Thursday, June 5, 2008
Feeling pretty useless, worthless right now. Thought I would try to write something. Writing this without the slightest idea of what to write. Then, I remember this, something I wrote when I thought I had something to write about. It is called, Michael.
The southern California sun is undeniable.
If one could see from beneath a shroud?
I’m in the back of the van with keyboard and cello, somewhere in Orange County, beneath the Orange Curtain as they say. I get a call from an old friend. But I miss it so I have to listen to his message.
I don’t have a chance to call him until I get back home to San Francisco.
I call Michael. His father’s had a series of heart attacks and is on life support. Michael sounds somewhat upset. He manages to tell me what’s happened and then falls apart at the end.
I tell him I will call him the next day. He and his sister are trying to figure out what happens next. What to do. The next day I call him and they’re still trying to figure it out.
At the end of our conversation, he seems to falter again, becoming even weepy. I don’t know what to say to him, so I say goodbye.
Two days later I get the call. He and his sister sat in the room with him as the nurses and attendants removed all of the equipment. It was 5:30 in the afternoon. The sun was just barely receding, loaming around the tops of the mountains. He and his sister sat in the room until 9:30 the next morning, when suddenly, their father ceased to exist. He lay there, a silent memory, becoming smaller and smaller and then seemingly tucked away.
I talk to Michael until it seems he is finished. We talk about old friends and how we used to get into fights. Go looking for fights. Girls. Boys. He says that it’s to be a traditional Jewish funeral. I’ve never been and I immediately think about the wooden coffin. The yarmulke. I think about my own father. I’m pretty broke so I can’t really afford to go back down to So Cal. I feel shitty about it. Michael offers to pay for a flight. In the end, he and his sister talk me into it. I feel badly because I don’t want to be a burden on them, especially at this time in their lives. Quietly Michael whispers into the receiver, “hey! If it means anything, my dad left me a shit load of cash.” I say, perhaps overly so, “really? That’s awesome.” Michael says, “I’d rather have my dad.” I feel shittier now. We agree that I will fly down for the funeral and he will drive me back to S.F. He needs to take a drive and get away from it all he says.
I wrote this exactly one week ago today.
Micheal got up early this morning while I was still asleep, the sun not yet up, and drove back home.
I had every intention of writing a story that might be funny. Sad…and funny. I was sure that in writing what I considered then to be prologue, by story’s end, would wind up being, in the very least, “messy.” Sad, funny…and messy. I was convinced, that once Micheal and I got to San Francisco, it would be one endless taxicab ride to the strip clubs where he would, as he would put it, “get laid.” I would pay the entrance fees and watch an “international” parade of debutantes; bad, bad girls flashing their tits and plotting, conjuring up ways to make their daddies smile, paternal and otherwise. He’d spend close to two thousand dollars on couch dances and maybe a good hard rub, only in the end to fall deeper into a black vortex of shame, hatred and regret. In my story, I’d concocted what could only be called over-embellishment, when late one night, Michael and I would score some ecstasy and really, “bare our souls” to each other. We always had, I don’t know why it should have changed over the years, done these things. How many late nights I’d spent with him arguing anything and nothing at all, marveling in each other’s uneducated intellects. How many times I’d recall, staring at the top of his shining bald scalp, all the cruel, fucked up things my father had said about, “The Jews!”
In truth, there were only a couple instances that might be found to be of any humorous bent.
Getting drunk with his family, who, in the past, have been pretty much tea-totaling “re-formed” Jews. I hadn’t seen his sister in at least ten years. She and her husband, a year before had undergone gastric bi-pass surgeries, and were now basking in their new lives of thinness. Truth be told, his sister scared the shit out of me when she showed up that first night. I could not believe what I was seeing. For a useful bit of comparative thought, though I usually shutter at such derisive and unimaginative measures, just imagine, a stick next to a tree, and you will begin to imagine the magnitude of my reaction to her startling wait loss and undeniable transformation. We’re all sitting around in the back yard of his sister’s newly financed, “dream back yard,” complete with swimming Jacuzzi and water falls, when I find myself altogether suddenly engrossed in a slightly inebriated conversation with his sister’s husband about Calvin and his years at Bob Jones University. That reads as if Calvin attended this notoriously “flat headed” school. Never my intention. But the wine, straight from the central valley I’m told by his sister, continued to pour. Tongues waggled, toes twittled, a few toasts to the dearly departed. Silence. And then more silence.
The Rabbi recited the 23rd Psalm, first in Hebrew and then in English. But not the standard King James Version, no, it was of a decidedly more modern translation. So, those in attendance, who thought it necessary or perhaps even required to recite aloud, found themselves accidentally mumbling like a teenage girl who thinks she knows the words to a popular song, at times lost. I felt stupid in my disposable yarmulke. Now and then, someone would look up and then peripherally for some sort of assurance. Blessed Assurance I believe is what they call it. For once, I felt like my father’s son.
