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Monthly Archives: December 2006

Giant Peace Dove Nails St. Nick in Float Flap. Sullied Santa Declares Parade “Big Hit.”

It started a few days ago. I had been asked to appear in a film short being produced by students from Florida Metropolitan University. There is a film school there of some repute (notice I didn’t say good or bad, just some) and apparently there is quite a bit of work for short Jews.

I auditioned. It was easy. I read well and the other people who showed couldn’t read at all. I am always amazed, and I say this not as a cliché but truly amazed each time I hear a prospective, hopeful actor state reading is not that important a skill. Sooner or later they either change their mind failed audition after failed audition or they find ways to blame everything and everyone but their own lack of ability to read a script.

In this film, a detective makes a living by finding missing persons. He then augments his meager existence by making sure the missing people continue to stay that way.

I was to play an el sleezo businessman who had a bit of fluff on the side and then paid to have her disappear. I was to act nervous. I can do nervous.

The script read like walking through soup. A mix of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard, it hit neither well and slogged from page to page. I asked to be able to redo some of the dialogue and, after hearing some of my suggestions, small snippets of changes, saw in the face of the director, Jason, it would not be so much a problem as a blessing.

I have been reading opposite Beth. Evanne is there as make-up artist. Melissa, in film school and of Wild Oats and of the last film I was in, is there as well. Melissa is a good enough reason to be in this film and is great to work with. She seems to have a sharp artistic sense mixed with a bit of frustration over not being able to plunge into her projects or find people who think her ideas have the same merit she does. A frustrated artist. Who’d have thought any of those in film school?

I make a suggestion. This idea is, perhaps, too fundamental a change and is not met by the director with the same enthusiasm as the other suggestions, though, to Jason’s merit, he does listen and hear it out, debate and all. I suggest making the detective female. Females are not thought of as hit-men or contract killers or, largely, as murderers at all. When the end scenes come to play and the detective finds the missing gal and abruptly, brutally ends her life, it will be surprising if it is a guy but utterly shocking as a gal. From the opening scene, with the detective kicking what the director calls a ‘strawberry’ out of bed so he can start his day, I suggest they will be hooked if we discover that “Jack” is Jaqueline.

The ladies agree. And since Beth is, at this moment, the pick for the strawberry, and, according to the screenplay, the strawberry is in bed covered in nothing more than panties and the cool Central Florida December air, both Evanne and Melissa insist they would be best for the part of detective Jack.

Jason laughs. Evanne is, as my dear readers have previously, no doubt, noted, four foot ten, rounded, soft and adorable. While statistics show she may be the person most likely to actually be a serial killer, and she has, herself, pointed this out to me, Jason is sure it simply won’t work for the viewing public who know, in reality, little of the makeup of murderers. Perhaps this is pushing the believability envelope a bit. But Melissa is wiry, tough and, though from Georgia, looks as though she has come from casting marked ‘The Bronx’ and could pull this off handily.

I rethink my idea. Come in slowly on the bed, filming closer and closer and then the voice over. The voice is Melissa’s and it could be female, but it could be male, The audience thinks male because they have a preconception, an expectation, of a detective being male and, then, suddenly, it is male ‘strawberry’ kicked out of bed. I instantly put myself up for the part.

I am reminded I am El Sleezo Georgie Porgie Slickie Sickie Businessman and that, as a teacher, I can’t do a nude scene. I make a note to quit teaching.

But I’ll be wearing undies, I protest. In the end, of course, the entire idea is shot down. No-one will believe a female serial killer.

Evanne protests there are no good parts for women in theatre because no-one will write them. She is right, of course, and I fully plan on doing my part to remedy that.

It is of no matter, anyway, Jason tells us. No-one will be in bed with a barely-clad berry because the producer’s wife has protested, has decided so. She does not trust her hubby, Papa Producer. I am told she has reason, but, all the same, this is a film and she seems to be calling wardrobe decisions. Decisions that affect conceit, concept, nuance and character. The strawberry, the loose girl, playmate of the private eye, one night stand, will be clothed in more. Much more.

She wants her to wear a shirt. And bathing suit bottoms. In bed? A bathing suit in bed? After a night of supposed carnal indulgences, waking up in a bathing suit? I suggest the viewing audience will think enuresis.

And they think a female killer stretches the bounds of believability.

Break comes. I pass small boxes of raisins I’ve brought with me to make sure Beth and Evanne do not become Low-Blood-Sugar-Girls and, while the room is filled with the soft sound of squishing raisins, Melissa and I make plans, tentative but firm sounding, to do the script over, make it the way we think it should be and do it in the most shocking way possible. Would I write it? Of course. Of course.

She will cast Beth as the Strawberry. No doubt.

* * * * * * * *

I was given a shooting schedule. No problem as it worked well around my days teaching. Then an email from Jason, the director, with changes to that schedule. Part of the schedule was created using a Julian calendar and part using the Gregorian. It is all I can figure. My reply:

You have listed on the spreadsheet: Sunday, Dec 10, Saturday Dec 11th and Sunday Dec 13.

Obviously, there is a bit of a snafu there. According to my calendar, Saturday is the 9th, Sunday is the 10th. My scene (19) is listed as Wednesday, Dec 13th. That is an actual date, to be sure, but I will be at work before you have call and leaving work after you have wrap.

Adam

I got a reply with corrected dates. These didn’t stay firm. No surprise there, but at least the dates existed and existed all in this present year.

I replied to the corrected dates:

I have been told stories about the last short film of on-time folk waiting and waiting and waiting for people to arrive. It is my hope this isn’t going to happen. I know I don’t have to tell you this, you know this already, but time volunteered is still valuable. Even more so than time paid for. I am, it seems, supposed to be getting ready for the parade as well, so I fervently hope to be productive and streamline.

