November 23, 2014
After he came home from the war, I did not call my father ‘daddy’ . I called him ‘Ted’ , like everyone else. This really pissed him off , to the point where he and my mother cornered me in the hall one night and he started to take out his penis in my presence. My mother intervened.
There was never a time in my life when I could call him daddy. He wanted me to , but I just couldn’t. I didn’t call him Ted either. I figured out a way to not call him anything.
He had one major fault , or gap, or coma in his personality. He was a narcissist and was incapable of love for anyone but himself. Like a bald guy doing a comb over , he hid this. In fact he was a master at it. He used religion and money. He always said he left his family “for the highest reasons” namely his adherence to the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. He toed the line, believing he was living a perfect life. He had been excommunicated for “living in sin” so he moved out of the house. He did it for God.
Unlike most veterans, he would not talk about the War. This added an aura of mysterious virtue to him. He had lived through something so horrible that he was sparing us the knowledge of this unspeakable unknown. My nephew Chris suggested that he might have committed some atrocity in the war he was ashamed and guilty of. I never thought of that. My father was, after all , supremely virtuous.
When I was six, about to start first grade, he left home for good. He did something extraordinarily generous. He gave me a dollar bill for ice cream. I thought “What’s this ? I’m trading my father for ice-cream ?” I never got another nickel from him until he got rich.
At the same time I got married, my father got rich. A Jewish golf friend had tipped him off about Mexican Telephone, selling for eleven cents a share. He bought a ton of it and it eventually went to $75 a share. All of sudden , he had thousands of dollars to throw around, though he spent nothing on himself. He thought this was a magnificent virtue. A self denying rich guy.
He used his money to buy the favor of Lynne’s kids. And to punish any perceived insults. He bought some of Lynne’s six kids cars and houses, except for Carrey, the retarded one. He did not court her affection.
Eventually the sugar daddy took over and eliminated all of Lynne’s authority and respect as a mother. She fell into alcoholism and four packs a day of Marlboros. By 1990 she looked like she was dying. I suppose she got a reprieve when my father moved to Florida in 1995 , but by then she was a broken person. Her cocaine addled, womanizing husband , whom my father admired as a hard working family man, died in 1998, and some of the children were leaving home.
But there was still violence there. The horrible Christmas of 2000 I was there when Susan , the second youngest , broke Carrey’s collar bone. By this time Carrey had two boys of her own living there. She would go out drinking and partying, leaving Lynne with the kids and contributing nothing to the household. The situation got tense and Carrey started regularly beating up her mother.
I kept encouraging Lynne to get them all out of her house, over the objections of my father and Amy. They wanted to have Lynne committed to a mental hospital and wanted my cooperation. I told them I would fight it to the end and they backed off. Soon, the boys became teenagers and they too started beating up my sister.
Somehow, by 2009, Lynne performed the daunting feat of getting them all out of there. She had about a year and a half of wonderful peace and quiet in which she regained her original personality as a sweet and life loving person. Then in 2011, she was stricken , literally knocked down, by lung cancer. She lived another suffering two years, then died the most courageous death I have ever seen, with not a single complaint.
Daddy comes home from the war . . .
The first time I saw my father with conscious eyes was just after my second birthday , October 1945. He had returned from the war where he had received a million dollar wound and spent the last ten months in a hospital in England.
It was a cold reunion. No hugs, no embraces. It was very quiet. He was still in his mohair army uniform with a campaign hat. I wanted a drink of water. He lifted me to the water fountain, burning me with his cigarette as he did so. He was indifferent to my pain. I did not cry. My mother came and looked at the burn , but offered no solace.
I knew instantly that I was entering a new world of pain and fear. My mother and I had stayed for a year with her parents and my uncles on my grandaddy’s farm near Lorreto Kentucky. I still remember the warmth and affection and the sweet smell of wood smoke. All that was gone forever.
My father entered my life like a blight. Like Dutch Elm disease, I had sprouted, but the blight would forever keep me a sapling.
We moved to a little shotgun house on Christy Street in Louisville. It was emotionally cold and business like inside, but the world outside was warm and fascinating. That’s where I wanted to be.
