Saturday, November 7, 2009

When he was little and loving the dad and his studio so much the father would make them whimsical things from scraps of wood or leather he found in boxes at the dump and make funny belts with a wooden peg for a buckle or a sling like David used to kill Goliath. He made the boy a magical sword with cufflinks cleverly mounted in the handle like jewels and he painted fanciful lunch boxes for his children that were wholly unlike any other children's and he loved him all the more.

After his father was gone one day he was angry for something seemingly unrelated and he stomped his lunch box flat and threw it away, angry and hysterical and never really understanding why until a later time and then he cried a lot more at what was lost.

There were moments of pleasure though, the occasional child that hit it off with him who’d come over to play after school and the folk dance programs the school staged every spring where they had to learn various square dances and reels. That was closer to his idea of fun.

They played in the hay loft of the barn that was used only for storing hay, making tunnels amongst the bales. They wandered along the distant fences and inspected the spring house, Pat showed him how to shoot bottles in the little garbage dump with his rifle and they blew up stumps with dynamite and chopped wood that Isabel paid them generously for.

One afternoon while they were splitting wood Mel came out with a cocktail in one hand and a screw driver in the other to tinker with the hinge of the screen door and the boy asked him innocently if that was all he did around there, just drink and screw and Mel spat out his drink he laughed so hard he cried and went in to tell his wife, who also laughed, but the boy still didn't know what it was he had said.

Returning home to the school and class mates, once familiar and now though appearing the same, somehow changed and more distant, he didn’t know what he’d lost yet. The father’s absence was acute but never spoken of and so therefore not of significant relevance to those around him, and the feeling of loss and loneliness that hovered palpably yet invisible, just beneath the surface and unbeknownst to him sought out a companion partner in which to share this new understanding of being an outsider in a world that tolerated little outside the rigid confines of the conformity imposed with cold and brutal indifference from anyone invested in power and control.

Standing in line in the hallway one afternoon the boy behind him asked, “So what do you think huh? They gonna gas Chesman tomorrow or not?” He turned in curiosity and asked what he meant. The boy knew all about the impending execution, to take place just across the bay, a man to be led into a small room and tied to a chair while they filled the room with cyanide fumes until he stopped convulsing, writhing, vomiting or what ever came with the territory. The boy thought a minute. “What for? Just because he did something bad…that doesn’t make killing him OK, I mean…” He trailed off and never forgot the conversation, the first ever for him on whether or not it was OK to kill for peace.

The delightful flower he found growing in the cracks of this arid and dismal time was a girl who had appeared since he’d gone away and was only learning English as they became friends. Ingri came from Norway and her father was a visiting professor. They lived not far up the hill. Ingri had no preconceptions about who he was or why he was and they were friends and that was all that mattered.

This was the friendship that transcended all pretence, assumption or bias. She was real, unfettered by the rules and rigid notions that controlled the boys world. At Halloween she dressed as a gypsy and her mother gave her an orange peel to hold in her mouth in front of her teeth so when she opened her lips it was yellowed and discolored. She was European with a small e and did not care about the ossifying culture that was now centering and focusing on cultivated the new consumers, the young and the children who would beg for breakfast cereal and television shows. They got along really well.

He missed his childhood friend at home. He was replaced by another now a few doors away who was different but he didn't know why until decades later and his mother handed him the obituary and then it was all soberly clear.

At home Chris was kind and at school loud and boorish, mocking him in front of his peers. But then at home left to amuse themselves as sometimes adolescent boys may do the curiosity game turned into sex and things got scary. The boy wanted so much to kiss a girl but knew nothing of how to act and so being still a little green didn't act at all, but Chris was less concerned than he and the sex play got serious and one day his mother came in a little soon.

He saw him only twice much later when they had small children of their own, but Chris wouldn’t make eye contact or talk to him. He wondered why until a few years later the mother hands him an obituary and says “Didn’t you know this boy?” This was the tragedy of the closet that when he came out his family abandoned him, he got AIDS and died. The boy felt such grief, he wanted to tell Chris that it was OK and he had no hard feelings, he wanted to say, hey, we were just kids, really it’s OK. But he was dead.

There was the boy with whom he played happily only to have the mother later ask if the friend was Jewish and upon receipt of the naive reply proclaimed him to have “the map of Israel on his face” much to the child’s confusion at why it mattered at all.

