I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son (9 page)

BOOK: I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son
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The kid in the AMB gear skipped close enough to the platform that I could hear him yelling “FUCK THE FRONT! FUCK THE FRONT!” as his bottles netted the air. The Axe Murder Boyz closed their set by shrieking, “Fuck the whole world except the motherfucking juggalo family!”

I was disappointed with myself for having missed both nights of Flashlight Wrestling, and this despite the program’s adjuration to “FUCK YO SLEEP grab a six pack a bag of that fluffy green a flash light and join us ringside.” But I was ready for BloodyMania 4, the biggest event of the Juggalo Championship Wrestling circuit.

I showed up early, a few minutes before 1:00 a.m., yet the three sets of bleachers were already full. When I sat down on the grass, I was quite surprised to find I was next to Adam and his massive twin brother.

“Adam!” I said. “Where’ve you been all week?”

“You are so uncomfortable, ninja,” he said. The flood lamps were chaffed with bugs, so light flurried about his face like TV static.

“Dog, we know you’re uncomfortable.” He didn’t look at me directly; his eyes were strabismic. He was probably quite high. He had a sweating phalanx of beers on the dead grass in front of him. “We seen you walking around all the time, never sitting down. ‘The Orbiter’ is what we call you.”

“It’s because I’m writing about this. I’m going to write the good juggalo story, give you dudes a fair shake.” I pulled out my
wad of etched Brawnys. “I want you to help me. Tell me, will you ever stop being a juggalo, or is it like the mafia? How come when you guys start listening to Psychopathic, you stop listening to everything else?” A bit of a gulp and then, “Why does everyone hate you?”

“Nah, man, I’m not going to speak for us. I’m not going to be no spokesperson. There are so many juggalos, and, like, you don’t know me.”

The Weedman and Officer Colt Cabana entered the ring. Officer Cabana was the heel, so he took it to the Weedman in the early going.

“Do me a solid, dude. No juggalos will talk to me because I’m not a juggalo.” Officer Cabana was using his baton on the Weedman whenever the referee’s back was turned. The crowd demanded redress.

“Bet it’s not that they don’t like you, but cuz of this,” Adam said, flicking the enormous VIP pass around my neck.

Contrapuntal chants flared up: “YOU’RE A BITCH!” and “WE WANT BLOOD!” Adam’s brother keeled over onto the grass.

“It’s like, we’ll never read what you write about us. You can write whatever you want about us, and everyone’s going to believe it. What difference does it make what I say? You’ve got the power. Plus, I give no shits.”

In the bleachers, juggalos stood and gestured emphatically at Officer Cabana. Each painted face sang its own curse. None was comprehensible, but all together the juggalos looked like a frontlit audience of nattering holy fools.

Officer Cabana climbed the top rope and told the crowd, “I am the law!” Juggalos hailed him with whatever was at hand. Full beers, chicken wings. A dead fish landed several feet short. I watched a mother take a shitty diaper off a baby and hand it to a man who spun it like a discus over the ring.

“What you should write, though,” Adam went on, “is why do, like, motherfuckers in New York or whatever—how do those motherfuckers think they’re better than me if, like, making fun of me is still okay with them? You know what I’m saying? It’s like they think they know me, and, like, know what’s best for me, is what pisses the fuck out of me. Motherfucker, not everyone wants to be you, you know what I’m saying?”

The Weedman began his comeback when someone hustled him a joint from the bleachers. I was exhausted.

“You know, I always wanted to be a professional wrestler,” Adam said.

A juggalo on a bicycle shadowed me on the ten-minute walk back to my tent. Out here, the night sky was unlidded. The moon seemed Zambonied. Did you know our moon is the only one in this solar system to have been created out of its captor planet? It’s true. Billions of years ago, something the size of Mars slammed into proto-Earth and kicked up detritus that conglomerated into the moon. Much of the detritus came from that Mars-size projectile, but the moon and the earth are more alike molecularly than they are different. It’s that the moon is this ashen doppelganger. They say it smells like spent gunpowder.

Before I turned off the path, the juggalo on the bicycle kicked me in my ass and said, “Fuck off!”

