Monday, June 23, 2014

Mike's Story Part 59 - Reward

By Jenna Orkin

   Now that we're coming out of the depression phase, the heart of this account, I should relay a scene which got overlooked early on.
   One night after Mike had settled in at my apartment and we were still eating dinner together, I showed him a story I'd written (it appears in Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death,) about a quirky kid with oddball parents.  It's not a children's story although it's written in a deceptively naif style.
   One of the mother's eccentricities is that if she has a snack at night after she's taken out the garbage, she puts any ensuing detritus in a bag in the refrigerator so as not to attract roaches.
   Mike said flatly, "If I lived with that woman, I'd kill her."
   There was an awkward silence as we both faced the fact the woman was me.
   "I'm sorry."  The image was too close to home, he elaborated.  "Have you ever seen a head in a refrigerator?"     
   At that stage, I attributed his gruffness to the trauma he'd lived through and held out for an improvement once his mood lifted.  But it was not for nothing that Mike had said, "I think you want me to be dependent."  With the advent of spring, the deft calibration of medication at Payne Whitney and the receipt of his inheritance, he was growing more able to function on his own and his neediness was transforming into a drive to get away.  "I'm not going through another winter here," he announced.  I thought, "Don't knock me over on your way out."  
    He deposited the money into our joint account and I made sure never to go near that account again.  I stopped buying his food and he cooked for himself with gusto (usually steak or some other hearty, traditional fare) once saying, only partly in jest, "You can't have any."  He said that when we moved and had a properly equipped kitchen, he'd cook for me but my kitchen wasn't up to that standard.  I don't doubt it.  
   He still needed me for his Paypal account, as a result of which my relationship with Paypal may remain forever in limbo since I've lost track of the password and his driver's license number.  (When it's absolutely necessary, I'll try to contact them to untangle the knot.)
   Then there was the laundry episode.
   He did laundry once a week, since he didn't have many clothes; I had enough to last for several weeks.  Often he'd ask me to accompany him and help fold "the" laundry, meaning his laundry, since there's little of my own which requires folding.  But I didn't mind as we had interesting conversations.
   One time, however, he was putting his laundry into the wagon and carefully, with a grimace, removing anything of mine.
   "Why don't you just take it all?" I asked, genuinely mystified.  To this day, I can't figure out the advantage of doing only his own laundry.  It wasn't cheaper as you paid for the machine anyway.  It didn't take less time; in fact, it took more.  And if you're disgusted by the other person's laundry, surely it's more disgusting to handle before it's laundered than after. 
   So he took it all.
   Probably the point was just to ensure I understood my laundry was barely touchable.
   One morning I woke up and was so busy with something, I didn't brush my hair first.
   Mike made a face.  "Don't you want to do something about your hair?" he asked.  "Meryl Streep would..."
   "Would what?" I challenged him.
   "Would gag."
   Give him credit for making me twist his arm.
   "Well, it's better than being bald," I shot back.  His hair was short then so its sparseness on top was more noticeable.  He looked injured and I wasn't sorry.
   But the flip side was no better.  When we were getting ready to go out with some friends, he made a mincing face as he imitated the carefulness with which I put on make-up.
   Once I told him about one of my students who was from Burkina Faso.  (He found my students' stories interesting, often asking for more.)
   "Burkina Faso?" Mike exclaimed.  "Where's that?!"
   "Africa," I answered.  "I don't know what it used to be called."
   Burkina Faso is one of a cluster of African countries that changed their names when they claimed independence from the colonists.  I've since learned it used to be Upper Volta.
   "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it," he responded, becoming absorbed in a backgammon game. 
   Note to self:  Next time, stop with "Africa."  God forbid you should offer an iota more information than what was requested.
   But it was precisely that curiosity for its own sake, even if the knowledge didn't seem immediately "useful," which had propelled the research he'd so depended on when I'd done it for FTW.
   This underscored a basic difference in the way our minds worked.  He always had a project, an agenda, whether it was to investigate a government cover-up or find someone who could help him feel better or even just to make dinner or play backgammon.  Any subject not immediately related to the goal was "in the way," an annoyance.  I, on the other hand, was curious about subjects which seemed unrelated to each other; that curiosity which is usually called "idle" but often has a deeper goal of understanding what makes something tick.  He didn't see the point and therefore thought this a waste of time.  He would not have known what to make of those artists who practice their art regardless of how small the audience may be.
   When he first came, I took him on a walk to show him the landmark buildings of Brooklyn Heights.  He never glanced at any of them.  At the time, I chalked this up to his shellshock but when he recovered, his attitude didn't change.  This was New York which he loathed and was therefore determined to keep at arm's length.  If he took a walk, it was only to find someplace to work out and build up his upper body strength.
   We did once go rowing in Central Park, an outing he later described as, "I took Jenna rowing,"  I reminded him I'd also rowed.  I'd taken us towards shore when Mike cried, "No!  We're going the wrong way!" 
   "I want to go to the shade," I explained.
   We explored the lake under the trees and he understood that the destination hadn't been a "mistake."  But this was a prototype scene:  I was stupid until proven otherwise.
   That attitude led to one of the greatest compliments he ever gave me.
   We'd grown up in the era of the same TV shows:  I Love Lucy, Huckleberry Hound...  If you're of the baby-boomer generation, you can fill in the others and if you're not, the list doesn't mean anything to you anyway.
   Mike preferred the more hyperactive, boy-oriented cartoons like Adam Ant whereas I went for the leisurely Yogi Bear.  And I have no idea why he hated Car 54, Where Are You? which was about two goofy cops.
   (Tangential to this discussion is one of the ironic disparities in our upbringings which had to do with our father's army careers.  His father was a hero pilot in two wars; mine, a writer on the Emmy-award winning Sergeant Bilko series which was a comedy about the absurdities of the army.)
   The compliment arose when Mike, referring to another comedy series, Gilligan's Island, said, "If we were all stranded on some island somewhere, you'd be the ditz who figured out the nutty solution that saved everybody."
   It's lines like that that make the insults dissolve into a dew.

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