An old lady chorus group, which called themselves The Angels Choir, sang an old diddy called, “Always. “ I don’t know if it was the song or the sad drooping lilac’s singing, bound to grace, inescapably, but I did cry. But every single one of them saw right through me. They did not see my tears. I do not know why I think they would. They saw right through me and out past the stain glassed windows whose normal depictions of The Stations of The Cross were now covered with simple and plainly painted clay Stars of David. The coffin was wood, covered with strangely bright orange and red lilies. Too bright, I thought.
And then I found out, apparently, on the morning of the funeral, that I was to be one of the poll bearers. This was fine. I’d never done it before. I figured, why not, if not just for the experience. And it WOULD have been just fine, just fine. If, that morning, if upon waking, before anyone told me of my entailed duties, I hadn’t smoked three whole joints!
When the hearse arrived I was summoned by the funeral director to hither come, so I hithered accordingly. He was a pock marked little man with skin the color of pale yellow cheese. He wore tinted aviator glasses and his cheap shirt was at least one size too big. His collar looked comical and if you looked too closely you might see some small speck of dried blood just on the crease. I thought it really strange to be suddenly carrying the remains of a beloved family member, of a beloved friend, along with five other men, none of whom I’d ever even met. A quick perusal saw one extremely tall bald man, a well-dressed, youngish black guy behind me, and a thin man with salt and pepper hair in a very bad suit, navy blue, behind the black guy. Then across the way, standing with the tall guy were two guys whom I cannot for whatever reason recall at all. We were quickly, one might call it, “on-the-job-training,” instructed as to what to do next. Whilst this was happening, in an unexplainable attempt to avoid eye contact with the others, I looked over and saw a rather large mound of dirt, covered with a green astro-turph tarpaulin, and next to it, a most undeniable hole. There was shining, chrome…stainless steel, metal scaffolding stationed around the perimeter of said hole, and beneath it, framing the rough edges, were long wooden planks. Then I saw the rabbi, and not just the rabbi, but another guy who it turned out was the director and caretaker of this specific Jewish part of the cemetery, now both standing on the boards, as if to test their strength. And these were not large men. In fact, they were quite small. The boards sprung up and down with a certain comical BOING! I surmised further that from where I was standing, I would be forced to carry the casket with my left hand. I thought I’d take a quick survey of these nameless strangers to try and find out who would like to switch with me since I was no southpaw. But buy then it was much too late. The funeral director, bony hand like a bleached poplar branch outstretched, swung open the back of the hearse, reached in and unscrewed a stainless steel latch that bracketed the casket to the hearse floor. We were told to stand with our carrying arms inward and to face forward. This was easy enough I thought, although once the weight of the thing was separated from the horizontal bracing of the hearse it became considerably heavier. I felt suddenly very week. Why didn’t I get on the right side! I would surely drop the damned thing and then no amount of cleverness could explain everyone’s subsequent horror. But by then we were halfway to the grave. As we approached, suddenly I realized that the mound of freshly unearthed soil was piled much too closely to the actual grave. We were less than three feet away when suddenly I froze. All eyes were on us. I realized then, that we were to walk up and onto the boards. This just couldn’t be. We would surely snap the wooden planks into, causing the whole thing to collapse, and subsequently we would all land somehow less than respectfully square in the middle of irretrievable and repugnant regret. Standing dead still now, only a few feet from the grave, suddenly the funeral director gave a motion for us to change positions. And then, as if trained professionals, somehow all six of us did just that, and suddenly found ourselves facing one another, staring dead into each other’s eyes, all twelve of our hands bone white, now bracing the coffin. Once we got to the edge of the grave, I heard someone say, “Step up and onto the boards.” I turned to the funeral director whose lips were tightly pursed and seemingly stained purple. Next, holding tightly to the casket, all six of us turned our bodies sideways and slowly proceeded to navigate, inch by inch, across the boards. I felt sort of silly walking this way, and if not for sheer necessity, I might have even found it all quite humorous, like those racy black and white cartoons from the 30’s depicting black faced vaudevillians doing voodoo dances and singing about Alabama or The Devil in Ole Black Joe. Once the weight of not just the tall bald man, the young black guy, the two aforesaid and hitherto anonymous men, the guy with the salt and pepper hair in less than attractive attire, myself and the casket were completely, that is, the full weight, on the planks, I felt them, the planks, suddenly give, slightly. This was it! I panicked! But just as my stomach sank and I swallowed real hard, we somehow continued on and across the length of the grave, finally making it all the way across. And then leaning clumsily forward, the six of us held our breath as we let go of the casket, letting it fall onto the straps which miraculously caught it and held it in place, taking the burden from us. The six of us disappeared into the crowd never to see each other again.
