Reclaiming my past
October 2, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
I just found a letter I’d forgotten I wrote. It’s dated September 26, 1996. I never sent it. Here’s part.
* * *
I’ve been dividing my time between writing, seeing a shrink (my head’s the size of a grapefruit now), and working on my great-aunt’s house next door. It’s a very Wictoresque venture so far.
The contractor Dad hired has a slight gambling problem, as well as one son who’s a vegetable and another who’s a white separatist living in Idaho. Dad paid them for the best-quality wood, cement, and roofing material, but they bought the cruddiest, Third World stuff they could find and pocketed the difference. Though Dad bitched mightily to Tim and me, he didn’t confront the contractor.
You know what’s funny? If I confronted the contractor, Dad would deny my accusations. He’d side with the contractor.
“How dare you say such a thing, Tom! Honestly, Mr. ________, I don’t know where he got such an idea! I’ll deal with you later, young man!”
Dad’s pretty hardcore in theory, but I’ve never seen him actually stand up for himself when someone was taking advantage of him. I’m the same way. It’s extremely tough for me to confront people. What I need is a devoted sidekick eight feet tall, with fangs and a hearty laugh.
The contractor’s vegetable-son fell in love with me and calls out “Hi Tom!” every time he sees me, which is fifty times a day. He looks just like David Crosby; that bushy mustache makes it seem like he’s always smiling even when he isn’t. And he has Crohn’s disease. When he uses the bathroom in the laundry room, he screams. The first time he did that, I thought he’d run into a sharp, laundry-room projection and speared his eyeball, but his father said it was “just” Crohn’s disease.
I’d never heard of it. I thought he said Crone’s disease, which sounds even worse. An illness that turns you into an old witch and makes you scream.
One day the vegetable-son dropped a pneumatic nail gun next to me because he was done with it. He threw it down at my feet, it went off, and a four-inch nail went whizzing like a hummingbird past my ear. Missed my head by the thickness of an envelope. His brother the Neo-Nazi glanced at him and mumbled, “Gee, Ricky, better be careful with that.”
The plumber who Dad hired was afraid of dark, enclosed spaces, so Tim and I had to dig out three tons of earth from under the house using dust pans and toy shovels because there was only eighteen inches of headroom. When we first went under the house, we found a mummified cat that probably dated from the twenties.
The concrete-pouring guy was bipolar. In a trough of apathy, he left voids as big as apples in the cement foundation for the garage. The contractor and his two sons put in the bolts for the garage sill plate, which they jammed into the wet cement. Dad didn’t supervise, so each bolt ended up at a completely different angle. We had to drill angled holes in the sill plate and then fit it on in an elegantly choreographed ballet: lower, move to the left, lift slightly, move to the right, lower, move to the left, and drop.
The electrician brought his children to play on the teetering piles of cement from the old front porch, which Tim and I had broken up with sledgehammers. The kids were scampering around, sticking their heads under the cement slabs like rabbits trying to go underground. Each chunk of cement weighed about two hundred pounds, enough to flatten those little noggins. The kids looked just like the Morlocks in the film The Time Machine. They were everywhere, dismantling things, burying other things, and filling in the ditches and tunnels I’d lost thirty-five pounds digging. I asked the electrician if he wouldn’t mind telling his imps to please stop trashing the place. Also, they were in danger of getting hurt.
To sound like the electrician, put your chin on your chest, stiffen your tongue on the crowns of your upper teeth, and pull the corners of your mouth as far down as they’ll go.
“If dey git hurt,” he said, “dey won’t do dat again!” And he unleashed this terrible, spluttering-yet-honking laugh. He sounded like a klaxon underwater: THPPLA-OOOO-GAH!
I didn’t bother pointing out that yes, a kid with a flattened head wouldn’t do that again, but not because he’d learned something.
After Tim and I finished the tunnels for the plumbing, the plumber cut holes in the living-room floor with a circular saw so he could attach the pipes that Tim and I dragged in and arranged for him. Following one exhausting, subterranean pipe-struggle, we lay under the house, panting and staring up through the hole in the floor. The two little Morlocks appeared. As they gazed down at us, one held an enormous, red pipe wrench.
The other whispered loudly to his brother, “Drop it on them!”
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” Tim roared. He has incredibly powerful lungs. Imagine a really angry lion that can speak English. The two Morlocks flew about three feet into the air and sprinted out of the house. They never came back. Hopefully they hear that human-lion roar every time they fall asleep.
Dad’s loving all this because he now has enough to bitch about for the rest of his life. His anguished, repeated cry of “Aw, shYIT!” begins at six-thirty every morning, when he inspects the place and finds the latest evidence of incompetence and chicanery.
“Aw, shYIT! Aw, shYIT! Aw, shYIT! Aw, shYIT!”
He’s like a hugely disappointed rooster greeting the dawn.
Dad is also doing most of the interior painting, sanding, and fitting of the wooden molding. Since he refuses to wear a dust mask when he sands and carves, he swallows about ten pounds of sawdust and paint particulates a day, resulting in a constant, mechanical coughing.
Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!
Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!
Tim wants to record it, sample it, loop it, add a hip-hop rhythm track, and make Dad a star.
We’ve stripped the entire house of paint with hot-air guns and spatulas. There were ten layers of paint—green, red, white, yellow, white, tan, blue, white, yellow, and white—so by now I’ve inhaled enough lead to crap out fishing sinkers. Add that to all the DDT I sucked down in Venezuela, the paint thinner I washed my hands in when I built models, the mercury from a broken thermometer I played with until it was absorbed into my skin, Strontium-90 from the nuclear tests, and the tobacco, booze, pot, cocaine, and meth I ingested for twenty years. Oh well. I hadn’t planned on having kids anyway.
I can just imagine.
“My, but that’s an oddly shaped baby, isn’t it?”
“I beg your pardon! There’s nothing odd about my son. Say hello to the nice lady, Tommy Jr.” `
“My God! Is it human?”
“Of course it’s human! And stop staring at it, please. It’s sensitive about its looks. Aren’t you, Tommy Jr.?”
* * *
Here’s a photo of me playing with my two-year-old nephew Hunter Gonzales on the dirt Tim and I dug out from under the house. I held Hunter’s hands and ran him down the hill as he took giant steps. We did it again and again and again, laughing the whole time.
It’s one of my favorite memories, as immediate as this afternoon, not seventeen years ago.
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