Author Topic: Mirror Man  (Read 5118 times)

Offline Kowboy

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Mirror Man
« on: February 08, 2015, 07:57:58 PM »
Note: I'm taking a Creative Nonfiction class and this is my first assignment. It's too long to be posted for criticism, but can't be shortened. It's not supposed to be criticized here, but i guess if a rule has got to be broken, it should be that one. So please, have at it and thanks:

Mirror Man

Ned Smith is 82, hard of hearing, too thin, cantankerous, and has been my father-in-law for over 33 years.  If the aneurism in his gut that he’s had forever doesn’t explode, he’ll probably make 100. When you count the four years I lived with his daughter without the benefit of marriage, we’ve known each other for nearly 40 years.

I wish I had a more romantic beginning for my story, but I met his daughter at the Beer Barrel, an east Toledo, Ohio, bar. She was with a date, but that didn’t stop me from having her cousin Tammy make an introduction. Lynn Anne, her date, and I eventually made our way to the parking lot where we smoked a joint. We went on our first date the night I turned 21. She was 19. Within the year, we would share a cockroach-infested east side apartment in the four-plex Ned owned. We had little money and few marketable skills, but we did have government issued food stamps, free birth control pills courtesy of Planned Parenthood, plenty of marijuana, libido, and a waterbed in the basement, each proving an essential component to surviving the Blizzard of ’78.

Ned let us know he didn’t approve of our living arrangements, but that didn’t stop him from coming over for dinner occasionally. After a meal of meatless pasta and salad, Ned asked, “That was really good. What do you have for dessert?”

“Well, you’re welcome to one of these brownies Ned, but they’ve got pot in ‘em” I warned.

My future father-in-law, the king of the double negative, replied “Aww, that shit don’t affect me none”, and proceeded to down a brownie washed down with a large glass of milk.

“That was pretty good. Do you mind if I have another?”

“Help yourself” I replied, and he did.

Unlike smoked marijuana whose effects are nearly instantaneous, the effects of ingested marijuana, especially on a full stomach, can take a while to manifest.

“Holy Kee-riste! I could barely find my way home last night,” Ned said the next day. (He lived several blocks away.) “I tried reading the newspaper, but couldn’t make any damn sense of it.  Read the same paragraph over and over. I gave up and went to bed.”

What a waste of good weed. I would come to find out this wasn’t my father-in-law’s first experience with marijuana.

In 1976 or so, I purchased an ounce of  “Thai sticks” which is very high quality Asian marijuana flowers delicately tied around a bamboo shoot and allegedly dipped in opium. An ounce cost $200.00, an outrageous amount at the time, and came with rose petals in the baggie.  I was concerned as to whether or not I would get a return on my investment; the marketplace would quickly vindicate my entrepreneurial instincts. A regular customer, who was Lynn Anne’s boyfriend at the time, purchased a stick and rolled it up at her parent’s house. Ned put aside his loathing of Richard long enough to sample a few puffs. He was unimpressed with some of the finest marijuana on the planet, which probably birthed “That shit don’t affect me none”, but he refused to let Lynn Anne leave the house right away.

***************************************************************

I rarely feel inadequate, one exception being the Computer Aided Design community college class I took in 2009. I squeaked past with a grade of “C”. If you’re a son-in-law, or about to be one, get used to being made to feel inadequate. Since Lynn Anne and I remained childless by choice, I have little personal experience with daughterhood except the time her younger sister Sydney lived with us and went on her first date. I insisted the kid come to the door, not beep his horn in the driveway, much to my young sister-in-law’s consternation and embarrassment.

The problem is that fathers of daughters are male and as such know perfectly well what’s on the minds of suitors, because it was on their minds when they were suitors too. It was perfectly fine for them to lust after other men’s daughters, but the knowledge that other boys and men are lusting after their daughters is intolerable and undeniable.  A suitor’s education, pedigree, wealth, social status, valor, and work ethic are meaningless. The son-of-a-bitch still has a cock and he wants to put it into my little girl. Worse yet, she wants him to. No man is ever good enough.

The advice I give soon-to-be-married male friends is always “You want to be able to brag to your father-in-law that you treat his daughter better than he did.” This not only makes for a successful marriage, it gives a father-in-law serious pause while he thinks it over. He may not agree, but if it’s true it may make him think the bastard who’s screwing his daughter isn’t so bad after all.


There seems to have been a mistake. In our younger days Lynn Anne and I were always the ones needing a loan for a car, a car repair, legal fees, or tuition. Many years ago, Ned came through for us when the alternator went out in Lynn Anne’s Ford while we were vacationing to California on my $400.00 income tax check refund. He wired us the money for the repair and picked up the car payment a time or two also. Somehow, in middle age, we’re the ones providing the loans, which often turn into gifts.  I’m glad we’re able to do it. We usually got good advice to accompany our financing. Now we dispense advice to those family members who want it or not.

