Sunday, August 2, 2015
I tried to spit in the face of diabetes at eleven. My old man took me to see a guy who used to work for him, John Smalls, a boozer, a diabetic, a funny fucking guy until he went blind and demented from the rotgut he was guzzling. “That’s you,” my old man said to me, “if you keep fucking around; keep eating that candy, keep ducking outta school, keep fiddling with all those young cunts you been rubbing up against; keep it up and you’re gonna be in a bed just like this one, tubes comin out yer cock; keep it up.” It smelled bad in there: sickly sweet and antiseptic And this neo-Nazi doctor he had me see echoed the death sentence and my mother screeched it so loud it became part of my neural network.
But it didn’t stop me.
There are other forces more powerful than death. And being called “a punk” was one of em.
I laughed at it. Fucked with it. Shot junk behind it. Made it all up as I went. Wrote and published and nodded and played the junkie poet renegade role and made good at it until it just stopped, laughed, blew a fart or two and decided to unmake me; unmasked me; left me naked, broke, and alone. Then for penance maybe, maybe for amusement, it gave me a way to go by speaking with these old fucks who are just as resistant, just as stubborn and had me depend upon them for my continuation. Everyday I spoke with myself. And everyday I was spent. What I never thought would apply to me, did: live this life in the exhaust system too long and you become an end product before your time, come home bone tired, eat something quick and usually tasteless, and get up the next day to do it again. Each night never knowing how you’ll summon the will to get up the next morning to do it again while the question why? is never adequately explained, and it goes on and on and on. It seems like your life has no other purpose except to fuck with you.
Yet, without my consent, I was drawn to some of them and some of these old folks and not so old folks who were saddled with tragedies, great and small, from an early age, I spoke with. Sure, some reminded me of my mother or my father and some reminded me of myself, but some were human, too, all too human. They hailed from all parts of this patch-work quilt of a country and had nothing at all in common, except their shared misery.
And they were all whittled down to the barest of spirit. They might be pencil thin or had so much flesh hanging down and off the sides of their bodies that it flapped with a strong breeze, but they’d all just about had it. If they had to look into another mouth they’d pull the trigger, or cook another meal; palpate another cirrhotic liver or drive some screaming kids to an elementary school filled with madness, lies, and aberrant shooters; their fires wet; their bullets inverted; their shoe heels worn and crooked from bodies bending without their will or intention; their spouses dead; their friends dead; their dreams a film loop of regret and resignation; if the bathroom was any farther than what it was, they’d shit in the bed; if food prices got any higher they’d catch and eat the mice that ran around their apartments or homes; if their children were any more distant they would sew up their cunts and checking accounts; if the doughnut hole any bigger they’d suicide through it; if the landlord evicted them they’d sleep wherever their bodies told them to; their heads were jack-o-lanterns. The music that had kept the electricity on was frayed trying to move through wires that knew nothing of fiber optics. Each had done their time and still they wanted more of it except they’d be hard pressed to think of a reason. The captain had kept them in the dark all these years; their eyes now too dim from cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinopathy, to discern a destination. God was a sleeping pill that long ago lost its potency.
We do our very best to brick up the holes. There’s an invisible upsidedown umbrella that we carry to catch the cement from our labors and the salt water from our failures. However, even English umbrellas can fuck up, even the construction of every painstaking stitch could have its own “give” and a little wetness will get through to you.
Nothing is lost to memory and no trauma goes unrecorded. Not only isn’t it lost, but age has burnished it into a well oiled and well-told lie. The world softens around their edges, the colors prism and the prison we find ourselves in, is mistaken for safety. A few take-off to a hunter’s cabin deep in the woods. Here they are free, free to fuck corpses or build bombs. Most are mathematical or Biblical perverts who’ve ceded control to nature—our most violent progenitor.
I was much more pedestrian in my violence: if I couldn’t get-off by slowing killing myself, I made others miserable instead—without ruffling too many feathers. I’d done most of my damage without losing too much of my shine.
What I choose to call, “love,” was a thousand instances of fear. And disease and death and suffering and silence bracketed by those fears was home; they were as much a part of my day as breathing. There was not an easy minute in nearly sixty years when I didn’t think about my blood sugars and that would send me tripping off to the wonderful world of diabetic complications which would then meander down the primrose path of gauze pads and sponges which tucked me in at night beside a slow odious, hideous and horrifying death: before eating… while eating…after eating…before fucking…while fucking…after fucking…before going out… being out…returning from being out; before work…during work…after work; descending to the subway…in the subway…exiting the subway; feeling a headache coming on…having a headache…not knowing if a headache is a real headache…a fake headache…insulin shock…high glucose…low glucose…stomach pains from too much glucose…ketoacidosis…poisons…toxins…first pecking and then gnawing at my organs; flash bulbs going off in my eyes…pain riding my optic nerve…earaches…backaches…stiffness while going to class…in class…after class; making chicks…kissing chicks…shooting hoops…shooting pool…shooting scum…getting high…being high…coming down from a high…thinking about it…noting it…gauging it… worrying about it…testing it…sticking myself…pricking myself, licking blood droplets off my fingertips, I thought about it…and thought about it…and thought about it some more. A test here…a unit there…half unit here…two and half there…five is too much…easy…take three… maybe four…three and a half and test later. In nearly sixty years of doing this shit, I’ve never missed a shot once—late once or twice, but never missed one no matter how drunk or drug addled I was. There was a German railroad inside my head with Adolph, singing lead soprano, and Goering, Goebbles, Himmler, Spear and Eichmann singing chorus. I was in a Ring cycle all right, jumping through a glucose hoop.
pgs 134-137, Chapter 22, From: THE DEPARTURE LOUNGE
© 2015 Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015
Saturday, August 1, 2015
"The wrinkles and creases on our faces are the registration of the great passions, vices, insights that called on us; but we, the masters, were not at home."
has given me
a lush samba
inside your V.
like cool feathers
across sun baked
& sex starved
with their lover--
who have to look
Greenwich Village, 2015
Friday, July 31, 2015
There's something wrong
with me--of that
I have no doubt.
I woke up
to high heaven.
I can no longer pretend
& the gods
Greenwich Village, 2015
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
The street as far as I could see, from Surf to Neptune, was one long rectangular sandbox. On the corner of Surf, there was a white Toyota SUV with its ass plopped on top of a mailbox. Bruno was shooting it from different angles.
Once we were apes with clubs in caves…and now we live in fishbowls…and got semi’s, I mused. Evolution. Nothing like destruction on a grand scale to bring out the Darwin in all of us. And nothing like those creepy-crawlies, razor-toothed rodents, vipers, vampires, and predators, that foundered, pioneered and settled this great land of plenty to capitalize on their nothingness to somethingness. If only for a second.
Coney Island might have been flayed by Mother Nature, but it was raped by the all too human nature of human nature: Just being alive is enough to bring it out, but being pressed?—brother, watch the fuck out!
The glare from even the slate gray sky, when I turned around to find Bruno, had me shield my eyes. I bumped into something that caught me belt-high. “Look where ya goin,” a woman’s voice underneath me said. I looked down. “Sorry,” I said. “Everybody’s sorry, but nobody looks,” another voice said, coming from next to the first voice. My eyes focused.
“You Angelina?” I said.
“What if I am?”
“I’m Mickey, Mickey Heller.”
“Yeah, so what? We gotta get home and get outta this zoo.”
“Go right ahead, girls.”
My eyes focused and there they were…or weren’t: two women, maybe four and half feet, of sisters, both humpbacked, both pushing shopping carts and both had these decals on the backs of their jackets that I read as they continued their journey home: "That’s Right—We’re Short And We’re Humpbacked—So the Hell What?"
“That’s Angelina and Mary, the Corso sisters,” I said to Bruno.
Bruno fumbled with her camera. “You can take your time, it’s gonna be awhile before they get outta range…Damn, I knew em when I was sixteen, their backs were always fucked-up, but they were funny, shit, were they funny. Don’t look like they’re so funny now, but they’re alive…in this hell hole…damn…maybe the fucked-up are better able to survive fucked-up situations? Shit.”
