Archive for the ‘Steel City Fruit limited’ Category

The Rust River Swimming Hole

December 8, 2016

steel-city-fruit_swimhole

soundtrack

(dedicated to my mother)

Grover McToll moved to Rust River – a comfortable suburb of Steel City – after it had been mostly filled up with bungalows and lawns. So the neighbors looked at his arrival as one-more-car and one-more-lawnmower noise. They hated him before even meeting him.

He built his large bungalow in eyeshot of the Rust River swimming hole, a private waterfront lot whose owners allowed their immediate neighbors to swim there when they weren’t using the beach themselves.  They didn’t tolerate outsiders though.

Grover himself never went swimming there or let his kids swim there either. He was way too aspirational middle class for something so savage and white trash. But perhaps to prove his value to his neighbor-a-phobic neighbors, Grover used to police the water hole, especially at night, to make sure no non-neighbors used it. Now, there are no waterside public parks in Rust River whatsoever, so the stream of teenagers looking for a place to smoke a joint and go swimming kept him and his police friends very busy. He saw himself as a kind of property value protector whose target was savage teens smoking dope. And trust me, most of the teens in our suburb were savage.

scf_swimhole_private-prop

My best friend at the time, Jimmy McPiper, never learned to swim. Neither did his brothers or sisters. His family were too poor to go to the beach, there were no public pools, no swim programs at our schools, and there was nowhere in Rust River where you could swim for free even though all of Rust River is, at most, a ten-minute bike ride from the swimming hole. There were actually no natural parks of any kind in Rust River, the “green” of Greenwood Drive was found on the lawns and in the money wasted on trampolines and board games.

I sometimes wonder if suburbia was created to make sure no one got to enjoy nature.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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Dazifasomi Water

August 26, 2012

soundtrack

(dedicated to all cowboys)

“Steee-rike!”

It’s the beginning of the seventies, and I’m eight while my little sister Shirley is six. In the middle of July, the old man is playing a ball tournament in the Dazifasomi Indian Reservation. The Steel City Sixpax are playing three games against a Tictax team at the same provincial skill level. And even though the reservation is an isolating half-hour drive from any white suburbs, the Rotary Club calls this a community-building activity. I guess the idea is to build community by beeping your car horn whenever a white guy scores a homer against the injuns.

Baseball has always been an important part of my childhood. My earliest childhood memory is of being punished because I wouldn’t “sit still and watch my father play” when I was three and a half. Back in those days, people used to say that male homosexuality was caused by having an invisible father and a nasty mother. Now we know it was actually a reaction against feminism, but for a while, we were told it was healthy, natural, and merited rainbows and weddings.

In the Brave New P.C. world in which I turned 17, gays were supposed to embrace diversity and they weren’t supposed to question their upbringing or try to start a family. The 80s were a decade of abortions and permanent bachelorhood, and having been told to “sit still while other men play” was probably my own personal abortion moment.
(Imagine your own mother telling you to stare at guys in tight pants running in circles when you were a child. You would also have probably come out gay if this had happened to you.)

Victor Armstrong

One of my dad’s ballplayer friends is a skinny and talkative ball of nerve named Victor Armstrong. He’s visited our bungalow a few times, and once, when I was six, he showed me how to do some magic tricks. Victor’s not the best ballplayer on the team – he smokes three packs of cigarettes per day – but the Sixpax keep him around for morale and because he organizes off-season poker tournaments (and is a bootlegger).

Hard Times

Like many other economically-depressed small towns, Steel City has hundreds of baseball diamonds that are the result of Recreation grants that were designed to help locals get enough weeks to qualify for Employment Insurance.

Most of these pogey parks don’t have drinking fountains because outdoor plumbing is too expensive. And it’s the same in Dazifasomi: four diamonds, zero drinking fountains. So both teams resourcefully bring their own water coolers.

Explorers

Exploring the land around Dazifasomi Ballfield, Shirley and I find grassy meadows, beaches, and woodlands, and run so much that we get tired and thirsty. So we decide to get a drink of cold water from the orange water cooler on my dad’s team bench.

Little sister goes first. She slowly separates a conical white cup from the pile and places it under the spout. But before she can get any water to come out, Victor Armstrong is standing over us, menacingly frowning with his forehead crunched up. “Shoo!” he yells at us, as if we were wild dogs.

