Steven

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     I used to date a veterinarian who immigrated to the USA from New Zealand.  I met him when I brought my birds to him for their annual checkups and vaccinations, and I was intrigued by him.  He was new to New York, so we made small talk about all the things to do here.  The next day, I took his business card out of my wallet and asked him out to dinner via email.  

      “Steven” was an interesting case.  I did not find him handsome, although many other women certainly would.  He was slightly overweight, with tightly curled hair and a ridge on his brow that I think of as the “cro-magnon” ridge.  

       Steven was definitely not a cro-magnon.  What attracted me to him was his intense focus on my birds as he examined them.  I could see him assessing them, looking underneath their tiny colored feathers to imagine what was beneath.  He handled them carefully, with respect, even Monster, who is a total asshole who bites the shit out of you whenever you touch him.   People are always at their most attractive when they are doing the activity they love best; whatever it is they are born to do, whether it be cooking or fixing machines or teaching.  Steven was a born animal physician. 

        We went out to dinner, and after three dates, we commenced a six-month relationship.

       He treated me well.  He had his neurosis (as do we all), but he was a healthy man.  He was, however, still in a lot of pain from a recent divorce.  His wife ended the relationship a year previous.  I could perceive that he wasn’t over it, nor did I expect him to be.

        I was, of course, dating the Surgeon at the time and I had to plans to change that.  After several months, Steven was startled to learn that I wasn’t monogamous.  He’d assumed that we were.  My natural view is that until you have the DTR (“Defining the Relationship”) discussion, where you commit to each other, both partners are free to do whatever the hell they want.  I just met the guy eight weeks ago–what does he expect?

         Anyway, I hurt him.  He was one of those guys who latches on, and he liked me more than I liked him.  The person who cares the least controls the relationship.  I liked Steven, and I always did what I said that I would do with him, but even still, the relationship was recreational for me.  I never came close to falling in love with him. 

       I enjoyed studying him, though, and I learned a lot by comparing him to the Surgeon.  I noted that although both were physicians, the Surgeon was by no means a healer, but Steven was.

      I remember one night I was with Steven while he was making the rounds at his hospital.  He took out a huge Macaw in order to feed it its medicine.  

       A Macaw, if you don’t know, is an enormous parrot–probably the largest kept as pets.  They are magnificent animals, and they have tremendous, sensitive beaks that can break a walnut or sever a person’s finger.

     The bird, understandably scared, freaked out and turned on Steven, biting his lower arm.  It broke the skin.  Deeply.

      Steven hissed air over his teeth in pain, but did not flinch.  He got his hand on both sides of the bird’s head to stabilize it, and waited till it calmed down.

       “That bird bit the shit out of you! Are you okay? It’s mean!” I said.

       “The animal is never at fault,” he said.  “The animal is never at fault.”  

       It occurred to me then, out of nowhere: This man would be a good father. 

      One time, we were at his apartment close to Central Park.  I was sitting on his couch and he was laying down with his head in my lap.  I think it was the second week of our relationship.  We were talking about his past, his life.

      He had a framed photograph of a parrot on his wall.  I asked him who the bird was.

       He said that the bird was his and his ex-wife’s, and when they divorced, his wife wanted the bird, so he gave her up.  He didn’t want to fight over the bird, even though he loved it.

      He started to tear up.  Actual water came out.  This was weird to me, because the men in my family don’t cry. 

       I bent down and kissed his forehead, and then held him for a long time.  I said, “It’s okay, Steven.  You did the right thing.  Your bird will always love you.”

      When I sat up again, he looked at me.  He looked at me the way he examined my birds the first time I met him.  He saw me.  He really saw me. 

      “You’re such a kind person,” he said.

       I’ve always remembered it.  It was one of the most meaningful compliments I’ve ever received in my life. 

       But I kept Steven at arm’s length.  I liked him a lot, and I like to think that I appreciated him, but I wasn’t that attracted to him.  I found him interesting. I gave him a lot–got to know his colleagues, listened to his work drama, nursed him through a cancer scare–but I wasn’t really there.  

        He dumped me, which was a complete surprise (he did it via text-message, too, which was completely uncharacteristic for him–I think he was trying to treat me with the same casual indifference I’d been treating him.  The text, which I’ll never forget, said “It’s been fun, but we’re done!  Adios!”  I almost fell off my barstool.  I texted back: “Did you just break up with me via a text?  Keep it classy, Steven!”) .  I had zero expectations out of him. It was a dinner-conversation-sex relationship.  Most men would kill to have that sort of relationship.  Hell, they PAY me to do it now (we have BDSM and not sex, but you know what I mean). 

       I wasn’t very hurt when he broke up with me, just surprised. I don’t know why I couldn’t fall in love with him.  He didn’t capture my imagination, probably because he didn’t want to kill me.  I did learn from him, however.  

       I hurt him, and I do feel badly about that. 
       

“Because I’ve Abused You”

     We were in my bedroom, on the bed.  

      The Surgeon was on top of me, drilling into me.  He’d placed a pillow over my head, presumably because he wouldn’t have to look at my face, but possibly because he fantasized about smothering me to death with it.  In the future, whenever I thought about going back to him, I’d tell myself: remember the pillows.

      He was having difficulty achieving orgasm.

      “When I leave, I’m going to turn off the lights, and you’re going to stay in bed.  You’re going to stay in bed and cry.  Do you know why?”

        “Why?” I asked, from under the pillow.

         “Because I’ve abused you,” he said.

         And with the vision of that event in his head, he was finally able to come.

          How do you think that made me feel?

         When he left, he turned off the lights.

         And me…?