We trailed them up to Mermaid Avenue. There were more people out on the streets: whores and vampires. The women worked the stroll as they had when I was a teenager, finding the hiked up skirts and the make-up and the lure of a woman’s flesh just a ten dollar bill away. If I were “flush,” if I had another ten, I could rent a stall at The Terminal Hotel, down the block across from the trains and wouldn’t have to duck into a back alley. The vampires were looking for an unlocked car or a store that was already smashed to suck some blood.
“I’ve got an idea,” I said to Bruno, “c’mon, come with me.”
I took her by the hand and we walked back to the train station and to, “Always Available,” a gypsy taxi service. All their cars were practically junkers, and all their drivers had lived in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan. The only thing they were afraid of was going back there.
“How much to Sea Gate?” I inquired.
“That’s a five dollar trip.”
“No, no, no now. Ten dollars.”
“O.K.” I said and me and Bruno got into some kind of lumpy ride that looked as bad as it smelled. I wanted to cruise a little around the area, and for an extra five the driver didn’t protest. On Surf and Neptune Avenues, there wasn’t much to see: sand, driftwood, cars pointing in strange directions, folks trying to put themselves back together…and National Guard troops either patrolling the areas or in makeshift tents giving out food and other supplies. But on Mermaid Avenue though, the Avenue that sits in the middle of the other two, and the most commercial avenue, that’s where you saw the most damage: little stores were pillaged; bigger stores were torn apart, all were looted. People milled about, trying to dig their stores out, or trying to get some supplies from those stores, or trying to “cop” anything: loose cigarettes, a pint of booze, bottles of pills; a babbling old crone angrily worked her way through bags of weepy and brown-spotted onions thrown out from a Key Food store. Nobody bothered her.
On Surf Avenue past the arcades and the carnival, past the stadium where The Met’s farm system played, past the ice skating rink, it was an urban High Noon with the wide avenue pretty much deserted and The Marshals were dressed in camouflage fatigues. They were waiting for Tupac and Biggie to get off the train; it was where the city housing projects began, the Section Eight folks, The HUD housing, the welfare, the disability, the edge of Brooklyn’s own: Bad Guys territory. Black and brown and yellow and poor white trash, young and old and older, cold, hungry, and dazed…standing leaning holding onto others gripping hands of children or bars of strollers, on walkers, in wheelchairs, or on canes or somebody’s arm, they gripped the links of hurricane fences, shook off the sand, tipped a Poland Spring bottle to their lips let slip a Hershey wrapper, a Milky Way foil, threw a piece of gum into the gutter or stuck it to the fence, fingers wiping a grain of sand from their eye, or blotting a tear that fell because of it. They all walked in place and shuffled forward as the line moved an inch, no more. And stretched for blocks. The National Guard and FEMA were giving out water and field rations and blankets and pillows, a roll of toilet paper. They’d set-up shelters in the few schools and libraries that were left in the area, as well as churches. God was the Chief Financial Officer of every poor non-profit in the city and there was a hole in his pocket.
Sea Gate was at the very ass-end of Brooklyn’s Coney Island. It was settled at the turn of The Twentieth Century by rich Protestants, most of who worked as bankers or brokers on Wall Street. They made it private, their own charter, Board of Directors, private police force, private sanitation squad, private beaches, some homes designed by Sanford White, and so exclusive they had their very own private fucking ferry to take them to and from their jobs in Manhattan. It was a round oasis, quirky streets, red brick, herring-boned lined sidewalks, the ocean surrounding it, the cheap carnival and whores and slatterns and ne’er-do-wells, outside their gates.
Hard to know that all evolution contains its very own erosion. Brought about by the end of World War II, and a new middle-class push toward safety and respectability, Sea Gate began seeing an influx of Catholics: Italians and Irish and then a smattering of Jews. And then more Jews. The boroughs began to change and so did Sea Gate; the kids my age got married and moved away and the older folks moved to different deathbeds or coffins. Property which was once very valuable became less so and the community, without much new blood, began the slow decline that continues. A few hotels turned transient, a few apartment buildings turned SRO’s. Homes were razed and the vacant lots remained vacant. Weeds began sprouting through the herring-boned brick, streets remained pot-holed, challenging the transmissions and springs of cars, sanitation was cut to the bone, as the taxes that were once collected were collected no more. Then the Hasidic discovered it. They could afford to give less money for more valuable homes. Especially after turning their homes into synagogues and religious schools, beating the taxes. They came for the water and daily prayers. Now it’s they who want to keep everyone else out and doing more than just praying to make sure that happens.
Sea Gate had no “Gate” left; Sandy had seen to that. The little wooden booth that had windows facing the four sides of the tiny enclosure and that had allowed the one Sea Gate cop that manned it to raise and lower the wooden slat that ran across its entrance to allow residents and visitors in, were no more; they’d been destroyed, as had the police station adjacent to the entrance.
One lone cop stood at the mouth of Sea Gate, nakedly exposed to the elements, supposedly checking ID’s. He probably felt as silly as he looked.
The streets in Sea Gate, never good to begin with, were hardly what you’d call “streets” anymore; they were more like gravel tectonic plates that had shifted and broken-up in the storm, into smaller pieces lying in odd angles on top of or next to one another.
The Sea Gate Center, to my right, where I played basketball and tried to look up the dresses of girls to see a pair of panties…or a cunt hair…oh my God…when I wasn’t on the court, was boarded up and abandoned. Debris—sticks and beams and canvas wraps—had blown from the cabana club a hundred yards away, piled up across the front of the Center’s facade.
In the parking lot next to it—at one time our softball field—sat three FEMA trailers. I didn't see a person waiting to get anything they offered.
On that corner, a block from the Atlantic Ocean, a cheap aluminum lamppost was uprooted from its shoddy enclosure, its body and neck elongated to such an extent that it resembled a Brontosaurus, its tail on the corner nearest us while its head was less than a foot from the mud on the next corner, its one eye busted and vacant.
“They better get to Highway 61.”
“I got 40 red, white and blue shoe strings and a thousand telephones that don’t ring; do you know where I can get rid of these things…” Bruno nasally sang…
“Yes, I think it can be very easily done…” I concluded. “At some point they're gonna have to make some kind of sense about this shit—even if there’s no sense to be made—and go on.”
I decided not to make a decision about seeing my brother; there was some kind of stitch somewhere inside me that was telling me to hold off. So instead of making a right at Sea Gate Avenue we continued on Atlantic Avenue, walking parallel to Surf, the beach blocks. As we walked I saw sign after sign for “Chabad” or Lubavitch, a school of Judaism founded in the seventeen hundreds in Eastern Europe and now the best known Hasidic movement in the world. At first it was this intellectual-mystical sect led by a succession of “Rebbes” begun in Riga and Warsaw, but now centered here in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Its last Rebbe, who was and still is its most treasured Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson who’s been dead since the ’90’s, but no less revered and followed. However, it seemed that God wasn’t playing any favorites on that night: downed trees bisecting homes, cars sitting on cars, power lines dangling from branches and young and old Hasidic eyes looking at each and every foreigner with suspicion, as if they had brought Sandy into their lives.
We got to the corner of Highland and made a left, leading us to the beach. Sand swirled around the falling temperature. The day had begun to give up. There were some people standing in front of their homes with their clothes and other possessions on long picnic tables trying to get them to dry out. I saw table after table with stacks of Jewish Bibles and other Biblical tracts and prayer books, and a few Torahs as well, infused with sand and, for all I knew, God’s tears. If I were so inclined to poetry, I’d say it was a smorgasbord of pain.
Once on the beach, the ocean looked much further away than I remembered it being; perhaps it was just embarrassed? The blue-black waves seemed small from that distance, and foam capped as high as a sailor’s white hat. After all that had happened, and what I’d seen, I wasn’t surprised that the land I stood upon felt as if I’d never grown-up there, and was in this part of the world, any world, for the first time. It wouldn’t have thrown me if I saw dinosaur eggs scattered in the sand…or their bones…or fish walking…or heard jazz coming from the beaks of seagulls. "The Four Quartets" played in and around my head, "Little Gidding" and strings for the unrepentant.
I turned around to face the backs of homes that sat next to the sea, and realized that whatever it was that came up and out of the water was not literature. It was some force that went mad with a pair of scissors, some epileptic barber in the midst of a Gran Mal seizure who was cutting your hair; it was termites and locusts on bad acid; it was something that had been nursing a grudge for centuries. A schizophrenic denied medication, on a subway platform during rush hour, who feared and hated crowds; fingers epoxied on the triggers of Uzi’s, with no limit of rounds to fire, was turned and turned in a maddening gyre, before being given permission to squeeze; a bloodletting so old there was no language to record it. And I couldn't help feeling that whatever it was that came out of the depths, seemed to enjoy getting its rocks off.
