Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 12 (Rudyard Kipling)

Kipling, Rudyard
Captains Courageous

Given to me by my father.

I am pretty sure that I have I owned this volume longer than any other in my library. He gave it to me in the fifth or sixth grade. I can remember it sitting on the shelf of the little corner desk in my bedroom.

I vaguely remember my father telling me this was one of his favorite books. He seemed to have a few specific topics and genres to which he gravitated: dysfunctional family dramas and comedies, anything about Ireland, Brooklyn, or baseball and the male coming-of-age story.

This falls into the latter category.

I am now remembering his sex education talk, which involved the coming-of-age narrative. One night when I was about 13 or 14, he said we were going to watch a movie on television and that only he and I were to watch it and that my younger brothers were to do something else. I felt special, but also a little scared.

The movie turned out to be 'Summer of '42' starring Jennifer O'Neill as a WWII widow who pops the cherry of a teenage boy summering on Nantucket. The film is really about the boy.

It's a very funny and affecting film. My father said nothing until a hilarious scene halfway through where the two young male protagonists shamefacedly attempt to articulate their desire to purchase condoms to a druggist. At one point, the druggist asks, "Do you boys know what these things are for?" My father turned to me and asked the same question. I said yes. He said, "Good." And that was my sex education talk.

Later, the coming-of-age narrative reappeared when the two of us ended up at an AA meeting together. Somehow, an incident from my teen years came up. My father and I had gotten into a terrible fight, oddly, over going to an AA meeting. He'd forced me to go to meetings when I was sixteen, after having semi-secretly tested me for drugs. I found that I liked the meetings because they got me out of the house for a few hours without supervision. I started going early to set up chairs and make coffee.

One night, he decided I wasn't taking AA seriously enough and told me I couldn't go to the meeting to set up. I was allowed to go for the meeting only. He told me I was turning it into a social event. I guess I wasn't supposed to enjoy it so much.

This turned into a typically angry episode in which I yelled and yelled and he told me if I said one more word I wouldn't be allowed to go and then I yelled again and he said I couldn't go. I stormed down to my room, where I paced back and forth for a few minutes before steeling my resolve.

I should note here that my father, despite being only around 5' '5" was a terrifying figure to me. He had a quick temper that on occasion morphed into violence.

I decided I'd had enough.

I walked upstairs, opened the front door and screamed, "I'm leaving!"

I ran down to the end of the cul de sac and up to the back road, my father's voice echoing in my ears as he stood shouting from the front porch. I hitched a ride to the AA meeting, where I shared with everyone that I had just run away from home. Afterwards, someone drove me back home.

My mother greeted me at the door. All was very, very quiet. "Your father is upstairs, he wants to talk to you." I expected him to beat the shit out of me at that point. I was surprised find him sitting dejectedly on the edge of his bed. "I broke your stereo," he said," And some records. And your phone. I'll replace them." That was it.

I went down stairs to my bedroom to discover the aftermath of a major tantrum. After I'd run off, he'd ripped the phone out of the wall and smashed it on the floor, then picked up the stereo-turntable and smashed it on the floor. I think he may also have jumped up and down on it or given it a few kicks. All of my Clash albums had been on the turntable and were now in pieces on the floor.

Flash forward five years or so to the AA meeting we both attended. I eventually found my way to sobriety on my own. We began to mend our relationship a bit by going to meetings together. He'd been a horrible drunk and had sobered up when I was four years old. I can't recall how the running away incident came up, but we began talking about it. My father read the whole thing as a coming-of-age story.

He asked if I remembered the incident. I said yes and he said, "That was the day you became a man." I never really bought it, but it seemed to please him, so I didn't argue.

I don't recall if I ever finished or if I even read Captains Courageous. As I've mentioned, I didn't much like reading as a kid. I do remember opening it up and trying to read it and thinking I didn't like it. I also remember feeling a little guilt at not pleasing my father, but also a feeling of anger that he was always trying to force me to read against my will.

I would rather have been playing outside.

from Captains Courageous

The weather door of the smoking-room had been left open to the
North Atlantic fog, as the big liner rolled and lifted, whistling
to warn the fishing-fleet.

"That Cheyne boy's the biggest nuisance aboard," said a man in a
frieze overcoat, shutting the door with a bang. "He isn't wanted
here. He's too fresh."

A white-haired German reached for a sandwich, and grunted between
bites: "I know der breed. Ameriga is full of dot kind. I deli you
you should imbort ropes' ends free under your dariff."

"Pshaw! There isn't any real harm to him. He's more to be pitied
than anything," a man from New York drawled, as he lay at full
length along the cushions under the wet skylight. "They've dragged
him around from hotel to hotel ever since he was a kid. I was
talking to his mother this morning. She's a lovely lady, but she
don't pretend to manage him. He's going to Europe to finish his

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