         I stayed.  I stayed for two more years.

Postmortem of a House Call (Or, Christmas with the Surgeon)

    It’s been almost eight months since the Surgeon made his House Call.  At first, I didn’t think that it had affected me that much emotionally.  It wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me.  It wasn’t even the worst thing he’d ever done to me.  I was a little shocked, of course, and then very pissed off, and also worried that he might come back and try again.  I think the baby card offended me more than anything. 

      It did seem to provide him with some closure.  He won, he got a little revenge, he could sleep at night feeling that he was the one on top.  And I’m sure the lawyer’s letter and the threat of a restraining order didn’t hurt either.  He is very protective of his practice, and the only thing that he loves more than philandering and fucking people up is making money. 

      So it was finally over. I had to deal with loneliness, but I’m used to that, and I had to grieve the loss of the relationship, which was the most significant one of my adult life.  The House Call, though, I did’t think affected me much.

      I was wrong.

      It sneaked up on me over a period of months, and I’d find myself laying in bed or sitting at my desk in a state of high agitation, outraged at the fact that he really did that to me.  He really did it! 

       And on the heels of that: pain.  Quite a bit of hurt, actually, which is strange, because I really ought to know better.  Nothing about his behavior should surprise me anymore. The Surgeon has some very, shall we say, interesting neuroses and some very interesting sexual proclivities, all of which I am too decent (or, perhaps, too cowardly) to share on this blog, but he is also a man of habit and thoroughly predictable.  He’s an asshole.  He acts like an asshole.  Why should I be hurt that he acted like an asshole towards me?  Because he said that he loved me? 

      Well, yes.  Because he said that he loved me.  I’ve had a lot of emotional labor to do in order to work through that in the last few months.

      Let’s move on.  He made the House Call in September.  Then I got a letter from him in late December, which was right about the time I’d left him for the Mathematician a year earlier (thankfully, I have no feelz for him except for contempt and, I admit, a lingering fascination with his cockatoo-borrowing. That has to be a new low in Things Men Will Do To Impress Girls.  A cockatoo!  Fucker.).

     This is the Surgeon’s letter.  It’s not actually what he wrote–think of it as the Executive Summary.  It’s all over the map.  I think he might have been drunk when he wrote it.  He’s always impulsive and when he drinks, forget about it. 

Dear Miss Margo, 

I feel a little badly about my House Call and what I did.  I hope you realize that I did it because the way that you treated me is unconscionable.  I also wanted to give you a baby.  Our relationship never should have ended.  I have never had this much emotion for anyone in my life.  You need to come back to me and be my girlfriend again.  I think of you every day.  What you have done is not right. I will make a financial commitment and not abandon you.  Even your own mother did not help you, but I did.  Have you ever asked yourself why?  I love you and we are met to be together.

     Who’s the guy you left me for?  Sorry it didn’t work out but I have no idea how you thought you could better-deal me.  Want me to hurt him?  Tell me who he is.

      The Surgeon

   
     Unconscionable.  He really used that word.  To describe my behavior. 

      I read it to my friend, Drug Monkey, who said, and I quote: “Wow, what a loser.” 

      Professor T-Rex found it sort of pitiful and told me to give it to my lawyer, which I did.

     But since we’re on the subject of unconscionable behavior, let’s revisit the scene of the crime: Christmas, five years previous.

     I was in my Ph.D. program and my relationship with the Surgeon was just over the two-year mark.  It was as serious as it was ever going to get.  He almost destroyed it.

      It was the week leading up to Christmas, which was a very busy time at my University because that school scheduled finals right up until Christmas Eve, which was a nightmare.  I can’t tell you how many times I dropped off a hard copy of my final research assignment or essay en route to the airport for an all-day flight back home.  So, a stressful week. 

      The Surgeon was in a weird mood, too.  He was having staffing problems (he always had staffing problems.  Wonder why?), and then he had to do holiday family shit.  The Surgeon would rather be eaten alive by rabid wolverines than spend time with his family, but he forces himself to do it.  If I hated my family that much, I would just dump them.

     Well, the Surgeon called me and I knew that I was in trouble because I could hear the tension in his voice.  He had a very specific tone of voice that he used when he was dangerous.  I identified it as the “I am under pressure and I am going to fuck you up” tone of voice. He can smile when he talks this way, and even laugh, but I’m telling you, it’s spooky.  Usually when I heard that tone of voice, I just made myself scarce for a few days until it blew over, because that tone of voice meant that someone was going to get it. I just went out for that proverbial pack of cigarettes and stayed gone. 

          The Surgeon had Christmas day off because his practice was closed, and he told me that he wanted to see me.

          “But, Surgeon, I’m flying home on Christmas Eve.”

          “Change the flight.  Leave on the 26th.”

           “Surgeon, I only see my family twice a year now, and you know that my mother is a Christmas fanatic.  My family is expecting me.”

          “But I was planning to see you on the 25th.”

           I knew this was bullshit.  He’d never mentioned any such thing!

          “Surgeon, you’re being unreasonable.  What am I supposed to tell my family?”

         “Tell her that you need to see your boyfriend and you’ll be there on the 26th.”

           “You want me to ruin my mother’s Christmas?  She’s sentimental!”

            “Make it happen,” he said, and hung up the phone.

            I was fucked.  The double bind, the Surgeon’s favorite form of torture.  There was absolutely no way to win in that situation.  My only choice was to pick who I was going to hurt and piss off: my family, or the Surgeon. 

           I was miserable.

           The Surgeon gave me an hour in which to stew in my anxiety and misery, and then called me back.  I didn’t want to take the call, but I had to.

