I dislike the phone. Some of the worst moments of my life have played out while I was standing around heating my ear up with some nebulous voice crackling away from what for all I know is some planetary hell where such things are dreamed up and beamed to earth to drive its inhabitants batshit. I actively hate speaking to my relatives over the phone, particularly my father. I know for a fact the lot of them were vomited up out of a ghost realm of thoroughly inappropriate sex, daily violence, psychotic ululations, and endless opening and reopening of old wounds. I haven’t embraced the stoic worldview enough to withstand the constant hectoring to attend this funeral or that wedding, or some nasty feed cooked by a snuff-dipping cretin sweating profusely and stirring himself to the elbows in the carcass of a hog.
My grandmother pumped out ten babies, the age old “solution” to earthen floor poverty. The ones that made it through childhood immediately crawled from the den looking to spawn, and they in turn gave rise to hundreds of nullities. It seems like they die in waves, three or four at a pop, and now they’re getting married about the same time they get their first tat, or plug of chaw.[1]
My wife’s grandmother did the same thing, until they ran out of goddamn names to give the things. The last one was a girl named Nelvin. It’s hyphenated with Fay.
I don’t need my father calling me at all hours to someone’s death bed or to watch someone slap a champagne bottle against someone’s big arse as they go a sailin’ on the sea of God-sanctioned mollusk buttering. For starters, I know my aunt will be there, muttering something about Jesus and having what appear to be multiple orgasms. Funerals and weddings really do it for her. For another, these events are populated by a kind of secondary sales staff who wonder if you’re interested in some life insurance or a car, and they’re all dogged by a scent someone should bottle and call RETAIL: a mixture of off the rack synthetic fabric, Renuzit, and a hint of fecal matter.
And speaking of fecal matter, there’s the food. One of reasons I believe many of these people die in a big clump under the same moon is because they can’t help themselves when faced with a table full of packaged dinner rolls, margarine patties, plates of chicken tastefully disgorged from a Popeye’s bucket and arranged on a wilting polystyrene platter, 2 liter bottles of knockoff corn syrup drank, and sheet cake, sold by the yard. [2] I’ve driven away from several of these functions and noted the cars of other attendees strewn on the grass verges of the highway, where the drivers were forced to abandon them in order to try and make it to a wooded area to shit their brains out.

My siblings didn’t contact me for advice when they prepared the script for my mother’s funeral. I guess they thought I’d try to drag in a beat poet, or work in some diatribe against the Prussian educational model. Those fears were purely speculative, and misplaced. At that point I’d have probably suggested some Ted Hughes, or a reading of epitaphs from the Oxford Book of Death. Instead, they chose to go with two poems. One was by my brother, a dentist. The first time I heard it was when one of my family members encouraged him to read it to mom, who was in every sense in extremis. I listened from downstairs, in the hallway with cedar paneling where the exchanger for the oil fired heating system was disguised by a faux terrarium filled with oily plastic replicas of tropical plants. Upstairs, my mother lay dying. At the foot of the stairs, my father stood listening to my brother read his shitty poem while he carefully monitored my response and I tried without success to consider how many people were employed molding the plastic elephant ears and birds of paradise, and how to avoid the paroxysms of laughter that typically beset me on such inappropriate occasions. The poem went something like this:
Mother, You and I were one.
I was part of you when you strolled in the sun.
And now you are returning, and yet, moving on
I do not think this means that you’ll be gone.

(I don’t like fucking with people’s grief, but it was actually worse than this. I kept mentally inserting lines:
”For God’s sake, get me a gun!”
“At least you had ONE earning son!”
“This poetry shit is FUN!”

