"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Henry Slough Chapter I


Henry Slough (pronounced Sluff) never realized he had a difficult-to-pronounce name until he left the small Southern Minnesota town where he grew up.  He knew that his father always had to spell it out when he ordered tools– “Sluff”, he said, slowly. “S-L-O-U-G-H”; and that he had to repeat the drill two or three times until the synapses of the operator fired and made the connection between the name and the spelling; but he never thought this was unusual because he knew that many of his friends’ fathers also spelled out far simpler names to the same operators, distinguishing among plosives (“D, for David….”) for clarity.

His grandparents were from County Slough in Ireland where Slough posed no more problems in pronunciation than Galway or Cork; but when they arrived in the United States they were called every name in the book – “Sloff” which quickly morphed into Sloth.  “Welcome, Mr. Sloth, said the manager of the First National Bank of Olmstead. “It’s a pleasure to see you again”; “Slug”, which the intellectuals in town used with a guttural throat-clearing or a glottal stop. And the rest – Slew, Slog, Sloof…the perversions of the name were endless.

Henry’s parents fared no better, but Gough Street in San Francisco helped out somewhat, although that thoroughfare is pronounced Goff, not Guff. 

None of this bothered Henry in the least.  His teachers simply learned at the beginning of school how to pronounce it and then so did his classmates.  He only realized its uniqueness and potential when he went to college on the East Coast (“Above your station”, said the priest at St. Vincent’s when he told him where he was going, hoping to persuade him to go to the seminary in Prairieville; and the priest was right in a way. When he told his classmates he was from southern Minnesota, they replied, “Bullshit.  There is only a northern Minnesota). 

His classmates jokingly punned: “Where’s Henry?”

“Oh, he’s sloughing off in his room”

He never took off his coat but sloughed it off.  He sloughed off idle remarks.  He never got a haircut, but a Neapolitan sloughing.  “Get stuffed” by his English mates became “Get sloughed”, etc.

Henry bought his uncle’s ‘57 Ford convertible a car he had always wanted ever since watching PULP FICTION, the part where John Travolta and Uma Thurman eat hamburgers in a chopped out ‘58 Caddy; and catching THE GRADUATE on TCM, the part about doing it with Elaine Robinson in the back seat of a ‘57 Ford.   His uncle’s Ford had been on blocks in Tucson since 1970.  He had driven it down to Arizona from Minnesota after he retired; but shortly after he got there he had a stroke,  and the only thing he could drive was his motorized wheelchair around the condo parking lot and at that, only in circles, because he only had the use of his left hand.

The car was in mint condition – only 20,000 miles, two-tone robin’s egg blue and white, light blue upholstery, great bus-size light blue steering wheel, dual chrome exhausts, and those fins!  Henry flew to Tucson, bought wheels and a new battery, filled it up with fluids and gas, and hit the road back to Minnesota.  Few people looked twice at the car in Prairieville, but it was in his college town back East where heads really turned.  Most of the girls he dated had seen PULP FICTION as well, loved the faux-cachet of a retro ride, and it wasn’t hard to convince them to drive out to the golf course, park, and make love in the back seat.  When they finished screwing, he took off his condom, told the girl he was sloughing it off like a rattlesnake does its skin, and drove back to town under the stars.

With the exception of his fascination with his surname and his love for the ‘57 Ford, Henry Slough was perfectly normal and perfectly middle.  He always was exactly in the middle of his class in grades, was liked but not loved, never envied or admired; but never disliked or avoided.  He didn’t try to be this way – if he did, then he would not be middle.  He would be unique.  Someone who perfected ordinariness would be worth knowing, very theatrical, able to invent someone he was not.   He would have to have an agenda, some plot to gain access to something, to acquire it. 

Henry was just middle.  His father was an accountant in Prairieville – a perfectly normal and ordinary profession – but his passion was tools.  He never fixed anything, never needed the elaborate 100-piece set of Craftsman’s; nor the 200-piece hand-tooled Solingen steel set from Hanover; but thought of his tools as works of art.  He framed the socket wrenches and put them on the wall of his den.  He displayed mitre boxes, monkey wrenches, nut drivers, ratchets, scratch awls, and spike mauls in glass cases.  He had one of the most complete sets of drill bits, dating back to the 17th century; and his collection of saws, hacksaws, and rasps resembled Torquemada’s torture chamber. He illuminated each display and had rigged a sequential light show, programmed to show off each exhibit as each spectator passed.

His mother was a homemaker, with a little Mary Kay and Tupperware on the side.  Henry liked it when the Tupperware women came over to the house.  He got excited by the smell of perfume and cigarette smoke, the high laughter, and girly hijinks.  He peered over the railing and watched the women drink highballs and listened when they talked about men.