That third night a huge midwestern thunderstorm finally rolled in and inveighed. I had to sprawl like a starfish to keep my tent on the ground. Purple lightning lit the inside of it like thoughts in a head. Outside, three guys from Rochester sat around a sheltered fire and talked about the juggalette they had slept with in succession. “I fucked the shit out of that bitch,” went one.
“Listen to me, I sound like a proud dad, but that preteen pussy was doing some very fucking adult shit,” went another. I don’t think I can convey how terrified I was of them seeing the coal of my cupped flashlight as I transcribed their conversation. I consider myself a connoisseur of low-pressure systems, and I was impressed with this storm. Serious midwestern thunder unfurls. It made me think of dead fists blooming.

At dawn I pulled up my stakes in the rain. The low moon was still visible. I would miss the Insane Clown Posse concert that caps off every Gathering. On my way out of the grounds, four juggalo hitchhikers ran into the path of my rental car. I did not slow down, and they jumped out of my way.

The teenage girl behind the counter at the lone two-pump station in Cave-In-Rock had angled a boom box so that it blasted Taylor Swift at the door. I lurched in, sopping and rank, my legs sheathed in mud. She was all freckles and crinkled church dress. After so many juggalos, I thought she was a seraph.

“The pump won’t stop, so be honest,” she said. “Are you part of that thing? Are you honest?”

I told her I was leaving it.

“We don’t like those people,” she said. “Those people aren’t like us here.”

*
ICP and Eminem had a long-running beef that began in 1997, when Eminem was a little-known battle rapper about to release
The Slim Shady
EP. He was passing around a flyer at a club re: his release party. The flyer read, “Featuring appearances by Esham, Kid Rock, and ICP (maybe).” Eminem handed one to Violent J. This being the first time the two had ever met or spoken, Violent J objected to Eminem’s presumptuousness. After that, barbs went back and forth. Eminem called ICP talentless; ICP contended that Eminem was a commercial product masterminded by Dr. Dre and MTV. They recorded a parody of “The Real Slim Shady,” entitled “Slim Anus.”

9/19/13

Ten minutes after deplaning, I had two voice mails from Dad:

“Kent, goddamnit, it’s your father. The degree of difficulty here is quite large. Call me back.”

“Kent, Jesus,
upstairs.
Are you
upstairs
?
The plan was always
upstairs,
departures level. Oh Christ, the meter maid.”

Every time I visit, I have hopes that my soufflé of good humor will stand for longer than it takes to drag a suitcase to the curb. And, every time, that soufflé immediately, flatulently collapses.

He didn’t bring the Taurus to a stop. “Who’re you sexting?” he asked as I jogged alongside the car, my eyes on his supplementary messages. “Or are you looking up porn already?” I slid in, reached across the gearshift, slapped the top of his head, hugged the man.

“Here, take this.” He handed me a 24-ounce Coors Light in my old insulated lunch box. “This is a pain in the ass for
some
people, you know.”

On the way back, he nattered incessantly. Exasperatingly. Misremembered local history and recent commercials he’s liked and Mom’s newest efforts in her campaign to disenfranchise him, often shoehorned into the same sentence. I honestly wonder sometimes if he needs to talk like sharks need to swim.

“San Francisco, man. The city that meant the end of America. Where else would an old sailor want to live?” He turned to look out the driver’s-side window. He pointed toward his former naval base with one hand and his former favorite bar with the other. “Back before it was pink shirts drinking claret, you understand.” I reached for the unattended wheel but was batted away. “Beer for a dime, mixed drinks for a quarter.

“Which reminds me—I want you to get that scholarship shit out of your Ryan article,” he said. “I didn’t have a scholarship at Vanderbilt, okay? I don’t want people thinking ‘stolen valor.’ My two years wound up before I saw combat, so I reupped and went to fight
my
war of
my own
volition.

“I know it’s your job to be a nibshit—but you have this habit of identifying me in stories and then misreporting the truth.” I pitter-pattered thumbs against my phone to get this down. He said, “Stop it with your nibshit machine. This is important.”

Lately I’ve gotten the sense that he is as horrified by the course of my maturation as I am. Maybe not
horrified.
But I suppose he and I both were wrong to think that this would shake out any other way.

Because this seems to me inborn. An inherited distemper. At first—seven years ago? ten?—I’d wake up feeling a few degrees foreign to myself. This I ascribed to hangovers; I choked down a BC Powder and walked it off. But now, I look in the mirror and see the transformation completing itself, to my shock and awe, à la
Teen Wolf.
Now, I am become Dad, destroyer of beers.

