Archive for the ‘Steel City Fruit limited’ Category

The Histamine Family

January 2, 2022



soundtrack
(Dedicated to company men living in company towns)

1972 Presentation : 

I’m visiting the house at the top of my street – Steven Leblanc’s house – working on a Geography presentation for our Grade Five Social Studies class. Steven was born on the exact same day as me of the same year, but this is the first time that I’m allowed to hang out with him. His family have a lot more money than my family, and their car is a top-of-the-line model with landau roof and opera lamps.

When I enter Steven’s house with a drippy nose from being out in the cold, Mrs. Leblanc immediately offers me an antihistamine. She has a huge, nervous smile on her face as she holds out a box of colorful capsules. I reply to her with what Steven told me to say – I lie, telling her that I had already taken an antihistamine at my own house a bit earlier. She smiles and leaves us alone after that.

Steven says that it’s important not to refuse antihistamines at his house, unless you’ve already just taken one. If you refuse with no excuse, Mrs. Leblanc will be hurt, and will later tell her husband that you hate antihistamines and that maybe you should be barred from the house.

Most people on my street call the Leblanc’s the Histamine family when they’re not around. When we were little kids, we used to color our coloring-book houses yellow and print “the Histamine‘s” on the mailbox. This was always good for a few cheap laughs.

They’re called the Histamines because of the way Mr. Leblanc makes his money. The company that he works for – and the company that he keeps. As he says himself, he’s “in antihistamines.”

He fell into antihistamines before he was even married to my neighbor’s mother. See, Mr. Leblanc’s cousin Sol Leblanc patented Piperoxan – the first antihistamine – in the 1930s. And when cousin Sol died super-rich (but at a young age) from medicine-related complications, Mr. Leblanc inherited enough patent royalties to live comfortably forever in his inherited yellow mansion at the top of the hill.

But because of his extreme and incurable gambling addiction, he took on a well-paying role at a pharmaceutical corporation, and spends most of his salaried days visiting drug stores and making sure they have lots of antihistamines on the shelves – “where anyone can reach them.”

So his income comes from his role as an antihistamine company inspector, while he also collects royalties as an antihistamine patent heir.

You can imagine that the subject of antihistamines is an extremely sensitive one at the Histamine family dinner table. Their best-friend neighbor Gertrude Gallaway (aka Gert) found this out the hard way. She used to be best friends with both Mrs. Leblanc and my own mother. And she’s a registered nurse who has always lived in the house right between mine and the Leblanc house. Importantly – Gert’s been banned from the Leblanc house for the last six years because of medical advise she once gave them.

1966 Event:

While delivering presents to the Leblanc house during Christmas vacation that year, Gert remarked on the presence of antihistamine capsules on tables and countertops all over the house. Gertrude looked worriedly at her best friend, Mrs. Leblanc, who calmly explained that this was so children could pop an antihistamine whenever they had a runny nose or a sneeze. The pink ones were Children’s Daytime capsules, the blue ones were Children’s Nighttime capsules, and so on. This is how Mr. Leblanc ran his house – the house that antihistamines built.

Gertrude rarely loses her cool, but did she ever freak out at that moment, saying very loudly that antihistamines should be taken sparingly and only after all other options had been tried – not popped like candy every day!

Mr. Leblanc, who had been eavesdropping from the porch, looked up from his golf clubs and suddenly yelled “What other god-damned options are you nattering about, Gert know-it-all neighbor?” He shook a putter at her as he spoke and his eyes were full of fear and desperation.

Gertrude quietly gulped, and then her nursing training surfaced. She boldly listed a series of things to do if you had a runny nose or sneeze : slow-boiling water, air humidifiers, water and juices… and of course the easiest one of all, open a window once in a while or go outside. And always eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

Mr. Leblanc was furious. He said that from now on, the windows would be sealed shut from October to May – no exceptions. He also said that fruit juices were garbage, and that air humidifiers were a conspiracy theory. Then he clutched his golf bag (an antihistamine company gift) and left the house. Steven and his family silently listened to the car engine start up as Daddy Histamine quickly left for his golf appointment with two Drug Store owner friends.