It was like meeting a person and they’re nice and attractive and well-spoken and well-dressed and then they turn around and there’s no rest of them; a Hollywood lot where what you see, is not what you’re seeing; you can see what’s left of their organs, their viscera, their entrails. Each home was like one of those plastic toys your parents bought you that showed the front of a man, but in back you could open it and take apart the insides; it allowed you to see the guts of life. Insulation streamed out of the homes, pink or white or blue cotton candy streamers; the homes appeared to have been eaten through; some had everything ripped away, but others were gone in sections that made no sense: bookshelves were intact, holding books, showing their spines, but the desk that they sat above had fallen half into the floor below; closets showed us everything they contained, still on hangers on horizontal poles, the size of the wearer, the tastes of the wearer, the colors, the styles, but they hung in mid-air, teasing the person, if they dare, to come and get them. Kitchens were ransacked, coaches floated next to bathrooms, cars found their way into bedrooms, TV’s, DVD’s, amplifiers, CD’s, guitars, looked comatose on lawns, tacitly acknowledging the sea—which left just enough of each structure for the owner to mourn. Why did it do that?…did it eat enough?…bored?…maybe it had somewhere else to get to, like the Frost poem, and had to get on? Whatever it was, the inhabitants had a lifetime to digest it, and figure it out.
“This is Camus stuff, Auden stuff, that “benign indifference” shit,” I said to Bruno.
“Yeah,” she responded as she snapped away. “Almost surreal,” she began, “hard to believe that what you saw on TV or newspapers, is nothin compared to bein here, right?”
“‘Surrealism eventually becomes realism,’” I said into he wind, “No, it ain’t like bein here,” I offered and felt small even as I said it. “But this is your meat, Bruno…you’ll have a show around this shit, I’m sure.”
“C’mon,” Bruno said.
“C’mon yourself; you will.”
“You’ll be famous…and rich.”
“Bruno, you ‘c’mon.’ You’ll be able to support yourself…and any artist that supports themselves working their craft is rich…You’re gonna be rich.”
She didn’t answer. She kept taking pictures.
“You almost ready to split?” I asked Bruno, “there’s just so much of this shit you can take, and I’ve just about seen enough.” My words sounded as foul as my mood was.
“What about your brother?” she asked.
“No, not today. I’m almost sorry I came here and dragged you with me. Seeing him today, and dragging you with me to do that, would be a mistake.”
The waves just kept lapping in, breaking on the sand and leaving a foam. One after the other after the other.
“Typical. So fucking typical,” I said into the wind, “haven’t seen or spoke to him in a decade, and I bring you out here…It’s bad for him, bad for me, bad for you…Christ”…fucking weaknesses still astonished me.
I turned to look at her and saw her looking at me. “Sorry about this. At least you got some shots…Gimme your phone, wouldya? I’m gonna call him and ask him to come in and meet me in the city—if he needs or wants to see me that badly that’s what he’ll do— I shoulda done that to begin with, and that’s what I’m gonna do now.”
“If that’s what you think you should do,” she said, handing me her phone.
“Forget ‘thinking.’ ‘Thinking’ isn’t my strong suit,” I said, as I grabbed her phone.
“What are you going to say about being here now?” she asked.
“I’m going to lie. I fucking hate lying…but whatareyagonnado?” I punched in his numbers and waited.
pgs 237-246 of 539 From: The Departure Lounge
© 2015 Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Truly everything that is interesting goes on in the dark. One knows nothing of the inner history of people.
Journey To The End of Night
I didn’t have much to pack. I didn’t want to go. But go I had to, and go I did. If there was one benefit to the move, I now had a room to myself. I was becoming more secretive around my folks, and this fit very nicely....thank you very much. I’d become a recording instrument, extremely sensitive to each and every change that I could detect, or predict, in all my worlds.
Seagate is at the ass end of Brooklyn, on the tip of Coney Island. It’s “protected” by a high hurricane fence that runs from Surf Avenue at its southern most end, up and beyond Neptune Avenue on its northern, the entire length, stopping only at the beach and jetty beyond that. The other three sides are bounded by water. Seagate is a private community which has its own uniformed police and sanitation force and maintenance crew. The homeowners pay a tax for this privilege. Created or founded as an enclave for wealthy WASP businessmen and their families around the turn of the twentieth century, it was originally used as a summer respite. Because of these people’s wealth, it had a private ferry that ran them into Manhattan and back again. It was, and to some respects still is, a very pretty place, New Englandish actually. Streets named Lyme, Maple, Poplar and Surf reflected the ambiance and charm. Some of the homes were designed by Stanford White and still stand. Others reflected a similar architectural style, only now they house many families instead of the one they were designed for. As the Jews and Italians began their upward climb and began moving in full time, the wealthy Protestants moved out, and the ferry service stopped. Although the landscape has survived, the place now has the seedy air that many once wealthy, now middle class and poor, parts of New York have, weedy, and in some sections, decaying. Some sidewalks, made from cobblestone still survive. The lighthouses’ iris still turns its red beam.
Beyond “The Gate” is Coney Island, a wonderfully depraved and degenerate playground and carnival where poor and middle-class Jews and Italians with tattoos and shiny hoods’ hairdos (called a “ducks-ass”) roamed. Whole blocks, controlled by mobsters remained virtually white. Working class black families were scattered in two and three family dwellings and in the few public housing projects built in the early, to mid-1950’s. In summer, bus loads of blacks from all over the metropolitan region came to play and bathe in the polluted surf and sea. It was the most fascinating schizophrenic enclave I’ve ever had the pleasure of contending with. There was a romance about Coney Island that was not lost on women; the way memory and love are filaments spinning together like the making of cotton candy is marvelous to behold. If the teller of tales is also a weaver of seduction, then Coney was a perfect playground of myth, my own included.
Presently, Coney Island proper has the corrupt Federal housing glow about it; those cookie-cutter prefab homes line treeless blocks across from rubble-strewn lots. It is a depressed area and has been for a long time. If it still were a slum, it would have more character than it has now. Instead, it is an AIDS patient playing host to itself. Only a few blocks remain relatively unscathed and lifelike. The majority of small businesses are gone, as are the churches and synagogues with the exception of those of the Baptists and the Seventh Day Adventists. If it were simply neglect it might provoke anger. A geometric confluence of politics, bromides, and passivity are the skein upon which the disenfranchised crawl into their graves.
My mind secretes a Coney Island different and intoxicating. First, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, it was relatively safe, alive with peoples and commerce all year long. You could explore, and leisurely note, the different architecture, smells, colors, bars, schools, coffee shops, prostitutes, pool rooms, bowling alleys, games of chance, and chances taken. The flight of childhood into adolescence, always risky, was laced with opportunities for fancy beyond that which was the homogeneity of a single community. This was textured. And beckoning.
Each season on the eastern seaboard has its own definition; the seasons of Coney, especially summer and winter, had drama in no small measure because of each other’s opposites. The summer of course had sharp, rich colors, odors and multicolored invaders; hand held children lost or in flight; lovers above or below the boardwalk littered with food wrappers, condoms, bottles of wine and quarters; the pitch of hucksters and sucker moans; old thick yellow oil of Nathan’s French fries, bubbling vats of steam and huge metal baskets dripping, coming over the shoulder and down into tray tables; hundreds of frankfurters charring on grills, popping with juices hissing; three coasters rolling and rocking; parachute jumpers screaming; ferris wheel lovers spinning crazy into a firecrackered night; and the cops riding into the Mermaid Avenue Lounge on horseback, nightsticks swinging to break up and cause melees on hot humid summer nights as the El above ferried in and carted off those too alive to listen, or too dead to care.
Winter wrapped itself like a Hopper painting around Coney; light like scalpels exposed the solitude of form shuttered and bare; figures given the grace of anonymity for almost three-quarters of the year were violated by their own step; the red lit room in the transient whore’s hotel across from Nathan’s shone with a summer remnant; wool pea coats and beanies hung from store windows; fires burned in trash cans next to fruit stands; the fish counter at Nathan’s was a steam room of smells, and the residents had them all to themselves.
