliantly. She wore her hair down to her waist (see Cher), opened her own doors and, once I was old enough, got her own job. But around Dad she was a traditional housewife. Don’t hate on that term, that’s what they called themselves back then. By traditional housewife I guess I mean that she cared for me, cared for the house and inexplicably took care of him as part of her marital duties. She did it because it had to be done and she wasn’t offended by traditional Gender roles. She had limits. If he got too “traditional” she would give it back. She was a very positive female influence.

We were a very social family. We were the house that all the ladies in the neighborhood would come to for coffee and conversation. They’d stop by with their kids in tow, looking for a cup of sugar and would stay for coffee and whatever baked goods Mom was able to whip up. It was great for me, my friends were hand delivered. I didn’t even have to leave the house. When there weren’t pop-in play dates, it was my Grandmother.

My mom and her mother had a great relationship. They were very close and spent a lot of time together. Because they were both married to workaholics, their time together meant more than I ever would have understood at the time. They were lonely together, if that makes sense? One thing that helped to pass the time was to dote over me. As it turns out, doting was my Grandmother’s specialty. She took me places and showed me off to her friends at the Senior Center. My memories of hanging with her go all the way back, and I attribute my love of Elderly people to her. We had nothing less than a wonderful and gratifying relationship. Unfortunately, my Grandmother’s doting was also the source of a huge rift in her relationship with my mother. A rift so large that it essentially molded my mother’s approach to me. To a degree, it would be a problem for me in my teen years.

They were good times.

Diary of a F.U.S.

In my last Blog I put it out there that I was going to work on recovering the raw and brutally honest nature of my earlier blogs. I used to be interesting, I think at least, to some people and it was often stated that candor, harsh truths and genuine storytelling was the draw. I told my story as a means of therapy. I mostly told of the events leading up to my utter collapse; the loss of my new Kidney, my Divorce, my job, my house and subsequent bankruptcy. I told a few stories about my past but not many. As it turns out, through my blog and some other life events I had reconciled a lot my anger, forgiven a lot of people (myself included) and I had worked myself into a better place. I almost liked myself. I was close to being OK in my own skin.
As far as my blog was concerned it felt like my story was almost told.

Sure, I kept blogging but it was hit or miss. I had run out of (or so I thought) the funny stories that made the best blogs. I was searching for a new format, even if it meant no format at all, to make me want to write. I was uninspired.
Then I met a girl.
She made me feel accepted and loved.
I loosened up a little (I’m generally wrapped tighter than a take-out burrito).
I told her that I can be myself around her.
She asked me what that even means.
I couldn’t answer her, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

I can only come up with one thing. It took me waaaaaaay too fucking long to get to that place where I can feel safe and “myself” with someone. My Personality Theory 101 class could tell me that I must have some heavy historical baggage. Maybe it’s because of that formative incident in 1982 when someone wrote on the Men’s room wall where I worked Bill Mac is a Fucked Up Shithead. My mind goes back to it all the time, after all these years, and always offers the additional, and totally unhelpful “you are, aren’t you”?

Am I? Am I a FUS? I look back on the Highlight Reel and I can certainly think of some things that I want a redo over. You know, the ones that play in your head at 3 AM? I suppose most people get over things, I was born sans that ability. I remember every regrettable thing that I’ve done and I don’t need anyone to beat me up over it, I was there first and it’s already done. Why do I continue to dwell on them and why have I not achieved some sort of closure? Why can’t I forgive myself?

We all have a story to tell. Our story explains everything about who we are and why we act or think the way we do. I think it’s time to go back to the beginning of my story. Look at those memories and look for some answers. The story of Bill, the Diary of a Fucked Up Shithead

Clouds

As I am prone to do, I triggered myself with yesterday’s post in which I spoke of my longing for the past and embracing my silly, if not immature side as a defense mechanism against the corrosive environment of today. I found that this is a subject that cannot be handled in one post.

In a famous intro to Pink Floyd’s haunting Goodbye blue sky, off their magnificent album, 1979’s The Wall, we hear the voice of a child, in all its innocence and wonder exclaim,
“Look mommy, there’s an airplane up in the sky”.

The voice inevitably and necessarily throws me back to the day when the world was a place of beauty and every day was a chance to experience new things. If you were lucky enough to have your mother at your side, she would join you in marveling at the sight of the airplane, as a bonus she would help you identify clouds shaped as animals and before you knew it the sky was cluttered with joyous shapes and future memories.
Ah, precious childhood.
Today, the mother probably would be glued to her phone and mutter,’Ummhmmm, that’s nice honey” without even looking up.

