writing chapter 10.6
Dad didn’t feel comfortable thinking outside the box. It wasn’t safe. How could you know you were right? If everyone else didn’t think like you, you must be wrong. He liked things simple. He liked to be sure. complex arguments and chains of reasoning left too much room for people to lie, to slip in a hidden agenda. That’s why he knew what he knew and no amount of reason or facts or arguments were going to change his mind.
In the same way he preferred his answers simple, he liked his emotions pure. He was a guy, damn it, and guys are supposed to be simple. Red blooded American males. He could get very worked up when the wife tried to feed him vegetables, because meat and potatoes were all anybody ever needed. Not potatoes, pasta, but he liked the old phrases, too. Red blooded American male. His dad worked in a factory, he worked in a parts store. Honest jobs, honest pay. Except of course that something had gone wrong, because it was more work than he could do, and the pay wasn’t honest, it was slavery. Robbery.
He could feel a rant coming on. He drank as much as he did because by God he had to have some fun in life. Do something for himself. All day long he worked for others. Where was his self-interest? A real man does what he wants to do, and fuck other people. Who cares what anybody else wants? Yeah. Fuck them.
Anger was another one of those things he indulged in because it was his right. He had so few rights anymore. It made him feel good to go there, unleashing his fury, his rage. It made him feel strong when everything conspired to beat him down. It made him feel like he was doing something about it, fighting back against everyone who had more than he did.
Because Dad had just been laid off. Take this job and shove it. He’d made a small wreck of the office when the new supervisor showed up with his replacement and had the nerve to ask him to show the new guy around. He went from being on top of the world (always anxiously waiting to be fired) to being disposed of with a smile, shut out of the promised land and kicked to the sidewalk, bruised and suffering. Have a nice life, huh?
But oh fuck now what? He had a few days to figure out what to do about his 401k (cash it in) and deal with things like insurance (say no to Obamacare) and signing up for unemployment (never!). He was going to have to sit the little woman down and tell her the spending spree was over. Everything was over. He felt hopeless, Despair sitting next to him on the couch, chuckling and drinking all his beer.
Despair pointed out the road for him. “You’ll survive this shock,” he assured Dad. “You’ll cut back and do without. Then something else will happen when you think you’re on your feet again. But you’ll live. Then you’ll lose that, and have to cut back again. The time will come when you wish you could afford to live under a bridge.”
“It’s not my fault. They cut my job. I game them my best years. It’s not fair. I never wanted to get laid off.” The first step on his descent into ruin.
“Doesn’t matter,” chuckled Despair. “You’re responsible for what happens to you.”
“Not like this,” Dad protested. “Not when I didn’t do anything wrong.” He was so afraid. It was somehow his fault, when he been a damned boy scout all his life. And now they just threw him away. He was so humiliated. There wasn’t enough beer in the world to lift his spirits.
He could feel the pressure building. He tried to distract himself with the TV. That usually worked to help him avoid feeling anything unpleasant. Doubtful feelings, questions. Those things led to pansy places. Red blooded guys limited their emotions to basic ones. No fear or doubt. Rage and hate for the bad guys who destroyed his future and made a world where he got laid off. Real men didn’t get laid off. Real men called on the swat ream. Real men were on the swat team. and that’s where he wanted to be. A hard drinking ladies’ man with a gun and a hair trigger.
That’s what his favorite show was about, following the swat team around. Like cops but with real blood. Somebody died every show. It was just like being there, with the screams and the shooting, hysterical women and chastened kids. His favorite part was when they shot the family dog. Else that or was it tearing up people’s houses, destroying everything they had in pursuit of criminals, dragging the family out of the house at gunpoint. He loved it when they resisted. He wanted to be there to hear the clicks of a dozen guns as the safeties went off. Who gets it first? They should have a game show.
When it was over he decided to have that talk with Mom, but first a bathroom break. On the way back to the kitchen he saw himself as a character in the show. But they were after him.
an ad for a new reality show. Whack a Badguy. Contestants have a new crisis every week, and they have to achieve full spectrum dominance over the bad guys. Infiltrate, intercept, decode, second guess and roadblock. Exploit every leak in their security (put in ad-ese). It’ll put you on the edge of your seat and make you suspicious of your neighbors. One false move on your part and the threat comes alive inside your house, as the badguy tortures and murders you and your whole family on national television. Starting with the dog and stopping when there’s no more screaming.
Who’s to say it couldn’t happen? Dad had no trouble believing in it. These days your next door neighbor could be making meth and planning terrorist attacks. Everyone should be prepared as their public duty. It was a war zone out there, and you couldn’t be too vigilant, too paranoid. Your own self interest demanded it. Fuck your neighbor. Red blooded Americans like him weren’t nice neighbors, they were protecting their castles from the guy next door. Guns, not fences, make good neighbors. Respect born of fear. Kill them if they can’t take a joke.
You might have noticed that Dad had a bunch of issues. And he was in denial about all of them. He had a completely unrecognizable image of himself that he operated on, while everyone else saw what he was hiding. He identified with the hypermasculine military model of manhood, and thought of himself as The Lone Ranger, Father Knows Best and Mister Smith Goes to Washington, when he was really more like Natural Born Killers meets Rambo.
