1955 to 1959: Como Park, Minn.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
((…or, Fat-face) (a sad tribute, short story))
Reno, was a fat-faced person. You’ve seen that kind, cheek-bones barely seen, if seen at all, chin flopping over another lookalike chin, and forehead one layer of fat over the top of another, everything, total, making for a lopsided roundness to a human head; and the nose suck into the head, like a little sparrow on the flat part of Mount Rushmore. Everything a bit pudgy, like a dough-boy, about him.
We all liked him in the neighborhood, even if he was a fat offence to our eyes, and thought if not the whole of humanity thought likewise: cumbered with his presence, perhaps we were all a little too belittling at times, and looked at him wrong.
By and large, it was as it was, that is how we saw him, not that he done us any wrong, or ill turn. Quite the opposite. But the evil he done was to himself, and family and quite deep it was. Drug related.
He got so entangled with drugs as to define clearly, or give a definite analysis of what he was doing in words. We all take the crooked path, at some period in our lives, we do something we never dreamed we’d do, but it’s only for a fleeting moment in our lives, or perhaps period, but it ends: at least for most of us it comes to some kind of end. You say: “I do not like this lifestyle.”
We do not know who whispers this inside our heads, our brain, but it says, what it says, perhaps an angel. God uses other sources as well, like books, and common folk, and short stories like this, etcetera.
Some don’t beat the odds and have taken such a liking for such a lifestyle, that is all encompassed, and death is the only relief for such a person, and it comes in an assortment of packages: I have seen this side of life too much for my liking. And so it was with Reno, and drugs.
When Reno was in high school, he and I was in the same high school, Washington High, in St. Paul, Minnesota, 1963-1965, he was such a happy go lucky fellow. An optimist you might say. Always with a smile and laughing. Everything was hunky-dory, with him. Curse him, I could never quite reach that plateau. The fat-man always happy was at times annoying. The funny big clown. It didn’t bother me when other men laughed, but when he did, it made me stop laughing, don’t ask me why, I don’t know but it did. I took a double-take.
It somewhat humbled me, this face and laugh, and stuck on me like white on rice. He had a kind of gargantuan laugh. It would make the noonday, evening or morning whirl, jar, hang on guitar strings, and spoil my revelry. I think he dashed the birds with his laugh: “Ha! Ha! Or “HO, ho!”
Once we went to his parent’s cabin hidden in the woods of Spooner, Wisconsin. A good part of the Cayuga Street gang went, and surprisingly his parents showed up, late that evening. We all figured he’d buckle under, like a dog digging a hole to hide, but he didn’t.
“It’s nothing guys,” he said, “but it looks like we’ll have to leave real early in the morning before they wake up. She wanted to kick us out tonight but I asked her: where we would go, and she’d be the cause of an accident since we’re half loaded with wine and beer!”
I looked at it at the time as his parents figured as to us being some poor dumb beasts who strayed into forbidden pastures, at her son’s leading us down the crooked path, and took pity on us. And perhaps she did: she owned this bar and restaurant out in the dark forest of who knows were, we’d have never found our way out. No streetlights, no houses nearby, not anything.
Reno had an old bird, a fat old parrot that talked, he said it was over 100-years old, or about 22-years old compared to human kind’s counting, and he was only seventeen at the time. It was always in his kitchen, by the back doorway. When I came visiting, I’d nearly bump into the big cage; I’d mock the bird when he spoke to me, or spoke generally. And when Reno caught us fighting with words, he’d laugh, thinking I suppose thinking, I was dumber than the bird. Was there ever such an impossible person! He was surely a character. No matter what, he lived what I perceived gaily—and I don’t mean ‘gay’: in those teenage years; he was my age.
Serious he could be, but less than serious mostly.
And then I went off to San Francisco, and off to the war thereafter in Vietnam, and didn’t see Reno for a decade or more, he had gotten married, and had a few kids. As I strolled down to his house one afternoon, to greet him after so many years, it was only Judy his wife at the house, Judy was also from our high school days, same school, not quite from same neighborhood, but one nearby. I was surprised to see her, didn’t know he had married her. I remember her as being quite shy, but this day she was quite outspoken. Him not being on the premises, his wife saucer-eyed, and said, with a chuckle,
“Ha…” the funniest uncouth expression on her face.
“Let me tell you,” she said, “He’s not the same person you knew back in High School!”
To what I gathered from the ongoing conversation, he was out buying some drugs.
