Truckin' With Anxiety
Canal Street in New Orleans looking toward Metairie
I Don't know exactly what made me want to be a writer. Actually as you know I wanted to be a drummer. Music got to me first. I was too self-conscious to dance well but I tried. I could keep time to the music though. Beating on that ironing board with sticks put me in a different world. I could snap fingers or tap feet exactly in time and still can...wondered why others couldn't stay on the beat...aren't you listening?...but shit happened as you know and I became a writer instead...no cracks please.
Later after reading myself blind I found authors I admired like Maxim Gorky...his roots were in poverty and so were mine...he had a social conscience and so do I...you can say his writing was political to which I say so what...one of the greatest writers to me...but long before Gorky I read stuff that was given me...everything good I ever read had some effect on me...Gorky inspired me to keep at it...if he could do it so could I.
Maxim Gorky "the stormy petrel" of the Russian Revolution...this bird flies in front of the storm
First writers I read my mother gave me: Richard Haliburton's Book of Marvels probably awoke planetary curiosity mid-wifing my wanderlust...rich guy who had nothing to do but travel...hit all the wonders of the world...swam the Panama Canal...old black and white photos he took of distant places still fresh in my mind...grainy photos of pyramids...drawings of ancient vanished marvels...forbidding photo of bottomless pool where Mayan priests flung their victims only now getting attention from modern historians...she gave me Dickens' David Copperfield...I was too young to understand & language too difficult then...Treasure Island Robinson Crusoe excellent...who can forget that story...Tom Sawyer then Huckleberry Finn...Ha, ha! I dug Huck but it was two decades before I realized--someone had to point it out--that it was pioneering anti-racist novel. Of course schools didn't teach it like that...come to think of it none of my schools had us read Huckleberry Finn...slavery what slavery...being a southern white boy I wasn't informed-enough to get it...not taught critical thinking how could I know...still too young to understand racist America...didn't have a clue until Ike sent the Airborne to Little Rock to enforce integration order from Supreme Court...Huck and Jim only an exciting adventure down the Mississippi River...any boy's dream of freedom and defiance of authority ending with vindication of masculine heroism and freedom...terrific Twainian storytelling...Huck wins his manhood and Jim doesn't have to be a slave anymore... I didn't see that Jim had won his manhood too...never saw one film or television production of Huckleberry Finn that I liked...they all fell short...Huck seemed to me older...Tom was a crafty exploitative and self-interested little bastard...destined to be rich...Jim was a grown man..deeper than any Uncle Remus...he was in a world of pain...slapped his little boy upside his head not realizing kid was deaf...profound testimony to worst human tragedy...the old lady was a well-intentioned religious maniac in a country still full of 'em...Huck's father was more evil than he looked...rapist and murderer for sure...the funniest guy in the book was the fat man pretending to be the Lost Dauphin of France!!..ha, ha!...what a character!...and Huckleberry...Twain's gravediggers now say Huck was modeled on a black kid...I can believe it.
I recall that once...aggrieved over my mom's inebriation late one night, ...watching her stumble over a chair and bounce off a wall...bruises all over her legs...seeing that she was unhappy and feeling her pain...I asked what she wanted to do..."I want to write," she said...she was about 35 then...it surprised me but it shouldn't have because she read so much--both she and Sidney did...She read in the mornings and afternoons while he was at work...they read in bed together...did she want to write because she was unhappy?...perhaps she was unhappy because she wanted to write!...or did she think it was an easy way to make a living?...I actually did!...did she ever try to write?...I don't know...did she want to be famous?...people think to be famous is to be rich...I don't buy it...but frankly being rich never entered my mind...I seemed to know from early on that I would never be wealthy...never even looked at the golden ring...didn't even notice it as the countryside spun round the merry go 'round...why waste energy trying to grab it?...it's only a gold ring...realized too late I should have tried...I might have more to pawn.
All this might have been mine...
What rang her bell?...same thing that rings all our bells...in literature: a good story...one that transports you to another world...perhaps even a world where things make sense and come out right...this woman my mother Mickey Lee...pretty as all get-out...with an education even worse than mine...like millions others had survived the worst war in history of the world...simply by being born in the right place at the right time...she wasn't meant to be incinerated in Dresden or nuked in Hiroshima...she was meant to work in the maze of atom bomb factory...didn't even know they were making a bomb hardly anybody did...told me when the news of Hiroshima spread at Oak Ridge some women broke down crying to learn of the death of so many...and they had had a hand in it...that despite ingrained racism & hatred of Japanese they felt sympathy for the enemy...my mother was always torn between two extremes...on the one hand she preached "toleration"...when she was loaded she could easily say "Kick their teeth out"...her sober self was kinder...see she was good and people are good...it breaks my heart to know that sometimes...but nobody was giving out numbers then were they...it was years before we knew how many fried...Jesus Christ an atom bomb...blow the whole fucking world up why don't you morons.