           “Tell me something good,” he said.  Yup, the voice was intense. I felt it with the same foreboding a Kansan ranchwoman feels when tornado clouds assemble on the horizon. 

            “Surgeon, I can’t cancel Christmas!  Come on!  I wouldn’t ask you to do this for me!”

             “Why not?  This is a tremendous disappointment to me.  You are ruining my plans.  Just call your Mom and tell her that you’ll be there on the 26th.”

             He kept at me all…fucking…day.   I do sadism for a living, but I have to tell you, I do not think that I am capable of pressuring someone the way that he was pressuring me.  I was so upset that I was sick to my stomach.  I was trying to finish a final exam, too–so much for that.

           All he wanted was a validation of his power over me.  He just wanted to make me do something that he knew I really didn’t want to do.  He just wanted to see me jump.  It’s no different, really, than the asshole boss who calls you out of the blue on a Saturday night at 10 PM asking for a project status report…only much, much crueler.

        It took most of the day, as well as a panic attack and some hysterical begging on my part not to make me go through with it, but eventually I caved.  I was outgunned.  It was like being at the Alamo.

        I called my Mom and told her that I had a job interview on the morning of the 27th and it was for a last-minute teaching job, and would she mind if I flew in immediately afterward?  I really needed the money from the teaching job, I said.

        (I should have just said, Mom, my fucking awful boyfriend is forcing me to do this, see you on Friday, but I didn’t.  I was ashamed of myself.)

          The disappointment in her voice was palpable, but she said that she understood.

        I called the Surgeon back to tell him what I’d done.

       “That’s great!” he said, and his own demeanor changed.  He was happy and smiling again.  But there was something else I detected in his voice: gloating.

           Then he let me go and said that he’d call me back after his meeting.

         I felt fucking miserable, but at least it was OVER.  At least it got him off my back.

         Or so I thought.

         I still cried a lot that night.  I felt really badly and guilty about the whole thing.

         So, what does he do?  What does the Surgeon do?

         It wasn’t enough.  He needed more

         He fucking called me back the next morning, cheerful and happy.

         “Hi, Baby!  How’s my girl?  Hey, I’m sorry if I was a little tense yesterday.  All that shit at the office, you know.  But, hey, I wanted to tell you…I forgot that I have to pick up my dogs from the dog-sitter on Christmas so that they aren’t here when her family comes over.  I’m going to have to run them out to Long Island, it’s a long drive.  Can we get together on the 26th instead?  That’d be great.”

         I just sat there.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

        “You want me to spend Christmas alone, after I cancelled my family plans, so that you can pick up your dogs from the dog-sitter?”
    
       “I forgot!” he said.  He didn’t fucking forget.  I could hear it in his voice.  He just wanted to hurt me and humiliate me that much more.  He was enjoying himself.  Like I said, the man is a sadist for real.  Besides, the excuse was proposterous on its face.  He could have paid someone to pick up his dogs.  He could have gotten them the day before.  It made no sense.

          “I’m going home!” I screamed into the phone.  Then I hung up and changed my flights back to Christmas Eve.  It cost me a pretty penny and I had to take the red-eye, too.

          Then I cried a lot.  It really hurt.

           He was furious that I left, but he also knew that he’d gone too far, and he gave me space.  I cut him off for about five months. He never did admit what a cruel and fucked-up thing he did, he only apologized for “being selfish” and he acknowledged that I “saw the situation differently” than he did.

           He knew what he did.  He never fucked with my relationship with my family again. He went too far in other areas, at other times, but he was on his best behavior around Christmas after that.

           For my part, I never saw him the same way after that.  I withdrew emotionally and always treated him with caution after that, like a dangerous dog.  I acknowledged to myself that he was sick and that he would hurt me if I left him.  I also acknowledged to myself that he did not really love me, because he would not have done that if he did.  I started dating other men. 

          Calling me the next morning was premature.  I don’t think that he thought that through.  If he hadn’t been doing his victory-lap jerkoff sadism-fest, he would have figured out that the truly  awful thing to do would be to just abandon me and leave me hanging on Christmas day, when it was too late for me to go home.

           Or come over on Christmas (without so much as a card), fuck me, and leave after twenty minutes.  I think that I’m really lucky that that did not happen to me.  If he thought about it more, that’s what he would have done.

          I am sure that he has done this to another woman–made her compromise her holiday or travel plans, and then leave her hanging.  Probably more than one woman.

         And then he calls me leaving him “unconscionable.”

        And he makes his house call, banging down the door, and I wonder to myself, I can’t believe he did it!  

         Yeah, I can believe it.  I can believe it.

         It still would have been sort of fun, though, to watch him eat the Mathematician for lunch.

Selected

    She was a good student, but vulnerable, and that was the most important thing.  That was why the teacher picked her.

    Separating her from her classmates was not particularly difficult, because she’d already done that of her own accord: she did not have many close friendships, or any close friendships, as far as he could tell (and you better believe that he looked very carefully).  She spent a lot of her free time reading or drawing in a notebook with colored pencils.  Her concentration was fine during class and he seldom caught her attention wandering–she had a lot of discipline for a girl her age, actually–but in Church, she seemed to daydream a lot.  People would call her name and she wouldn’t hear them right away.