That night in bed, Mrs. Leblanc protested all the new rules, so Mr. Leblanc simply barred Gertrude – her best friend – from ever visiting their house ever again. Not even when he wasn’t home, which was 90% of the time. Mrs. Leblanc would have to call Gert know-it-all on the phone if she ever wanted to talk to her again. No direct contact. Ever again. Never! You hear me?

1972 Measures : 

Gert’s unsolicited advice at Steven’s house that day is why :

1. the windows in Steven’s house are sealed all winter.
2. he isn’t allowed to eat fruits or vegetables in winter.
3. he isn’t allowed to go outside in winter.
4. his family can’t boil water or use a humidifier.
5. they have no kleenex or handkerchiefs.
6. Steven’s dog Contact-C died after accidentally swallowing antihistamines.
7. his little sister Jennifer had to be treated for antihistamine-resistant allergic reactions.
8. they snubbed my family as antihistamine reluctant
9. his dad only let me come over to work on the Geography presentation if I signed an oath saying that antihistamines are safe and effective.

Steven and I managed to finish our Platectonics presentation without me ever accepting any antihistamines from his mom. But I felt bad about having to lie all the time to get her off my case – it was like telling the Jehovah’s Witness at your door that you’ve already found Jesus Christ, thank you very much.

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

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American Style!

June 24, 2021

soundtrack
(Dedicated to Elvis Gratton)

Love, Love American Style!
Truer than the Red, White and Blue-hoo-hoo-hoo!
Lo-ve, American Sty-y-y-yle!
That’s me and you!

Theme song for “Love, American Style”
Lyrics by Fox and Margolin
(altered by author to reflect what they sounded like to a very young child)

Hobbies – American Style!

It’s 1972. The Limits to Growth has just been published – the end of industrial civilization is nigh. I read it, and as a boy, was impressed by the science of computers that lead to its conclusions.

But way out in suburbia, we’re watching TV and have no time for non-commercial food for thought like this. In the burbs, our information diet is mainly fast food-based – TV and radio.
Watching TV and calling it “family life” is as convenient and American-Style! as eating hamburgers in a crowded car while listening to car ads.

We were always careful to remove the chewing gum before eating our vegetable-oil-infused sandwiches and potato by-products.

We just received some Nielson’s Rating forms to fill out. I feel so grateful our suburban family has been selected to represent ordinary Canadian TV viewers. Already ten years old, I’m thrilled to be recognized for my average TV-viewing habits, which means: seven hours per day. That is how much TV the average suburbanite watched.

Of course, I’m going to lie on the form and write that we’re watching Canadian TV programs (like Front Page Challenge) while in reality we’re watching commercial crap like Love American Style. This was my favorite program when I was a young child with no close friends – only favorite shows.

One thing that TV has taught me is to lie and misrepresent in order to get what I want. Even if *what I want* is just something that someone else’s lies and misrepresentation made me desire in the first place. I’ve heard on Canadian media that Canadian media is a good thing, so I am willing to lie for this cause, though this cause is probably a lie anyways.

(By the way, there is no Love-Canadian Style. But I do remember Love-French-Canadian style from my grandparents, and it was something that happened in real life, and not on TV shows)

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Socialization – American Style!

It appears to me that many of my family, neighbors and schoolmates have only experienced, in their previous televison-less lives, a kind of lack-of-Love…Canadian Style. So, to remedy our tragic pre-TV condition, we all watch lots of American TV to learn a better way. A way to find *the love* that comes with following *this style*. Plus, what choice do you have when there’s nothing to do in your bungalow because every activity is so far away.

A pathetic attempt at a Love-Canadian-Style is represented by Canadian TV of the era – a series of boring government-funded TV shows that are guaranteed to drive you into the arms of ABC-NBC-CBS. Game shows about newspaper headlines, a show that gives you lightbulb-buying advice, sitcoms about normal people in Ontario that contain one forced laugh every 23 minutes.

