Dear diary, I write to you with a concern that my conception wasn't all that good (in lay terms). I believe mom took dad against his will. I believe she used something he could never say no to (beer sausage) in order to get what she wanted: another child. I believe he did not appreciate inseminating her under these circumstances and his resentment hung over my early years like a sperm cloud without any rain left in it. My entry into being was one marred by indifference, even neglect, while my reason for being was never made clear. The absence of these two principles warrants an investigation and I suppose the best place to start is at the very beginning...
Portland, Oregon,1972, the winter before the thaw. Mom is smelling fine and Dad is feeling vulnerable. He has just returned from deerhunting without a sausage. Pulling into the driveway, he waves to his two kids, Dirk and Heidi, ages 8 and 10, but they take no notice, for they are in the ditch riveted with dirt. Dad is led by his nose to the kitchen stovetop, the quickening aroma of beer sausage battering his senses. Before he can say "Jumping Jehosaphats!" Mom flings his orange hunting cap across the Formica and launches herself at his belt. The deafening cymbal crash of their baby-making instruments occurring presently.
In lieu of cuddling, mom pours beer into the pan. A pair of crapulous sausages bust their casings and pop like firecrackers on the stovetop. My defiled conception has been heralded. Mom cuts dad's postcoital polish sausage into bite-sized medallions. Dad stabs the meat with a fork and raises it to his face. He chews, he struggles, he shakes his head like an animal whenever something is too hot.
"Do you want a watch with a multi-colored watchband, or a baby?" my mom had asked my sister, weeks leading up to my conception.
"I want a multi-colored baby!"
Diary, I learned early on that love had a funny way of rearing its misshapen head. Dad would agree too, I am sure, had he attended my birth, but he headed for the hills to hunt stag and it was there on the cold and womanless hard-earth floor, that he drank Blitz-Weinhard (Portland's lousy cut-rate brew) and listened to his friends' suggestions on what to name me. Then he drove to the nearest town and called mom to see how she was.
"Did you have it?" he asked.
"What is it?"
"He's a boy."
"What will you call it?"
"I don't know yet."
"Well Bruce, Bob, Harvey, Mel, Tom, Kenny, Norm, Bob, Jerry and Butch were thinking you should call him Christopher Blitz-Weinhard Moritz."
Much to my vexation, this was not the spectacular name I became.
Some kids disembark the womb in hysterics. Not me. I opened my eyes to a cruel and unloving world and smiled. My cheerful expression belied the fact I was the bitter fruit loop of Dad's reluctant orgasmings. Not to be excluded, my siblings tormented me from the outset and the one woman who showed me love, my mother, couldn't be found anywhere, echoing one of the centuries' great philosophers, LL Cool J, who raps:
I was not a cute baby. Floppy angel hair replaced my baldness, which was appealing, but my skin was of such a bright, reflective hue that by angling my piercing whiteness against the sun and a caravan of ants, the entire colony would burst into flames.
We occupied a suburb west of Portland, the last house on the left, a yellow house, which perhaps accounts for my sunny disposition. Still, there were dark days ahead with ambivalence all around me extending beyond my immediate family and the sun to now include members of the bug world. The following incident suggests the possibility that there were ants that had survived the incineration and together with other bugs in the area, held an urgent meeting not unlike the League of Justice and elected the earthworm to perform a mean prank on me. Here's what happened: I had ventured out to investigate the extension Dad was in the process of building. Someone, I noticed, had left a red vine in the dirt. I likely would have seen my older siblings eating these and probably figured the gummy texture would be easy on all the teething troubles I was going through. Not the flavor I expected though, and a lively one too, the vine slithering around in my toothless mouth.
The earthworm reiterated my unpreparedness for the world.
Indoors I would stay.
My color improved and before long I began to look more or less how I do today: a fair complexion that after a good cry glistens like the rainy streets of Portland.
I was in kindergarten when I began to question mom's disappearing act. Sometimes I would see her in the morning, but never after school or before bed. By placing me under my 14 year-old sister's care, it occurs to me that mom had not given my welfare much consideration. Heidi often startled me out of the blue with the directive "licky kiss!"—my signal to French kiss her. I was young enough to think she was my mother and dumb enough to fall in love. Meanwhile my 12-year-old brother would whack me with foam-covered nunchucks if I ever did so much as look at him.
"Mom!" I cried as he tagged me.
"Mom's not here."
"Where did she go?"
"She works swing."
"You mean she's a swinger?"
"Something like that."
He raised his arm and swung. The nunchucks missed. I was halfway to the bathroom already. The toilet became my sanctuary. The first time I attempted to use it proper, Dad barged in. He gave me an awful look. Diary, you wouldn't look at a grey digger squirrel this way. I wished he hadn't rushed me because to this day I remain stymied when making calls to nature, fearful that an authority figure will intrude. I wished he had read Nabokov's memoir. His sole parental advice, I remember, is to ever never rush a child. That said, I doubt his son Dmetri hung out in the toilet for hours on end.
I was in third grade when we went to Grandma's for a family get-together. Mom was outside and I interrogated her next to the apple tree. She was reading Danielle Steel, the only author I ever remember her reading. Or was it Jackie Collins? I told her I hoped she liked being a swinger because it was ruining my life. She told me she worked swing shift, which was different than going all the way with Howard, Ken, Jerry, James, Vic, Bob, Plumber, Paul, Skipper and Dick—pretty much all the Dads in the neighborhood, except Plumber, who was her cousin.
"Was I an accident?" I asked.
"You actually did this on purpose?"
She went back to her book and read the first line she went back to. "Pinky banana picked his nose." Then she shooed me away. "Go find Trevor."
