Meanwhile, I was asking all the wrong questions of my father who gave me a series of torturous lectures. His speeches were sprinkled with glib, matter-of-fact answers and filled with helpings of disgust and condescension when I ‘obviously didn’t get the point’. The more questions I posed, the more unnerved he appeared and the blunter he became. I’ve blocked a lot of these memories, these painful discussions.
We left Bougainvillea when I was eleven. I was never really sure why but, thinking back now, we left the community just as collective interest in my budding masculinity had reached an all-time high. My penis had been the subject of much, sometimes embarrassing, discussion as I started to mature. Kinsey’s varied sexual reports were required reading for our community. His studies were always being cited and the group pretty much adopted no-holds-barred attitudes in the encouragement of youthful sexuality and ‘trans-generational erotic play’, shortened to T.E later modified to Tee Hee. While our friends and neighbors took the lifestyle deadly serious, they weren’t above making crass jokes or cringe worthy comments that would more than likely find them ostracized at best- arrested at worst- in other more conservative circles. Some would probably think they were a bunch of molesters, but, people who joined for those reasons were quickly detected and banished. Our people were fiercely protective. Besides, I was a naturally curious kid, precocious is the word they used a lot. I came on to more adults than ever came on to me. In the long run, I think I gained a lot of confidence and a comfort in my own skin from that liberal environment. Far more than some adults ever attain.
Even after we left Bougainvillea and my father and my mother had both gotten jobs in the so-called normie world of buttfuck Columbus, Ohio- transforming into a trash truck driver and a substitute art teacher respectively- they held onto the nudist lifestyle in the privacy of our home. Otherwise, they worked like hell to maintain an air of normalcy. I suppose this was more for me than anything. I’d been home-schooled up to that point, but this wasn’t a problem; my academic standing was already assured. My test scores to enter into public schools had put me ahead of most of my peers. So, I ended up being a young ninth-grader, at a collegiate reading level going into my freshman year. I guess mom and dad did something right. Thing is, I disliked kids my own age, preferring… I guess… to relate to buck naked adults who farmed, built things of substance, drank oceans of hairy buffalo- played Twister, volleyball or darts- painted, sculpted, smoked mountains of pot, dosed regularly on LSD and, much to my delight, fondled me on occasion. To say I was socially awkward outside of these circles is putting it mildly. In an attempt to quell some of my growing eccentricities by plunging me directly into the herd of my peers, my mother enrolled me at Delbert Madison in the Western City School District where she subbed. The transition proved to be a lonely and frightening one for me. My attention was scattered, my focus diffused and my previously stellar academic performance nose-dived. I went into self-preservation mode. My mother’s constant check-ins on those days she worked didn’t help at all. On any level. One of my more humiliating names was ‘Son of Sunny-Side-Up-Tits’ or SSSUPT. I ended up fighting more than a handful of these assholes. I was threatened with suspension more than once.
Another thing: I had to wear clothes more regularly, which was pretty weird. I’d been nude since I was out of diapers (and babies at B.V. don’t wear those that often so I doubt I did). And this way of relating to the world- physically- was all I knew, what I was comfortable with. The sensation of fabric covering skin is something most people take for granted, but it can give you severe claustrophobia if you aren’t used to it. Feels like you’re being smothered. ‘Skin’s a breathable organ’, as my parental units are fond of saying. Sure, we dressed when we went into town: we each had a few pairs of pants, some shirts and one dress outfit. My parents were maniacally practical. The clothes we had, unnoticed when worn at The Ranch, were all the way out of style and had been for years. Couple this with the fact that it became painfully obvious to my classmates that I only owned three outfits. For that first two years at Delbert Madison, I was constantly made fun of and trounced until I grew out of those and my parents went to Volunteers of America and bought me a week’s worth of clothing. I begged them- pleaded with them- to take me to J. Crew or Abercrombie and Fitch. But, as I’ve come to understand now, on their wages then, they could barely afford fresh food, dental appointments, etcetera for the three of us. I really ate A LOT as a kid. So, at school when I got six new outfits, I got more unwanted attention. More bruises, more detentions.
Look at SSSUPT! Wow. New clothes. Big man.
Where’d you get those new threads? Big Lots?
Or: That’s a pretty cool shirt… but you’re still a twat.