Shirley looks at him confused and scared, but he just repeats “Shoo! Get the hell out of here!” even more loudly, and motions violently with his hands for us to scram while flashing his shiny white shark teeth. Shirley starts to cry, so I grab her arm and we run away.

“Steee-rike Twooo!”

Shirley says between sobs that she wants to see Ma, so we find the playground where Ma’s smoking with another player’s wife, and tell her what happened. When Victor sees us chatting with a white woman, he comes over and explains: “Oh my God. I thought they were two little squaws. I didn’t know they were yours. Sorry ‘bout that, Kass.”

Ma takes a long drag from her DuMaurier King Size, and shakes her head: “That’s what youze get for getting’ so dark this summer. He’s right.” Embarrassed, she tells Victor not to worry, and then tells us to go sit in the car until the game’s over.

I suddenly realize that our Acadian skin tans deeper than most of the Scottish and Irish people who play on my dad’s team, and that this is a liability.

““Steee-rike Threeee! Yuuuuu’re out!!”

My sister and I liked to think of ourselves as Malibu Barbie tanned, rather than as two little squaws. See, Steel City summer is usually two months of rain which is perfect for playing Barbies and watching TV, but this summer’s been sunny for a change. I guess that’s why we were ethnic-cleansed by Victor Armstrong. No hard feelings. We chose to tan, after all.

Talking in the car

On our way back to the car, we meet up with two Tictax kids our age – a brother and sister – and ask them to come with us to talk privately in our parent’s massive Ford Gran Torino. They tell us that they saw what happened, so we sit and share personal stories about growing up. We learn a few words of Tictak, and share a few words of our remnants of French. The girl – Pamela – tells us we can drink water from the Tictax cooler if we want to. But after what’s happened, we decide to just hang tight and wait until we get home.

Even though my mother agreed with him that day, Victor Armstrong never visited our house again after the ball tournament. And the Steel City Fruit will live his entire life without enjoying a card trick, a magic act, or playing in any kind of poker tournament because, well, those are ethnic-cleanser activities.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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Kerry McFabe

May 13, 2012

Knowing Me, Knowing You

(dedicated to the children of flawed communities)

Mother’s Day makes me think of my neighbor Kerry McFabe, a skinny guy with low self esteem who lived a few hundred steps from my house. Because he was 3 years older than I was, we were never in the same class, but for a few summers, we hung out fairly regularly. He’s the guy who introduced me to Abba.

His mother didn’t know we were hanging out and no one wanted her to. She didn’t like him having friends over. There were all kinds of adult problems at his house when he was a child mainly because his father was mildly autistic, and to make things worse, received massive amounts of LSD  as “treatment” at an experimental clinic which was eventually shut down.

Once, when he as a toddler, his dad tried to bash in Kerry’s head with a shoe, exposing his bleeding skull in the process. Their house was set on fire three times. Twice by teenagers as revenge for Mr. McFabe “intentionally” running over their pet dog with his car, and once by his own mother, who got really stoned on painkillers one day and let a pot full of potatoes boil down to a burn.

Because Kerry was socially awkward and slightly paranoid, kids teased him a lot and even non-bullies called him names like Fairy McFag and Brainiac. But this was nothing compared to what his own mother called him in private. Kerry’s mom was a skinny, nasty woman who used to talk to him in a way that degraded the human experience. I once overheard a teacher neighbor opine that the McFabes were soul-murdering their son – that Kerry was having his self esteem and ability to feel joy sucked out of him.

I would wait silently for him in his porch while he changed from his Sunday School clothes into play clothes. His mother never knew I was there, so I overheard a lot of what she used to say and it was always a mixture of bitterness and impatience, non-stop attacks on his ability and esteem. It was never a joy for him to arrive home.

Whenever he got the guts to defend himself, this would turn into a yelling fight, and I would have to sneak away and then call to see if he was alright.

I offered to defend him in these useless fights, but he told me that I would just make things worse if I said anything, that his mother had a lot of problems, and that he probably deserved it anyways. Kerry walked with his head down and wore a lot of black. But with me and his other two friends, he was loyal and responsive.

Mrs McFabe was a frail,  worn  out little woman, but she had a well-earned triple Dan in psychological violence. It’s amazing how an amazing way with words can be used for spiteful ends just like an amazing karate chop. Even though I’m not a professional psychiatrist, I would say Kerry sustained a considerable amount of small puncture wounds to the ego.