For newly-bored suburban Canadians, Love-American-Style was The Television Show on a hill – an RGB beacon – a flickering light among the nations… where the stars came out every single night – Sonny and Cher, the Vietnam War, Superman and Lite Brite! They will save us! They will know what to do!

We watched and learned the ways of American-style Love: punchy sarcasm, fast one-liners, softcore porn moments that make you giggle, and the eternal search for new consumer products. All enjoyed from the isolation of a pre-fab bungalow.

And we heeded the American-style call-to-arms – to follow every trend, or risk dying of sadness and loneliness on a lawn in the middle of nowhere.

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Oligarchy – American Style!

The actors on Love American Style will, for decades, show up on other hit shows – along with their brothers and children. The lead actor’s sister does the soundtrack, his wife is the daughter of the casting director, and so on.

The casting normalizes nepotism, in the same way that the shows themselves normalize infidelity, cars and suburban products. The end credits of every production whisper things to the audience that very few can decode. The shows tell them not to even bother trying to decode them.

Tribalism American Style or the global village – are two ways to describe this incestuous, peasant-like hiring policy. And all of this incest-produced narrative-management is punctuated with car, processed food, and oil company commercials.

As we fled to suburbia to escape all the easy female polygamy opportunities in the as-seen-on-TV city, we never really experienced the free love that this show titilated its audience with, but we got car culture imprinted in our brains – psyc-op style.

The sitcom-style sarcasm was another useful skill to learn from TV. Trapped suburban peasants often feel so bitter in their incestous suburban alienation, that we had lots of occasions to use sarcasm and irony on one another. As heard on TV.

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Community – American Style!

We learned to put on sitcom smiles by watching TV shows full of smiling, frolicking suburban kids. The instant recognition of sitcom smiles is very handy when the only time you run into people is while you’re driving and only have a few seconds to communicate community-belongingness.

(Stopped at traffic lights)
“Look, it’s Henry and Marge.”
(rolls down window)
“Hey Henry, Hey Marge! How are you enjoying your new ski-doo?”
(traffic light changes, sitcom smiles, gotta go! drive away)

Love-American-Style showcases a life made of soundbites and signalling. And suburban social contact is also mostly soundbites and signalling because, um, that’s about all you have time to do when you are always inside a motor vehicle, alone in a suburban bungalow, or inside a private facility like a mall, surrounded by a moat of parking lots.

There is no community in suburbia, only soundbites and sitcom smiles.

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Elvis – American Style!

My father’s generation decided, when they were young commercial radio fans, that they would forget their Acadian and Francophone culture and become true American-Style! As heard on the radio.

To be more like the the Shadow, they refused to speak French with their parents or relatives. They learned to smoke cigarettes, chew gum, talk back to their parents, eat hot dogs, to play baseball and to drive cars. The commercials for American products were like commandments they followed to get to Heaven-American Style!

My father and all his brothers listen to American radio dramas in the car alone, and marry anglophone women who speak no French – only the language of the Shadow. These women are all trying to be Donna Reed or that witch on Bewitched.

Boomer couples made up of one Shadow and one Donna Reed will – en masse, like sheep – move to car-dependent suburbs, and let American television act as the main socialization tool of their kids, who rarely see their own father’s shadow – he”s always gone in the car like the Shadow, while Donna beats her kids over the head with reeds.

Elvis Gratton is the result – obese dummies with no roots anywhere. American cities are the model to follow, and so are American actors and pop stars. We will all be fatter and more naive than our grandparents, and have fewer social contacts. We will sing American songs alone in our ugly and cheap bungalows. We will be bored and anxious all the time, and suffer from lack of community or social activities.

We grow up with television as our primary teacher and guide. American Commercial media is also our primary babysitter, just like morphine-brands like laudanum  were the primary babysitter a century before TV was invented.

To imitate the Shadow, we will live in the shadows of our own lives in the burbs. I wonder if my father’s generation ever figured out that these sainted icons like the Shadow and Donna Reed really didn’t know or care about their millions of viewers’ lives at all. That these icons were just part of a manipulative gang who only wanted viewers for their money.