He did not know how to protect himself and knew little of boundaries or appropriate fear, he knew only how much he longed for his dad and how to keep secrets because that was the only place for privacy in his hallway world without doors or walls and he did not know how to say no to the man who picked him up hitch hiking when he was just sixteen and trying to get home from babysitting. He offered him a ride to the bus station and would it be OK if he stopped for just a moment since he lived nearby to pick up something he forgot? Would he like to come inside and would he like a cigarette and would he like a Scotch? He felt so very grown up until his pants came off and his penis was in the man’s mouth and his world lurched and his stomach dropped into a pit of shame and he didn't know why and explained to himself that what he wanted was just to kiss a girl, that this was but a way station until the real thing came along.

And so he made it OK in his mind-that man with his cigarettes and alcohol. He put it in a box on a high shelf out of sight and there for decades it gathered dust, toxic dust.

There were tears of rage on the playground from bullies and tears of joy and grief when he got to see the dad after two years when he came to see the sister graduate. Tears when the cat died and tears of disappointment a thousand times he suppressed, later tears of frustration at failing once again to keep a girlfriend, private tears at bad grades he didn't know how to improve. There were tears of anguish when he was told he could not come home from a school that was so strange the mother didn't believe him when he told her the truth, that it was, cult like strange and so obscure no one heard of it again, but she didn’t believe him then.

The mother's special friend did spiritual paintings and gave special readings to lonely wealthy women who longed to know more than could rationally be known, and what does it really mean to know something? She stayed at lovely homes in exclusive neighborhoods, for it was she that had acquired the governors introduction when they’d gone abroad and one night even invited the mother to spend a night in the governor’s mansion as his wife needed to know something the governor couldn't talk about. She had been an opera singer; she was from Minnesota and lived among the Mormons in southern Utah but spent a great deal of time with friends and clients in California. The mother said she was clairvoyant and would tell her the secrets of the astral plane. She said she was her fairy god mother and confidant and though a pleasant woman he really never knew why. He thought she liked the mother’s interest in reincarnation somehow though in those days his real world and the mothers flowed seamlessly together for the boy.

The magazine full of pictures that he liked had articles and images about events not reported in a newspaper. This time was in the dark hell of loneliness and he needed a road map to the future as he was lost and adrift even though his home was superficially comfortable. He needed to know who to become so as to dress his growing self hood with a cloak of identity distinct from what he was being pruned and espaliered into by this mother who was so hard to love.

There was a story about beatniks that gave him ideas that connected to the now far off father that would make sense for how he wanted to change who he was becoming by design and by default, by indifference and by the undertow of the very times in which he lived. There were pictures of a man and a woman posing in an apartment and he could see was different from what he saw around him then. They wore black clothing and the man wore a beret. There was some plant they used for smoking. It seemed so different from the staid world he was forced to encounter. It was attractive and he made a connection to the father and what his heart had lost. Like any child trying to individualize he emulated what he saw that resonated in his heart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One Red and One Blue?

There was another boy he knew who went to a Quaker school he’d wanted to attend who made his own moccasins and pierced his ear. He was impressed and wanted to do that too and so he did. The sister of a friend showed him how with a piece of ice, a needle and thread he could do it himself and when the mother saw she said, “How would you like it if I were to parade down the street with one breast painted red and one breast painted blue?” He had no answer.

Later he made himself a paper pattern of his foot and figured out the leather and the laborious stitching sideways to get the moccasins just right.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The English Girl


Now a little earlier, before the dinner party there was a girl in a red velvet dress that came to the bookstore for a Christmas job while he lived in his first hotel room and they saw each other and their eyes locked and they were each paralyzed. They saw and tried to not see but could not avoid each other’s eyes and in two weeks they were helplessly mesmerized and could no longer dodge the spell of sex and obsession that had been cast, the delusions ensnaring her away from marriage and he from his good sense but it mattered not as he was free to be consumed with desire and he could only unconsciously imagine she embodied every neurotic English dream affectation inherited from The Dark Queen, including even the one where as a child he'd waited days for the good Queens blessing but the girl did not know that.

He couldn’t say what spell had been cast, but there was something of the shape of her face, her cheekbones and mouth in full color with the lush ripeness of early adulthood, the blond hair and blue eyes. But it was also her very fairy tale princess Englishness that enchanted him and he was too fast asleep within himself to understand the magnetism of her charms. He was mesmerized with lust and dreams and the figments of romance that can only fall across the eyes of the guileless or very young, and they were both. She left her husband on Christmas eve and moved in with him and he thought he was a grown up now and they had a little cozy space they called all their own right on the street of broken children's dreams across from the cafe where he had come of age and though he hadn't really he didn't know that yet with paintings on the walls and handmade things and they imagined they would design things together, write children’s books and the world was new again, an ecstatic perfumed garden that he’d never imagined he’d find. And they had the kind of romance, dreams and rich delusions of the heart and loins that license is given to such fools but once when one is blank and young. They enjoyed it for the little grace period that comes with the package until they found each other out as always happens even in the best of tales.

