Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Experiences Will Make a Real Person of You

No small wonder your early notebooks went begging for things of significance to write about.  No wonder the big news was the score you'd kept in one particular notebook, noting such grand excitements as cars with out-of-state license plates, or those even rarer times when you'd receive something--anything at all--in the mail.

You had a sense of something being, wrong but you lacked the acuity to define it for yourself.  You were by all accounts too young to have significant memories.  You knew well enough how you'd come by the scar on your left wrist.  You had the memory of a neighbor's dog, Silver, when you lived in Burbank.  Silver bit you for some reason or other.  For reasons of your own, you bit him back.  You had the exotic memory of the neighbor on the other side of the house you lived on at Providencia Street in Burbank.  This neighbor had two baby alligators in the sink in the laundry room.

These were scarcely the things to record in your notebooks.  You had no past you could draw upon.  You had to invent.  If you invented too well, under certain circumstances, say being given a remarkable lunch featuring items you'd read on a restaurant menu while walking home from school, you were given a minimalist dinner instead of the one to which you'd become accustomed.

More often than your inventing stories that were not believed, your invented stories were believed, leaving you to live with the consequences.  You already were learning the hazards of confessing how your story of an event was your own version, which is to say a fabrication.  You knew.

You in fact were at a loss because you had nothing to draw upon except things that happened to you at times near the immediate present.  Even though thing had happened to you, they were more apt to be things that you did not initiate.  You had a kind of past, a laundry list past, with X vaccinations, Y scoldings, Z school experiences, and you were on your way toward becoming a more tangible, assertive self.  But the best you could do by way of being who you were was to be found in the grades you were given in the deportment section of your report card.  

The A's and occasional B were counterbalanced by so-called social grades, where R equalled outstanding, S was satisfactory behavior, and N was unacceptable.  The first time you heard the word asshole was when your father, looking at your report card, said, "You know what they call guys who get A's and N's?"

Your attitude toward assholes ever since was grounded in that exchange.  You had no real history of your own.  You were, by your own sense of implication, an asshole.  You'd heard your father call other persons asshole, but never you.  The worst--and most instructive--thing he asked of you rather than called you, was:  "What are you, some kind of wise guy?" 

You had no real history of your own.  But.  You were on your way.

By the time you were fifteen, you had enough history to do something about.  You'd had rejection slips from magazines, had your heart broken by a girl with the exotic name of Helayne, knew at least one Mafioso, could drink demitasse coffee, and knew the best places in Los Angeles to buy penny candy.  You had your favorite place in all of Los Angeles to be taken on your birthday, Clifton's  Cafeteria, which had in addition to the smell other cafeterias had, the smell of sincerity.

You were fast emerging into a period of your life where you understood the sense of abject loneliness to be experienced at two of a morning, when bars, saloons, taverns, and neighborhood cocktail lounges closed.  You knew the sense of wobbling home, if you happened to be at Mae Burke's bar on Wilshire Boulevard, or, later, the tavern on Pico Boulevard, a half block south of the Del Mar theater, where you could often win luxurious amounts of  beer because of your discovered talents at shuffleboard.

You did not want to be recognized for being good at shuffleboard and, thus, winning pitchers of beer.  You wanted to be recognized for being good at short stories.  You did not wish to be regarded for how much beer you could drink or for the troubles inflicted upon your behavior whenever you did drink admirable amounts of beer.

During these times, because of what one friend has referred to as your people skills, you were invited to the home of a fellow drinker for an early breakfast.  What you did not think through the first few times this happened is the effect on a housewife who is awakened at two thirty or three of a morning, aware of a missing husband, and the sounds of the kinds of clatter men, however good their intentions and cooking ability would make at two thirty or three of a morning.

Such experiences are not given to the person you were before you began compiling a dictionary of experiences worth writing about.

"This is my friend, Stan,"  your carousing mate would explain to his wife.

"Shelly,"  you would say.

"He couldn't come,"  your drinking friend would tell his wife, " but I have Stan here."

"Shelly."

"Good old Stan,"

The wife would often say something like "Jesus."  Or perhaps she'd say, "Are you going to use all those eggs for the two of you?"  At which point either you or your drinking mate would giggle.  Even then, you understood this was not the best of ideas, but you were suffused with the awful ridiculousness of the circumstance.

"Stan likes a lot of eggs with his breakfast."

"Shelly."

"Yah, he likes his eggs, too, old Shelly."

"And who is going to clean this--this mess?"

With sufficient experience in a person's notebook, he is able to include his own adventures in the foibles of individuals thrown together in a neighborhood tavern or saloon, there in the first place out of some real or imagined need for companionship, some leavening of bonding in the batter of being a member of the human species.

Such a person, after one or two such kitchen confrontations, should know better, should be able to say, "Thanks, anyway.  Got someone waiting for me at home."  Never mind that he was in the tavern in the first place because there was no one waiting at home.  What matters is the eleven- or twelve-o'clock male bonding over a game of shuffleboard or eight-ball, played on coin-operated machines for drinks everyone knows will be the drinks that will push them over the edge of competent sobriety and into such variations on a theme of normality as cantankerous, aggressive, competitive, or merely the desire to be a good friend to someone for an hour or so with no strings attached.

What matters is that you mores now than ever before, understand the odd, idiosyncratic nuances of strangers who seek to become friends and, in the process, mess up someone's kitchen, organized and maintained to accommodate for almost any contingency.

Even the three-in-the-morning appearance of the kitchen mistress' husband, with his new best friend, Stan.

"Shelly."


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