“Oh Chick!” she cried, a great big disguised look on her face, as my face slowly went sour, “He’s seldom home, I’m afraid he may not even come back.”
I had stopped drinking at the time, and smoking, she regarded me with wonderment. I had put away most of my wild side. I left her with her disparity of not knowing what her next step was, if indeed she was pondering on that. The kids crawling back and forth in the middle of the living room on a rug, like rug rats. That was the last time I saw her, and I had not seen Reno, nor would I ever see him again.
Now as far as I remember, Reno, when he did things he was usually pretty neat about it. But in my way of thinking he had resolved to kill himself, intrinsically, with drugs. And in such a fashion it should be looked upon in shame.
I hate to say I was a drunk, and am ashamed of the past—and should be ashamed of the past—but I have buried it, and thus, let it lay with the dead lions. He could not do this.
To me there is nothing more repugnant than chemical abuse, worse than beating a man blind with a stick, naked fist, or whip: the drunk or drug addict just comes back for more and more until he’s dead. It is repulsive, cannot a man die more dignified? Did it not appeal to him? He killed himself in prison, not the slightest possible suspicion of a direct assault, or stabbing or clubbed to death, or shooting, just to this end, drugs. Nothing intelligent involved, he hatched a scheme to drug himself to death… him and the devil. He took the coward’s way out.
He died like a dog fetching a bone, or stick, you throw some drugs at him, into the air, and he runs after it, but to run at once, without hesitation, without laughing. He was left with no more than being a bright animal, but I suppose he died content (I am sorry, I cannot give any more sympathy than this—; he was very likeable, and a dear friend).
No: 1052 (4-28-2014)
Scaling the Edges
Well a week went by; I suppose I might say the days of the week flew by, and summer vacation was sunlit, charming and beautiful. It was a hot summer in ’59, and I seemed always to be looking for a place to cool off. And I went down to Mike’s apartment building this Saturday, it was 6:00 a.m. in the morning, not a sound anywhere, not even a chipper of a bird, or bark from a dog, or the sound of a car tires on asphalt, —everything perfectly still, the road, the building, no people on the sidewalk, it was as if the whole world was asleep, just a few lazy dogs yawning, waking up, searching for food in the garbage cans, trying to tip them over. Even the sky was pale, the mist from the river hadn’t settled down yet, dissipated; Mike’s apartment was a hop-skip-and-jump from the river, I mean it was a five minute walk, but not far. Even the river was still this morning. There was a cool breeze coming from the river too, fanning me fresh, as I threw a rock at Mike’s window hoping to wake him up, he lived on the second floor. I figured we had a full day to do whatever, if we could figure on a journey. I figured if we didn’t go house rummaging, we could go down to the river some and see the riverboats. The door was locked downstairs, and his apartment was on the second floor, I’d have to climb up to his window, and knock on it, lest I break it with these rocks I was throwing. I figured the fog would lift in an hour or so, and if we went down to the riverboats, we could at least dangle our legs in the water, sitting on the bank, if the mosquitoes didn’t eat us up alive. Then got looking up at Mike’s window, I judged the distance I had to climb up, it was three of me in height that seemed reasonable. I climbed up the side of the drainpipe, and reached over to the side window, and I reached for the edge of the windowsill, the window was slightly opened to cool the apartment from the summer’s head, and I saw Mike sleeping, he slept on a cot, his mother slept on a single bed behind a curtain, all in one big room, the kitchen off to the side, and the bathroom was in the hallway, anyhow, so I whispered:
“Mike, are you there…” once or twice.
“Who’s that now,” said his mother. “Mike it’s your friend Chick, where’s he yelling from?”
Gosh all mighty, it seemed like I had woke up the whole world.
“Come on through,” Mike said, twisting and yawning and flopping his feet over the cot.
Soon as I got through the window, under the shade and curtain, with a little help from Mike, I says:
“Did you want to go rummaging around in those old buildings, today?”
“Well, I did a few weeks ago, but they done tore them down now!”
We both then hesitated for the longest moment, while Mike put on his socks and trousers, he had only a pair of shorts on.
“What you want to do?” I asked, because we were both in the half dark.
“Well, if you know something to do, say so!” said Mike, he was still mad at me for not showing up a few weeks back, I reckon, cuss his voice was not normal, more on the hot side.
“Say,” says Mike, “how long you got today to be with me. You always got to go home just when it gets good, you can stay overnight if you like, like you used to do, just call your ma, and I’ll say in the background, ‘Yaw, it’s okay with my ma said it’s okay,’ like we did last time, and we can go down to the river, or we can go running in the tunnels under the Capital and Historical Society buildings or whatever you want.”
