Draft. May possibly illustrate. More to come.
A Skeleton Walks Into A Bar:
Recipes, Hunger, Alcoholism, and Stories about Writing
I’m on the kitchen floor. The floor is cold. I’m playing wth a blue metal car, a tinker toy. It’s small but I think it is big and I make zoom noises as I move it around my knees.
There are voices. Loud shouts but I keep my head down. I’m scared. I pretend the yelling is not happening.
—- Where’s your GODDAM PAYCHECK?
—-I don’t know it was a long weekend.
___ You spent all the money. GODDAMIT. How do I pay for coal?
___ I don’t know. Dammit, I’ll figure it out.
The adults, my mom and dad, are tall, on their feet, moving between the kitchen and the living room, parrying each others words.
___Saunnavabitch.You and that goddam booze.
___ Go to hell.
Stomping. Quiet. Dad has gone upstairs. Mom lights another cigarette. It was always another cigarette, because I rarely saw her without one. She yells at the ceiling.
___ How am I going to buy groceries?
I look at her. She’s really mad. I hope she doesn’t get mad at me like that.
___ Shittapeck. Mom takes a drag from her cigarette.
Dad’s gone to work again. He works in Pittsburgh. In a steel mill. He wears steel-toed boots. I want steel-toed boots more than anything. His boots are gray and strong.
Mom is at the kitchen table. She reads the paper and smokes her cigarette. She’s making Tom and me some supper. It’s beans on bread, which is one of my favorites. She opens a can of beans, pours them into a pot. Then she fills the can with water and pours it into the pot. Heated up she pours it over bread on our plates.
It’s really good. We eat it a lot. I eat all of mine because if I don’t Tom will eat it. He’s bigger than me. And he can eat very fast. So I eat fast, too.
Sometimes when Mickey is home, we don’t have enough beans for all of us. Mickey is older and even bigger than Tom. Mickey plays baseball. He’s really really good at baseball. He is a pitcher and he throws fastballs. One time he struck out 18 out of 20 batters. In the same game he hit seven of the batters with the ball. Some of them cried.
When we eat together, we eat as fast as we can. Because there will be nothing left. Tom or Mickey will take food off my plate, but I have learned to defend my plate by putting my arm around the outside of it. I also use my fork as a stabber. If one of them reaches over, I stab them in the hand or arm. Hard.
We all stab. On my bread, I have the piece of pork that comes with the can of beans. Tom takes a stab at it with his fork. I jerk my plate and make a mean face. I hold my fork up like a weapon.
___ Leave Barry’s food alone Tom.
___ He’s not eating it.
___ Yes he is. He just doesn’t eat as fast as you.
___ Yeah this is mine.
Tom gives me a mean look.
Mom and Dad and all of us are in Pittsburgh. It’s big. There are street cars. The street cars make screechy noises and have big wires up in the air. They look fun. And there are buses everywhere. And lots and lots of people going in all directions.
Everything smells like smoke and bricks. Everything is cement, tar, and bricks. There is gum on sidewalks and newspaper blowing around. A man walks by and he spits on the sidewalk. I never saw anyone do that before.
I love the smoke coming out of the back of the buses. It smells like a city.
We park on a street with lots of cars. There are no trees or grass. Just sidewalks and buildings and steps leading into doorways. My dad takes us into a place that has submarine sandwiches. The submarine sandwiches are huge. I’ve never seen any sandwich so big or delicious looking. I can have whatever I want. They smell so good and they’re oily and meaty and the bread is warm. As I eat my submarine sandwich, I think about how it looks like the shape of a submarine. In the war movies, submarines are always trying to sink big ships. But the submarines get sunk too, by flying garbage cans the ships fling into the water. I don’t know how the garbage cans blow up underwater.
Dad winks at me.
___ Barry you have food all over your face. Mom laughs and wipes my face.
Nothing is better than this.
Four. A Recipe.
One thing we ate plenty of was Beans on Bread. Here is how Mom made this delicious meal:
Beans on Bread
- Any size can of beans. Any kind of beans will work, such as kidney, pinto, navy or even black-eyed peas, but the best choice in my opinion, and my mother’s too, was pork and beans.
- Slices of bread (toasting the bread is optional).
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the beans into a pan or pot, on medium heat. Using the empty can, fill it to the brim with water. Add the water to the pan and stir. Bring to a mild boil. Take off heat. Using a large spoon or ladle, pour the beans over a slice or two of bread. Enjoy! Eat with catsup.
First day of school. I’m at my school desk. I don’t know what is going on but the nice woman with a soft voice talks a lot. I have to pee really badly. I don’t know what to do. I sit there and sit there and sit there. Then I pee. A puddle fills my seat and then runs down to the floor. Some little girl says He peed and points at me. The lady with the soft voice comes over to my desk with a concerned look on her face. She is not mad. She asks me to go with her. I am afraid but I don’t cry.
I am walked down to the office and there are other nice people and they give me new pants to put on. The pants are too big and bunch up around my stomach. I think the pants must belong to a fat kid because they don’t fit me good. A man and woman, different from the quiet nice lady, are talking about me. The man looks down at me.
___ Why didn’t you raise your hand to go the bathroom?
I look at the floor. It is white and shiny. Everything is clean and smells nice, like it was just cleaned up with soap and water. I decide that school smells good. I look up and say I don’t know.
