Saturday, August 21, 2010
Broken home boys, redux
August 20, 2010, the day before Edward's forty-eighth birthday, and here we are, seated at the bar, in a wood empaneled, elegant watering hole, not far from the State Capitol building, in Salem, Oregon. Although we do not discuss it, I'm certain we both find the young woman tending the bar to be gorgeous. She has ivory white skin, a high, round forehead, generous lips, a slightly-upturned nose, and hair the color of rich, black coffee, cut so that it just brushes her shoulders. She possesses an innocence in her manner and expression that makes me at the same time feel paternal and wistful.
"Do you get politicians in here?" I ask her. She nods, smiling. "How about Governor Kulongowski?" I ask. "He's been here," she says, nodding.
Edward watches the exchange. When the young woman turns away, to see to another patron, he shakes his head, and says with a knowing smile, "I can't take you anywhere."
I shrug, embarrassed. No use denying anything. Even with long gaps in these thirty-eight years, we still understand a thing or two about each other. "It's true. I love to flirt," I say.
His smile is a grin now. His eyebrows draw down to a point where his aquiline noble Italian nose begins. All those Latin good looks must make my feeble antics seem amusing.
"Anyway," he says, returning to our conversation, "she liked to pretend she was Super Mom, you know, but there were times when we were on our own for days."
"Really?" I ask.
"Oh, yeah," he says. "She was mean."
I travel back across three and a half decades, and run the tape. Yes, I remember now: stealthy footsteps across the rafters toward the attic; angry tears, shrill accusations; a sense that things were changing forever. "Why?" I ask.
He shrugs. "Chasing men. Chasing money."
The conversation pauses for a beat. Then, "Yeah," I say. "I had a crazy grandma, too."
"Grandma Metzger?" he asks, incredulous.
"No, not her," I say.
"Yeah, I can't imagine," he says. "Grandma Metzger was pretty solid."
"I must've been about six," I say. "So Eric would've been four or so... wandered into the kitchen... Dad and Grandma were in there speaking Spanish ...lotta tension, I remember... Grandma points at me, says 'Who do you love more, son? Your dad or your mom?' Didn't know what to say, you know? But she wasn't gonna let it go... 'Come on, son. Tell me,' she says. Dad laying on the couch... eyes shut... frowning. He says, 'It's better that you boys love your mom more.' So I say to Grandma, 'Yeah, I love Mom more.' And Eric says, 'Yeah, me too.' Grandma turns to Dad and says 'You see?'''
Edward's face is open and frank. "Your dad sure was bein' a man, though...takin' a bullet for you guys like that."
I think about it. "Yeah. Yeah, he was, wasn't he?"
"That's something Ross and I share... fatherhood," he says. "Sometimes you just gotta take a bullet for the team." He lifts his glass, shakes his head. "Here's to Ross."
We clink glasses.
I find that the tone of our conversation reveals a lot. Our lives are unalike; each of us has acquired his wisdom from very different experiences. And yet, we agree much more than we disagree. We talk about our mistakes, our victories, our griefs; we enunciate our theories about justice, about ethics and morality. It turns out that we're both moral men.
And, like all moral men, we're each carrying around a few unforgivable transgressions.
"But don't think I didn't pay for them," Edward says. "It's all karma."
"Yeah," I agree. "Send out good vibes, good vibes come back. Send out bad vibes..." Karma never fails.
Thirty-eight year ago, Edward and I met. Right here, in Salem. Arrived in similar circumstances at a similar age; played pick-up football with neighborhood kids at "the Rez;" vandalized automobiles; shoplifted cap guns; threw fir cones at cars from the top of the bank that overlooked Crestview Street, out behind Marie Bello's house (Marie, forever young and beautiful in my vision); smoked dope; laughed; cried; pondered the mysteries of teenage girls; did our best to be brave. Broken home boys.
Bonds forged in those years, in those tween years, sometimes endure for lifetimes. Especially bonds between socially ill-adjusted boys living on the poorer side of the hill, with no fathers at home, searching, in those last years of boyhood, for something to hold fast and true in their hearts; something to swear allegiance to across the turbulent sea of life, thirty-eight years wide.
All it takes is a little luck. And the fact that Edward and I are sitting here in this bar, none-the-worse-for wear, thirty-eight years later just goes to show --we always were pretty lucky.