And yet with all the life and joy sucked out of him, Kerry soldiered on, listening to Abba on his headphones.

Many years after leaving home, Kerry was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. While in therapy, he read that music could be used to reprogram a damaged mind because it operates on a different part of the mind than speech. Maybe that pop pastry from Sweden he listened to religiously was medicine, and not just entertainment. Maybe the soothing female voices of Agnetha and Frida helped to reconfigure his pain-filled soul.

Kerry was the first person I knew who had bought a record album, and it was Abba’s second release. He told me that he liked to put on the headphones and disappear into a kinder, more logical world,  filled with synthesizer hooks and Swedish accents.

Last month on Facebook, Kerry sent me a list of songs he used to use as medicine to neutralize some of the more toxic words his mother deployed on him, along with the approximate number of times he was  called each name.

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“You antichrister bastard!”
(1872 times)

Kerry’s mom was a practicing, God-fearing Catholic. She was also Irish, so this word might have had less impact than it would have in my French Catholic home. To me, calling Kerry an “antichrister” on a regular basis was full-strength hate speech. Is there anything worse you could be than the killer of Jesus’ beautiful message?

Antidote: I do, I do, I do, I do, I do
(1500 – 2000 listenings)

Like the word antichrister, this song’s title makes a vague reference to organized religion. The  reason it works is because the Abba antidote confirms that there is love inside the listener’s heart, in the same way that the hate speech denies that any love is even possible there.

__________________________________________________________

“You hateful little slut!”
(4212 times)
This one had a double-edge because it introduced sexuality – a corrupting strategy as well as an abusive one – to a child who felt instantly dirty and sinful. Corrupting a child can cause damage long after the verbal abuse has ceased.

Antidote: Gonna Sing You My Love Song
(2000 – 3000 listenings)

This song’s lyrics are about curing the damage caused by an abusive or absent lover. “Still I see that she makes you blue…”  It works well for curing the damage of abusive parenting too, so this song may have actually saved Kerry’s life by reprogramming his inner voice.

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“I’m gonna wring your neck/crack your head open/etc. … you poison bastard!”
(2808 times)

His parents threw objects when they were angry and weren’t afraid to bruise, so these words carried some weight. A permanent threat of physical violence is sometimes more effective than actual violence in destroying self esteem and social confidence, so this was actually one of the most difficult hate-bombs for Kerry to diffuse.

Antidote:  S.O.S.
(4000 listenings or until self esteem reappears)

Working class males are made to feel inadequate for not being strong (like Superman or a robot), and this gives abusive parents impunity with their sons. In the meantime, this song was like a silent cry for help – muffled by giant pink headphones in a bungalow in suburbia where no one can hear you scream.

__________________________________________________________

Of course, you might want to listen to a more recent pop band if you’re currently being psychologically tortured by a close family member. Abba may have worked for Kerry, but styles change, and so do the vocabularies of abuse and the songs that are made available to help mitigate it.

And though Kerry grew up to be another Steel City Fruit, it’s likely that his daily retreat into Abba helped him cope with his less than ideal existence in a damaged household.

Kerry hasn’t spoken to his mother in many years, and grew up and became a much better person during this hiatus. Perhaps he was following the wisdom of Abba Mega-Antidote Bang A Boomerang.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

The Girl on TV

April 10, 2012

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(dedicated to all war heroes)

I’m almost four years old and feeling understimulated by my dumb suburban environment. My mother had three kids back-to-back so she has two babies to take care of, and with only two arms, a 300 decibel voice, and no help from her husband, she props me in front of the TV for hours and hours, and rewards me for sitting still with sugary treats. Whenever I fail to stay still, she smacks me until I cry, or throws something at me – and then locks me in her room as solitary confinement.

My brother and sister are lucky to have a father. He spent the first years of my life overseas doing mysterious but important work to get some quick money to buy a small Ford convertible. He was a chopper pilot over there, and now he sure loves driving that car. By the time he got back from his car-enabling war, he had never bonded with me, and we never got attached our entire lives.

One Tuesday while I’m watching ‘my’ late afternoon game shows, the old man comes home with his Korean War buddy Pookie MacDonald. I don’t understand a lot of what they’re saying, so I ask “What’s a war?” and they laugh at my ignorance.