Sid's books were technical and over my head...but he had large leatherbound volumes of maps chronologies text and pictures of the recent war...including a large book regretfully vanished of his combat engineer regiment put together at end of the war...I've even forgotten the regimental number...I pored through books about WW II before I was out of eighth grade...suppose other kids were doing the same at home...he had a biography of Brahms and about 20 book-albums of classical music on 78rpms...I heard most popular classical music before I got to Mrs. Wagner's 8th grade music class...Handel...Bach...Wagner...Beethoven...Vivaldi...Carmen...Grieg's Pier Gyntt Suite...Anitra's Dance...Aida...In the Hall of the Mountain King!...The Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe...Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue...actually a lovely blue vinyl 78...I'd heard the operas but didn't know the stories until Mrs. Wagner's class...I don't know who turned Sid Havenar on to all that music...he was a third-grade dropout...he also had albums of military music...the Army Marching Band...When Those Caissons Come Rolling Along!...the Marine Corps Band...From the Halls of Montezuma...(The Marine Corps Hymm)...I knew that one long before drill instructors made me sing it at Parris Island...still stirs my heart though I know war is a bucket of shit.
I read the books she kept by their bed...detective novels, thrillers, The Day of the Triffids, my first encounter with science-fiction ...Mickey Spillane, Richard S. Prather, Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, and the cowboy books of Louis L'Amour...I read a number of her bedside novels of danger adventure and romance...I didn't understand all the words but managed to follow the stories...once when I was ill home from school lying in her bigger bed--it was cozier and special somehow--she caught me reading "I, the Jury" by Mickey Spillane...Spillane's best creation...Mike Hammer...a hard-boiled private eye who shot or beat bad guys before breakfast and one before bedtime...he made love to women nearly every day...the sex scenes were suggestive not pornographic...women were always after him...he had to slap a few of them around and occasionally shoot one too but they all deserved it...sometimes it was the only way to get real information...Hammer was fearless...kicked ass all over New York...loyalty was everything to him and he was above all loyal...tough guys were afraid of him or soon would be...yes I liked this guy...he appealed to me...bullies were tormenting me then...nobody beat Mike Hammer and God help you if you imperiled his secretary Velma...when angered he was capable of vast vengeance...Men shied away just looking at his pissed-off face.
I see it now...tough guy...keeps bullies away...I suppose I assumed an attitude of toughness because I wasn't tough...I was vulnerable and prone to stumble over my words in a verbal confrontation of any sort...fear I guess...my mouth would run away with me and I'd say too much or too little or say it all wrong...I liked Mike Hammer who had no fear...later I liked Hemingway because he did...because he confessed it and fought it...Hemingway a counterphobic like me...went toward what he was afraid of because the anxiety was worse than what he feared...now they are paying attention to bullies and their victims...seems the victims have a propensity to suicide later on...tell me about it...makes you feel bad about yourself...did the great man Hemingway get bullied around in grade school?...hard to imagine...I wanted to be cool as a cat on a glass table but I seldom ever was.
My mother bit her lip seeing me reading it and said "I'm not sure you should be reading that"...I re-assured her and she let it go...now I think maybe she was right...I shouldn't have been reading at age 11 or 12 about a private detective who would shoot a woman in her privates (she had done it to his friend)...I wish she had taken it away from me...asserted her rights over me...but she had turned me over to Sidney not feeling up to the task and probably feeling guilty too...I was shocked to learn Sidney was my boss...I had thought she was...I see now it depressed me and made me anxious...I didn't even know this man and he was in charge of me.
Suddenly I realized not long ago that despite my life-long sense of myself as cool calm collected and unafraid...I've been anxious all my life...I don't look it...but to be honest I've been anxious about failing at this and that...anxious about survival...anxious about women...anxious about work...anxious about war...anxious about homeless...friendless...bruised so often I built a false front...THE STONEWORKS...I buried anxiety and thought mine was a heroic way of life...I see now that most of my anxiety was due to being male...the unsung curses of owning a cock... I think it must be different for females...I know we both have anxieties but I think ours are different...we men must pass the same tests again and again always with the chance of failure negating all past proofs of manhood...a challenge a day keeps confidence away...men expected to perform...and not only sexually...even as boys we must achieve in competition with other boys...we must acquire skills...pass tests of strength endurance and bravery..and other tests and trials....later we must be good lovers...we must be active...without male interest nothing happens...the female can just lie there and pretend to like it or not...a guy has to want it...one premature ejaculation or failed boner can ruin your sex life if word gets around...it probably did...who knows what they tell each other?
Males and females start life identifying with earliest nurturer the one with the food...girls never have to differentiate but boys do as they become aware of their separateness...girls learn by virtue of their biology they will be women...if they only passively wait they likely will be mothers..every event in their maturation...menstruation...defloration...childbirth...even rape affirms her femaleness.