My father knew that deep down, I was a pretty peculiar kid. What should they expect? After all, they were pretty peculiar parents. Sensing my growing discomfort (while being increasingly impatient of my incessant inquiries about bodily fluids and functions, father began to stress the importance of not talking about our home-life or beliefs to any outsiders, apart from people from our pasts like Dottie and Jimmie or Bambi and Tom. For the millionth time, he explained how most people are too boring and they don’t do anything but watch TV and the fact that we had such a fun and free lifestyle made others jealous so they would naturally want to destroy us any way they could.
Because most people don’t even know what the fuck real freedom: real fun is anyway! He’d say with a wink and a twitch of the pornstache. He never let go of it. In some ways, he’s such a 70’s nudist slash porn stereotype.
Talking about Bougainvillea, nudist philosophy, anarchist politics, Wicca, or mom and dad’s “medicine” outside of the house was now forbidden. And for God’s sake, don’t talk about your little… uhhh… pissy thing… with them. NOT A WORD! Then, he’d look at me as sternly, yet earnestly, as possible: You hear me? And, for the love of St. Elmo, try to keep your hands off your pecker. I smiled too widely, I guess. This shit isn’t funny, son. This is deadly serious. Keep your hands out of your pants. Listen, I love my pecker! I get it! But, The Norms get uptight about that kind of stuff. We are now living among the squares and narcs. This neighborhood is literally infested with ’em. I’d always heard about the squares, listened to many tales of the narcs. In our rarefied world, they were considered the lowest, most devolved, therefore the most dangerous, of human culture.
The more we, I, tried to fit in with the normal, the more the rules changed. Paranoia took hold of our household. It really didn’t matter anyway, because I was torn from any of the real friends I’d made at B.V. The one friendship I actually developed my first year in Western City Schools was short lived. I naturally gravitated toward girls because they were more sensible and welcoming. They weren’t intimidated by my intelligence, either- another reason boys picked on me. Sandy was an extremely cute, studious type; she excelled at math and science and was able to help me in these problem areas. She didn’t like most boys and was considered stuck up by the scores of upper-classmen jocks who hit on her. We were both loners who preferred writing or drawing to sport and fashion. She thought it was cool that I used to be nudist. When I told her, I immediately felt like both my parents were watching me, like they’d know psychically that I’d blabbed; mom probably did; she was talented like that. Sandy reacted like I was describing one of the best movie’s I’d ever seen. She was full of questions. I knew I probably fucked up. This hunch was totally proved one afternoon when I invited her over to our house- I thought the units would still be at work. When we arrived, I opened the front door to find my father in nothing but a pair of sandals and a tarboosh sorting mail in the foyer. Their friends, Bambi and Tom Collier, were over. They had driven all the way from Bougainvillea to visit; Tom, Bambi and mom were standing in the dining room, in full view from the arching doorway linking the foyer to it. They were drinking, smoking and stripped bare… except for jewelry and footwear. Funny thing about that… at B.V… the men always kept their watches and necklaces on. The women wore make up and jewelry. Bambi and mom were dancing to KC and The Sunshine Band, looking flushed and romantic.
I guess it’s one thing to talk about something but quite another when that something’s genitals are staring you right in your face.
My new, now instantly ex, friend Sandy turned bright red , chirped (at least that’s what it sounded like) and bolted without saying a thing, leaving me ashamed and alone on my porch. I lamely called after her.
The next feeling I had was fear. Dad was going to be pissed.
How pissed I had no idea. Generally mild mannered, my father when pushed could get intimidating with his thick, six plus foot stature. Navigating the normies and narcos was all new territory for me. Our little family trio had been self-contained before… now we were vulnerable to public opinion and the problematic laws of decency. We could become a public nuisance, just like my father said we would if we weren’t careful. As vigilant as soldiers, he’d repeat over and over.
As I feared, all confidentiality between Sandy and myself disintegrated the moment she got home. She immediately reported the ‘libertine tableaux’ to her parents, who, in turn, contacted CPS. This was one of the few times I was beaten. And it was bad. And I’m sure that was only because so-called authorities were involved. We didn’t live in that neighborhood too long after that.
Unfortunately, after B.V., our life was an endless rerun of variations on this scenario until I left our then home at 18.
