Sunday, February 14, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 27.2 (Benjamin Friedlander)

Friedlander, Benjamin
The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes

I believe this was sent to me by the author after he came to Buffalo for the OlsonNow event in the Spring of 2007. It is not inscribed; however, I found a handwritten note folded into the back that reads as follows:

Mike, Lori–

Some old work of mine, at last folded up like a keepsake–It was great to have an evening together–& I am looking forward to another this summer!

All best,


We did go to Maine–where Ben and Carla live–that summer, but it was in July, which is the time of year the two of them usually spend in Sicily with Carla's family, so we didn't get to see them. I think I wrote about this trip in an earlier post about Annie Finch, who we did see.

For some reason this is calling to mind a trip to Maine I made when I was about 16. It was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. My friend M.'s family rented a big old house in Ogonquit for the summer and invited me to stay with them for a week in August.

The house they rented was a beautiful old gray New England home, on a cliff overlooking the sea, just on the outskirts of town. They said it had belonged to an old sea captain. I remember finding all kinds of eclectic junk in the study -- a 'Save the Seals' button from the seventies, a defunct stock certificate from the twenties, and a clay pipe (for pot, this, a "bowl") in the shape of an old man's head. The old man had a beard and seemed to be blowing the bowl right out of his mouth. We made great use of the pipe that summer.

My friend M. had been there for two months and had befriended most of the kids our age. One of them was a guy named "Tungee." He was a big guy with bleach blond curly hair, and prone to drunken racist and homophobic outbursts. Another was a guy named Brian, who worked in the local movie theater, an old one screen affair that played a different movie each week in the summer. The week I was there they were playing a fun eighties vampire romp called, "Fright Night." It starred Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell. I think we saw it four or five times.

One day, M., decided we should go lobster hunting. He fastened a hunting knife to a broom handle with a piece of rope to make a harpoon and handed me a pillowcase. Along with our wetsuits and snorkeling gear, we carried a cooler full of ice down to the rocky shoreline to begin the hunt. The plan was to snorkel around a rocky outcropping where the lobsters liked to congregate.

M. was the harpooner and I was the bagman. We dove down to where the lobsters gathered and then Matt speared a lobster in the side while I held out the pillow case. Once the lobster was safely inside the pillow case, I would rise to the surface and drop it into the cooler full of ice. We caught about ten lobster this way, then brought them home to his mother to cook. She was horrified when we showed her the catch and informed us that if we had been caught we would have been charged 100 dollars per lobster as a fine. Nonetheless, she cooked them and served us up a fine Maine lobster feast.

M. was a friend throughout my teen years. He was one of those friends that precludes the need for enemies. At times he was charming and funny and full of life, at others he was mean and domineering and cruel. He also had an increasingly terrible drug and alcohol problem, an indifferent mother and step-father, and a dependence on having someone like me–shorter, weaker, and more passive–to kick around when he needed to feel good about himself.

Just about every moment I spent with him we were getting to trouble–he instigating and me playing along. His parents had a large house about a mile from our own in Oakton, Virginia. They were rarely home and we took advantage of this fact create all kinds of trouble. This usually involved me telling my parents I was sleeping over, then the two (or more) of us spending the night carousing, getting high, drinking, etc.

'Trouble' included: egging houses and/or covering them with toilet paper; watching porn on his parents wide-screen TV; stealing cassettes, cigarettes, beer and money from unlocked cars and garages; testing his parents' electric dog fence by holding the dog's shock collar in our hands and trying to run past the boundary line; letting off the emergency brakes of cars sitting on hills; driving around town doing bong-hits, often with him driving and me holding the wheel as he drove; shoplifting for kicks, etc.

He used to like to add suffixes to my last name in order to make fun of me. For some reason, though I am not Jewish, he began calling me "Kelle-jew. " This lasted, I think, a whole summer. I never knew why he called me this or what exact significance he attached to the appellation, but he seemed to take great pleasure in calling me this invented nickname.

After I graduated from high school, I decided to take a year off before college. My plan was to move to the mountains in Colorado, get a job at a ski resort and spend the winter partying and skiing. Somehow, M. got wind of this and decided he wanted to move out there, too. I went by myself and found three other guys to room with when I arrived. Around the time we began looking for a place, M. showed up in his white Monte Carlo, with two other, unknown friends, Roach and B.B., who had driven across the country with him.

All seven of us -- 5 Americans and two pot-smoking Dutch brothers from Rotterdam -- moved into a tiny A-Frame with no insulation in Keystone, CO. I got a job at the Breckenridge HIlton washing dishes. I used to hitchhike to work every morning. M. and his pals lived with us for about a month, then moved into a cabin of their own, on the other side of the mountain. Things started to go very wrong for M. after that. He kept getting arrested for things like possession, urinating in public (on the Mayor's lawn, no less), drunk and disorderly conduct, and, finally, for DWI.

Each time, I'd get a call in the middle of the night asking for bail money or a ride home. When he got the DWI they made the bail more than I could afford. I remember him calling me on the phone and crying, begging me to hock my skis to get him out of jail. I had finally had enough, I guess. I told him he was on his own. As I recall, he called a bail bondsman, went home, got in his car, and left town, skipping bail. I think I may have spoken to him on the phone once or twice after that, but I never saw him again.

from The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes


Scurry of a rat
eaten away
in the wall
behind a clock.

The hand, writing,
measured by a beam
of light housing
all the colors of the mind.

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