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Lawn – American Style!

Our house is a 40 minute walk from a shopping mall, where all you can do is shop. It’s not a great place to hang around, and you cross paths with no one when you walk there. The sidewalk in front of it is just skinny enough to waddle towards the sliding door into an individual shopping unit (“store”).

The mall has a parking lot that extends all the way to the river, eliminating any kind of wetland transition or publically accesible trail. This is the largest infrastructure in our town – a parking lot.

The entire population of Rust River (3000) would fit in three-story housing in the parking lot of our mall. But we all spread out, cut down all the trees and wasted lots more land, with massive lawns which also dilute any urban proximity.

There is nowhere to walk as there are only bungalows and ugly lawns for an hour’s walk (on the road at times) in every direction. And people who walk are made to look like losers in all our TV shows and magazines. The same media that are filled with car ads…

All the children in my suburb watch too much TV, and grow up lonely and socially awkward. The nastiest people in North America can be found in spread out suburbs, and not in the poorest inner city ghettos.

Failed-Urbanism-American Style! (the car-dependent suburb) has eliminated *a life-fulfillment necessity* that mammals took for granted since they left the oceans – walking around and finding interesting things to see and do.

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Zombies – American Style!

My mother, myself and my sister are walking towards Walmart, when we see Davy Kass, a neighbor, walking towards the mall from a different parking place. We stop in the middle of the asphalt, and my mother initiates smalltalk.

Ma: “Hey, Davy. I hear Brian got a job at the plant. Not easy with all the lay-offs.”

(Steel City has been in a depression since before I was born. Rust River-style suburbs were a way to escape the depressed housing stock and social problems of the inner city by staring at a TV or lawn)

Davy: “Yes, I know about the lay-offs. They say our economy is in trouble, but just look at all the new cars!” he says as he waves his arm at the parking lot – Vanna White style – with a huge sitcom smile on his red, round face.

Seconds later, a white Ford Bronco almost crushes my sister as it spins around a row of parked cars. This is obviously no place to be talking to a neighbor, it turns out – in front of a store. (Facebook still hasn’t been invented so we’re still stuck with face-to-face).

My mother angrily grabs my sister’s arm, sneers at her, and then smiles shamefully (but sitcomfully) at Davy, as we say bye and walk towards the Walmart entrance. She’s angry that my sister’s almost-getting-killed ruined a rare social moment of free conversation.

So we aren’t going to get an ice cream because little sister ruined the small talk by almost getting hit by a truck. As children, we have learned (by watching lots of TV) that getting hit by a vehicle is a huge mark of failure for a child and their parents. Later, in high school, we will find out that Darwin said the same thing – that losers walk and freedom rides around in a Trans Am.

I don’t know why Davy was so happy about all the cars in the parking lot. The main industry in slowly dying Steel City is rails for railroad tracks. Steel City (and Rust River) need to sell railroad track parts or we will not have jobs, or eventually, a reason to exist in the capitalist economy.

Cars and trucks are eliminating the need for rails. All those cars! means that our town is going to die a slow, painful death. – American style.

Why was Davy so Vanna White – so sitcom smile – about this sad fact?

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Fences – American Style!

Our streets have no sidewalks, and it takes about 45 minutes to walk anywhere. I don’t know much about any of our neighbors, but I know what kind of car they drive as they drive by me.

One of our neighbors – Mrs. McTall – is a young mother who recently moved to our subdivision. She knows no one. When she passes by me as I walk to the top of the street, she always offers to give me a lift. But I have never accepted because I like walking. I like my autonomy and find it awkward to sit right next to a stranger in an enclosed metal box.

After 20 years of living next to her, I still only know that she drives an Oldsmobile 98. I know most of my neighbors by the cars they drive, and very little else.

I think Mrs. McTall died a few years ago… I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the Oldsmobile division was discontinued in the year 2000. I don’t miss either one, though Mrs. McTall may have been an interesting person. Who knows. I only knew her car.

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MK Ultra – American Style!