Please, please let me know if you foresee any difficulty.

Thanks.

Adam

Jason wrote back he felt as I did, that volunteer time was most valuable, promising me to arrive on time and he would let me know of any changes.

I never asked if we would actually start on time. I asked about arrival. My mistake.

Saturday. I have made arrangements to meet Jason at the 7-11 at the corner of US1 and Post Road. From there I will follow him to the park at which we are to rehearse, joined by the producer and the star of the show, our psycho-killer, ques que ce, Marcus.

It is eight in the morning. I am there, Jason is there. He tells me, though, Jaramy, the producer, is running late. By the way, you may have noticed Jaramy is spelled funny. Not my fault. Odd though, and not the last odd bit of working with Mr. Jaramy.

Jason gets a call some minutes later. Park, no. House, yes. Jaramy’s house. Around the corner. I get into my truck and follow Jason a few blocks down US1, along the contour of the Indian River and turn East into a neighbourhood close by. Down the street a few houses, he pulls over half off the street, half on a yard and I pull in behind him, getting out.

I have dressed the part, as I was asked, be-suited on a day no-one should wear a suit which, for me, is every day. It is getting, already, warm. Jaramy is not there. He is late arriving at his own home for his own film. We enter the house without him.

Remove your shoes, I’m told. I am dressed in a suit and am removing my shoes. Mama Producer has just washed the floors. This doesn’t keep her from walking the tiled floor in high heels, but I remove mine.

A smallish home in a working-class neighbourhood, It is immediately clear these people are upwardly mobile but have started from a place that means Wal-Mart chic as a home décor theme is an upward thrust. I, too, have furniture I had to assemble. I had more when I was younger. Some furniture is just too expensive for too little quality so why not get cheap? Sometimes what one needs just isn’t worth spending the cash on for the advanced quality when it can be found, serviceable, at a good price and good enough for the job. As time has moved on I have a bit less ‘place flange bolt B into barrel nut DD.’ Of course, when I was younger the instructions were not that clear. They were Chinese translated into Korean and then into English. Sometimes they had pictures.

At no point did I furnish a whole home with furniture covered in wood-printed paper. The difference is this family thinks this is great stuff. It’s not about lack but tack. New expensive cars take up the space outside, big expensive electronics take up the space inside. Mama Producer shows me around the house and there isn’t a stick that isn’t prefab. There isn’t a stick at all, actually; it’s all particle board Often that’s hard to tell though because everything, every horizontal surface and most vertical ones as well, are covered with objects memorative or decorative and each was either old or new, antique or made by a six year old in China. Somewhere in there was a small birdhouse that read “See Rock City.” I have no doubt this was a feature home in White Trash Digest.

Mama Producer had two cordless phones hanging from the belt of her low-rise, high-cut dungaree-shorts which made them a bit lower-rise than they might have been designed to be. She had one cellphone which was not apparent until it vibrated and then she jumped ever so slightly and placed her hand to her chest, over a yellow tanktop which looked a bit too tight to be comfortable. The muffled ring that followed became louder as she extracted the phone from her cleavage. She talked as she made her way to the table and motioned for me to sit. There was a child in a highchair. The big screen TV was on, so was a TV in another room.

Jason said this would be where we were rehearsing, at the kitchen table. Ignore the six children, he told me. He talks to me about the script while Mama Producer talks about things of which I paid no attention. Most of her conversation consists of cursing and did not seem to require actual participation. Then the phone rang, she answered it and the cursing escalated. Not particularly creative cursing but rather run of the mill one word here, there and everywhere. I gather it was Jaramy.

Marcus has arrived. He joins us. We start to read the script in and around the household commotion of the constant phone-ringing and baby-yelling, child-feeding and husband-cursing. Once through and I mention I thought we’d rehearse with blocking, working it out as we did the lines so we could, as we memorized our characters, commit the lines to memory muscular as well as verbal. A second time through we were interrupted by the arrival of Papa Producer, in the house in a rush, nearly an hour late, apologetic and introducing himself. We finish the script to the end of my scene.

Papa Producer looks amazed. “Damn, he’s good. Like Woody Allen.”

“See,” I knew this was coming. “You ask a short Jew to act nervous and the next thing you get is a Woody Allen comparison. The whole race is typecast.”

They look worried. He says it’s a compliment and I assure them I understood that. It was just a joke. A joke. Can’t they take a joke? I was only kidding. Woody’s fine. Give me more acting jobs and you can call me anything you want.

“Ok,“ I announce, “Time to try this at a car, like the script says. I’ll be outside.” I am followed, stopping to put on my shoes and leaning against a wall balance as I put them on..

Again and again we go over the lines. They thud, slush, fall. More and more I change them and each time, the Papa Producer smiles, shakes his head “Hey this guy is good. What is he a writer or something?” Jason the director tells him, yes, indeed, El Sleezo Businessman he is a writer.

I change sections around. Build the intimidation instead of letting it drop, rise and fall again. I’m asked to adlib and I do while Jason takes notes for a rewrite. All the while, Mama Producer is commenting, cursing, commenting, cursing, complaining, pulling Papa away. We ask her for coffee, for paper, for water, for anything that will send her away for a few minutes. It never lasts long enough.

The bees are everywhere. Amazing how many there are and I, allergic to bees, am a magnet in that I am wearing black. Mama producer continually swats bees on me, at least, I think she is swatting bees as I run the lines and reform the script. Swat, swat, swat. She might just have been mad at me.

