A Watercolor Found

My father never said much about his life.  He did have his favorite stories that he would tell us when his four boys were…little boys.  Some of the tales were family jokes, like this one: “We were so poor, one Christmas we got a pair of roller skates.  We had to wait until the next Christmas to get the key.”  We knew he wasn’t serious…we didn’t think so, anyway.  Other stories were about the neighborhood bully who would wait at the end of the street…the street that my dad had to walk along to get to school.  This bully would then shake him down for his lunch, which usually included an apple from a tree in my father’s backyard.

“Give us an apple, Egan,” he would say.  My father usually gave it to him.  After all, what small boy would, in his right mind, resist a guy who had something wrong with his neck, and so, he had to turn around with his entire body, like Frankenstein’s monster?  All the while pounding an iron fence railing into the palm of his hand as a way to reinforce his toughness.

To make matters worse, the boy’s street name was “Stiffy Stefanko.”

That was my father’s childhood.  How much of it was true?  I certainly don’t know, but being Irish, my father knew a good story and how to tell it.

I’ve already written about that Christmas Eve episode and the coal.  It was one of my last blog posts.  I’m fairly sure there was a great deal of truth in that story.

My dad went through a rough time in the 1960’s when he felt he was about to be pushed out of IBM because he didn’t have a college degree in Engineering.  He told me once his manager had spoken to him about how much time he spent in the bathroom.  My guess is that the manager was about 28 years old.  My father had joined IBM in 1936.  How humiliating that talk about time in the bathroom must have been for a middle-aged man who had made bombsights for the U.S. military during WWII?  He had bought a house that people thought was expensive because it was on Front Street in Owego, NY.  It wasn’t expensive.  He worked for years on repairs and improvements.  I remember when my parents burned the mortgage sometime in the 1960’s.

My dad never talked about religion.  He only once said that he was not prepared for First Communion, only that he was waiting for a friend in a church and the nun grabbed him and told him to get into line.

As the boys went away to college, my father began to have some time to breathe.  He took masonry classes at TCCC.  He took night classes in Mechanical Drawing.  (He even moon-lighted for a time to make ends meet.)

He was interested in many things.  And, I found out too late that he was something of an artist.

While he spent his last months at Robert Packer in Sayre, he told me he was having nightmares.  In these terrible dreams, men were trying to break in the up stairs window and shouted at him: “We’re taking this house, Egan, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That was probably my father’s greatest fear…to lose the house he had worked so hard for so many decades.

After he died, in February, 2004, it came to my wife, my only living brother, Dan and myself to clean out our family home, 420 Front St. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.  To throw away the objects of your childhood was a heart-breaking thing for me.  I grow attached to things.  It’s a long story.

But, in all those letters, medical bills, post cards, and IBM pay stubs from 1956, I found a small drawing glued onto a bit of cardboard.  It was a winter scene.  My father drew it with a fair hand probably as a gift to my mother, perhaps as a wedding present or a homemade holiday card.

My father always wanted a cabin…somewhere.  It could have been a cottage in Ireland, a cabin in the wood lot he owned off Gaskill Hill Road.  Or, a farm scene he remembered from his childhood when he lived in the Pennsylvania country near Scranton.

But, it was not the house that ran short of coal that Christmas Eve.  I can see the smoke rising from the chimney.  It was not a poor farm house…rather it was a cute little place set on a hill and surrounded by snow.

This was probably the house of my father’s dreams.  No bully waiting at the corner.  No black-faced father just home from the mines.  No coal-pit beyond the hill.  No cold bedrooms, only warmth inside.

I am connected to that picture somehow,  even though it was sketched out 15 or 20 years before I was born.  It’s my drawing now.  But I’ll never own the scene he painted.  That is his dream…and always will be.  I’ll have possession of a piece of paper but the inspiration and the dream that created the little sketch will never truly be my own.

On the back it says: MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR…all in caps and heartfelt.

And, a name in black ink in the lower right corner:

Paul

Paul Egan #2  copy

 

 

 

I Was a Teenage Blogger

DepressedTeen

 

The road to perdition is paved with little things.

My own dark and tragic personal story begins with little pieces of paper.  Not small bits the size of confetti that are thrown out of windows on lower Broadway during “ticker-tape” parades.  No, larger slips white or yellow ripped from notebooks, steno pads and the backsides of shopping lists…once the items are ticked off.  I have even been desperate enough to use flattened toilet paper tubes.  These are hard to use unless you have a dark pen because penciled words are difficult to read on cheap cardboard.

Besides, they don’t use ticker tape machines on Wall Street anymore, haven’t for decades.  They just use baskets of shredded documents that probably contain incriminating evidence of fraud and widespread corruption.  Once, that is used up, say during a parade of returning astronauts from Mars or the unlikely event the Mets ever win the World Series, they probably have a warehouse full of illegal aliens, working for a fraction of the minimum wage, punching out thousands of chads from discarded voter registration forms or racing forms from Hialeah.

What was this insatiable need of mine to possess these small scraps of paper?  In a word…words.  I have this uncontrollable urge to write down my every thought, however mundane, goofy or obscene.  I started by keeping these notes in used large mailing envelopes from places like the Publishers Clearing House or the IRS.  Anything would do.  Old letter envelopes, the contents of which I would toss away, only to get to the blank, whiteness of the backside.  Soon, I had shoe boxes full of these bits of my writing.  When I wrote something really interesting (which, to me, was everything), I would stash the papers under my mattress.  I did this while most boys my age were using that sacred place to hide copies of Playboy or, better yet, National Geographic (the Holy Grail, of which is the much coveted October, 1953 issue with the article “The Native Women of Tongatapu Island”).

