The Pancake Epiphany — #MemoirMonday

Pancakes ought to be thick and fluffy, deeply stacked pillows of glutenous promise. Pile on the butter and the syrup (either genuine maple or Mrs. Butterworth, whose matronly form has not yet spoken with me, the assurances of commercials notwithstanding) and commune with the divine.

pancakes

What she handed me was a plate of crepes. Thin and insubstantial, but still tough. Not silken. The syrup pooled over them, never fully integrating.

A year into what I thought would be my last major relationship (a thought I would have a few more times to come) it dawned on me — she’s a crepe person.

The thing about epiphany is that one can never plan for them — they happen when they happen, and never at times convenient for you.

Here was a woman whom I loved, adored even — and she made crepes.

I remembered when I made pancakes. She made no secret that she thought I made them too thick. I thought nothing of it — to each their own, and I added a little more milk the next time, thinned them out. She still made a face, they were still too thick.

But she gave me crepes. I understood now.

Suddenly, all I saw were differences. Minor tensions that could mostly be smoothed over or even ignored altogether emerged in full bloom as impenetrable; imaginary front lines in a cold war that would suddenly turn hot.

I was not done growing, however, and had much to learn. Raised to believe that I should not get my way, and that the men should set all their interests to the side in the name of stoic suffering, I shoved it down and soldiered on.

When I was 21 or 22, my mom was out of town, visiting her sister who lived in North Carolina. My dad, freed from her grasp for a week, got drunk and confessed to me that marrying her was the worst mistake of his life — but he couldn’t abandon us, the way his father abandoned him. So he stayed.

It would take me years more growing and work to realize that my father was wrong — it’s a false dichotomy to think that the only options are to remain miserable at the hands of a monster or abandon his children.

But I wasn’t there yet, and so I ate the crepes.

The other lesson I learned from my father, unfortunately, was that men do not get their way by asking. My mother disregarded his wishes over and over, so he learned to get what he wanted by deception or simple fiat. On two occasions, he bought cars without asking, deciding that a few nights sleeping on the sofa was a fair trade for that ’78 Jeep Wagoneer or that ’86 Camaro. He bought guitars and golf clubs and gadgets with money secretly squirreled away, the change from trips to the store for bread or milk, $10 here or there.

So I snuck around, spent frivolously, drank in secret, had an affair. I even once (years earlier, in a prior relationship) did the car-by-fiat trick. This was simply the way men in my family went about their business.

I can’t remember when I realized that my reaction was a dysfunctional response to my family’s dysfunction, that my father’s ruses were the dysfunctional reaction to my mother’s dysfunction, which was her reaction to her father’s dysfunction.

And so it goes, likely hundreds of years back.

I would eventually come to that realization, but long after I made a wreck of my life. Epiphany happens when it happens. But not that day.

I ate the crepes, and did much damage to us both.

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Nothing Could Kill Me — #MemoirMonday

Trenton, New Jersey in the 90s had very little to say for itself, which was itself not unusual. Trenton had little to say for itself for most of the decades that came before.

Though the middle of the three bridges over the Delaware proclaimed Trenton Makes, the World Takes, nothing had been made in Trenton for ages. The Roebling Steel plant — the one that made the cable for the Brooklyn Bridge — closed in the 50s. There was a GM parts plant on the outskirts, but that closed up shop in the 80s. Even Champale, the largely undrinkable malt liquor that tried to pass itself off as champagne that Trenton claimed as its own, closed the factory and fled for the relatively greener grass of Milwaukee.

Actual Champale ad
Actual Champale ad

By the 90s, all that was left in Trenton were the drug dealers and street prostitutes that seemed to own the neighborhoods along Perry Street, and a lone punk club called City Gardens.

To call City Gardens a dive is to be charitable. Graffiti covered every wall. Dirt and sweat and blood and beer stains called the floor home. The men’s room consisted of one filthy urinal and one hole in the floor. Thankfully the sink worked, because handfuls of tap water out of the bathroom might be preferable to whatever they might have at the bar.

Bon Jovi gripped New Jersey in the early 90s, and while hair metal fans had five or six clubs to choose from, punks, skinheads, rudeboys, and hardcore fans only had City Gardens. With nowhere else to turn, all the groups descended on the Gardens every night. We would skank to Fugazi and mosh to Fishbone.

This every night.
This every night.

Packed into the space, always oversold, a writhing sweaty mass moving in unison with hardcore hivemind. I stood behind a young woman with a pixie cut and Doc Martens. Swaying to the music we never stopped touching, my front to her back, unintentional frottage neither of us could do anything about with so little room. She turned around to smile at me when she felt my erection through my jeans. I was embarrassed to have been found out, and aroused all the more.

I was 20 — fat, self-loathing, and virginal. It was my first taste of sex, fully dressed yet covered in sweat.

I cannot remember the band that played. I never saw her again.

I saw Sonic Youth on a Saturday. My ears rang until Thursday, easily the loudest show I had ever attended — until the Ramones exactly three days later. Sound waves bounced off the concrete walls of the club and focused the energy back into the center where I stood, moshing and pogoing and doing whatever. Vibrations shook my body, or perhaps my body just shook sympathetically.

The energy in that room. 1,000 people screaming and dancing and shouting, pledging allegiance to none but themselves.

I needed a rest but I also needed to feel that energy. Crude bleachers lined the wall — to get both my rest and the energy, I walked right past the speaker column, and stood with my head in the tweeter.

My ears ring to this day. I cannot rule out the possibility that I may go deaf in my old age.

I never thought I would make it to old age back then. I was in my early 20s. Nothing could kill me.