Sony, Pioneer, JVC, RCA, Toshiba……..

Stereotypes are a major part of how people look at the world. Some can be ridiculous and hurtful like the one about how all white people smell like artichokes, others can be closer to truth, but no one race, sex, society, nation or any other category you can think of fits into a tidy little box.

It was once believed that physically active women were hurting their chances at motherhood. The world is full of outlandish and stupid misconceptions that come from stupidity and fear of the unknown. Yes, most African Americans like fried chicken and watermelon but, honestly, who the fuck doesn’t? The truth is African Americans were held back financially and educationally for a long time and chicken is cheap and watermelon is easy to grow. That’s on par with saying homeless people like holding signs or gay men like hair in their mouth. The cold hard truth is that stereotypes come from a time when people were more afraid of other races and cultures than they are today. That’s not to say that we are past racism and hate but for the most part I think that most of the educated world knows that stereotypes are generalizations that cannot be labeled as truth.

We all know someone who smells like an artichoke but we all know more that don’t. Honestly, not all stereotypes are bad either; I guarantee you’ll never hear an African American man say that they don’t have the largest penis’ and I bet they get laid more often because women of other races wonder and dream of finding out. It’s plain and simple, not all Catholic priests are pedophiles, not all rednecks enjoy incest, and not all Muslims are extremists that want Americans to die. All men who write interesting blogs are smart and deserve unprovoked oral sex but other than that stereotypes tend to lean towards racist or sexist misnomers. Let’s just use stereotypes for what they are, a way to pick on ourselves and others and quit taking them so serious. I myself try to use them to make people laugh and take people for who they really are when I meet them. If you spend all your time worried about hate and discrimination you never get the time to stop and smell the artichokes.

Daddy,

I spent years hating you. I always said that someday you would be on your death bed asking to see me and I wouldn’t go. I would lie in my bed and think about the things I would say to you if I had the opportunity–the accusations, the contempt, the hatred. I would fling all the bricks I carry around that are my childhood. I would try to hurt you as you hurt me.

When I think about it now, I tell myself that I am who I am because of you. You made me the person that I am. The things I have struggled not to be are you. You as I remember you–you when I was little and you were mean.

I was in prison when I heard you were dying of leukemia. I was suddenly faced with the one thing I always said I would refuse you. I didn’t know what to say–didn’t know how to respond to Momma when she told me. All of a sudden I have to think about you as a man again–a sick man, a man with little time and even less hope. I hadn’t had a drink or taken any drugs in two years at that point and I was thinking pretty clearly. I decided I wanted to get it out of me forever.

I wrote you a letter telling you that I knew I wasn’t always a good kid and you had had it rough raising two boys all by yourself and I meant every word. You wrote me back and I am ashamed to admit that I have lost that letter. I held onto it for a lot of years. I cried every time I read it. I can’t remember one word or what any of it said. Not sure if I want to hate you or if my memory has faded from time, but I remember that I cried long and hard and I couldn’t share any of what it said with another living soul. There were secrets in there that I had hid from the world for a long time and no-one could have helped me by talking about it.

You have been dead and gone now for five years and I don’t think of you as often as I once did. You are always there in the back of my mind reminding me who I can’t become, but you’ve dulled to a whisper as I grow gray and realize that despite my best efforts–I am a man now. When you do flitter past my thoughts it is the other times I remember. The times when I was really little and I thought you were the tallest man in the world. The times when you would get down on the floor and play with me. I remember the times I managed to make you laugh–a genuine laugh.

I miss you. I wish I could have talked to you as a man and let you see who I have become. Two men–a father and his son–talking about anything. I would let you see that I can be funny or smart. I can hold my own when the grown folks talk. I am a man that has been beaten and a man that can do some beating. I am tough and strong and I don’t let anyone take anything from me unless I want them to. I would make fun of you for being so French and you would laugh despite being the butt of the joke. You would like me now. I think you would.

I hope you rest in peace, Old Man, because you had a hard life too and I can’t hate you anymore. It does things to me that I have learned aren’t good for someone. I am working on me these days and hating you doesn’t figure into who I should be as a man. I still don’t want to be you, but I think I got a handle on who I DO want to be where as before I never did. I have one last thing I want to say before I go and leave you alone in the back of my mind. I want you to know that even the times when I couldn’t see your face without wanting to scream–even when I hated you for being fine while I suffered–I never stopped loving you. I always wanted to make you proud and will never know if I did, but I like to think that I would, if you knew me now.