These dichotomies were seamless, like the ones that existed between the Seagate boys vs. the Coney Island boys, and the Coney Island girls vs. the Seagate girls. We were secretly envious of a raw masculinity and a quasi-street life (in this instance mob related), and they eyed a private world, albeit a pretty superficial one at this time, of education, status, and money--without strong-arming anyone. I made it a point to bridge that gap; the toughness I felt I (or more exactly, my body) lacked, the physicality that was subverted and denied to me, I made up for in the friends I cultivated and the life I tried to project. And, as time would prove, any of the most beautiful cock-teasing Jewish Seagate girl’ would jump over three circumcised dicks to get next to one tattoo that read, “Mom.”
pgs 16-18 From: JUNK SICK: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
Published by Norman Savage at Smashwords
Copyright Norman Savage 2010
Greenwich Village, 2015
Monday, July 27, 2015
IT’S HOSPITAL TIME!---GET UP, BOOGITTY, BOOGITTY,
BOOGITTY, BOOGITTY, SHHEW
Who is set up for tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy--that is everyman’s tragedy.
It’s one thing to get born in a hospital, and quite another thing to go into a hospital young, knowing that something is terribly wrong with you, both eyes open, pumping adrenaline. And then get left there.
If there’s a more submissive state than being hospitalized, tell me about it; even prisons give you some room to maneuver. At age 11 hearing that visiting hours are over just doesn’t cut it, especially on the first night of being alone. But in 1958 the scene in Kramer vs. Kramer where Hoffman wouldn’t let the doctor touch his kid to stitch him unless he remained in the room--”Whatever you’re going to do to him you’re gonna do to me”--was almost 30 years away from being written. What could be more important to a kid than that familial safety in times of trauma? Isn’t this obvious? Could a chair next to my bed for my mother be that intrusive? Jesus. Yet figures of authority were hardly challenged then--especially those empowered to care for the sick and dying. Their sense of power and order was almost sacrosanct. Their responsibilities were designated by their conscience. Usually it was their call. Well, fuck that.
Anyway, there I was, in Kings Highway Hospital. I was assigned to an eight bedded adult room because the adolescent ones were booked. Never a shortage...of disease.
My folks were ushered out at around nine that evening. I put my Jack Dempsey book on the nightstand, never to open it. I couldn’t concentrate; there were too many strange things to look at and hear: tubes snaking from underneath sheets, carrying fluids to bottles underneath beds; glass bottles hanging from metal poles with clear plastic tubing running down into arms or wrists; old men with white stubbly beards asleep with their mouths open; a phlegm cough; a fart; and sometimes, a deep sigh of defeat. The night and shadows turned the yellow hall light into phantoms dancing on top of the surfaces around and adjacent to me.
A nurse came in carrying a metal tray like a butler about to serve an aperitif. She looked down at me and though I didn’t really want to, I smiled. “Norman, this is for you.”
“What is it?”
“Insulin. Don’t worry, dear. I won’t hurt you.”
“Something to make you feel better.”
She took the syringe off the tray and poised herself above me, and pushed up the sleeve of my hospital gown. “Hold this for me, would you?”
I turned my head to avert my eyes as she injected the insulin into my upper arm. Before she left she told me where the button was to call the nurse if I needed to.
For the remainder of the evening, they pumped me with insulin and had me get up periodically to pee in a bottle. Sometime during the night I woke in a cold sweat, trembling. I pushed the button. A nurse came and I told her what I felt. She rushed out and came back with orange juice and sugar packets which she mixed into the glass. What I later learned was an insulin reaction subsided. For the first time in many months I slept for more than an hour without getting up to go to the bathroom and drink.
The daylight brought no solace. The night had a quality of make believe to it; the day was Euclidian.
I met my roommates that morning, they were surprised to see a kid sharing their room. There was Eddie Alvatroni, Mr. Zuckerman, and an older gent in the corner whose name I don’t remember except that he was the one with the tube running from under his sheet to the piss bottle beneath his bed. Eddie was in his forties and Zuckerman in his early sixties. Each of these guys went out of his way to make me feel comfortable, given the situation. The older more grizzled veteran of the wars of the body and mind (and who had a faded blue tatoo of an anchor on his right forearm), kept saying that instead of social security at sixty-five, they should take men out back and just machine-gun them to death. Eddie cursed him, told him to shut up, but loved him; you could see that. Eddie was a prankster. Zuckerman would have to take these enemas in the morning, which of course, would make him run to the bathroom. As his bowels were beginning to let go, Eddie would go to the bathroom door and holler in a hospitalized voice, “Zuckerman, X-rays.” Zuckerman, a nervous man to begin with, would yell back, “O No; wait, you’ll have to wait.”
“Can’t wait.” Eddie would reply, “Now or never.”
“Alright already, shit; I’m coming.” He would open the door, poke his head into the corridor and see no one. He would curse in Yiddish and return to the bathroom, after looking at Eddie sitting in bed trying not to look him in the eye. It was better for Zuckerman during the day, even with all the tests they were giving him. At night he’d think about his wife, dead at fifty-three, and wait to no avail for his two grown sons, who owned a beverage company, to visit him. They lived in big houses on Long Island, he told us. Brooklyn apparently was too long a ride. He never offered excuses for them. The day he was discharged I watched him leave the hospital, followed him from out the window until a cab stopped to take him wherever he was going.
Twenty years later, I tried to figure out for the millionth time what the hell happened to land me in the hospital and I asked my Mom about when I first got diabetes. She told me that no matter how upset she was, my father took it worse. He was nearly destroyed, she said; his first son, so smart, strong, his future, had an incurable disease and could, and would, die from it. He became so depressed that he couldn’t go to work or visit me for the first week of my two and half week stay. I listened, transfixed. My father had always presented himself to be so strong. I had heard his war stories from when he was a soldier in the Army, stationed in Okinawa. He was brave, reckless, depended on by his men for his fearlessness and courage. He was a “man’s man.” How could he not be there? The phrase, “damaged goods” reverberated off walls, tables and chairs of the kitchen. In his line of business, supermarkets, when a can was damaged, it was collected and put in a shopping cart and marked down to as little as 5 cents. Shoppers, always peculiar about purchasing food, would be hard pressed to purchase dented cans, no matter how slight. But room had to be made for new merchandise. Goddamn, I could not, as hard as I would try to remember, visualize my dad not being there, not being with me. “Did I ask where Dad was?” I asked her. She said I had, and that she had made up stories to cover for him. But I don’t believe you can bullshit kids. If the message is there, somehow it gets through. And, more times than not, it gets through twisted and warped. What I felt, but never did understand much less able to articulate at the time, was why my father moved away from me and for all intents and purposes, “gave me back” to my mother.
It is easier for mothers to handle disease, messiness, than it is for fathers. Moms are more used to loose bowels, piss, and blood. They are, and will remain, closer to the exhaust system.
Meanwhile, blood tests and insulin were coming with alarming regularity. I felt much better physically but realized that what I’d been told first in the doctor’s office and then at home was crap: don’t worry, everything will be all right.
In fact, after the first week they had me pretty much stabilized. My new doctor, Dr. Fogel, began telling me what he wanted me to know about the disease, diabetes; he obviously didn’t want me to know much. He just said that it had something to do with an organ in my body, the pancreas, and its inability to give me enough insulin caused my high blood sugars which caused me to go to the bathroom and drink and itch and feel lousy overall. And of course everything would be OK if I just did what he told me to do. And that it would also depend on my mother, primarily, to help me do those things: eat exactly on time; eat exactly what I was supposed to eat; test my urine every day, all day, regularly, and get the proper amount of rest. I told him I was pretty athletic, but he seemed to dismiss that. My mom kept promising me that there was a good chance I would outgrow it. I waited for that to happen for a quarter century; she waited too, I’m sure, for a very long time.
