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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Breaking News and Breaking Cars

When telling people that I’m going to grad school, I’ve found that there are different ways to tell different people.  When informing friends and piers, for example, great gusto and exuberance are used to convey joy and “see, I’m not such a fuck-up after all!” sentiment.   It’s roughly the same message to my family, except with my parents it is accompanied with underscores of, “and no, I’m not asking you for money and yes, I do have a game plan for afterwards, kind of, sort of, I love you”.

For the most part the idea of my full-time return to academia—even at 27-yrs-old and even in creative writing—is met with affirmation and congratulations.  Everyone recognizes the dreamy Hail Mary nature of my scarcely charted course, but have the good graces not to mention it.  Hey, if I do become a famous writer, do you really want to be the one to jeopardize his chances of a dedication on the first page? 

But then some people don’t care about dedications.

For the past two years I’ve lived next-door to my neighbor Ray, his wife Charlotte, his kids, grandkids, and whoever else is hanging out on their front porch.  They’re the only house on the block that isn’t confused or irritated by our house of six twenty-somethings living together.  We have a mutual understanding that money doesn’t grow on trees.

More or less, Ray.
Ray’s in his fifties, a retired auto mechanic who still works on cars for extra cash on the side.  Hard, terse, and forever splotched in motor oil, Ray’s bent legs underneath a car are a permanent fixture of the street.  We’re friendly, but I can’t say we’ve ever had a conversation that has ranged outside of cars, lawn care, or how Charlotte’s damn dog never shuts the fuck up—his words, not mine. 

Somehow, inexplicably, I’ve managed to convince Ray that I know something about cars.  Not a lot, but something more than the four and a half things that I actually do know about cars.  #1 Cars need gas

He’ll see me and call me over to take a look at something, a smile on his face, and I’ll stand there with an even bigger smile on my face trying to cover up the glaringly obvious fact that I don’t know jack.  It’d probably be easier, wiser, to fess up and tell Ray the truth, but I won’t do that.  Ray’s the kind of guy whose respect means something.  You figure, if you can just earn this guy’s approval then you're doing something right, and if not, you're clearly doing something wrong.

When my crappy ’97 Ford Countour broke down for the second time in four months last weekend, thus abdicating its usual spot on the street, I knew Ray knew.  The look of disapproval and disappointment on his tired face when I told him how much I had paid to patch up my car the first time was not something I could stomach again.  He had told me to junk it, but I just couldn’t give up on it.  As long as it had a chance, the option wouldn’t even register with me.  #1.5 New and/ or used cars are frick’n expensive.  So this week I starting hopping the back fence on the way to work to avoid the shaming stare I knew was waiting for me on the street.  Ah, good old avoidance. 

#2.5 Put the hood up and look at stuff when you want to pretend like you know what's going on, but  really you have no idea what's going on. 

Last weekend had been a rough weekend for me, the kind that inspires bad romantic comedies or good country music, and it had been topped off by my car breaking down way outside of St. Louis because of the same reasons it had broken down in March.  #3.5 My car has four cylinders and three of them are bad.  Cars don’t like that.  It had been a foolish idea to put money into it then and it would be straight stupid to do so now.

Ray told me the same thing with one look when he caught me checking the mail and I fessed up.  It felt like a 9-yr-old, finally forced to admit that I broken my glasses doing something that I wasn’t supposed to do, but not to worry because I didn’t even need glasses.  But I definitely need a car so I can slap finding a new one on my “To Do Before Grad School” List.

I haven’t told Ray that I’m moving yet—yea avoidance!—or that I’m doing so to study creative writing, but I'm guessing his reaction would be similar to his to my car.  This is not a practical decision, it’s barely even sane.  This choice will not put food on your table or buy you a new car.  You'll probably end up in the same situation two years later only two years older and poorer.  This choice is a luxury choice that doesn’t guarantee luxury.  It’s not smart.  So how do I explain that this decision has nothing to do with smarts?  How do I convey that I'm hoping for something more than what I have now and the risks are worth it if only to find out if it does work?  I don't think Ray would accept hopeful curiosity as a reason.  #4.5 Cars can go far.  