I started smoking at Kulps because everyone else did. The addiction was facilitated through deep employee discounts on everything. This is also why I started getting fat from beer. I got tips from drive-through customers when I worked the bay- that was a nice part of working the drive-through. Usually two of us were scheduled to close and one of us worked the front counter of the carry out and the other worked the bay. Torrance opened at five thirty a.m. and worked alone for the first two hours. Then the first shift came in. At nine, Torrance opened the drive-through, but the local hobos and hardcore alkies were already buying their breakfast long before then. Big Ed or Torrance would give them money to wash the windows and they’d turn right around and buy durrys and 40s. Circle of life.
Kulp’s was a small, strip-mall carry out that shared a building with a sub shop and another hard-luck storefront: the space on the end, by the shifty alley, that housed a rotating variety of doomed businesses. It remained predominantly vacant, it’s display window forever plastered with various types of paper. Kulp’s clientele was a mix of blue collars, college students and Section 8ers with entitled professionals rounding out the lineup.
Torrance hired Cory a few days after his 22nd birthday. Now, he was 27.
One late summer afternoon, when Cory arrived for his shift, the counter was vacant and, regular, Tripuh Ms (short for Meth Mouth Millie) was standing at the indoor beer cooler, wavering before the open door as if caught in a gentle and disorienting current. He wasn’t sure, but he could swear there was a strand of drool hanging from her thin, ravaged lips.
“Close the door Millie.”
“Pfffffft!” She waved a bruised, wiry limb at him. “I’m gittin’ some juice.” When uttered through the sores, excessive slobber and discolored smattering of teeth comprising her wrinkled sphincter mouth, the word juice made him want to hurl. He was still queased with a mild hangover.
“Well… you’re letting all the cold air out and it’s hot as balls today.” He was already over these people, and his shift hadn’t even officially started. After another minute’s deliberation, Tripuh Ms grabbed one 40 ouncer of MantaRay malt liquor and slammed the door so hard it bounced rather than sealed and hung ajar in her wake as she swished to the counter on Slim Jim legs clutching her lady-bug change purse in one man-hand, in the other the dark green bottle swung absently at her side. To Cory, she looked like a worn, orange coat-rack wrapped in a bright blue halter top. Her meager rib cage was punctuated by flapjack breasts which were separated by a five inch chasm. The left pancake displayed a faded rose tattoo with the name Kenny on a scroll running through it. Up close, her belly looked like an old female dog’s minus extra nipples. That halter top’s not doing you any favors. Cory tried not to look, but it just felt like a deadly wreck begging for attention. So many wrecks, he thought. Just under his breath he said, “Where the fuck is Big Ed?” He slung his backpack behind the counter and vaulted over to ring her up.
She vibrated in front of the counter like a bobble-head on a dashboard.
“Where’s Ed?” She asked as if she heard him- maybe she did. Probably bound and gagged with his hands cut off in the beer cooler knowing the fugitives that come in here. The sub shop was robbed weekly.
“Is that all you want for now?” Cory was determined not to entertain conversation with Tripuh Ms today. At least for the moment. She’d be in three more times before his shift was done. She pulled at the hem of her tattered denim miniskirt unfazed by his reticence.
“That’ll be three seventy five.” He sighed.
“Oh yeah… and gimme a pack of Marlboro Silvers too.”
He turned and picked his backpack up and took it to the small office behind him. Now he was going to make this bitch wait.
“Nine seventy five.” He said from the office. Grumbling about the price of cigarettes, she dumped the change purse on the counter and slowly counted out nine fifty in nickels, dimes and pennies. By the time he returned to her, she had the exact change counted… minus ten cents.
“That’s fine, Millie. No worries. Just bring it in when you come back. Please remember this time!”
After Millie found her way out of the store, which proved to be a little more difficult than it should’ve, she staggered several feet and fell at the edge the parking lot, the bottle hitting the pavement with a muffled clatter. I so can’t deal with this right now, Cory thought. That’s what the cops who frequently patrolled the lot were supposedly there for. Let them babysit her for now, he thought.
“Where the fuck are you Ed?” He called out. The store had three coolers: one inside and two in the adjacent drive-through. Either Big Ed was in one of the coolers or he in was in the bathroom: Big Ed was a shitter. And, when he was taking a shit, he took forever.
That’s when Cory smelled the weed.
The beer cooler in the drive-through was where the employees smoked pot because the exhaust fans keep the odor down… but not completely. Cory threw open the door, hoping to catch him off guard. Big Ed jumped and croaked out a cloud. He hacked for close to a minute.