“What’re you … ah … working on in your spare time these days?” he asked some moments later, pausing like a hostage negotiator waiting for his men to get in position. “Something other, actual people might be interested in?”

I waggled the tab from my Coors, folded it into a microshank, and stabbed it into the top of the can, to smooth and enlarge the pulls I was taking. “Eh,” I said. “Fuck ’em.”

That right there’s the problem. This insoluble callousness—this gall—at my core. An agglutinated little pebble of ambivalence, fatalism, correctional laughter, obstinacy—the dregs of what I figure normal people discharge over time, and with relative ease. A psychic kidney stone.

All of us Russells behave like we’re in the throes of passing it. But the relief of passing it is inseparable from the long, horrific, painkiller-necessitating struggle of passing it. This kidney stone is also sometimes referred to as Life.

I am so spiteful. I see recollective Sunday brunches among friends, and I want to walk up to them and ask,
You’re all best buds? Really? You’re all ready and willing to bear the weight of love’s deep and diffuse obligations? Oh, word? It’s not just that you’ve self-selected from this sinking ship the people most amenable to your personal brand of resentment and narcissism—your mimetic desire

to float on in a life raft together over bitter water for at least as long as supplies last?
Then I chokeslam myself through their table.

I am so purposefully divisive. Especially in my ill-fated relationships with the similarly self-sabotaging people I gravitate toward. A dog barks loudest at its own reflection, as they say. Do they say that? They should.

My theory has been: human beings are not meant to go hand-in-hand the whole stretch of the way. Or even part of the way. Always to have sympathy, always to be accompanied, always to be understood—that sounds fucking
intolerable.

My praxis has been: carry around a soda can poured with rotgut.

I cannot help but chirp, smirk, and nod—and then relish the blow when it comes. This way, other people are never near enough, nor real enough, to affect me. This way, it’s just me and my refusal. Which, like a mouthful of blood, or grain alcohol, has a taste I’ve come to acquire.

“What you do … it’s like birthdays,” Dad offered. “You know how I feel about birthdays. Birthdays and writing about your family—these things should only be celebrated when the person involved is a child, or retarded.”

I used to smile at the stories he’d tell about preschool aides approaching at parent-teacher day.
We’re afraid he’s poorly socialized,
they’d admit.
He only plays at playtime when we threaten him.
Which was true. I liked to huddle inside a giant ceramic planter that was shaped like a teacup.

Dad would wave away the aides. He’d pat my head, pick me up, put me on his shoulder, and off we’d go.

“That’s what I’m worried about. You guys,” he said as our car crossed into Marin County. “Don’t get me wrong—young people have always been thieves, dissemblers, and opportunists. But your generation? You guys seem … egregious.”

I guffawed, a little too loudly. Then, as one, we declaimed this new sharing economy. Where agreeableness is popularity, and popularity value. Where well-being, both financial and emotional, depends on the esteem of others. On the traffic driven by their Facebook posts and retweets; on their appraisal of my like- and dispensability.

On the opinions of others, Dad gave his own: “They’re dumbshits.”

On the interest of others: “They’re nibshits.”

The Russell character being both solace and disease of isolation, you understand.

But as soon as we walked into his and Mom’s rented one-bedroom, I found myself caught again in the push/pull of the old relationship. I was trapped by parental gravitation. I was tracing my old trajectory as a filial satellite. Breaking free was hard if not impossible. Escape velocity: high.

For instance, not a moment after dumping my dirty clothes into the hamper, I could hear Dad singing out in falsetto, “O precious baby boy! Your sandwich awaits!”

When I walked to the kitchen counter, he was up to his third knuckle in the mayo jar.

“My man, I’m dying,” he said.

“The hell you are. Gonna bury us all.”

“Nope. This is it. This is the end.” His voice was trebled with congestion. He says he’s been phlegm-glutted for over a month now; he’s convinced Mom brought back some riverine pestilence from a rafting trip proposed by her brother that he refused to go on.

Mom had by that time retreated to bed, beat as she was from another eighteen-hour day spent ironing out contractual real-estate minutiae. It’s been this way since Hurricane Andrew. Mom would come home late; I’d bury my face in her shoulder pad, ask, “How was work, Ma?” She’d answer, “Work was work.” Then she’d spend the rest of her night working at the kitchen table, winning that bread. Weekends were for cleaning and teaching Sunday school.

BOOK: I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son
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