Careful What You Wish For

bruce-jenner-athlete

At Lila’s.

“I can’t believe this Katelyn thing,” she said. “I mean, she’s hot!”

“Who’s that?”

“Katelyn Jenner? Bruce Jenner?”
“I heard something about this,” JJ said. “Is that his daughter?”

Lila just looked at him. “Incredible,” she said. “Where have you been hiding?”

“That’s a complicated question.” He went over to the couch and sat next to her. A TV show, loud and brash with celebs and quick clips, jumping between a photo shoot, a magazine cover, and a seventies athlete with that non-athletic body and hair. Pre-1990 athletes looked so puny. And, those shorts! Even Michael Jordan. And, then he remembered. The decathlete became a woman. “Wait, that’s her? Him?”

“Her.”

More of the same, JJ thought. You could be whatever you said you were these days. Unless you were white publicly posing as black. That wouldn’t go over too well.

“Could we turn that off? I want to ask you something.”

Something in his voice. Lila got very still and stared straight ahead. JJ reached across her for the remote and turned the TV off. “Not THAT something. Relax,” he said.

She let out a sigh. Relief? Regret? A catastrophe avoided? “You just kind of sounded weird,” she said.

JJ felt himself slide toward being offended. He could picture them married. Why couldn’t she? It was conceivable. But, stay the course. Don’t let that JJ sensitivity, the delicate ego of a fourteen year old, don’t let that throw you off. “I want to take a trip with you,” he said.

“That would be great. Let’s go to the Cape for the weekend.”

“No, not that kind of trip. I want to hit the road for a while. Do the nomad thing.”

“The nomad thing? For how long?”

“A few months, at least. Maybe a year?”

Lila was quiet, looking at JJ. This was not good impulse control, she thought. He used to have these big ideas all the time. Old behaviors: not good. But, it was also a relief to hear him propose something weird and grandiose. He was getting so docile and comfy with all that lottery money and that house. Everything was fine with them. It was just so goddamn fine these days. She asked, “What does your sponsor say?”

“He thought it might be good. A journey of self-discovery kind of thing.”

She knew it was a bad idea, that it was bad for him. And something in his demeanor, she knew he was lying. She knew that Professor Tom character didn’t approve. She just knew. But…

“And what about my job? And my rent?”

“You hate that job and I’ll pay your rent.”

They sat in the still and quiet void created when the TV show was turned off. A wall clock ticked from the kitchen. A car drove by. Then, a truck or bus. JJ dared not look at Lila. His heart pounded. He wanted this and he was afraid to speak. And, he was afraid of the answer.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s do it.”

And, for some reason, his heart just sank.

1 Comment

Filed under JJ in the 21st Century

Wings Clipped?

4434385694_8003890651_z

Sunday night AA. In the parking lot, it’s the meeting after the meeting. Cigarette smokers and laughter. People talking in twos and threes. Two women hugging, one in tears, the other whispering comfort and encouragement.

JJ met with his sponsor, Professor Tom, in the front seat of Tom’s old Chevy pickup (bench seat!). A little close for comfort, from JJ’s perspective. “I’m going on a trip,” JJ said.

Tom didn’t respond right away, but stared into the dark, chewing his gum. He always had some gum going since he quit smoking a few years back. Or so JJ’s been told. He’s only known Tom for about a year, since limping back into the AA fold. Tom asked, “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know,” JJ said. “Me and Lila are going to drive around the country.”

“Why?”

“To be with Lila. To get away for a while.”

Professor Tom chewed and JJ could feel the beginnings of internal squirming. “It’s not a good idea,” Tom said.

I met this guy on the mountain. He inspired me to take a journey.”

“Does this mountain guy know about you? About your love of self-destruction, self-deception, and self-sabotage?”

It’s Mountain Dude, JJ thought. Mountain Dude. “No, but it feels right. I didn’t get sober to not be free. Besides, Lila…we just want to be together.”

Now Tom turned. JJ could just see Tom’s eyes in the yellowish light from a parking lot lamp. There was concern there in the warm depth of his look, but cold skepticism in his squint and cocked eyebrow. “As your sponsor, I suggest you not take any journeys of discovery right now.”

“But…”

“And here are my reasons. One, you’re still a newcomer and only on step three. That’s the only journey you need to be concerned with right now. Two, we often plan our relapses without even knowing it. Three, you won’t be doing any service for other alcoholics while roaming the land. That’s key. And four, the last thing you need is to detach from the roots you’re putting down. You need to stay put and dig deeper.”

“Are you forbidding me to go?”