My old man turns to Pookie and says, “When people who don’t know anything ask me what I did when I was over there, I just tell ‘em I was shootin’ rats in a garbage dump.” And then he and Pookie smile knowingly at one another.

Pookie’s a born-again Christian, so he adds that God himself killed all the evil people in Sodom and Gomorrah “like they was rats too!”  This gets both of them laughing. My mother grins and says she finds Pookie clever. My father’s smile disappears when she says this and he stays in the  bathroom instead of saying goodbye when Pookie leaves.

Once his too-clever guest is safely gone, my father goes to get ready for ball practice and a news program comes on TV.

The news usually bores me – and then I misbehave and get punished. But this time, there’s a picture of a child as the first story. It’s a little Vietnamese girl who’s had all her clothing burned off by chemicals dropped from choppers by the American military during the Vietnam War. The girl on TV is crying, and other kids are also walking on that same road, crying their hearts out as well. The girl on TV is one year younger than me.

When my dad emerges for two seconds from his bedroom, I look at his rat-shooting, chopper-pilot face, and then back at the girl on TV. I will soon look a lot like that little girl myself as my self-esteem will be burned off with a potent cocktail of neglect, verbal abuse, and corrosive levels of mass media consumption. Sighing as my daddy walks out the door without nodding or saying goodbye, my destiny is being sculpted in molten iron and I will soon be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

Red Maple Tree

March 26, 2012

soundtrack

(dedicated to all parents)

When I was a teenage paper delivery boy, I only made a buck an hour because our suburb was so sprawled out. Built on top of once-productive farmland, the driveways and lawns were massive, though the homes were modest and poorly constructed. Overall, it was bleak and boring. The miniputt got burned down by stoned teens. The McDonalds had a four-fatality robbery.

Suburbia is a failed trend – and a bit of a scam – that children pay for even more than their commuter-parents who got sucked into it by fast-talking TV. In a full hour of walking across gigantic lawns guarded by bored, growling dogs, I make what an urban paperboy makes in 10 minutes with no dog terror.

But even with this tiny amount of money to play with, I manage to save $12 to buy a red maple tree from Botrop’s Tree Farm. At twelve hours of labor, it’s like buying a $280 tree with the salary I make today.

After asking permission, I carefully plant the little sapling next to the walkway of our house, taking care to water it just enough the first few weeks to give it a chance at a healthy life. The old man even came out of the house the first time I watered it to quickly nod his approval. He only appeared for a half minute, and he was actually on his way to the car to go golfing – but he still nodded, which is like gold to me. “My daddy nodded at me!” (note to future parents: remember to nod at your children. – it might be their only fond memory of you)

Fast-forward five years: While in my freshman year at the local college, my mother explains over dinner that crows are attacking her new vegetable garden, and that the red maple tree is blocking the view. For me, the lack of sound insulation in our house seems far more critical than crow surveillance. We’re all light sleepers, and it’s like living in a tent. When I mention this, it infuriates her.

Another life-quality diminishing feature of my suburban existence is getting to school. My mother and her sisters used to walk a few miles in snow to school, and now, I have to commute many times that distance – alone. She had it so good. No one in my environment wants to give me – a college type – a lift to college. A wise war-veteran neighbor even sees my sub-zero hitchhiking as a kind of life lesson: the value of a snotty education versus the value of owning a nice, comfy car. No one questions why the college is on a highway in the middle of nowhere. Maybe if they went to college, they would. (It infuriates everyone when I say this out loud instead of just thinking it)

A few days after Mom’s anti-tree hate speech, when I get home from hitchhiking from an exam, all the leaves have dried up and fallen off. I ask my mother what happened, and she slowly and guiltily explains: “Your father killed it with soapy, hot water.” When I ask her why, she shrugs and says she doesn’t know. Like he was an Apache and she was a cowboy: “It is his way.”

Funny thing is that the maple tree was still small enough to move and replant when he poisoned it. But I guess the temptation to kill things is too strong to resist in the burbs. Maybe it’s because all those proud, honor-driven suburban hunters have nothing legitimate left to kill and eat: all the wild game and wild land has already been pre-killed to make room for suburbia and the predators who mow its lawns.

My little contribution to the crass commercial warscape – the tiny red tree I bought with my paperboy money – is sacrificed to the mighty surveillance state, to a private panopticon with an above-ground pool and earwigs. A year from now, my mother will give up gardening when she realizes she doesn’t really care for it. And soon after that, I’ll move away from home.

