Sunday, July 3, 2011

Aimless Reading: The O's, Part 4 (Frank O'Hara)

LeSueur, Joe
Digressions On Some Poems By Frank O'Hara

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

When we left off yesterday I was about to describe a trip I took with my father to Ireland in the summer of 1985. We had just come to an agreement that I would go to AA to seek treatment for me drug and alcohol abuse. I think my father struggled often with his instinct to punish my bad behavior and his desire to see me succeed by way of providing positive reinforcement. In most cases, the former won out, but in this one, he decided to take the positive reinforcement route. I think he was also starting to recognize that treating a sixteen-year-old like an adult often yields more positive results than treating him like a child.

I should also note that this trip aroused no small amount of jealousy and even resentment among my siblings, who never went on an overseas trip with my father or mother, and never really understood the logic of my father's decision to lavish such a gift on his drug-addled prodigal son. During the year I lived in Ecuador, my father spoke to me of a confrontation in which both brothers expressed their feelings of having been cheated out of something by not getting to go on such a trip. He was shocked and dismayed and a little offended.

Anyhow, we flew to London and stayed for a night in a hotel at Picadilly Circus. We went to a play on the west end, I don't recall which one, but I guess it was the big hit of the season. It starred Adam Ant! This meant nothing to my father, but I thought it was pretty cool. We then flew to Dublin, where we rented a Fiat and spent the next ten days following the cost down to Cork and then up to Galway to visit relatives and then back across to Dublin.

Possibly the most significant element of our journey was the fact of the car itself. The steering wheel was on the right hand side and we were to drive on the left. It was also a manual transmission. My father had a great deal of difficulty shifting with his left hand while driving on the left hand side of the road. After a night spent at Drury's in Dublin, where we watched the standard Irish tourist musical revue, we hit the road, sputtering south towards Waterford.

If I remember correctly, I did not yet have my license, a fact resulting from my father's ongoing concern with my drug use. Or: I might have had a license at that point, but not an international license that allowed me to drive in Europe. Either way, my father had to do all the driving. We ended up devising a system whereby he would steer and work the clutch and when he needed to change gears he would call out, "shift!" I would move the gearshift up or down into the next gear. This caused the most trouble entering and leaving cities. I remember there was a lot of shouting and yelling and jerking as we tried to get the hang of it, but eventually we worked out a functioning system.

Another important fact of this trip was that I smoked heavily. Probably a pack a day at the time. I could not hide this fact from my father, who disapproved, but also understood that I had to smoke. He tacitly agreed to allow this, as long as we were not in the car or in the hotel room together. The tacit it part made it awkward. He refused to come out and say it was okay, which forced me to overcome my fear of his temper (and an accompanying smack to the head) in order to feed my jones.

At first, I had trouble smoking in front of him. Not so much smoking, now that I recall, but lighting the cigarette. Once it was lit, it was no big deal to smoke it, but I could not light it in front of him. I remember walking through the streets of Cork and dropping back five feet or so to light up, then I'd catch up to him and walk with the lit cigarette slightly out of view at my side, taking drags when he wasn't looking.

By the end of the trip I had gotten comfortable enough to light a cigarette in front of him, and the issue never came up again.

More tomorrow...

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