Life at TJ's Place
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Sorry I dropped out like I did. I’m still alive. I was just sick of seeing the stupid Minnesota/Olympics post up there. I was sick of blogging, too, so I just decided to cool out for awhile.
Did anybody see Illinois basketball this winter? I did. What a rush!
This is the only thing I’ve ever written that was published (and I received no money for). It’s called “Arnie’s Army.”
When I was a kid, my uncle smoked these slender black cigarettes with silver lettering, and the paper crinkled when he would take a long drag, like leaves burning and crackling. I always imagined the cigarette tasted like licorice, and I became very certain that, as soon as I was legal, maybe even before, I would begin smoking the little black cigarettes and exhale the forbidden smoke, a heady mixture of spicy aroma, like black licorice and exotic candies from Asia and the Middle East that, apparently—see my uncle as evidence—bored holes in your teeth and ravaged your face, like my uncle’s, warped by a lifetime of working in the sun, drinking and screaming. He was tall and red and his skin was striated, like canvas draped over cables. He was Leatherface before Leatherface was Leatherface, without the chainsaw and hippie kids and general bloody mayhem.
I loved my uncle completely, but years of subsequent information revealed him to be no more than a sloppy drunk, the old school kind, pooping his pants, sleeping under grain trucks, yodeling at three o’clock in the morning, the like. He once passed out with a welder in his hands. Uncle Arnold, or Arnie, as everyone knew him. I called him Uncle Arnie, and he called me “Arnie’s Army,” because I was the only one too young not to understand he was a big bleary-eyed drunk and pathetic life failure.
“HEY,” he’d shout, opening our front door, “Hey, there he is!”
Running, jumping with joy was me, “Uncle Arnie!” I’d scream, delighted. Kids really do jump with joy, it’s not a cliché. When experiencing overwhelming joy, jumping is the way normal children get from place to place. “Uncle Arnieeee!” boing-boing-boing down the hall. I’d bump into him and he would scoop me in his arms. Arnie usually smelled like a dead skunk, but Arnie’s Army didn’t care; at five years old, I usually didn’t smell so great myself.
“There’s the boy!” he would declare. “There’s Arnie’s Army!” A big embrace between two stinkers, my parents cringing in the living room.
My father, a good father, a solid provider, had very little tolerance for the likes of Arnie, especially when Arnie was “on the bum” as my father would say, but he never mistreated Arnie in front of me, knowing my uncle was my hero and I was likely to end up getting a Born to Raise Hell tattoo and become a communist, at five, if he prohibited Arnie from the house. Arnie manipulated this, of course, showing up at dinnertime once a week, roughhousing with Arnie’s Army in the living room, then meandering around like the unwanted guest he was. My father didn’t speak to him; he would sit stoically on his recliner and watch the Archie Bunker Show, as he called it, or read the paper, while Arnie moved around from wall to wall, remarking on things he remarked on every time: photographs, the latest paperback novel on my mother’s bookshelf, my father’s only bowling trophy, the awful wallpaper. “The Exorcist!” he exclaimed, picking up my mother’s latest book. “Brrrr!” he shivered, clutching himself as he set the book down. “That Devil…and what he done to that little girl?” Arnie clucked his tongue and moved on towards Dad’s bowling trophy.
Dad grunted. Mother called in from the kitchen: “Arnie…uh, we’re about to have dinner…would you like to join us?”
From the bathroom, an enormous cheer erupted from Arnie’s Army, who had been sent there seconds before to wash his hands and face. Arnie just forced a playoff with a remarkable 4-iron on 18.
“Well, by God, Sally, that’d be right nice,” Arnie said. “I believe I will.” Dad rolled his eyes, then went back to the paper.
“Hey, Skeeter!” Arnie called to me down the hallway. When I was too little to know better, I bit my Uncle Arnie on the leg and he said it felt like a “little ol’ skeeter nippin’ on my leg.” Lucky for me, I wasn’t a real skeeter; had I been, I might have ended up in detox. “Get in here, Skeeter, we’re grubbin’ up.”
Skeeter squealed with delight from the bathroom and jumped with joy down the hallway. I’ve been told that, as a child, I was rather predictable.
I can’t imagine, in hindsight, how unbearably awful those dinners were for my parents. From time to time, Arnie would sober enough to realize he hadn’t eaten in a week, and we’d get the knock at the door just before dinnertime, smiling Arnie on the front porch, just passing through. Arnie ate once a week when he remembered, and he ate the exact way he drank: two-fisted, sloppy, loud and emotional, an industrial shop-vac with forks and spoons and belches loud enough to crack china. Sometimes he sobbed while he ate.
At dinner, while Arnie molested his food, Dad would make little remarks that I didn’t recognize as being cruel: “Slow down, Arnie, unless you’re late for an appointment”; or, “Arnie, if you’d show up more often, we wouldn’t have to pay to have our garbage taken out.”