Around the time we got married, my in-laws marriage was crumbling. Ned and Faye had lived separately for years and the money-for-conjugal-visits thing finally ran its course. The only men my mother-in-law had any use for were those providing marijuana or liquor or both.  Ned, in his mid-fifties at the time, met and cohabitated with Ellie, a vivacious MILF with one of the finest natural racks on a woman I’ve ever seen. Apparently it’s fine for Ned to live with someone’s daughter, but not fine for me to live with his. Lynn Anne and I begged Ned not to marry Ellie, at least not right away, but the day after his divorce was final, they got hitched and moved to Florida. Within a year or so she cleaned him out emotionally and financially, but the sex was fantastic while it lasted, according to Ned.

The bullheadedness that served Ned so well getting him through the Korean War and his transition from the blue-collar world of railroad engineer to the white-collar world of real estate broker, is also one of his biggest faults. You can’t tell this guy a thing; he’s 82 going on 17.

When his trusty old pick-up truck was seeing its final days, Ned bought a 1988 Pontiac Bonneville from the clichéd little old lady a few blocks over. Ignoring our advice that a hatchback SUV type vehicle would better serve his part-time handyman business, he figured he’d just pull his trailer. He discovered attaching a hitch to the Bonneville wasn’t practically possible.

Next he bought mid-90s conversion van. Plenty of room for tools and even a bed. This thing would pass everything on the road but a gas station. My wife and I were wondering what he was thinking. Did he buy the van with the bed to avoid having to pay for a motel room on his semi-annual drive back to Toledo from Florida? This sounds like something he’d do, however, the cost of the additional fuel for this beast would easily exceed the cost of a night in a motel. He’s a hell of a handyman, but cost/benefit analysis has never been his strong suite.

He sold the car and the van is for sale. He bought a micro-van from his neighbor, fixed it up, and it’s running fine. Perfect, and we didn’t have to say a word.

Ned had a Beagle for over a decade and was determined not to get another dog after Bonnie died, despite our pleas. Fortunately some neighbor kids came by looking for a home for a Jack Russell terrier. Ned told them “If you don’t find her home, bring her back here.” They did and he and Daisy have been inseparable ever since.

Lynn Anne and I found Ned working on his trailer in his driveway one afternoon recently.

“Look at this. Some bastard cut the wires to my lights.”

Sure enough, but this was the worst vandal ever if that were the case. He must have chewed through them.

“Ned, it looks like you hit something towing the trailer and severed the wires.” I said.

“Nope. That thing hasn’t moved in two days and the wires were fine” he replied.

I examined the wires and the insulation had burrs at the break. That won’t happen when plastic insulated wires are cut with wire cutters or a sharp knife like any self-respecting vandal would use. I noted the old wood trailer floor cut into strips and bundled for the trash and noted the new plywood trailer floor. There were abrasions on some uncut wires.

Why would a vandal reach midway under the trailer to cut some wires and not others?  If I were vandalizing trailer lights, I’d carefully slit the insulation and terminate the wire inconspicuously. You’d play hell finding out why those lights weren’t working. That would be highly amusing to Ned’s imagined vandal.

“Ned, we’ve got two scenarios here. Either a vandal used a butter knife or his teeth to chew through the wire and just abraded the insulation on some others, or, you cut through your trailer wires with your grinder when you were removing the screws to the old floorboards.”

“I’m not that goddamn stupid.”

Well, I sure as hell am. I’ve cut through the power cord on tools several times.

Ned is pissed at our diagnosis, won’t go to lunch with us, and “doesn’t like to be told what to do.”  As we drive away, my wife, a trained accident investigator, says “Dad sure wouldn’t be much good at an accident investigation.”

I have a red ceramic pot with white dots and a lid. I believe I would have a better chance of convincing my pot to jump off its shelf than I would convince Ned that he cut through his own trailer wires. My American Shorthair Brown Tabby thoroughbred cat, Charlie, has to be captured and put in his cat carrier the night before he goes to the vet because he hates it so much. He fights less on the follow-up visits, knowing that somehow these people are helping him. I can convince my cat more easily than my father-in-law.



As a licensed Florida building contractor, I run a successful small business and have a history of self-employment. I have over two hundred favorable online reviews with just the right amount of customers complaining about my rates. (If no one complains your rates are too low.) According to Ned, I charge too much. How can this be? Were he correct, I would have to be out of business, the marketplace will have it no other way.

I’m wondering if this is based on some form of classism in his mind. Like it’s expected for a doctor or lawyer to charge a lot, but somehow, because one works with his hands, he is somehow less deserving or immune to the laws of supply and demand. Every parent thinks their daughter deserves a doctor or lawyer, but someone’s got to keep the toilets unplugged. Poor Ned, his eldest married a carpenter. Daughter number three got the attorney.

Several years ago, while he was up north for the summer, Lynn Anne and I moved into Ned’s Florida home. After we got our own place and he returned, his neighbor lady told him I was “lazy” after having lived next to me for several months. Ned may believe my rates too high, but made it clear he’s having none of “lazy”. “Full of bullshit” maybe, but “lazy”? No way.