Intimate Idiocy

The tension is palpable. Seeing those eyes on me from across the room is making me forget what I am saying. It’s not the words fleeing so much as me forgetting where I am–who I am; that there is more to say. I can’t help but think I am alone in a world where those eyes are a beacon to the knowledge of life; that if I follow them, I can discover the secrets to everlasting happiness.

I send you a drink and raise mine when I see you look to where the bartender points. A smile and a nod is all you offer. I think to myself, the night is young and I have all the time in the world. I do. I feel the energy between us and know that if I can be patient, I will someday know your thoughts just by seeing those eyes.

I try to return to my conversation but the effort has left me. I can think only of how I can get close enough to smell the bouquet that is you. The scent that will tell the animal in me what’s on the menu. I would drink in this aroma, imprinting it on my mind–searing it there like a hot iron on flesh.

I feel something on my arm and as I look I have enough time to register that it is a hand before you lean in and whisper to me, ”Don’t ask me to love you.”

I turn my head and look you in the eye, feeling the hair stand up on my arms. I can see in those eyes the accusation. The challenge. This is a test and I feel it instantly. If I fail I am forever doomed to wonder….what it could have been like. I don’t smile because I know I need to be serious and I say, ”Don’t make me.”

I wait. In this instant I could live a lifetime. I think of how I will enjoy learning about you. Learning how to fix your favorite breakfast. How tight to hold you when you are frightened. What your smile does to me when I feel sad. Just what to say to make you know, without question, that I am there for you. Learning the perfect place on your neck to place a kiss.

“Dance?”, is your reply.

“For Starters”, I say.

Reminiscence

It’s the type of thing that you hope you can forget someday; spend half your life thinking about it in the back of your mind–like a song that stays with you after you turn off the radio. No matter what you are currently thinking about, it stays on repeat in the back of your mind.

Recently, I was asked a question and in pondering the answer I was suddenly overtaken by the memory of that day. It came upon me like a hungry tiger tearing me to shreds and leaving me a disemboweled lump of myself where only moments before I was a thinking, feeling, functioning man.

Cotton Candy. The smell of it is floating through the air and sweetening each breath. This, in no small part, is making the day better. What else could I ask for? Not only did I get to ride The Bullitt this year (a big kid ride if there ever was one) but to walk in the parade too! I am eight years old and my Father and a group of his “friends”(other men who lived their lives in the bottom of a bottle) are members of a Veteran’s group for people who saw combat in Viet Nam. They have been asked to bring their families to walk in this year’s parade during the regional Franco-American festival.

We have known about this for weeks and I hardly slept last night. We each have on a little t-shirt that has the logo of the Veteran’s group on the front. I couldn’t be more proud. Some of us have little flags and others pass out bumper stickers but we’re are all having fun. There is something about everyone looking at you, waving, and just generally having a good time that puts a smile on my soul. Next, I’ll run for Senate and become an Astronaut. I am on top of the world.

Now, we are being addressed by the Governor of Maine. He is speaking of things I can’t and have no interest in understanding. I have better things to think about at my age: baseball cards, my next birthday, how to stop that stupid girl at school from pulling my hair everyday. I start to imagine pushing her down the next time she does. My imagination runs wild while the speech continues. I wish Knight Rider would come out next. That would make this day complete.

In the middle of my fanciful daydreaming my Father taps me on the shoulder and says, ” Let’s go.” I don’t know where we are going but I have little time to ask before he starts walking.

Walking with him is always hard. He walks with fast long strides that eat up the ground in front of him in big gulps. Today is especially hard because there are people everywhere, milling lazily around looking at the trinkets being sold by the vendors and watching the children on the Merry-Go-Round. I am small and not exactly built to push my way through a crowd.

We walk only a few short blocks when we come to this house. It looks like every other apartment house in Lewiston. Run down and begging for paint; sheets in more of the windows than the shades that are popular now. There are huge chunks of the asbestos siding gone to the years of harsh winters with bitter cold. There is a bicycle chained in front that is missing both tires and the chain has discolored the concrete of the sidewalk from years of sitting there rusting. The body of the house is yellow with a dark brown on the windows and the one door that once had glass in the top third of it. A condemned sign wouldn’t look out of place here.