We break after several run-throughs and Papa Producer reads another part of the script. It is full of euphemisms and childish replacements for body bits and carnal activities. He asks me for better childish replacements and more appropriate euphemisms. I listen to them run through term after term and I find it all distasteful and then break in. “How about going with the metaphor instead of the cliché? You want Chandler? Ok. We brought in the dawn together playing games you don’t find in a children’s book.”

“Hey. That’s great,” says Papa Producer. Jason agrees. Papa Producer wants to know if I am interested in a writing job and, he tells me, he has the part of a psychokiller that is just right for me; cold, clinical, quiet and not nervous at all.

All this time the cigarettes are puffing and the cursing is flowing and Papa Producer and Jason are discussing the murder scene, to take place in a bathroom, figuring out angles and logistics while I wait, and wait and wait. Walking back to my truck, running lines again with Marcus. After about a half hour I tell Papa Producer if I hear anymore about bathrooms I’m going to go home and use mine. In the meantime, I want to know where his is and, when I come out, I’d like to finish what they called me here to do. They apologize and tell me we’ll get back to work when I come out and, this time, as I walk into the house to find the bathroom, I do not take off my shoes.

When I come out, they are discussing wardrobe for the opening scene. Mama Producer wants the strawberry to wear a suit of armor. The compromise. It will be chain mail.

* * * * * * * *

It is two in the afternoon and there is little time before I must be at The Henegar Center to dress for the Winter Parade. It is called the Winter Parade, but I know it is a Christmas Parade. I know what the tenor of it will be and I’m doing this anyway.

Two weeks ago, a phone call. “Would you be willing to be in the parade?” Evanne asks.

I have seen one holiday parade and that was in Mebane, North Carolina. Never heard of it? It’s near Efland. Does that help? It was a whole lotta Christmas.

“No guy is willing to do it and we need someone to sit with the ladies on the float.”

She knows I’ll say yes. Just because no other guy will do it and she seems to need someone for this. She seems stuck without a guy. That’s enough reason for me. That she asked, really, is more than sufficient reason for me. Shh… Don’t tell her. So the answer is yes.

“The float is called ‘The Drama Mamas’.”

Really.

“You won’t mind dressing like Charles Dickens, will you?”

Four in the afternoon is the deadline. I have a rocking chair in the back of my truck to be dropped off at the parade start, where the float must be prior to four. I head past downtown Melbourne. I am stopped at the parade-grounds gate and the float isn’t there. I leave it at the gate with the guard and pop a note on it written on a post-it, stained salvaged from under my truck seat.

Kitty was supposed to have picked this chair up and, since her truck is being used, take it with her in its vehicle of destination. Instead of responding to my emails suggesting this, she wrote Evanne, called Evanne, never wrote me. Kittie lives two blocks from me. The rocking chair I just dropped off was hers just two months ago, purchased from her for ten dollars at a garage sale.

“What Church do you go to?” She wanted to know. I don’t, I tell her. I’m Jewish. “Oh,” she eshals, slowly, cocking her head, “I guess that’s ok.” Of course, it is, I answer. That’s how God made me. She looks puzzled. I ask her, You would agree he knows best, yes? On the tailgate of her silver Ford F150 is a magnetic fish on a white background. It is three feet long by a foot and a half high.

Some weeks later, after being approached to be in the parade, I take Evanne, who has been a guest teacher at my school all that day, south a half hour to Grant to work on the float. As it is for Stage 1 Stars and, specifically, the homeschool drama class, I know many of these parents in attendance here, working on the decorations. The home is large, on an acre, right on US1, and I see many people I know, working on tin and hay and fake snow in Jill’s garage. I also see the back of a silver Ford F150 with a giant fish on it. Now I understand why phonecalls to Evanne have lasted longer than normal. Her comment to me, “When I’m talking to you other people are not asking me questions,” is just as obvious but no longer cryptic. Now I understand why Evanne has been having headaches all week.

After a string of questions Kittie asks Evanne to which Evanne answers either yes or that hasn’t changed or I don’t know I’m just decorating the float, I call Evanne, four feet away, on her cellphone. She excuses herself from Kittie to answer and I hang up when she does. Evanne, catching on, proceeds to walk away, into the yard, behind the garage, away from Kittie. She is still talking on the phone as she rounds the corner having a pleasant conversation.

Kittie comes over to me.

“Don’t you live down the block?”

“Sure do. I bought a rocking chair from you.”

Is Evanne your wife?”

Time for some fun. “One of them.”

“Oh… I see. One?” Her face becomes flaccid.

The day of the parade she did, finally, in a rush, come to my house looking for the rocking chair, started to take another, fully different chair off the porch than the one she owned for so many years, stood in the flower bed, walked on the lilies. I’m surprised she didn’t walk through the fishpond.

It is this no-longer-on-my-porch rocking chair I am delivering while she is tiptoeing through my tulips. And I am going to lunch.

Her daughter, Anwwn, is fourteen. She’s going to be a goth. I know it.

* * * * * * * *

I am treating myself to lunch today. Across the street from where the floats are slowly joining into a parade force, is a Chinese buffet. It’s one of my favorite places in town to eat and I go there rarely, partially because I don’t like to spend money out on food and partially, largely, because I have great difficulty in gauging how much I have eaten, how much is too much. And, ultimately, I’ll be mad at myself. Not angry. Mad.

We go there several times a year and at Christmas without fail. The owners are Buddhist and Christmas day at King’s Buffet is like going to temple; you are not guaranteed every person is Jewish, but chances are good.