Jew Hulk say, "If you were doctor, you could afford nice, new car.  And you no call Jew Hulk?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

And Now for Something Different...

In lue of the teary pillow stain that I left last week—they’re like vegetables; every once in while you just have to cram some down your gullet—this week I offer something a little different, and hopefully a little entertaining.  I'm not saying it's not out there, but just go with it and enjoy?

The greying February sky pierced through the kitchen window as Sol Greenberg trudged in from another night’s sleep.  It was 6:30 AM on a Tuesday morning and it was time to start again. 

Sol carefully removed the bag of Folger’s Premium Roast from its Ziplocked compartment and scooped out two calculated spoonfuls of the mix, emptying it into the decrepit coffee maker.  The coffee maker shook and buzzed as it always did when Sol flipped it on, but he didn’t mind it.  In fact he was comforted by it.  The Farberware from Sears had sat on Sol’s counter for the last thirty-four years and Sol had always been a man who found relief in continuity.  Besides, it made coffee, he understood its quirks; why should he pay another $37.83 when this one was working just fine?  Sol had never understood the frivolity of today’s youth.  

He glanced over to the desk in the corner of the kitchen where we wrote letters and paid the bills.  That ugly machine was there somewhere, under his books and the pile of photographs that he had managed to get his son to mail him.

“Dad, I can send you pictures so much easier through e-mail if you’d just let me set it up for you,” Sol’s son had told him.

“What?  I should need to spend half the day on this television-typewriter set just for to see pictures of my grandchildren?” Sol had responded, “Make an old man happy and mail them to him.”

His son had persisted and stubbornly bought Sol this laptop machine, promising to help me with the e-mail, but he never came over.  He never came over for anything.  And what, now the vakacta thing just sits in on the desk gathering dust and Sol has to beg his own son—his own flesh and blood—just walk his two strong legs all the way over to the mail box to send him his photos.  How horrible Sol was to ask this of his son.  Oi vey.

Sol was just about to turn on the radio when he was violently flung into the kitchen table by the sheer force of a mammoth crash outside.  If not for the table Sol would have fallen to the floor and who knows how long he would have been down there?  It wasn’t as though visitors were just pouring through the door to see Sol every day.  A week later maybe Sol's son calls him and Sol would get to hear his son's message about how the family was doing fine and maybe they’d get a chance to drive up and see him at Passover and then they could find Sol on the kitchen floor with the rats gnawing on him!

But fortunately, the table had caught Sol and he was fine.  But what about this crash outside?  Probably those neighbor boys with their fireworks again.

“If there’s another dead cat on my lawn,” thought Sol, “if its insides are exploded all across my stoop again, I’m going to march right up to those parents and tell them how to discipline those children.  I will do this.”

Sol opened the kitchen door and stepped outside, prepared to avoid the cat insides, but was confused to find no cat guts on his stoop.  It made him even sourer to be proven wrong.  Clearly, this was some prank pulled by those neighbor boys. 

Sol suddenly noticed smoke billowing from the corner of his fence.  Aha!  Those little schmucks had set Sol’s fence on fire!  Those good-for-nothing parents would replace every board that their good-for-nothing boys had damaged! 

Sol quickly ambled over to the fence and was surprised again to find that he was wrong, and again, Sol found himself grumpier because of it.  The smoke was not from a burning fence post, but rather from a little green rock that was somehow buried deep against his fence.  The rock was actually illuminated, emitting a low green halo around it.

“What, this?  This rock is what has pushed me over and is making all this fuss now?” thought Sol, “And why should those boys dig such a hole for this and not even want to fill it in?”

These questions plagued Sol and to investigate further he gingerly knelt down to inspect the green rock.  Oi his back!  His good knee flush to the lawn, Sol plunged his hand into the hole and grasped the stone.