Trevor was my cousin, born six months before me to my mom's younger sister. Mom and Sally were so tight that Sally would have announced she was pregnant and mom would have dropped the phone to buy beer sausages, the first step in supplying Sally's newborn with a sidekick. Trevor and I were pals, but I was nervous around him for his ease in talking to females and undertaking illegal activities. He would go right up to girls, diary, and start chatting to them. This was unbelievable to me. I would stand back, blushing shyly. With trepidation, I would accompany him to drug stores, and while he switched the price tags on swimming goggles, I would think about all the dreams I might have one day. I didn't know what dreams were, but I knew what they weren't. No dream of mine involved going to prison as an accessory to the crime of applying a cheaper price tag on a pair of Mark Spitz Wide World of Sports swimming goggles while being forced to share a cell and use a toilet in front of a guy named Bubba. When I expressed my misgivings about his crooked ways, he told me without him, I would be a loser, actually I would be worse than a loser, I wouldn't even be alive and he was right.
I gravitated to my sister whose lively summaries of drive-in slasher movies were fiendish gateways to the macabre. Over Saturday morning cartoons and breakfast, I devoured her masterful horror giddily. "Cripes, sissy, that is scary, ooh-weee." Come nightfall however, her spookery left me with more terror than I knew what to do with. I was left traumatized by her novel depictions of Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I couldn't go to the kitchen for an apple without imagining a madman in a white mask, wearing a dark jumpsuit holding a big knife. I yapped all through my showers with the frosted glass door open because in Heidi's scary movie dramatizations no victim ever yapped in the showers with the frosted glass door open.
When fourth grade came along I remained terrified of getting attacked by a knife-wielding madman. One night, Mom and Dad went out, and left me home with Dirk, who was sixteen. I was on the toilet when I heard Dirk knock and enter. "How long are you going to be in there?" he asked in a friendly manner, a peachy tinge ablaze in his afro. This gawky teenager was like a ginger God to me.
"Go get me Three Musketeers."
"You want a candy bar?" he asked.
"No, it's a novel by Alexander Dumbass."
"Okay, but don't cuss."
Dirk was gone for some time. The wall that the bathroom shared with the family room began to throb loudly with Kiss's Destroyer on 8-track. Finally, Dirk returned and oddly took to me like a horse to water. In fact, he was on his hands and knees and neighing. He placed a candy bar in my hand, not a book, I didn't say anything. His behavior had taken a strange turn and the candy bar was the least of my worries.
"How much longer will you be now?" he asked.
"How long is a piece of string?" My first poop joke, diary, and Dirk wasn't sure what to make of it. When I emerged, he hoisted me on his knee and from dad's burnt sienna L-Z-Boy chair in our rustic, western-themed family room, he regaled me with some of the most enchanting duckhunting stories anyone could ever hope to hear. Truly, if memory serves he made like a duck and I hung onto every one of those quacks. My love soared like the waterfowl he picked out of the sky with a flurry of buckshot.
I was back in the toilet with Three Musketeers candy bar when mom and dad came home. They were hailing abuse though the walls. Not sure what the nature of all this was, I ran out and asked what the nature of all this was. Dirk was slumped on the couch, his head still attached to his neck with his ginger afro bobbing lifelessly. He was alive, but just barely, it seemed.
Mom pointed at Dad's liquor cabinet. There was a gouge in the metal lock made by a crowbar or similar.
"Your brother is smashed."
"I don't understand. He is the best brother in the world," I said. "He's the nicest brother any boy could ever hope to have."
"Stick around for when he sobers up, we'll see how nice he is to you then."
Dirk ruined dad's liquor cabinet and Mom ruined the best night of my life. Dear diary, I went to bed and cried over the injustice of it all.
In the ensuing months, Dirk pushed the envelope further. Mom caught him smoking outside. A sensitive boy, I immediately wondered if sharing a room with me had become a grind for him. "Hey Dirky, why do you want to kill yourself with the smokes? Does it get pretty stressful in here with me?"
He reached for his stack of vinyl.
"Hey what album is that? Are you gonna listen to a record?"
He grabbed his headphones off the headboard.
"Hey are those your headphones? How much did they cost?" He didn't hear me. The only sound was Christine McVie leaking out of his ears.
So there I was with a brother begging for lung and liver cancer, possibly an earache, a dad aggravating my bowels, a sister giving me night terrors, and a swinger for a mom.
Oh diary, how do you think I coped?
I reflected upon a positive episode years earlier, which led to an epiphany.
Quite bored with it all, I had taken to putting my hands down my pants, and booking around the house in foot pajamas. The plastic soles had good grab on carpet, but slipped on timber, which lined the hallway of the sleeping quarters. I'd charge around the house with my hands trapped inside the one-piece clutching my favorite toys. Mom lined the walls of the hall with family pictures and I remember cruising by and a photograph of Dad holding me as a baby caught my attention. He's wearing his orange hunting cap and he's got the biggest grin on his face. Maybe he loved me after all, I thought, but I was heading for a fall. I lost my footing with my hands trapped and landed on my chin. I remember screaming and jets of blood spurting everywhere. To this day, I get asked about the scar and must resist the strange urge to stick my hands down my pants.
Then, years later, still sometime in the 70s, my parents sell some land and buy a bungalow at the beach with a brokedown hot tub that Dad gets up and running. When Trevor and I aren't flogging the jets with our taliwhackers, we go to the bottom and put our mouth on the airholes to see how long we can stay submerged. I get swimmer's ear and can't hear myself think. I visit an ear specialist, who brandishes a blue rubber bulb shaped like a sperm. He stuffs my ear with it and spurts some fluid in to loosen the gunk. Immediate clearance is felt: to good health, to familial joy! I knew right then, what I know right now: love is something that if it comes at all, comes in spurts.