In the past, I’ve gone quite overboard. I hadn’t thought so, but, in retrospect, knew I had eaten far more than I should, felt shame, disgust, loathing. In asking those with me, however, I’d discover I had barely eaten a thing. I would wonder why I was hungry later in the day and hear from my wife she wasn’t surprised since I had barely eaten. My ability to gauge the amount of food I thought I had put on my plate and into my stomach seems to have little relation to anything happening in reality. Still other times I would think I had taken little and hear amazement at how much I had managed to eat. Reality rarely sits down to dinner with me.

Over time, I have learned to take small amounts and not go back more than twice. Small plates and small portions. A chicken wing? Sure, but just one. Once on my plate, I’d take a bit and not eat the rest. The banquet is in the first bite, I tell myself. The banquet is in the first bit.

I go for the vegetables first, staying away from anything with butter, most things fried. Steamed vegetables, Mongolian grilled, stir-fried vegetables and shrimp. Desert? Tiny bits. I was delighted to discover, lately, the softserve ice cream at such places is nearly always, and it is so at this one, low-fat and has the same fat and only slightly more calories than low-fat milk. Still, small amounts.

This is what I did today. Vegetables, broccoli, onions, peppers, shrimp, bits of duck. No peppersteak. I like froglegs but battered, fried and laid in butter? No. Broiled salmon instead. Then fruit, some softserve and, after the bill comes, breaking the fortune cookie. I never eat these, just break them. Not only have they too much sugar, but they just aren’t worth it. Most of the fortune cookies I’ve had were stale. This one is no exception but, even more stale than the orange hued cookie is the fortune inside. Fortune? This is a bleached slip of pale cliché. After looking at it for a moment to focus, I can start to make out the words. It tells me “Good friends are worth their weight in gold.” It tells me what my lucky numbers are but they are too small to see. It does instruct tell me Yu Ping means duck. That is more useful than the fortune. No, that won’t do. I stop the waitress or, as close to a waitress as one gets in a buffet. I ask for another. “Writing is a skill, not an art.” So much for fortunes. Perhaps I need more practice.

Still, these are far better than what I found in one Gainesville Chinese takeout. They started giving “Southern Baptist Fortune Cookies.” After each meal I would open the cookie and discover one more way Jesus died for me. Some days I would open them and to find a slip telling me I was a sinner or instructing me to visit the church of my choice or suggesting I abstain from sex until marriage. Quite a liberty from a cookie that doesn’t even know me. I chose, instead, to abstain from eating at that takeout.

I pay my bill of $4.25 and head to the Henegar Center while I begin, as usual, to doubt my ability to measure and start to berate myself, thrash myself for the bad choices I must have made over lunch, imagine my portions as they grow in size with each full recounting of my meal, swear I’ll not eat that again, will eat lightly tomorrow, the next few days. Will exercise more tomorrow, when I get home tonight. This is a constancy I can do without. Costume time.

* * * * * * * *
I arrive at five minutes to four. Most of the people are there already and Evanne is costuming the kids and adults alike. She hands me a red evening jacket and asks me how the morning went and I promise to tell her later, that it is far too much to recount while she is busy. She has a collar for me and I try to put it on but it doesn’t fit. It is too tight. She tries but, if I want to continue breathing, this collar will simply not do.

I have to wear black pants, a white shirt, black shoes. These are the same clothes I needed for this morning so most of what I required is already on. As she pulls this here and that there, others are putting on hats, cloaks, skirts. Beaner, a sixteen year old girl of my acquaintance, a homeschooler who, I know, will someday give me the opportunity to cast my vote for her for president, arrives and immediately grabs her costume, disrobes and starts to re-dress. I’m use to this from Beaner.

Beaner and her mom, Jan, are naturists. At fourteen, Beaner even went to trial over her right to top-freedom when arrested as part of “The Topfree Ten.” I actually helped raise money for their defense with a clothing optional poetry night held at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville. Kayla Sosnow, a defendant, was present among the gathered masses and, indeed, we were filled to more than capacity with over two hundred people waiting to listen in a crowd pressed into each in what quickly became a barely-standing room only venue with more than a good half, from quick glance, of the poetry lovers already stripped in solidarity with Kayla and the stalwart poets, dozens of which waited, many impatiently, to do that which would strike fear into most sane people and make death look trivial; read their own poetry, naked, in public. Try baring all while baring poetic your soul, on a stage, to a packed house. Firewalking? Don’t make me laugh.

That was the first time I read in public.

Two years later I met Jan and Beaner at a homeschool function not actually knowing, for quite some time, our connection of far fewer than six degrees of separation. We got to know them rather well over the last two years and have traveled with them to Playalinda Beach along with Jan’s Husband, Marvin, a physicist who fills his home office with a mixture of wall-covering equations that would make anything done by John Nash look pedestrian and in-process legal briefs he writes himself as the VP of Central Florida Naturists Association on behalf of naturists in legal struggles, in suits against Brevard County.

We have visited with them in their home. The first occasion we did so, my son, fourteen at the time, was with us. They asked us to give a call before heading over there so they could dress. We assured them there was no need and we’d be perfectly comfortable. My son, finding Beaner, fifteen at the time, along with the rest of the family, walking around sans clothing, decided not to make a return visit. It is with Jan (and Kittie. I mentioned Kittie, yes?) whom I shall be floating through this parade. Strange float-fellows.

We are to be at the float, some two miles away, by five and must carpool as there is no parking there. We need to be ready in thirty minutes to make that happen and there is rushing about, pinning of cloth, pulling of hats, fastening of collars, tying of laces.

Jan is looking for her last bit of costume: a bonnet.