Virtually everything in commercial media is trying to sell the audience products. When athletes aren’t joyfully consuming fastfood in ads, car sponsors are providing the heroes on the Action Series they fund.

And so it is with Love-American Style. During the 50s and 60s, the meta-product that commercial media is selling is suburbia. By getting people to move to suburbia, car sponsors, oil sponsors, media itself, and a whole series of corporations… are creating a captive audience for their products and marketing.

So in every episode of the show, the majority of gags are set up as a woman cheating on her husband. For married men watching this show, the message is that you can never trust women left alone in urban environments. By moving to suburbia, a male can *entrap* his wife in a situation that limits her opportunity to meet sexable men in parks and other urban settings.

I first saw this show when I was three, but my father didn’t like when my mom and I watched it because every second gag is about a woman cheating on her husband, or mocking marriage in some other way. A lot of men seem to be frightened of losing their wives to some dark-haired man in a city park. I guess this show is one reason why.

Love, love, love! And lawnmowers and station wagons and TV sets. Normalization of these products. A new normal in suburbia where your wife is safely locked away, and everyone needs the products that the sponsors sell you as you gawk at boredom-reducing entertainment products for hours on end.

Never underestimate the power of psychology when it is used against you.

Love, Love American Style!
Truer than the Red, White and Blue-hoo-hoo-hoo!
Lo-ve, American Sty-y-y-yle!
That was me and you!

“Speak White” – Michèle Lalonde

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

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Cycling through Four Exfoliations

January 8, 2021


soundtrack
(dedicated to all bike mechanics everywhere and at all times)

ex·fo·li·ate v.tr.
to remove or shed (a layer of skin or bark)

So far in my life, as of the writing of this short story, I have completely exfoliated four times by riding a bicycle long distances.

The skin or bark that I shed each time and with each push of the pedals, was the hardened, calloused, persona that formed as I lived through the smoggiest and most acid-rained-on parts of my life. And like a snake or caterpillar, the result is a fresh perception with which to build on. A shiny new outlook and worldview. A new skin (or bark).

Exfoliation 1. Steel City Puberty

The first life-saving exfoliation took place when I hit puberty at 12. After spending 6 years alone and friendless in a sprawled out subdivision isolated from people or interesting activities, I was finally allowed to bike far enough to get myself friends when I turned twelve! The two best friends that I made in the first year of bike freedom lived 6 km and 10 km away.

Most kids didn’t bike very much in Steel City. The TV was there for them, I guess. TV stopped working for me at eight.

I pedaled as carefully as a pre-teen can. As my hardened, alienated skin peeled off, I had to really watch out for cars and trucks as our subdivision was located right next to a busy highway interchange. I still can’t believe I survived all the almost-collisions and near-misses. But I did.

I was a new fruit in town with… FRIENDS!

Exfoliation 2. Back to Steel City

Leaving Steel City for a few years to study abroad, I returned broke and feeling like a failure, finding myself back at the house that I biked away from so many times. Unloved and with no real reason to be there, and carrying all the existential angst of a young adult who can’t seem to grow up and leave home… I was able to steal away almost every nice evening, and do a 16 km loop around Oily Lake.

Narrowly avoiding being hit by impatient truckers and fast-moving suburbanites, I was able to do this loop often enough to make a plan to get a job, save money, and get away again. If I hadn’t biked reguarly during this period, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

And with the terrible bike infrastructure and total absence of bike culture in Steel City, I could have disappeared under a vehicle’s wheels during this period. But I didn’t. Perhaps the danger of almost being killed every ride made me appreciate being alive more. Gave me enough appreciation for life that I got focussed.

I was an organized fruit now, with PLANS!

Exfoliation 3. Post-Steel City Stress Disorder

A few years after relocating to a big city where I knew no one and nothing, I started to experience the aching crisis of panic attacks – a daily horror of heart-attack-like sensations, insomnia, and the budding of social neuroses.

Doctors and Psychologists try to help with words, therapies, advice, and a few happy pills. But none of it really works. There is a deep malaise in my head and these cures just don’t seem to be on the same scale as the terror behind the attacks.