___ Okay. Well next time you have to go to the bathroom, raise your hand. Okay?
Later that day, after the bus drops me of at home, Mom tells me not to pee my pants anymore. Then she laughs and laughs as she has me walk around the kitchen with the big fat pants all around my waist and knees. I laugh too.
I am at a bar with my dad. I am drinking a lemonade and it is really good. Dad is with other big men and they are saying things about me. I sit on the bar stool but my dad is standing next to me. He has a beer and a small glass with something else in it. One man with a big nose says something to me. I look at the big nose man and everyone is looking at me. The man behind the bar gives me a small glass and puts some beer in it.
___ Here you go kid. Try this.
I taste the beer and it is the most awful thing ever. I make a face and look at my dad. How can he drink this? The men all laugh and they drink their beers. One man looks at my dad and lifts his small glass.
___ Here’s to his first beer, Mike. The men all drink from the little glasses. They seem happy and glad to be with me and my dad.
Dad knows lots of people. He has lots of friends. People are always happy around my dad.
Mom says we are out of powdered milk and cereal and milk and eggs and cream of wheat, so we’re going to have fried bread for breakfast. She puts some mayonnaise or oleo into a pan and then she fries the bread. I like fried bread a lot. It was really good with catsup or syrup, if we had some.
I like to dunk mine into my coffee. I liked to put sugar and milk in my coffee, but sometimes we didn’t have milk. But we always had coffee. Coffee is good for breakfast.
The whole family is in the front yard. We are playing baseball. Dad is throwing the ball to Tom and Mickey. Mom has a glove and is playing further away. I am holding a bat. Dad has me bat left-handed and throw left-handed. When dad is not around, I write and throw with my other hand.
Dad underhands a pitch to me. I hit it and it goes about 15 feet. Mickey scoops it up. No one is as good as Mickey at baseball, not even my dad.
___ Yeah! That’s good Barry! When you grow up you’re going to be the Pirates right-fielder.
___ What about Clemente? Mom asks.
___ Clemente’s a right-handed hitter, says Tom.
___ After Clemente retires. Barry’s going to be the right-fielder. Dad sips his beer.
___The Pirates always need good left-handed hitters. And a left-handed outfielder would be good, since the Pirates have Virdon in center. Virdon can catch anything he can get to.
Dad has me practice throwing and catching with Tom and Mickey. I think I’m pretty good, because Dad said I am. But Mickey is the best. He is so good that Dick Groat from the Pirates came to see him pitch, even though he is only 16 or 17 years old. And the Yankees sent a scout to see him. Mom says a scout is someone very important who looks for good baseball players to play in the major leagues. Mom felt bad because in one of the games he pitched he didn’t throw it very straight and Mom said he did lousy. He walked and hit lots of batters. But it didn’t matter, the Yankee guy still liked him. The Yankee guy stayed around to talk to Mickey and then he watched him pitch again later in the week.
Mom is reading a book to me. It’s a story about horses and cowboys. While she reads, she tells me to draw pictures. Sometimes she shows me how to draw animals and houses and and cars and trucks. I draw a car and a pick-up truck. I put watermelons in the pick-up truck and make smoke come out of the tailpipe. Mom stops reading and says she likes my drawings.
___You are a good artist Barry. You will always be a good artist.
Because Mom said it, I believe her. Mom is always drawing and she can draw anything. She has drawings of famous people with autographs. Mom says she should have gone to art school. I wonder why she didn’t?
Mom and dad fight a lot. They don’t hit or anything, but they yell and they talk real low and mean, with very serious faces. Mom is mad again but I don’t know why. Something about coal. Dad is mad too but he doesn’t want to talk to mom about money. He acts like he doesn’t want to be in the house. As he yells with mom, he keeps walking around the kitchen and living room.
I don't want to be in the house when they yell, but it is cold outside. I play with my army men by the fireplace.
___ See that? That’s all the coal we have for the week. How can I buy coal without any money?
___ I’ll figure it out.
___ No you won’t. You’ll just spend your paycheck on your goddam friends.
___Use the oven to warm the house.
___I already do that. Every goddam morning to get these kids ready for school.
Dad leaves. He stopped talking. Mom smokes. She stares at the fireplace.
I’m with Dad and we are at the big baseball stadium in Pittsburgh. A song with the words “beat’em bucs, the bucs are going all the way” is played and after it is done I sing the words over and over. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLNms45owtY
There are posters with a cartoon pirate holding a bat. I like pirates. Dad gives me some popcorn and I have a pop to drink. Dad is with some other big men and they are all talking and they have beers. When they are done with the beers, they toss the empty beers over the back of the seat behind us.
It is cold outside and Mickey is very sick. He’s in bed in the living room. He throws up yellow stuff all the time. There’s a puke bucket next to the bed. Mickey looks all white and can’t smile. He can barely talk.
Mom says he has rheumatic fever. She’s worried and she smokes a lot. Dad is at work a lot so I don’t know what he thinks. Mickey is in bed a long time. Days and days and days.
There is a lot of things going on but I don’t what it all means. Mickey is moving to Florida to live with Ma-ma and Pop. Ma-ma and Pop are Mom’s mom and dad. They are old people. Pop retired from the steel mill and they just moved to Hialeah. Hialeah sounds like a lady’s name. Mickey will be better in Hialeah.
The doctor said Mickey’s heart was damaged by the rheumatic fever. It would be better for his health to live in Florida. Mickey can’t play baseball anymore. I wonder if Mickey is sad, but no one in the family says anything about it.