Kittie has disappeared into the bathroom with two bonnets of three. She took a third home earlier that week and forgot to bring it. Three bonnets for two ladies by the faux fire. Now two bonnets. She is, it would seem, carefully choosing one over the other, then the other over one, or so her daughter reports, while Jan waits for just one, either of them, to finish her costume. Finally her daughter comes out of the ladies room with one and give it to Jan, having just told her mother it didn’t matter which one looked better as it would take much, much more than a bonnet to make her look good.

Looking at the two bonnets side by side it is obvious, as Evanne had already pointed out, they were exactly the same.

Beth arrives, dressed in white and blinking. She is not on our float but is, instead, with Patriots for Peace and she will be walking with a giant dove, singing songs of peace and freedom. From head to toe she is in white and, under the shirt, chest level, she has blinking LED lights which emerge from the back of her shirt and circle her head in a halo. She tells me she has been stopped several times already, mostly by helpful old ladies.

They ask her, “Do you know your chest is lit up dear?”

“Yes, I do,” she cheerfully answers, which is the manner in which she responds to all such queries and, indeed, most of the absurdities of the world and, especially, those perpetrated by her.

“But it shows your, you know. It draws attention.”

“I figure that’s where they’re looking anyway. So why not make it worth their while?”

For Halloween, she was dressed as a devil and one breast had a picture taped to it of Donald Rumsfeld and the other Dick Cheney letting everyone know, carefully worded below, the two were in her employ. Put ‘em where I know they’re going to look, she told me. Earlier that week we attended a peace rally where she dressed the same way. Even the loyal opposition could not help but catch the message.

As for me, well, that’s eye level for me so I saw a lot of Donald and Dick that evening.

Two weeks later I found a shirt for her. Red, it stated “My eyes are up here.” and helped the less fortunate with an arrow pointing the way. The words were perfectly positioned to make sure no-one would pay attention to the arrow. She loved it.

Tonight she is be-lighted and blinking and it’s a good thing the dove she is escorting on her float is so big or no-one would notice it past Beth.

Out the door and down the stairs. We pile into two vans, with costumes on and gear in tow.
It is quarter to five.

Five minutes later we area at the float. A flatbed trailer pulled by a truck and, behind it in line it, set to follow, Kittie’s silver F150. Everything is covered in evergreen and fake brick, tiny trees and cloth snow. Children will ride in the float and some will walk along and pass out candy. The back of the float will say, in bright cheery backlit marque letters, “Stage 1 Stars.”

The support vehicle, Kitties truck, has a cardboard fireplace, a stool, knitting appliances, blankets to ward of the December chill of seventy degrees, and a rocking chair.

Each float has a generator. There is much boasting by Mr. Kittie about how much each generator can power and I am asked to turn them on when we start. How? Don’t you know? No. Why not? That is the question I’m asked: why not. The question really intended is: you are an American and have the Y chromosome so why can’t you instinctively run power equipment?

There are cords missing so the float must be hastily rearranged and, red though it is, the generator doesn’t look either Christmassy or festive.

In the truck bed, hidden in the fireplace, is the second generator, which is supposed to run lights and some other things I am unclear on. It doesn’t matter. My job is to sit there, rock, sing and wave.

Kittie has a string of questions for Evanne while we rearrange as needed. She goes off to the bathroom and we wait, for her only, a stool ready so she can get into the truck bed. She is the last prop to load.

At six the parade starts. We are number fifty-one. At six-thirty, the parade is still starting. At seven it continues to start. I imagine by the time it finishes starting it will start finishing. At a quarter after seven it is our turn and we lurch forward while Jan’s head is in the fireplace attempting to start the generator, which she does have experience with despite her lack of the proper chromosomes.

I have given up my chair to Kittie, Jan has the stool, or will when she is not on her knees with her backside on parade and her head encased in fake brick and flames. I will be sitting on the edge of the tailgate, bellows in hand, pumping them in time with the music of the marching band and waving.

I won’t be singing. It won’t be heard above the marching band. One thing the generators were supposed to power was a CD player pumping old carols for us to sing along to. But none of it can be heard.

The sky is dark and clear and I am amazed at how crowded the parade route is, how many people have turned out for this, all waving and cheering and wishing Merry Christmas as we wave back, make our way to NASA, turn on Babcock and then onto New Haven and forward to Downtown and Strawbridge.

The wind has picked up and the cardboard fireplace keeps tipping over onto Jan and Kittie. Once, twice. No matter what the fireplace does, Kittie will not move. She has to go to the bathroom, she tells us, and won’t move. It’ll settle if she stays still, she says. It’s just another hour, right? And since it is my rocking chair she is seated on, I don’t move her a bit. I don’t think there is a buyback clause but, she can’t hold it, I want my ten bucks back.

Still, again and again the fireplace bops them on the head so I jump out, walk up to the cab at parade speed and ask for duct tape. Kitti’s husband is driving the truck.

Kittie thought I’d be in the truck as well. Was genuinely chagrinned I would be in the back of the truck with her, was sure I was there to keep her husband company, a man I have never met, who would probably, who knows, want to talk sports, or save me from sin, or complain about wives. If married to Kittie, I imagine it would be the later but I’m rather sure it would be the first two and I want nothing to do with that, thank you. Duct tape will be sufficinet.

I climb onto the small running board and tape the fireplace to the cab roof with one hand as I hold onto the window ledge with the other. One side, then off and run around to the other. Back into the Dickensian living room. Why is it so warm in here? The generator. Why am so lightheaded? The generator. Back off again, remove the faux top of the fireplace (no-one is up there anyway) and let out the exhaust.

Crowds yell Marry Christmas, happy New Year, I shout Happy Hannamassakwanayule and Merry Massahannayulakwanz. A wonderful Hannukwanzayulamass to you and you and you. Joyous Yulakwanzamassahan to everyone. I tell them, as I pump my bellows, they will all be visited by Hannukah Harry, who brings Hannukah joys to all the goyesha girls and boys.

