There are a few select moments that best define life with my parents this summer.:
After work, my Father would come into the kitchen and ask, “How was work?”
“Really?” I asked.
“No,” he said, dropping paper on the kitchen table, “You have mail.” Then he walked away.
My oldest, arthritic pit bull (Maggie May) always looks a bit sad because she has these wavering eyebrows. She moves them around, up and down, back and forth, to emote. She also knows how to manipulate. I know, I have been feeding the dog for five years. But my parents were convinced Maggie was genuinely distressed whenever her eyebrows collided in the center of her forehead.
“She isn’t capable of worrying. She is a dog,” I said. She ignored me and I wondered, are they really losing their minds?
“Don’t have kids,” my Father said once while driving, “what are you going to do when you go out dancing?” He said “dancing” with total disdain, like it was too tart to swallow.
“ . . . Hire a babysitter?” I suggested.
“Don’t have kids, Maggie has enough to worry about,” he said.
Another time, my Mother was on the couch and Maggie sitting in front of her, staring.
“Oh Christ, do I have to get up to give you your spot on the couch?” she would ask.
“I don’t think that is why she is looking at you,” I said.
“No, it is. I know her,” she said, getting up and moving to the chair across the room. There Maggie stayed, still at the foot of the couch, staring at my mother, now across the room in the chair.
Finally, there was the morning in the kitchen. To enter the kitchen or reach the back door from my side of the house, you have to cross on one side of the kitchen table or the other. Maggie was lounging on the cool floor on the wider side of the table, so I was squeezing between the other side of the table and the kitchen wall to refill my cup of coffee.
The first time I crossed, my sweater got caught in a loose nail and pulled the threading out.
“Damn it!” I said.
“WHAT!?” my mother screeched in a hysterical voice that always had me jump a little.
“There is a loose nail in the wall here, it caught on my sweater,” I explained.
She was silent. I filled my cup of coffee and then crossed on the side of the table again only for the nail to catch my sweater again and pull out more threading.
“God damn it!” I said to myself.
“STOP CROSSING ON THAT SIDE OF THE TABLE THEN!” she howled.
“Well, why is there a loose nail hanging out of the wall? Can’t we remove it?” I asked.
Silence again. I walked into my room and sat down at the computer. My Father dashed in and closed the door behind him. “We have to talk. You have to move out. This isn’t working out. Your mother and I can’t stand it when you get upset,” he said directly, in his strained voice.
“Upset about what? The loose nail?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, flapping his hand out like he was swatting a fly. “You know, we are sensitive to it and it upsets us,” he said.
“Well, being a human, I am going to react to things with … like emotions,” I said, slowly.
“Anyway, you are going to have to be out by September 19th, ok? Your mother and I are hoping to go down to Arizona by then, so we will close up this place anyway, turn off the water and power. You can’t stay here. You should look at getting a place nearby like in Stevenson or even Bonneville Dam,” he said. Obviously, he thought about it.
“Well, I don’t want to invest in a place here, lose all my hours at the Hotel after the tourist season and then get stuck here. Do you understand that?” I asked slowly. I feel like we had this conversation already.
“Well,” he said, slightly fanning his hand again, “Maybe you can go to Vancouver. I don’t know. But you can’t stay here.”
“I hate Vancouver,” I said.
He stood up, “Do we understand each other?”
I nodded, “I am going back to LA anyway.”
He slumped a little, disappointed, “And do what?”
“I am moving in with a friend.” My friend Frank and I discussed moving in together. He was on his own journey, putting his things in storage and going back to his “home” in New York to get back in touch with who he was and what he needs. He discovered New York wasn’t who he was anymore, just as I discovered Washington isn’t who I am anymore.
“What are you going to do in LA?” he asked.
“What am I going to do in Vancouver?” I asked.
“Whatever, just be out by September 19th,” he said. That gave me a little more than a month to save enough money and get back home, back to LA.
My Parents actually believed that I needed further motivation to move out, as if walking around on eggshells in a constant static expression wasn’t enough. It was fine, I thought I would be out of Washington by then anyway.
Now that I had my car, I didn’t have to read at the house which was difficult anyway between the constant interruptions and the television set. Unfortunately, there are no real coffee houses in Skamania County. My parents live in Carson, and I work in Stevenson. The two towns (they aren’t quite cities) are a 10 minute drive away from each other, anything else is a significantly longer distance. There was a place called the Old School Grill in Carson that made me this terrific (and I am using that word especially for this) soy latte called the Kahlua Kicker. The Old School was mostly a family restaurant with video games and a pool table. It wasn’t jiving with my inner being. Occasionally, I would go there to do school work when my parents’ internet failed, which usually happened once a day, more often during the heatwave.
