UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
GEORGE SPARLING

How Jane Fonda and Anthony Perkins Changed My Life

       When I told my father that marriage and family merely legitimized property rights, Tom
told me, "Fuck you." I asked for more scotch. The company guest house chef poured
him another drink, then left. We sat alone, he and I at far ends of a large mahogany table.
Seated in the dining room of the company's guest house, located in a small logging town,
he invited me to dinner. This was 1962, five years before thousands of anti-Vietnam War
protestors failed to levitate the Pentagon in 1967, when I still believed in gravity.

       He'd set me up with a job the summer before college. No Wanderjahr. Calvinism
prevailed: each American heartbeat thumped workworkwork. I was a puller on the green
chain ( I, Wobbly ) at first. I stayed in his company-approved rooming house, reading
Dos Passos's USA Trilogy and the Communist Manifesto. Or getting soused in bars. The
landlady evicted me for being loud once too often. And I broke a favorite vase. I spent the
rest of the summer in the town's only hotel.

       The foreman would've fired me for coming to work drunk if not for my father. Instead he
transferred me to a surveyor's crew. After pointing to tall trees, I'd tell the crew they
represented phalluses, mentioning Freud as much as possible. In fact, I knew nothing
except some titles of his books. But with Dad, I heaved Marxist phrases around with
confidence. Therefore, with more conviction, more passion.

       "You fucking commie," Dad said, making it political, worse than being a plain fuckhead.

       "You never swear back home," I said. We lived in an Illinois suburb.

       "Things are different here," he said, sloshing another drink down.

       "It's different when you're not around either," I said.

       Away on business trips, mother and I watched sitcoms. We laughed loudly, something
Mom never did with him there. She'd tear up from laughter with him away. Thankfully, I don't
know what Freud's take was on laughter.

       We took our drinks to the screened porch. The sunset's glow danced above trees in the
distance. We sat on metal chairs, slightly rocking, listening to their metallic beats. Giving me
all I could drink was homeopathy ( I spun a book-rack in the town's drugstore, reading a dust
jacket. ) Dad hated me for public intoxication, yet letting me have all the booze I wanted.

       "I keep it at the office." We stared at trees.

       "Clear-cutting, isn't it, when you'll only see stumps." Clear-cutting made sense at our Illinois
dinner table. Here, another word for death.

       "There's always more forest. Where do you think your tuition comes from?"

       "Money grows on trees after all." I felt my sarcasm, spittle bursting out each syllable.

       "Still the sense of humor." Maybe I should've spat harder, aiming it purposefully at his
forehead.

       "Do you know they hosed demonstrators against HUAC?" I enjoyed lingo, making me feel
larger.

       "HUAC? Is that from your Latin class?" Hic, haec, hoc: I hated Latin. His brother teaching
Latin during the Depression hadn't meant I should be grateful.

       "House Un-American Activities Committee. I've a record about it." I'd a few jazz records back
home, but I mostly listened to rock 'n' roll radio. "They beat them bloody."

       "Investigating Communists. A committee wouldn't exist if they weren't any around." A timber
company wouldn't exist without trees, he must've thought too.

       "You can listen to it when I get back home." We listened to the same semi-classical record
every dinner. Often he'd arrive thirty minutes late from work. Connecting the bland music with
extra-long hours, he always said, talking to the company's vice-president, I grew suspicious.
He concealed something, I thought, but never could I link them.

       "Where'd you get it, from the Russian Embassy?" No, the Reds gave me caviar.

       "From Harper's Magazine. I saw a little ad in the back." We ate the tender filet mignon in
silence. Chinese prints on three walls surrounded us.

       "It's never the foreground, but the background that matters most in these paintings," I said,
pointing my fork at them.

       "They were't here on my last trip," Tom said. "Didn't notice them."

       "Merging with nature, not subjugating it like timber companies do." I realized every country
destoys the environment, but Tom hadn't caught my uninformed comment.