My legs are wrapped tightly on either side of the corner of the tailgate so, in he lurching, I won’t tumble out and more than once Jan grabbs the collar of my red evening jacket to keep me in the here and now and not in the there and gone.

Beaner and two other teens are running back and forth handing out candy to the crowd. Sometimes they linger too long, become too distant from the float and Evanne, kid wrangler, runs up fetch them. She is the parade-child shepherd and cares for her flock with amazing ability and, tonight, alacrity and speed. She is adorned in a long white going-to-church dress that ties in the back and looks like it came out of praerie, just as she did. In that dress she runs to catch the children and bring them floatward, black boots clopping, arm above her holding her Sunday best hat onto her head as she runs. I think of Laura Ingles Wilder, see Melissa Gilbert running through the grass, age twelve, and can’t help but shout, as she passes, “Pa… I’m comin Pa! I’m comin. Wait for me”

I hear, every once in a while, Mr. Tritt!!! And see a student or two waving at me. A small crowd yells, continuously, “Jesus loves you,” Then, “Jesus loves you, Jesus Ohmygod it’s Mr. Tritt” Several of my students are there, in one throng, sitting on the curb among the crowds on the grass, in folding chairs, on blankets.

Waving back, I yell, asking “Even me, Carrie?”

“Umm… I guess so, I think” and she looks confused.

“Happy Hannukah Carrie.”

The Parade is coming into downtown as the band behind us is playing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” for the one, two or three hundredth time. As we reach the end a policeman points the float one direction and asks our driver, Mr. Kittie, to go the other, back to the Henegar Center, at the next corner. That’s it. At the corner, I tell Jan I’ll see her in a bit and jump off. I need to walk.

Off, I run through the crowds, red evening jacket and all, hearing my name yelled again by students who missed me the first time. Back to the eight blocks to the Henegar Center. The truck is there already and I take my jacket off and give it to Jan, asking her to make sure Evanne get’s it, grab a small Tupperware container of raisins and nuts from my own truck run off again, back to the parade, two blocks up and ten back, heading to the end this time.

I am running against the parade current, nuts rattling in my hand keeping an unsteady rhythm as I wend through the masses, past clots of chairs, fields of blankets, over, around, into the street, onto the grass, through parking lots, between bushes and, in the distance, my target. I am looking for a giant dove and a halo above the crowd.

Strawbridge turns to New Haven and, up another block or two, there it is. Twenty feet in the air, the rear of the parade, the penultimate float, the giant dove of peace.

And under it, a haloed lady in white who’s chest is blinking, on, off, on off.

I run up to a float with a dozen people marching to “Happy Christmas (War is over) by John Lennon. Four of the people are holding the peace dove aloft with twenty-foot PCV half-inch pipes. These support its thirty-foot wingspan. The dove’s head, four feet long and two feet wide, is supported by the float trailer and another pipe with a swivel so it can turn this way and that. In the stiff ocean wind, this dove wants to fly and the poles are flexing, this way and that. On wing-duty on the far side, blinking, Beth.

“Room for one more?” I ask the first person in the group? I am answered by several in the affirmative. They are all wearing white tops and I am dressed perfectly for this and fit right in. “Of course,” one person shouts over. “We have room for hundreds. We’d wish the entire parade would join us.

I walk over to Beth, pull out the container of raisins and nuts and offer her some. She looks tired and worn and, no doubt, fighting to keep this dove tethered for an hour has been exhausting. I tell her if she gives me the pole, she’ll be able to eat the raisins more easily. Are you sure? Of course. I have a low center of gravity. It’ll be fine. And I take the pole.

I have the pipe braced in the crook of my arm and I am lifted ever so slightly. The wind picks up more as the music changes to “Let there be Peace on Earth” and the dove is dancing, lifting in the wind.

Behind us, is a Hummer Limo. On it is Santa Clause. There have been many faux Santas in the parade but, by regulation, I am told, there can be only one actual Saint Nick. He smiles, laughs Merry Christmas, honks an assaulting air horn. Every once in a while, he looks sour. He must be spotting some kids on his naughty list.

The reindeer are not present. What does Santa need with reindeer when he has a military vehicle knockoff luxury-mobile? He rides atop it as though it were a sleigh, this stretch Hummer, waving to the masses, overlooking everyone, overlooking our wild windy dove. Overlooking me on left wing and Beth eating cashews and raisins, marching forward.

Kids, students I have passed before, yell Mr. Tritt! Mr. Tritt? They look confused. Hey, he looks like Mr. Tritt. Was that person we saw before him or is that? Isn’t that Mr. Tritt again?

And then the wind once more, a gust, a second gust and the dove’s head seems to swivel a bit more than it should, then lifts. Our dove is now a kite and we hold on to our PVC poles, holding it to Earth tenuously, tightly but, apparently, not well. They slip and in one more gust, all in the space of a few seconds, our dove is in the sky, flipping, somersaulting. Up. For a moment it soars. It is in flight. It is glorious, flying westward in the wind. Winging out peace. Headed for a Hummer.

Santa has the widest look on his face. Perhaps he is singing the Clash hit, “Should I stay of Should I go?” It seems he is considering, momentarily, to dive from his sleigh. But, then, he would not be watching the spectacle of this enormous, soaring dove. And he is getting a great view of it, or so it appears he must as, from my perspective, it is flying right at our one and only Father Christmas.

The other floats moved onward, ours stopped, Santa’s stopped. Only the dove is moving the wrong way and all in the space of a few seconds, there is a noise of cloth and wire on metal, metal on metal, falling, soft, flappy objects of weight hitting hard, ungiving surfaces from great heights. It is a very satisfying thud. Saint Nick had met the Dove of Peace and both lay in heaps on opposite sides of the Hummer.