      So, it was very easy for the teacher to become her friend. Especially since he actually enjoyed her: he told himself that they had a lot in common and that he reminded him of his younger self, which might or might not have been true.  It was easy to talk with her about what she was reading in the library, or when the students sat in the Churchyard garden during lunchtime.  And it was especially easy to talk to her because it never would have occurred to her to rebuff the conversation of a teacher: if an adult authority figure wanted to talk with her, she talked, and that was all there was to it.  He’d met both of her parents–had sat down for coffee with them, even.  The mother was stern, concerned primarily with her daughter’s grades, and worked 60 hours a week.  The father was borderline rude and, curiously, jealous of any other adult’s affect on his daughter’s intellectual development. The important thing was that the daughter seemed afraid of him, which was optimal, as far as the teacher was concerned. 

      So, the teacher started talking to her outside of class.  It started with books, goings-on about town, and things that were happening on the news, but in time, as the weeks passed, the conversation shifted to other things. He talked to her as nobody had ever talked to her before: he asked her the right questions, the questions someone would ask if they really cared.  He would listen to her answers carefully, and look for insights to her character and personality.  He treated her with more respect than she had ever known.  He would bring special foods to give to her at lunch, none of which she had ever eaten before.

     In no time at all, the teacher had become very special to her.  In fact, one could say that he became one of the most important parts of her daily life. She cared about him and wanted to impress him.  She did, in fact, flourish under all of the attention, which was, after all, not dissimilar to real love.  It is probable that the teacher told himself this often as a justification for the actualization of his true desires, which were rather less altruistic. 

      Perhaps other people noticed how much time the two of them were spending together outside of class, but nobody ever said anything about it…except for one older boy, who’d displayed a romantic interest in her the previous year (and been rejected).  He cornered her after gym class one day and asked:

       “Hey.  What’s going on with you and Mr. Teacher?”

       “What do you mean?” she asked, honestly confused.

       “There’s nothing going on with you and Mr. Teacher?”

       “I don’t understand what you mean,” she said.

       She thought about it later that night and decided that the boy was just jealous because the teacher liked her more.

       Then the day came when the teacher asked her to stay after class.  She was confused, because he seemed tense, and she hadn’t done anything wrong that she could think of.

         He told her to go stand in the corner, and when she did, he pressed up behind her and put his hand underneath her skirt.  She could feel his erection through his pants.  She’d never seen an adult man’s penis before, but she knew what an erection was.

       She was terrified and bolted for the door.  She shouted after her, but didn’t chase her.

       She went home and didn’t tell anybody what happened.

       And just like that, everything changed.

      From then on, he ignored her completely.  All of the affection and attention he’d lavished on her previously was totally revoked. He did not make eye contact with her, he did not call on her in class, and her essays and homework assignments were returned to her with the minimum amount of grading possible. 

      She was, of course, devastated, and very confused.  She wanted him to not be angry with her anymore.  One time, she tried to return a book to him and talk about it, like they used to do, and all he said was, “I don’t have time for you right now.”  

     She thought about what happened all the time. She kept wondering if she had misinterpreted something, or if what happened hadn’t actually happened as she remembered.  And, naturally, she came to wonder if it was her fault. 

       One day, she went to his office when the others were in Church.  She heard him typing on his word processor.  He looked up when she came into the room.

       “Yes?  What do you want?”

      “I want it to be like it was before!  I’m sorry!” she said, wondering if she was going to cry.

      He leaned back in his chair and put one of his ankles up on his knee, and asked the question that sealed her fate:

     “Well, what are you going to do to make this up to me?”

My Birth

   It’s almost my birthday.

     I was born prematurely.  Very prematurely.  My heart was not fully formed and I could not breath properly.  I was purple and wrinkled, only slightly larger than a can of Coke.  The doctors said that I probably had brain damage.  My heart stopped and I had to be put on a ventilator.  A priest came to baptize me and give me last rights. When it was time to insert an IV, the nurse couldn’t find a large, viable vein in which to place the needle, so it went into my scalp.  I still have the scar. 

      My heart required surgery, but at that time there were no physicians in town qualified to perform it.  I needed to see a specialist trained to operate on babies.  There was a highly esteemed public university with a medical school and affiliated hospital a hundred miles away.  I was sent there.

       I went in an ambulance, with my mother and father following behind.  It was a bad winter that year and there was still snow on the roads going over the mountains.  My mother said that it took forever to get there, and they were driving at night.  She’d just had a C-section, so I can only imagine the physical pain she was in, to say nothing of the psychological stress.  

      We arrived at the University hospital and the special pediatric surgeon and team went to work.

      He had to go in through my back.  I was too small and fragile to open up my chest. 

      This is what I picture: four or five adults in hospital scrubs, with face masks on, bent over a tiny, naked purple infant laying on its stomach, the legs and arms bent like frog’s legs, with an IV needle in its scalp, under the harsh, bright lights of the operating room. 

      I was an animal. Couldn’t talk. No identity.  No personality.  Not even viable.  Less than a monkey, really. 

      The doctor cut open my back and reached down to my heart.  How big was it…?  The size of a grape..?  A walnut…?

       He fixed the valves, and sewed me back up.

       I stayed in the hospital for a long time.  I was on a ventilator, then an incubator.  Eventually, though, I was strong enough to go home.

        They told my mother that I might be retarded, but my intellect turned out just fine.  I was very quiet, though, and it took me a long time to speak.  I think it’s because I was in the incubator for so long, and didn’t get much human touch, but that is just my armchair speculation. 

       The medical bills cost over $100,000.  My mother had just started a new job, and the health insurance didn’t kick in for another three weeks.  Yes, she missed it by three weeks.  If I’d been born on time, everything would have been fine…but she was uninsured when she went into labor.  

        She paid the medical bills every month for twenty years.  I was in college by the time she paid it off. 

        When I was 26, I looked up the name of the surgeon who operated on my heart.  I wanted to send him a thank-you card.  I wanted to tell him that he saved my life, and now I am a healthy young woman.  I wanted to send him a picture of the scar on my back from where he went inside. 

