Happy Lamdomgs!

•February 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

completelyinthedark:

Been thinking about past mentors lately and Mr. Harrison was probably my first, that is, along with Mom and Dad. All-new post next Friday, March 6! Cheers, Mike

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

MrTomHarrisonI’m not likely to ever meet anyone again quite like Mr. Tom Harrison.

The Harrisons lived next door to us on Old Baltimore Road in Maryland. I recall little about his wife Phoebe as she passed away a short time after we arrived in Olney.

Mr. Harrison lived in a sprawling colonial overrun with plants and books. There was an observatory in his backyard that housed a telescope. He often invited my brother and I over to peek through it and observe the stars. One night we even got to see a comet.

After his wife died, he and my parents became good friends. Mr. Harrison was a former RAF pilot. He was tall, with thick white hair and a lovely, craggy, angular face (pictured at left with Mom in the early ’70s). I was certain that in his time he must have made a dashing pilot.

But…

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Curly Toes

•February 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Dear Mom and Dad:CurlyToes

How are you enjoying disembodiment?

Good, I hope.

I often think about all your former aches and pains, especially as I’m growing older, too. No longer having a physical body must be a huge relief. Whew, I can only imagine.

And while I’m grateful you gave birth to me, I just gotta say…

Having a body totally sucks.

Take for example my early childhood fevers, those terrible leg aches—I remember you both staying up at night, taking turns rubbing my legs while I cried, and feeding me applesauce laced with aspirin. I thought those nights would never end.

Or my baby tooth, which never had an adult one underneath it, insuring I’d need my first dental bridge.

And while we’re on the face part of things, why couldn’t you have left me the ability to smile, to show teeth? While at a recent checkup, I asked my dentist how I might have a beaming smile for all to see. He shrugged and said that, genetically, my face didn’t allow for it. So when people ask me to smile, say, for a photograph, I tell them I’m only able to muster a Dustin Hoffman-like smirk.

Or the acne that plagued my junior high years: greasy hair, greasy skin, leading to pimples, blackheads (oh, yeah, thanks Dad for letting baby brother help squeeze those horrid things—in the living room of all places—another wonderful Family Project bonding session) … my whole body was a battlefield, land mines of stinging red pimples that would suddenly appear, pus oozing from its pores.

The human body. What a pathetic thing.

Then there was the public humiliation that followed—revealed in gym class, I’m sure, while we changed into school shorts and t-shirts for the daily game of Bombardment (aka Dodgeball)—of my…

Curly toes.

There, I said it. I have curly toes.

You know how most people’s feet just lay flat, and the big toenail, also flat, juts out ahead of it? Well, I don’t have that. It must be a recessive gene because I don’t remember either of you having curly toes. Or baby brother. Everyone else: normal, human-looking, flat and regular toes.

Who cursed me with these hideous things?

There in the junior high locker room, naturally, came the teasing. “Man, you’ve got some weird-ass feet. Hey guys, check out Mop’s curly toes! Curly Toes!”

Oh God, it all comes rushing back.

Of course all of that had to happen at an age when you’re the most emotionally susceptible to taunting and humiliation.

Then you jump on a school bus in the afternoon to arrive at home in time for your father to pop out more blackheads on your shoulders and back. And you couldn’t just try and smile about it because your teeth were terrible and you were always a loathsome, greasy, slimy, unsmiling mess and, well, nobody ever really loved you.

That sounds about right.

Now, I would’ve forgotten all this had I not discovered copies of doctor bills for a procedure done in early December 1983, when I was 23 years old.

CurlyToes2That year I dealt with the worst case of ingrown toenail ever. The fault was mine, because I was advised to always cut my toenails longer—if I cut them too short, they’d grow straight into my flesh. Then it was like walking around with daggers sticking out of your feet.

Before heading to work at the print shop, I wrapped my big toes in gauze and wore Sorel boots all day, just to allow room for my feet to move freely without stabbing me. If my shoes were too tight, my feet bled. It was agonizing.