And then, just as I thought the worst of it was over, just as the rabbi turned the shining silver crank to lower the casket into the grave, everything suddenly stopped. The coffin froze. It would go no further.
My name is Michael Blume. I have recently been made an orphan. In the literal sense only I suppose. Can a grown man be called or call himself an orphan? I’m in San Francisco. I guess I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, early I guess. I think I just got off the bus at the wrong place. I’m on Van Ness and Market. I stand at the bus stop. A green trolley rolls on at a snail’s pace but somehow sounds thunderous from the rails below. The wind is really whipping up a fury. I am a lousy Jew. We used to call it reformed. I guess some still do. I don’t know shit about…Judaism? Is that what it’s called? I’d ask my dear old dad if he was still with me. I’d call him up and I would say, “hey dad! Why is it exactly that I don’t know squat about being a Jew?” He’d mumble something into the receiver, all insulted and shit, and probably hang up on me. Or else he’d make a joke. A really bad one. He’d say, “Son, did you know that we had relatives who died in Auschwitz?” I would pause and say, “No dad! Are you kidding? No I didn’t!” He would pause, chuckling, I can hear his exact chuckle right now, and then he’d say, “yeah! They fell out of the guard tower!” This is the extent of my Judaism! Ah now! Ah shit! Now look at that cunt! I bet she could…oh I just know she could suck a fat nut out of my balls! Just fucking look at her! Fucking whore! Who’s paying your rent honey? I start walking toward downtown, what I think is downtown anyway. I need to buy myself a warmer coat. Leave it up to me to get stuck trying to buy myself a coat in freezing cold San Francisco. And that’s exactly what I’m gonna do too. I will not, I promised myself, I WILL NOT go to the clubs. Besides, it’s freaking Monday afternoon. The hot ones aren’t even working yet. But you can never tell. Most of those places nowadays have a rolling stock of fresh pussy in shifts like a Chrysler plant. I really am a horrible person. Listen to me! My dear old dad would probably be making like a fag dancer turning pirouettes in his cold grave if he could see me now. I’m disgusting! I’m a fucking pig! I'm supposed to be mourning here! In mourning! Whatever the fuck they call it! I don’t even know what they call it! That thing Jews do when someone dies and they rip up their clothes or whatever? What a fucking dick! I guess these days...they don’t rip their clothes up anymore? The rabbi gave my sister and me these little black silk pins to wear in our lapels, had a torn piece of silk ribbon or whatever. And of course I’ve freakin’ lost mine already. Dad would have known what they call it. What a worthless piece of shit I am! I could be walking forever! Geez! Where the hell am I? Fuck it! I call the cabby over. “Mitchell Brothers!” I say without taking a beat. The driver drives on in even less time. The next thing I know I’m in a toilet stall trying to get a rubber on my dick. I put ‘em on just in case I have an accident. Some of these little girls can really get me worked up. This place is famous for it.
The rabbi quickly got to his knees, lowering his head nearer to the coffin, as he briskly waved his hands under the casket feeling blindly into the emptiness for some unforgivable obstruction. Crisscrossing his arms beneath the coffin in a fevered and suddenly panicked motion, he looked like a magician out to prove something or perhaps the rabbi thought someone…or something was…holding up the proceedings…for some reason. Then, there was a short sigh of relief when finally the casket slowly began to move again.
This cunt thinks she’s gonna get every fucking penny in my pockets. Fucking whore! Probably will. Look at her. Can’t be a day over twenty. Bet she knows a trick or two. Next thing I know I’m in a back room. These girls really know how to take care of you. She won’t let me touch her cunt but she’s okay with touching me. Through the jeans of course. She’s got my dick worked up and in my pants. She’s gathering up the fabric around my crotch and I swear she’d put it all up in her filthy hole if she could, jeans and all. Ah gees! This one’s really giving it her Union all today. Ah gees! But it’s too late. All unbeknownst to her, she’s pulled the rubber off my dick and I’m cummin’ in my jeans. FUCK! I walk outside the club, watching myself in the reflection of the brass doors as I take my jacket off and wrap it around my waist so no one can see the cum stains. FUCK!
Back at his sister’s new house I learn the whole story, what actually happened at the graveside. It appears that ten years earlier, when they’d buried their mother, somehow the director of the Jewish cemetery and the people, who do the actual burying, put their mother in the wrong spot. Or…that is…they marked it wrong with the headstone. At any rate, the morning they dug the grave for their father, they found the coffin, that is, the remains of their mother, in the same hole. While his sister retells of the horror, I find myself staring into her fancy waterfall in her new swimming Jacuzzi, suddenly recalling something that happened to my own family years before. My father was downright indignant with the funeral director I remember; as they’d somehow managed to misspell my grandfather’s first name on the headstone. I rest my arm on the table and notice that I’ve managed to get a little sun burned these last few days. Then I recall the face of the rabbi as he attempted to make right a very wrong situation, his face getting redder and redder.