      I would have liked to send a thank-you card to all of them–the people in the ambulance who drove me over the mountains, the nurses in the OR…even the priest who baptized me, and you know how I feel about clergy.   But I couldn’t find them.

       I’m not a fan of mankind.  In many ways, I have divorced myself from humanity–that’s the alcoholism.  But when I consider the truly heroic effort that went into saving my life, I feel humbled.

       That’s all.  There’s nothing else.

Mind-Fucking

      Children are shockingly easy to mind-fuck.  

      I witnessed quite a spectacle this morning when I was out and about, doing my shopping: a mother torturing her child.

      I haven’t had any experience with children since I was a child myself, so it’s difficult for me to guess the ages of the young ones, but this one looked to be about five years old.  Mom was standing at the steps to the subway station.  The boy was eight feet away.  He was frozen.  He was crying.

      Mom was telling him that it was time to get on the train and go home to receive his punishment. 

      The boy shook his head.  He was scared.  He didn’t want to go to his mother, but what could he do?  There was nowhere else to go.  He was trapped. 

       He kept say no, and that he was sorry.  There was a lot of emotion in his voice and he seemed close to panicking. It was a touching display of groveling, really.  I didn’t learn how to beg until adulthood.  It was forbidden in my parents’ households, presumably because it was too similar to complaining.  My father banished me from his sight for even crying in front of him (he did give me a pass when the cat, Tiger, died).

       Mom of the Year here looked very composed.  That’s what made such an impression on me: this wasn’t a case of a tired, harried adult losing her temper and snapping at a brat, or even swatting his ass.  A parent could have the patience of Job and still get exhausted with children’s histrionics from time to time.

       Nope.  Mom of the Year here was enjoying herself.  I saw that very clearly.  I’d recognize her expression at a thousand paces.

       I’m not in the habit of meddling with strangers–I would sit in a busy waiting room all day without once initiating conversation with the person next to me–but in this case, I felt obliged to say something.

       “It’s easy to mind-fuck children, isn’t it?  A person could do it all day.”

       Mom looked at me, brought back into reality, and the spell was broken.   She walked to her child, grabbed him by the collar, and started towing him to the stairs. Poor little guy.  He’d be better off in an orphanage.  Children are slaves in our society.  It makes me sick sometimes to think that anyone who wants to can essentially get their own little slave and do whatever they want to them.

      Occasionally, in my role as a professional sadist, I will make the object collude with me in his own oppression.  I don’t do it often because it’s psychologically dicey for me, but I have done it.  More than once. 

        I tell them, you know.  I warn them to be careful with what they choose to tell me…or any other mistress, for that matter.  I tell them that I am paying attention, studying them, listening carefully as they give me the keys to unlock them.  To dismantle them.  My father is the cruelest person I have ever met.  I reject him insofar as I am able, but that cruelty is still my birthright, and I have a talent for it.  It is one reason I do not want children.

       I got a priest this week…the fourth one of my career (that I know of, of course.  If they come in wearing street clothes and don’t mention their vocation, I’d have no idea).  Culturally, I suppose, I’m still a Roman Catholic, but in the last few years I’ve become so anti-clergy (of all religions) that I can barely sit through Mass on Christmas, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I call one “father” again. It’s not even the stupid religion that gets on my nerves, it’s the power of the institution.  It angers a lot of them if you don’t address them by their titles, which really tells you something about how they consider themselves.

       He told me his secrets.  I listened carefully and absorbed it, and I told him that I was going to use it to hurt him.  He knew, and he told me anyway, because that is what he wanted.  I took it all in, examined it, and turned it over in my head, while I got in touch with my father.  

       I distilled the priest’s secrets down to a poison, because that is my father’s talent, which he passed on to me.  

      I whispered to him in the dark, and, like King Claudius, I dripped his poison back into his ear. 

       The first thing that I made him do was to look into the mirror and slap himself.

       This is my house, and there is no escape.

       Nobody here gets out alive.

On Not Being Worldly (and Why It Matters)

Update 3/26/14  7:00 AM:  
   
     BUMPED this blog post because of the excellent comments thread.  Go read it (grumpyoldswitch’s final postings are in reverse order).  I wish my blog had more than 8 readers.    I invite anyone who has an opinion to weigh in.  You may comment anonymously.


                *                                  *                                * 

 Both of my parents grew up in poverty that would be nearly unimaginable today.  When I hear that the Germans had the best education system in the world at that time, I am a little skeptical, because my grandparents were pretty uneducated, parochial, and suspicious of anything cosmopolitan.  I mean, decades in the US and they wouldn’t try to eat spaghetti or a fucking taco. I am surprised the US let them in.

     My father was sensitive about being a poor boy and tried to become middle class.  For a while, he even succeeded.  He had a lot of native intelligence and graduated college.  After the Army and the Peace Corps, he taught History and German while studying for an advanced degree.  Readers will know that teaching would not be the best fit for Franz Adler’s, uhh, personality.  That didn’t work out very well. Then the wheels started to come off when he was about the age I am now.  He couldn’t hold it together.  He became homeless for a time and was institutionalized.  We were on welfare.  When I was old enough to work, I supported him.

     My mother got a decent job and worked very, very hard.  She now enjoys a modest but comfortable retirement.  She does not discuss her childhood.  There are no pictures of it in the home and I don’t know my grandfather’s name or what he looked like.  I do know that my mother, like her many siblings, was born at home.  

     I’m very well-educated and my parents taught me good manners, so I can pass myself off as being middle-class, but, really, I’m not.