It was a year or so since I had stayed over at his apartment. I didn’t mind it but the bathtub was in the bathroom that was in the hallway that everyone used, and we always had to wait for a half dozen adults, and when I was in the tub, I always got a rapping at the door to hurry on up. And I’d never get a proper washing, cuss I wanted to take my time, and let the hot water run until winter came, kind of.
“Say how’s your pa!” I asked.
“He’s in the hospital now, got that cancer stuff real bad.”
“Can he speak?”
“Of course he can speak, but he gets real tired easily.”
“Yes, I heard about that stuff, from smoking too many cigarettes maybe?”
“Maybe so, and maybe because he likes to drink some too, who’s to say, everybody got a reason it seems for it, even the doctors.”
“I bet you’ll miss him!”
“All right, make up your mind what do you want to do?”
“Well,” says I “let’s go to Como Park Zoo, and get our picture taken by that camera guy, we told him we’d be back, but of course that was a month ago,” I remembered.
“We aint no slouch, just because it took all of a month to come back, we kept our word, we’ll tell him so, that we came to get our picture like we said we would, it just took some time to get the twenty-five cents, and I can keep the negative and since it’s your quarter for the movies this week, you can keep the photograph, if he’ll let us?”
“I guess so.” I said.
Then Mike suggested:
“I’d like to see Starkey the seal again.”
“I see him all the time,” I remarked, as if it was boring, and I liked Sparkey, don’t get me wrong, but too much is enough.
It was mostly daylight now, and everybody was getting up and out of bed, I could hear footsteps down the hallways, and his mother was doing some fixing in the other room, as we sat at the kitchen table, and Mike made himself some eggs, and I told him I had Corn Flakes before I left home and a quart of milk, so I wasn’t hungry.
“Chick, you coming through that window again, you going to scare the daylights out of me one of these days.”
“Sorry Mrs. Reassert, but I couldn’t get in through the locked door downstairs.”
“That’s because you’re not supposed to, that’s why they lock it at sundown, if you’d come over at a decent hour, you’d find it open.”
“Yes, Mrs. Reassert.” I said kind of sheepishly. She was a little woman, and always doing for Mike, whatever she could, her husband ill and all, and poorer than a jaybird, all she had, she gave pleasantly. Never denying Mike his friendship with me.
“Well, I got to go do some shopping boys! You going to be here Mike when I come back?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Well, you and Chick eat a big breakfast then.”
“I don’t want nothing, Mrs. Reassert, I ate before I left home, Corn Flakes, or Wheaties, I can’t remember which one now, maybe both, I sometimes put them both together.”
“Well, I’m going to see your paw in the hospital this afternoon, do you want to go along…?”
“Not sure, ma....” hesitantly, in a low humming voice, kind of drawn out in a slur.
“Mike!” she said, with a disappointed look.
“Okay, but it makes me sad to see him like that.”
“Chick can come along if he wants, your father will like that.”
She then went off to do her shopping, and I stood up and Mike says:
“What you thinking?”
“Never mind,” I just didn’t have that planned for the day but I didn’t know how to tell Mike, I couldn’t it would hurt him, but I didn’t want to go to the hospital.
Mike says, a little despondent:
“You can go Chick if you got to, ‘cause I got to stay; pretty soon he’ll be gone, and every time I see him I just feel sick, but I like seeing him, so I got to go, and you can go if you got to, you understand don’t you?”
“Yaw, oh yaw, of course I do, I understand, he’s your dad.”
“Yaw I know you do, and I got to do it—I can’t get out of it. I’ll see you next weekend if you got no plans.”
“We friends, right!”
I felt easy and happy and light as a quill then, as if there was no troubles between us, but I didn’t know what to do with my day now. Then I said quickly:
“Let`s just go out to Como Park, get that picture taken, and we’ll both head on back home right afterwards; we’ll go our different ways, instead of together, haw?”
It most froze him to hear suck talk, in that we’d have to hurry it up, and normally we never were in a hurry, but I fixed the day for both of us like I had fixed a while back the situation with the beatniks, and I was proud I come up with the idea, and it would be the only picture of Mike and I, we ever took together. And I could see what a difference it made in him to that we could kill two birds with one stone.
Note: A chapter of “Youthful Times along the Mississippi” (a 15,000-word story)
“Scaling the Edges” No: 1054 (3-1-14)