       "Mao would apprieciate them, I'm sure." I hadn't taken the bait. Mao would hate these
paintings. I told him the meal had been the best this summer. He smiled, encouraged I'd
something positive to say.

       "I had my first poem published," I said. "I got a contributor's copy last week." It was one thing
to reference art, another to be a creator, I thought to myself. I'd only think years later how
pretentious I'd been with that remark. Plus the fourteen-line poem was bought for $3, the price
of the anthology. No poet was rejected.

       "What's it called?" Tom asked. I hadn't anticipated that.

       " 'Wrong Womb'," I said. His face reddened, partially rose, and seemed ready to attack me.
"Goddamn it, you better never show that to your mother." My artistic pretense got the best of me:
Of course Tom would be pissed as hell. How the shit would I be a poet with so much naivete.

       "OK. Never. You're right." I knew when to back off, at least. Fear informed me. But I blinked,
seeing in that dark flash Tom smashing the bottle of scotch on the chair's metal arm, coming
after me with its jagged edges, ready to kill me.

       Instead, he stood up, placing his drink down on a wicker table.

       "Let's leave for a while," he said. He drove the Chrysler confidently, as if going to the depot
back home. He made many left and right turns, eventually finding the drive-in. Home, we'd watch
TV dramas, Hitchcock Presents, some crime dramas, but never a full movie. I saw many, once
sitting mesmerized and stupified by Citizen Kane. Tom ordered two large boxes of buttered
popcorn, thanking the young woman. The easy manner he handled the sound hookup, placing
it to the closed window of the car. Tom's eyes panned other cars' windows.

       We watched Tall Story, Anthony Perkins playing basketball hero, Jane Fonda adoring
such an athlete. Somewhere in the middle, he rolled down the window, putting the gizmo back.
"Getting late. We'll talk some more tomorrow," he said. "You can sleep at the house for
a change f you want." The worst movie I'd ever see sobered me up, half-way re-considering my
words to Tom.

       That night I slept in the bedroom down the hall from his. The next day we shook hands and
he drove me to the hotel. I never saw him again.

* * *

       I've a few novels published, none successful, but a curriculum vitae nevertheless. I now teach
creative writing at a small college. The salary isn't much, but life is easier with a full-time job. I
sit, my desk in front of a window. Microsoft Word is whited out, blank. Another wasted day. I
I'm about to turn off the computer. What's the Spanish phrase, white is the color of fascism?
Hasn't that phrase been recorded by Orwell?

       But then I write, "Sam took his date to a drive-in." It finally clicks, the simple sentence opens
everything. Tom drove effortlessly through that small town, how easy finding some secretary,
some pickup. Maybe the company had women standing by when execs came to town. And my
mother drinking and pill-popping herself dead.

       The novella got noticed this time, getting picked up by an indie producer.

       To each, according to his need, revolutionary Marx wrote. Ridding myself of delusions is the
only revolution allowable.

George Sparling has been published in many literary magazines including Tears in the Fence,
Lynx Eye, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Red Rock Review, Hunger, Paumanok Review, Word Riot, Rattle,
Pindeldyboz, nthposition, Snake Nation Review, Thieves Jargon, and Prose Toad. He has a short
story in the winter, 2004 issue of Slow Trains and one in the January, 2005 issue of Laura Hirdís
Showcase.

He has had many jobs including a welfare caseworker in East Harlem, a lumberyard laborer, a
placer gold miner in the northern wilderness of California, a bookstore clerk, a postal mail
carrier, a crab butcher on the early morning killing docks (those were the days of big hangovers),
and a salmon processor (I flung fish around all day ).

He has a degree in English from Iowa Wesleyan College, is now in early retirement and is writing
short stories as well as working on a memoir about his relationship to his father, focusing on
the years after leaving home. He tries through prose to give all dark things the light they require
to exist unconditionally.







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