     My Ph.D. program was full of comparatively rich kids and the professors were pretty well-off, too.  My best friend there was a fellow hick from the provinces.  We had many long conversations discussing culture shock.  Then I started working at my secret job and I met the Surgeon, and I started spending a lot of time with rich people.  Rich men, specifically.  

      It was an interesting experience.  Rich people never intimidated me, because I am educated.  But one thing that struck me, over and over again, was just how little I knew about the things that these men took for granted. 

       The Surgeon grew up upper-middle class and he’s an insane social climber.  Now he has millions of dollars.  He was constantly shocked at all the things I didn’t know.  He thought it was funny, but it also concerned him, actually–he was frightened for me at times–and he started going out of his way to teach me things that he thought I needed to know about the world.  

         The first time I got a nice suit, I thought that the pockets were fake.  I was actually complaining about it at school (“$200 for a suit, and it doesn’t have pockets!”) and one of my professors pulled me aside and gently showed me that the pockets were there, they were just sewn shut. 

        The first time I flew on an airplane, I took out my wallet to pay for the meal.  This was when meals were inclusive.  The stewardess looked at me like I was crazy.

       I did not know what a Roth IRA was.  I did not know how the stock market worked.  I did not know how to buy a stock.  I was completely ignorant of all banking terms.  I understood the primary mechanisms of capitalism because I’d read a lot of Karl Marx.  It was all theory.  I had absolutely no practical experience with anything involving money. If you handed me $200,000 in cash and told me that I had to buy a house, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do or where to go.

       One thing that made me angry during the housing crisis was seeing all these rich priviliged blowhards on TV screaming and complaining about all the stupid poor people buying houses they couldn’t afford.  What they don’t understand is that when you’re poor, nobody ever teaches you this stuff.  Fixed or adjusted rate mortgage?  What?  Three-quarters of Americans don’t graduate from college.  We are a nation of innumerates.  Really poor people can’t even read a bus schedule.  How the fuck are they supposed to avoid getting taken advantage of by a credit card company?

       Another thing you have to remember about growing up and living poor is that you are absolutely at the mercy of the institutions that control your life.  Cops tell you what to do, the courts tell you what to do, the welfare office tells you what to do, schools tell you what to do, the banks tell you what to do, the IRS tells you want to do, and, of course, your boss and the church tells you what to do.  You get used to it.  One thing that shocked me–astonished me, really–about observing the behavior of wealthy people, or even middle-class people, was their contempt for authority, and they way that they felt free to do whatever the fuck they wanted.   Cause they do.  They don’t ask for permission to do things a million times a day.  They certainly don’t have to ask their boss at work if they can take a bathroom break.  It’s easy to be powerful in the world if you have that mindset.  The Surgeon was absolutely gobsmacked at the way I would calmly accept it when someone told me “no.”  Can I get a late check-out at the hotel?  No?  Oh, all right then.  I wasn’t used to fighting for things, or getting what I wanted, with the exception of my academic success.  All the cultural factors and institutions in my upbringing socialized me to work hard to earn what I want, and to be obedient, and to respect authority.  When you’re poor and vulnerable, resistance means that you’re out of a job or you’re in jail.  

    (Incidentally, I think one of the reasons rich people hate the IRS and paying taxes so much is that they HATE the idea of an institution forcing them to do something, or having power over them.  They HATE that shit.  That is how used they are to having power in life.  Remember that hilarious scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, when DiCaprio throws the Federal Agents off his yacht and throws lobsters at them?  The Surgeon would definitely throw a lobster.  Definitely. If a Federal Agent knocked on my door, I’d have a heart attack and tell him whatever he wanted.)

Wow, look at all the stuff I can write when I’m not drunk.


Political Theater (Tales from a Submissive Intern)

      When I was a sophomore in college, I won a summer internship for a certain politician.  I won’t say which politician, but I will say that he’s important enough that I list the internship on my CV even though it was unpaid and all I did was clerical grunt work and make Starbucks runs for the lower-level staff (I was too irrelevant to get the politician’s coffee.  Like one of his heroes who was also a power-drunk bully, LBJ, he liked to humiliate employees he was angry at by making them get his coffee.  These people were adults with JDs and MA’s).  

       If I told you who this man was, you’d freak.

       Well, one day his secretary sent me into his office with some paperwork for him to sign and a glass of icewater.

       He had a beautiful office.  It was big and always dark and cool inside, and I’m sure that all the wood was endangered hardwoods.  He had a huge state flag and a US flag with tassels on it.  I used to like going in there and fantasizing about coming back to work there once I was finished with my education.

      Well, when I came inside, I saw that he was on the telephone.  It wasn’t a cell phone.  It was a real, heavy phone with a coiled cord.  It was the OFFICIAL PHONE.

       He gestured at me to put the paperwork in a plastic inbox on his desk.

       Then whoever he was calling on the phone picked up…

       (and my heart is starting to beat quickly just remembering, a decade later)

         ….and the politician teared into him.

         He was furious.  Fucking furious.  He was snarling at this guy, his voice was loud, he was cursing at him and calling him a treacherous son-of-a-bitch  and asking him if he thought he was going to get away with it?  Going behind my back?

         To this day, I have never seen anyone act that way.  I’ve seen the Surgeon turn on the abuse 100% of a few other people, and it was shockingly ugly, but this politician takes the prize.  I’ve seen men get into confrontations and yell at each other (usually in bars), but they usually just look like big morons.  

        This man did not sound like an idiot.  He sounded like God.  He probably felt like God.  

        I was terrified.