The release of Pink Floyd’s album in 1979 is a powerful memory to me and may explain why that song, and that clip of the child, is so significant to me. It is around the time that I lost my youthful outlook and began to look at each day with dread and fear, not optimism and delight.

I was a notoriously happy child. I was an only child with a mother that worked part time with plenty of time to be home with me and a father that worked his ass off but denied himself sleep to make sure that he did all that he could for me. I played sports. I rode bikes with the neighborhood kids. We went camping in the summer, I went to ball games and went to the park. I loved hanging with my grandparents at their house. We had a big yard. When my parents were unable to occupy and amuse me (something parents feel obligated to do these days) I was able to amuse myself by playing with Matchbox cars in the dirt or voraciously reading books under my favorite tree. Sometimes I would just lie on my back looking at the clouds. I could do it for hours.
As the years of my childhood passed, the toys changed but my attitude didn’t. I remained a happy kid,

The cheerful child in me went away around the time that I entered 7th grade. In my town grades K-6 were in Elementary and 7-9 were called Junior high (now known as middle school). I left 6th grade and the low-ceilinged and safe feeling Elementary school as a small statured but eager student and entered the high ceilings and almost anarchist hallways of the Junior High School as a terrified newbie. My fears were soon justified as the most formidable period of my life began, the age of being bullied.

It was horrifying. I was immediately attacked by the bigger and meaner kids. I didn’t fight back as I was slammed into lockers and sheepishly retrieved the books that were knocked out of my hands as I was walking down the halls. I became an easy target and other kids took a shot at me. I didn’t tell anyone, instead I retreated into myself. The gregarious kid eager for friends, the student eager for knowledge soon became a quiet, nonparticipating C student who sat in the back of the class doodling in his notebook. It was a horrible time of my life and I never recovered academically, socially or emotionally. I hated school, I constantly tried to call in sick and I became a sullen and mostly joyless teenager.

At the age of 55 I look back and know without dwelling on specifics how different my life would have been if I had not retreated into a turtle shell. But many years ago I learned to stop placing blame and acknowledged that there are no do-overs in life and time travel in Delorean’s is not a real option yet. I have shed the resentment for those characters that caused such heartache. I had to. It was weighing me down. I have largely forgiven them and myself. Happily, I have found and embraced the much younger version of me as a way of dealing with the current realities of my life.

The other day I was detailing a car and I was overcome by the heat. I stopped to take a break and sat on my steps with a cold glass of water, catching my breath. Exhausted, I laid on my back. I took a moment to look at the beautiful sky above me. The wispy clouds gently danced before me as they slowly made a pass over me. I reveled in their beauty. I embraced how small and ordinary the world must look from up there. I felt like a kid again, a kid without a care in the world. A kid who saw bunnies and teddy bears in the beautiful blue oasis above.

Look Mommy, I see a airplane up in the sky…

Lessons unlearned

I came home today to be greeted by the sounds of Circular Saws and Hammers. The Contractors are finally finishing work on our Farmer’s Porch that they started in October. On the way into the house I paused to watch in fascination as they measured, cut and nailed with such precision and skill. And, as often happens, I triggered myself. Again.

I can’t hear a saw, a hammer or a drill without thinking about how much I didn’t learn from my father despite the many offers and opportunities. My dad was beyond handy, he could do almost anything with his hands. My earliest memories were of my dad rebuilding our house as we lived in it. He would work from 5 AM to 6 PM or later, slam down a quick dinner and then go to work until at least 10. The saw and hammer were sounds I knew at a very early age.

As I got older Dad tried to enlist my assistance, not because he necessarily needed help but instead to teach me. I was eager to help him but not very interested in learning anything new. This was odd for me because I was an eager student in every other aspect of life. I would pull nails from a pile he created, I could swing a hammer fairly well but offers of learning to measure, use woodworking tools and such were dropped due to lack of interest. Even offers of car maintenance were met with tepid enthusiasm despite our shared love of everything to do with cars.

One incident really stands out in my mind. One evening when I was in my late teens Dad offered to show me how to change the oil on my car. He had it already in the garage, the drive up lifts set up and all. The house phone rang (cell phones weren’t invented yet) and it was my girlfriend (she was goddamn gorgeous if that is relevant at all here) and she was imploring me to come over her house. I told her I was doing something with my Dad that was important and she insisted that it was very important. I had to make a decision and I can honestly say that I made the wrong one. I blew off my Dad.