I didn’t know which to go to first.

“Beth?”

“Yes?”

“May I have a raisin?”

“Sure thing.”

“This would make a hell of a script, wouldn’t it?”

She blinks yes.

Yes.

Yes.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2006 in Culture, Religion, Social

 

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Final Exam

Today I have one fewer students. Jacob has committed suicide.

He had never done well, spoke little, responded rarely and seemed, forever, to be looking darkly into a distant space. Rail thin, sullen, his long black hair would sometimes sway and uncover the circles under his eyes. He would tell me he was ravenous always, that his headaches were constant. He wrote this to me in a note.

On a bit of paper, written in short, matter-of-fact fragments, he told me his home was small, loud, had no space for him to study that did not have a TV blaring, parents yelling. I wrote me he could not see though the pain in his head, spent his time eating, eating, eating.

Grades? How was I to convince him grades were important? In the face of such pain, how could I lie and tell him, more important than his suffering, were his essay scores? While I tried to help him with his work, I had not recorded grades for him in weeks. What would a zero teach him? The value of labour? That failure brings more failure and suffering more suffering?

I shared his note with guidance, asked he be checked into, checked out, checked up on. Spoke with his teachers, his mother. That was a month ago.

Today the news was delivered to me in a note folded into my mailroom box. On a half sheet of paper, a scrawled missive said the administration had decided I was to not count zeros for the last few weeks he was in class. That his final exam would still have to be counted and recorded as a failing grade and he be given an F for the term.

And that is how we said goodbye to Jacob.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2006 in Culture, Education, Social, Suicide

 

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The Shadow

Some people believe in a soul. Some do not. We, here in the West, seem to take the concept as a given, but it is far from it. Even those who do not believe in the full concept of the soul are forced to use the term as the best we have available in English.

For those who conceive of a center of being and call it a soul, it is often depicted as an immutable core, unchanging and unchangeable. It is the self, and it stays the self whether its bearer sees one lifetime or many, depending on the philosophy.

Others similarly think of the soul as the center of being, but do not see it as immutable. Quite the opposite, in fact: for them it is something dynamic, fluid, with edges uncertain, spreading, mixing. We are substance dropped into a pool and cupped back up again, with most of our soul back in the cup, but some of it still in the pond, mixing, and with some of the pond retrieved in the cup. Well. Pond. Ocean, Sea—all waters. All souls.

And, it is thought, by those who know the soul as changeable and inconstant, that the soul can diminish. A trauma may cause parts to flee to a place where shards dwell, where they forget whence or to whom they belonged. A fright may cause bits of soul to depart, hiding from fear and danger. A constant threat can cause the soul to shrink, and a suffering can cast a shadow on the soul that shrouds it all its days and nights until the last light departs the eyes. And perhaps even after that.

My own soul is not smooth. Its boundaries are piked, jagged. There are parts missing from its surface, leaving gaps, divisions, sulci. There are pieces missing within. And how did they leave? They flew as darts, as butterflies. Blazed off as sparks and fell as flowers. Left curled, like small children covering themselves for shame and protection as they fled.

And there is the shadow, large and deep, the companion of my soul. Behind, over, ever-present. My soul is slippery, transient, and I have a feeling it is within and sometimes without and, when without, larger than the body, not solid but substantial. And behind it still, the shadow, covering my soul, covering me.

* * * * * * * *

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” That is old. It goes back to 1930. Both the ego, in the person of Lamont Cranston, and the Shadow, the alter ego, were from Boston. He was from Boston as well. The Shadow could turn invisible, and I swear to this day, he did as well. Somehow he snuck up on me; I can honestly find no other explanation.

I wish the Shadow could have been there with him, to see what evil lurked there while it was only an idea, before it became manifest in action. Now the shadow of that act is everywhere around and even within me. I know this because now I can see the evil in the hearts of men. Even when there is none to see.

* * * * * * * *

I am fifteen years old. My parents have been in Amway for a while now. A year, perhaps. Maybe slightly longer. Amway has quickly become a constancy of meetings, rallies, product pick-ups, and tape deliveries. Our small home in North Miami is busy with the comings and goings of turning Plan A into Plan B with a seemingly ceaseless flow of people. Almost every day I come home to find people I have never met before. Most of them are in and out and never seen again, replaced by a new face the next afternoon. Others become fixtures. Leo Little, Maureen, and her husband, Pablo—“downline”—are so often present they might as well live with us.

Some of the “upline”—people to whom my parents are the downline—become fixtures as well. The downline mostly go to the upline, but in some cases the upline people came our home. One upliner in particular is seen more often at our home. And then more and more. He seems nearly ubiquitous. In retrospect, perhaps I should have seen that as a problem but, then, he was simply a friend of my parents. Dan Jacobson.

His last name might be spelled with an “e” instead of an “o.” Honestly, I don’t care. What I care about is he seemed to shadow my parents. There appeared to be no time he was not there. In the end he was practically sewn to them.

I do not blame my parents for working so hard at Amway. They wanted better, wanted out of the day-to-day and paycheck slavery. But I can only imagine what they might have accomplished if they had spent as much energy in other endeavors. My mother would not return to college for a degree. Too much time, she would tell me. Again and again I would ask her, “How much time will pass if you don’t?” She spent nearly two decades working Amway. I am not sure what she got of it.

I know what I got of it. Shadows.

* * * * * * * *

I am fifteen years old. I am in my family room. My parents are not here. Dan is, though. He has sat next to me on the couch and I think nothing of this. He has often been here, arriving before my parents. He is intelligent, and we talk from time to time as I rarely talk with those my own age.