Enter Dr. S. Scott Standa, podatrist.

On Dec. 3, 1983, he inspected my curly toes and said: “Well, we could permanently remove your big toenails. Forever.”

Dr. Standa’s diagnosis (which came with a copy of the insurance report) stated “pyogenic paronychia” and “onychogryphotic nails,” which were actually never as bizarre-looking as the “ram’s horn” condition—just a regular toenail growing into an abnormally shaped toe.

But hold on. Lose a body part? Like, never have a big toenail ever again?!

I’d lost teeth before. The Tooth Fairy always came and left a quarter for every baby tooth gone belly up. Fair deal.

But both my big toenails? And forever?

Apparently I didn’t consider it very long, as six days later Dr. Standa numbed up my feet and yanked out the offending nails. Then he applied phenol to the toenail’s germinal matrix to ensure it would never grow back. The entire procedure cost $275. I was off work for a couple days so I could keep my feet elevated and heal up.

So, Mom and Dad, I’m still your curly toed eldest son. But I no longer have to deal with the agony of ingrown toenail.

Now if I could only figure out how to get that face with a winning smile.

My Monster’s Keeper

•February 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

MonsterI haven’t wanted to write this, even as far back as last July, when I first added it to the edit slate.

So I yanked it, worried about “getting it wrong.”

Then it popped up after New Year’s, while I was searching through 1982–83 letters for topics.

There it was againmy monster—on the page.

The memory had been easily forgotten, since there’s no journal for 1983.

“I’ve not been in a ‘people’ mood lately,” reads the aforementioned page—a copy of a letter to Lindsay Clarke written on Sept. 7, 1983 (photo at left probably taken early that year, in Dad’s den at the farm, likely prior to the Guthrie date with Thérèse).

“I’m finding fault in everyone and trying hard not to say anything out loud. Let me explain.”

I’d returned to Minnesota from Britain feeling more lonely than I’d ever been, moreso after Thérèse and I stopped dating sometime that year. She’d met a carpenter at the theater where she then worked. They married and moved to South Dakota.

So I looked into a singles group advertised in the Sunday paper. That September letter to Lindsay tells the story in full (italics mine, 2015):

“Well, I turned up Friday and drank, and drank and eventually made a fool of myself in a way which ashamed me I think, more than others. Turns out that the members of this group, and its visitors, rarely venture in age any younger than 40, are divorced, widowed, separated … God knows what these people had been through for they all looked tired and lonely. Their talk was of trivial things (one woman chattered away about horoscopes and astrology—perhaps you would have enjoyed talking to her, it seemed to me that she really didn’t have an interest in it, it was just a chatting-up topic. A hollow one, but one nonetheless).

Our discussion question—or topic, I should say—was slang, language usage, popular and unpopular. Of course, being the youngest one there I thought everybody would turn to me for some explanation of just what the hell their children were saying. The conversation was lively, even though after my first few beers I felt a bit surly and disappointed to find my young and lonely self under the scrutinizing eyes of my elders. I felt like one of them! Boorish and old before my time! Where had all the young, silly faces gone?MonsterToo

Well, I struck up a conversation with a bassoon player for the Minnesota Orchestra and in my drunken state tried to impress him with my ‘heartfelt’ appreciation for Tchaikovsky. He wasn’t impressed. His face was flat, his eyes dead. He said, ‘All these stupid people talking about things they don’t know anything about.’ I said, ‘You know, we’re all different. Some people when they’re put in a group situation make statements about things they’re not sure of just to see if anyone will politely correct them. It’s a way for some people to ask questions.’ He still didn’t seem impressed with my observation; so, to keep his audience and to anger him a bit I started asking him direct, specific questions such as ‘How long have you been with the Orchestra?’ and in the attitude of not really caring how he answered—just as long as he said something, anything. In the middle of one of my pointed, pointless questions he stalked off, leaving me embarrassed.

You cantankerous old bastard, I thought, how dare you make a fool of me! I caught up with him across the room, with a beer lodged in my fist and said quietly: ‘You’re a sad, bitter man. I feel sorry for you.’ And I walked away taking a slug of my beer.