The look of disappointment on his face was tangible. In my feeble defense, I really thought my girlfriend needed me. That almost helped me pull out of the garage feeling good about myself. Almost.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house 20 minutes later and knocked on her door. She yelled for me to come up. I went upstairs, asking as I climbed the steps if she was ok, still very curious as to what the emergency was. As I entered her room and saw her lying there buck naked with a rose between her teeth I knew that I had been suckered. It was merely a sexual emergency. I somehow managed to get through it but soon after I began to feel bad.

I apologized profusely to my Dad the next day. He was curt and brief with me. He wasn’t mad, he was disappointed and that was always so much worse. He told me that he had offered to show me something for the last time. It was a pivotal moment in my relationship with my father and one of many regrets that I have from my childhood with regards to my dad. If I could talk to him for only five minutes it would be a priority in the conversation. He was such a hard-working and self-taught man. I admired him so. I take some comfort in many other things that I did learn from him that have made me the person I am but there is still a lot of regret.

Sorry Dad, how’s it go…If I knew now what I didn’t know then?

Hot summer days

Those hot summer days
Basking in the sun’s rays
Outside, even when skies were grey
The knock on the door
Can Billy come out to play?
Cops and robbers in the yard
Shins and elbows always scarred
Streetlamp curfews
Wasted days were few
Wax bottles and candy cigarettes
Eight-track tapes and cassettes
Hot afternoons in the pool
Mirror shades, try to look cool
Leaf piles to dive in
Saturday night drive in
Sleepovers at camp
Motocross bikes, jumping that ramp
Swimming and fishing
shooting stars and wishing
Talking to my first cutie
Worried about cooties
Bad music and One hit wonders
School dances and social blunders
First day of school sneakers
Hi-Fi and Big speakers
The crack of the bat
My first baseball hat
First day of tryouts
Don’t make a flyout
Ground ball heading to first
Damn, I missed it. I’m the worst

Those days were the best
I just didn’t know it
Let me go back
This time I won’t blow it
I don’t want to play adult
Tell Zoltar to stop winking
I wanted to be Big
What was I thinking?
I miss my old house
I miss my first dog
I miss not worrying
About every damn thing
I miss feeling good
rugged and strong
I’ve lost my joy
My days seem so long
My longevity is fleeting
I’ve taken a beating
I’m tired of this, my downward phase
I want to go back to those hot summer days

38,325 days…a life truly lived cont’d

to catch up on previous entries on this series you can check here, here, and here.

Marion embraced the role of Grandmother with enthusiasm and grace. During the two years that my father served out the remainder of his obligation to the Army National Guard, he was away almost as often as he was at home. I was an easy baby, or so I’m told, but maintaining the small apartment my parents had rented in a sleepy town North of Boston, working part-time and taking care of me was taxing on my mother. Marion gladly took me whenever she could. While I don’t remember the earliest years, as to be expected, it is well known that I spent a lot of time at my Grandmother’s house.

In 1968 my parents bought a house one town over from my Grandparents. Marion never cared for apartments and rarely visited us when we were in the cramped upstairs apartment with poor lighting, worse ventilation, and too much street noise. Once we graduated to Suburbia, Marion spent much time at our house. I have wonderful memories of this time period. As early as I can remember, Mom and Marion had tea in the kitchen and talked for hours as I raced around the house playing Speed Racer or the Red Baron or whatever was popular at the time. Unlike kids today, I easily amused myself and Mom and Marion enjoyed my independence. When my grandfather and father weren’t working, a truly rare occurrence indeed, they got together and got along famously. Looking back, I had wonderful role models when I was a child.

Hard work pays off and eventually, my parents got themselves financially above water enough to actually have a social life. They went dancing or out with friends and went out almost every Friday night. I never thought twice about it, what it meant to me was Friday night at the Grandparent’s house. It was always the go-to option, they were happy to have me and they never went out. By this point, their house was as familiar and welcoming to me as my own.

Friday night would consist of mom and dad pulling into the driveway, letting me out, making sure I got in safely through the front door (Grandma was always there waiting for me) and they would pull out. I would endure the hugs and sloppy kisses and immediately look for my Grandfather. This is where the games would begin.

“Grandpa I’m here!”

“Huh?”

“It’s me!”

“Who?”

He would then pretend to suddenly recognize me and give me a giant hug. Begrudgingly, he would change the channel to something I would watch and we spent the night watching TV, eating popcorn and indulging in the occasional Root Beer Float with real A & W Rootbeer. I would always go to bed early. After all, I had to be rested up for the festivities the following morning. If all went as planned, and it always did, Grandpa would put on a show for me. One that went back to my mother’s childhood. The show didn’t have a name but if it did it would be called Let’s piss Marion off and have a good laugh in the process. I loved the game, but as you can probably surmise, Marion did not.

To be continued…