There was a place called Robbie’s in Stevenson, but it was full of bustling people and women’s chatter, antiques tagged for sale, bright colors and hard chairs. Also, not a great place to concentrate. Vibe, around the corner, was the other coffee shop in Stevenson. They were encased in glass windows but didn’t have a/c. I couldn’t get comfortable sweating over my pages, often swatting flies away from my face and food.
The one bar in Carson was a little place called The Bungalow. I avoided it for over a month because Lilith, the sarcastic, surly painter at work, told me a story where she and her husband were looking to go out on her birthday, walked into the Bungalow and saw a man with a crew cut standing in the doorway with a buzz clipper in his hands, the cord plugged into an outlet overhead in the ceiling.
“Anyone who comes in tonight has to get their head shaved,” he said.
“Needless to say, we didn’t go in,” Lilith said.
My Father told me that the locals who hang out at the Bungalow take women up into the hills, have sex with them, discard their condoms and cut off the heads to animals. (I am not lying, that is what he said.)
“They cut off the heads of animals? How do you know?” I asked.
He shook his head, “We have gone near there and found heads and parts of dead animals. Just don’t go there, ok?” he said.
One day, out of defiance and general curiosity, I stopped by to read in peace and enjoy a beer without being bothered about it. I walked in and felt the cool breeze of a/c swim through me. Then there was the smell of spilled beer and ice- that odor from behind a bar that isn’t kept clean all the time. It reminded me of my Grandmother’s basement in Milwaukee, where she hosted little cocktail parties for the family.
There was a food menu, a few neon signs over the bar, a television set in the far corner but the sound was turned down so it wasn’t a bother. The bartender sat at the end of the bar. She was older with thin hair, the bottom of which was tied back in a low pony-tail while the crown of her head was sprayed up to give it some life. In a voice worn down by cigarettes and bar chatter, she approached me, “What will you have, honey?”
“How much is a PBR?” I asked.
“2.50. But we don’t have it in a bottle, only on tap,” she said.
“That’s fine, thank you,” I said. She handed me a tall cool pint and I found a small table no more than two feet from the bar to settle down with a book.
The bartender slowly strolled back to pick up my cash, and my $1 tip. “Thank ya, honey,” she said, before moseying back over to the end of the bar to sit across from a few local men in dirty, labor clothes, spinning their almost empty glasses with dark fingernails.
“So who else is down there in the jail?” one of them asked.
“Robert. And Willy is down there too for domestic assault and breaking the nose of a 3-year-old,” the Bartender answered, loud, throaty and outraged.
There was a silence, “The kid had it coming,” one beer drinker said. We all chuckled. The beer was light and the buzz mild. I leisurely flipped through pages of my book, “Take Off Your Shirt and Cry”, a memoir about trying to make it as an actress. The jukebox was periodic, but once in awhile nudged me with Marvin Gaye, Muddy Waters or Al Green.
When I resumed my pages, one would look over at me, “This ain’t no book club, girly,” someone said in a light, friendly voice. I smiled, looking up only briefly.
After a pint, I went to work at the Hotel, carting food chaffers, table linens and glasses out for parties on the back lawn. It was a bit of a fiasco setting up dinners back there, you had to take everything through the kitchen, down a floor, past the laundry room and out the back door, over a small wooded area, down a non-paved path to a sloped lawn with a spectacular view. Especially in the heat, it wasn’t long before the alcohol was sweating out of me and the black coffee taking me over.
If I had a morning shift, I stopped off at the Bungalow after work for a couple beers and a couple more pages of my book. The same people are there every day; an old man in a cowboy hat who bought me a drink and gave me money for the jukebox, a middle-aged guy who is handsome but too eager was to get me home with him, an older couple with a daughter a little younger than me who also worked at the Hotel, all three of them ate fried appetizers like a family dinner.
When I first made the walk down the bar to the jukebox, everyone fell silent, wondering where I fell in the order of things. “Whatcha gonna play?” one regular asked.
“I don’t know, some Johnny Cash, this seems like a Johnny Cash crowd. Maybe some Janis, some Doors, some Roy and Patsy,” I said. This was welcomed with a few nods. “It’s not like I am going to clutter the place with Adele or anything,” I continued.
“You can play all the Adele you want, even I love that girl,” a Middle-Aged Lumberjack said.