Feel sorry for him! I feel sorry for myself, after all, now that I write this and think about that evening, I was in the wrong, for I had realized how much he bored me and I was looking to ‘punish’ him for it. It’s like kicking the hell out of a stranger and then saying to him, ‘I feel sorry for you, you sad, worthless person,’ without knowing the least thing about him.

Monster3Later in the night, when a few of us stopped in at a small local nightspot for more drinks, a group of the singles and the bassoonist were there and I started in again talking without listening. One of the guys said to me: ‘You know, you’ll end up a sad and lonely person if you don’t stop attacking people. You have to accept them as they are.’ I was hurt and confused by this. Was I really so bad? I’d begun to think so.

In your letter you reminded me of something I wrote to you, the bit about physical confirmation of things we call ‘higher’—about possession. I was feeling smug and comfortable with myself as I wrote that, and now I think it is an interesting revelation—you wrote that ‘Affection, friendship, whatever, can be given, it can be received, but not owned … never can it be possessed.’ Why I feel hurt: I think I can receive an unconditional guarantee that someone or something for which I hold wavering respect and fickle affections will never do the same to me. My hopes lie in possession, not simple acceptance. Getting in the way of myself! My inclination is to shudder at this and then stupidly move on … I’m tying myself in knots over this thought. Someone once told me not to be so introspective. I can’t help it.”

The story shows “my monster” in three removes: 1) the 22-year-old who experienced the event firsthand, 2) the 22-year-old telling the story to a trusted friend and, 3) the 50-year-old rethinking everything over time and experience. Thirty-two years later, reading this story, I still feel that knot—tightening like a noose around my monster’s neck.

Sure, I get it. What’s past is past.

But past is also prologue. And my monster is older and stronger.

He’s three parts ego masquerading in confidence and nonchalance, the remainder horrible to other people even as he’s acknowledging his own awfulness and desperately trying to pass off faint sparks of emotional intelligence as bright bonfires of self-awareness. He’s in love with his own story, throwing Hemingwayesque punches with “a beer lodged in [his] fist” and “taking a slug of [his] beer.”

Hey there, Mr. Beach Bully Monster, kick any sand in people’s faces lately?

That poor bassoonist was probably looking for a sympathetic ear. If monster had shut up long enough and been genuinely curious about this fellow human being, he might’ve truly learned something that night—something more than what’s revealed in the letter.

So, well, of course his—my—“inclination is to shudder at this and stupidly move on”—because I’ve been successful at that, oh yes, ending up a “sad and lonely person”—evidenced by the fact that I’m 1) sad and 2) lonely. Even my inability to decide on which grammatical person says it all: “I” turns into “he” (or “it”) because, well, distance is safety.

I still seek not to understand, but dominate or control. “How dare” anyone make a fool of me—when there I was, doing a fine job all on my own.

A thirty-plus-years incident, forgotten until revealed in a letter, private until made public … but to what end?

Possibly, to finally ownbe 100 percent responsible for—the consequences of my behavior?

To be a better person?

The Lost Year

•February 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The very last entry of 1982: “2 Sept. Back to work 8:30 am”LostYears1

But it wasn’t until Saturday, Jan. 7, 1984, that I picked up the journal (an all-new National 43-571) again.

So for heaven’s sake, what happened between Sept. 3, 1982, and Jan. 6, 1984?

In a letter to Abi, nearly two weeks after returning from our trip, I confessed: “My social life is an absolute sham. I feel ill and pensive. Back at work, I’ve contemplated my duties and it’s dawned on me that it makes me miserable.”

By Jan. 18, 1983, I was corresponding again with Lindsay. Apparently I’d phoned her brother’s flat from Gatwick the day I flew out. She wasn’t there, so I left a message with a flatmate. “I doubted you received the message,” I wrote, “and boarded the plane a bit dismayed—I thought I’d lost a friend!”