Thinking is a very important process. When you’re young, thinking very often doesn’t include anything too far in the future; a week seems remote, endless, forever. I had no idea who I would be in two weeks, let alone two years. More often than not, you allow other people to make decisions for you. Parents are usually those decision makers. Confronted with a man in a white coat who holds the life of their child at the end of a sentence beginning with “should” or “must,” most parents will accede to the clinician. No second opinions; if you think, or instinctually feel, that deep down the “god of science” is full of shit, your thoughts and feelings can easily get jumbled or hijacked until you believe you’re the one who’s full of shit. So right before I was released, Fogel came into my room and said, “Norman, we’re going to try something new here. You would rather be on pills and not take those god awful insulin injections, right?” Our collective heads bobbed up and down like trained seals. “To do this, we’ll place you on a 600 calorie a day diet, and watch you very, very carefully.”
Not one of us replied, “Hey, wait a second; the kid’s almost 12. He’s growing hair on his balls and pretty soon he’s going to be whackin’ that thing. 600 calories, for an active and growing teenager?” We were so frightened. Besides, the folks were elated that I was alive and so thrilled that they wouldn’t have to deal with syringes that they didn’t think through the consequences of what Fogel was spelling out. And I, of course, was thrilled with the idea of no needles. The thrill was soon gone. I don’t think I relaxed or smiled from the ages of twelve to fourteen. In the two and a half years after stepping out of the hospital I was petrified, terrorized about doing anything that could be considered remotely out of line in regard to this 600 a day regimen I had to live within. At first I was confused but then angry, angry as a motherfucker, that I couldn’t eat the same goddamn foods, especially sweets, that my family gobbled with impunity in front of me. But I said nothing. Fearing my inner rage, I held it; I bottled it; I stuffed it down. If I let it out, I knew it would either kill them or they’d leave me for good. As I grew older, I didn’t have to say anything to them; I showed them.
I should say right now it’s only partially true that I didn’t smile for two years. I should say that I don’t remember smiling or laughing with my folks for those years. It was different with my friends, and sometimes strangers. I began to find more internal and external lubricant in my social world than my home; a real sadness developed there. At home I had to have perfect glucose readings in both my blood and urine, or else I was accused of “cheating,” a new word that took the place of the verbal “NO” or physical restraint that I grew up hearing and occasionally getting hit when I began exploring my world and surroundings. Consequently, I became different from my family, and even felt a modicum of shame when with friends. I felt vulnerable, fragile; anything could pull the carpet from under me, and I felt like everyone and everything wanted to do just that.
What was going on in our minds on the way home from the hospital that day I have no idea. I held onto the Jack Dempsey book I never opened, and walked between my two parents a bit hesitantly. I don’t think we talked. I do remember looking across the street to where the old woman was thrown into the air by the car; I saw once again her head half opened and brain exposed lying in a pool of her own blood. We moved on.
My grandmother, my father’s mother, was home. She pulled me close into her chest, and hugged. Her breasts nearly smothered me but that was just what I needed. She had taken care of my father and brother, who was five and a half at the time, while my mom went back and forth to visit me. I would imagine, knowing the kind of woman she was, that she took care of everyone and everything during my hospital stay. She was a large domineering woman of old European stock, smart, and sometimes cutting. She controlled her family...in whatever way she could. What she couldn’t control, she had no use for. She could make a fox come out of the hen house and think that he’d eaten. There weren’t too many things she couldn’t handle and so not too many things scared her. But even she took a back seat to diabetes. Who knew from diabetes, except that it was a “sugar disease?”
“Where did it come from? Your side of the family?” “No, not my side. Your side?” “Nobody, nobody that I know of.” “Are you sure? What about that uncle of yours who had that grandmother that had...” That was the refrain I heard between my mother and my father and back again. And even if we knew then what I know now, what difference would it have made? To me? To us? There was just a trickle of information to be had, certainly in the mass media about psychosomatic digestive disorders. Almost fifty years later I read about Angel Garma, a Spanish psychiatrist was doing work in the field and posited that peptic ulcers and other digestive disorders stemmed from stress in early childhood. It’s not a huge leap to imagine diabetes would fit in that category. During early childhood stress the body accelerates, turning glycogen into glucose in order to fuel the hyper aroused state of distress, it’s not a far “cry” to imagine diabetes as a consequence of that state. There existed in my mother a wish to keep me dependent and helpless. And I, being as obedient as I was, could have responded.
In reality, nobody knew anything, except what we were told. And instructions were to be followed like a German railroad: Pills were to be taken ON TIME; meals were to be eaten ON TIME; urine to be tested ON TIME. When your daily reward or validation becomes a pink dipstick, the feeling of success wears a little thin. Hell, you’re not really doing anything different than the day before, and the day before that...why shouldn’t your piss be negative? (Though as I later learned, a negative glucose count doesn’t necessarily have to follow adherence to diabetic regimens.) “Supper’s ready.” “Hmm. Great. Let’s see: 3 peas, two and a half carrots (god forbid they’re cooked and their glucose level increases), an ounce of potatoes, a quarter ounce of meat---boom, that’s it---good night all.” The one time we got off the train and they treated me and themselves to what was usually our B.D. (Before Diabetes) Sunday night out Chinese food routine, my piss turned the test stripe purple. My mom thought I’d have to be hospitalized again, and ran a bottle of piss over to my doctor’s house (which I left next to the milk bottles) and waited terrified by the telephone for hours for the verdict. He called and in a solemn voice told us not to worry--this time--just be careful. Careful! If I were any more careful I’d be living in an hermetically sealed capsule with my food dripped in.
Very few juveniles with brittle diabetes were put on Oranese, or synthetic insulin pills. The reasons are pretty obvious for anyone who knows juveniles, and knows diabetes. We didn’t know either and neither did Fogel. A male adolescent’s metabolism is jumping: growing, changing, coming into puberty, bouncing around emotionally, in short, running amuck. A brittle diabetic, no matter what age, is also bouncing around. Their blood sugars can resemble the famous Charlie Parker’s alto saxophone break in Night in Tunisia on any given day. Anything can play with it: foods, moods, time of day, time of night, anytime, all the time. It is not unusual for blood sugars to go three times the high range, and half of the low range during the course of a day, let alone a week, a month, a year. In the person without diabetes, the pancreas works quite differently; it constantly sends out “blips” of insulin to cover the rather mundane metabolic functions. When a person eats any food, insulin is released from the pancreas to process it. Insulin’s job is to get glucose out of the blood and into the muscle cells that use it for energy. Insulin also inhibits the release of fatty acids from the body’s fat stores. All natural, wonderfully balanced. But in juvenile or brittle diabetes, those natural processes are unnaturally absent or marginal. Injecting insulin compensates, and hopefully stabilizes the diabetic. Usually pills are given to older folks whose bodies have already gone through the changes, battles, bruises, conflicts, upheavals “that human flesh is heir to.” Older diabetics are either still emitting some insulin themselves or can be maintained through a combination of pills, diet, exercise. And they can do that more easily than someone whose body is maturing, forming rivulets, streams, new roads, and a few back alleys.
If you don’t question and challenge, when necessary, what affects your life, you’re most likely fucked, and probably deserve to be. Descartes’ famous dictum: “I think, therefore I am” should be amended to read, “I doubt, therefore I am.” Descartes doubted everything around him; it defined his philosophy. He “thought” because he “doubted.” My family, on the other hand, didn’t question shit. We listened and obeyed.
There were some friends who I grew up with who offered a respite from my daily rigors. With them I could forget I was Norman the diabetic and just be Norman the 12 year old. Home was stifling and relentless. My mom shadowed my every move. “Norman, how are you feeling today? Did you test? How was it? Your pills, did you take them? Eat? What? How much? When? Why? What?” Her voice became more grating, piercing, invasive as I was becoming more and more conscious of my cock and balls.
My father, awkward and tentative in my presence, deferred often to my mom’s intense worry. It was simply easier for him. We are what we’re least afraid to be. He would avoid picking me up, throwing me around, having fun fights or any rough stuff with the slightest hint of danger. Somehow, I got the idea that I came with a label: Fragile--Handle with Care.
Prior to that summer, I weighed approximately 155; going into the hospital around, 130, and coming out, 110. My energies began shifting, upstairs. I became more concerned with my thoughts and imagination...or lack thereof. l learned funnier dirtier jokes, became faster, more athletic, anything so my folks, or anyone else for that matter, wouldn’t take a giant step away. What I didn’t know, had no way of knowing, was that in a brief period of time I’d be living in another place in Brooklyn, an hour and a half and light years away by public transportation. It could have been Mars.