At dinner, Arnie would entertain (read that word italicized if coming from the mouth of my father) us with stories about the Vietnam War, stories about Vietnamese girls that made my mother’s cheeks turn red, stories about a heart he received from someone important because he stepped on something that removed his right foot, with a bang. My father silently endured, having been spared the draft from a legitimate medical condition that appeared just as a murmur in his heart back in 1968, but eventually killed him in 1991. He smiled at Arnie’s colorful stories, frowned at very colorful ones. One time he set his knife and fork down with some force, cleared his throat, stood and left the table.
When Arnie was finished with his meal, he wiped his mouth and always reached in his shirt pocket for the pack of cigarettes, pushing his chair from the table and draping one long leg over the other. Uncle Arnie would take a long drag and squint through the smoke, pocketing his pack of matches. The aroma was delicious. Little Skeeter, dying a slow death at the edge of the table from Arnie’s second-hand fogger, sat with his hands folded attentively, waiting for a story from his uncle.
“Your dad,” Arnie began, picking a bit of tobacco from the tip of his tongue. “Your dad and I, did you know he once saved my life?”
I knew the story, of course. A hundred times over. I could recite it word for word, but I loved hearing the story from my Uncle Arnie. My eyes went wide and I breathed, “No.” I had retired to my bedroom earlier and was now wearing a light blue T-shirt that read ARNIE’S ARMY across the front in heavy felt letters, my uncle’s gift.
“He did, by God, when we was kids.”
The story, I have learned, was not so romantic as Arnie always spun. It involved eight-year-old Arnie, naked, running through a neighbor’s backyard and my father leaping a fence and saving the naked future Purple Heart-winner by pulling a mean dog away from him before yanking them both back over the fence to safety. Arnie left out the part about the innocent bet, my father’s knowledge (and Arnie’s lack of) that the yard contained not only a mean homeowner, but a little white terrier named Sparky, a terrible, angry dog suffering from untreated psychosis, a child killer. Arnie, it seemed, did not want to tarnish my own image of my father, who was also my hero. And it was years later that I realized their mutual grudge, and their mutual love for each other. My father loved my Uncle Arnie because he wasn’t bright, he was healthy, and he went to war for his country and stepped on a land mine and lost his right foot. He loved him because no one else would. Arnie loved my father because he didn’t go to war and he was intelligent and solid, and he married a good woman and raised a good son. And when I was eighteen years old at my graduation, Uncle Arnie showed up, sober and clean for the moment, and called me Arnie’s Army and Skeeter in nearly the same sentence, tussling my hair, and then finally he called me Michael, and shook my hand. I hadn’t seen him in ten years. He died the next year (roofing a house, drunk, a driveway below), and my father put his urn and his ashes on our mantel, replacing the bowling trophy. Arnie’s Purple Heart is there, too, and a picture of all of us (Mom and Dad included), standing in front of a Christmas tree circa 1977. Underneath the photo, my father wrote in black felt-tip marker: Arnie’s Army.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
I'm back, watching the Olympics. Had a great time in Minnesota. I'll have a better post soon, but I just wanted to say hello and thanks for checking in.
See you soon.
Monday, August 09, 2004
I’m going to Minnesota next week, leaving one week from today. I will probably not be updating the blog during that time. Why Minnesota, you ask? Why not, I reply.
Last year, my friend Greg came to the club with a guy he went to college with, and this guy lives in Bloomington, Minnesota and works in Minneapolis. So we’re going up to spend a week with him. We will drink and eat, fish and golf, and we have tickets to two Twins-Yankees game at the Metrodome, which can’t be avoided, because that’s where the Twins play baseball. I’m only mildly excited about the Dome, but I’m pumped to see the Twins and Yankees, who are both leading their divisions. I can’t wait to go fishing up north of Minneapolis, and we’re playing a course called Edinburgh USA, which is a Robert Trent Jones course (with an island hole, which I’ve never played before). I’m taking driver out of the bag and keeping it in the fairway. It really sucks playing a great course with great fairways and never getting to hit out of them.
That’s all for now, been planning a lot for the last few days. I’ll check back in a couple more times before I leave. Not sure how much, if any, I’ll blog from the road, but it won’t mean I’m dead, or someone else.
I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before, but I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. They so totally kick ass this year, I can’t believe it.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
This weekend I saw the woman who used to cut my hair back when I was about 21 years old, and I used to be in love with her so I’m going to tell this story about her because it’s fun, and because that’s why I’m here, yo.
She was 25 years old at the time and had recently divorced, which made her seem, to me, to be more mature. She was pretty, blonde and what I thought to be very shy and quiet. (This last paragraph should have started with “Dear Penthouse.”)
She had her own little salon in the basement of her condo, and the first couple times I went for a haircut we were both kind of shy and just made small talk. It’s easy in a salon with lots of other gabby people around, but it’s another thing trying to break the ice with a woman when you’re alone in her basement, just the two of you, and she’s got her hands on you.