LostYrs2I even told her about the late journey strife, that Abi and I “had our share of rows, but living out of each others’ pockets as we did for five weeks didn’t go that badly and, though we learned the dark and light sides of each other, we are still close—only as best described as [Abi] would say—‘as Laurel and Hardy.’

That letter also reveals that Abi did join me and Lindsay on our tour of London Bridge and Tower, admitting that it “was a bit awkward” but “all was made up for at Hyde Park that Sunday.”

After Lindsay wrote back, I responded on Feb. 21: “When did you snap at Abigail? I don’t recall any such thing… Was it at the Tower, or during our lawn outing in Hyde Park? Please tell me, that part of your letter confused me. Did you really snap at her? Good for you! She probably deserved it, the jealous little daughter of Israel.” I sent along Abi’s address, in case Lindsay wanted to apologize.

But it was probably the Jan. 26, 1983, letter to friend Terry Hollingsworth that accurately summed up the British trip:

“There were rough waters in my relationship with Abigail a while ago (distance does not make the heart grow fonder) but we have reconciled. I phoned her about a week and a half ago and we got on much better: the problem lay in a heap of confusion—tapes not received, letters with ambiguous meaning … she wanted me to see other girls (which I have through no prodding from her) and she had been seeing other guys, all the while confessing to be bored with their company but enjoying their caresses just the same. I kept telling myself ‘why?’ The excitement was sucked out of our relationship and it is just now gasping for its second wind. It’s a fine line between here today and gone tomorrow. Deep down I know I don’t want to lose her.”

Everyone at home had assumed Abi and I would get married. So when I arrived back in Minnesota, a lot of old girlfriends contacted me—seemingly to get me on the rebound. High school girlfriend Kristi Peterson invited me over to her parents’ place for gin and tonics; University of Minnesota friend Therese Williams and I started dating that fall of 1982—she, visiting the farm over Christmas that year and, later, both of us attending the February 1983 five-hour staging of Liviu Ciulei’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Guthrie Theater.

But back on the farm, Mom’s depression worsened. In a letter to Lindsay I wrote that “my parents are going on holiday to Florida in two weeks’ time … My mother has been a bit ill lately and that is part of the reason her [sic] and my father are going to Florida—fresh air, warm beaches and sunshine.”

Yet another letter to Terry cuts the subject to the quick: “Things at home have not been going too well; my mother was in the hospital this past week for observation—which proved negative—the doctor said that she is suffering from mental depression; you see, she sleeps all day, has no energy or desire to do a thing, refuses to laugh or cry. My father’s been trying to get her back on her feet again.”

On Sept. 9, 1982, Mom cosigned on a loan for a blue 1981 Datsun 310 GX coupe I bought from a dealership in Wayzata. With a raise from SOS Printing after returning from Britain, and the shop moving up the street that spring, I was finally getting my own wheels. It had over 49,000 miles, and was priced at $4,878. It had a sporty-sleek exterior, zipped along back roads, its AM/FM cassette player blasting the whole time. I was in heaven.

A letter to Lindsay on Sunday, April 10, 1983, reveals a detail I’d wrongly reported in a previous post: that Pop’s Australian sheepdog, Muddy, was there when they bought the farm in late 1980.LostYrs3

“We’ve just got a new dog!” the April letter reads, “Our 13-year-old mixed collie-Sheltie had to be put down at the beginning of this winter, for cancerous tumors were popping up all over her body.”

So, Lassie died during the winter of 1983. It was awhile before Dad felt ready to own a new dog, but when he did he found “a five-year-old Australian shepherd dog named Muddy (pictured above right with Teddy, our barn cat, in front of the farmhouse). She has mottled blue-gray color and answers to phrases such as ‘Hallo, mate,’ and ‘Come ’ave a pint wit me an’ Bruce.’ Ha.”

