30 January, 2012

Back-B-Log: Another Summer in Hell (1988)

[Author's Note: This brief memoir from 1988 is posted here as it is related to my story of my ongoing unintentional persecution by Richard O'Brien, which includes part of my summer of 1983 spent in the GCC Walnut Mall 1 2 3]


"I spent a lifetime in Philadelphia, one summer...."
                        -- W.C. Fields

How do I cope with Summer?  How do I survive?  I don't know... it seems that every summer calamities swarm around me like flies on shit in the sun.  My last decent summer was after I graduated from high-school. Since then the wisest thing to do is to pack off to hermitage at the first signs spring boiling over: late suns, final exams, and sticky tanning oil. 
Let's do a quick chronology:
1983 -- ended freshman year with 3 incompletes  nervous collapse due to my freshman obsession rejecting me, my psychotic girlfriend accepting me, and my father's most severe nosedive into Parkinsonism to date; lived in same house with woman who rejected me, destroying the remains of our friendship; worked slave wages/hours in movie theater with broken air conditioning; somehow finished incompletes and took Spanish credits to return to Penn in Fall
1984 -- tried living briefly with psychotic girlfiend who forbade me to contact my friends; worked 10 days as an encyclopedia salesman, then sold leather goods from a stand in a mall
1985 -- spend most of the summer trying to break up with psycho-bitch-monster instead of laboring on incompletes (5), after attempting to push me off a roof she breaks into my room and steals all my work, a restraining order is nearly issued, but her crank phone calls keep the receiver from its cradle every night
1986 -- after not graduating with eight incompletes under my belt, I am depressed by the seeming lack of prospects and all around hope for my future, but at least I stay employed, I begin living like a monk, seeing human beings only at work and other formal occasions
1987 -- the woman I've been obsessed with for ten years falls in love with one of my best friends, after I introduce them, he reciprocates, and my plans to move in with his brother and another friend remain unchanged (big mistake) this was a Summer that kept going until November. Along the way I manage to alienate or lose about half my friends, half my sleep and most of my sanity, but at least it's the first summer that I have an air-conditioner.

O.K., granted I made some mistakes, all of these Summers were spent in Philadelphia which was probably once one of God's early drafts for hell, abandoned because even the damned don't deserve this.  The smell of rotting garbage which spreads thickly evenly throughout the humid atmosphere; in Summer, air in Philadelphia isn't smooth, it's chunky.  Almost the only reason to get an underpaying job is to avoid being baked all day in the heat, but with an air-conditioned job your body will be assaulted by alternating freezing-burning temperatures which will probably have you enjoying the flu.  Philadelphia in Summer is the explanation for why you will find people wading through medical waste at the Jersey shore -- it's an improvement.
This summer has been par for the course.  I've been ill for months: weak, constant low grade fever, coughs, pains.  On top of which I over-extended myself, working forty-hours, twelve hours of class a week (not counting outside studying and work), and moving my parents on weekends.  This is not the way to do it. Here are some rules that everyone should follow during Summer (and I hope to -- next year – follow)

1.   After May 1st, do not trust anyone:

Case in point -- I took in a friend of a friend to sublet one of my housemate's rooms.  I didn't need to, would have been no financial or spiritual onus to me if I hadn't, but I felt sorry for them (beware this is never a good motivation, whatever the time of year). Step by step, what seemed to be a quiet suburban Catholic girl has turned into a drugged out kleptomaniac who expects me to clean up after her orgies (I stopped counting how many condom wrappers I've picked up off the couch).  I'm eating the rent and the utilities she hasn't paid (over $500).

2.   Do not visit your parents without mood altering drugs.

My parents are in a highly agitated state this Summer, they just moved from their house of forty years into a tiny apartment.  They are losing their minds, and when you stay with them, they share the experience. I've just spent a year hunting down and caging the demons I released last summer: "I don't need no more neuroses!"  If the drugs don't help you cope with your Parents (valium, psilocybin and lithium are recommended), you can always give them to your parents to allow them to cope with you.

3.   If you have any possessions, sell them, nail them down, or put them in storage -- they are not safe.

Yes, everything you may cherish, and even what you merely own and paid dearly for, will be threatened from all sides, by disturbed roommates, their spot-welding boyfriends, and even relatives (my sister stole a puppet from me).  Spy on your realtor, they will attempt to evict you while you are out of town (mine tried to rent my house without telling me).  People who you haven't seen for years will attempt to set fire to your home.
Which brings us to last but not least:

4.   Hide, or at least keep moving.

Sharks have survived and prospered during many a summer using this tactic.  You need not be ruthless like the shark, just lay low, real low. If you go abroad, go to a country where they haven't even heard of Americans yet so they haven't started hating us. Don't go to the shore, you'll drown.  If you stay inland, don't travel on freeways, you'll be slain in multiple car pile ups.  Don't ride the backroads, you'll be butchered by rednecks.  Don't go into the air, you'll be a statistic.   Stay out of the cities, you'll be killed by hordes of nomadic plague ridden yuppies: stay out of the country, animals wild from toxic wastes and PCP will eat you alive --  Face it, just stay away from SUMMER.  It's cursed, that's all there is to it.

(English 135 Advanced Expository Writing, Professor Cavallo, August 1, 1988, Assignment #6)

[Author's Note: To those of you disparaged directly or indirectly above, apologies.  I appreciate we've all grown up now, and, at least those of you whom I'm still in touch with, we turned out O.K.  Keep in mind this is the raw perspective of an undercooked youth.

Diana Cavallo's writing course was possibly the best I've taken, and I wish I'd taken her other writing courses as well.  Anything wrong with my writing sure ain't her fault.

It should be noted that the following Summer I did not take my own advice completely, I travelled to Britain to interview for the job that changed my life, and haven't stopped moving since.]

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At 06 February, 2012 21:30, Blogger Chuck Esola said...

Funniest thing I've read in quite a while, probably because I know it's all true. I'm not making light of your troubles - as I'm sure you know, the eighties were no picnic for me either and I'm still recovering from a lot of it. Thinking back, it reminds me of the Chinese curse about living in interesting times. At least the movies were better then.

At 06 February, 2012 23:53, Blogger Brian R Tarnoff said...

Thanks. Even at the time I wrote it I was over most of the more painful bits. The scary thing is that I don't remember the names of some of those involved. Senility heals all wounds.

The worst thing was trying to research the name of the Walnut Mall, I couldn't initially remember its name (I could recall the SamEric round the corner, still wish I'd photographed the marquee when it read 9.5 Weeks), and whether it was a Budco when I worked there as it later became, I think it was GCC. I got very nostalgic about the TLA and Roxy which I stumbled over in my research.


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