I have to wonder, when my father was sent to Europe in October 1944, a sergeant in command of a Sherman tank, if she didn’t secretly wish he would never come back. It would have solved a lot of problems for her. She would have been a widow with a war child, an honorable situation. She certainly didn’t seem glad to see him when he returned.
And I would forever stare at the world, from my tiny castle, like looking at Christmas toys through a plate glass window, there but ungraspable.
I loved the neighborhood on Christy Street. The summer before I turned four and my sister was born was halcyon. There were a dozen kids my age, white and black, girls and boys playing on the sidewalk. If I had penny I could ride my tricycle a couple blocks up the street to a corner grocery and buy a piece of candy. One day I resolved to undertake a great adventure. I would ride my tricycle all the way around the block. I had never been there before. I don’t know how I even got the concept ‘around the block’ but I knew if I kept making left turns I’d get back where I started. And it was wonderful. I saw Atherton High School, the largest building I had ever seen it was shadier, with prettier houses and cars and things on the sidewalk. When I got back I felt triumphant. Now I knew I could venture into the unknown alone and return with a new shred of life to hang on to.
When I was in the backyard alone, I had an imaginary friend, ‘Joe Printin’ to talk to. He was a fine little fella, my size, but with the wisdom of a grown up. He didn’t say much. He lived in the house on the left and he would sometimes come out in his back yard. The next door neighbor on the right , Mr. Trout, would give me the eyes of fish he had caught in the Ohio River. They were large and round and I played with them like marbles while my mothers radio played Dear Hearts and Gentle People . I was left to my own devices, and the halcyon summer of 1947 was the last I would ever have.
Don’t look at the sky . . .
While my sister Lynne was being born, I was sent to my Granddaddy’s farm . They had moved to Indiana, just across the Ohio. I must have remembered my grandparent’s from the Kentucky days. I was comfortable with them. But my uncle Carl, who still lived there on his parents farm , was a trickster. He took me on a horse, an animal I had never seen in my conscious life, to go after the cows. First we had to retrieve the axe he had left in the woods. He parked the horse and got off, leaving me alone on this unknown animal. The horse stood still and Carl got back on. Then we had to go by the pond to get the horse a drink. “Don’t go in the river !” I cried. The horse waded in belly deep as I shivered, then put its neck and head down to the water. I thought I was sliding into the river, the dark and muddy Ohio of death.
“I wish I’d never come !” I cried, while uncle Carl chuckled. When we got the cows in, uncle Carl opened the gate to the front yard full of thick green grass and a huge bull with a brass ring in its nose. Uncle Carl insisted I ride the bull. I declined, over and over again. This was a great adventure that left me unsure whether I ever wanted to have another one or not.
Later, after it got pitch dark, my grandfather, grandmother, Carl and I were standing on the back porch by the cistern looking at the sky. A constellation of shooting stars came across the sky, almost overhead. They made a perfect bow and arrow. “It’s a sign” uncle Carl said. “Maybe its the end of the world” said Mawmaw. She was right.
Whiskey winds . . .
We moved to an old bungalow in South Louisville that was built on what had been farmland. It was an ugly neighborhood. My father had little or no aesthetic sense. And it was cheap , $7000 with a mortgage of seven dollars a month. Bernheim Lane ran from Seventh and Algonquin Parkway a quarter mile to the railroad track where steam locomotives delivered corn to the Seagram distillery just south. A black neighborhood was just across Seventh Street. The ‘yellow projects’ , the poorest in the city, were just north on the other side of Algonquin Parkway.
It was grim, but rich with vacant lots, the Pepsi Bottling Company with its football field size front lawn , the Gordon potato chip factory that put on a spectacular parade every Derby Day and pretty girls threw bags of potato chips and prizes from the polished red delivery trucks. There was a hobo jungle and Salvation Army hotel for the bums by the tracks, a trailer lot, the lively Red Brick Tavern on the corner where girls dressed for Saturday night got out of cars that had to be parked all the way down Bernheim to in front of our house. Crowds of Negroes would walk down Bernheim on Sunday to a baseball game played on Seagram’s huge vacant lot and dump. In the spring, I’d stand on the front porch while the three hundred foot tall smokestacks billowed smoke from the cooking of the sour mash. The south wind carried this to my front porch with its intoxicating aroma. I was getting high, though I didn’t know it.