I was too preoccupied with diabetes and its demands both outer and inner to enjoy my new junior high school experience the way I was planning to do; there were just too many things on my mind, too many things to get accustomed to doing...and not doing. The big clocks on the walls of the classrooms were watched diligently; pills had to be taken on time, food eaten, and the embarrassment of piss testing made other activities that required concentration difficult. I was put in the creative writing class for the seventh grade because I was smart, not very good in math, and read a lot. I really don’t remember doing or having to do anything much creative. At the time I had no idea that writing would end up being not only a lifeline, but an umbilical cord into the past.
One day a friend of mine in school asked me to go into the bathroom with him. I didn’t have to piss or anything, so I asked him why.
“I wanna show you something,” was all he said. He was a short, thin, freckled face kid with a mop of red hair.
“OK,” I replied. I was curious. Inside, he did a fast scan of the bathroom, satisfied that we were the only ones there, went over to one of the urinals. He unzipped his fly and rolled out this incredibly long and thick cock. I mean he could put out fires with his schlong. “Holy shit,” I said to myself. I imagined my short dick, and felt worse.
“Watch this,” he said, and began to stroke it.
It became longer, hard, and red. I felt my face flush.
“Can you do this?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Watch,” he said, his face grinning up. It didn’t take long for a white substance to shoot from the head of his dick.
“Scum,” he said, “feels good, too; you should try it.”
He wiped off, and we left.
“Try it, try it when you get home.”
“I will.” I dragged my ass home that day, exhausted.
When I got home and had to test my piss, I tried to pull my small dick once or twice. It didn’t work. It took me two or three years to yank it again.
Sometime that spring, I was brought to this new home in Seagate, Coney Island. Too much had happened to me this past year. My head was spinning. “What about all my friends?”
“Oh, you’ll make new friends. Besides, you can still visit your other friends, and they can come here.”
“But it’s far,” I lamented.
“Don’t worry, Norman,” mom said, trying to be soothing but not quite hitting the right note.
Somewhere I heard that phrase before.
pgs 11-16: From: JUNK SICK: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
Published by Norman Savage at Smashwords
Copyright Norman Savage 2010
Greenwich Village, 2015
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Poetry is not an expression of personality.
It is an escape from personality. It is not an outpouring
of emotion. It is a suppression of emotion--
but, of course, only those who have personality
and emotions can ever know what it means
to want to get away from those things.
-The Sacred Wood
After the womb,
We’re all tourists.
WHEN I WAS YOUNG, WHO KNEW SHIT...ABOUT DYING?
If I could only live at the pitch that is near madness
When everything is as it was in my childhood
Violent,vivid, and of infinite possibility:
That the sun and the moon broke over my head.
I was eleven, lucky eleven. And I was “husky.” You didn’t say “fat” in 1958, not if you were fat and Jewish. At least grandmothers and clothing store owners never called it that, not if they were smart that is. Faye, my grandmother, would say, “I’m the one who’s fat, I’m like a house, but not him; if he were fat then I’d worry.”
My father was a big-boned Cadillac man, a disappointed gangster at heart. He breathed heavy and fought fat most of his life, usually losing in the caloric wars. He inherited his mother’s dominant gene, food...both selling it and eating it. Kafka knocks, enter the madman.
Annie, my mom, always teetering toward fat, remained on the border. Perhaps her particular masochism and guilt commingled in such a way they channeled misery into a narcissistic and dangerous love that shed inner weight which always threatened to drip from her put-upon flesh. Quick to laugh and quick to yell, she hawked her kids with equal parts of love, suspicion, and abandon.
The last member in our emotional quartet was my brother, Bobby, born puny and sick; a stomach disorder put him in a hospital shortly after birth. The fat gene saved him. He survived to grow as tall as the other males, thin at first, then fat, again thin, and the last I saw him, fat; six and a half years separated us chronologically and an ocean of history carves our distance now.
Born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the first real memory I have is sitting on a wooden bloodstained butcher block table that held I don’t know how many tons of meat and poultry. I’d eat fresh “chop” meat that came from the innards of a steel hand-ground strainer; the red meat sliding like strands of spaghetti into the thick wax paper held in the fleshy hands of a mustached butcher. The meat was cold, rich, thick and delicious. The narrow “Mom & Pop” deli was our 21 Club... our steak tartare was without the egg, the Worchester sauce, money, pretense, cachet, sophistication, and boundaries.
Faye’s son, Mickey, my father, was the inheritor of food, both ingesting (inhaling it actually), and selling it. Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, Faye owned a bar with Becky, her sister, catering to the truck drivers who drove through. Tough ballsy women them. Each was funny in an unabashedly lewd way. They looked like one another: obese Jewish fireplugs, the first to dance, laugh, fight and curse--the world and each other. Owing nothing to anyone, they fiercely guarded the family and did whatever the hell they pleased, whenever they pleased. They fought, they laughed, and they cooked for their families and customers. Each of them took turns throwing out some tough sonsofbitches, and I’m sure, loved a few of them as well. When they moved to Brooklyn, Faye opened a little delicatessen that my father worked in. After he married my mom, she begrudgingly loosened her hold, but only a little. My mom was able, after becoming pregnant and giving birth to yours truly, to move him further away from his mom and into a life more their own, or so she thought. He probably thought he now was supposed to side with his wife, as men eventually were supposed to do, but, in reality, he never really did “throw in the towel.” Because, in fact, he never had to. The helix of fate sealed with genetic glue grows like mold in the dark; it is moist, responds to secrets or silences, and needs no nourishment, except fear.
My father finally bought (with a partner he didn’t trust for almost 40 years), a supermarket on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. I can’t separate the bullshit from the poetry that is Brooklyn, at least from my memory of Brooklyn. Memory is maddening; it provides sperm to the impotent, eggs for the infertile, and offers hope where there was none. Yet, it’s still a kind of accomplishment. I walked by a sewer today in New York City. I remembered sticking my head in a similar one looking for a “Spaldeen” ball that we played stick ball with as kids, and because of the water and waste, the urban flotsam and jetsam, the smell like a skin above the water, I remembered a young kid in short sleeves, thin golden tanned arms, sure, strong fingers who fashioned a coat hanger into a “lift” to get under that pink ball to cradle it and bring it back to the surface so we could play some more without spending what we didn’t have to buy a new one. That smell is lovely today.
I remember the fifties more by the Cadillacs that my father owned than by the inner workings of those years: the slight difference between the ‘54 and ‘55 mobster Cadillac bumpers, like Marilyn’s breasts, the gas cap under the back taillight; the fin inversion of the ‘57 and ‘58 Caddy, and the beautiful radicalism of the ‘59, predicting the space travel of the next decade. Most of the country was like Eisenhower’s smile, vanishing into the green golf carpet; the smug infancy of a nation emerging from wars won, sold to us with a starched white crewcut regularity. But Brooklyn, my lunch bucket borough had an identity: a hooker with a heart of gold; a striving failure; a William Bendix sentimentality. Wonder Bread and beer factories belched stability, the beautiful bums of Brooklyn flashed World Series spikes good enough to last a thousand years. The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports brought boxing into our homes every Friday night. My pop, who seconded for a short time Sugar Ray Robinson when he fought in the Golden Gloves, showed me how an old man was able to turn back the clock, how Sugar Ray flicked his showy jab, quick, and danced well enough and long enough to enfeeble the young Turks like Fullmer and Basilio once or twice before fading into a California Smalls’ Paradise of palms and sunshine. My father sat, like his father before him, and fought the fight, scored it, and was usually right about who won. His father, a gentle soul, loved his whiskey and boxing. I would see him sometimes watching the old black-and-white TV fights; he’d bob and weave, jab and hook to the air, lean back weary, breathing hard...and wait for a decision.