“Ok, you got it,” I said, popping in “Rolling in the Deep”. The bar grew quiet as rough hands and worn boots tapped to the beat.
At first, I always kept at one of the tables against the front windows and rarely made the cross to sit with them at the bar. I laughed at their dirty jokes. I listened to their town gossip. I learned what beers they ordered and which strangers had someone waiting at home. I made a routine out of stopping by an hour or two before work, reading in peace with a beer or two, and then driving into work.
In the bathroom, I was washing my hands, when a woman with teased hair and heavy eyeliner came in, “You better get out of the bathroom, about a hundred bikers are about to come in,” she said.
“That’s alright, I have to go to work,” I said.
“Bummer, but the party is just starting?” she said.
When I left the bathroom, roughly twenty-five bikers were either outside, propping up their motorcycles, or inside taking over the place with jangle of metal on leather and cheer to be someplace empty enough to take them all.
On most slow afternoons, the regulars would jump up during long bouts of silence and play a game with each other, unfortunately, they asked me not to take pictures. One person would walk five feet to a shot glass holding a quarter between their ass cheeks. When they finally make it to the shot glass, they release their cheeks and hope the quarter drops inside the shot glass. It seemed difficult, but after three or four tries, they were able to pull it off. The sound of alloy spinning around glass was cut short by cheers and clapping. Even I was mesmerized and had to put down my book anytime someone made the walk.
When I finished my first book, slapping my hand on the pages and sighing in exacerbation as I grew more and more disappointed with the ending, someone asked, “What are you huffing and puffing about over there?”
I swung my heavy head towards the bar and held up my hand like a sock puppet, “Wah wah wah wah- same old bullshit. Woman ends up with a man. Congratulations, what does that have to do with your story? Like . . . why is she wasting my time?” They laughed.
It wasn’t long before I finally did join them at the bar, I got to know the different bartenders, all women. One was the mother to the moody bartender at the Hotel, her hair was blonde too, her wrinkles severe, the tobacco roughing up her voice like rubber on cement. Another one was serious with me, very thin, heavy eye makeup to cover her sad eyes. They all took frequent cigarette breaks just outside the open front door and they all asked about me, where did I come from, who were my parents (no one ever recognized the names or descriptions), how did I like working at the Hotel and was I single. I was candid, they laughed at my sarcasm, seemed genuinely curious but equally suspicious, warm but distant . . . they knew I wasn’t one of them.
They did know that I tipped $1 per drink, and always made sure I had a cool beer in hand and a clean napkin. The more I drank, the more I laid my grievances out on the bar about my parents, how they were too controlling and how they weren’t around very often when I was growing up. The beer turned to shots of whiskey, and they gladly fed me as I opened up more and more.
One night, I was out on the back patio, next to the wood alligator sculpture (someone stuffed a real boot in its mouth), smoking alone with the trees, listening to a creek whispering under the nearby highway, sitting under the flapping of the tarp overhead occasionally lifting with breath of its own. A young man in his twenties approached me, wearing a red baseball cap, his golden locks spilling out from underneath. He was in a self-made tank-top with the sleeves ripped off the seams, exposing meaty arms. He looked like a kid who ate a lot of hot dogs and microwave taquitos but also lifted weights in his garage.
“So, they told me to come back here and introduce myself. I am Matt,” he said.
“Hi, Matt,” I said, “Who sent you back here?”
“The folks at the bar. The guys said there was a beautiful girl here and I should go talk to you.”
“That’s nice,” I said, blowing smoke into the sky. We spoke for awhile, he also had a seasonal job, working with a chemical that helped maintain the lawn and foliage around the city during tourist season. The money was decent but the hours would fade come fall. He lived with his father but wanted to move to Hood River and do something else with his life. Matt was genuine and attractive, he listened to what I had to say and tried to process what the most intelligent response would be. Nothing about him was especially unique, he was just nice to me. There was a dopey innocence about him like he was still on summer vacation out of high school, waiting to leave, saving up to leave, planning to leave this small town that kept its people in a content, slow, safe balloon, creeping along the sidewalk with the light tapping footfalls of nothing that bad, nothing as bad as what is out there for the rest of us.
He asked if I wanted to “hang out” which I took to mean fool around. I said I did, but we both lived with our parents and I needed to pick up canned dog food. Originally, that is what I told my parents I was doing, but took a detour to the Bungalow for a few hours. I had been in the house all day and took five hours or so to read and socialize. We agreed that he would pick up the dog food for me on his motorcycle and meet me at the school, a half a mile around the bend.