        I wasn’t the only one: I could hear his victim on the other end of the line.  Begging for a chance to explain.  Begging.  This was a grown man.  He sounded like he might be crying.  I’d never heard a man cry in my life


       The politician took the man’s job away and effectively destroyed his career.  He was unemployable.  Four months later, he’d have to move out of the state.

       (Now that I’m older and have been around a bit, I have to tell you, I don’t think that it’s legal to terminate someone like that.  I’ve never seen an employee treated that way.  Ever.  And I’ve been a research assistant.)

       The politician slammed the phone down so hard that it fell off its cradle.  Then he seemed to become re-aware of my presence. 

       “The water,” he said.

       I looked down and saw that my hand was shaking so badly that the water was splashing out, all over my hand and onto the carpet.  There were ice cubes on the rug.

       “I’m sorry,” I squeaked.  I thought he was going to scream at me.  I felt like I was about to have a panic attack.  All of my muscles were tight.

       I’ll never forget what he did next: he leaned back in his big leather chair, put his hand underneath his chin, and smiled at me.

       Sadists are happy when they feel their power.  They really are.

      I told him that I’d bring more water, turned, and practically ran out of his office.

      I bolted straight for the bathroom.  The private one, with the lock on the door.  I went there because I was upset, and I was raised not to show strong emotions in public.  I didn’t want anyone to see me upset.  That would be improper.

      I locked the door behind me, put the water glass down by the sink, sat down on the lid of the toilet seat, and hugged myself tightly. My heart was pounding and I was shaking all over.  I thought I might throw up.  I kept hearing the snarl in his voice, and all that anger.  The power in it.

      And the terror on the other end of the line.

      I was clenching my thighs together, and something happened.  I’ve never told anyone this story, because it’s embarrassing and very personal, but I will tell you now:  I had an orgasm.

      It was one of my first ones.  I didn’t become orgasmic until I was 20 (but I sure made up for lost time, eh?).  

      I probably hid in the bathroom for fifteen or twenty minutes.  Then I composed myself, smoothed my hair, and went back to work.

       If I was four or five years older, a more mature, sophisticated woman, I would have been fucking that guy before I left that internship (or afterward, if he had the self-restraint to wait until I was safely out of his office).  Guaranteed.   When I want a man, I take him.

       But I was very young and inexperienced, and I didn’t know how to approach men yet, so I didn’t.  I behaved myself.  He wrote me a short, nice little letter of recommendation with the state seal on it that I have hanging on the wall of my bedroom office next to my degree from that school and the certificate of membership in my professional organization.  I have a picture of myself shaking his hand in front of the flag, which I will presumably hang on the wall of my office at work, once I have a real office and not a fucking adjunct instructor’s time-share.  

       Now that I’m older and more experienced, I wonder about the incident from the politician’s point of view.  Why did he do that in front of me?  It was inappropriate (if there is one word, ever, to describe my taste in men, it would be that: inappropriate).  

     Did he simply not give a shit that I was there?  Was he trying to scare me?  Was he showing off?  I was just an intern from the local state school.

       I think the smile at the end was a clue.  He liked seeing me scared.  

        I’d bet my last dollar that little spectacle made his dick hard.

       He’s still in office.  A very effective politician, and a notorious, notorious asshole. 

Night Intruders

     When I was about six years old, a young woman was murdered in her apartment a few blocks away from my mother’s house. 

      It was not an ordinary murder (if there is such a thing).  It was gruesome.  I can’t give out the details without compromising my privacy, but take my word for it: it was the type of murder a serial killer would commit.  Her body was mutilated. 

     The town freaked out.  Suddenly everyone was checking the locks on their windows and walking their children to the bus stop.  The murder and the hunt for the killer were on the front page of the paper every day.  My mother wouldn’t let me read the stories because of the violence, but I read them at my father’s house.  He never shared the belief that children should be protected from the horrors of this world, and if there was anything he despised in a person more than stupidity or cowardice, it was naivety. 

     The murder scared Mom very badly, and her anxiety intensified when they could not find the killer.  The victim was new in town and the police speculated that perhaps the killer had followed her from wherever she came from.  I don’t think they ever caught the man.

    My mother has always had a profound, even neurotic fear of night stalkers.  Practically ever woman I know is scared of home invasion, but my mother has a particularly bad case.  She was worried sick over this murder.

     Well, my father approached her and said that he knew someone who had a very good guard dog, and they were going on a two-week vacation soon.  They wanted my father to watch their dog for them, but would my mother be interested in keeping the dog instead?  Maybe the dog would help her feel better.

      Mom agreed to take the dog for two weeks.

      I was delighted to hear that we were going to have a dog in the house.  The family Cocker Spaniel had passed away the previous year, and I’d wanted a new dog ever since. 

       This dog was no Spaniel. 

       It was some sort of German Shepard mix–probably GSD and Rottweiler– and it was huge, long-legged and broad-chested.  I know everything looks bigger when you’re a child, but this was a very big dog by any objective standard.  It probably weighed more than my mother.   

       That dog made us nervous the minute it got out of the car.  It didn’t run around to explore, or try to play.  It didn’t bark.  It didn’t shyly approach and try to make an introduction.  It stood there calmly and stared at us, sizing us up.

       Mom put him in the back yard for a few hours to let him acclimate.  Then she went out by herself and hand-fed him some chunks of hot dog in order to make friends with him.  The dog ate the food, but he wasn’t very friendly.  I know GSDs are aloof with humans they don’t know, but there was something weird about this one.