Early that spring I’d abandoned the Dumond stories for an ambitious novel about the summer in Britain with Abi, its working title Out of English. I confessed to Lindsay my “…inability to pull together a pleasant, easy sentence,” further acknowledging:

“Writing for skill can be really heartbreaking. Just a moment ago I picked up a textbook entitled Writing and Reading English Prose and scanned through the chapter ‘Qualities of Good Prose’ and felt crestfallen to read that in my drafts of Out of English I had nearly broken all the rules; for example, it says here that good writers clarify their prose by ridding it of distracting rhythms, rhymes, assonances and alliterations. The other day, pleased with myself, I scribbled down: ‘They communally snuggle up to the same melancholy sounds, self-indulgently sorrowful, these pining Scots as far as Scots pine…’ You hear the ‘S’ sound snaking its wicked way through that line? I used to think that it was poetic in quality, it offered a melodic strain uncommon to most writing. Now I discover that it’s distasteful!

“Imagine that.”

Touched

•January 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

completelyinthedark:

Taking a mid-winter hiatus after four hefty January posts, so reposting this chestnut. Back to all-new stories Feb. 6! Cheers, Mike

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

“When your parents die, you will never see them again. You might think you understand that, but until it happens, you don’t. They say that you come into the world alone and that you leave alone too. But you aren’t born alone; your mother is with you, maybe your father too. Their presence may have been loving, it may have been demented, it may have been both. But they were with you.” —Mary Gaitskill

I got 663 words into drafting this post when realized I was lying.

Maybe not lying lying, but I certainly wasn’t telling the truth about what I thought I wanted to say. Then it occurred to me that what I was avoiding saying was much closer to what I wanted to say, so … here I am. Pushing RESET.

These photos—recently digitized by my brother and, to my knowledge, the first time I’ve ever seen…

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Let’s Go to Great Britain! (Part 3: Southbound Again)

•January 23, 2015 • 2 Comments

[Last of a three-part post.]

What goes up, as they say, must come down.WestCoastFinal

And up we went: leaving Whistlefield Lodge #10 on Loch Eck, Thursday, Aug. 19, 1982, in Abi’s 1980 Austin Allegro, en route to Glencoe, then driving as far north as Fort William, in the Scottish Highlands.

We didn’t stay overnight, but continued on—southbound again to Pitlochry, in the Perthshire hills, on the River Tummel. There we booked another B&B and tickets for the play The Treasure Ship at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. That night I wrote in the journal, “beautiful evening.”

We were back in Glasgow and “home” on Mains Avenue by Saturday. We dressed up that evening (photo of Abi putting on jewelry, below left) for a dinner party at a friends’ home, the Plotnikoffs. Andrea and Jackie (who brought poetry) were also there.

Abi red dressWe drank all night, listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” over and over again (much to my dismay).

When I tried to get people dancing by putting on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life—off came “I Wish”aaaaaaand … the needle dropped again on the plodding Zep anthem. I probably found a corner, sulking, and kept nursing my McEwan’s Scotch Ale.

The Sunday, Aug. 22, journal entry said it all: “Hungover—walked to Rukenglen [sic] Park—waterfalls and forest paths—supper at Shirley’s—after dinner conversation.” No idea what we talked about over dinner, or whether I’d become more talkative after 23 days in Britain. But Shirley was a friend of Mrs. B’s, and it’s likely Abi and I were on our best behavior.

***

Just before visiting the Highlands, on Aug. 15, we’d made a day trip to Edinburgh, catching some jazz at the Tron, then a midnight comedy act by John Dowie, as part of the 1982 Edinburgh Arts Festival. On Monday the 23rd we returned to the festival for a performance of Wildcat Theatre’s “Female Parts.” I loved Edinburgh and enjoyed walking its rustic streets with Abi.

GlasgowMoonOn Wednesday Abi said she had a surprise for me, but wouldn’t give a hint about what it was. Some sort of gift? A wool sweater? Tam o’ Shanter? A tartan kilt?

I had no idea.

So that evening we took the Allegro out to Eaglesham where, the journal states, we “parked [the] car at Waterfoot Rd.” and “enjoyed moonlight.” The surprise? Abi wore a short skirt and fishnet tights. She made it clear she’d “left the knickers back at home.”