Although Ned admits he can’t comprehend installation instructions on his handyman jobs like he used to, I’ve seen no hint of dementia. I look for it unapologetically. Like a mother inflicting the short-term pain of vaccination shots on her child, it’s my job. It would be easier if I had dementia to blame for the disagreements I have with Ned, but they’re usually over construction practices and political stuff:

“If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic.”

My request that he substantiate his claim that Rush Limbaugh is a liar was met with silence. I’m not Rush’s biggest fan, but geese, how hard could that be?

***************************************************************

Ned’s smart and good with tools, just enough to be dangerous to the historic fabric of the buildings upon which he works. He removed all the original unpainted pine woodwork from a house he planned to flip and replaced it with molded plastic covered sawdust. That woodwork survived the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Great Depression, World War ll, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, 9/11 and Iraq, but it ran into Ned and now it’s in a landfill. He said he liked the thinner look; I believe the architectural style is called Hillbilly Chic. Fortunately, he laid the new plastic laminate floor, disregarding the pattern of course, over the original hardwood. He tiled over the beautiful terrazzo floor in his Florida home. They make hollow sounds when you tap on them, secretly letting me know they’re not bonded well, like a crazy Aunt in the attic awaiting her freedom.

Speaking of crazy ladies, Ned’s next purchase, at the age of 76, was a small ranch house in Oregon, Ohio, whose previous owner had 53 cats. When a suburban three-bedroom home with a garage only costs you eight grand, there’s got to be a catch. He had to remove much of the floors, drywall, and framing about 3 feet up the walls. It was a borderline demolition, except for Ned’s famous bullheadedness and frugality. Fortunately the local Division of Inspection caught wind of his project and forced him into compliance with modern building codes. Ned’s all for the hand of big government helping the little guy, until that little guy is he.
 
“Why won’t these sons-a-bitches mind their own goddamn bidness?”

It took him five years, but he got it done. We spend the night occasionally and it smells fine. Mostly.

Ernie Brower was our neighbor across the street of my childhood home. His wife ran a catering business and she gave me my first job at 16. Ernie worked for Helen, and I worked for him.  Ernie was the most creative profanity user I’d ever heard. Ned’s not in Ernie’s league, but seems to have been a student a few decades ahead of me.

These were the days before “fuck” and all its derivatives ruined everything. “Fuck” was reserved for emphasis and rarely used in mixed company. It was the big gun that only men could fire without social recoil. When I was 13 my frustrated grandfather, taking over his neighbor’s attempt to hook up his own dishwasher, told him to “Get the fuck out of there.” Its rarity obviously seared it into my memory.

This old school deference and stratification combined with Ned’s growing cynicism towards nearly every merchant or service provider makes for much more nuanced expression. Everyone, it seems, is trying to rip off Ned. The guys at the lawn mower repair shop? “Crooked bastards.” They probably charge too much too.

Ned’s only son Andy, age 2, was struck and killed instantly by a drunk driver while crossing their country road 49 years ago. The grim reaper seems to sling his scythe blindly and arbitrarily too often, as he did for my brother in Vietnam. This is the only death of a loved one of mine remotely comparable to his experience, the rest have mostly been the “Grandma’s going to be with Jesus soon, Honey.” types. We forget the lesson of getting picked last for the third-grade kickball team, that life is unfair, until we are brutally reminded.

Getting a diagnosis of malignant melanoma in your 30s with a wife and four daughters to support isn’t fair either, but if you attack Ned Smith and don’t kill him, he’ll kick your ass. The doctors removed a large chunk of Ned’s thigh and some lymph nodes. He recovered well enough to eventually run 54 marathons.
 
My father died at 76, long before I started assessing my own mortality. I’m much closer to Ned that I ever was to my dad emotionally and geographically. Ned moved to Florida at the same age that I did, in his mid-50s, and that seems like it was last week, not 25 years ago. Hartong and all his other buddies from the Korean War are dead. He is the living and aging chronological yardstick with which I measure my mortality. He is the mirror I can’t stop peeking in, no matter the reflection.

 




Offline fire-fly

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Re: Mirror Man
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2015, 08:27:10 PM »
The Gallery is a "safe place" to post your works so if you wish to crit this piece, send Kowboy a PM please
I'm A Binge Thinker: Do It A Lot Somedays, Then Not Much At All.

Don't take life too seriously, none of us get out of it alive. >:D


Offline Mark T

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Re: Mirror Man
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2015, 03:23:32 PM »

An enjoyable read. Good story, good writing. Will benefit here and there from some revision but you know that.

Offline jjamato

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Re: Mirror Man
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2015, 01:15:51 PM »
It was an easy to follow story that was well written.  I especially enjoyed the "That shit don't effect me none" as I have several friends that feel the same way, even as they giggle uncontrollably while watching TV.


Good job IMO