My Father knocks on the first door we come to after entering the building. A yell from inside and we enter. I know already what is in store for the rest of the day. I can smell the distinct odor of old beer that has been sitting in the can and getting hot and stale; a smell that I loathe.

I see that the room holds the men from the veterans group and I can also tell within moments that few, if any, had stayed as long as we did after the parade. The slurring of their words, apparent in their voices, says that they have had a few drinks already. Five, maybe six men and a woman that must be one of their wives. They are sitting around a glass topped table with legs made of what looks like bent pipe–four separate pieces, connected, shaped like a large squarish C. The walls are dirty from years of cigarette smoke and not being cleaned, making what should be white look as though it were river mud; yellowish brown with hints of green.

In the adjoining room there are two other kids, so my brother and I know that these are our friends for the day and we run off to see what games are currently afoot. This room is the same color but much smaller and contains a couch which I am sure has come from the side of the road. The smell of cigarette smoke and body odor lingers everywhere and I know it is safest not being seen or heard for the next few hours if we can help it.

The afternoon progresses like most of this nature; there are beer runs and arguments, the voices get louder as the hours pass by and the thoughts get less coherent. I have been in this situation as often as I have been in a room with a window so I am playing and not really paying attention when it happens.

Why? To what end? Have I looked too much like I am having fun? Was there an instant where I looked too much like my mother? I do not know. What I do know is there isn’t a warning–no loud crash or even an instant where I can feel the malevolence building. One second, I am playing happily waiting for word to get ready for the few miles home with my Father weaving on the sidewalk, and the next there is a hand on the back of my neck and it is squeezing. Hard.

I instinctively try to duck and run but it’s too late. I have been caught unawares and the fear grips me like a blanket wrapped around me in a restless sleep; getting tighter with each attempt at escape.

“Come ‘ere, I wan-na show you summten.” His breath hits me in the face and my stomach turns making the terror that has settled in me even worse. It smells of cheap beer, Marlboro reds, and the not unfamiliar stench of hate. It’s a seething anger that I know well, he had had it rough and I was ungrateful for all his sacrifices. I am just a spoiled little brat that doesn’t know how to be a good little boy–stupid and too much of a sissy boy for his tastes, in need of a little mettle in my blood.

As I am being dragged across the floor, trying to wrestle myself from his grip, and getting no-where, nobody seems to notice. There is no apparent lull in conversation. No people crying out for my Father to release me; nothing out of the ordinary going on here at all.

“If you don’t quit squirming you little mother fucker…”, the threat open allowing me poetic license to finish as I see fit. The things that my brain offer are no less frightening than anything he would have managed.

Where, I don’t know, but from somewhere there appears a set of handcuffs. The metal ones, not exactly police issue, but not the cheap ones with a lever that will unlock them if you can manage to get your finger on it. He reaches down and seizes me by the wrist and clicks the first bracelet on me before I see what he has. The other people in the room have stopped talking. They have all noticed that something is happening and are transfixed by the spectacle of a man dragging his son across the room. They watch, fascinated as it unfolds; rubber-neckers to the car wreck that is in front of them.

Before he clicks the other bracelet in place he runs it under the leg of the table so my wrists are together with the three inch chain under a leg of the table. Had he been compassionate and put the other bracelet around the leg I would have had some movement. He is desperate to blame someone or something for the ruin that is his existence and it is my turn. Again.

My struggles to free myself prove fruitless very quickly and I start to cry. Not a whining wail or a screech–just tears, silent and accusing dripping from my chin, streaming down my face and washing streaks of red into the pale color of my face.

“Whassamatter, crybaby?”, he asks. Bringing laughter from the other men in the room. I am too young to tell if this is uncomfortable laughter or if the hate has spread to the others through osmosis.

I get tired fast and my struggles start to come in spurts. I sit and try to find a comfortable way to position myself in order to rest between attempts to free myself. I try everything. Picking up the table. Pulling helplessly against the pipe. I am just too small and weak to get anything accomplished. My Father insults me and pushes me down with his foot while the other men laugh at his words and even a chuckle or two at my tears. It always makes these type of men feel better to see someone suffer and writhe in pain. It makes them forget that they are miserable human beings. Each lost in their own tragedy.