So there was no reason for Henry to be so ordinary.  His father had a passion, and his mother – now that he thought about it – must have had her share of affairs with husbands in Prairieville.  He was not envious of their lives or interests; nor resentful of his mother, or his father for spending so much time sorting through tools in the basement.  He just carried on.  Went to school, did his homework, mowed lawns, washed cars, walked dogs, and eventually went to college “above his station”. 

Once again, Henry’s college application process was nothing out of the ordinary.  He did not crank out essays at midnight, shine at local interviews when college representatives came to Minneapolis, or deluge admissions offices with original photographs, art work, or short stories.  Colleges did not see his ordinariness as indifference, but as a refreshing Midwestern honesty and simplicity.  They thought that not only would he be a singular addition to the student body, he would be an antidote to the pretention, ambition, and overreaching that had become all too common.

Four years of college passed uneventfully.  He had the ‘57 Ford and the many conquests in it.  He played intramural sports; did his share of drinking and innocent carousing and graduated in the middle of his class.

During Spring Term of his Senior Year, when most of his classmates who were not going to graduate school were firing off resumes to advertising agencies, publishing houses, pharmaceutical companies, and the Peace Corps, Henry looked for trade schools, especially carpentry.  He knew that he did not have the intellectual firepower for anything more than a trade, and he had the common sense to see that plumbers, electricians, and carpenters were rarely out of work.  The US was moving away from a technical education, and therefore thousands of kids from Prairieville, Grand Junction, and points beyond went deep in debt for majors in “Communications” and ended up as cashiers at Walmart. 

Henry got accepted at a good trade school in Minnesota, graduated with a diploma in carpentry, and soon was an apprentice to a master carpenter in Badger, Minnesota, a small town on the Canadian border.  It was –50F cold up there in winter, so the building season was short, but the pay was good, and joining the union meant teachers’ contracts – you got paid by the year, no matter how many days were frozen more solid than McMurdo Bay.  Henry loved carpentry – the smell of the pine lumber, fresh from the sawmill; hammering nails in the clear Northern sunlight; eating lunch-pail sandwiches on the roof, overlooking the lake and the fir forests beyond.  He loved the smell of tar shingles, warming in the sun, the blat-blat of the staple gun, the smell of newly-mixed cement.

He did miss getting laid in the back of his ‘57 Ford, and there were very few eligible women in Badger.  There were Ojibwe and Chippewa Indian women from the reservations who came into the local bars to get drunk.  Some days, Henry picked up these squaws and fucked them in his trailer, paid them off, and returned to the construction site the next day less horny, but still a bit disgusted that all he could get was retread Indian pussy.  

The days, months, and years scrolled along.  Henry was happy enough, but thought there might be something more to life than power-stapling dry wall.  He wasn’t after foreign adventure, physical risk or danger; but felt that it at least was time to move out of the North woods, rancid Indian women, and trailer drunks.  So, he moved back to Boston, and through his college connections got a job at a Braintree construction company.  The Deloria Building Company was Italian at the top, Irish in the middle, and wetback, Portagee, and black on the bottom.  As a carpenter he was – again – in the middle, and worked alongside the plumbers and electricians from South Boston.  He missed the smell of Northern pine, tarpaper roofs, and camaraderie overlooking Minnesota lakes, but got used to riveting aluminum siding, putting up drywall, and installing pre-fab staircases. 

His life changed when he met Dina DiMarco, a girl whose family still lived in the North End of Boston.  Her grandfather still drank espresso on Hanover Street, a little anisette tossed in matched with a stogie.  with his cronies on Hanover Street.  Dina’s father was retired from the Government, and her mother, to keep busy, worked at Filenes three days a week. 

“Guinea cunt”, said Mickey Fannon.

“Wiry hair on her poontang”, said Riley.

In fact, Henry was not sure why he was so attracted to Dina.  She really was a throwback to the Sicilians he saw in The Godfather – dark, with a little mustache – but she had big tits, and loved to have them licked and sucked off.  She could come with just the sucking.  The Indians he screwed just wanted to get it over with, and the college girls in the back seat of the Ford worked too hard on multiple orgasms to worry about their tits. In fact, Dina Demarco was the first girl who really liked making love.  She moaned and sighed, arched her back, rubbed her come on her tits and asked him to suck it off.  Henry was in deep after two months. She had released all the sexual energy that had been pent up since he was a teenager.  Once again, dick rules.  The mustache was forgotten, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

What she saw in him was another question. She had a sense – almost a pride - in her own sexual energy, and maybe turning guys on was the value added to her own volcanic orgasms.  Maybe after ten years of working at Fabric Man at the Mall in Taunton, the increasing grimness of her life with her parents and her disgusting grandfather, all nose hairs and stained wife-beaters, was getting to her. Henry had a nice apartment in Somerville, earned well, and clearly loved her.

