Thursday, July 7, 2011


August ~ 1978

      I'm alone in a Doughboy pool in my grandmother's back yard.  I came to visit for the summer.  The sun is partially hidden behind some trees.  This means part of the pool is in shadow.  That is the part I avoid.  I know it's silly, but it feels like something is lurking there.    I duck beneath the water.  I'm wearing goggles.  Shadows make the water on the other side of the pool look deep.  Too deep. 

     I can't tell my grandmother that I am afraid.  She didn't want to take me to see Jaws 2.  I told her that I had already seen the first movie twice.  I told her that my mother took me.  I didn't tell her about the nightmares, the dark room with the bottomless pool.  The teeth.

July ~ 1983

     My mother's new boyfriend, Ray, is a surfer.  He wants to teach me how to do it.  He thinks being afraid of sharks is silly.  "You watch too many movies," he says.

     He buys me my own board for Christmas.  I live in Southern California.  Surfing makes sense.  I have long blonde hair.  I wear Lightening Bolt, Ocean Pacific, and Vans.  I don't want to be a poser.
     We take the boards to Redondo Beach.  The waves aren't too big.  I am wearing a wet suit, so the water isn't too cold.  I don't have an excuse.  I look out at the open ocean and think about how unnatural this is.  I am a land based mammal. 

     Ray paddles out.  He calls back to me, waving.  That's how it was with the kid on the raft.  Fun, splashing, then the quick roll of fins, and the water goes red.  As Ray pushes through the break, I keep waiting for him to get pulled under.

     I wade into the water, pushing the board in front of me.  The sky is gray, overcast.  There is no wind.  I climb onto the board and paddle towards Ray.  I wonder what I look like from underneath. 

     Ray catches a wave and leaves me floating alone.  I turn to watch him.  I don't want to look out to sea.  I won't look down.  The surface of the ocean is black slate.  Of course, I make the connection to Quint's description of eyes ~ "lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes."  I'm not worried about eyes.  The ocean has teeth.

     A quick splash sounds behind me.  My heart kicks against my chest.  Ray is standing in the water close to the shore.  I can see something moving through the water.  It is only a few feet away from me.  I fold my legs up onto the board.   
     Something breaks to the surface to my right.  I pull my arms out of the water so that I am completely on the board.  I feel like I'm floating in a mouth.  It's ready to close.  I turn to see what is moving.  It is a seal.  It doesn't even look at me before it dives under.

     I can hear the blood pulsing.  I make my way back to shore.  Ray passes me on my way in.  "I'm done," I say.  I spend the rest of the time waiting in the car.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Dismember Mama

Early 80's ~ Downtown Long Beach, CA ~ The Palace Theater

     I am sitting in the Palace waiting for the house lights to come up.  My mother dropped me and my two younger sisters off for a triple feature before she went to work at the carwash. The last movie has just ended.  The credits are rolling. 

     The lumpy man who is sitting in the row just in front of us drops one last coin.  Like us, he is a regular patron.  We joke about him at home.  He must fill his pockets with coins before he comes to the theater.  He drops them one at a time.  I think he wants us to pick them up.

     My littlest sister, Sarah, has to go to the bathroom.  She won't go alone.  She is seven years old.  The bathroom in the Palace looks a lot like the bathroom from The Incubus.  She doesn't want to die in a stall.  I tell her to wait until the change creep leaves.

     As the house lights come on, we giggle over the silhouette of the dead rat in the overhead lighting.  The amber glow of the lights through the frosted panel emphasize the slender figure.  It is about the length of an infant's torso.  It has been there for months. 

     We get up.  The sticky floor of the aisle pulls at our feet until we reach the carpet.  Sarah is rushing towards the lobby.  My other sister, Rachel, stays close to my side.

      I tell Rachel to go into the bathroom with Sarah.  I stand waiting in the lobby.  There is a display board for coming attractions.  One of the posters has been up for years.  It is simple.  A painted portrait of a man with a goatee.  There is a frightened woman reflected in the knife that he holds out in front of him.  He is standing in the dark, seemingly illuminated by candle light.  The man reminds me a bit of my step-father.  This might be why the title is so jarring ~ I Dismember Mama

     The poster is not the worst I have seen.  It is a lot less threatening than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Deranged.  Still, it gives me the creeps.  I can image the atrocities for which this man is responsible.  He isn't interested in killing nubile strangers.  He is ready to bring the violence home.  Shit.  Even Leatherface had a line he wouldn't cross when it came to slaughter. 

     I have come to associate this face with the gritty, grimy Palace.  He is the creep dropping change, the dead rat, and the dart in the silver screen.  His knife holds the stories of blood on the walls, killers, creatures, and that terrible high-pitched screaming. 

     I don't realize it, but the film was released in 1974.  It has come and gone.  The poster shouldn't be here.  I won't figure this out until well after the Palace has closed for good.

     I also don't realize that I will never watch the film because I am afraid that it cannot live up to my expectations.  I will justify this choice through research and by reading about its short comings. 

     I will learn that the man's name is Albert.  The poster is not a good representation of him.  Albert is clean shaven.  Despite the fucked up juxtaposition of words, Albert does not dismember his mama.  He doesn't even kill her.

     Despite all of this, I will remember standing in the once glamorous lobby now caught in the grind.  I will remember the cold stare and the wrinkles in his skin. 

     I will hold the image in my mind's eye like a splinter.  It is a talisman filled with sleazy magic, a memento of trauma, an icon of filth.  It is daddy putting a blade to the tit where this grindhouse baby will suckle until it withers and dies.