Saturday, October 18, 2014

click here to avoid nervous breakdown

My older brother’s mustache was a prized possession of our family back in 1989. We were reeling from the effects of Dukakis’s defeat, and the mustache had come to have a polarizing effect on our way of life, our instincts for inching along towards victory. For further surety, father was polishing his remorse with fall-down drunk theatrics. The rest of our household went on posing for family portraits without him—mostly funny ones, though. Calmly and with as little aplomb as possible, the neighbors were driven insane. Was it really all just the fault of my brother’s mustache? Hunches were thin in those days, and we were all enduring a fairly great drought too. The few flushes of the toilet we partook in were unkind and, well, putrescent at best. The lawn dried out and tanned to a hard tawny hue. The gutters went desiccate and filled with old trash and crumbles of dead leaves. The only thing that wasn’t getting dry was father, whose inebriated escapades were legendary, and at least something to enliven the doldrums of our days. I wore a t-shirt on all weekdays reading, “I’d rather be flying!” My brother preened and trimmed his mustache in any of the dozen or so mirrors in our house: in the parlor, in the boudoir, in the shitter, in the kitchenette, the den, the hallway, and even in the playroom where my younger brother and I played tiddlywinks through it all. We placed no restrictions upon all things mustache related. It must be maintained at all costs. It was either this or be doomed to an even baser mediocrity than the one we’d grown— along with the mustache— to know so well. To my eldest of siblings, chores were off-limits as long as he kept that mustache in order. The rest of us plugged along and kept the bill collectors in business.

That was the season when my uncle Wilbert was running for mayor. One balmy day in September he woke up and uttered apropos of nothing, “Fuck it. I’m running for mayor.” At first we took it as one of his unusual non sequiturs kissed to life by troubled sleep, but he proved resolute in his run for the highest office in town. “I’d rather be reviled than overlooked any new day here,” he'd rattle off through the breakfast silverware-clink of tines. “This is not some soapbox I am seated upon. I am a born taker of music through contextual exaggerations, not, let me repeat…not obligations.” These were the unbuttered bread of his unappealing spiels. I took him for some folk hero come down to us from the tattered pages of some hobo baron’s history of drunks and train robbers. I also took him for my uncle. I had to. When all of his loquacity finally diminished to a whisper-thin rant he abandoned his haphazard journey to the top. “There is nothing to accomplish. Or at least nothing that a few thousand bucks won’t fix right up. And all of this bragging and boasting like teeth implants, good for me? Yes. Good. For. Me.” That was the last I ever heard of or from handy uncle Wilbert.
The mustache reigned through all of ‘89s conditions. My brother kept it tiptop. He believed in the power of grooming, that hard-won feeling of accomplishment that comes from steady upkeep. It kept us all dreaming well. Strangers would smile in passing, and some might come right on up to him with the burden of wheelbarrow thoughts to say, “What gives?” To which he might reply, “Art is the highest form of communication.”

My father’s tippling became the stuff of legends. “I don't know what's right with me. That. That there’s my only home,” he’d wheeze while pointing at the mustache which began to curl up at the ends of my brother’s lip. He would lie still on the carrot-colored carpet at times, once clutching an empty bottle of Chartreus, once with a Macy’s One Day Sale ad tucked into his belt. I remember him best lying on that carpet, not quite passed out, not quite awake, misusing his prayers, his buckwheat hair matted and unruly, his face stuck in the middle of a scream. I brought his bottles to him when he needed them. There were other emergencies to muddle through, cabals to get around to hatching, and back then that was the take and give of things. My father slept through or slept off where none of us ever left him off. We’d escape in glassy gazes over him, my brother’s mustache, slick and shiny and laced with eel oil, in the middle of it all. And then my father would let slip a query: “Whatever does any of this mean?”     

Reworked gimmicks like the too tidy get mildly crushed soft off to peace. Trust me. If that weather back then taught my instincts anything it was that. My name got changed to Oliver for a while. I signed it once during an identity crisis, and it stuck around some. Then it was Claude. Then it just became a sound I made like giving directions to the found. I called myself what seemed suitable for the present’s just cause. And people just nosed and poked around in the rubble of our backyard while I was at it. I’d pull open the screen door to tell them things. “I am a closed circuit provider. Blacklist your burials. Put some toast in your fist and squeeze. We are our only armaments, so keep up your digging. A shovel for the old guy. Who among you is never always sure? Telltale contortions, sympatric and unclaimed, let the bodies fall where they may not.”

Then time passed. Then it came to be that my older brother’s mustache had vanished. Our family gathered in the foyer beneath the crippled chandelier. We bowed deeply to each other, over and over, being civil and silent. The remote control was lost. Everyone was home, at last, and we built telephones from microphones. We ate dinner one at a time. The mirrors were taken down and laid out on the sidewalk. I had no reason to be myself. I was stored in music and wishes and cocktails, and I didn’t need to exist. This is the best I’ve ever felt.