Tuesday, December 29, 2009

bruce, later

Throughout my younger years, Bruce was (and even in absentia, honestly still is) a strange and singular presence in my life, a product of personality which I have observed emerges only in the rarest of circumstances from a mundane and healthy home life. Given his bloodline, this was a case which Bruce certainly needn't fret be his own.

Rosemary, the mother, a woman near a skyscraper in height and given to a forceful, no-nonsense nature, was quite as likely to deliver, seemingly without provocation, a flat-handed slap across your rump as she was an unexpected compliment on the curl of your hair. On a visit over coffee in our living room, she once bargained to buy all of the warts on my middle finger for a single copper penny. Soon after they promptly vanished, and remained so forever, she being not nearly as surprised as I, if she was even surprised at all.

Bruce's father on the other hand was as an unassuming individual as Rosemary was outspoken, nearly invisible, really. Although rumored to be an fanatical eccentric with esoteric dabblings ranging from antique steam engines to wild electrical experiments, and while his experiments may have been ignited from the published letters of Nikola Tesla, the man himself seemed more an apparition than a parent. Personally, I can recall nare a glimpse of him until I was almost out of high school, many years later. What I do recall is that he leaned towards wool cardigan sweaters and constantly smoked a pipe, a habit I took be a wonderful and professor-like distinction, in particular during an era where Camel, Pall Mall and Lucky Strike ranked (in every sense) supreme.

Their relationship itself appeared tepid to the extreme. Words were rarely exchanged (almost never in the presence of another neighborhood boy or girl) and, while his dad was odd enough right out of the box, Bruce was compelled to up the ante considerably: it was crucial that we all believe that he had also secretly been a pre-WWII member of the American Nazi party (this being a supposedly distinguished heritage), a footnote which I was in no position to challenge, either then or now. This was entirely Bruce's call.

All subjective observations aside however, there was one indisputable bit of evidence in his household which could not be overlooked, or set on spin: a few feet inside the entryway to his family's front room was a enormous, chest-high glass cabinet just too large to miss. Inside, gaping at you at full attention from the inside-out was not one, but two stuffed adult Emperor penguins, one slightly larger than the other, the two being nestled in an accompanying throng of dozens of smaller porcelain facsimiles, also glass-eyed, also erect. If they were a male and female couple it was a detail that escaped my pre-adolescence scrutiny. But, needless to say, it was the first thing you noticed when entering the home, and almost certainly the last detail you'd be pondering on the drive home.

Such was the mirror of Bruce's early family years, at least as I viewed it.

Rosemary taught piano, and while shy of being an bonafide child prodigy, her son still posed a mental force to be dealt with, headlines she simultaneously endorsed when proclaiming to friends and fellow parents that Bruce was both unteachable and gifted at the keyboard. He was able play the instrument completely and intuitively and without the cue or guidance of a single written note of music, "by ear" as she put it. Whatever the case, this was a boy clearly gifted beyond his years, a trait of fascination and frustration to the uneasy adults in his orbit, and one that he dispensed in gleeful torment, employing both his expanded vocabulary and guileless appearance to exhaust little doubt as to his complete and total disregard for grown-ups and all they held sacred. Indeed, even from the earliest age, Bruce was his own champion, living by his own standards, which included converting his upstairs bedroom into an combination chemistry lab and middle eastern oasis, or WWII bunker, at his whim.

Personally content with my own backyard sandbox, I was impressed to watch as, before he was even ten, Bruce managed to assemble a mail order HeathKit Ham radio entirely from scratch. At a time when I may have mistaken the name of Frank Zappa to have been an Tibetan mystic, Bruce informed me that he was, in fact, a genius at the helm of the next generation of music. "...the dream of a girl, just thirteen. Off with her clothes, and into a bed, where she tickles his fancy, all night long... BABY, BABY, BABY, BABY!!!". In a very real sense, of course (something it would take me a near-half century to confirm), he was largely correct.

As Sedro-Woolley offered no Louvre or Smithsonian Museum, or even the reliable outside possibility that you'd ever get closer than a postcard to either one of them in your own lifetime, Bruce was a precious commodity.

While his somewhat skewed portal to the real world may have been cluttered with stuffed penguins, rampant sarcasm and an intimidating mother, a portal, at least to the ragamuffin kids on Jameson Street, he truly was.

1 comment:

  1. Are you paying more than $5 / pack of cigs? I'm buying my cigs over at Duty Free Depot and I save over 60% from cigs.