The third time I went, she washed my hair and rinsed it in her sink. I was still reclined back with my neck on the edge of the sink. She had this huge bottle of conditioner on the counter above my head, and when she pumped it twice, most of it ricocheted off the side of her hand and splattered against the side of my face. Now, mind you, this was at a point when there had not even been the slightest hint of flirting between us. She put her hand to her mouth, like oh my God, and we both just kind of froze there for a few seconds. I'm laying there looking like the money shot in a porn film with big splats of some dude’s jizz all over my face. So I started laughing, and then so did she, which meant she at least got the joke. I told her I never dreamed I’d be on the receiving end of one of those and she really laughed and her face got even redder. I accused her of doing it on purpose and she was still laughing when she swore she didn’t. I wanted to sleep with her right there. That one little moment was like having 10 haircuts in terms of moving the hairstylist/client relationship forward. When she wiped the conditioner off my face with a wet wash cloth, I was in love.
Is it normal for a guy to fall in love with every woman who’s ever cut his hair? Am I the only one? Is it the hair salon smells, or all the incidental touching? I’ve had maybe 8 in my day and I’ve been very attracted to every one, except the old lady who briefly cut my hair in college, and the old dude who cut my hair one time when I was in 6th grade and kept trying to rub his cock on my elbows, and I ended up sitting in the chair with my arms crossed and my shoulders scrunched together.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Saturday afternoon was a typical Saturday afternoon. One bartender, about 8 dancers, me, one waitress who was also training our new waitress, two security. This is a nice time of the day, in the late afternoon before the major Saturday night crowd starts coming in, and the Saturday night dancers start shuffling in.
Walt came over to me at about 4:30 and said, “Hey, heads up. A bus just pulled in.” I hate those words. I know I should get excited for the club and the dancers and everybody, because we’re all going to make money from this, but I hate busses. You look into the parking lot and you never know what’s behind all those tinted windows. I could handle it better if they came in shifts, ten guys every ten minutes, until the bus was empty. I thought about going out and asking the driver this. But to go from just this lazy Saturday afternoon where there’s one dancer on stage and you can carry on a conversation in the booth to absolute bedlam with 60 guys pouring through the doors, already drunk, is very taxing on the old Kevster’s nerves.
It was a typical drunken outing of a bunch of suburban white guys. They golfed in the morning, now the strip club, then a baseball game. Some genius had scheduled three activities where drinking ran a close second in importance to the actual activity.
They entered the club like a drunken human tidal wave. Men in groups are very excited when they enter a gentleman’s club. They filled every room in the club. We had one waitress, a waitress trainee, and one bartender. I played long songs so I could jump behind the bar and help serve. Our little waitress trainee, who was still in the shy stage and was definitely not ready to go wander out into the club with a tray on her own yet, looked like she was going to cry when I said something like, “Here comes your trial by fire.” We opened up three stages and our eight girls basically danced non-stop for the next hour and a half. I would start a song, then run over and tend bar for three minutes, then run back to the booth, start another song, give my “blah-blah-blah,” run back to the bar. Sometimes I’d let two songs go back-to-back. It was a madhouse.
Ninety minutes later it was over. Everybody collapsed. Our new waitress came over to the booth and stood with me for a little bit. Have you ever seen someone laugh and cry kind of at the same time? Like she was crying, but she would crack up laughing sometimes? That’s what she looked like. She called the bus guys a “bunch of fucking jerks,” and I told her she was going to fit in just fine here.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Wow. I’m sorry I haven’t posted in awhile, but I was taking time off, and it became more time off, and more time off, etc. Then I got nervous to check my blog, so I didn’t check it for a long time, and it was a whole anxiety thing. I was split between trying to just post another post, and answering all the stuff that people were commenting about. I’m lazy. So I just stopped for awhile.
When I started the blog, I knew there would be all kinds of negative stuff because of what I did for a living (currently). So I was prepared for that. I made it my blogging policy to never be negative, never to answer flamers or trollers, never delete comments or ban people who comment (believe me, I’ve wanted to ban several—I tried once, but the fuckhead just kept going to a different place, apparently, because it didn’t stop him), and always be friendly. What I didn’t imagine was that people would start accusing me of doing several different blogs, or commenting as other people, or being dead, or in jail, or whatever.
I wrote this whole other post that was angry and mentioned people by name and all that, but I deleted it. I’ve never posted another blog. I’ve never commented as someone else, and I’ve never made an anonymous comment in my life, except once a long time ago, which I regretted (and long before I started TJ’s Place). I’ve never commented on my own blog as anyone other than me. When I commented that I was other bloggers, I hope most people saw that as sarcasm, because it was, in response to a flamer.
When I wrote my last post, I didn’t know I would be taking time off, so I didn’t tell anyone that, hey, I’m taking some time off now so I’ll be back after awhile. It just happened.
I’m not dead. I’m not anyone else. Sometimes I’d like to be. I’m listening to The Who right now. I don’t hate anyone. Funny because “Who Are You” by The Who just came on. Ironic? Please don’t read anything into that.
I took a vacation that I didn’t plan for. Now I’m back. Hello, everyone.