      Mom decided she didn’t want him in he house until he warmed up.  It was early Fall and the weather was warm and dry, and he had access to the garage and a shaded backyard, so I don’t think it was an imposition on him.  Mom would go spend time with him every day, but that dog, I’m telling you, did not give a shit. 

      Sure enough, though, he did start to guard the perimeter.  He’s walk along the fence, nose to the ground, as if doing a survey of the terrain.  He’d jump up on his hind legs and keep through the knotholes in the wooded fence. 

      He was a quiet dog.  

      Well, one day, towards the end of the second week, he jumped the fence.  It was a six-foot fence, but he jumped it.  For the record, it was the first time he did it.  If Mom had known he could have done it, she would have chained him.

      Around 8 or 9 PM–right before my bedtime–I heard something tapping against the sliding glass door of the backyard.  My mother was taking her bath.  My brother was watching TV. 

      I went to the door and parted the hanging blinds.

      The dog was there, as tall as me and staring straight into my eyes.  His face was smeared with blood and he was holding the severed leg of a cow in his mouth, as if it were a great big rawhide doggie bone. 

      The whole leg.  Hoof and all. 

      Tail was waggin’. 

      I screamed.

      My brother ran over and saw, and he started screaming, too.

      My mother came running down the hall.  She was holding a towel over her body.  She’d come so fast that she didn’t bother to wrap it around her, and she was dripping water everyplace.  She slid when she got to the room and almost fell.  

       The dog was still standing at the window, wagging its long bushy tail.  Little pig, little pig, let me in.

      She sent us both to our rooms and called Animal Control, but they were closed for the night.  She was afraid to go out there alone to chain the dog.  She called a few neighbors to tell them what was going on so that they could get their pets indoors and to ask if any of them had a man to borrow to get the thing on a chain or inside the garage–it jumped out once, it could do it again.

       No takers.

       The dog retired to the lawn right underneath my bedroom window and proceeded to devour its prize.  The grating, crunching sound of tooth on bone kept me awake.  I kept picturing the hoof.  I kept thinking that the dog was going to get in through my window. 

      It suddenly occurred to me that my father sent us the dog to murder us all in our sleep.  It made perfect sense. 

      Maybe the dog killed the young woman down the street.  Maybe my father did.  

      I was up for most of the night, listening to the bones crunch. 

     My mother called the owners and they sent someone to pick up the dog early the next morning–it was that or Animal Control, my mother said.  She was furious.  

       She drove to a few nearby cattle ranches and asked if they’d lost any livestock or had a dog attack.  She gave them all her contact information.  She wanted to pay for it.  We never did find out where that cow leg came from.  It was hard to find the owners, because the cattle were on grazing land rather than homesteads. The owners did not live by the animals. 

       I told my father the story of finding the dog outside the door, holding the cow leg as if it was a stick for playing fetch.  

      He thought it was hilarious. 

Please Don’t Tell My Father

     When I was 13 years old, I was arrested for shoplifting.

      I realize this may sound implausible to you, gentle reader, but it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.  

      
      When I about 11 years old, I was at a local convenience store with my father.  

       Outside, a little kid–a year or two younger than me–tried to run across the street.  No crosswalk, no lamp.  He was jaywalking.  Or jayrunning.  We saw it through the window. 

        The boy was hit by a car.  It only side-swiped him, thank God, but he was knocked spang off his feet and fell to the blacktop as if he’d been hit by a lightening bolt.  

        A few of the adults around me screamed.  Another said, Oh my God. 

         My father ran outside and into the road. Traffic just kept going by.  

      Then he picked the boy up and carried him back inside the store.  He laid him on the floor in front of the cash register, by all the candy and chewing gum.  

       The shop owner was calling an ambulance. 

        The boy was sobbing hysterically.  His arm was fucked up.  There was no blood, but it was bent funny and he couldn’t move it right.  

       The rest of him seemed to be okay, thank God. 

        My father was crouched on the floor next to him, looking into his eyes.  He told the boy that he was going to be all right.  He told the boy to try to stop moving.  He told the boy that an ambulance was coming to help.  He asked the boy for his parents’ phone number. 

        Do you know what the boy said?  The first words out of his mouth, after all the crying and screaming in pain and fear…?

       I’ve never forgotten it.  I was standing right there.  I was so scared that my face was numb.  He was a blond boy in jeans. Skinny.  Hair was wispy and unkept.

       “Please don’t tell my Dad!  Don’t tell my Dad!  He’ll be mad at me!  I don’t want him to hit me!  I’m sorry!  He’s going to be so mad!”

        There you have it.  Little boy gets hit by a car, suffers pain of broken arm, and his first thought is: My father is going to be angry with me.

        I’ve never seen my father cry–I’ve never seen any of the men in my family cry, come to think of it, and my mother only three or four times–but he looked close to tears then.

         He put his hand on the crown of the boy’s head and looked into his eyes and said: “Your father will not be mad at you.  It’s not your fault.”

         “But I broke the ruuuuuuuuules!” cried the boy.  

          I assume he meant the rules for crossing the street, but I have no idea. 

          Two years later, I was arrested for shoplifting.  

          I stole a sandwich, a can of Dr. Pepper, a Snickers candy bar, and a lip gloss (hey, in for a penny, in for a pound).  

          The first words out of my mouth were: “Please don’t tell my father.”

        The cop who detained me looked confused.  She asked me why I stole a sandwich.  A sandwich?

         I thought fast: “My friends dared me to do it.”

         She wrote that down in her report and lectured me to not be a sheep.  The moron. 

         I stole the food because I was staying with my father and he’d forgotten to feed me for a day and a half and I was losing my mind. 

         But when I was caught, all I could think was: Please don’t tell my father.