Instantly, upon first touch of the rock, Sol felt a pain shoot through his entire body.  But it was more than just pain.  It was also energy.  Energy as Sol had never felt before, not even as a young man.  Sol could feel it expanding through him; the more it hurt, the more power he felt.  It was incredible.

A dizziness overtook Sol and he suddenly felt as though he was watching himself from outside of his body.  His brittle, hunched frame was morphing into a muscle-bound Adonis.  And what more, he was green.  Green as that first car he had bought from Harold Murray over on 42nd Street, you know the one.

His shirt torn asunder and his glasses flung out into the yard, Sol found himself standing ten feet high, dripping with muscles, and unable to put two thoughts together.  The immense weight of this power was crushing Sol’s brain.  Sol was not himself.  He was something else, something more. 

Yes, this much was clear to Sol, for whatever reasons, in whatever ways, Sol had become… Jew Hulk!

Jew Hulk say, "Why you no doctor yet?"

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tommy Wolfe, Meet Henry Potter

Two weekends ago I went to two of my best friends’ wedding in Ohio and then continued on to Pittsburgh to spend a few vacation days with my family and friends there.  Two weeks ago, I looked forward to this as a pleasant drive down Memory Lane, whimsically turning at Nostalgia Street, and making a gentle left onto Everything’s the same as it ever was when you left home—it’s a frick’n anchor back here—and everything you’re doing right now is fine Road.  So maybe I missed a turn?

Eight years ago at the wedding of one of my closest friends—for those keeping score, I was 19-yrs-old as was he—I recall taking him to Chuck E. Cheese’s for his bachelor party—again, we were 19, it’s all we could think of, and it was awesome—and then drinking to the point of puking at the wedding reception, but not before prank calling he and his wife in his hotel room all night long.   Classic.
"Who ordered the Chuck E. Lap Dance?"

Fast forward to 2012; No Chuck E. Cheese’s, unfortunately, and no prank call, but I did get drunk and puked at the wedding reception.  A lot.  Now granted, that wasn’t my plan and I awoke with the appropriate dosage of shame for doing so, still I couldn't help to notice that it wasn’t quite as cute or accepted as it had been eight years ago, or even five years ago, or even one year ago.  I was older and expected to act with more decorum—or at least some self-control--and others were older too and didn’t really feel like sitting next to the dude head-deep in the trashcan all night, though to their credit, they did.  Things were, older.  Things are different.

“My childhood home in Pittsburgh, now this is surely a bastion of consistency”, I had thought to myself upon my return.  Every time I come home I end up reverting to a 17-yr-old version of myself, but in an almost Harry Potter-like imperative, I’m compelled to return there every six months so I can continue on with my life outside of it.  But even my proverbial room under the steps had changed.  My parents as recent empty-nesters had continued to re-do everything.  From the kitchen to the den to even the cat—she’s a lasagna-stuffed chunkzilla now—the house had changed.

What happened to my once sweet pad?
Most of my school yard chums have since moved from Pittsburgh—it’s funny how a dying economy will do that—but even the ones who live “in town” actually live far outside of it now.  They live in nice suburbs, in houses, by themselves, or with husbands, wives, and not five other roommates.  Who said that was okay for them to do?

Sometimes I feel like the worst part is talking to them, not that I don’t enjoy talking to them.  **Disclaimer; No one take this the wrong way**  my friends talk about new marriages, evolving careers, mortgages, pre-schools while I’m talking about the same things I was talking about eight years ago.  It’s not engaging or interesting anymore to talk about the girl I kind of like, or going back to school, or what I’d like to be when I grow up.  Apparently, these are all things that I should have figured out by now.

Now, none of these are exactly new revelations to me.  I’ve been long aware of these things and have probably dedicated more than a few blog posts to them.  These are more growing revelations that evolve and splinter a little more every time I look at them.

It’s hard to say whether this homeland morphing spurs me on in my pursuits as in some bent game of catch-up, or whether it reveals how just divergent my goals have become.  Maybe both.