I was on my bicycle at the time, knowing the cops were so bored they had managed to get almost everyone with a DUI. So in the night, I biked to the Middle School, now closed for the summer. Buzzed with cheap beer and a new flirtation, I enjoyed jumping from smooth sidewalks to patches of grass, forcing my wheels to navigate through the empty soccer field, then carelessly tossing it to the ground to collapse on my back under the stars. Panting, the night air cleared my lungs of tar and carbon monoxide as I felt the tickle of sweat along my hairline. It really was beautiful in Skamania.
In the distance, one headlight roared down the road with the sound of a buzz saw. Through the parking lot it weaved, until it parked nearby. Matt walked towards me with a brown bag, in it dog food and a pack of cigarettes.
“You got me more cigarettes?” I said.
“I knew you were out,” he said.
“Oh, I was going to quit. Oh well, next time,” I said. Each pack took its toll on me, but granted me the permission to be free of the house, free of the job, and completely on my own for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.
We climbed on the swing set and dipped up and down, talking about where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do. Anytime I told him about Los Angeles or my writing, he would say, “That’s cool,” and stare at the ground, taking note to memory.
Someone stumbled through the empty schoolyard. “Matt?” a voice called out. We both squinted and made out the silhouette of a young man.
“Zack?” Matt said, “How are you, man?”
“Good, good. I was just cutting through here, got some weed and was gonna smoke up back at my place. I haven’t seen you in a while, where have you been?” Zack asked.
“Working . . . was working in Vancouver for a while, but I came back,” Matt said.
“Cool man, well, I still live in the same place,” he said.
“Cool, well, how about I catch you later?” Matt said.
“Yeah . . “ Zack looked at me, I politely waved. That kid was too faded for me to even waste an introduction on. “Ok, cool man. See ya later.”
Zack stumbled off to the distance and Matt came closer to me. He smelled like Old Spice. We kissed and sat down on the grass to enjoy a couple more beers. As the kisses quickly, gracefully became more passionate, he rolled on top of me.
“I don’t want to do this here anymore, I mean . . . that dude just passed through here?” I said.
“He is on his way home, he won’t be back,” Matt said. His breath was hot in the night air.
“Let’s go to the baseball diamond, just in case someone else comes along,” I said.
Matt grabbed the bag and followed me through the chainlink fence into the diamond. We laid down and he rolled over me with his dirty jeans, summer sweat and sweet shampoo. He was young but not clumsy. He was gentle, deliberate but uncertain and careful. We made love in the fine dirt and fluffy grass, and I came soon after we found our rhythm together. Almost immediately after I came, so did he, and he rolled over on his back and put his arm around me.
“Sexy . . . sexy, sexy boy,” I whispered.
“How many times did you come?” he asked.
“Just once, just before you did. But really thats all I needed,” I said.
He kissed my cheek, “That really turned me on.”
We looked up at the sky, every few seconds there was a shooting star. “Lots of shooting stars tonight,” I said.
“Yeah, there was a meteor shower last night, these are the stars that are left over, I guess,” he said.
“This is better than a bedroom,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, “Yeah, it really is.”
A star streaked across the sky and I made a wish. I wished for my own home, somewhere, sometime soon. Please. My own home.
“Don’t tell me, or it won’t come true,” he said. “Haven’t you heard that before?” His arm around my shoulder pulled my head in close to his, and we softly knocked skulls.
“Ok, I won’t tell you,” I said.
While putting our clothes back on, he said, “You will call me, right? You aren’t just going to blow me off after this?”
“Of course not,” I said. “I just work a lot and don’t have reception.”
“Ok, call me. Text me. Whatever. Promise?” he asked.
“Yeah, I promise.”
I biked back home and stumbled through the front door. In all my drinking, my parents hadn’t seen me intoxicated yet. This would be the first time they caught sight of me stumbling, knocking into the DVD rack a little and slurring just a touch before disappearing into the bathroom.
My mother looked at me like I just stole money out of her wallet. Her eyes pierced through the dark living room. “I got the dog food,” I said.
“Did you go out somewhere?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Where?” she asked.
“The dogs were waiting for you,” she said.
“I spent all day with them. I was only gone for five hours. I think they can do without me for five hours out of twenty-four,” I grumbled, then I forced a cheery “Goodnight!” before closing the door.
She turned her head in disgust, and she was disgusted with me. That night there was a war declared, one between my parents and the Bungalow.