Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lesson FOURTEEN : Root


If Jackson Pollock tore the door off the men’s room in the Cedar 
it was something he just did and was interesting, not an annoyance.
-- Frank O’Hara

My father made a Root Beer Float expressly so he could throw it at me.  It was entirely obvious and pre-set.  And still I stuck around.  The moment I appeared on the porch he started up with the speeches.  “If you are going to work on the farm you have to trust me 100%” he said, as he sipped just the very tiniest bit of his float.  He then moved on to chronicle his great kindness, as well as why it was entirely necessary for me to affirm this to him, to tell him, right then and there, that he was a very kind person and everyone thought so.  And even then, knowing precisely what was coming, I still went ahead and said, No.
      What’s in a name?  8 generations ago, my ancestor, in Switzerland, a lusty, hard-working, not over-bright farmhand by the name of Konrad Everything, fell in love with the governor’s daughter, a buxom, red-haired lass, likewise lusty, with a tendency toward authoritarianism and the bottle.  Her father, the tremendously dignified Governor Deserve, disapproved -- but by then Mary was already 3 months along.  Without informing anyone, with only 2 sets of clothes and a vast amount of liquor, the forebearers of my grand family, the Deserve-Everythings, sailed toward America, a significant portion of which, they were already sure, was totally rightfully theirs.
     Sharing is regarded as an abomination in my family.  It’s absolutely the worst-case scenario.  My family prides itself on its generosity and they can tell you precisely how horrible every single instance of it has been for them, clear back to the second cousins from Hawaii who stayed for a week in the Eighties.  The rule is, the more you have, the more you need, the less you have to give.  I promise this makes perfect sense when you’re white people.   
     As well as acute opioid withdrawal, my elderly father suffers from early dementia.  This is a highly controversial statement.  People inside the family disagree strong with the word dementia.  People outside the family disagree strongly with the word early.
     The lost relatives are untallied.  No doubt plenty died of drink.  A few stepped off cliffs, met the Misfit on the highway.  Others, surely, found better misfits, other forests, unobtrusively flourished, doodled on the margins. 
     The best I ever managed was to say to my father, when he’d had 2 Oxy and a bottle of wine, “Basically there are 2 of you.  1 of you is held hostage by the other and he suffers along with the rest of us.”
     Pathetic story: when I was 18 I got a one-way ticket to the city still known as Bombay.  I believed that if I stayed away long enough my family would miss me and when I returned at last they’d be happy to see me.  I believed they’d defrost in my absence.  (I warned you this was a pathetic story.)  Riding on buses through Andhra Pradesh, watching toddy wallahs collect pots from the tops of the palms, I imagined my family making room for me at last.  And I remember arriving home after  8½ months, drinking Nestea on the back porch of the farmhouse, wearing a long headscarf I hoped would be exotic, thinking, Well so much for that.  I’d been home less than an hour.  There wasn’t ever going to be a thaw.  My plan had entirely failed.  Meanwhile, I had discovered that there was a world.

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