Later he would say he didn't know how he lived long enough to grow past twenty one without ending up dead on some dirty street or violated nightly in some prison for his crimes. He didn't know how he escaped but he knew it was only just barely. He did not escape the torture of the soul that's unawakened and would say there but for the grace of god go I and yet he was one that others might say that about.

The story of course of the lovers in their sweet nest of pretty things and delights always ends and it makes one cringe but it often ends this way and he did not know how hard he would fall but of course all that it took was one bold stroke and she eviscerated him but good.

Over and again he heard the voices repeat, don't be so emotional, don't talk so loud, don't be so tense and don't be too this or that, don't tell anyone the truth about yourself and most of all don't let on how you really feel.

It really didn't take her much, just the whimsical change of heart, a change of man like a change of fashion while he, with adoring intention, naïve and convinced he was devoted to her for life now was tripped up and made a fool as only a man child can no matter how grown up he has convinced himself. He is cast out of the garden and into a hell that is reserved for those who unwittingly take the leap of faith only to be shown that the leap into her arms was off a cliff instead as she steps aside to turn her distracted and indifferent attention to another man now on his bed and barely hears the anguish or the screams, laughs at the foolish child who thought he was a man. She, the mistress of manipulations beyond his ken and he cannot conceive that cruelty could be so savage from this heart he adored.

He fell hard and wandered, drunk and lost, he smashed his things and rent his clothes, he tore his bed and flung pots and flowers to the street below and did not open windows first. He made a furious roar and screamed and finally police were called as they must.

They were kind as cops can be when confronted with a broken heart. But not their fault they did not know their solution may aggravate rather than soothe, and insisted that the Queen of Night herself be called to take him now to care. And she was as cold and brittle and unfeeling as he later realized she had always been but she deigned to help only if the police would bring him to her, and even then, was barely condescending and took him to her home and dropped him off to go and have her hair curled and set.

He turned around and returned to his wretched chaos and continued to destroy all that had delighted him, he killed her over and over but she was long gone and his heart was in shreds when they came for him again and this time made the mother really take him away where he might get the care he needed.

For the first three days they’d tied him to a bed in a cement cell with the window open, wearing only his underwear. When he came in he was so angry at the rough treatment they took him to be psychotic, but he was just a hurting little boy inside an older body who wanted someone to speak to him quietly and kindly and gentle him back down as one might an anxious horse. Instead they gave him a shot and he went to sleep for a day and a half.

When he awakened, quiet now within and reflecting on where he’d been and how he’d come to be where he was now, he asked the nurse that came to check on him for a pencil and paper so he could write to see if he could still make sense to himself and when he could he knew that this bad time was not so different from bad times he’d had at the hands of The Dark Queen, moments of degradation and humiliation that he could not comprehend.

He saw firsthand the institution from the inside out; the veritable Cuckoo’s Nest with the institutional food, the glossy white tiled walls and bored orderlies, the nurses and the lining up for sedatives at the nursing station and he knew that whatever he was, it was not crazy. He’d awakened on the Vernal Equinox and taken it as a sign that this was to be a new year now for him, life was to start over for him and he needed to see it that way. If only it were so easy, nothing ever was for him.

Eleven days later now with the gift of seeing what really crazy people were like and knowing himself now at least a little better he could laugh because the draft board now saw him unfit to be sent overseas to become a drug addict or killed.

The girl he’d hitch hiked from the east with came to him in unfettered compassion, to be there for whatever she might and he held her all night long and cried and she let him because she’d been to places like he was herself.

At the end of the month he moved to the city, it was time to get away from the Berkeley that had ceased to be the enchanted lyrical dream space of his childhood and never ending adolescence. Another hotel room, this time on the cable car line, smack downtown just a burp from the most expensive retail landscape in America. But his was a parallel universe.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Memoir in Progress #4

On another day he and his playmate had the idea to play on that lawn again and being that they were alone they ran from between parked cars and as the other boy reached the far curb he saw the car coming up hard and fast and he was paralyzed with fear and numb with shock and breathless. The father later said the man told him he flew ten feet and landed on his head. He guessed it hurt because he remembered how he cried and when he did there were people and an ambulance and forever after the mother said, he could not be badly hurt because when she heard him cry, from upstairs in the back where the apartment was, while she consulted her Tarot cards and Ouiga Board for instructions from beyond, she knew he could not be badly hurt to cry so loud, and so she would tell the story for years to come.