But I find a way to control them in the evenings. Bike rides. Long, four-hour bike rides through parks, along canals, and up mountains. Though the panic still lingers, I am finally able to sleep well. And this leads to a cascading of positive improvements that leads to the disappearance of panic attacks within four years.

I was a more cautious fruit now with… SELF ESTEEM!

Exfoliation 4. Collapse of Capitalism

When I was in my middle ages, the stock market crashed for the fourth time in my life. I was in Spain at the time on vacation, and had to return immediately on the first plane because of what media was calling an “epidemic.”

Arriving in my city apartment, everything had been rebranded as diseased. And because of this, our ability to move around, work at your job, or see friends were all limited in order to save lives. Sit still in a house and save lives.

I always suspect things, and I suspected throughout the pandemic that the real reason for the repressive and anti-social measures wasn’t to save lives through distancing, but rather to save capitalism through lies. It wouldn’t be the first time. Our country was built on the lies of capitalism after all. Less informed people don’t know this about Steel City’s history, and so they are happier than me all the time. Blissful while wearing surgical masks in their SUVs.

Nonetheless, I went along with the repressive measures, giving my government a chance to prove its case. Or, eventually, to reveal that it had lied for some reason other than to steal from people to keep the financial parasite class well-lubed with everyone’s stolen cash. “Perhaps there is more to this,” I said to myself as I put oil on my bike chain, “Whether it’s real or fake, any crisis can be softened up a bit with aerobics and calcifediol.”

So, I biked long-distance almost every day, worked at physically taxing jobs, and didn’t experience the weight gain and profound existential misery that many of my friends did, and that I could have as well. I actually kept my morale up and my body in great health.

I wonder what kind of skin (or bark) I’ll shed when this is finally over. Maybe it’s everyone’s skin that’s at stake this time.

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

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Limited Growth

November 18, 2020

soundtrack

(Dedicated to librarians)

What book most changed my life? That’s an easy question for me to answer. It was “The Limits to Growth.”

I read it when I was 12 years old, and then I didn’t grow at all for three years. Zero growth because of one book. – that’s life changing.

The Bookmobile Arrives

Book reading is something I was introduced to at age 7 when the Bookmobile made its first visit to my class when I was in Grade Two. There was no library in my upper income suburb, nor did my tiny rural elementary school have one. Just big cars and big lawns.

So when I finally got access to the book scene at that age, I devoured most of the Babar and Peter Rabbit series. Reading books gave my eyes a rest from watching television, and also let me be alone in my room with no disturbances. Plus, I could imagine being a cute little animal living in Paris, or going on adventures and helping other rabbits, instead of just staring at a TV in a suburban setting and fighting for the remote control with other TV-viewers – what used to be called family members.

Library Access

Five years later, when I turned 12, I was finally allowed to take the once-every-two-hours city bus into the downtown library and get a library card. From now on, I could choose from an entire galaxy of books. The world was finally at my fingertips!

Steel City’s library was tiny, but at least it didn’t have wheels. My reading skills and worldly knowledge would finally be leaving the trailer park of Gilligan’s Island-style book sightings.

I read The Limits to Growth in a summer week, letting the very adult-oriented content sink in slowly. Computers and computer simulations were new in 1974, so I felt I was somehow preparing for adulthood and changing times.

Everything in the book seemed to suggest that the way the adults were living in the 70s would end in disaster and misery during my lifetime. And on top of this, it had already been published for two years, so there was even less time to waste. The book told readers of my age that our lives would eventually be destroyed by the bad decisions being made right now.

Growth is a disaster! Something has to be done

That year, at age 12, I was five foot two. Three years later, no change. Same height at age 15.

My weight also stayed the same. And my hair style and glasses.

At 12, it took me 4 hours to mow our lawn. Three years later, still 4 hours.

Steel City had the same population for that period as well, going from 35,000 to 30,000 in the city, with the new suburban bungalow-belt picking up about the same number as were lost in the city.

I watched the same sitcoms at 15 as I did at 12. I had the same circle of friends. They watched the same sitcoms for this period as well.