“It doesn’t work like that. You can do whatever you want. I strongly suggest you stay put, though. For both you and Lila’s sake, if you really want to be with her.”

“It’s different this time.”

“Yeah, you have more to lose than ever. Your house. Lila. The lottery money. You can’t see it, but I promise that you can lose it all and wash up somewhere pretty quick.”

“But…I feel so good. I haven’t wanted to drink at all.”

“Like I said, I can’t stop you. But I strongly suggest you stay close. Go away for the weekend with Lila. What does she say about this?”

Pause. “I haven’t told her.”

“Okay. That’s your assignment. Go tell her what you’re planning for her. Then call me.” Tom reached for the column and started the truck. “Meeting over.”

“Alright, thanks.” JJ hopped out and closed the door. “I’ll call you,” he said through the open window.

“Talk to Lila,” Tom said and drove away.

“That didn’t go well”, JJ thought. “Well, fuck him. Lila will love this.”

So, he went to find out.

1 Comment

Filed under JJ in the 21st Century

The Walking Dead and the Mountain Dude

IMG_1057

Monday after a rainy Sunday. A drippy morning, skies clearing slowly.  Most people went off to work but JJ commuted up his road and hiked the mountain in the mud.

He and Lila binge-watched The Walking Dead yesterday and now he imagines if he would survive the zombie apocalypse and all the damaged humans left behind. All that roaming and desperation. Would he be hard enough? Could he and Lila survive? And, what about Carl? Carl would no doubt be that obnoxious philosopher dude, the one with the camper and the scruples. He would stay aloof, floating above the fray, until a dead hand from some leaf pile or gaping manhole reached up to show him it didn’t pay to think so much. Or, maybe some “friend” would just shoot him in the back.

A stick cracked and JJ turned to see the Mountain Dude walking down the hill, off-trail, coming right towards him. No lurching zombie, the Mountain Dude. He came straight down, nice and smooth, absorbing the terrain, taking what he was given.

“It’s been awhile,” JJ said.

“But I’ve seen you all winter and spring,” the Dude said. “From a distance and up close. You almost stepped on me once.”

“Um, ok. So why’re you approaching me now.”

“This is where I cross the trail. You’re in my way.”

JJ looked up and down the trail, level and straight in this little valley. Lots of trees, no landmarks, no other trails. “You cross right here?”

“Today I cross here. Yesterday I crossed there.” The Dude pointed to a spot ten feet back down the trail. “Tomorrow I cross there.” He pointed to a spot ten feet up the trail.

They were quiet. Then the Mountain Dude moved on, passing very close to JJ as he crossed the trail to start up the other side of the little valley. As he brushed past, JJ smelled moist forest, all wet sticks and ferns.

“So,” JJ said. “Why?”

The Dude stopped but did not face JJ. “Concentric circles from the summit of the mountain. Ten feet out each time.”

“And…why?”

“A journey in place. I want to walk all the ground on this mountain. And I want to expand outward from the center.”

“What about the ridges? And the swamps?”

“Sometimes you scramble. Sometimes you slog. I’ll get through.”

“So, that’s life?”

“That’s nature. We’re all just animals who think too much. Maybe you should consider a purposeful journey.”

And now he moved off up the hill, curving slightly to hug the mountain, picking his way with grace and flow.

“The Mountain Dude would survive the zombies,” JJ thought. “I would have to be the tagalong who slowly grows on him. Or gets left behind.”

The idea of a purposeful journey, though. That sounded about right.

2 Comments

Filed under JJ in the 21st Century

Under the Dirt Floor

IMG_1038

Lila and JJ were in bed.

“It’s too hot,” she said. “Don’t you have a fan?”

“Yeah, somewhere.”

“Well, summer’s here.”

“Not yet,” JJ said. “This is just the beginning.”

“Well the sticky is here. And I don’t like sweating in bed.”

JJ looked toward the window, still and dark out there and, yes, humid. No breeze from outside. No moonlight. The hot and hazy days come suddenly and then you wait for the breaks. You wait for the thunderstorm and the dry breezy day after when everyone says “what a relief” and “I can live with this”. But, we still have to live through it all, JJ thought. Or we should try.

“Did you ever think we’re supposed to sweat? Maybe it’s supposed to be hard to sleep.”

Lila got out of bed. “Where’s that fan?”

“In the basement.”

“Shit.”

“I’ll get it,” JJ said and rolled out of bed. The basement floor was dirt in this old farmhouse without a farm, and she hates it down there. She thinks there are bodies beneath that dirt. JJ thought of an old Stephen King story as he walked down the two flights. An old Nazi, living anonymously in the American suburbs, rediscovers his penchant for killing. Old habits, old lusts, reawakened. The old Nazi starts with animals, cats from the neighborhood, and buries the bodies in his cellar. The old Nazi may have buried a person down there, too. Maybe Lila had a point.