They said he was lucky to escape with just a black eye and a lump on the head and he was dressed as as an Indian with war paint for Halloween that year. It would be decades before he could understand the horrors inflicted on those he played at in a child’s game called Cowboys and Indians, a game but a remnant of the imagined romance of a west that existed only in movies and he didn’t even know that yet.
For a long time after this the father kept him near, in his studio and had him sit very still while he drew or painted him sometimes clothed and sometimes nude, like the women he hired to come and pose for him from The Models Guild. Within those studios was a heaven to the child, filled with the fragrances of oil paint, linseed oil and turpentine and the pot bellied stove that smelled of coal and the safe warmth and love of a father.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

First Memoir #3

This woman, acting as his mother, was not to be trifled with and she knew how to get what she wanted, she could make a sudden move that could send him, spinning off with just a haughty glare, emotionally blinded into the weeds at the edge of her mind, which sometimes seemed to him the same as the edge of the world over which he might fall. Sometimes what she wanted was more than his world could bear but he did not know that then.
He needed the fox to keep him going in the town where he was born and when he traveled the fox stayed home and took care of the gardens, kept the cats in check and tried to make sure the dark Queen did not get out of hand.

His small childhood role was filled idyllically with frequent visits to the children's room at the Public Library. The shelves of his sister shared bedroom were filled with picture books with names like Madeline and Curious George, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, , New Worlds For Nellie, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Beezus and Ramona, and of course always and forever Good Night Moon.
There was a rhythm orchestra in kindergarten where the teacher played selections from Hayden’s Surprise Symphony on the piano and the music class before that even and his sister played the cello and he started the violin when he was eight because he loved a children's story about Hayden learning the violin. He could play by ear by the time he was ten but got lazy about reading notes and by junior high they wouldn't let him play in the orchestra any more, he had to quit and no one seemed to care.
He didn’t know that decades would pass before he would pick up the instrument again and learn to play by ear again, and then he’d have acquired a vast repertoire of vernacular melodies and songs but first he’d have to buy instruments for children that he loved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Memoir in Progress #2

There were so many worlds then, so many faces hovered in the child's field of view and yet he did not know what they represented then, for he was only consumed with his wooden blocks the toy train and the moon that rose over the hills above the Radiation Laboratory, it's lights on all night up on the hill where they were inventing bombs. His mother had him sing 'I see the moon and the moon sees me, the moon sees the one I long to see...' and say his prayers 'Our father who art in heaven', but the only father that mattered to him was the one that sat him on his lap and let him watch while he drew pictures in a book of blank pages.

Sometimes while alone the boy would explore the neighborhood and play in the creek that ran out of the hills and down under some of the streets before disappearing into a concrete tunnel beneath an apartment building. As he did at other times in the park and with friends he would make little dams and route the water into pools of his creation. The summer he was four (or was it five?) he ventured into the tunnel alone to see where it would lead. There seemed to be sufficient light as periodically he would pass by the bottom of a grating covered drain from a street corner which gave enough illumination for him to see by. The tunnel ran on and on gently downhill and presently he realized he was beneath a manhole cover in the middle of an intersection with many cars passing over head. He climbed up the ladder to see what he could and peeking through the ventilation holes in the metal plate could see that he was in fact in the middle of the down town business district. He found it thrilling to have discovered this space entirely on his own and he kept the secret as his own. Quickly he returned to the place he had entered and resumed playing on the lawn in front of the apartment building.

When still in diapers but standing he’d hummed the melodies of composers the parents played on large black disks on a phonograph and they praised him. Later when they were alone the mother would curse him for not being the one he was supposed to be, and swear that she was glad she had banished that man forever and bolts of hatred lightening came from her eyes and shot him through the heart and he did not know why.

In those years he and the sister were close as small children in stressful circumstance might be and they had games together and sang together and he looked up to her adoringly, being the younger sibling who wanted only to please.

He did not know that it was not safe there, that with the mother’s charms and ways, the sister and her cold eyes behind glasses who barely tolerated his inquisitive longing to belong, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was loved. And in his naïveté and ignorance he happily played whatever game she suggested and they made little bowls of plasticine clay and put dabs of the ground green salad the mother made and placed them on the window sill for the fairies. In time the boy would come to understand that he had to protect his own world from assault and ridicule but it would be a long and emotionally expensive education.

