Saturday, July 25, 2009


My father reveled in saying things piss, I need to take a piss, or shit, I need to take a shit. At a restaurant, when the waitress turned around he would say: that waitress was stacked, that waitress was stacked like a brick shithouse. He thought that if he said things like that often enough, in between writing papers about the borderline condition, maybe that would make him working class. Karla, let’s fuck. That’s who he was talking to. And then they went into their room and locked the door -- they were liberals, they shared everything equally. The borderline condition, as in my father’s specialty: borderline schizophrenia. He wrote a book about it, his first book, and everyone was very proud, especially his mother, the artist, the artist who liked to tell a story about when my father wanted to become a writer, before or after college I’m not sure but she said to him: okay, you pay all the bills. He went to medical school.

Sundays at Celebrity Deli, didn’t the four of us used to go out together but now it was just me, me and my father-- where was everyone else? Now my father was talking to me: that waitress is stacked, stacked like a brick shithouse. I stared at him like he should die, die right there. On the walls: signed pictures of celebrities, these celebrities couldn’t have come to Celebrity Deli, off the Rockville Pike, in the Maryland suburbs. Maybe Goldie Hawn, because she went to my mother’s high school, but not the rest. When I thought about New York, I didn’t think about Jewish delis, I thought about a commune in the East Village where we were all artists and refugees, do you see how everything on the East Coast is colonized by New York, everything that involves imagination?

My father’s favorite thing at Celebrity Deli was the tongue sandwich, they didn’t have tongue in every Jewish deli, tongue on rye. He would gobble it down, smacking his lips, and then put all his greasy napkins on the table. Maybe he would pause to burp once or twice. I would stare at him, stare at him like he should die -- that’s disgusting, I would say, my eyes filled with scorn, lip pulling up, and my father loved my disgust -- oh how my father loved that, it meant he was winning.

I had my own napkins, stuffing half-chewed pieces of a sandwich, another sandwich into bundles for a rush to the bathroom, it was so much harder if we didn’t get a booth where I could stuff everything under the cushions, there weren’t many booths at Celebrity Deli but Hoffberg’s didn’t have tongue. And maybe they weren’t open on Sundays. Eventually we moved on to the bagel pizza, when Jewish became something everyone could eat, there were special places for it, bagel places almost like doughnut shops without the sugar. But this was Celebrity Deli, I did like my cup of matzoh ball soup, which was really just a matzoh ball, even though I wasn’t sure how many calories to count, these matzoh balls were much bigger than the ones pictured on the box of matzoh meal at the grocery store that listed calories per serving.

My father and I are shopping for a refrigerator, this takes a lot of strategizing, strategizing on my part because I want the one with the icemaker, the one that’s top-of-the-line. Everyone has an icemaker now, I say. That doesn’t work: we’re not everyone.

My father thinks it’s too expensive, might not fit in our kitchen anyway but then we measure and it would fit. We go back to the store, the store that’s right around the corner from tongue sandwiches, and all those lox jokes on the walls, bagels with combination padlocks, get it? They were fun when we first started going, but now they’re just another way for my father to annoy me. This refrigerator is the sturdiest, it will definitely last longer, it’s a better deal, don’t you think? The other one doesn’t have enough space.

We ended up with the refrigerator I wanted, do you see how victory was never really victory? I realized where to find the softest sweaters at Bloomingdale’s, in the designer section with all the strange fabrics. The good news was that a $360 sweater would eventually go on sale for $36, and you could make that happen faster if you just changed the labels. The black one that was wool but stretchy, the mustard-colored one that was way too large but look at the way the color changed in different lighting -- I could roll it up and tuck it into my back pockets. This was when I tucked everything into my back pockets, I didn’t want it to cling to my body and I didn’t want it to hang. Then, the green chenille one that got ruined in the dryer and then I got another one, this one was larger so I didn’t like it as much but they didn’t have any mediums left. It got ruined too, these expensive sweaters weren’t made too well.

My prize was the pale blue one that rolled up at the top, wool so soft that it didn’t even scratch your neck. I mean my neck, my neck was very sensitive, my father’s hands but that was already gone, gone from my memory I just wanted sweaters to cover it. Oh, and the navy one made of some strange synthetic that already looked vintage, and then it seemed like threads were hanging from it within a few days, but that was okay because then no one would ever guess it was Giorgio Armani, especially since the collar was uneven. This was when I would add up how much everything cost in each outfit, so when I wore the Armani one, which I got reduced from $187 to $36, and a black Calvin Klein t-shirt, $12, black jeans that originally came from The Gap but they faded and I dyed them burgundy, or maroon, actually, closer to brown but not too close, $28, Adidas Sambas with the white part colored in with black designs, $32. Or, when I wore the mustard one that was my first discount find, that’s the one that went from $360 to $36 or something like $36, I’m just using $36 as a marker here, an estimate -- maybe no one wanted it because it was such a strange color like vomit I liked that color. I’d wear that one with burgundy Girbaud jeans but I blacked out anything that said Girbaud and they weren’t baggy like the usual ones, people would say where, where did you get those, $56, another black Calvin Klein T-shirt underneath, $12, those green John Fluvog shoes with the buckles that were a prize because you couldn’t find those yet in DC, $82, they were one of the few things I actually got in New York, although New York was where I told everyone I got anything that looked a little unusual, I guess Bloomingdale’s was kind of like New York. But not unusual. You could find a lot at Bloomingdale’s, and it was actually cheaper than Urban Outfitters where everything really looked like New York and they didn’t have such good sales, this was the beginning of Urban Outfitters or at least it seemed like the beginning. Maybe there’s no beginning.

There was one thing my father and I agreed on: rich meant evil. Yet somehow I felt like if my sweaters could get soft enough, this might save me. I wanted everything to add up to $100 or more, even though I didn’t want anyone to know that it had cost more than Value Village.

You know the saying about how, if you circle around something enough, then eventually you’ll find it? That’s not as saying. I’m just saying. It was hard for me to get to the makeup counter, I didn’t know what to say. I’m looking for a base to cover up my acne, I mean my mother’s acne? So then there was that bathroom at Woodie’s, I was on the way from school to my father’s office, I would wait for him until he was done with his patients and then he would drive me home. I stopped at Woodie’s to look for that base, but I was too scared to talk to the person behind the makeup counter-- you know how boys aren’t supposed to wear makeup, right? So I ended up buying an Evian Brumisateur, Evian water in a metal can, with a nozzle so you could spray a delicate mist over your face, actually in the DC humidity it was wonderful, did I have the Woodie’s credit card yet, no one used that one much

But then the bathroom, black tile and I’m standing at the urinal because that’s what my father says I’m supposed to do, even though it’s hard not to get too nervous that someone will think I’m looking but there it is, reflected in the black tile, this guy next to me, he drops his hand. I can’t breathe, I mean I never really breathe but now I’m really not breathing. I mean I notice, I notice I’m not breathing. I drop my hand too; I reach for his and it’s spongy, warm, he reaches for mine and we stand there like that for maybe 30 seconds or three minutes or three years there’s no way to know there’s no way to know anything except I can’t breathe and this warmth in my hand and then someone comes in and I pull back quickly, stuff it into my pants, and walk as fast as I can without looking like I’m running, out the back door, down the hill and up the block to my father’s office.

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