After I have been sufficiently humiliated and defeated I become boring and they lose interest. They resume the conversation as though I am not even here. The woman that is here waits until it is obvious that she will suffer no ill will for doing so and gets up to find the keys. I have been under this glass table for almost an hour and the men are no longer even glancing through the glass to get a look at the kid trapped down there. The woman comes back with a bobby-pin because there are no keys in evidence and says something about how mean they are. This is greeted with some vulgarity and a warning to mind her business lest she finds herself locked there in my stead.

My wrists are hurting from all the pulling and moving about. Red and scraped from the cheap metal of the handcuffs. My shoulders are burning from the struggle with my father as well as the exercise of trying to lift the table.

The woman manages to free one hand and looks at me with what little compassion as a woman resigned to such a life can muster and whispers,” Go in the other room, sweetie, and I’ll try to get the other one.”

I run into the living room where I was playing so quietly only an hour before. There will be no more playing for me. Not today. Not for a few days. Once again, I have been reminded of my station in life and the reality of it all.

The woman comes in behind me and eventually does release me from the other bracelet of the cuffs. It takes her a few minutes and the men start calling to her to forget it, get it later. Eventually, getting tired of their remarks and risking their wrath by saying something back. I do not hear it against the thunder in my eardrums that is my heartbeat. I internally beg her to stop. Scared that her mouth will make this day worse for me.

I watch as she walks away after freeing me from the second bracelet. She sets the handcuffs on the table and grabs the beer she left there to help me. She sits down and tries to steer the conversation away from herself by saying something light and funny.

I sit on the couch, scared to move for fear of being noticed again. The tears are slowing now but still trickle down my face as if they’re not sure I am finished needing them. Each one releasing more of the emotions I have paralyzing me where I sit–washing away the pity and the anger that consumes me.

This time when it happens I hear his chair. It drags across the floor ever so briefly. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard, not fingernails, but nails. I am afraid to hope he is going to the bathroom. Too frightened to turn my whole head and watch him, so, I try to use my peripherals to see–but the question is answered when I hear the clink of the handcuffs as he picks them up. I try to make myself smaller. Try to climb into the couch as if I were really the cockroach he makes me feel like.

The tears start afresh as his shadow comes near me. This time the sobs over take me. They are so powerful and deep the world swims around the edges from oxygen deficiency. I do not fight him this time. Years of life with him taught me to know that I am better off not resisting him too often. It doesn’t matter though, his grip is a vice around my wrist and the nape of my neck.
He is saying something that I can’t hear. The anxiety and fear have deafened me to anything other than my thoughts. I wonder why he hates me; why his love always hurts. What I do hear though is the click of those handcuffs as he starts putting them on me again. Snatching me around like a doll to put me under the table once again. This time he puts them on so tight I think they are cutting into me.

I don’t hear the second one click. I hear my innocence being severed from my eight year old soul. I hear my sanity as it grips the edge of the cliff and struggles not to fall into the darkness that awaits it. I hear the sobs of a little boy that I once was as I enter a maturity I won’t catch up with for almost twenty years. One I still struggle to keep in front of me.

When I think about it now I can’t remember how long I was locked there the second time or how I got out. I can’t remember going home or if my Father tried to be nice to me later. I can’t remember anything after the snap. If you ever ask me what I once wanted to be when I grew up you will see me think about it but I won’t remember. I can’t. I don’t remember ever wanting to grow up. I can’t remember anything about that child; who he was or what he dreamt about. He is a far away little boy that couldn’t be invisible. Couldn’t not look like his mother. Couldn’t find love in a world he never asked for and never wanted.

That little boy is still handcuffed to that table. Still struggles to free himself. Still hasn’t hated himself. Still doesn’t think of death when he wakes up in the morning. He still hasn’t found the release of drugs and alcohol. He will never be mean to someone because he thinks that is how to deal with disappointment. He will never love anyone, ever again. That little boy still sobs in my heart late at night as I try to fall asleep and reminds me that I deserve what I got coming.

That little boy will never hurt anyone because that little boy is trapped in a room somewhere in Lewiston, Maine.