Thursday, November 30, 2006

Burning Down The House

My parents took turns burning down our apartment and smashing up the family car. I think my mother was the first to start a fire in our apartment by falling asleep with a cigarette in her hand. The mattress caught on fire and my mother was so upset and guilty that she ran away from home. She took a room in some hotel in the city and stayed away for a few days or maybe it was even a week. I was very young maybe three or four and I had no idea where my mother went or why she went, but I know I must have missed her terribly. She just stayed in the city, smoked a lot of cigarettes, went to a lot of movies and ate dinner out at the various eateries that lined Times Sq. She finally came back home, and I was happy to see her, after all she was my mother. My father next started a fire in our kitchen when he attempted to make some French fries one early summer night after he came home from work. It was summer so I was still playing outside even though it must have been around 7 in the evening. I was 6 or 7 and my father dashed down to the street yelling about a fire and to call the fire department.”Call the fire department.” He screamed. I thought he had come downstairs to call me up for bed, but he was more concerned with burning down the building then my missing my bedtime. My mother was on the night shift at our luncheonette so she wasn’t home to douse out the fire if she even could. We lived across the street at that time from the firehouse so the brave handsome men were there in no time, and put out the French fries fire as it came to be known. Our neighbors were so angry with my parents that they wouldn’t speak to them and would not let their kids play with me anymore, as if I had started the damn thing. Our kitchen was smelly and black with smoke the cheap linoleum on the floor was all buckling and dirty with soot. The smell would stay in that room for as long as we remained in that apartment. The landlord was a fuck and took forever to make repairs and repaint the kitchen but finally he did. My mother learned to drive first. She took driving lessons from a cute guy who I nicknamed dimples, and he would chuckle whenever I would call him that. He must have thought I was a weird little kid. I would sit quietly in the back seat as dimples took my mother out for her lessons. She loved driving a car, and soon she had her license but no car. My father bought her a brown and white 1953 Plymouth and soon we were out driving and listening to the radio, my mother and me. I thought she was a good driver, she never smashed up the car and we got to wherever we had to go in one piece. The problems with the car started when my father said “I’m going to learn to drive so I can go places too.” Soon after he took the car out for a spin, and collided with another car. The door to the beautiful 1953 brown and white Plymouth was smashed and the paint was all scratched. After that my father cried, and said that he would never drive again. Bullshit. Of course he drove again, and my mother had a hard time getting the car away from him, so we could take drives around Brooklyn in the sweet Spring nights of my young childhood. In 1955 we moved from our old small apartment to a bigger place just across the street and right next door to the firehouse which was a good thing because a few more mattresses went up in smoke from dropped cigarettes. In 1957 my parents bought a new red and white Pontiac. It was so beautiful. But soon my father had an accident with it, and then my mother had an accident with it and it did not look so pretty anymore. I thought my father was a terrible driver, a scary driver. Whenever I drove with him I would get tense and hold on to the arm rests and hope that he wouldn’t kill us all. After one of the accidents he had with the car he decided to save money and try to fix the car himself which included an ugly paint job in which he covered the car with a dull ugly gray flat paint. He didn’t even have the sense to use a glossy paint, no he had to use flat gray. I hated how the once beautiful car looked. It seemed to say “don’t look at me please I’m all ugly and gray when I was once hot red and white.” It was the joke of the neighborhood. Sometimes on warm Summer nights he would go down to the car and fiddle with it, trying to make it better, but all he did was make it worse. One night a cop car drove by as he had his head under the hood, and the cops asked him what he was doing. Maybe they thought he was trying to steal this piece of shit car. Anyway he got smart with the cops and they arrested him. The whole neighborhood including me had their heads out the windows watching this spectacle of my father being handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. I hoped that they would keep him in jail until at least I graduated from college, but they only kept him overnight and fined him. My mother lost her interest in driving after that and lost her interest in him as well.


Blogger flaneur said...

My mother and father were wretched drivers. Coincidently they both had trouble making right turns. This problem reached a high point whenever they were driving under the "El" on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. There, a right turn included smashing the right front fender of the car into the pillars, its heft lying in the gutter a few yards from the car. I was the one who was told to get out of the car and fetch the fender, bringing it to rest on the back seat of the car. While this was taking place, I was mortified and in psychic pain. But, there were no fires in my childhood history!

3:23 PM  

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