Naturally he projected all his bad qualities on others, and schemed how to punish them for it. As reflections of himself, it was okay to treat them like objects. Mom was his body servant and housekeeper. Sis was the delight of her old man’s eye, and Nuthin was a money machine, keeping him in good quality forged sports tickets.
But now he’d probably have to scalp them, because he didn’t have a job.
He finally got around to discussing it with Mom, after dinner. It took him that long to work up a head full of beer.
Mom looked shocked, but made it clear that she didn’t think it was his fault and that she would do anything to support his position as head of the family. She was wondering where she was going to find a second job.
Nathan offered to get a job to help out.
Dad thumped his fist on the table with extra force. “No, damn it, you’re still grounded. And I resent your trying to use our predicament as an excuse to go out and get in trouble with your friends.”
He was really talking about Sis, but Nathan kept quiet. Sis was failing her classes because Nathan refused to hold up his end of the bargain (to do all her homework) after Sis weaseled around the terms of hers (not to tell Dad about Dragoncon). She still brought it up whenever she was pissed off. “I didn’t tell. He found a picture on my phone. I didn’t do anything wrong. But you welched. I should sue you.”
Dad ranted about how Mom’s most important job was to stay home and raise the children while his destiny required he provide for his family. Mom ignored him while she drew up a mental resume. Sis was playing with her phone and didn’t hear a word, and Nathan had to hold his tongue between his teeth to keep from contradicting Dad with the facts.
Anything anybody said right now would be pounced on by Dad, who would take it to mean he was a failure for losing his job. The unconscious issues would come roaring up shouting blame, humiliating him, threatening the worst.
To avoid an instant irresistible urge to commit suicide, he turned it around and put it all on someone he could hate and rage on, turn against, destroy. And there he was just waiting for someone, Mom, Nuthin, even the TV, to give him an excuse to unleash his fury. Mom and Nathan knew this, and didn’t say a word.
So Dad dredged up something else. What was he picking on now? It was irrelevant, just a pretext and they both know it. His Dragoncon transgression, now magnified into the equivalent of bombing the World Trade Center. Traitor, he called him, grounded forever for lying. He started winding himself up. Chemicals flooding into his amygdala and his hypothalamus (in the lizard part of the brain), giving strength to his aggressive impulses.
He wanted to punish, to really hurt somebody, give in to a deep seated urge to beat something to death. Only Mom’s civilizing influence stood in the way. And even there it was a toss up. Why not? The kid needed hitting, it was a normal Dad-level response to the natural provocation of Nuthin’s being a teenager, and by definition a piece of shit that still had to be fed, housed and sent to school. He wanted Nuthin humbled, humiliated. he wanted him to realize the complete disposability of people like him.
He continued abusing the boy, working himself up. The pressure and worry of losing his job and not having a fucking clue what he was going to do next made it somehow imperative that he had to be in control of everything his wife did, his kids. The only way to control his destiny was by controlling everybody around him He was close to going under financially. He was on the very edge of ruin and it was absolutely vital that everybody obey him completely, or they were heading for the black hole. Nothing could save them. And because their future was at stake, he couldn’t tolerate any dissent. This was a war against Stan Rotenhals, and he was going to go down fighting.
He started to give Nuthin a lecture on personal responsibility, so he’d be clear how much effort and sacrifice was being asked of him. Nathan snickered. Almost a cough but for the corner of his mouth and a slight roll to his eyes. Dad reached out to cuff him and Mom was instantly by his side, in the way again.
She put her face close to his and said in a calm voice, “That’s enough, Stan. Don’t hit him again.”
She had a nerve. If her voice wasn’t so shaky, he might have thought she meant it. “Don’t raise your voice against me, woman.” He whapped Nuthin’s head. “I’ll fucking hit him if I think he needs it.” He whapped the edge of Nuthin’s shoulder as the brat moved out of the way. Mom moved fully into his way, so he shoved her aside and lunged for Nuthin.
Instead of cowering, Mom and Nathan moved to the kitchen table and sat down together, their backs to teh wall. “That’s enough, Stan,” Mom said quietly, stubbornly. “No more hitting.”
“Or what?” he sneered. She looked steadily at him and said nothing. He tore at his hair. “Goddammit, you know what kind of trouble I’m in. We’ve got to keep ranks, pull together. I don’t want to hit anybody.” He felt like crying. Stuck in the boat to Hell with these idiots. He started pleading and whining. Finally when they continued to say nothing, he decided that everyone agreed to do it his way, and he toddled off for a piss.
Mom and Nathan looked at each other, having worked together to fend off another of Dad’s punishing attacks.
Nathan turned to Mom. “There would be no suffering if God granted wishes.”
Mom said, “Yes, I hope He does,” but it was tinged with resignation.
Sis was passing and heard them. “Hell no, God never listens to me.”
Kurt was listening, however. He was fond of Nathan and liked to observe what was going on in his life. The kid was still his protege, even if Kurt was dead.