My mom did what most of her Jewish and Italian friends did: She cooked and cleaned...and waited for her husband to get home late at night to feed him and tell him what he’d sooner not know, the day’s tedium. The failures, frustrations, betrayals, trivia, disappointments, aspirations, and news--some shocking, most pedestrian--were balled up and hurled at him in the first minute of his arrival. Sometimes the words were launched before he actually appeared, just the opening of the garage door was enough to trigger the verbal onslaught. Who could blame her? Her work went not only unnoticed, but unappreciated--even hated. My father, no less a narcissist, but male, was smarter, had more guile, and was overtly much more manipulative than my mother, and his anger, bordering on the physical, scared her. That came, my mother would lament, “from his side of the family.” Her side, he would heatedly counter, were “cold,” “remote,” “stupid sonsofbitches.” And every woman, at least of Jewish/Italian persuasion, of those times, should only know how to cook, clean, wipe asses, cater to the male cock, take temperatures, heal, help, launder, starch, dress, solve problems (domestic only, please)...and laugh. Then I came along and provided her a new kind of guilt-edged mirror and a paradigm of impossibilities. She thought that she shouldn’t, couldn’t fail...and that followed her like a vicious rumor which she secretly thought was true.
“Absence” not only “makes the heart grow fonder,” it also can scare the shit out of us. I’ve been told that for my first few years of my life I was inexorably attached to my mom, not “leaving go of her skirt”; so much so, that when my grandmother would walk up the stairs to our apartment above the superette to baby-sit me she would have to wear a towel over her head so that I would not recognize that it wasn’t my mother when I got up or rocking me to sleep. If I uncovered the ruse, which was often the case apparently, there were no stopping my screams until Mom returned or became so fatigued that I fell asleep.
“Hmm,” I must have said, “where the fuck is she? This doesn’t feel right; I’m hungry, wet, shit in my diapers, a little off. Hmm, not back yet? I think I’ll cry. Huh, maybe she didn’t hear me. I’ll try screaming. All right, fuck this, it’s time to panic.”
The “fight or flight” instinct is cool--if you have a choice. But where the fuck was I going to go? God, or whatever gods sit on high, thought of this. In order to keep us alive they endowed us with instant unalienable secretions: First the big guns to “fight”: Adrenaline, Cortisol, Dopamine, and the like: Boom, boom, boom boom boom. But then...
If that response failed, and my needs still weren’t met, I couldn’t maintain that fever pitch of expression and took “flight” internally. “Fuck this, I’ll rely on myself for comfort.” My endogenous opiods were tapped to soothe and balance an out of whack system.
At first, that’s all I was doing, trying to stay alive; a time worn and tested survival mechanism kicked into gear, and it was quick and repetitive. Sixteen years later I’d have to go outside to satiate my insides, but then I didn’t have to go out to “cop”--my brain brought it to me. Hell, anything living can fuck, but to do so without getting caught and killed is no easy task.
Without a scalpel, I began performing my own bypass operations. Like the branches and roots of a tree, my psychic forces curled around or broke through any and all obstacles; my internal limbs, not able to fully coordinate my natural progression detoured, and produced branches, deformed as they might be, but were to me as limbs to a tree, as natural as breathing.
My mom for many different reasons (which were never examined and so remained unconsciously dangerous), was a doting, and indeed suffocating, mother. Her parents were ignorant Jewish immigrants who expected my mom to take care of her two younger sisters, work, and navigate all their worlds in a new culture. She had married a man who charmed her but never cared to know her, and thought he was doing her the biggest favor in the world by taking her away from her “impoverished” upbringing and so expected my mom to cater to his every need. Becoming pregnant must have seemed like a vacation to her.
And what a couple we made! I was her perfect baby, and she a perfect mom. She didn’t know just how twisted I was becoming. And me? After finding my way around whatever roadblocks presented themselves, I took a breath, and went on, staring as it were in my own tragicomedy--a preverbal Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot: “I can’t go on like this.” “That’s what you think.”
But what was I going to do at that age, read a book, go to the movies, go to the beach, talk to a social worker, go on Oprah, buy a gun? Barring those options I made a decision, unconscious at first: rather than live in a world of dissonance, I’d live in one of fantasy, one where all my needs were met, my desires fulfilled, my dreams realized, and discordant voices stilled. It would be twenty years before I would read, From that spring whence comfort come, discomfort swells.
Then something happened at age four when I could talk, that terrorized me and that, to this very day, makes any recollection of that time--and up to the age of eleven or twelve--appear like sporadic undated snapshots.
One day my mother was gone; she simply vanished. Nothing was explained to me. For weeks I was handed from relatives to neighbors. It turned out that her cancer was misdiagnosed. However, I developed a stutter, which made it impossible to get out a word, let alone a sentence, without turning beet red and feeling I was going to die. I remember standing in front of my father, this incredibly large and monstrous figure, when this stutter first announced itself. He looked tortured watching his son blush. And I, trying to pronounce a word, could not catch my breath. Even after my mother returned home, the stutter remained. When special classes in elementary school failed to “cure” my speech impediment, my parents chose to ignore it, thinking it would go away on its own; and for the most part it did...for the most part. When I was under pressure of any sort, it sprang--and springs--full blown. Remember in class, when you knew you had to read a sentence aloud and you counted the kids until it was your turn? I began panicking as soon as I figured out the countdown sequence. Life, became a countdown.
At home I was quiet, perhaps introverted. My folks were loud and volatile. It was a time of Dr. Spock and Bishop Fulton Sheen; it was confusing. I was curious, though. There was a little girl across the hall from us. Our folks were close friends. We played together. One day, a rainy afternoon I believe, we crept into a closet, and discovered our differences. It looked so innocent, so smooth, so internal. She was a bit older than I and probably had developed a greater capacity for guilt; in short, she copped-out and told. Our parents treated it like The Nuremberg Tribunals. Standing over us, they demanded “The Truth! Goddamnit, Tell us the Truth! How could you do such a thing?” I felt my cheeks blush; hot blood rose that branched into every part of my body. Embarrassed, we said we’d never ever never do that again. We avoided each other, for the rest of our lives.
For a traditional middle-class Jewish family living in Brooklyn, our yearly cycle was pretty normal: my pop worked for fifty weeks out of the year and made enough money to support us; my mom took care of the rest for fifty-two, and we all took a summer respite in a bungalow colony in Far Rockaway called Finkelsteins. Two large wooden framed buildings built in the 1940s housed most of the guests, and a few adjacent bungalows sheltered the rest. The wraparound wood porches with chairs and benches overlooked lawns, trees, a row of hedges to the north, a ball field behind that, and a small distance away, the beach and Atlantic Ocean. I can see the ancient soda chest in the main lobby...a steel box of ice water and old steel rails, slightly corroded. In one corner was the soda, Mission, and it was a mission to get one out of there. The bottles bobbed to one part of the chest. After inserting the dime I’d tried to find my favorite flavor. Sticking my hand, up to the wrist, in that chest was a testament to youth...and thirst...but trying to maneuver and manipulate that soda through the maze, usually catching fingers in the process, was innocence and perseverance combined.
Families came back year after year, with few exceptions. And so, I made friends with those kids that were near my age. When there wasn’t much to do, a few of us would hide underneath the steps leading up to the main house and look for change--pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters--and the colors of the panties that women wore walking up those same steps. Seeing a glimpse of that was almost as good as finding money. When we went to the beach, me and my best friend, Morty, who was a few years older, would sometime, between swimming and swimming and eating and swimming, sneak off to peek through wooden slats that bordered the women’s solarium to view unadorned female flesh hanging off. They seemingly all had tits like my mother’s: huge, pendulous, giving. Sometimes they’d see us and scream, “Get outa here you crazy kids,” and we’d dart away, afraid we’d be caught and thrown off the beach. The flesh, but mostly the private parts, of women clearly fascinated and excited me. It was forbidden, but it beckoned me at the same time. The whole package: pussy, tits, make-up, perfume, hips that swung and invited, intoxicated me so. I also liked being seen and chased away by those with a smile on their faces--which told me something--although what, I haven’t figured out.
That summer, as I went from my eleventh to twelfth year, I played lots of softball (becoming a better pitcher, copying my father’s unusual delivery, a pronounced wind-up by holding my knee up in the air, belt high, while my arm hesitated a beat, throwing the batter off). I swam like a fish, and had a crush on a tall thirteen-year-old Texas gal nicknamed, what else? Dallas, who had the body of a 30 year old. One night late in the communal T.V. room I put my husky, though rapidly thinning arm, around her broad shoulder, twisted my neck and planted a kiss on her soft and rounded lips. Oh, that was nice. I think my little dick jumped a bit. All I could hum for the next few weeks was “Volare” in Italian. The only low point for me came when I fell off the cot one night during sleep (maybe I was trying to get closer to Dallas’ secrets) and cut open a gash above my eye that required a butterfly stitch to close. A difficult circumstance to explain was when I pissed on a boy who wasn’t my friend for doing I don’t remember what. My folks made me apologize to him. They couldn’t believe their son would ever do something like that. But the kid had his piss-stained, piss-smelling pants for evidence. I hope he still has them.