Uh-huh.

Abi's Austin AllegroWe climbed into the backseat and, well, things got kinetic.

Ever have sex in the backseat of an early ’80s British-built automobile? I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re extremely flexible. Or very horny.

To this day I can’t listen to Paul McCartney’s “The Back Seat of My Car,” or watch Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything, and not think of that moonlight surprise.

***

The end was near. Five more days and I’d have to board a plane back to the States.

I knew it, and Abi knew it. We just refused to talk about it.

Moreover, Glasgow tedium seeped in again.

What with fried fish dinners at home with Mrs. B, taking the car in for repairs (again), and hanging with Abi’s friend Andrea over drinks in Glasgow, we decided to take one last road trip, this time to the west coast of Scotland, down to Ayr, Culzean Castle and Gardens (where Abi snapped a photo of me, right), Alloway (home of Robert Burns) and the seaside at Troon.Culzean Castle

We left on Saturday, Aug. 28. Outside Troon we stopped at a pub so I could take a piss. Abi stayed in the car while I ran inside and ferreted around looking for the loo.

When I’d finished and went to open the door, it was locked. I rattled the handle—only to hear hushed snickering.

When I pounded on the door, it finally opened: All the men in the pub had been leaning against it.

I said, blushing, “Yeah, sorry about just using the men’s room, but I really had to go. I know it’s customary to at least buy a drink first—”

“—You heard wrong, lad,” one of them interrupted. “You’re supposed to buy everyone a drink!”

Gales of laughter around the pub as I went to the bar and dejectedly started to buy drinks. Hearing my American accent, they waved me on my way and I was back out on the street, none the poorer.

“For God’s sake what took you so long?” Abi said when I got in the car.

***

In Troon we booked a B&B for the night—one of the last we’d spend together. It was a somber road trip, if I remember correctly, and the final entries in the journal—the longest since the journey began—reflect that, too.

Sunday morning we awoke and traded trips down the hallway to the bathroom. While making up the bed, I pulled a lower back muscle. The pain lingered into the next day. Still, the journal reports, we drove up to Largs for lunch at a café called Nardini’s, me clutching my back and wincing the entire time.

Back in Glasgow Sunday night, Abi took me to the Victoria Infirmary. I recall feeling testy and anxious—my flight out was Tuesday morning, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about Abi. We argued in the car. Then I got out and started walking—to where, I didn’t know.

Still in pain, I stopped at the MacDonald Hotel for a pint, and then found my way back to Mrs. B’s flat. They’d gathered in the living room, worried. Abi and I fought again, and then took a walk together.

That night I slept on the living room floor, Abi alongside me while I writhed and flinched.

Monday, Aug. 30. Abi’s brother Colin was in Glasgow for a visit, so he took the train with me southbound to London at 9:45 p.m. Mrs. B, her friend Shirley and husband Arthur, along with me and Abi, drove us to Queen Street Station, where I reported feeling “nervous tension.”

“Abi & I quickly say farewell,” the journal says. I also remember a quick hug, and then Abi turning away in tears. I spent the train ride down to London in a daze “through nondescript English countryside.”

Tuesday, at 6:20 a.m. GMT, Colin and I said farewell at the Kings Cross-St. Pancras tube station. An 8 a.m. train zipped me to Gatwick and my departure on Northwest Orient flight #459 at 1:40 p.m. GMT, arriving in Minneapolis (accounting for time zones) at 4:05 p.m. CST.

Mom and Grandpa Adams (snapping photos, of course) met me at the airport.

***

Abi gallery 1982If the ending to the story seems a tad sour and incomplete, it squares with many of the things I’d later learn about relationships (or fail to) in life. For example, the glow of a new relationship will always wane over time, and only by looking in the same direction together can a couple survive that tainted shine. And, as every idiot should know, relationships take work.

I keep thinking about that one moment of doubt“Could I run away? Just not answer her back? Cancel my flight?”