Most of all she wanted to get away from her brothers adopted Pima Indians two years younger whom her parents adopted after her mother had a religious epiphany.  Born-again conversions and revelations don’t usually happen to Catholics – too egotistical, said the priest at St. Ann’s when his mother told him of her suffering, and of her mission to save poor, orphaned children.  “But Margaret”, the priest went on.  "You are still young enough to have children of your own.  That is God’s way”.  His father wanted no part of it, neither the adoption nor especially the meddling,buggering priests at St. Ann’s.

For months she looked for the ideal child.  She didn’t know what she wanted, as long as it wasn’t black, and then saw an ad on late-night TV for adoption Native Americans.  “Charity begins at home”, said the announcement.  “Don’t look in China or Russia for your little one.  Come to Arizona and adopted one of these little darlings”.  On the screen was the most adorable, cherubic, rosy- and chubby-cheeked Indian girl, looking right at the camera and smiling.  His mother called the 800 number on the screen and got the process started.  Not only would she and her husband take one little Pima, they would take two.

It took about two years for the adoption process to be completed, and by that time Dina was seven and the Pima twins (fraternal) were five.  They were indeed cute, but as they got older they got rambunctious, then mischievous, then started getting into trouble.  And they got fat.  Pima Indians are the fattest people in the United States, something about good fat genes which gave them natural energy stores for long antelope hunts, but which just produced blubber and lots of it in an urban, sedentary life. They could easily have been taken for Mexican or some kind of Latino or Portagee, because they were so fat, everyone in the neighborhood knew that they were the DiMarco Pimas. By the time they were teenagers they were doing glue, boosting cars, and running copper pipe from foreclosed houses.  For years they never got caught, but just when Dina was starting her Taunton Fabric Man job, they got busted.  First offense, parole, and the cops were looking to bust these two fat redskins for nothing. 

The family was a mess.  Dina’s father walked out three times on her mother.  “You wanted those fucking savages, you deal with them”.   She tried to get them straight jobs, like construction workers.  She had heard about Indians who were naturally built for riding girders 30 stories up, but they were Navajos, not Pimas.  Before she learned this she had her own doubts about how her two fat sons could possibly be agile enough to work on high buildings.  They were always tripping over the door stoop of the house and thundered their way up the two flights of steps of the duplex.  “So much for silent Indian tracking”, thought Dina who hated the twins, hated her mother for adopting them, and ran away with her father on one of his fugues.

Henry took a lot of shit from his co-workers.  These were Southies, tough working-class Irish, not a jot of lace-curtain gentility among them.  They were caricatures of the caricatures in movies like Gone Baby Gone and The Departed; and even worse, exaggerated versions of the Mickey Finn Irish of years ago – beer drunk, brawling, quick-trigger temper, and sweet contrition the next morning.  They were good guys, good to work with, and fun to hang out with.  Half were married to Southie girls, the others were single, horny, and ready to take anything.  They used to go slumming in Cambridge to goof on the Harvard faggots, get drunk in the bars on the Square, and always missed their stops on the T on the way home.

“So, whaddya doin’ with that guinea cunt?.  I’ll fix you up with my cousin Eileen”; or Peggy, or Maureen, or Faith.  He tried that a few times in the early days with Dina, but the Irish eyes never turned him on like Dina’s coal black, deep black, shining ones.  The Irish girls were too big, too.  They had too much meat, solid, thick, broad, wild hair, steamfitters arms.  Nothing like Dina who was petite (except for the tits) and who fit just perfectly together with him when they made love.

The shit came down heavier when they figured out that the Pima twins were related to Henry’s girlfriend.  They came around to the site one day wit Dina’s mother who was still living the fantasy of her boys as Indian high-wire specialists.  “There must be some military use for those fat fucks”, Fannon said when the boys had left.  “Stop a thousand Al-Qaedas comin’ t’rough the perimeter of the Green Zone”.

The thing was, his buddies on the construction site were all turned on by Dina.  She was sexy.  Dark, slight, mustachioed though she was, she had that walk – confident, breasts out, striding so her ass moved.  It was a fuck me walk and no straight man could miss it.  Her bus stop from work was near the site, so she often came by.  There was nothing demure about her, nor self-conscious, so she always gave Henry a big kiss – not a warm hug and a peck, but a deep tongue wet one.  Oh, how he loved her.

If he hadn’t finished a roof or dry wall, Dina hung out with the guys until he came down.  He liked it that his friends had changed their minds and liked her.  She came more and more often, changing bus stops as he changed construction sites.

She became more and more comfortable, joking and forming an easy, casual intimacy with them. She did her burlesque strut poses and actress shit; stuck her tits out, and made them laugh. “That’s the way he is”, he said to himself, and loved her even more for it – her confidence, her sexiness, her ease with men and herself.  At night, when she rolled on top of him, laughed and moaned and told him she loved him, all doubts were erased, figments of his imagination, shadows that meant nothing, shadows that came and disappeared just as quickly.

All was great in Henry’s life; or until the Pima twins went to Minnesota.


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