Shoulder punchers: an interview with Smerkle Grumpy

 

  • Mr. Grumpy, it’s a pleasure to sit down with –
  • Smerkle.
  • Pardon?
  • Smerkle, call me Smerkle.
  • Well then, it’s a pleasure sit down with you.
  • Thank you. You as well.
  • It’s been awhile.
  • Been watching my man, Peter, from afar, as the saying goes. Watching him trying to get himself moved. Proud of him. Still patient with people, more than most, more than me. Known him since he was a boy – he’s got a real kind streak.
  • You think he is too kind?
  • Oh no, don’t misunderstand me. Not too kind at all. Glad he’s in a world that’s been short on kindness for a long time. So no, not too kind.
  • Too patient?
  • He’s more patient than I’d be, but no, not too patient. People deserve patience, some need and deserve a lot of it. Some deeply wounded folk in the world.
  • Can he run out of patience?
  • We all can. I remember a time my boy did when he was in reform school back when.
  • Can you tell us about it? Would he mind?
  • He might mind, but I’ll tell you. There was this kid, same age as Peter, in the same hall, the wards where the boys lived. Anyway, this kid, will call him Johnny, liked to punch Peter in the shoulder, doing it light at first, then a little harder, saying sorry later, then punching Pete’s shoulder next time Peter’d walk by. After a while, Peter called him out.
  • Called him out?
  • In this reform school if two of the boys were getting close to a fight, they’d let the boys fight, surrounded by their mates, the male staff watching to make sure no one really got badly hurt, and usually the two combatants became friendly after the fight. Some kind of release I suppose. Calling out was when one kid challenged another, quietly or openly.
  • How’d Peter do it?
  • Wide open. They were in the gym sitting on bleachers, about 30 boys, half a dozen staff or so, taking a break. Peter walks by, Johnny punches him in the shoulder and that was it.
  • What was it?
  • Peter ripped into him. You really want to fight with me that badly? Seriously? Just can’t help yourself, wish it that bad do you? If you’re feeling froggish, then leap, cause your wish has come true.
  • What happened?
  • One smack upside Johnny’s head and down he went. Then Peter did his thing, helped Johnny up, telling him all the time being friends was a lot easier on the both of’m than fighting. Even when he knew he had no choice and had to act, like with Johnny, or protecting someone, he always felt badly about hurting someone.
  • He felt guilty.
  • No-no, not guilty. Badly. Sad. Definitely not guilty.
  • It’s good to be talking with you again, Smerkle.
  • Good to be talking with you too.

 

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Break for Freedom: Day 2 (Ha!)

Day 2 – Saturday, August 12, 2017

I’m going to have to get out of my own way if I am getting out the door again at eight today. They say, Keep it simple for a reason. As my friends, Maria and Annie like to say, Ha! They say this to me in a text or email from time to time, and at the best moments too. Maria lives in Florida and Annie lives in Hawaii. Recently, I suggested to Maria that we either have a baby boy, or adopt one, and name it Mueller, after Robert Mueller III, the man heading up the investigation in Russia-Trump and a man who, by any measure, represents all that much of our country needs to wake up and remember our country stands for.  Maria responded with a glorious, “Ha!”

The, Ha!, is loaded with humor, love for life, and the radiant, healthy defiance (playful in these instances) found in the face of one who is not about to have their love for life and equality tampered with.  Every time one of them fires off a Ha!,  I want to hug them. My life is far better off for the presence of Annie and Maria. For those who think men and women can’t be just friends, Annie’s been a friend of mine for 30 years at least, and Maria’s been a friend of mine for 40 years.

So, it is now 6:48 a.m. in the opinion of a digital clock that sits on the cluttered top of a two-tier filing cabinet. Oops! Changed its mind, it’s 6:49. Eight a.m. is coming into view. I need music and movement and a shower.

I suppose, too, if there is going to be any benefit to either of us, I’d be wise to offer a glimpse of my emotional state, which, of course, is physical and, spiritual too. I’m packed with fear and the sweat has started. Emotional, spiritual and physical equal one because they are one

7:42 a.m. – I’m out the door. (No dog, no music, no walking stick, no pepper spray.)

9:04 a.m. and I am finally home, another soaked shirt under my belt. Same distance walk as yesterday, followed by a trip to the store. Walking outside is something like being in another world. It’s overcast today, damp out. There is a street I walk on near here with large beautiful houses. I like looking at the care and love and creativity people bestow on their property is great fun.

There are gifts to going into the world you don’t expect. I walked past a tall, older woman with a Scotty on a leash. I said, “FDR would be proud.” She laughed and we talked for a few minutes. Here face had some serious scars and skin discolorations. It gave me great joy to continue looking right at her, smiling, listening, keeping our eyes connected. The discomfort you might feel when looking at an appearance influenced by scars, discolorations or whatever has nothing to do with the person you are seeing.

I told her I used to say dogs are people too until it occurred to me I was insulting the dogs. She burst out laughing and said, “That’s a good one!” We parted smiling.

Day 3 of this effort awaits. The good news is, it ain’t here yet. I’m going to have a cup of coffee now.