I am being asked about school. I am being asked about one subject, then another, then still another. Somehow, the conversation leaves topics of the mundane and turns obliquely toward matters personal, but I am not opposed to having someone to talk with.

But as I speak—I seem to remember my voice getting soft, becoming somewhat sad—his hand moves to my shoulder. It is a comfort and an indication of understanding among those who know and trust each other. I am to trust this man, or so I would believe by how often my parents have him over, how continually he is in my home. All signs I should trust him. What it was, however, was distracting, as his other hand moved to my fly, began to fumble, to reach for the zipper, and I am confused, unsure what is happening, cannot believe the reality of what is occurring. It cannot actually be, and in moments, as the zipper begins to lower while he kneads through the dungarees, I come to the realization that he really is doing what I think he’s doing and I move back and away with a sharp, sudden start and he looks at me in disbelief and. . . . All else is shadow until the night.

* * * * * * * *

What happened next I cannot say. I remember nothing of the remainder of the day. Was it morning? Afternoon? None of this do I recall. Perhaps it made an impression upon on me insufficient to have warranted recall, or perhaps I have buried the memory and, then, not wanting to know that I have been party to my own duplicity, have repressed the memory of the suppression. Whatever the explanation, the rest of the day following the encounter is blank. Time seems not to exist until the evening, when I found my mother. I do not know if I told her after much thought, or thought not about it at all and informed her with an air of of-course-I-would-say-something. I do not remember if I told her easily, or with trepidation. But I remember the conversation, though my recollection is devoid of emotion: I remember it as though transcribed and given to actors who have been given the direction, “Dry, dry, dry. These words mean nothing. Say them. Just say them.”

In the kitchen, that afternoon or evening I tell my mother. I stand next to the open accordion door that separates the entrance of the kitchen at a right angle with the front door from view. It is messy, as usual. I relay the story. Is she upset? I cannot recall. What her emotions were I cannot recall. I can only remember her telling me that we must not tell my father. He might do something rash. He might do something to him, might hurt him. We would not tell my father to protect my father. She will talk to Dan. She will tell him what needs to be told. Nothing else was said, and my memory ends here.

Does he still show up at the house? I must imagine he does. After that, time passes. I am sixteen, meet my future wife. I am eighteen and leave home, go to college, move in with Lee, work at overcoming shame and hatred of my body. I am twenty and get married, become a father.

I hear stories. More people molested. He is divorced by his wife for cheating, and it matters not a bit if it has been with women, men, minors. I could not be the only victim; though he was unsuccessful with me, surely others were not, are not able to stop him, choose not to fight, not stave off. Surely some give in. What is the chance I would be the only one? But still, no one said anything. I did what I, at fifteen, was supposed to do: told. I gave the adults the chance, was asked to say nothing. I trusted them, and more people were hurt.

Some years pass. I am in the car with my father in Ft. Lauderdale. How many years later? Ten? Has a decade passed? I don’t know, but I have decided this day I will tell him. Time has come and gone and he will know now.

It is difficult but I blurt it out. He looks placid. Tells me he knew. Didn’t you do anything? No. What was there to do? He was a business associate. Why cause trouble? Why say anything else?

I don’t. I am silent. I am silent for a long time.

Home, I tell Lee. She can believe it barely as much as I. It is a long time before I speak with my father again. His presence has the substance of shadow.

* * * * * * * *

Gainesville. Some years later. My home near the university. My father calls and we speak. All of a sudden, he says, “Oh, and Dan says to say Hi. He’s in Boston.”

For a moment, I cannot speak.

I think. Slowly the answer seeps from my mouth. It has been years and years and now this breach. I cannot imagine I have just heard what I heard, cannot imagine it was said. Said by my father. I hear the answer as I slowly, quietly, say it.

“Tell Dan to take a gun, walk to the center of Boston Commons, put it in his mouth, and pull the trigger.” And immediately, loudly, away from the mouthpiece, “Lee, it’s for you,” and put down the phone, immediately exiting the house. I walk.

Before widespread cellphones, which I might not have taken with me regardless, I had no way of telling Lee why I walked out. No physical way. No emotional way. I could not make my mouth speak. A way for her to reach me would have been no use. I could not have spoken. I don’t think I could have been held, stopped, slowed. I walked for two hours. Where, I don’t fully remember. The neighborhood, the woods, University Avenue, 34th Street.

Upon arriving home my wife looks at me. She had a short conversation with my father and tells me he had no understanding of what he did, what he said. She says some unkind words about him, then some even less kind. Then, she just looks at me and asks if I’m OK. I am not. I have come home only because I didn’t want to further worry her, as she is my light while the outside world was reducing to shades of gray and the inner world to shadow.

* * * * * * * *

I have been asked to go on a trip. To make the trip affordable, I’ll have to share a room with a fellow. No. I’d rather not. Deep, deep inside, I do not trust this man I have not met.

I have few male friends. This is not a surprise to me. I wish I did, could, but I cannot bring myself to trust them.

While I have managed to forgive much which I have gone through—most of what people might have done to me, in error, on purpose—I cannot seem to, have not been able to, forgive this one man and, perhaps, my father as well, for having allowed this person to, what? Live? Exist? No, that isn’t it. I have not forgiven him for giving what appears to me a nod to the action, for not telling me it was wrong, for acting like nothing happened.

Something did happen. In my mind, it happens again and when it does, my soul shrinks, shards fall, parts of living soul die, fly, shrivel. The lights dim and I am again covered by shadow. It is shadow all the time.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2006 in Family, psychology, Social

 

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