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"Nantucket Potluck," short story excerpt

Tuesday 6/22/21

If a man from Nantucket with a slick chin grins at you, you may wish to 1. Look away because who the fuck wants to deal with that shit, but maybe consider 2. Asking him for tips regarding pliability, which is said to be linked to heart health. Might as well make the best of an awkward situation. Go out for scones.


At what point do you go from wanting your kids to be kind to hoping they won’t turn out to be idiots?


It’s weird to me when guys go on porn sites and post in the comments section under videos about how much they just came. Gallons. Buckets. “All over my laptop.” “So many times.” They’ll say that it was “literally everywhere” and “literally heaven.” I think, “You don’t need the fucking ‘literally.’ Rarely do you.” And what kind of heaven is that? That’s heaven making a bad joke. Heaven doing a dirty limerick.


My wife says it’s hot when I bring this up with her. I say that they’re all saying the exact same unimaginative thing. And why are they all telling each other these details? Why is one man venturing forth the phrase “spooge bucket” to another man he doesn’t know?


She states that it’s erotic. Then adds, “for me.”


Our son Chris tells me dirty jokes. It’s how we bond in the car alone. It started, I didn’t stop it, and now I think I’d be betraying him if I told him to tone it down. He is a limerick fan.


I’m thin now, but before my heart surgery I was heavy. I’d cut the lawn and sweat through my shirt and when I came into the house Chris would make a joke about how I had titties. He said they were a fine pair and our daughter Samantha laughed. I have always counted on her as an ally. “You too?” I said. “It’s cute, dad,” she replied.


Yes, if I’m being honest, cutting the lawn does mean a lot to me. I think when I am out there on the lawn. I have this saying in my head: “The blade gives peace,” by which I mean, the noise of the lawnmower blocks out all of the other noise of life, and there is just me, the improving quality—or appearance, at least—of my lawn, my thoughts, that smell that I like. I do realize my saying also sounds very pro-French Revolution, which is why I don’t say it out loud. Not that anyone in my family reads much. They couldn’t make that joke, and I guess that saddens me.


My wife came to me one morning and said, “I think Chris is gay.” I said okay. “When did he tell you?” I understood he’d want to tell her first. My mom was a psycho bitch and my dad was a good man, but I still told my mom big things first. I guess it was because of a certain hope I nursed until I didn’t. I just gave it up one day. But I was about forty-seven by then.


I’ll tell you what didn’t help with giving it up: Boba Fett and his ship The Interceptor. A lot of people don’t know that was the name of Boba Fett’s ship in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. We didn’t have much money. We were at the Bradlees, my mom and me, when I was a kid and I’d been talking for a couple months about how I really wanted Boba Fett’s ship, The Interceptor. The box was big. A special toy. Not “just” an action figure, which was special enough. She bought it for me. It was like four o’clock on a regular Wednesday. It felt like the biggest gesture. That she sensed what I felt. And it wasn’t this idle yearning to possess. But that it was more—the stuff of my imagination. And later in life when I reflect upon how this person hates me—and it is real hate, not an embellishment I’ve made, because I do do that, and have become better at knowing when I do, and now I swallow those words, instead of reporting them as if they were news, facts or truths—I think about that day when we left the Bradlees with Boba Fett’s Interceptor. And I can hardly tell you how much that fucking hurts me, to be honest. I can’t account for gaps, changes, reversals. I just know that whatever was, is gone. And it has been gone for many years such that I don’t know how it ever could have been there. Which is the worst kind of gone, is it not?


When my wife and I watch the news and some horrific crime is reported, I’m tempted to make a joke by saying, “You can’t do anything anymore.” One night I promised myself to do it. Just to see what she’d say. We used to joke about a lot of raunchy things. My wife, before she was my wife, smoked a lot of pot in college and experimented with LSD a bunch, which shocked me. Now she likes a sly joke. But this segment came on about a guy who was an assistant principal at a middle school, and what he did was go outside of his house at like 1:30 in the morning when his daughter was having a sleepover with a friend, and film that friend in the bathroom from the lawn as she got ready to take a shower. Then when they caught him because he sent his computer somewhere for repairs, he said that his nine-year-old son took the videos and downloaded them to his machine. So obviously I couldn’t do the joke then. Instead I said, “Why are all of these girls taking showers at 1:30 in the morning?” And when that didn’t get any reaction—as if my wife thought I had more to say—I added, “We never took showers at all on sleepovers.”


I had a friend named Adam when I was Chris’s age, and once in school the teacher was having us share what our middle names were. I don’t know why. I think there was this thing called Heritage Month, so maybe that was it, though later Heritage Month was deemed racist and unfair to people of color. And Adam answered by saying that his middle name was Mada. “I hit you one way, then I run you over the other, bitches,” he concluded. We laughed our asses off. Adam “Mada” Lowenstein was the kind of kid who’d say those shower girls were trying to frame that dad, which he’d have expressed by saying, “They knew what they were doing.”


We actually listened to him quite a bit. Best hockey player in our half of Rhode Island.


You don’t need to tell me how big Rhode Island is. He’d also call Woonsocket “Poonsocket.” That was the semester we read Chaucer. We started reading it in Middle English because our teacher, Mrs. Marcotte, who still teaches there and had Chris one year, had ambitions and ambitions for the young. She was quite young herself. After a week she had to switch to a version in more modern language despite saying a half dozen times per class, “Middle English is modern English,” to our complaints. But I think what bothered her most is when she had to say, “Trust me, this is funny,” and we read what she said was funny and not one of us laughed.


A therapist asked me how I would best describe my relationships. “Tenuous but improvable,” I told her. “Sounds like you’ve thought a lot about that question,” she replied. I said it was only three words.


In the car to and from his football practices, Chris would tell me about kids at his school. He’d give me the “scuttlebutt,” as it were. Those were moments of some connection. Intimacy. At the dawn of the limerick years. The man from Nantucket, and all of his variants. A different fellow from Bel Air with a faulty banister but commitment and resolve. He said a bunch of kids were retards. I laughed, but I said something about how that’s not the right term, don’t be using it, you’ll get in trouble. That’s how I passed it off—that someone else would “nab” him. The thought police, the PC brigade. Because I didn’t want to put the blame on him. Make the tenuous more tenuous, perhaps. “Okay,” he said. “Well, this kid Darren, right, he’s this real short bus special.” So I had to listen to him say “short bus special” for a while and I let it slide.


Back when I worked at ESPN, I had this editor. She was gorgeous. Must have been over six feet tall, the complexion of someone from a tropical island. Queenly bearing. Like her family was Bermudian bigwigs going back centuries. But totally American. She was from Hidden Hills, California, which sounded rather labial to me. Adam Mada Lowenstein had this comedy routine he did regarding Flower Mound, Texas, and during boring meetings I’d imagine what he’d have done if he got his hands on Hidden Hills. Everything bad, or dumb, or backwards—or when we had to stay up all night once every two weeks to get the magazine out—was “retarded.” She was fully committed to this word. Later after I’d been laid off, I’d watch from afar as she climbed the ladder at the company. The press releases raved about her kindness and one said she was an emotional philanthropist, whatever the fuck that meant.


Do you ever imagine that reality himself—or herself, or their self, whatever reality’s pronouns may be—walks up to a mirror, sees his own reflection, and says, “You ain’t me, bitch!”