Last I heard – that double-wide bungalow still has no sound insulation and I’m still the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

Wallpaper Sample Books

December 20, 2011

soundtrack

(dedicated to all fathers)

Dad’s store makes me think of vinyl and paper cuts. Only time I’m allowed to go there’s when I have a doctor or dentist appointment. When this happens, I have to wait for a ride home. No choice.

I’m ten and in Grade Five, and just had my first dental fillings. Boy, was I scared. It’s hard to face first-time events like this when you have no older brother or father to say he’s been there. I never know what to expect or how to react.

My old man had all his teeth pulled out in his twenties, but I never heard about why or how. I guess the words got pulled out as well.

So today is the day. Right before I left for my appointment, my mother assured me I’d be fine. Her exact words: “Stop bein’ such a jeezus sissy!” Then she growled at me like a tiger to give me cat-like encouragement.

Just before filling my teeth with hot lead, the dentist snarled at me and called me a baby because I cried in pain. Dr. Hickstein’s hands shake like an epileptic seizure and he usually tears my gums to shreds during the freezing-slash-interrogation phase of each appointment. All I remember of him is: “You’re a baby!” *slash!*

So now it’s 1 pm, and I’m injured and weak at my father’s shop, and I start to tell him about the experience. “Shut up and go sit in the front of the store,” he snarkily tells me before I can finish the story. I keep forgetting it’s still World War Two: dental secrets can sink ships.

So, I slowly get up – embarrassed to be treated like a dog in front of human strangers – and sadly limp to the front of the store with my tail between my wegs. This is the farthest part of the store from the office – an outpost, almost in the display window. It’s raining, so no one is walking by.

For the next four hours, I look at wallpaper sample books all by myself: patterns and textures and colors and shapes. I guess I’m supposed to be learning that work is boring and lonely. Only one customer walks in during the whole four hours. As a form of solitary confinement, looking at wallpaper samples for four hours is probably worse than watching TV in a bungalow for the same duration.

Every once in a while I hear my dad laughing along with others coming from the office. I wonder what they’re laughing about? I wonder what subjects the men are talking about? Will I ever know what to say to other guys?

Patterns and textures and colors and shapes.

After a few years of these treasured educational visits to the store’s wallpaper counter, I decide to become a graphic designer whenever I grow up. My father laughs at my first attempt at imagining being a grown up, saying mockingly: “When I was 15, my guidance counselor said I was gonna be a paint and wallpaper salesman.”

The burn of the sarcasm helps me understand my low place in the universe.  I will forever be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

The Hockey Game

December 15, 2011

soundtrack

(dedicated to all fathers)

A few months before I turn nine, I find Dad home on an early Saturday afternoon. That’s weird cuz he usually has sports and stuff when he’s not working or running errands or on business trips or on his way to deliver milk.

Even weirder – he’s looking for me! He wants to take me somewhere in the house. My pulse starts to race cuz this kinda thing never happens to me. My father wants to hang out with me – spend some time. It’s like the Children’s Wish Foundation. Does this mean I have leukaemia?

He takes me down the basement into his small trophy room, past the shelves of plastic Dollarama-style trophies honoring his accomplishments in the golf, hockey, baseball and pingpong fields.

Next to his hero den, he has a hockey net and two sticks all set up. He pushes a stick in my hand while beaming a proud smile like Mother Teresa, and asks me to take a shot on him while he plays nets. I take a weakling, girly shot at him, and he lets it easily slide in for a goal.

“Nice shot. What’s your name again?”

This is bonding or something, so he lets me get a few more shots in. Feels like I’m improving. I can already control the stick a bit better than 60 seconds ago. I think this might be…

And then it’s over. The phone rings, and he’s gone like a summer hailstorm. Saved by the bell.

It turns out that my three minutes of fathering was inspired by a ten-minute speech from a guidance counselor at my school the night before. At a Parent-Teacher Night, Mr. Pendergast told my mother: “Qatzel fears guys his own age and older. He has virtually no male-bonding skills.” And that’s how I got my one hockey game in with the old man.

Looking back, I think that guidance counselor really made a difference in my dad’s life.

The next day, my sister and I played Barbies and imagined a big, happy world made up entirely of fashion designers and hairdressers. And that’s how I became the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)


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