“Jesus, man. I thought you were Torrance.” It was obvious to Cory that Big Ed hadn’t washed or slept in a few days. He was Torrance’s right hand man so he put in a lot of hours. “You almost made me drop my fuckin’ pipe. Then it woulda been all over.” Big Ed was a big stoner, but he never called off and always had a balanced cash register. He was peace loving, but seemed to relish the chance to chase and face down shoplifters. There was ample opportunity for that at Kulp’s. Cory reached for the pipe.
“Well if I was Torrance you’d really be up shit creek because Tripuh Ms was ready to walk with some darts and a nice cold beverage. Gratis,”
Big Ed’s mouth hung open as he handed Cory the glass pipe. Cory lit it sucking at the dying ember. He blew out nothing, pushing his finger into the bowl,
“This is cashed.”
“Shit, I just looked out there.” Big Ed added. “Store was empty.”
True, all one had to do was open the cooler door and peer around the corner to see the entire sales floor. The door into the store from the drive-through/carry out was never closed except in winter. There were three well placed security mirrors, too.
“The dead move in complete silence.” Cory whispered. “But, I don’t really think she’d actually steal anything…”
“I dunno, man. She’s done it before. I even give her out of date shit on the reg’lar.” Said Ed pinching a bud out of a small Grateful Dead container and retrieving the bowl from Cory. “Here man, let me pack that for ya.” He broke the bud down and fingered it into the pipe. “She can be pretty trifling. But bein’ poor, hungry and jonesin’ will make you that way.”
Cory liked Ed and thought him a good-natured, albeit lost, soul. He wished he could be more that way- the good-natured part- he was lost enough and didn’t need extra. But, there were worse bosses than Ed and Torrance. Torrance was never around except in the mornings and during the weekends. He was a morning person, the rest of the boys employed by Kulp’s preferred to party at night and wake up late, in time for the noon and evening shifts. Torrance knew the guys smoked pot in the beer cooler and would perfunctorily scold them every once in a while, for good measure, a Pall Mall Red dangling from his hard-lined face.
“Y’know I could lose my liquor license if you knuckleheads get caught. It’s my ass not yours.”
Big Ed did all of the ordering and all of the receiving. Warren cooked the books.
“Are you even scheduled to be here now? Wow, what time is it?” Ed’s red rimmed eyes looked somewhat panicked.
“Don’t worry…” Cory lit the bowl and sucked in a huge amount of smoke- then as he exhaled: “I decided to come in early since my life sucks so bad.”
Ed opened a case of Natty Lite and loaded some cans into their chutes.
“I hear ya, man. I’ll be 45 in two more months and here the fuck I am. No woman and no dates on the horizon. This is pretty much what my future looks like…” he held up a can of discount beer. “My hair’s thinnin’ up top and growing back out my nose and ears. My feet reeeeeally fuckin’ stink. But what am I gonna do? Cry about it?” Cory had smelled Ed’s feet through his Chuck Taylor’s before, and it was truly nauseating; there had been summer days when Cory stepped onto the sidewalk approaching the store and could smell them from the other end of the strip mall. Torrance had a talk with him about it, but Ed never got a new pair. He just washed them and they ended up mildewing and smelling even worse. Cory shrugged, took another pull from the pipe and handed it back to Big Ed. “Oh man, I’m good.” He looked fizucked up, thought Cory.
Cory stashed the bowl on the shelf next to the Hildebrandt Lager- their usual place. Somebody in the drive-through opened up the cooler door and took out a six pack of Heavy Aid.
“Phewwww.” Said the female voice. “Somebody is getting stoned to the bone up in here.” Cory and Ed stood there quietly until the door closed.
“Hey listen, if you’re gonna start workin’, could you stock this cooler and I’ll get my ass back into the store?”
“Sure. I think that’s probably a good idea.”
“And I haven’t gotten to the dairy cooler yet, either.”
Cory picked up the pipe again. This was supposed to be a short term job until he got into his chosen field of graphic design. The first year after graduating he applied at firms in three different states including Ohio. He kept his momentum for another six months, sending out his professionally done resumes, which cost him two hundred plus dollars. Sherry paid for that. But none of them bit and the recession was deepening. The carry out was going to be his career if he wasn’t careful. He was going to be the next Big Ed, if he didn’t watch out. Forty five. Shit.