There was a White Castle on the corner and an auto parts store and two gas stations. The Red Bull Tavern with nine cent Falls city beer on the other corner where the Salvation Army bums would drift after they had their supper and sermon. Three small groceries, Eisenmingers, Reynolds, and Pattersons, which stayed open till midnight, within a stones throw. A tiny barbershop with a barber who had just gotten out of the insane asylum . I thought he would cut off my ear, but he was a nice guy. This part of Louisville was full of industries, both heavy and light. American Standard cranked out porcelain toilets just up Seventh Street. Across the street there was a place that fabricated sheet metal and the Desensi Statuary Company cranked out cement statues of the Virgin Mary. Right next store, a factory pounded out rubber gaskets.
Saint Ann’s Catholic Church and the Harmony Babtist Church were just across the alley behind our house. They served the poorest of the poor, the unwashed and ignorant from the Yellow Projects.
It was a vibrant, complex and dangerous environment. You could get robbed or beat up if you ventured into the wrong places.
Haunted by God . . .
Just after my father left and disappeared for a year, I started first grade. I was a skinny and frail looking kid. The bullys ganged up on me everyday. I tried to pay them off with pennies. My father had taught me to be humble and turn the other cheek, so I didn’t fight back. I had to run this gauntlet every day.
My mother had started taking us to the Harmony Baptist Church across the alley. The preachers were obsessed with the end of the world. The moon would turn to blood, the sun would turn black, there would be hideous monsters and battles in the sky. This was going to happen any day.
I was reading the newspaper by the time I was seven. I read everything I could find in the house. Stacks of old Reader’s Digest, an old one volume encyclopedia, old books about the San Francisco earthquake. I was terrified of the atomic bomb and learned what the Russian bombers looked like. In those days armadas of planes, entire fleets of dozens of planes would fly high in the sky over my house, but I could tell they were ours. I could hear the rumbling thunder of the artillery at Fort Knox every afternoon. I was always on the lookout for doomsday. I lived in mute terror.
One afternoon after school a gang of a dozen boys taunted me at the bus stop. I shit my pants on the way home. No one noticed. My mother would cook supper, then hunker down over the heat register with her head between her knees.
I was an artful dodger. Something about me attracted the aggression of other boys, but there was also something that prevented them from actually hurting me. Maybe all they wanted was my humiliation. They never got that. The atom bomb and the imminent end of the world were my deepest fear.
During this time my father had sequestered himself in some unknown place. I hardly thought of him. I spent as much time as possible alone, reading or exploring my ugly but interesting neighborhood. My mother was unavailable and my sister was a toddler.
In second grade the class took a field trip to the circus downtown. It was dark and cold when we got out. I was by myself and got on the wrong bus to go home. I rode for a long time on an empty bus, then realized I was lost. The bus driver ended up taking me directly to my house. My mother said she considered me a grown up at age eight.
When my father did start coming around again, the situation always devolved into religious arguments with my mother. It was like the holy wars of England , he being an ever-increasing devout Catholic and she be a dyed in the wool Protestant. They would battle over whether the Queen of England deserved respect , drinking beer and fishing on Sunday. One time I tried to get them to stop fighting. My father screamed for me to go to my room. He was a take it and leave it father. He would take us to fun places some times, but he was emotionally detached from our little family. He got the cherries and my mother got the pits.
I hate religion, but it has haunted me my whole life.
Playing Doctor . . .