He returned with the fan and plugged it in. It was a box fan and it fit nicely on the window sill to pull in the fresh air. “How’s that?”

Lila was stretched out on the bed in a long t-shirt, spread-eagle on her stomach. She spoke into the pillow. “Now I’m cold.”

JJ pulled the sheet, which they had kicked into a crumple at the foot of the bed, over her. He got the light blanket and left it folded in half at the foot of the bed, ready to be deployed for a 3:00 AM chill. “How’s that?”

She rolled over and looked at him. “You’re nicer than you used to be. It freaks me out a little.”

“Yeah, well, fuck you.”

“That’s better. Don’t get too nice. Don’t go all docile on me.”

It could never work between them the old way. Their past was always in the background with it’s relentless patterns and ways of being. Bags in the hall. A reversion to the mean. You try to change, you try to bury it and move on, but a hand comes up through the dirt and grabs your ankle. You can only pull free so many times.

“Let me tell you what’s buried in my basement.”

“You know that freaks me out.”

JJ got into bed and turned out the light. “I’ll never be too nice,” he said and reached for her.

1 Comment

Filed under JJ in the 21st Century

A Polar Plunge: The Girl with the Curls

the-dali-exhibits-collection-highlights-girl-with-curls-1378857917_b

Cold. And colder still. JJ squinted out his kitchen window at the whiteness and the harsh sun glare from the icy field in back. Gusty winds kicked up snow that swirled and sparkled in the air. Fairy dust of frost, enchanting no one. Except…

… Another cold day in the 90’s. JJ regained consciousness on a strange couch after a night of acid and Pink Floyd. Alone in someone’s apartment, everyone gone. Who was that guy? And that girl with the curls and the sweater. Oh my God. Tripping nicely, he had watched her watching The Wall. Her, luminous and ripe. Him, deranged and all aflutter. “So ya, thought ya, might like to…go to the show.”

He drove home after guzzling some orange juice from the strange fridge. A bright and sunny bluster of a day. Eight degrees? Ten? The heater in his beater of a Sentra blew air that was slightly warmer than outside. His feet felt like two ice blocks. The road was gruel gray, salt streaked with white, like the cracked surface of some playground for ice krakens. JJ was spent, dazed and dull. When he got home he burrowed into his blankets and slept for twenty hours.

The phone rang. His mother, dead now. “Where are you?” A cousin’s First Communion (in the winter?), missed. A sacrament. Well, he had taken his wafer, hadn’t he? Actually, two paper wafers. And he had drunk prodigiously from the Wild Turkey. Communion for the wayward, blotter and booze, body and blood. It did the trick.

That night he went to the bar to watch the Patrick Ewing Anthony Mason Knicks. Something light- draft Budweiser and cigarettes. You could still smoke in the bars then. And he did, like a chimney.

Carl came in. “What the hell happened to you the other night?”

“When?”

“The other night.”

“You mean after?”

“Yeah. Where’d you go?”

“There was this girl.”

“The girl with the curls?”

“Yeah.”

“Holy shit. You didn’t…?”

“No.”
“Then, what?”

JJ thought of that part in The Wall when Pink really starts losing his shit, disillusioned and drug addled, holed up in some hotel room hell.

“So nothing. We watched The Wall.”

“That movie sucks. What about the boyfriend?”

“He watched too.” JJ thought of the girl with the curls, how a golden light emanated, how they smoked a joint and watched the movie while the boyfriend dozed. She turned and caught him watching her but just smiled. He had almost fallen off the couch. “What was her name?”

“Kelly or Kayla or something,” Carl said.

“Kara,” JJ said, remembering now. “Kara.”

Carl looked at him. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

“I think I’m in love.”

“Well get in line.”

“First in line,” JJ said. “I’m first.”

On the TV, Starks hit a three and the announcer said, “After missing his first nine, he’s really starting to heat up now. Hot and cold, as usual.”

JJ knew what he meant.

…In the present, the blowing snow settled until the next gust. Kara, the girl with the curls, is an alterna-crunchy personal trainer in Pennsylvania (Spirit Flex™). She’s married to an accountant and they have two kids. (He tracked her down on Facebook, hoping for pictures. Like we all do). Carl is a bagel baker right here in town. And JJ is JJ, also right here.

The boyfriend? Who the hell knows.