I wore beige and brown Levis cords for the entire three years. And went through two pairs of size 8 North Star sneakers.

The energy crisis had struck our suburb a year before, so exploding gas prices meant that Steel City was in a major recession throughout my zero growth period. Cars would even start getting smaller a few years later. Shrinking.

Drivers were subsequently granted the new freedom to turn right on a red light, and this meant that it became a lot more dangerous for me and other kids to cross streets or bike to school. My younger brother and sister were henceforth prohibitted from biking to school, whereas me and my older sister had gotten to school by bike almost every day just a few years earlier.

Over dinner, I mentioned to my uncle that Steel City was the only region where more money was spent on highways than on schools. My uncle sneered at me, and then went for a drive alone in his truck. He hadn’t read a book since he left school at age 15. I guess this made him unable to appreciate the need for books or education budgets. With a truck, you can fly around corners at high speed. With a book, you simply can’t do this.

The war on Vietnam that the TV liked so much was, at best, a stalemate. Salaries stagnated. The TV was on for the entire three years with the same Price is Right filler between sitcoms, car chases, and news.

The Times they were a’ Stayin’ Still as my body went through puberty without me.

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

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Fat-or-Flight Response

August 5, 2020

Steel City Fruit_fat flight

soundtrack

(Dedicated to jocks)

Some people have no idea why their father never spent time with them when they were kids. But I have a pretty good idea why mine was never there.

Growing up in a dying industrial town, I was always disappointed by how few really revolutionary or even creative people were around. “Whatever happened to all the creative agents of change who could make a difference in our dying town’s future,” I used to wonder.

Later, as a young adult in college, I did some research into the 20th Century history of Steel City. And what I found out was that, in the 1930s, there were lots of really smart and revolutionary people doing some very brave and innovative things. There were several types of communist activists, trade unionists, socialists and radical egalitarians. All of them were armed with texts and had large followings in the steel mill and coal mines.

And while these socially-active groups were different from each other in tactics and ideological inspiration, one thing that they had in common was that the Federal Government had the army shoot all their leaders dead in order to maintain our failed capitalist system during the Depression. Literally hundreds of the brightest and bravest Steel City activists were brutally murdered by either the armed forces, or by the Klan or other imported terrorist organizations. And this was a PPP project – private public. Both the government and industry were involved in hiring the killers.

This mass murder of the smart people didn’t just eliminate the most vital and well informed citizens of Steel City –  it also had the (perhaps intended) effect of reducing the value that locals gave to intelligence or education. These things – intelligence and education – had both been growing by leaps and bounds with general literacy and universal school attendance, both introduced in the early 1900s. But by the Great Depression, the powers-that-be decided that education had gone too far – that the steel workers and miners of Steel City had to go back to being ignorant serfs, scared of their own shadows. And that’s exactly what Steel City became.  Along with a haven for drunken hopelessness, of course.
Firing squad

One of the many tragic side effects of the elimination of the smart people of Steel City and the death of ideas in general, was an increased prevalence of morbid obesity. I guess that when people realize that they can be killed for being too smart, all that’s left to do is to eat yourself to death. Also, the inhuman work routines that bosses can dictate in the absence of smart people are often sedentary and psychologically unrewarding or, inversely, physically damaging and mentally exhausting. Being someone’s pet, a serf, is a sure ticket to a decreased life quality and a shorter lifespan. In many people’s eyes, a shorter lifespan might even be a gift to humans trapped in this kind of racket.

Forty years after the killing of the smart, my father was hired as an assistant manager of the paint store in Steel City, the underling of an incredibly obsese manager named Kenneth Trimmenson. Ken weighed almost 300 pounds, and he joked that his girth was due to his social popularity : when he wasn’t sitting down at work with a client, he was sitting down with friends having many, many beers, or sitting down with his family watching movies. Or driving his station wagon – the wood-paneled one with the vista windows in the roof.