About this time my mother caught me and little redheaded Annie playing doctor in the attic. She was furious and threatened to send me to Ormsby Village, the much dreaded reform school in Louisville. Not only that but if I ever did anything like that again, she would reveal it to my grandaddy’s Patriarchal visage. Then I would surely go to Hell. After that I stayed as far away from girls as I could. I became a neurotic mess, hiding in the basement building scores of model airplanes. Maybe it was for the best. The other boys in my neighborhood had gotten their girls pregnant, dropped out of school, and were supporting a wife and kids by the time they were sixteen. Although I eventually married and had kids of my own, it wasn’t until I was in my sixties that I achieved a degree of sexual ease.
to be continued . . .
October 7, 2014
Terri : Thanks for wandering by here today , Seraphim !
Seraphim : My pleasure , lovely lady . . .
Terri : Seraphim , you are are not exactly a singer songwriter , or balladeer ,
just how would you describe yourself ?
Seraphim : I am a wandering minstrel , period .
Terri : Oooooh , gross !
Seraphim : A thousand pardons lovely lass , I am what I am .
Terri : Your ballads cover a wide range of subject matter . . .
Seraphim : Yes Terri ,
I treat of many things .
Of things seen and Unseen ,
known and Unknown
from Kuubla Khans pleasure dome ,
to the decay of Rome ,
to the Ganges where the dead do float
And King Arthor ‘s castle moat
You stare into my timeless gaze
into eternity ablaze
with the light of fires
and daunting desires
that nere burn on history ‘s page.
For , you had better know it ,
I am an oral poet . . .
Terri : Oh , Seraphim that was lovely ! What is that instrument you were playing ?
It twas a Chinese lute
from a Shanghiah house
of ill repute, where there was :
A man named MacGruder
who met a lewd nude from Bermuda .
This lewd nude was crude
and exceedingly rude
but MacGruder was ruder
He screwed ‘er . . .
Terri : I ‘m going to pretend I did n’t hear that Seraphim . Remember , my audience is liberal , but quite prim . Do you always sing instead of speak ? You are kind of a walking opera !
Yes , lovely girl :
It is my nature to tweet
and sing like Bluebirds sweet
or the thrush on Autumn’s way
Dost sway with the indolent hay
and grass ,
where I fain
would roll your ass
Sweet , nubile lass
of radio land . . .
Thou hast deigned to make a pass ,
you are beyond the bounds of crass
Depart from me , thou cur
to thy hellish home sir !
June 25, 2014
The Pragmatic Elite
never eat and never sleep ,
to tend their sheep ,
And hold tight the chair
that Dewey and James once shared ,
Where neither truth nor proof
shall come to light .
And the sheep shall be taught
to worship the quark ,
And deposit their money
in a pragmatic bank .
June 24, 2014
Conceived of gold
in the shards
of the alter
a cypher and reminder
of the terrible disaster
that plundered their lives
And left a boy free
to roam & smell
And taste the clover
& smoke tobacca
& cigars that
While bumble bees
Too terrified to ride
that bull with the
ring in his nose
As the horse bent its neck to drink
out of what I thought was an ocean
and I would slide in anon ,
never to be seen again
“ I wish I ‘d never come ! “
I cried . . .
To my Uncle Carl
who liked to poke my side ,
but held me tight
And that night there was a sign
in the sky
in stars , in a black sky ,
a bow & arrow flew by
And Mawmaw took afright
and Uncle Carl said “ it’s all right “
June 24, 2014
Living in New York
aint soo bad
the people are friendly
and dont seem sad
But when you try
to sleep at night
you ‘ wake up
with a headache
from the jackhammer bite
I got the blues
I got the New York City
Jackhamma jackhamma hamma all night long
The cops is eat in’ pizza down at Bravos
Park Avenue is nice
But you will pay the price
When you come down with
them New york City
June 24, 2014
These last days of solitude
I had abhored
Five years of wars
& hard labors
have their reward
These last days of solitude
spent in confinement
result in refinement
These last days of solitude
I will remember
where I started
and the path
that led me to
the garden . . .
June 24, 2014
Where theres a way
theres a will
& where theres a will
theres a way
I heard the man in Dallas
we won the war
now we ‘re the whore
In the Fith Dimension
this is trite
soo we need to
get it right
had her derby screwed
The cost of comedy tickets
is outta sight !