This accumulation of my thoughts and ideas began to grow to uncontrollable dimensions.  I was running out of hiding places.

That was when it occurred to me that these gems of wisdom were really not for my eyes only.  No, the world needed to see them.  So, I began to paste these scraps onto the walls of men’s rooms and construction site walls and car repair shops.  When the mechanic was bent over to check my parents oil level, I would attach one or two of my paragraphs to the wall behind the quarts of Quaker State motor oil, close to the STP cans and the Valvoline.  Someone would read them.

I was even bold enough to sign my first name because I was proud of these short articles.

But, it didn’t stop there.  As I grew into an older teenager, I began to tell stories and not just relate my thoughts.  I was actually writing fiction, like Dickens or, later, William F. Buckley.

My fame grew.  I would walk past a bus stop and there would be small groups of people reading one of my written pieces, but that was never enough.  I had to have more.  More attention.  More glory.  More places to paste my posts.

I was getting desperate.  Only the people of the mid-sized city in the mid-west where I lived knew anything about me or the things I felt the urge to share.  Once I was nearly arrested for hanging around the soccer field of an all-female private school and opening my trench coat showing my posts super-glued to my hoodie.  This was during goalie tryouts.

Then, the techno-miracle happened.  The Internet was invented.  K-Marts began carrying personal computers.  The need to own them began to spread like swine-flu virus throughout the world.  I purchased, at no small cost, an IBM desktop.  Social networking companies began to flourish.  I set up an account with AOL and was able to send out my writings to the dozens of friends.  My network grew and soon I had several million followers.  But I was always struggling to comprehend the language of the IBM.  They were calling it a “PC”.

Then, faster than you can say Steve Jobs, an alternate universe opened up for me.  I dropped my PC faster than a high-end prostitute would do once she found out you could only afford to buy her a Miller Lite.  I bought an apple, chewed things over in my mind a few minutes, and ordered a MacIntosh.  Now I was cooking with real olive oil.

Those who understand these things and control them, began calling the posts that people were sending out, “blogs”, which I felt was odd indeed.  The very sound of the term conjured up images of “black” and “fog” or “smog”.  Dark imagery for sure.

But still, I could never get enough.  Sending photographs became possible on something some kid started called Facebook.  I began posting pictures of flower pots and kittens but felt that was going to go out of style before I could grab an audience.  I backed away from dogs and cats in creepy sleeping positions on plastic sofas and started writing more.  (I had a moment of self-doubt when, after I posted a blog that I considered a profound meditation on the eternal struggle of human inequality,  I only got 17 “likes”.  A day later, some woman from Toledo posted a photo of her potted petunia and got 1,355 “likes”.)

That self-doubt began to take over my life.  Was anyone reading my stuff?  My Twitter followers remained at a constant number of 32 for months.  I got desperate and began a long slide down to the gutter, literally.

I pawned my iMac and took a cheap room over the Hi Ho Motel along state route 47 outside of Dayton.  The motel was just across the street from Ron Stokowski’s Girlie Galore Gentlemen’s Club.  The flashing red neon sign below the owner’s name read: HOME OF THE ORIGINAL POLE DANCERS!

Friends, the few I had, would stop by to see if I needed anything.  The kitchen trash was filled with empty bottles of Night Train Express and cheap tequila.  On the little night stand next to my bed was a half-empty fifth of Jim Beam and a crumpled pack of Chesterfield’s.

I had hit rock bottom.  The only lower place for me was the first floor.  That would be the motel lobby.  Outside the lobby was the street…the street of broken dreams…the street of red lights, cheap wine and even cheaper women.  I didn’t have enough money in my pocket to afford a shot of penicillin at the local clinic.

It was raining hard the night I began to think of the railroad trestle about a mile out-of-town.  I put my trench coat on, ready for the short final walk to last stop junction…when Pinkie walked into my room.  I called her Pinkie because she wore hot pink nail polish on the nine fingers of her hands.  The hue matched her lips and eyeshadow (and her hair and tattoo and 6 inch stilettos).

“Look at you,” she said, glancing around.  “Where’s your laptop?”

I pointed to the little table with the steno pad and BIC pen.

“Hey, big guy, Mr. Steinbeck…I’m talkin’ to you.  This ain’t the way its supposed to end.  Not for a guy with talent like you got.”

I stared at her two-inch lashes.

She poured a hefty hit of Jim Beam into a plastic tumbler with a Betty Boop logo on the side, in full color.

“Take this and get a grip.”

I put the mouthful away in one swallow.

“Now, get out there.  Get back into it, big guy.  You can do it.  You got the stuff.  I was down there too, once.  Lower than low. But look at me now.  I’m a regular dancer again.  That’s cause I got the stuff, just like you got the stuff”.

I began to wonder what stuff she was talking about, but I got her drift.  She was right.  I was too young to consider myself a failure…there would be plenty of time for that when I reached my sixties.

It had stopped raining.  There was a heavy fog, like a blanket, covering the suburbs of Dayton.  I stopped under a street lamp with my trench coat draped over my shoulder.  I took off my fedora and waved at Pinkie, who was standing on the balcony of the place I once called home.

I went back to the pawn shop.  The iMac was gone!  So, I took what they had.  I walked out with a Dell.  Life doesn’t get any meaner.  Soon, I was staying in a Ramada in Bayonne, but staring at an empty computer screen.

Maybe I had wasted my youth, my good ideas, my so-called talent too soon.  Too soon and too fast.  They say you were born with only so many blogs in your heart.  My heart was empty.

I walked into the church basement with my head held high.  When my turn came, I calmly walked to the music stand that was being used as a podium.

“Hi, everyone.  My name is Patrick and I’m a blogger.”