When Ken suddenly died of obesity-related causes at the young age of 41, leaving behind a wife and three little girls, my father replaced him as manager. Dad inherited the well-worn vinyl seat that Ken had broken in, returning the picture of Kenneth’s three daughters to Ken’s widowed wife, tears in everyone’s eyes.

Even though Dad was no doubt thrilled to have his salary doubled, I remember him saying to a client how worried he was about becoming obese and unhealthy like Ken. His new Manager position was a purely administration job, and it required him to stay almost motionless for hours at a time, every day. And the busier it was at the store, the less opportunity there would be to burn calories, to go outside – to live some semblance of a healthy, normal human life.

So in order to keep his weight down and his spirits up, my father decided to spend all his free time playing sports, even if this meant never spending more than a few token minutes each day eating or sleeping in proximity to his family. He even brought his golf clubs to family get-togethers, usually escaping from the family within minutes to go shoot some balls far, far away. Anything to control weight and muscle tone. There was no time for getting to know him, or for him to get to know us, his “family.”

This is why I hated sports when I was a child, and it’s why I hate capitalism now.

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

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Donuts with Derek

December 30, 2017

Steel City Fruit_donuts

soundtrack

(Dedicated to the working-class males of suburbia)

We’re waiting at Kirk’s house, watching a Saturday Night Live rerun after smoking a small joint outside in the snow. It’s going to be quite an evening: two hours of comedy re-runs and then… Derek Haddad!

Derek Haddad works two night-shifts per week at McDonalds in order to pay for his new Firebird Trans Am with the black-on-gold paint treatment and hood scoop with flying eagle logo. He also works at his dad’s woodshop full-time in the day, but on his evenings off, he loves to drive people around doing hot-knives in his muscle car.

He finally arrives about 30 minutes later than expected. Kirk and I get on our coats and join Derek and his friend Curtis who are in the front seat. We sit in the back with the blow-torch.

The plan is to get really stoned and then do “donuts” in the nearby Walmart parking lot, which is covered with ice and snow and is virtually empty tonight, the night before New Year’s Eve. “Doing Donuts” involves accelerating as fast as you can on an icy surface, and then hitting the brakes suddenly in order to be thrown into some heavy g-force curves. We’re all in our late teens, and this feeling is very close to the sex we crave every second of our lives.

donutsDonuts are also called “Round-up” by some people, but I don’t like to use that name since Round-Up is also the name of an insecticide bar we used to put on our lawnmower until we found out that the chemicals in it slow down children’s central nervous systems for up to a decade after contact with the residue. My father starting buying these poison wax bars after seeing an infomercial that showed children being seriously injured by slipping on dandelions. The miracle product, the TV spokesmodel explained, would kill dandelions and keep your kids safe. Everyone on TV that evening agreed that children’s safety was important so the dandelions had to die. Later reports from the Federal Environmental Office warned Round-Up users that the product contained some of the same neurotoxic chemicals that had been dropped on Vietnam, and that dandelions were not, in fact, dangerous at all.

Finally arriving in the parking lot, after ten minutes of rolling the hash into little balls, Derek cranks up his powerful car stereo, and his friend starts the blow torch and hands me the two knives to go first.

Ten hot-knives later, Derek changes the music to a new group called, appropriately, The Cars, and we start to accelerate into our first donut. Weeee! Finally, a kind of thrill you can enjoy with other people that doesn’t involve sharing anything personal or talking about life. What in the world did people do before parking lots, Trans Ams, and hot-knives were invented?

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

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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. His house also involved removing the last bit of forest visible from the river where people used to skate and swim. Of course, our own houses had done the same kind of damage to the landscape, but to us, there was no “before us” landscape.

Mr. McToll 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.

__________________________________________________________

“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.

__________________________________________________________

“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

soundtrack

(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. She says that this is “driving her crazy.” For me, my mother’s insanity is mainly due to the constant symphony of lawn mowers, gazebo-project chop saws, and  whipper snippers that she must listen to while trapped in a carless existence in an isolated bungalow built in sprawl. When I propose this as an explanation for her insanity, it infuriates her even more. Her suburban dream home can’t be wrong, it must be the tree and the crows.

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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