“…I will be a lucky man if I make it to London this summer.” Well, I was that lucky young man. The one who got to live as he hadn’t lived before, see what he hadn’t seen, and do what he’d never done.

Yeah, I’m glad I got on that plane.

In 1989 Abi and I met up again in London while I was researching a screenplay. I was turning 30 and she was with a new guy. We Skyped a couple years ago, just after Mom and Dad died. She’s happily in a long-term relationship.

Along with the letters, the cassettes, the photos, all that’s left is the story of us.

It’s a damn good story.

Here’s hoping Abi would agree.

Let’s Go to Great Britain! (Part 2: The Orgasmic Bores)

•January 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

[Second of a three-part post.]

“I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad, and to travel for it too.”
Rosalind, As You Like It, Act IV, Scene 1

Abi West Hampstead 82We probably lasted 20 minutes—half an hour, tops—before Gary’s flat exploded with pheromones, hormones, all sorts of moans—the culmination of nearly a year of steamy, repressed desire.

And again, that fickle nature of memory: Did Abi come to me on the sofa?

Or did I go to her bed?

Whatever happened, the fact remains that on the morning of Thursday, July 29, 1982, Abi and I were in bed together.

Behind us, a night of sex. Ahead, a long journey through England, Wales, and Scotland.

But first we had eight days in London to enjoy.

***

The scant notes scratched in my journal indicate few details outside of where we were on certain days: that Thursday we walked around West Hampstead, where I snapped this photo (above left) of Abi in her neon blue slacks at the intersection of Frognal and Arkwright Road, about four blocks from Gary’s flat. Later that afternoon we took in Pink Floyd’s The Wall at the Leicester Square Odeon.

Friday we met up with her brother Colin for lunch at an Italian restaurant, probably somewhere near the Courtauld Art Institute, which we’d just visited. All I remember about that luncheon is Colin asking how I “was finding London,” and replying (perhaps a tad too laconically), “Interesting.”

Friday I also phoned my Manchester pen pal Lindsay.

You see, I’d neglected to tell Abi about Lindsay the entire time we’d been writing letters, recording cassette tapes and phoning each other.

Abi was tearful—furious—feeling totally blindsided. I remember explaining to her that Lindsay and I were just friends—that I had chosen to spend the whole trip with her.

So I met up with Lindsay the following afternoon in Brixton, after which she showed me Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Lindsay was a short, soft-spoken, and straw-colored blonde with a broad smile. Friday evening I rejoined Abi in Bloomsbury for a screening of My Dinner With Andre. On Sunday I hung with Lindsay, her brother Mel, and their friends in Hyde Park, later visiting Covent Garden. The journal doesn’t indicate whether Abi was with us.

Four more days in London. We hit the Tate Gallery, British Museum … and took a day trip down to Brighton on Wednesday morning, Aug. 4, strolling the seaside and peering in all the shops.Brighton 82

I discovered some notes about that day trip: We took Abi’s 1980 silver Austin Allegro (which “smelled of petrol fumes” and proved to be a rickety ride) down the M23 to Reigate, then past Crawley on the A23, listening to Toto Coelo’s “I Eat Cannibals Part 1” on Radio 1: “I eat cannibals/It’s incredible/You bring out the animal in me/I eat cannibals…”

In Brighton I enjoyed my first Indian curry. The air was moist and briny, seagulls cawing and screeching overhead. Later Abi and I stopped for chocolate gateau and coffee at a Brighton café.

Thursday was our last full day in London. We celebrated by catching a screening of Kubrick’s Lolita, then treating ourselves to a taxi back to the flat. The next morning we packed up the Allegro and hit the motorway north to Cambridge.

***

It was an inauspicious start.

The Allegro broke down outside Finchley. An Irish mechanic went to work on it and, 25 quid later, we were back on the motorway and blasting Radio 1 again.

TheOrgasmicBores3I can’t hear Dexys Midnight Runners, Thomas Dolby, or Toni Basil and not think about that road trip—serious shivers down my spine remembering making love with Abigail, visiting art galleries, watching movies, trying new restaurants, drinking pints in pubs, coffee in cafes—it was all so … heady.