He played with another little boy and they were barely three feet tall and wanted to play on the lawn across the busy street. No one was watching and they ran across and played on the velvety grass in front of the house where the boisterous college boys sang and shouted and parked their loud cars. Those older boys were scary and noisy at times but part of the fabric of this college town world, as much as milk men and their trucks and the ice man that came every other day to deliver blocks of ice and give a lonely child a piece as big as a cake to suck on when the weather was hot.

When he was alone and listening to music the spirits would descend into his soul without bidding and he found himself with trusted friends.

There were bells that chimed the hour and bells in the morning and evening that sounded glorious music that could be heard across the hills and through the trees when the air was still. He heard those bells deep inside long after, when he was most troubled or lost and the fox was unable to reach him, the bells would sound lullaby for him and he would thank the gods he’d been born to hear them ring. In later years he would run into a girl he knew slightly who was musical and she would invite him to come up in the tower with her while she played the carillon, pumping with wooden levers attached to cables that moved the bells and the clanging of the massive bronze bells striking each note, that could sometimes be heard for miles across the hills shrouded with trees and fog. It was so extraordinary, hearing a piece of Bach, a Christmas carol in December, a song popular long ago and much more that he could not put it into so many words the sense of enchantment that he felt.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Memoir in Progress #1

In the hills above the town, which sat near the ocean, and home to a large university, there were gardens where deer wandered freely. Among the gardens were many cats, skunks and possums along with all manner of other small furry creatures.

The cats moved like shadows that

wandered freely between the homes and made note of goings on that others did not observe.

was in this world that the fox ruled his domain and though the other creatures gave him wide berth, he gave them no trouble for he had more important matters of concern.

The Siamese cats that lived next door to each other three in a row eventually, would gather to

trade stories about their respective domiciles and laconically recount the foibles and

idiosyncrasies of those who lived there and fed them.

They would gather at the gold fish pond that was in one of the larger gardens and gaze at the lily

pads and dragon flies that hovered there on a summer afternoon, there they would recount

which lonely widow was drinking herself into a fog nightly and which professor known for

brilliant rhetoric all but beat his children into submission, demanding perfect grades without


He didn't know how he remembered but he did that he had waded in a tide pool near rocky

beaches and taken a few small steps and fell face first into the cold sea water and cried his heart

out with shock and fear. He did not have far to fall for he was not yet three but the father swept

him up into his arms and took his wet shirt off and gave him his own striped blue and white tee

shirt to wear and he was happy and smiled again. This was the time for him to bask in the sacred

field of affection and patience that would carry him far into times of unexpected trials.

Not long after this time they were living in a small apartment near the university on whose lawns

and glades he played like they were his own. The sister wore glasses, long braids and braces on

her teeth, voraciously consuming one book after another and his head was filled with story book

dreams and music.

He loved little more than to play with his wooden train set and wind up the Victrola phonograph

the father gave to him to play one little record after the next, prancing alone, his head filled with

Skip to My Lu, Lavender Blue, Hey dilly dilly and Old Mac Donald, Three Blind Mice and The Big

Rock Candy Mountain.

How was he to know then that the ominous mountain made of candy was but a lure for little boys

like him to be taken by vagrant men to the hobo camps and there to be their slaves for begging,

cooking and whatever those men desired?

Memoir in Progress

Herein you will find samples of the memoir I began in earnest last Spring. It is not exactly emerging from whole cloth so to say, but rather is the first project I've allowed myself freedom from the tyranny of chronology or even literal and factual events.
Although the majority of events are from experience, I have taken considerable liberty as to how to present sequence or emphasis or how much to understate or exaggerate. It is up to the reader to decide how much they might care about such trivialities.

Ultimately I would frankly like to find a commercial outlet. There is, furthermore a substantial body of illustration already in various states of completion that are directly related to some of the events and places in the narrative.

One final comment is that I do not necessarily intend that the sequence of entries from this body of writing will be published here in the order they may finally appear in print. It is to be noted that at the present time there have been twenty two revisions to the text thus far.
No only would I welcome commercial inquiry, but also any constructive commentary others might make that would further add to my understanding of the effectiveness of what I have chosen to present here.
It is my hope that at least some of this is received as being of interest and enrichment to the reader. It is a work in progress still. Peter Ashlock September 28, 2009