3 Comments

Filed under JJ in the 21st Century

Finally, Again

JJ Triangle

Waiting for JJ at the Dollop Café. Lila, his girlfriend, and Carl, his best friend, are catching up. JJ is the only shared area in their friendship Venn. Meaning they only hang out when Lila and JJ are together. Except for that one time, of course.

Lila asked, “Still baking the bagels?”

“Yup,” Carl said. “Someone has to do it. They sell them here, in fact.”

“Oh yeah? Doing any writing?”

“Working on the novel.”

“Who isn’t?”

“I don’t know. Most people just blog. They blog about not writing their novel. And the pain of not writing their novel. And they don’t have time to write their novel.”

“You don’t have a blog?”

“I used to,” Carl said. “It was called BageLit. It was about bagels and literature.”

“Ummm.”

“I would start by describing a type of bagel, ingredients, and the finished product. Then compare it to a piece of literature. Usually a poem.”

“Such as?”

Birches, by Robert Frost. That’s like a cinnamon raisin bagel toasted with butter. Comforting and nostalgic. Simple. Evocative of the way things ought to be. A reset after a tough spell.”

Lila looked at him, this rough-around-the-edges-bagel-baking-freak. “You always did march to your own drummer.”

“What are the options? The prevailing beat sucks.”

The waitress brought them that good Dollop Café dark roast and they fixed their coffee in silence.

Lila asked, “Did you ever tell him about that one time?”

“Did you?”

“No, it would just thicken the plot. He doesn’t need that.”

“No one needs that.”

“How do you think he’s doing?”

“Obviously better not drinking,” Carl said. “But…”

“But what?”

“He’s somehow more and less at the same time.”

Lila sighed. “I think I know what you mean.”

“I mean, it’s good, right. But something…creepy maybe? About him sober.”

“Shh, here he comes.”

JJ was coming toward them, moving through the tables, a man feeling good, in the flow. He reached the table and smiled down upon them.

“Worlds collide,” JJ said. “Finally.”

“Finally again,” said Carl.

“Yeah,” JJ said. “Finally again. But it’s different now.”

“That’s for sure,” said Lila.

“This is what’s important,” JJ said and took the seat next to Lila. “This is what I’m grateful for.”

JJ read the menu while Carl and Lila shared a look. “More and less at the same time,” their glance confirmed.  “Exactly.”

The waitress came back. “I think I’ll have a cinnamon raisin bagel,” JJ said and put the menu back in the stand. “Toasted with butter.”

3 Comments

Filed under JJ in the 21st Century

SLAP! Creative Humiliation

Slap Cover-page0001

On a recent trip to a speaking engagement I observed a family waiting to board a plane. Airports, hotels, and tourist spots are great places to observe the decline in child discipline and the resultant decline of our culture. This family was fairly unremarkable. Two obviously “magical” kids, one 5 year-old boy trying to engage a clearly uninterested stranger in conversation, the other, a toddler, with a t-shirt that read “Genius”. I called my wife about that shirt and we shared a knowing nostalgic chuckle. We both agreed that the little “genius” would prove to be anything but. That put me in mind of this excerpt from Chapter 6 of SLAP!, “Humiliation as Motivation”.

 

The beauty is, there is room to express yourself here. An example of Creative Humiliation: My wife made t-shirts for our children to wear when the unsavory aspects of their personalities proved resilient and repetitive. Our son often wore a shirt labeled, “Stupid”, reflecting his numerous failings. We look back now at his Kindergarten graduation pictures and laugh at the other children with their little neckties and dresses. And there’s our Paul with his “Stupid” shirt. We had to make that shirt five times as he grew through elementary school. Several of those well-dressed children now work for Paul at Kmart. Not so stupid anymore!

And we’ll never forget our Marian wearing her “Slut” shirt to the eighth grade dance after we caught her looking at shirtless pictures of soccer players on the internet. Unsurprisingly, she only had to wear that shirt once. The result? A mature adult choice as she recently put her baby up for adoption. We all amicably agreed that three children by three dads was one too many. I can’t describe how my heart swelled when her other two children helped blow out the candles on her 20th birthday cake. An unforgettable family moment made possible by SLAP!

 

There is nothing sadder or more naïve than that “magical” child built up into a “genius” before she can utter complete sentences. It’s all downhill from there.

wm-front

Note: You don’t even have to painstakingly stitch these humiliation shirts yourself like my incredible wife did. You can design them online and have them sent to you. Aggro-parents love the internet! Let your imagination flow. Aggro-parents have made shirts labeled with “Fat”, “Bitch”, “Loser”, “Short”, “Tard”, “Clumsy” and many more.

 

5 Comments

Filed under SLAP!