Labor Day came and went. Jerry Lewis was just beginning to help “his kids.” Vacation was just about over. Time to go back to Brooklyn; I wasn’t sorry. I was looking forward to it. I was about to begin the seventh grade in a brand new junior high in Marine Park on a huge playground and ball fields, see my neighborhood buddies, and begin my last year in Hebrew School before being Bar Mitzvah’d. Hebrew School, damn. I detested the first two years and showed it by either disrupting class or cutting it. I was suspended so often that I had to invent things to tell my mother we were studying during the times she thought I was there. My belief, even then, was that my God was a punishing one. I even began using my brother, Bobby, as a foil. I’d offer to baby-sit him by taking him to a movie which was a leap for me. Even at that young age I could detect in him a “wildness” that I was unable to express but had noticed I lacked. At this point, however, early in September of 1958, everything was rollin' right along...except I was losing weight.
I can’t say with any certainty whether I was prodigious, suicidal or saintly as an eleven year old; I was husky--smart and husky. I began reading at the age of one and a half, a little rebellious in school but so what? I read The Hardy Boys for “Christsakes.” And now I was growing, shedding baby-fat, a lot of pounds at an alarming rate. As I said before, my family could eat, pack it in, especially sweets: ice cream, cake, sodas, candies. Sugar city. Our world didn’t revolve around the sun; it revolved around a Lazy Susan. My mantra was: “What’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Ma?” My mother’s response was, “You’ll know when I put it in front of you.” The kitchen was our battlefield for love, control, retribution... and brisket.
Physically, I didn’t feel right when I got back to Brooklyn. I was pissing more, drinking more, eating more, and losing weight. My mother, insanely unsure and overprotective, was growing suspicious and I was in denial. I had the idea that if something was going wrong, it was my fault and so I tried to hide it. What I failed to understand was that whatever the problem was had found me.
Something else found me too at just about the same time, conveyed in two separate incidents. Just after the summer ended and we were home settling back in, a phone call came late one night. My mother answered, listened for a second, let out a “OH NO,” and dropped the receiver. My father grabbed the cord, jerked the phone up to his hand and spoke into it. I could see the color drain from his face. My parents’ closest friends from the summer, Jerry and Selma and their two children, Maxine and Warren, had experienced tragedy. Jerry had met death literally head on. He’d been driving home late that night and had kissed a stanchion doing about 70. Splat. Finito. I was pretty shaken. I liked him, and I liked his daughter even more who was my age. My first girlfriend at seven. The first girl I ever bought anything for, an ice cream frappe (sundae as we say today) and we held hands. I went, out of curiosity, to the funeral over my mother’s objections.
We stood in the back and looked at the open coffin. A pink wax-like glow emanated from Jerry’s face with its familiar mustache. My mother kept saying how it didn’t look like him, but I thought it did. I imagined what a hard job somebody must have had trying to reconstruct his face. I stared, waiting for him to get up, laugh, say it was a joke, one way to get his friends and enemies together in one spot, but he was no Lazarus.
The second incident occurred on an Indian summer day at the tail end of September while I was walking home from Hebrew School. I was about to cross the street, which was one of those complicated three way intersections, when an old woman who must have been in her late seventies or early eighties, pulling a shopping cart, started to do the same from the other side of the street. She walked slowly off the curb and inched her way onto the roadway. A car came screeching around the corner and blind-sided her, lifting her at least 25 feet in the air. She landed with a dull thud. Half her skull opened, creating a flap that allowed you to see her brain while her thick blood formed a pool around her head. Wisps of silver hair tinged with maroon liquid lay on a soft and steaming black asphalt bed. The driver got out, went to his trunk and removed a blanket as pedestrians ran toward her. Shouts of “Call an ambulance” broke the stunned silence--as if all the world stopped to honor a death. I inched closer to get a better look. Through the picket fences of elbows and legs I managed to see how life drains out of someone. As I made my way home, I kept sneaking back glances at her lifeless body. Death had left me alone until I was eleven. It seemed God was making up for lost time.
When I got home, I said nothing to my parents. I didn’t know how to say what I was feeling. I do know I was scared, fascinated, and repulsed by the image that had embedded itself in my memory forever.
The body always asserts itself. Your mind can be cloudy or clear, weak or strong, confused, assertive or procrastinating. But the body is animal. It doesn’t know how to wait.
I never had to close my zipper, I was pissing so much. Pissing and drinking. Drinking and pissing. I would devour pints and quarts of ice cream. Run around the corner after dinner to the candy store and buy Breyer’s vanilla from bulk containers, vanilla beans almost as large as coffee beans, the taste so wonderfully vanilla and creamy. Cold ice cream, and sodas, anything cold or freezing, especially water. I’d go to the bathroom, where the water was the coldest and open the tap and let it run for awhile, put my mouth to the faucet and just guzzle. Back and forth from bed to bathroom at night. My mother, a notoriously light sleeper, would call, “Norman, what’s the matter?”
“Nothin'’ Ma, nothing.”
“Why are you up so much?”
The drinking, pissing, eating and losing weight continued with a vengeance. I was feeling fatigued like I went 15 rounds with the heavyweight champ and just about could get back to my corner--arms weak, legs leaden, body weary, mind distraught. I felt like shit passing through a fly papered tube.
The stomach pains came next, serious and severe. It was like they were saying, “Hey asshole, if you don’t believe what’s going on now, try some of this.” It made a believer out of me.
“Ma, I can’t go to school today, stomach hurts too much.” That’s all I had to say and she had to hear.
“Get dressed. We’re going to the doctor.”
I got dressed as quickly as I could, took a leak, and we left.
The urine test wasn’t scary. The pink tip of the dipstick turned purple in a second. The blood test was more frightening and painful. I’ve always had thin “rolling” veins so it took the nurse awhile to find one. It seemed like she was playing darts. She jabbed and missed until she finally succeeded. The syringe was fat and made of glass. The needle was thick steel and a bit dull compared to what we know today. She drew my blood up into the syringe and then transferred it into a test tube. I tried humor, “It looks like good blood.” My mom tried to smile. She was visibly shaken, asking the doctor a million questions as he hurried from examining room to examining room, treating three, four patients at a time. All he’d say to her was, “We have to wait, try not to worry; go home, take him home; I’ll call later when I get the results.”
“Don’t worry. Go home, I’ll call you later.” Much later.
We came home and did what we were told. We waited. My father soon joined us, and waited. Nervously, we looked at the phone. When it rang my mom was the quickest to answer. She’d usually say, “We’re waiting for a call from the doctor,” and got off. With each teasing ring, our collective hearts would hold a beat. Finally, he called. My mother’s part went like: “Yes...yes...what?... what’s that?...yes...now, right now?..Immediately?...Yes. All right, right now?...Yes...Thank you, doctor.”
She cradled the receiver and turned to my father trying to control her tears. “He has keto...keto something. He has to go the hospital.”
“Right now, right away, now. The doctor said he got him a bed right here, across the street in The Kings Highway Hospital.”
My head bounced like a ping-pong ball from my mom to my dad, “the ping-pong of the abyss” as Ginsberg would write.
“Tonight, Ma? I gotta go tonight?”
“Tonight. He said right away. Don’t worry, everything will be all right,” they both said. The first lie that I spent a quarter of a century proving wrong. “I’ll put some things together for you. Maybe take a book.”
A book! How long was I going to be there?, I thought. “Yeah, OK.” I went to my room to find something, hearing my parent’s voices whispering feverishly behind me.
I chose a biography of Jack Dempsey that was overdue at the library; hell, they couldn’t find me now.
We were rigid and silent going to the hospital. I was determined to be “strong,” take it “like a soldier” all that shit, even though I didn’t have any idea what I was about to “take.” I knew though, there was something my parents weren’t telling me--like my pancreas was missing.
pgs 4-10 from JUNK SICK: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
Published by Norman Savage at Smashwords
Copyright Norman Savage 2010
Greenwich Village, 2015