Ha!

***********

For Annie & Maria

Walking through the fear; making a break for freedom

Day One – Friday, August 11, 2017

Maybe this is a kind of Break for Freedom journal. I am 63. There is no time to lose. Destroying my fear of going outside can never begin on a fear-free day. The fear will be there, like some kind of emotional fungus, and fungus is a bitch to get rid of.  I live with a brain injury and an ample dose of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a result of being held up and shot in the head in 1984. The bullet remains lodged in the brain.

I like to think of Nelson Mandela’s words about courage That courage a triumph over fear, not the absence of it. The exact quote is, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I love Mandela. My guiding lights? Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Geronimo, Beethoven, Helen Keller. They all dealt with fear, and they all triumphed over it. I’m good on the role-model front.

But, here I am at 7:23 in the morning, preparing to go for a walk at eight. It makes me angry that this is terrifying for me. They use the word anxiety. Fine. But fuck that word. I’m afraid. I’m scared. I’m frightened. There’s no mystery to this. I long ago learned it is not weak to admit you’re scared. Were admitting it an act of weakness, why is it so hard to do?  I need to shower and go. I know I will shower again when I get back, but I don’t care. I feels better entering the fray, fresh and ready — sharp.

8:48 a.m. — I walked about half a mile: no dog, no music, no walking stick, no pepper spray. Just me. I came back my shirt soaked through with sweat, immediately drove to the store, picked up typing paper and a 64GB SanDisk. Now I am safe at home with Charley (my 10-year-old Black Lab mix).

Early in the walk I pressed the index, middle and ring fingers of each hand against the front of my thighs and kept them there. Feeling the muscles move and harden with every stride was comforting. I kept my fingers their most of the walk. It had not been a conscious choice. I just knew to do it; it happened; and it helped. Instinct. Perhaps the most precious gift life has to offer. It humbles me, this uncanny skill our species has for surviving, for keeping life, rather than relinquishing it, especially to a monster called fear.

Day one, under my belt. That this all occurred in under an hour blows my mind. It felt like hours. Now, Peter, breathe.

A couple of close-ups if you will. At one point, there was an inner dialogue, someone asking me, “So what are you so afraid is going to happen if you got out?”

“I’m afraid someone is going to kill me.”

“In Adams?”

To which, my unedited reply would be: “Listen, you stupid fuck. I wasn’t expecting someone to put a gun to the side of my head and blow my brains out when I was walking to work on a so-called nice block in Brooklyn. You let me know when you find a violence-free zone, you stupid shit, and I’ll move there. You think that’s strange? I met a woman who was sitting in a parked car in a nice community upstate, holding her baby, when a drunk driver crashed into her side of the car and her baby’s head was crushed right before her eyes. Like I said, you find me a violence-free zone and I’m in. In the meantime, shut the fuck up.”

I can tell you, this dialogue helped me cover a solid half block in distance. Imagination well spent. Tomorrow’s Day 2. I’ll see when it gets here.

**************** 

For Chris Albee

 

Fear of intimacy

They are wounded.

Keep this in mind when you see or experience people — or yourself — hiding or running from real intimacy in a relationship.

I am not talking solely about physical intimacy or love-making intimacy. I say love-making intimacy because people have been having sex for years without an iota of emotional and spiritual intimacy to be seen for miles. Physical intimacy, holding hands, holding each other, cuddling, simply touching, can be a steep climb for the badly wounded. Love-making intimacy, even steeper.

Avoiding intimacy takes many forms. One of the more common is when people enter into relationships with partners who are either unable or unwilling to be intimate. At times, this allows the partner seeking intimacy to both bemoan the absence of intimacy on the one hand without ever having to  be intimate on the other. Choosing to be with someone who can’t be intimate can be a way of avoiding intimacy in and of itself. This does not mean either person is aware of the intimacy-avoiding pattern they’re trapped in.

If emotional and spiritual intimacy were physical beings the amount of intimacy being lost could fill the Grand Canyon on a daily basis.

There are real reasons deserving of the deepest respect people fear intimacy. Almost without exception the fear revolves around the following truth. At some point in time, usually in childhood, but not exclusively so, you were in some way taught that being who really really are was dangerous. Emotionally, physically, or sexually dangerous. Someone you loved with all your heart died. You were abused physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually. Somehow, through no fault of your own (even if you are still making the mistake of holding yourself responsible (You’re not!)), you came to believe truly being yourself with someone else was dangerous.

For an array of reasons, I believed it was dangerous for me to be myself with someone for years. For me, getting free of this fear began with two understandings. First, getting free of this fear meant getting free of my history. Second, who deserves to be in control of my decision making? Me or my history?  I pick me.

Talking about the fear with someone is not only an immense help, it is necessary. Talk to someone: a psychotherapist, a member of clergy, a close friend. Now, for those who believe asking for help is an act of weakness, let me ask you something. If it is an act of weakness to ask for help, then why is it so hard to do? After all, if it was an act of weakness, asking for help would be easy. And, it’s not so much that I think each of us need the help. I think we damn well deserve it. Why? Because you deserve to get free of your history’s decision-making power. Promise.