In Cambridge we booked a bed and breakfast, then went into town for dinner at the “Greek Eros Restaurant.” Later, while out for coffee and a stroll along the River Cam, we got lost. The journal notes that a “kind gentleman [drove] us back to [the] B&B. Full moon—cool night. ‘Do a good turn for someone in Glasgow,’” he said when we thanked him for the ride.

We left Cambridge on Saturday, Aug. 7, stopping briefly at Banbury, then arriving at Stratford on Avon, where we booked a B&B for seven pounds 50p each.Holy Trinity Stratford 82

“Walked along River Avon,” the journal states, “went for drinks at Hotel Lounge.” We spent the entire Sunday in Stratford, visiting Holy Trinity, the Shakespeare church, swimming in the town pool, applauding “Billy the singing drunk in City Centre” on our way to another Greek restaurant where I reported having “a satori … over red wine and dinner,” later “a cool walk through a quiet Stratford.”

What “satori” exactly “kicked me in the eye”? Absent a detailed journal entry, it’ll forever be a mystery.

Back on the road Monday, Aug. 9, we made an overnight stay in Chester before stopping down to see a Welsh church at Wrexham, visiting Llangollen, then hooking back up with the motorway north around Liverpool and Manchester. After a quick stop-off at Windermere in the Lake District, we drove straight to Glasgow, where Abi then lived with her mom.

***

Abi’s friends and family were dying to hear about our trip.

JackieBores5Trina invited us for coffee in Eaglesham on Thursday.

Abi’s cynical friend Jackie called to get the latest scoop.

Months before, after listening to Abi gush about our relationship, Jackie had said: “Oh for God’s sake, Abigail. Stop walking around like the Orgasmic Bore of the Year, wallowing in love-struck happiness—it’s nauseating!

Abi’s car barely made it back to Scotland. After we arrived, it broke down again and was towed off the motorway to a repair shop in Rutherglen. Abi and I shivered in the rain, waiting for her mother to pick us up.

At Mrs. Bilkus’ flat on Mains Avenue, I was shown my new “bed,” the sofa in the living room. Mrs. B strictly forbade us sleeping together “whilst in my home.” What we did on the road was none of her business, she’d said.

I found her open-mindedness (something I never would’ve expected from the Family Project) refreshing.

However I recall one afternoon Abi and I were taking a bath together while Mrs. B—we assumed—was downtown at her office for the day. When she came home early, Abi shushed me and slipped out of the tub and into her bathrobe to go triage the situation.

I probably slunk underwater in utter embarrassment.

***

And then, our first argument.

What set it off will be forever unknown, but it was on Saturday, Aug. 14. The journal reports: “University—Art Gallery—Argument—I sulk for wrong reasons…”

Mrs. B offered a trenchant observation at the time: “Well, you two have been living out of each others’ pockets for over a fortnight—it was bound to happen.” She suggested we get out of Glasgow and visit the Highlands. That is, once the Allegro was operational.

Abi’s cousin June Zatz owned a cabin on Loch Eck, just north of Dunoon, “Whistlefield Lodges, No. 10.” We picked up the key on Tuesday morning, Aug. 17, and set off for the Highlands.

Driving around Loch Lomond, then south again near Inverarity, we finally arrived just outside of Dunoon before suppertime. Abi was feeling ill, so I took over driving until we reached the cabin in the misty rain.Loch Eck 82

Behind cabin 10 lay the Whistlefield Inn, where we ate scampi, chips and salad; Abi had a Martini and lemonade; me, a couple pints of bitter. The inn was “a menagerie of British and Oriental artifacts: a beaming Buddha, a grandfather clock, a dusty, framed engraving of a fox hunt. [A] Londoner discuss[ed] American submarines in the Loch.”

Later in bed Abi told me a joke.

“Okay,” she giggled. “Why did my cousins name their parrot Onan? …Give up?”

“…Because he kept spilling his seed!”

 
Charles Thomas

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