And of course, I started cracking up, and trying to stop cracking up, and upstairs, my brother was still reading while my mother clutched at the blanket, making the pitiful noises of the soon to be dead.
“This is all I have.” She said. And she broke into convulsive weeping.
I tried to imagine the nightmare of her final days of existence, jammed so full of morphine she’d scratched her arms bloody, and now, she’d got herself a poem about how she’d successfully carried a dentist to term. And it was all she had, swirling down that big black hole: Reader’s theater, featuring my goddamn brother. I’m pretty sure it contained a juxtaposition of the crown of motherhood and a patient relieved from seemingly endless suffering by a properly inserted prosthesis.
And my father, looming there, half watching me for my response. He’d have done the same with her. She expected it of him after awhile, and endured his oblique statements about her character, just like I learned to do. She’d worked for a dentist when she was carrying me, as a hygienist. Between chiseling the brown sherds from between some joker’s fangs and positioning and holding a patient for X-rays, frequently without her lead apron (because the dentist was yelling at her there wasn’t time for her to go putting the damn thing on) she was chainsmoking menthols and entering a deeply phobic adulthood. A parking accident left her terrified of driving. The conflict between the demands of her crap job and being constantly knocked up would have opened a big space for crazy in anyone, but she’d already earned it anyway. Her daddy was stopped just short of jail because he’d never quite managed to kill or paralyze his kids with his disciplinary weapon of choice, the cast iron skillet.
She was by nature an agoraphobe, but there was an image to be maintained. She only ventured out periodically in heavy makeup and stiff formal clothing. On the occasion of one of my sister’s weddings, she was photographed with a group, her hand on someone’s shoulder. Following her death, my father, in his keening solipsism, had it taken to a specialty shop where they painted out everyone else. She’s standing there, connecting hysterically with something nonexistent. It’s the product of disturbing and unfortunate choices. It’s disturbing, and unfortunate. It’s her.
Which brings me to the second poem.
There are things you can read to your children while you’re suffering through July heat that arcs late in the evening, and there are things that probably never merited being read by anybody. Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabel Lee[3]never found its true place until Nabokov used it to step off into his novel of kindermysogyny, his scientifically rigorous analysis of soul murder. It’s a poem only the un or disenculturated would care to babble unprovoked to anyone, and here we were listening to mama, filling her ashtray with the cool clean menthol taste of Salem and poor Annabel, being chilled and killed, rather than being slowly roasted in a basement with her dull siblings.
When they buried my mother, the pastor, at my father’s request, read Annabelle Lee to the mourners. She might as well have recited the Valleydale Bacon Jingle, or done an impression of a horse chewing gum, because, to me at least, it was one of the most misplaced appendages to swing from an otherwise thoughtful eulogy I’d ever heard. Again I threatened to be swept into a fit of hysterical laughter. Ineptitude is one thing, but there’s no reason to get all Fellini with it.[4]
I don’t understand why my father continues to call. The last time we moved, we did so without notifying him we were leaving or where we were going. He badgered the realtor who sold our old house for us until she gave him the phone number. This, I thought, is the kind of shit you pay them not to do. So we were forced to change the number. Too late anyway, because he used the number to get our current address, which one of his sleazy-ass brothers involved in real-estate and timber theft already knew well. He’d already placed a bid on the property to cut the remaining trees and play some tax games with what was left. Shortly after we got here the sordid fuck showed up and jokingly asked “What y’all doin’ buying my farm?” My wife gave him her “hatred with the burning intensity of a real estate crook soaked in premium gasoline and ignited with delaminated jumper cables while a maniac gleefully races the engine” look, and his shabby old half-drunk ass drove off.
Not too long afterward, my father shows up with his then girlfriend, a graceful, sweet person who deserved the company of much better people. He knows we will not say what needs saying with her around, which is “Get the fuck out.” I might not even say it anyway. I sort of pity my father for his early educational plateau and his hampered emotional development. This pity is conditioned by the knowledge that he has actively worked to mess with people’s lives, and in at least one case, was a factor in someone’s death. I will never know whether it was through his stupid arrogance, or criminal negligence, that he presided, as a high-school football coach over the death of a kid in a pre-season scrimmage. Later, he was taken to court by the ACLU for strip searching a female junior high school student. At the time, I kept denying that there might be something deeply fucked up about him, even though there was ample evidence of it at home.
But here, several years later, trying to get away from him and witnessing his eerie persistence in locating us, a few old memories start to bubble their way out of the muck. Patterns emerge. Prior to my mother’s death, I was visiting my parents on one of my days off. My father had gone to fetch lunch, with detailed instructions concerning what she was able to eat. Before he got back, she said with resignation “He’ll get what HE wants to eat. He’s always been a shit.” When he returned with what HE wanted to eat, my mother, freed somewhat by the certain knowledge that she was going to die soon, looked him in the eye while she repeated, “You see. I told you he was a shit.”
There are other things, but I’ve gone on about it enough. The thing that snapped it into place for me this weekend was his sending the sheriff out to our house to deliver a message. He’d been calling repeatedly, leaving long messages about my sister’s recent heart surgery, and how I needed to get diagnostics immediately. My wife fielded one of the calls, and figured out he was making his first play in several years to come back out here. I can’t return his calls, or speak to him, as this is interpreted on his part as a thawing, and he will be free again to begin dragging family members out and giving them a tour of our place, and haranguing me about politics and religion.
This is not going to happen. Since I didn’t return the call, he called the police to bring the message, and swing his dick a little. We live forty minutes from the nearest town, and he used the 911 service to drag taxpayer funded employees into a family spat.
For the next several weeks, I’ll be wandering around in a fog of anger and disgust. It’ll slowly dissipate. In a year or two, I’ll remember it as something vaguely comical. And just when I convince myself he won’t just show up in my yard with some petty criminals in tow, he’ll turn up again, or pull some other theatrical stunt. He can be violent.

[1]I never seem to have anything good to say about the South, but only because the things I like about it (its brooding, ghost-ridden landscape, its tendency to produce monster/socialites who could no more call it home than the prurient confines of their own skin) are enough to make the public masturbators who want the South to retumesce as a sovereign political entity commence horfing their Slim Jims, Ding dongs and Red Bull into a meth addled hooker’s lap.

[2] One day, they’ll take photos of the corpse propped in its coffin and transfer the image to a sheet cake for the feed afterward. It’ll be a more genteel appropriation of an older human tradition- the partaking of the flesh of the dead, only there’ll be no risk of typhus or kuru, just hydrogenated fats and fructose.

[3] I never liked Poe. Baudelaire liked Poe. I like Baudelaire. At least I liked Baudelaire when I was an emaciated little stoner. I still think of him wandering with his girlfriend in the cemeteries of Paris, waiting for a check from his folks and wondering which bar will still let him run a tab, so he can get morbidly drunk, go back to his crib and read Poe to his girlfriend and annihilate her libido because he suffers, like Poe, from laudanum-induced cashew-penis and he would rather try to spook her off sex than admit the only thing he’s capable of banging is his head against the floor when he passes out shortly. And when he wakes up enough to find and use the chamber pot, he will see bats flying out of it. This is what I think of when I hear the word demimonde

[4] Of course, the assembled did not mind at all. I got a very strong “Well that’s right purty” vibe. When folks started grabbing my arm earnestly and saying “Her suffering is over”, I clutched them back and said “Thank you for being here.” and then neglected to add “Forget you ever saw me here. I am in a place where bats fly out of urinals.”

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