But a boy can never be certain he will be a man...qualifications vague and unwritten...tests for manhood are more than physical...tests are many and ongoing throughout a male life...while a mother usually remains emotionally close to her daughter emotional and intellectual gaps between mothers and sons widen and deepen because he must be different than she a female...the kicker is that fathers are usually absent in one way or another...many sons have no certain model to imitate--except one of distant uninvolved dad that they will be too with their own children later...like me...without being any sort of expert it still seems to me schools should be teaching character...with examples in history...from Pericles to Obama...honor...from Achilles to Eisenhower...selflessness...from Jesus to Mother Theresa...and all the world's religions in enough depth to crack the brittle armor of self-righteous religious intolerance...every major religion has a Bible which makes sense from that viewpoint...you don't have the only one you know...yours isn't the only one with beauty sense and good instructions...how is someone going to understand what a principle is without the example of Socrates?...but they never mentioned him in my school...teachers underestimate intelligence of students a lot...even if they know they aren't telling...then some jerk in the PTA knowing nothing of Socrates or Huey P. Long is also drawing up the curricula that lesson plans come from...teachers hamstrung by rules written by know-nothings much of their ignorance inspired by the likes of Rush Lamebrain and the anti-intellectual cowardice he represents...anti-intellectualism runs deep as Lake Baikal in American society...crippling.
No one calls a woman a "coward" if she declines a challenge to fight...such challenges rare and few...she's not expected to fight...it would be an aberration if she did..."unladylike"... If its a fight it's the men who do it...especially to protect or avenge her according to the Romantics and human commonsense...a boy or man declining a challenge to fight...or worse runs from it...can be branded a coward for all life with resultant loss of reputation self-esteem and even income...even the intellectual ivy-leaguer nurtured in a genteel supportive environment must avoid reputation as an intellectual or moral coward...neither can any male be a wimp a pussy or a softie or he will be branded homosexual whether he is or not...this happened to me Kenner High School 9th grade late fifties...new boy in school I didn't want to fight anybody...refused...called a queer...some guys convinced I was a dicksucker offered me to suck theirs...last thing in the world I wanted...I see now if I had kicked them in the balls they would have known I was an all right guy...they all joined the police force later...this another anxiety all boys must endure...implication that gay men can never achieve true manhood...therefore boys must scorn it and sometimes verbally or even physically abuse gentler boys who may or not have grown into homosexuality later...to prove his own heterosexuality...some males so anxious at achieving & maintaining manhood are so afraid of this they must prove every day they aren't attracted to males...not gay...once I described to Billy and Hooter in Colorado a kid I knew once as a "good-looking black kid"...they hooted with derision..."a good-looking black kid!"...the concept was strange...they were convinced without saying so that I was gay...oh well so what drop dead racist homophobic pigs...in fact I think Billy shot himself or went back to prison by now...satellite photo shows his place has been razed...maybe he got smart and sold out...maybe he found the murdered man with the diamonds and gold...I'll write the story of Wild Bill Norman someday.
I never had that problem, because I had contact with homosexuals from an early age... my mom was a member of the Little Theater of Lake Charles...she knew most of the principals...many of the actors technicians and producers were themselves gay or lesbian...I knew some of them once...she took me to some plays and post-peformance parties and I got the picture...Sidney was tolerant...amused...though I didn't see why then...my stepfather was a gentle man with a big mind...he was an FDR liberal who daringly called himself a "socialist"...to provoke my mom's gentle "perish the thought"...he teased her now and then...I saw that homosexuality was part of the Little Theater and by implication of other arts too...in conversation gays were certainly smarter and more-amusing...Of course I was a boy and who knows what they really wanted...when I was 15 the only place in New Orleans where I could be reasonably certain to buy beer was The Cafe of the Lafitte Exiles on Bourbon Street...probably the oldest gay bar in the South...numerous mornings I saw the street greet the sunlight sitting there with older guys who made stiumlating and funny conversation...sometimes about literture and the arts...some were painters and writers...I liked them but didn't want sex and nobody asked either...this was the fifties and early sixties...if they went for boys nobody said so...they were very respectful of me...I still go there (for a Coke) now and then...one of the lesser anxieties in my life...in fact I was proud it didn't bother me...the way I was proud later that black men walking streets with arms around white women didn't bother me either...outraged some of my friends though...I used to laugh at them...Jesus Christ I'd say...of all the things to worry about the color of a man's skin...I enjoyed taunting them...lost a few potential friends this way & still don't care.
But it is only more self-delusion for me to say I'm not anxious about anything...I am probably anxious about so many things...probably apparent to everyone but me...I try to keep my cool but been known to blow it.
Mt. St. Helens blowing it
Someone on Facebook said loneliness was the opposite of love...I say indifference is...someone else said fear was opposite & another said fear "predicates loneliness"...but loneliness can be from other reasons...and like I said before what do I really know about love?
Ishi "the last of his tribe" was lonely because no one spoke his language anymore...
He had no fear and neither was he indifferent but he was unquestionably lonely...there are many reasons for loneliness...a person can be a part of a hated minority...a deformed person and the blind the deaf or an ex-prisoner a felon shunned by society...the old are lonely because everyone they knew is dead or dying...some are lonely from lack of a loving relationship...many reasons for loneliness which also can be penultimate selfishness...tell the deprived to be selfless though...forget your troubles come on get happy helping others...loneliness also a battlement on a hilltop surrounded by a moat of suspicion in the paralyzed forest...I'm lonely here afraid to come out I might start screaming...you don't know me...you don't know the troubles I've seen...if I ever let it all come out you'd call the wagon...but no matter how this sounds I'm okay now.